Tag Archives: Echidna Shuffle

13th Movember 2018

There was a bit of a delay for food, so after Blue had handed over an exciting box of echidnas to Pine and given Burgundy and Green a selection of Splendor, Orléans, and Zooloretto promo cards from Essen, we decided to play something quick.  As there were a lot of hungry people, we decided to start with a quick game of Om Nom Nom.  This is a fabulous little double think game based on critters eating other critters further down the food chain.  The game is set up with a large handful of dice which are rolled to give either items from the bottom of the food chains (flies, carrots and cheese) or animals from the middle of the food chains (frogs, rabbits and mice).  Players start with six cards representing animals from the middle of the food chain and the predators from the top of their food chains (hedgehogs, wolves and cats).  Players simultaneously choose a card to play and then everyone reveals them and they are placed on the appropriate space on the three central player boards. before and the animals begin to feed starting at the top of the food chain.  For example, wolves eat frogs and any surviving frogs then eat flies.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

If only one card of any type is played, the predator feeds and the player takes their card back with any cards/dice their animal has eaten placing everything in their scoring pile.  Where more than one card of the same type is played and there is enough food to go round it is shared equally and everyone eats (taking their cards back with their share of the prey).  If there is not enough food for everyone to get a share, they all starve and lose their cards going home with nothing.  This is repeated until there are no cards left.  Food at the bottom of a chain is worth two points at the end of the game and food from the middle of a chain and any cards are worth one point.  The game is played over three rounds and the winner is the player with the most points.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue won the first round with eleven, more than twice the points anyone else managed to gather.  Om Nom Nom is one of those games where a high score in one round is usually balanced by a dreadful score in the next, so everyone expected Blue to fail to score at all in the second round.  Burgundy’s twelve points in the second round looked really good, but contrary to the usual run of things, Blue somehow managed to improve her score picking up eighteen points—one less than the record for a single round in our group.  The third round was a little bit of a dead rubber, but Burgundy was keen to see Blue get her bad round and if she did, fancied his chances.  It was a much more even final round and with lots of points available, things looked good for Burgundy, but unfortunately for him, everyone else chose this round to get it together.  In the end it was all about second place, which Burgundy just managed to take ahead of Black and Mulberry as food arrived.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

While Burgundy, Blue and Mulberry ate their belated supper, everyone else carried on the food theme, playing a little Japanese game picked up by Black and Purple at Essen called くだものフレンズ or Fruit Friends.  This is a little card drafting and set collecting game where players are collecting different types of fruit using the “I divide, you choose” mechanism.  There are a surprisingly few games that use this idea, but two of the best are …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (aka Piece o’ Cake) and San Marco.  …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne is relatively unusual as it works well with players dividing the pie into more than three.  In contrast, San Marco is a three to four player game, but plays much better with three than four because the “I divide, you choose” mechanism generally works best when the pile is divided into three.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

In Fruit Friends, each player starts with a random start or “seed” card, dealt face up.  Players are then dealt seven cards which they divide into three piles of two (discarding the final card).  Beginning with the player who was dealt the apple start card, players offer the three piles to the player on their left who takes one pair; the next player then chooses from the remaining two piles leaving one pair for the active player.  Play continues in this way until everyone’s cards have been taken.  The second round is played the same way except cards are offered anti-clockwise and the player with the grapes start card goes first.  The final round is clockwise again, and the player with the kiwi start card begins.  At the end of the game, each player has eighteen fruit cards, with each type scoring differently.

1 card 2 card 3 card 4 card 5+ cards
Apples 0 points 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points (max)
Grapes 2 points 5 points 8 points 11 points 11 points (max)
Kiwis 2 points 6 points 0 points 12 points 18 points (max)
Bananas 3 points 7 points 12 points 0 points 0 points
Peaches 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points 20 points (max)

There are some catches, for example, peaches come in two colours, yellow and white, but only one of them scores.  Oranges score one point per apple card and similarly melons score one point per grape card (both up to a maximum of four points). The scoring intervals also offer some quirks, so while almost everyone scored twelve points for their bananas at the end of the game, Ivory went “Banana Bust” by over-shooting.  Otherwise it was close at the top and you could fit the first four players in a fruit-basket with only five points between them.  It was Purple, the “Kiwi Queen”, who just had the edge, “pipping” Green by a single point with Pine and Black finishing in joint third.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

By the time the game came to an end, the eaters had mostly finished, so Black started getting out the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium (also described previously as “the one with the elephant on the box”).  Burgundy and Ivory were quick to stake a claim to play it and Purple was equally quick to opt out.  Mulberry and Blue made up the five, so Green started to collect together the games he thought the rest might play, which Pine pointed out just made it look like he was playing Jenga with boardgames.  It took a while to come to a conclusion, but eventually the trio went for Echidna Shuffle.

