Tag Archives: Flash Point: Fire Rescue

25th June 2019

It was lovely to see Burgundy back after his long lay-off, and the staff at The Jockey were thrilled to provide him with his ham, egg and chips once more.  While people finished eating there was a bit of chit chat, which extended into lots and lots of chit chat after people had finished eating.  Green explained that this was likely his last visit until September, while Lime commented that he had enjoyed Villagers so much last time that he’d bought a copy for himself.  He hadn’t realised that it had only just been released, and this led into a discussion about KickStarter and why people might be prepared to support a project months, possibly years in advance of its arrival.  This encouraged Ivory to show off his latest acquisition, Tiny Epic Mechs, a cool little game with meeples that can hold weapons or wear mech suits, and came with some KickStarter exclusive content.

Tiny Epic Mechs
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, after several attempts to get people playing games, Blue made an executive decision.  She split the group into a three and a four, with the four playing the “Feature Game”, Hook! and left the remaining three to sort themselves out.  Hook! is a very, very silly game where players are trying to place square cards over other cards, orienting them so that the holes pick out certain features and not others.  The game is played simultaneously, with each player first drawing a “target” card, taking a look at it and placing it in the middle.  Each player then chooses one of their three “aim” cards, each with a different arrangement of three holes, and places it over one of the target cards.

Hook!
– Image by boardGOATS

Cat-like, each player starts with nine lives, and, for every picture of their character that someone picks out with their aim card, they lose a life.  If they manage to hide behind a barrel or a crate, that protects them from cannon fire, but not from a grenade, which destroys all barrels and crates and causes everyone to lose a life.  Catching a “black pirate” in their sights allows the player to choose which of their opponents suffers.  Rum, on the other hand, helps to deaden the pain and restores a life, even bringing a pirate back from the brink of death if they lose their last life, but manage to take a swig of grog in the same round.  There are two aims to the game:  firstly, a player needs to survive till the end, and secondly finish with the most parrots—any target card where a parrot was visible through the sights is kept and the parrots added up at the end of the game.

Hook!
– Image by boardGOATS

The pirates come in three colours, red, blue and yellow, and two types (“sailors” and “captains”), with the colour distinction being much, much more obvious than the difference between sailors.  Thus, with the stress induced by the time pressure of the game, the potential for picking out a captain instead of a sailor is much larger than picking red instead of yellow for example.  This means that with more than three players, it is better to play with pairs of colours and team play is recommended.  Therefore, Blue and Lime played as one team, and Mulberry and Pine played as the other.  Pine commented, “I thought we didn’t do cooperative games,” which led to a discussion of what these were and the promise that one would be the “Feature Game” next time (probably Forbidden Island or maybe Flash Point: Fire Rescue).

Flash Point: Fire Rescue
– Image by BGG contributor aldoojeda

As the group played the first few rounds of Hook!, it quickly became apparent that Blue was more of a hazard to herself and her team-mate than the opposition, dropping several cannon balls on her foot and accidentally catching Lime a couple of times too.  Lime, it turned out, was quite good at catching parrots, while Mulberry and Pine had a bit of a thing for making Mojitos.  As it was the game’s first outing, it took a bit to get the hang of game play.  The idea that everyone looks at their card first and then plays meant that everyone ended up playing on their own cards.  We tried to fix this with a simultaneous count of three:  “Draw, One, Two, Three, Place!” but while that was more successful, it wasn’t perfect.

Hook!
– Image by boardGOATS

Playing again, we’d probably just skip the “preview target cards” phase and simultaneously place them in the middle without looking.  The vagaries of the game didn’t stop us having a ball though, as everyone attacked everyone in mad chaos.  Then Blue suddenly looked in real danger as her number of lives tumbled (mostly due to self-inflicted wounds).  Realising that she was at serious risk of an unscheduled visit to Davy Crockett and that Parrots aren’t known for hanging around corpses, she prioritised staying alive over parrots.  Before long, Pine was in a similarly precarious state, and he was not so lucky as Lime unceremoniously stabbed him in the back and dumped his body overboard.  As Pine’s parrots flew away, that left Mulberry with a titanic battle, the more-so as she was now also getting low on lives.

