Tag Archives: First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express!

9th January 2018

The evening started with a quick pre-pizza game of Love Letter.  We’ve played this micro game quite a bit over the years and it still comes out thanks to its amazing ability to fill tiny slivers of time.  It’s simplicity is the key though: from a deck with only sixteen cards, each player starts with only one card in hand.  On their turn, the active player draws a second card, and then chooses one to play, trying to eliminate other players from the game.  The winner is the last player remaining, or the player with the highest value card (on the rare occasion that the deck is exhausted first).  The very first card played set the tone for the whole evening, when Magenta played a Guard and correctly identified Blue as the Princess taking her out of the round without even playing a card.  Just to add insult to injury, Magenta pulled the same stunt in the third round too.  Blue got her revenge eventually, but it took several tries and in reality wasn’t all that satisfying even though she managed to prevent Magenta from winning a single hand and ensured Red took victory.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With a full compliment of gamers and pizza consumed, it was time to start gaming in earnest. The first game on the table was the “Feature Game”, Scoville.  This is an unusual game with auction, set collecting and “travelling salesman” elements, as well as a cool colour combination mechanic.  The individual elements of the game are not terribly complex, but because the rounds are quite long it is easy to lose track of things making the game a bit susceptible to analysis paralysis.  Each round starts with a blind bidding phase for turn order with the winner choosing his position on the player order track.  This is key because while the next phase, Planting takes place in turn order, the following stage, Harvest, takes place in reverse player.

Scoville
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

During the Planting phase, each player first chooses a card from the market and gets the chili or chilis depicted on it.  Then they must plant a chili, either one they have just received, or one they already had behind their player screen.  Chilis are planted in a plot in massive communal player field on the central game board.  The position chilis are planted in is crucial, not only to the player doing the planting, but also to everyone else, as once a chili has been planted everyone can use it and nobody can remove it from the field.  Once everyone has planted a chili, then, in reverse player order, everyone takes it in turn to harvest.  Players move their Farmer meeple three steps around the field taking chilis as they go.  This is the clever part: the chili players get depend on the the cross-breed of the two chilis in the fields on either side.

Scoville
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, if a player’s Farmer passes or stops between a red chili and a blue chili, they get a purple chili.  Similarly a combination of a yellow and a blue chili will give a green chili.  Once everyone has harvested, people get a chance to do something with their chilis:  take sell them for cash; get points for using them in a recipe, or exchange them for more chilis, points and/or cash at the farmers market.  The game is split into two halves, “morning” and “afternoon”, with the afternoon consisting of more exciting chilis available at the start of the round before planting.  When there are fewer recipe cards than there are players, the game is over and the winner is the player with the most points.

Scoville
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There was the usual debate as to who was going to play what, but as there were nine of us five ended up playing Scoville.  Blue got the “luck” of the draw and went first.  During setup, we’d had a discussion about the fact that going last is often a good thing as it means harvesting first, but in the early stages everyone went for planting as early as possible, leaving Burgundy to plant last and harvest first.  And harvesting first turned out to be a good thing for Burgundy because it meant he was the first to get an award for harvesting a second generation chili (i.e. a purple, orange or green one).  These awards are worth points at the end, and the earlier ones are worth the most.  It was a trick Burgundy pulled off a couple of times, netting him what felt like an unbeatable amount of points, however, the game had hardly started.

Scoville
– Image by BGG contributor chizcw

Everyone seemed to be struggling with something.  The first problem was distinguishing between the red, brown and purple chilis; there are a lot of little wooden pieces and many of them have similar colours, a problem exacerbated by the fact that a critical light-bulb had failed.  Beyond that, the game is fairly straightforward, however, it was the first time we had played it and people spent rather a long time staring blankly at the board, trying to decide where to plant their chilis.  Worse, since farmers cannot pass through or stop on a space occupied by another farmer, the amount of planning players could do in advance was severely limited.  This meant that players had a bit of a habit of getting in each others’ way and it wasn’t long before Burgundy and Magenta had managed to separate themselves from Blue, Pine and Red who had managed to wonder off in the other direction.