Jenga
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is a game that we first discovered at the UK Games Expo back in June and since then, has been very popular with everyone who has played it.  This is partly because of the fabulous, over-produced pieces, especially the lovely echidnas with cute smiley faces.  The game is very simple:  Players have to get their bugs to their tree-stumps by moving echidnas around the board.  On their turn the active player rolls the die, and moves echidnas a total of that number of spaces.  The clever part is that players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine moves.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

There are two sides to the game board:  green “Summer” and snowy “Winter”.  There was some discussion as to which to play.  Pine thought the Summer side of the board rather than the Winter side was more of a challenge.  He explained that it was more confusing on the snowy side and that it is not so easy to block people.  On the other hand, the first time it was played with the Summer side, the game had become something of an epic marathon as everyone worked together to stop everyone else winning.  So this time the group started with the “advanced” Winter board and ended up with a very short game indeed.  After only about three rounds, Purple had got one of her bugs home and Green had managed two.  Then Pine surprised everyone and with a roll of seven managed to complete all three of his bugs and the game was over, almost before it had begun.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is really meant to be a children’s game, so perhaps it should not have been a huge surprise that it ended quite so quickly.  Maybe Pine had had a point though, so unusually the game got a second chance, this time with the Summer board.  This second game, did indeed last longer, but was still relatively quick and before too long everyone had just one bug remaining each. Green was first to get to this point, but Purple and Pine managed to successfully block his route while they also got their second bug home.  In the end Pine became the “Kingmaker” as everyone knew how many moves each player would get and he found himself in the position where he could either move the echidna out of purples way and into Green’s or do something else entirely. Either action (or inaction) would result in win for either Green or Purple and in the end he inevitably chose to open the door for Purple.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

It maybe that as a bunch of adult gamers, we have found the limit of this very pretty and lovable game.  On the other hand, the number of players also has quite an impact—the full compliment of six seems to have the effect of dragging out the Summer board, but the combination of a small number of players and the complexity of the Winter board appears to make the game too open.  Hopefully the company will bring out some new expansions or different board layouts that will give us more to explore, in the meantime, the game may get fewer outings in the weeks to come.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Because of the late start and the fact that Green wanted an early night, there wasn’t enough time for another medium-weight game, but it was still early enough for a short game. After some discussion, the trio agreed upon Walk the Plank!, a cute little programming game with a hefty dose of “take that”.  In programming games players choose the cards they are going to play before the round starts and then action them during the round, usually taking it in turns to reveal one card and then carry out the associated action.  One of the classic games of this type is Colt Express which won the Spiel des Jahres a few years ago, but Walk the Plank! is a quicker and simpler game.  The idea is each player has three pirate meeples on a ship and the last one remaining is the winner.  Players start each round by simultaneously choosing three cards and laying them face down in front of them.  On their turn, players turn over the top card and action it.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards allow players to do things like “shove” one of the meeples belonging to the player on their left, or to the player on their right.  When this is played a meeple that shares a space with one belonging to the active player is moved one step along the plank and thus closer to falling into the depths.  There are lots of other actions including “drag to ship”, “drag to sea” and “Charge!”, but the most exciting cards are probably the “retract the plank” cards.  At the start of the game the plank comprises three pieces, but usually at least one player removes one of these at the start of the game, heightening the stress levels. We usually play with a couple of house-rules too, firstly we play to the last meeple standing (the rules say the last two share victory) and we allow the plank to be completely removed (the rules say there is always one piece left).

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

We’ve loved the game for years and have several different editions within the group—this time we played with the “limited edition” which includes some optional extra cards.  This time two of the extra single use cards were added to each player’s deck:  “Parlay”, which gives a player a chance to turn the tables via a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, and “Dynamite”, which pushes everyone on one tile one space closer to the sea.  After a little shuffling about, Green played his “Dynamite”, but succeeded in sending two of his own men closer to the water as well as the others.  Then Purple played a “Charge!” card to try to push Green into the sea.  Green used his “Parlay” to see if he could to prevent it, but this ended up in hysterics thanks to a total inability to play the game correctly.  It started with Green playing on the count of three as agreed and Purple after the count of three (i.e. on four).  After multiple attempts including one where Purple ended up just pointing vaguely at Green everyone was in fits of giggles, but it didn’t look like the tie was anywhere nearer being resolved.

Rock-Paper-Scissors
– Image from theguardian.com

Pine suggested that perhaps they should try after the count instead.  Green duly obliged, but Purple had finally worked out how to play on the count of three and still the problem persisted.  Then Green chose stone and Purple also chose stone changing to paper at the last second, but this was spotted by Pine who ruled a “Let” and so they had to try yet again.  By this time everyone was laughing so hard that in a fit of confused giggles Purple then chose “none of the above” by using a single finger.  Pine suggested Green and Purple put their hands behind their backs, but this time it was Green’s turn to make a mess of things and he just couldn’t get the hang of it.  In the end, in an effort to stop Purple from soiling the furniture, Pine suggested they remove the counting element and play with closed eyes which was finally successful.  It was largely immaterial by this time, but Green won, so one of Purple’s pirates went charging off the plank into the sea.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Getting back to the game seemed tame by comparison. Everyone ended up back on the boat and then started moving forward again.  With the plank retracted, Green found himself with all three of his pirates on the end when Pine played his dynamite and Green was out in one go taking one of Purple’s and one of Pines own with him.  So Green became the Ghost and with two pirates versus one, it looked to be Pines game.  Two rounds later, though the Ghost shoved one of Pine’s pirates off the ship to level things up until Purple played her “Dynamite” and managed to get both dumped into the water, bringing the game to a shuddering halt, and on that note, Green headed home.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Imaginarium was still underway with no sign of finishing soon, so Pine and Purple decided to give Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra a go as Pine had missed out last time.  As in the original game, Azul, players take all the tiles of one colour from a “factory” and put the rest in the middle, or they take all the tiles of one colour from the middle. Tile placement and scoring is rather different however. All the tiles taken in a turn are placed in a single column of the player’s personal player board. This board is modular with the double-sided strips laid out at random so everyone has a different starting setup.  Tiles must be placed in the strip immediately below the Glazier meeple, or in a strip to its right.  The Glazier is then placed above the strip the tiles were placed in.  Instead of taking tiles, players can choose to reset the Glazier’s position, moving him back to the left most strip.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Players get points when strips are completed scoring the sum of the score depicted below the strip and any strips to the right that have already been completed.  There is also a colour bonus—each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game, and any tiles that match the colour for the round score extra.  Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed.  Any left over tiles that cannot be placed yield a penalty with players moving along a negative score track which has small steps at the start that get larger.  There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