Hook!
– Image by boardGOATS

Although both Blue and Mulberry survived till the end, the winner was undoubtedly Lime who not only had more lives left than anyone else, but also had almost as many parrots as the other two put together, giving his team glorious victory.  With all the fight taken out of her and citing jet-lag, Mulberry was making noises about finding her bed, but Blue twisted her arm a little and she agreed to give Ticket to Ride: London a go before she left.  This is a cut-down version of the Spiel des Jahres winning, train game, Ticket to Ride.  This game has spawned a whole family of games and expansions, including maps of Europe, Asia, India and Africa, but the most recent are the two city specials, New York and London.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is very simple: on their turn, players can do one of three things, draw coloured travel cards, spend travel cards to place pieces on the board, or pick up tickets.  Points are scored for placing pieces (usually scored during the game) and for connecting the two places shown on the ticket cards (scored at the end of the game).  Any unfulfilled tickets score negative points.  Each of the variants has some other little feature, for example, Pennsylvania includes a stocks and shares element, Märklin includes passengers and Nederland includes bridge tolls that players have to pay.  The new city titles, have fewer trains (less than half), players draw two tickets instead of three, and, in the case of London, bonus points for connecting all the places in a district.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland
– Image by boardGOATS

Only Blue had played this new version of the game before, but Pine had played other versions many times and Lime had also played one of them before, though it was a while ago and he wasn’t sure which it was.  The London game is really cute though and has a lot of UK references.  For example, for those of a certain vintage the box features John Steed and Mrs Peel, and the travel cards include yellow submarines and black cabs.  Perhaps the best though are the pieces where trains have been replaced with really high quality miniature Routemaster buses.  As ever, there have been lots of online criticisms, but we just liked spotting the obvious references and trying to guess what the orange car was meant to be (a Lamborghini Miura?).

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine went first and started quickly by placing a couple of Routemasters.  Blue, Mulberry and Lime were a bit slower, building up their collection of cards.  With some versions of Ticket to Ride, the game is all about planning routes, gathering the necessary cards and then playing all these cards in quick succession so others don’t have a chance to block.  In other versions, this strategy doesn’t work so well as the key parts of the network are taken early in the game.  The shorter games, especially those with short routes tend to fall more into the latter camp, so Mulberry looked to be playing a dangerous game as she fell behind with the number of pieces she’d placed and amassed a huge pile of cards.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, always one to play this game close to the wire, was the first to chance it with some tickets, drawing two and keeping one.  Then, he drew another two and kept one.  Lime and Mulberry were still working on their existing routes, but Blue decided to follow Pine’s example and drew two tickets, but kept both.  As Pine, pushed his luck once more, it turned out he’d pushed it too far this time, drawing two tickets that were almost impossible to complete.  Blue learning from Pine’s mistake (rather like last time she had played Ticket to Ride with Pine), decided not to draw any more tickets and instead, brought the game to a swift end by placing all but one of her remaining Routemasters to connect Piccadilly Circus to Baker Street.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Checking the scores proved that most people had managed to more or less keep on top of their scoring during the game and it was just tickets and district bonuses.  Inevitably, the bonuses were minimal, so as is common in this game, it was all about tickets.  Lime and Mulberry had both completed their tickets, so the question was whether drawing more had been a good bet for Blue and Pine.  Pine had more than Blue, but unfortunately, he’d failed to complete the last one, leaving Blue some way in front with forty-one points.  In the battle for second place, Pine had come off best demonstrating that drawing more tickets can be a good move, but only if you can complete them.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, the trio of Burgundy, Green and Ivory had decided to give Endeavor: Age of Sail another outing.  Perhaps it was because Green wanted revenge for last time, or maybe Burgundy had missed out, or possibly it was just because Green wanted to play the game again while considering whether or not to commit to getting the new Age of Expansion buildings, but whatever the reason, out it came for the second time on the bounce.  The game is a simple game of exploration in the age of Captain Cook, played over eight rounds.  Players first build, then populate and remove workers from their buildings, all according to how far they have progressed along the associated technology track.