Scoville
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The problem with this was that Magenta and Burgundy had managed to acquire white, black and better yet, the clear sparkly chilis and planting these generated was more productive giving Burgundy even more awards.  At least, that was the way it started, but Magenta had other idea and cleverly managed to manipulate the turn order to ensure that she obstructed Burgundy in such a way as to beat him to the most lucrative of the high value awards.  Red, Pine and Blue could do little more than watch, feeling there was no way they could compete, but then, gradually, they began to build up collections of chilis and spend them on recipes which the found could also yield lots of points.  Unfortunately, by this time Burgundy and Magenta had run out of awards to compete for and were also turning their greedy eyes towards the points available for recipes…

Scoville
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With their better area of the field and only two players working it, perhaps it was inevitable that Burgundy and Magenta would be in a better position to grow the chilis needed for the most valuable recipes.  In the process, they managed to trample Pine into the ground and rub chili in his eyes by ensuring that he couldn’t take any recipe cards in the last couple of rounds because he couldn’t get the chilis he needed.  The last couple of rounds were a bit of an anti-climax, as everyone could see what was going to happen and we somehow managed to drag it out for longer than really necessary too.  No-one was in any doubt that the first and second places were going to Burgundy and Magenta, but the others hadn’t been paying enough attention to know which way round it was going to be.  In the end, Magenta finished with a massive one-hundred and eleven points, over twenty more than Burgundy in second, a difference that was almost as large as the range that covered everyone else.  It had been a much longer game than expected and everyone agreed that with fewer players it would have dragged less towards the end.

Scoville
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the next table, the other group were playing First Class, a modular, train-themed card drafting game, where two of five option modules are added to the basic card set, giving the game a lot of variety.  Although Black and Ivory had played it before, Green and Purple were new to the game so they needed a run-through of the rules and only the first two modules were used.  In First Class, players are competing rail line managers, working to upgrade their trains and improve their routes from Venice to Constantinople along path of the Orient Express.  Over three two-stage rounds, players select and activate action cards from a central area, each of which has their own deck of action cards.

First Class
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

At the start of the round players draw cards from the phase deck until there are three rows of six cards in the middle of the table.  During their turn the active player does two things: choose a card from the offer and then use it.  When the number of cards removed from one row is equal to the number of players, the row is removed from the game entirely.  The action cards allow players to extend their route; move their trains; improve their carriages; move their conductors, or expand their train.  There are also contract cards that may be drafted which have a specific condition that must be met during the game; meeting that condition may receive give bonus actions, points, or both.

First Class
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

After the first couple of rounds, Black and Ivory gave away what seemed to be the best tactic for this game, going for track cards and moving their Locomotive Meeple. This worked as not only did it give bonuses each time the train landed on a city space, it also gave bonuses at the end of each round (depending how far the train had got). Green had been building up his carriages and trying to get his Conductor to the end of his train as quickly as possible, since the largest bonuses seemed to be for the first person to get him to the end of their train.  However, when he looked across at Black and Ivory’s approach he felt that he had read the game completely wrongly as he had not realised that the mini-train track bonuses came up every round.

First Class
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor ckirkman

Green continued regardless and quickly filled his train with zero point carriages, relentlessly pushing his Conductor to the end as fast as possible. He was of course rewarded for getting his Conductor there first, and so he spent the rest of the game trying to build up the value of his carriages to pick up as many points as possible. In contrast, Purple’s game plan was a little more measured and she did a little of everything, but that did mean that her Locomotive Meeple wasn’t travelling very far and neither were her guards as her long train wasn’t very long.  Black and Ivory were less interested in developing a long train and kept building up the value of their carriages, including some very useful double multiplier cards which meant that it seemed that Black and Ivory were chuffing away to victory while Green and Purple were running off the rails.

First Class
– Image by BGG contributor Wizzy Parkerir

Purple’s game was rescued in the second half by a masterful placement of a Locomotive Meeple bonus multiplier. She had applied it to the second bonus space; one which gave her two more forward movements of her Locomotive Meeple. In one go she leapt forward a total of six spaces, giving her three bonuses which would then score again for her at the end of each round.  With her Locomotive Meeple making it to the end of her track she then followed Green’s example of getting the Conductor to the end of the train taking the second place bonus on that. By the end of the game, Black and Ivory’s trains had also mostly reached their desired length and Green’s carriage values had increased.  In the final scoring, however, it was Black and Ivory that steamed home at the front with Ivory taking first place with one hundred and ninety-four.  Green had not gone into a siding as he had feared, and was only seven points behind Black, showing that this game probably does have more than one route to victory.

First Class
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor ckirkman

Learning Outcome: Just because a game has enough pieces for five players, doesn’t mean it is a good idea for five people to play it.