This is definitely a game that takes a at least one play to understand how it works and what the best way to score points is.  For example, the way the score builds, it is imperative to complete the furthest right strips early as then they score again and again.  However, they are relatively low scoring, so this is not the only important strategy. So while Pine started off well, Purple scored more later, especially when she picked up colour bonus point as well.  Early in the game, the penalty for picking up the first player token or for having left-over tiles is small, but it quickly increases, and with Pine taking the first player token more than Purple, he finished with more negative points too.  All the little extras combined to make it a bit of a landslide in Purple’s favour, but then Purple had the advantage of having played the game several times, so next time will surely be different.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

While these games had been going on, the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium was getting an outing.  Subtitled “The Dream Factory”, this game is a worker-placement, engine builder with a Steam Punk theme where players are building machines in a factory.  Beautifully produced with remarkable artwork, players first take it in turns to choose a position on the factory conveyor-belt.  They select either the broken machine card that they are going to buy or a position to collect charcoalium.  These are then carried out in “action” order which then also becomes the selection order for the next round.  At the end of the round any unused cards move long the conveyor-belt and the early positions are populated with new, exciting cards.  As the game progresses, the broken machine cards generally become more expensive, but the machines become more useful, producing more and/or higher value resources.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

On a player’s turn, their existing “machines” first produce resources, then the player must buy the broken machine card they had chosen. The active player finally carries out two actions dictated by an unusual clock mechanism:  each player has a board with the six possible actions arranged in a circle and the hands of the clock are fixed such that players are unable to take actions that are adjacent.  As the clock hands must be moved every round, players are only able to take repeat one action in consecutive rounds.  Possible actions include hiring a character, trading resources, extracting charcoalium, repairing broken machines and reorganising or dismantling existing machines.  When a machine card is taken from the conveyor-belt, it is broken, they must be repaired before they will work and produce resources.  Once repaired, machines can be combined to make them more efficient, or dismantled to give points, the game ends when one player gets to twenty points.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

One of Ivory’s questions before playing a new game is always, “Where are the points going to come from?” In addition to dismantling machines, points are also available for completing “projects” i.e. satisfying goals drawn at random at the start of the game, or by trading charcoalium.  There are also two points available for players who have the most of one of the four resources at the end of the game.  As the game was late starting, the group decided to end the game at fifteen points instead of twenty, though to begin with it didn’t look much like anyone was going to get to fifteen points before midnight.  Black assured everyone that people would pick up speed as the game progressed and eventually, Ivory got going completing the first of the projects and then Black and Blue followed.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is mostly multi-player solitaire, except when it’s not.  There are some machine cards that take resources from the other players.  In a game where resources are very tight and players are very reliant on resources for their plans this can be crucial.  The game also has a distinctly mean streak, as a player that is unable to pay for the card they have chosen, doesn’t get the card, but also loses all their resources, completely upsetting their plans and forcing them to start again from scratch, potentially losing them the game.  This is exactly what happened to Blue—Ivory went earlier in the turn order and bought and then repaired a machine that took all her charcoalium which meant she lost the card she was going to buy and all her resources.  She vowed to get her revenge, but the opportunities for that are few and far between.  As she waited for her chance, she gathered charcoalium to ensure she would be able to buy the right card when it came up.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Sadly for her, interaction in the game is minimal so there she never really got her chance.  Amassing large amounts of charcoalium wasn’t totally without use though as it enabled her to fulfill one of the projects and as they were playing to a smaller total, she started trading them in for points in an effort to avoid coming last.  Meanwhile, Ivory kept amassing points and Mullberry kept doing “the weird goat-head thing” which ensured she always had plenty of charcoalium and was starting to build a productive engine.  Black and Burgundy had also just got their engines going and were planning to score heavily when Ivory announced that he’d passed the fifteen point mark.  With Blue still to take her turn, she maximised her points and everyone added up their scores.  Sadly, for Black, Burgundy and Mullberry this wasn’t a long process as shortening the game had had the unforeseen consequence that the game ended just before their plans had come to fruition.  Much to her surprise, Blue had done rather better as she had stuck to short-term targets that lent themselves to the short game.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

There was only one winner though and Blue’s fourteen points flattered her position as the scores did not tell the true story of the game.  It’s definitely a game to try again sometime, though perhaps with fewer people which would give players a bit more control over their own destiny.  The artwork is somehow both amazing and very disturbing at the same, and it certainly had an unforeseen effect on Blue.  She is not normally one to remember dreams or one to design games, but when she awoke the next morning she had a fleeting recollection of dreaming about playing a card only version of Om Nom Nom that she had designed called “Yum Yum Tum”.  We will have to see if that ever comes to fruition.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  When gamers are hungry they play games about eating.

30th October 2018

The evening began with the inevitable post-Essen chit-chat and games-mule deliveries (though most of it hadn’t been unpacked so that’s something to look forward to next week too).  Burgundy was very pleased with his substantial pile of Concordia expansion maps though (including the new Venus expansion and older Britania/Germania, Gallia/Corsica packs), and Pine was thrilled to hear there was a copy of Echidna Shuffle on its way for him too.  With food delayed, and a lot of people already arrived, we decided to get going with the  “Feature Game”.  Prior to Essen, we had planned to play Key Flow, however, that was still packed and there hadn’t  been time to learn the rules, so instead the “Feature Game” chosen was Peppers of the Caribbean.  This is  a cute little set collecting card game with a very loose pirate theme.  Each card features a number, a colour and a type of food.  The idea is that there is a face up market and on their turn, players can either take cards from the market, or play cards.