Endeavor: Age of Sail
– Image by boardGOATS

The guts of the game are the actions, however, which allow players to colonise cities on the central map board, engage in shipping, attack occupied cities, plunder and become slave masters. Last time, it was the “Feature Game”, specifically including the Exploits expansion.  The really change the game, giving players a different aspect to work on.  This time Exploits were included again, though different ones to last time: “The Sun Never Sets”, “Globalization”, and “Underground Railroad”.  Between them they covered most of the continents, requiring India & the Caribbean; the Far East & the Caribbean, and Africa & North America to be opened (respectively) for the three Exploits to take effect.

Endeavor: Age of Sail
– Image by boardGOATS

As before, Ivory started building a robust network of connected cities while Green once again used tried to use the Exploits as a target.  In contrast, Burgundy largely ignored the Exploits and played a traditional game concentrating on building up his technology tracks giving him a strong foundation from which to build in the colonies.   Playing with the new three-player map meant that all regions were opened up by the end of the game, though it was a bit late for Green to capitalise on the Exploits as he’d hoped.  Worse, Ivory’s city network meant he was able to sneak a hat-full of points from the “Sun Never Sets” and “Globalization” Exploits as well.

Endeavor: Age of Sail
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory and Burgundy managed to build one of the Charter Company buildings from the mini expansion and, like Blue last time, both ended up with too many cards and had to choose what to cull.  This problem was exacerbated by the number of Governor cards they picked up.  As the game drew to a close, the last of the continents were opened up activating the final Exploit, but it was too late for anyone to occupy any of the stations on the Underground Railroad.  With the last round coming to an end, all that was left to count up the points.  Although it wasn’t actually a tie like last time, it was still a very close game.  This time, honours went to Burgundy who finished with seventy points,  just three more than Ivory who, in turn, was three ahead of Green.

Endeavor: Age of Sail
– Image by boardGOATS

As Endeavor was just coming to an end, so Blue, Pine and Lime looked round for something quick to play.  Ivory excitedly suggested that when they were finished everyone could play Bohnanza, but Pine vetoed that and in the meantime, Blue’s beady eye moved from Biblios to settle instead on No Thanks!.  This is an old favourite, but one that Lime had not been introduced to yet.  As a really quick game, both to teach and play, this was ideal.  Everyone starts with eleven red chips, and the first player turns over the top card in the deck (which runs from three to thirty-five).  They can then either take the card or pay one chip to pass the problem on to the next player who then has the same choice.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part is the scoring—the winner is the player with the lowest total face value once the deck has been exhausted (offset by any remaining chips).  There is a catch though, if a player has continuous sequence of cards (e.g. seven, eight, nine, ten), they only count the first card (i.e. they score seven not thirty-four).  The real gamble comes because some of the cards are removed from the pile at the start of the game.  Lime started by collecting lots and lots chips, while Blue helped by pointing out some of the things to look out for.  Although having chips is a must, and having most chips gives control of the game, once one player runs out, that control is largely lost.  This is because any player with no chips is forced to take whatever comes along.  Lime finished with a massive ninety points with Pine some way behind, with Blue cruising to victory with forty-one.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Endeavor was now finished, they were still packing up, Lime was keen to give it another go while Pine insisted he wasn’t coached this time, so the trio squeezed in another quick round.  Lime tried the same trick, and hoarded lots of chips, again putting Pine under a lot of pressure as he ran out of chips.  He managed to keep his total down though by making a very fortuitous run, and ended with two points less than Lime.  This time, Blue concentrated more on her own game and was able to just hold on to enough chips to see out the deck, while avoiding picking up too many cards, giving her a second victory.  It was much closer in the battle for second place though, with Pine taking it by just two points.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

With Endeavor finally over and packed away, Ivory (perhaps more boisterous than usual as it was exactly six months to Christmas), once again suggested Bohnanza.  Pine once again vetoed it, this time even more grumpily following the suggestion that we should all sing some festive hits to get us in the mood.  Blue diplomatically suggested 6 Nimmt! as an alternative as everyone loves it and Lime had not yet played that either.  6 Nimmt! is a great game that gives players the illusion of control right up until the point when it all goes horribly wrong.  The idea is that everyone has a hand of cards and simultaneously chooses one to play.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Starting with the card with the lowest face value, these cards are added to one of four rows, specifically the row with the highest value that is lower than the card played.  When a sixth card is added to the row, the five cards already on the table are taken and the new card restarts the row.  As well as a face value, each card has a number of Bulls’ Heads, most only one, but some as high as seven.  At the end of the game, the player with the fewest “nimmts” is the winner, with a special “wooden spoon” shout-out for the person whose plans went most awry landing them with a huge pile of bull.  As a group we usually play in two rounds, each with approximately half the deck (numbered one to a hundred and four).

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue top-scored in the first round, with twenty-four nimmts, but everyone else had a far more respectable total and Green led the way with just two.  This is a game where everything can fall apart spectacularly in the second round, so there was everything to play for.  The second time round time, Lime beat Blue’s score from the first round taking twenty-five nimmts, giving him a total of thirty-two.  This was nothing compared to Pine though, who took thirty-five in the second round alone, giving him a a sizeable forty-eight.  Blue made a clear round, but for her the damage had already been done, so the honours fell to Green who was consistency itself, taking just three in the second round giving a total of five – the only one to finish in single figures.  Lime was keen to play again, but as others were leaving, it was time to pack up. There was still time for a long gossip though before we sadly said goodbye to Green after what was likely to be his last meeting until September.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Leaning Outcome:  You don’t have to play a game correctly to have fun.

Boardgames in the News: Cooperation and the “Alpha Gamer Problem”

Competition is one of the main characteristics people associate with board games, however, in the modern world of Euro games, this is no longer true.  Firstly, one of the primary qualities of Euro games is the lack of “direct interaction”.  This means that although there is competition, it is difficult for players to be “nasty” to each other.  This is an important aspect of modern gaming as it takes away the aggressive element and makes them more inclusive, particularly for families.  These games still have winners and losers though, and while everyone likes winning, nobody likes losing and some people really, really hate it.  This is where “cooperative games” come in:  instead of players competing against each other, everyone works as a team, trying to beat the game.

Pandemic
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

There are now hundreds of cooperative games available, but although the first of these date back to the 1960s, the explosion really happened about ten years ago following the release of Pandemic.  Designed by Matt Leacock, Pandemic is a very accessible game where players are disease-fighting specialists whose mission is to treat disease hot-spots while researching cures for the four plagues before they get out of hand.  The game board features the major global population centres and on their turn, each player can travel between cities, treat infection, discover a cure, or build a research facility. The clever part of the game is the two decks of cards that drive it.  The first of these enables players to travel and treat infection, but also contains Epidemic cards that accelerate and intensify the diseases’ activity. The second deck controls the “normal” spread of the infections, with players drawing a set number of these, that increases when Epidemic cards are drawn.

Pandemic
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Since Pandemic, a large number of cooperative games have been published, including Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky, all of which use cards in a similar way to Pandemic to increase the threat.  All of these have been designed by Matt Leacock and have a very similar feel, though a different theme.  There have also been a number of variations on the Pandemic game which retain the original theme, including the well-regarded Pandemic Legacy titles which change the feel a lot.  Other similar games by different designers include Ghost Stories, Freedom: The Underground Railroad and Flash Point: Fire Rescue, each with a different theme, but with changes to the mechanism (Flash Point for example uses dice instead of cards) and varying degrees of difficulty (Ghost stories played with four is supposed to be one of the most challenging games of its type to win).