Peppers of the Caribbean
– Image by boardGOATS

To take cards from the market the active player must first discard a card and can then take all the cards of that colour or all the cards of that food type into their hand (discarding down to seven if necessary).  Alternatively, they can play a set of three or four cards where all the cards have different colours and different food types.  Of these, two cards are discarded and the remaining cards are kept for scoring.  At the end of the game, players sum up the face value of the cards in their pile of kept cards, and the highest score is the winner.  There are one or two fine details, for example, as well as “chilli cards” there are also rum cards which feature two colours and no food.  These have a high value (six, compared with one to four for the chilli cards) and can help people make sets more quickly.  However, as they have two colours, this means there can only be one rum card in a set and the maximum set size is then three, so only one card can be kept reducing the scoring opportunity.  There are also bonus points cards which are drawn largely at random from a pile—some of these are end-game bonuses and others reward the first player to reach a goal (e.g. be the first player to have all four different food types in front of them).

Peppers of the Caribbean
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Pink had played the game a couple of times in their hotel bar at Essen and on the train home.  They had found it a diverting little game with two players and had wondered how it would play with more people.  Somehow it is one of those games that is slightly confusing at the start and things were made more challenging as we began with three players and ended up with five as more people arrived, meaning the rules got explained several times from different points.  As a result there were slow starters and “fast twitch” players.  It was close at the top though with Burgundy and Ivory some way ahead in a tight finish which Ivory took by just three points.  Although everyone would probably play it again, it was clear that the game would be better with fewer players where there would be less fluctuation in the market and everyone would have more of a chance to get what they want.  It only became clear some time later that there had been a mix-up somewhere along the line and although the side of the box said it was suitable for five, the bottom and the website indicated that the game was only intended to play a maximum of four anyhow…

Peppers of the Caribbean
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as the game was coming to an end, Black and Purple arrived in need of some R&R after what had been a trying day.  They had also brought some of their Essen Loot (including a copy of Las Vegas for Red), and the Essen discussion began again.  Black and Purple had been at the fair for the full four days and felt that a minimum of two was needed to see everything, but three days was a more realistic time.  Blue and Pink had been there for just two days as they can’t cope with the crowds for more than that.  Even they are considering a Thursday-Friday-Sunday strategy for next year though as there are now six halls (some very large indeed), and they felt they had missed a lot of things that they had wanted to see this year.  That said, a lot of games sold out including the expansions for Altiplano and Great Western Trail (Altiplano: The Traveler and Great Western Trail: Rails to the North), Mini Rails (again!), Hanamikoji, Food Chain Magnate, Roll to the Top, Majolica, Spirit Island, Echidna Shuffle, Ceylon and headline releases Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Architects of the West Kingdom, Newton, The River and Everdell.  Some of these went ridiculously fast, for example Everdell apparently sold out in six minutes on Saturday despite its not insubstantial price tag of €70.

Essen 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple and Black were particularly pleased with Solenia, which they had played at the fair and then managed to grab one of the last few copies available.  A beautiful game with a totally over-produced large yellow airship and cards with a hole in the middle, it wasn’t long before it became clear that it was going to be one of the games to make it to the table. The pretext is that several millennia ago, the tiny planet Solenia lost its day-and-night cycle:  its northern hemisphere was forever plunged into darkness, and its southern hemisphere was eternally bathed in bright sunlight. Players travel the world delivering the rarest gems and stones to the “Day People” and take wood and wheat to the “Night People” who need them to survive. In return players receive gold stars and the player with the most of these at the end of the game is the winner.

Solenia
– Image by boardGOATS

In each round, players take it in turns to play one card from their hand onto an empty space on the five-by-five game board. Cards can be played either on a “Floating Island” or a “Floating City”.  Cards played on Floating Islands will give as many resources as the value of the card played of the type corresponding to the City.  Cards played on Floating Islands enable players to fulfil a delivery tile by delivering the resources depicted on it.  Cards must be played adjacent to the airship in the centre of the playing area or adjacent to one of the players previously played cards.  When someone plays a zero card, the airship advances one space along the modular board.  At the end of that turn, the back piece of the game board is removed and players receive resources based on the cards they have on this strip of the playing area.  This strip is then turned over (turning night to day / dawn to dusk or vice versa), and it is placed on the front edge of the game board, and thus the airship moves across the planet.  This constantly changing board rolling from day to night and back to day again gives the game a unique feel.

Solenia
– Image by boardGOATS

Although resources were far from scarce (unlike other resource management games), it still has quite a bit of resource management thanks to a strict resource limit on a players personal board.  Thus, the real problem came in deciding which were the most important resources to keep, a little bit of area control/route planning, and a few paths to victory points. The constantly changing nature of the game doesn’t lend itself to a developing narrative though having played it before, Black and Purple had an edge over Green.  This wasn’t helped when Green misunderstood one of the cards and tried to do something clever to multiply his points.  The first attempt failed, but on the second try he thought he had achieved more points and then the misunderstanding came to light—the bonus points only applied to the card itself not to all types of terrain he had cards on.  It would not have changed the placings though.  It was very tight between Black and Purple until Black managed to gather together three pairs of day and night bonus chits, which hadn’t been looking likely until the last couple of turns.  With that, he just sneaked his nose in front, winning by three points.  Overall Solenia is a clever game that takes a run through to get a feel for how it works and then you then just want to play again—it certainly won’t be long before it gets another outing.