Forbidden Island
– Image by BGG contributor DLCrie

Not all cooperative games are family friendly and accessible.  Arkham Horror is set in the H.P. Lovecraft‘s Cthulu mythos.  Each player is a resident of or visitor to the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusets during the 1920s and takes the roll of a character ranging from a gangster to a college professor.  The players discover a nefarious cult attempting to awaken a great evil, and, to prevent an invasion from other realms, they must seal off access to Arkham.  To survive, players must equip themselves with all manner of weapons, and spells, while searching for clues to aid them in their mission.  The game has a substantial rule set and the games are epic experiences which take four to five hours to complete (and are therefore not for the faint-hearted).

Arkham Horror
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

While there is plenty of variety available with cooperative games, there are two often cited problems.  Firstly, many players find that cooperative games lack “something”.  In reality, this is largely just a matter of taste, in the same way that some gamers feel that “Euro Games” lack something when compared with highly random dice-heavy games with player elimination.  Perhaps a more fundamental issue is that of the so-called “alpha gamer”. This is where one player effectively becomes the general, and tells everyone else what to do.  This problem arises because most cooperative games are essentially puzzles that can be solved by one player.  Some games designers have tried to fix this issue by adding hidden information, usually in the form of cards, and a rule that players cannot share such knowledge.  Simply instructing players not to share knowledge is much easier said than done, however, as even a slight inflection in the voice or a change of expression can give away a lot of information.

Hanabi
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

In 2013, a very simple, yet clever card game called Hanabi won the Spiel des Jahres.  The idea is that instead of every player looking at the front of their hand of cards and showing the backs to all the other players, hands are held the other way so that each player can’t see their own cards, but can see everyone else’s.  In principle this means players can discuss what a player should do, but a lot of information can be given away accidentally.  For this reason, the best, most intense games of Hanabi are played in near total silence and stony faced.  This is actually extremely hard to do, which is why for many, The Game, a similar cooperative card game nominated for the Spiel des Jares in 2015 has proved to have more longevity.  This is because players can discuss anything they like as long as they never give away specific number information.

Shadows over Camelot
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

One of the early cooperative games was Shadows over Camelot, which is a hand-management and deduction-based board game where players are knights of the Round Table collaborating to overcome quests like the search for the Holy Grail.  In order to get round the “alpha gamer” problem Shadows over Camelot introduced a traitor mechanic.  At the start of the game, players are given a Loyalty Card, one of which says “Traitor”.  The player that draws the Traitor card then tries to sabotage the efforts of the Loyal Company.  Initially the Traitor hides within the Company, so players have to be very careful about what information they disclose as the Traitor could use it against them.  Worse, players have to be very careful about what information they believe as it could be given by the Traitor in an effort to mislead.

Shadows over Camelot
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Initially, the Traitor acts as one of the loyal knights, but as suspicions mount, players can accuse others of being a traitor.  If outed, the Traitor’s actions become more limited, but potentially more devastating.  Stacking the deck in different ways can be used to introduce different levels of doubt.  For example, four players drawing from eight Loyalty Cards including one traitor, are unlikely to to have a traitor, but the possibility is just enough to keep people on their toes; at the other extreme, if there are no excess cards a traitor is guaranteed.  One of the problems with the hidden traitor in Shadows over Camelot though, is that it doesn’t scale well with the number of players: seven knights playing against one traitor are still likely to win, whereas three knights are always going to struggle.

Lord of the Rings
– Image by BGG contributor fubar awol

In Shadows over Camelot, the scaling problem was fixed with the Merlin’s Company expansion, which introduced a possible second traitor.  Expansions also arguably improved one of the most intense, cooperative games, Lord of the Rings.  This twenty year old game follows the journey of the Fellowship of the Ring, with players taking on the roles of the hobbits.  It is also a card driven game, which players lose if the ring-bearer is overcome by Sauron, or win if the Ring is destroyed by throwing it into the volcanic fires of Mount Doom. The Friends & Foes and Battlefields expansions add complexity and variety, while the Sauron expansion introduces a semi-cooperative element with someone actively playing the Dark Lord.