Solenia
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile the other four were giving Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra a try.  This was another Essen release, and one  that had generated a lot of “buzz” in advance as it was produced by the same team that originally published this year’s double award winner, Azul.  Blue, Purple, Black and Pink had all tried it while in Germany and found the scoring sufficiently different and interesting that they had collectively come back with two copies.  Initially the conversation centred around the clear plastic tiles that, largely dependent on age, reminded some people of Spangles (“The sweet way to go gay”) and others of “Tunes” (“Help you breath more easily” and thus “Book a second-class ticket to Nott-ing-ham”) .  Once the subject had moved away from 1980s confectionery, attention focussed on the new game and its similarity and contrast with the original Azul.  As in the original, players take all the tiles of one colour from a “factory” and put the rest in the middle, or they take all the tiles of one colour from the middle.  Tile placement and scoring is rather different however.  All the tiles taken in a turn are placed in a single column of the player’s personal player board.  This board is modular with the double-sided strips laid out  at random so everyone has a different starting setup.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Above the board each player has a figure, their Glazier, who marks one strip.  Tiles must be placed in the strip immediately below the Glazier, or in a strip to the right of the Glazier.  The Glazier gives players another option on their turn too, as players can choose to reset his position to the left most strip (instead of taking tiles).  Scoring is very different, with players getting points when strips are completed. The number of points scored is the sum of the score depicted below the strip, plus the score for any strips to the right that have already been completed.  There is also a colour bonus—each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game, and any tiles that match the colour for the round score extra.  Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed, reducing the players placement options.  This provides a subtle catch-up mechanism that takes effect towards the end of the game.  Any left over tiles that cannot be placed yield a penalty (as in the original Azul game), but this is also different.  In addition to the positive score track, there is also a negative score track where the steps start off small and then get larger; penalties are accrued for left-over tiles and also for being first to take a tile from the middle (and with it the Start Player token). There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips. All in all, the game is definitely a step up in complexity, making it more of a challenge for those who have played Azul extensively.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

As most of the group fall into that category, we had high hopes that Stained Glass of Sintra would be a good fit.  It certainly offers a new challenge, though it was clear that the fact Blue had played it before gave her a significant advantage.  For example, the timing of repositioning the Glazier is very critical.  It doesn’t necessarily prevent a player getting a load of tiles they don’t want (as everyone can reposition their Glazier and the problem will come back round), but players don’t want to be stuck with their Glazier far to the right at the start of a new round as that limits their choice when the options are at their best.  Similarly, player don’t want to reposition their Glazier too frequently as this reduces the number of tiles they take and therefore affects their score.  Behind Blue it was very tight for second place with just five points covering Pine, Burgundy and Ivory.  It was Pine who got his nose in front though, by keeping his negative score down and concentrating on his end-game bonuses.  Unfortunately, the game is not as nicely produced as the original: the broken glass tower is made of very thin card (more like thick paper) as is the score board.  The “glass” pieces are also somehow not as nice as the resin tiles in the original and the colours are less distinct as well.  These negatives are a real shame as they take the edge off what would otherwise be a excellent reimplementation of the superb original game.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Green and went home for an early night leaving five others plus Pine who wanted to play something “in about forty-five minutes”.  Deciding what to play took so long that there nearly wasn’t time to play anything at all, but after three new games, everyone was in the mood for something “comfy”, and eventually Bohnanza appeared.  Pink’s new “Fan Edition” was still packed, as was the Jokerbohnen mini-expansion that Blue had acquired.  She had not brought her Spanish copy either, so it was the “boring” Rio Grande Games edition.  Familiarity sometimes has its place though, and this was one of those times. Nobody needed a reminder of the rules (plant the first bean in hand; optionally plant the second; turn over two cards and plant or trade them; trade from hand, and draw cards placed at the back of the hand), but the setup varies for different numbers.  It wasn’t long before we were underway, however, and Purple quickly began to amass a  crazy number of Red Beans.  It felt like nobody else could really compete although Black came very close finishing with thirteen coins, one behind Purple.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  New is very exciting, but that comfy pair of old slippers still has its place.

26th June 2018

It was an remarkable evening from the very start:  Burgundy had a drink at the pub for the first time in known history, Blue eschewed her usual pizza and chips in favour of the ploughman’s special (both consequences of the heat), and to top it all, a new gamer, Viridian, turned up.  Inspired, while food was still being consumed, we quickly sorted out who was going to play what, and the first game got started with another outing for Echidna Shuffle.  This was a game some of us played at the UK Games Expo and was such a success that Purple and Black brought a copy home.  The game is a very simple, pick up and deliver type game with beautiful pieces.  Basically, each player has a set of three coloured insects and three matching tree stumps.  On their turn, the active player rolls a die and moves the fabulously large echidnas around, trying to use them to pick up their insects and drop them off on their stumps.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

We played Echidna Shuffle last time as the “Feature Game”, but instead of taking the expected  half an hour, it took nearer two!  Although it dragged a little towards the end, everyone had enjoyed it, but it was felt that it might not take quite so long when played with fewer people and with the alternative board: the “Winter Snowball Fight” side, rather than the pretty “Summer Leaf” side.  The “Snowball Fight” board is considerably more complex, with arrows going in lots of different directions giving players more options and opportunities to mess up other’s plans.  The game was tight, but didn’t go on anywhere near as long as last time and was all the better for it.  Everyone managed to get home their first bug reasonably easily, and Pine (the winner last time) was the first to get his second bug home with Purple just behind.  With the more complex patterns on this board it was much harder to keep people away from their third tree stump and despite everyone else’s best efforts, Purple managed to ease her way to her third stump and win the game.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table the “Feature Game”, Concordia had started, but still had a long way to go, so the group looked for something else to play, and attention fell on Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.  This is a light, pretty, tile-laying game with the tenuous theme of decorating the palace lake with floating lanterns and competing to become the most honoured artisan.  On their turn, players choose a tile from their hand of three and add it to the central palace lake.  Each tile is divided into four quarters, each of which has a colour, red, orange, blue, green, purple, black and white.  Every player then receives a lantern card corresponding to the color on the side of the tile facing them, with the active player receiving bonus cards for any edges where the colours of the new tile match those of the lake.  At the start of their next turn, players can gain honour tiles by dedicating sets of lantern cards, three pairs, four of a kind or seven different colours. Each tile is worth honour points and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

We’ve played this a few times, so in order to spice things up a little, we added the pavillions from the expansion, The Emperor’s Gifts.  This introduces the concept of the emperor’s pavilion;  players can place up to three pavilions during the game, on “unimproved” lantern tiles.  If the players make a colour match on a pavilion, they earn a gift from the emperor.  Two emperor cards are revealed at the start of each game, so at the start of their turn players can redeem two gifts to activate one of the cards and perform the special action associated with it.  Some of these gifts allow players another avenue to earn more honour whereas other gifts allow players to modify the state of the playing area.  Black, Purple and Pine all went after the highest scoring honour tiles requiring seven cards of different colours, while Green tried to maximise the efficiency of his cards taking the lower scoring combinations instead, but getting more of them.  The addition of The Emperor’s Gifts was a little controversial:  Black in particular was of the opinion that they made a nice little game unnecessarily complicated, while Green felt the base game was quite simple and benefited from the additional elements.

Lanterns: The Emperor's Gifts
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end the scoring was close, with a tie between Black and pine on fifty-three, and another tie between Purple and Green on sixty-one.  Even though the others were scornful of Green’s strategy, it nearly worked, but it was Purple, who had managed to get both her temples out and used the extra bonuses to good effect in the last few turns who won the tie-breaker with two favours to Green’s one.  And with it, she took her second victory of the night.  The “Feature Game” was still going on the next table, but Pine was finding it difficult going as he didn’t have his glasses.  Apparently he’d left them on the roof of his car and only realised once he’d got home and discovered them missing (possibly another consequence of the hot weather).  Green also wanted an early night so the group ended up chatting and Black took to spectating the game on the neighbouring table.  This was Concordia, a longer, strategy game of economic development in Roman times,  We’ve played it a few times on Tuesdays and Fridays (at the Didcot Games Club), and enjoyed both the base game and the Salsa expansion.  This time we used the Egypt map from Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta, the latest expansion.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

It was Viridian and Ivory’s first game of Concordia, and it was a while since Blue had played it too, so Burgundy explained the rules. Mechanistically, the game is quite simple:  players have a deck of cards and, on their turn, they play one and do what it says.  That’s all there is to it, but how the cards work together is the key.  Each player begins with a hand of Character cards (the same cards), six colonists and a handful of resources. The game is one of resource production and exploration. Notable cities are connected via land and (in the case of the Egypt map) river routes and each produces one resource.  These cards allow players to move colonists and build settlements, trigger production for all settlements in a given region, introduce more colonists etc., however one of the cards enables players to buy extra cards from the market (a face up display). The cards are played into a personal discard pile where they remain until the player plays their “Tribune” card to get all their cards back.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

Each player also has a warehouse of a fixed size which will hold a maximum of only twelve items, which at the start of the game includes four of their six colonists (two ships and two “Elvis-meeples” – the third ship and third “Elvis-meeple” start the game in Memphis, Uh-huh). So, managing resources and finances is one of the key parts of the game and it is essential that players have the right resources when they need them as there isn’t space to store excess. Another “pinch-point” is the cards; players can only play each card once before picking them all up. They also get income when they play their Tribune card to recover their cards, but as it is dependent on the number of cards they pick up, it is in the player’s interest to play as many cards as possible before collecting them all again – this also needs planning.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the characteristics of the Egypt map is how tight it is, making the game a bit of a knife-fight in a telephone box.  For this reason, it is imperative players get a good start and Ivory did just that, quickly commandeering two of the cities that produced fabric.  Before long he had engaged in a cycle of produce and sell, produce and buy and it was clear that everyone else was in danger of a sever trouncing.  Meanwhile, Viridian was building a strong-hold in the Oasis province and was also looking to be very competitive.  Blue had started off well too, heading for the Red Sea.  This is a new feature specific to the Egypt map, which has the ability to generate five Sestertii every time one of the Red Sea ports produce. In a game where money is so tight, this seemed like a really good idea, but Blue was keen to use her ship to build on all the Red Sea harbours first and needed resources to do that which meant she delayed to long to make best use of it and it took Burgundy to show her how to do it.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

All the while though, Ivory was getting ever stronger with his vast amount of cloth and then the Weaver card appeared in the card row.  This enables the owner to produce all their cloth at the same time, rather than having to produce them one province at a time.  There was a flurry of people buying cards and suddenly it was quite cheap, though nobody had any use for it except Ivory, as nobody else had any cities producing cloth.  And so, the Weaver sat there, unloved, until Burgundy took one for the team and bought it, much to Ivory’s disgust.  It was expensive though and cost Burgundy dearly.  Ivory couldn’t believe Burgundy had taken the Weaver, and lamented his failure to get it when he had the chance, possibly due to an uncharacteristic misjudgement, or maybe the heat was getting to him too.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