Lord of the Rings
– Image by BGG contributor takras

The semi-cooperative, “one versus many” style of game is not new, indeed it was the core mechanism of the winner of the 1983 Spiel des Jahres Award, Scotland Yard.  A staple of many charity shops, this is still a popular family game that still holds up more than thirty years later.  Although modifying the cooperative nature solves the “alpha gamer” problem, it doesn’t fix the other problem:  if one player is significantly weaker than others, everyone suffers.  This is issue inherent in any team game: the team is only as strong as its weakest link, however, it is a particular problem when the weak player is the Traitor.  This is actually a problem in any game where one player has a pivotal role though; Codenames, for example, can be a truly awful experience if the wrong person gets the job of “Spy Master”.

Scotland Yard
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Despite the issues associated with cooperative and semi-cooperative games, they continue to be very popular.  In the recent years, The Game and Hanabi have featured strongly in the Spiel des Jahres awards and nominees, while the top two games in the BoardGameGeek ranking, Gloomhaven and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, both feature cooperative play as well.  With epic campaign games like Kingdom: Death Monster and The 7th Continent continuing to build on and develop the mechanism, cooperative games are clearly here to stay, even if they aren’t suitable for every group.

Kingdom Death: Monster
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

14th January 2014

As we weren’t too sure about who was coming it took a while to get going, but first up, we decided to play our “Feature Game”, Parade.  This is a set collecting card game with an Alice in Wonderland theme.  Basically, there is a “parade” of characters in the form of a row of cards.  Players take it in turns to add a card from their hand to the parade and depending on the number and colour of the card they play, they then remove cards from the parade and place them in suits in front of them.  So, if a player places a red five, the five most recently played cards are “protected” and the player takes all the red cards and any cards numbered five or lower and places them in their area.  The aim of the game is to finish with the lowest accumulated total.  The clever part is the scoring:  if a player has the most cards of a given colour, all the cards score one regardless of the face value; all the remaining cards score their full value.  So, a set of high scoring cards can suddenly score a lot less because that player has the largest number of cards in that suit.  The other key part is that at the end of the game, each player adds two cards from their hand to their sets on the table.  Thus, the last two cards can have a dramatic effect on the game as they can change who has the majority in the colour suits and if you get it wrong  it can have a catastrophic effect on your end score.  Two players started off well, picking up only zeros and ones, while another was forced to pick up a few high cards straight away so decided to try to collect the most cards in these suits.  He was doing a good job when the everyone else was forced into taking a couple of high scoring cards each and started competing.  Despite initial appearances, the game was very tight, with the winner just one ahead of second with sixteen points, and slightly different card choices at the end could have completely changed the placings.

Parade

Next, we decided to play Agricola.  This is one of our more popular games and we had just finished setting up when one of the players was called away with boiler trouble.  We decided to leave it for another day and play Flash Point:  Fire Rescue instead.  This is a cooperative game where players take on the roles of fire-fighters trying to rescue people from a burning building.  Players take it in turns to carry out actions and then dice are rolled to spread the fire.  The addition of dice makes the game less predicatable than in some of the other cooperative games we’ve played where cards are used to simulate impending doom.  The use of dice also means that there isn’t the same “ticking clock” that there is with cards:  if you can stay on top of the fire, you can take as long as you like to get people out, on the other hand, if the fire gets out of control, it spreads faster and faster increasing the risk to the casualties and increasing the chance of explosions which cause damage to the building and suddenly the building collapses and everyone dies.

Flash Point:  Fire Rescue

Since we had a player who was new to the game, we played Veteran level (three explosions, three hotspots and four hazardous materials) and used the reverse side of the base game board.  We divided our labour so we had half the team fighting the fire and the other half rescuing people.  There was a lot of fire in the centre of the board down the corridor, so Red went in first as the CAFS fire-fighter.  Meanwhile, Blue entered via the side door as the Rescue Specialist and quickly saved the first casualty before riding the ambulance round to the other side and following Red in to rescue a couple more.  Red dealt with the recurrent smoke in the shower cubicle while Blue enlarged the hole in a damaged wall and rescued a couple more.  One of the new Points of Interest was placed rather unfortunately next to fire and we didn’thave time to deal with them before an explosion meant we had our first victim of the flames.  Despite the loss, however, we had soon rescued the required seven people.  Somehow, leaving casualties in a burning house seems wrong, so we continued to try to rescue everyone else.  All the Points of Interest were now on the far side of the board, so the Rescue Specialist rode round the building in the ambulance and made a new more convenient entrance.  Red helped reveal which of the Points of Interest were real people and then together Blue and Red carried the last two people out leaving only one Point of Interest behind, which was known to be a false alarm.