The game continued with players building up their production heartlands; Burgundy had a stronghold in the Valley of the Nile, while Viridian took the Farmer and Smith cards enabling him to produce with his wheat and silver cities.  It was about this point that the other game finished, and Black began spectating.  Ivory asked him how he thought he was doing and Black replied he had no idea, “You can never tell with Concordia.”  Ivory pressed some more and Black took a look at his cards and eventually said no.  The most challenging part of the game is the end-game scoring, which is tied up in the Character cards. In addition to a name and an action, each card is dedicated to a Roman God. Each God rewards the card’s owner with victory points at the end of the game.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, Mars delivers points for colonists placed on the board. Each Character dedicated to Mars gives two points per colonist, so a player with all six colonists on the board at the end of the game and five Characters devoted to Mars will score thirty points. Thus, since the cards are effectively multipliers, in general, the strategy is to try to excel in one area rather than try to do a little bit of everything, but that is something that is definitely easier said than done.  Black’s intervention sparked a massive spell of card buying.  Burgundy went for “Mercurius” cards that reward players for having different types of production, while Ivory went for “Saturnus” cards which gave points for each populated province or region.  Blue on the other hand, noticed she already had a few “Jupitus” cards and there were lots on the table so made a beeline them and then started building in as many cities as she could.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

When Black came back for a second look and Ivory again asked whether he thought he would win, Black was less negative, but still not exactly positive.  And shortly after that, Blue took the last card (and with it the seven point bonus) and everyone tried to eek out what they could from their last turn.  It was tight, and as the scores for each card type were calculated, the lead changed repeatedly.  It turned out that Black’s reticence was well placed.  Although Ivory’s position looked good it was soon clear that his one hundred and twenty-nine wasn’t enough and the loss of the Weaver card had cost him dear.  Burgundy finished with one hundred and forty-five, scoring highly despite not having one really strong area (unusual in this game).  It was Blue who top scored though, with one hundred and fifty-four, thanks largely to her massive seven “Jupitus” cards.

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:   Hot weather can have some strange effects…

12th June 2018

The evening started with a couple of quick rounds of Love Letter, while Pine and Burgundy finished off their dinner.  This is the a quick “micro game” played from a deck with only sixteen cards.  Each player starts with just one card in hand drawing a second on their turn, choosing one to play.  The aim is to try to eliminate the other players from the game, with the last player the winner.  Red started the first round and immediately knocked out Burgundy by guessing his hand.  When Pine swapped his Countess card for the Princess though, he took the first round.  The second was also won by the Princess, but this time Red was the beneficiary, despite being side-tracked discussing work with Blue.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With food essentially dealt with, it was time to discuss who was going to play the “Feature Game”.  This time it was Echidna Shuffle, a very simple pick-up and deliver game with a couple of clever little quirks and fantastic over-produced pieces.  This was a game Black and Purple played with Blue and Pink at UK Games Expo last week; they liked it so much they nearly came to blows over who was going to get a copy, and it sold out on Friday afternoon as well.  Everyone else had heard about it, and despite the fact that it played six, it was hugely over-subscribed, so Blue, Burgundy and Ivory took themselves off to choose something else to play.  For many, Echidna Shuffle looked like a game with hedgehogs—the wonderfully chunky and gorgeously styled models could be either.  As there are more hedgehogs than echidnas in the UK, that’s what everyone associated them with, so every time someone said “Hedgehogs” there was a chorus of “Echidnas!” in response.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea of the game is that each player has three tree-stumps on board, and three insects in-hand; players have to get all three of their insects to their tree-stumps by riding them on the backs of echidnas. Each echidna and each stump can carry just one insect, with stumps removed from the game once they are occupied.  The active player first rolls the dice, and then moves the echidnas.  There are a lot of echidnas and not a lot of free spaces, so players have to shuffle the echidnas round the board, first passing their insect pick-up point, then trying to move that echidna to a tree-stump. Someone commented that “Echidna Skiffle” might have been a better name, but Pine pointed out that while they might look like hedgehogs, none of them looked like Lonnie Donegan

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The total number of spaces moved is dictated by roll of a die, and this is perhaps one of the cleverest parts of the game: players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This clever trick means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.  There are two sides to the board, the normal “Summer Leaf” side, and the manic “Winter Snowball Fight” side.  On this occasion, we played the “simple” board with a full complement of six players.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Red got one of her bugs home first and it remained that way for several turns, before everyone else caught up quickly, leaving only Green bugless.  Red and Magenta then led the way with their second insect before Green finally got one of his home.  There followed a steady levelling-up with each player getting their second insect home, while everyone took care to make sure that Red and Magenta were prevented from getting their third critter to it’s stump.  Meanwhile Green and Pine were really struggling a second bug home, eventually leaving Pine the only one with only a single safe insect.  By this time, the game had turned into a group calculated effort to stop each other from getting their third insect home.  Consequently, Pine was feeling very left out as his echidnas kept falling victim to everyone else’s attempts to stop the others.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Pine joined the party, and everyone was struggling to get one final insect home and put everyone out of their pain.  A move by Purple appeared to leave the door open for Black to trundle his final echidna to his last stump in two moves, but for some reason he moved his echidna in the wrong direction on the first move, leaving it to do another loop before he could get it back, and that was the end of his chance.  The game continued for a while longer, like a never-ending six-player game of chess;  everyone circling each other, with their insects stuck in eternal echidna traffic jams until finally Pine broke through to an open leaf road, and an unstoppable position.  At least three other players were unable to get their insect to their own stump without playing “King Maker” for someone else, so Pine emerged the victor having spent so long stuck at the back of the field early on.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Discussing the game afterwards, we realised that with the “simple” board and six experienced gamers who thought perhaps a little too much about the game, it had ended up in an almost “Tic-Tac-Toe” impasse.  This had lengthened the game, making it take much, much longer than it should have done.  As a result, players vowed to use the more complex board “Snowball Fight” board and maybe look for other ways to prevent the stalemate, like using the “extra moves” variant, especially when playing with lots of people.  It would be well worth finding a way to make it play a little quicker as we all had fun with the game which had very nice pieces. A game we can all share with our non-gaming friends and families too, which gave it a big thumbs up from the group, most of whom don’t really care whether they are hedgehogs, echidnas, or even porcupines

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Blue, Burgundy and Ivory, had eventually chosen to play Dice Forge, a game they had enjoyed once before but felt they had unfinished business with.  The game is a dice building game, with a similar feeling to deck building games like Dominion and bag building games like Orléans, or cup building games like Roll for the Galaxy.  In these games, the aim is to try to mitigate the effects of luck by stacking the deck, bag, cup to improve the odds; in the case of Dice Forge, it is the dice themselves that players are modifying.  Each player starts with two dice, similar to those in some of the Lego games, where the faces can be removed and changed.  Beyond this, the game is actually quite simple.  On the active player’s turn, everyone rolls both their dice and accumulates resources accordingly.  On their turn, the active player can then also spend their resources to either upgrade dice, or to move their pawn from their central “Starting Portals” to one of the “Islands” on the board and take a “Heroic Feat” card.  Dice upgrades and cards all have a cost, with the best having the highest costs.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the key strategy elements is where to put dice upgrades, and how to improve the dice.  For example is it best to save up for the most expensive upgrades, or given the fact that the game only lasts ten rounds, is it better to upgrade dice at every possible opportunity?  Similarly, is it best to upgrade one dice preferentially, to try to ensure that something good will come out every time, or is it best to sprinkle good stuff on both dice and hope that the dice Gods will smile…  On the other hand, cards can be more effective, so it can be better to concentrate on getting them, but only if the means to buy them can be accumulated quickly and efficiently.  This time Blue decided to concentrate on building up one die and try to keep her points tally ticking over.  Burgundy tried a different approach and went for cards, but struggled to get the “Sun Shards” he needed to execute his plan.  Meanwhile, Ivory serenely surfed the resource roller-coaster, buying cards and upgrading his dice seemingly at will.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

The game came to a close with the tenth round, finishing just as the echidnas were finishing their elegant waltz.  Blue, who had been working up to a twenty-six point card had he plans quashed when Burgundy caused her to roll one of her dice and she ended up loosing six of her valuable Moon Shards.  This was all the more damaging as she had been waiting patiently for her turn with a full quota wasting any dice rolls that gave her more.  That meant that Ivory could take the last card on his turn, leaving Blue to try to find other ways of making points with her final turn.  And then it was just a case of quickly adding up the scores:  Blue had accrued more than twice as many points with her dice than Burgundy, who had in turn amassed a large pile of cards giving him more than twice as many points as Blue via that route.  It was Ivory though who was the clear winner, the same number of points from his dice as Blue, and almost the same number of points from his cards as Burgundy.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

It wasn’t late, but with Green, Red and Magenta heading off for an early night, that left six to play something else.  Ivory had enjoyed his first and only game of Las Vegas so much that he was keen to give it another go and everyone else was happy to join him. It is a very simple game with players rolling their dice and assigning some of them to one of the six numbered casinos.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card.  The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of table talk and “helpful suggestions”.  As usual, we added the Slot Machine (which is like a special seventh casino); some elements from the Boulevard expansion, including extra high value money cards and the large, double weight dice, and house ruled the game to three rounds.  Some people did well on the first round, some well on the second, some on the third, but once, again, it was Ivory who finished with $400,000, just a head of Blue and Purple, proving that last time wasn’t just beginner’s luck…

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Some dice games aren’t all about luck.

UK Games Expo 2018 – Bigger Every Year!

The first weekend in June was the UK Games Expo (sometimes known as UKGE, or simply Expo), held at the NEC and the NEC Hilton Metropole in Birmingham.  Several of the GOATS went, as well as some of the GOATS’ friends from the Didcot Games Club.  Friday was unbearably hot in the main hall with two people actually passing out with the heat, but by Saturday, the air conditioning was on and and it was less sticky.  That was just as well because Saturday was the busiest day, though it didn’t feel too crowded because there was extra space compared with last year.

UKGE 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

The GOATS went with the specific intention of seeing some of the recent releases like Mini Rails, the Viticulture expansion, Visit from the Rhine Valley, North American Railways, as well as prototypes like Tales of the Northlands: The Sagas of Noggin the Nog which has raised over £45,000 through crowd-funding thanks largely to the beautiful artwork by Peter Firmin.

Mijnlieff
– Image by boardGOATS

Plenty of games were played; Blue and Black even managed to squeeze in a quick game of Mijnlieff while they were waiting for lunch to arrive on Friday lunch time.  The surprise of Expo though, was Echidna Shuffle – a light pickup and deliver game with extremely tactile pieces.  In the demo game, Black pipped Purple into second place, with Blue and Black some way behind, but the only real question was how many copies they were going to buy, and it was no surprise that it sold out on Friday!  It surely won’t be long before it Features on a Tuesday night…

UKGE 2018
– Image by boardGOATS