Flash Point:  Fire Rescue

Learning Outcome:  Where there’s smoke, fire will surely follow…

9th July 2013

This was our first meeting after the fire at the Jockey, so was the first meeting in someone’s home and therefore had a slightly different feel.

While we waited for people to arrive, we had a mess about with Hive.  This is a little two player game that some have compared to Chess.  This similarity comes from the fact that the pieces are Black and White and different pieces have different characteristics in the way they move.  Although much of the thinking is similar, the theme is insects and there is no board.  We had hardly started when everyone else arrived, so we left the teaching game for another occasion and decided to start something bigger.

Hive

In honour of the Jockey, we considered playing Flash Point:  Fire Rescue, however, we thought this could be considered bad taste so we decided to stick with our original plan to play our “Feature Game”, Agricola.  This is a game we played a few weeks ago, about farming in the middle ages.  Each player starts with a two room wooden hut and farmer and his wife.  In each round, players take it in turns to send the members of their family out to work.  The problem is that each action can only be taken once, by one player in each round.  In addition, there are only fourteen rounds and at intervals there are Harvests when all members of the family must be fed or the family has to go begging.  Last time we played the “basic game”, but as everyone had played it before (though some had only experience of the “basic game”), this time we decided to add a layer of complexity by playing with the “E-Deck” of “Minor Improvement” and “Occupation” cards.

We had a bit of a debate about whether we should just deal out the cards or whether we should “draft”.  Drafting is where everyone chooses to keep a card from their hand and passes the rest of their cards to the player on their left;  they then choose a second card from the hand they receive from the player to their right, before passing the rest on, and so on until all the cards have been shared out.  This has several purposes.  Firstly it means everyone knows what cards are in play, which allows for a deeper level of strategy where players can deliberately play to obstruct other people’s game.  Secondly, in theory, it means that nobody ends up with a really good hand while someone else ends up with all the rubbish cards.  Finally, it also means that players can choose cards that work well together, however, this can result in a bit of an “all or nothing” game depending on whether the plan works or not.  We decided against drafting as two players had never played with the cards and felt that they wouldn’t know what a good card or a good combination of cards was.  Although this was undoubtedly the right decision in the circumstances, unlike many games, the cards are not carefully balanced and there are definitely some cards that are better than others, so it would certainly be something to try another time.

Agricola

After carefully tiling the boards to make them fit on the table, we dealt out the cards and Red won the start player lottery.  Everyone made a dash for occupations before the players began to develop their different strategies.  Red had a occupation cards that made upgrading his wooden hovel into a stone palace cheaper, so decided to prioritise that, while Green decided to expand his family and went in for agriculture and fishing.  Meanwhile, Blue enclosed a massive pasture and Turquoise engaged in vegetable farming.  Each strategy appeared to have its good points and bad points, for example, Blue covered a lot of the space available, however, she spent the early part of the game flirting with starvation; in contrast, Green had plenty of food available, but struggled to make use of all the land.

In the last few rounds, everyone made the obligatory dash for points.  Red finally managed to upgrade his five bedroom mansion to stone, but at the expense of everything else except one solitary field; Blue added a stable to her pasture and invested in the next generation; Turquoise built three large pastures and crammed three children into his three bedroom brick house, and Green optimised his final harvests and enclosed a pasture for a couple of cows.  Turquoise ran out an easy winner with over forty points having managed to participate in a little bit of everything except sheep.  Blue and Green came in joint second with twenty-nine points apiece.

Agricola

Learning Outcome:  Living in a stone mansion does not make you a good farmer.