Tag Archives: Goa

8th January 2019

The evening began with everyone comparing lurgies:  Blue and Burgundy were blaming Purple for theirs (contracted in Didcot last week), while Purple and Pine blamed Lilac (contracted at New Year).  With food delayed we decided to play a quick game of one of our old favourites while we waited, 6 Nimmt!.  Unbelievably, this fun little card game is celebrating its twenty-fifth birthday this year, yet its still just as popular as ever with our group.  That said it was a little while since we last played it, and with our guest, Maroon (Mulberry’s Daughter), new to the game we had a quick rules summary first.  It’s very simple, with players simultaneously choosing a card to play which are then simultaneously revealed.  Starting with the lowest number played, players add their cards to one of the four rows in the central display.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Each card is added to the row that ends with the highest number that is lower than the card they played.  If the card should be the sixth card, then instead of adding the card to the row, the active player takes the row into their scoring pile and their card replaces the row, becoming the first card.  The aim of the game is to end with the lowest score, but that is much easier said than done.  With so many people involved it was guaranteed to be mayhem and there were only enough cards in the deck for one round instead of the two that we usually play.  The game is all about timing.  Usually there is one player who gets their timing wrong, and once it starts to go wrong, it tends to go very, very wrong.  With so many people we were expecting absolute carnage, but perhaps because there were so many of us, the damage was spread out and the highest score was Red with a reasonably respectable twenty-nine.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

It was close at the front though with five players within six points.  Unusually for 6 Nimmt!, Burgundy managed to avoid picking up piles of cards, and he finished in first place with eight nimmts, just two ahead of Black with ten.  Food hadn’t quite arrived, and largely out of inertia, we decided to give it another go.  Something went a bit wrong with the first deal as there weren’t enough for everyone to get the eleven cards they’d got the first time round.  To begin with, Pine got the blame for misdealing, but it quickly became clear it was not his fault and some cards were missing.  There was a lot of confusion for a moment, until Blue revealed that she had a stash of cards that she’d forgotten to return.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the game followed the more usual pattern, with Purple managing to collect a massive pile of cards some with lots of high-scoring, pretty colours, totalling a massive forty-seven points.  Lots of players thought they were in with a chance of winning though, Blue and Mulberry both finished with eight, but they were beaten by Green with two.  It was then that Burgundy revealed that he’d managed to avoid picking up any cards at all this time, giving him victory in the second game too.  It was time to decide who would play what, in particular, who was going to play the “Feature Game”, Hare & Tortoise.  Although Blue had finished eating by this time, and Burgundy was coming to the end of his enormous pile of ham, egg and chips as well, they had played the game at the recent Didcot meeting so they left everyone else to play it.  After lots of discussion, they were eventually joined by Pine and had to decide what they were going to play.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Hare & Tortoise was much quicker to get started though.  This is a relatively old game which won the inaugural Spiel des Jahres award in 1979 and was first released in 1973, making it over forty-five years old.  The game is a very clever racing game where players pay for their move with Carrots, but the further they move the more it costs.  Thus, to move one space it costs one Carrot, but to move five spaces it costs fifteen and to move ten it costs fifty-five.  On their turn the active player pays Carrots to move their token along the track; each space has a different effect, but will only hold one player’s token at a time.  It is this that makes the game something of a knife-fight in a phone box, as players obstruct each other (often unintentionally) causing other players to move more or less than they would wish.  The icing on the cake are the Lettuces though:  each player starts with a bunch of Carrots and three Lettuces—players cannot finish until they have got rid of all their Lettuces and nearly all of their Carrots.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

To get rid of a Lettuce, a player must land on one of the “Lettuce Spaces”,  and then spend the next turn eating the Lettuce before they can move on again.  With only four of these spaces available and players needing to land on three of them and spend two turns there on each visit, they are always in high demand, but especially with high player counts.  As well as enabling players to get rid of Lettuces, these spaces also help them replenish their Carrot supply.  And this is another clever trick this “simple little race game” uses that makes it special:  the number of Carrots a player gets is dependent on their position in the race.  This means a player who is in the lead benefits from having an unobstructed path in front of them, but they only get ten Carrots on leaving a Lettuce Space.  In contrast, the player in last place in a six-player game gets sixty Carrots, and Carrots are scarce so this difference is not to be snuffled at.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Lettuce Spaces are not the only opportunity to get Carrots though.  A player on a “Carrot Space”, for example, will earn ten Carrots for every turn they wait on that space.  Another way of getting Carrots are though the number spaces—a player who is on one of these at the start of their turn will get Carrots if the number matches their position in the race.  Of course, the game would not be complete without “Hare Spaces” and “Tortoise Spaces”.  The latter are the only way a player can move back along the track, and this can be invaluable when trying to get rid of Lettuces.  Moving backwards also gives Carrots, with players getting  ten Carrots for every space regressed.  Hare Spaces are completely different, with players landing on these drawing a “Hare Card”.  These are “Chance Cards”, some good, some not-so-good and some really, really bad.  The aim of the game is to be the first to cross the finishing line, but even this is unconventional, with players having to have eaten all their Lettuces, consumed almost all their Carrots, and make the exact number of moves.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

For those who were new the game it only took a round or so to realise the subtle cleverness of it, the ability to choose one’s own position on the track is vastly tempered by the usefulness of the available squares with so many other players taking up the first few spaces.  Red started the game and immediately went for a Hare card. That didn’t do a lot except tell everyone exactly how many Carrots she had, which was not difficult to work out after just one turn.  Green also decided that the Hare cards were also worth a go, but his was a bad one, and he lost half his Carrots!  For his second turn he decided he had not taken enough punishment and went for the next Hare as well and also got the “Show your carrots” card.  As the first three had all been bad, the odds had to right themselves, so when Maroon went for the fourth Hare card it was much nicer to her.  Purple, who knew the game, understood the importance of having eaten all her Lettuces and started munching on the very first available Lettuce space.  Green and Red hadn’t fully understood the rules, so did not realise until they were a long way round the board; Red thought she only had to get rid of one Lettuce and Green had missed it completely.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

By that time Green only had three lettuce squares available and Red had only two, so was going to have to use the Tortoise spaces to move backwards.  Meanwhile, Purple’s early pit stop for Lettuce put her near the back at the start of the game, but slow and steady she moved through the pack and then began to charge ahead as everyone else had to manoeuvre for that penultimate Lettuce Space.  So in the early part of the game, Green and Purple were languishing at the back, but that meant they soon had Carrots a-plenty (from the multiplication factors) and were soon racing to join the pack.  Mulberry found herself in a pickle with a Hare card when she had to give ten Carrots to each other player.  Suddenly she had very few Carrots left and really needed to get something from the next Carrot space, but Green had his eye on it too.  Green was just about to make the leap, but, much to Mulberry’s relief, found something better to do.  Although she got her Carrots, they weren’t coming in very quickly at just ten a turn, until someone pointed out that she could go backwards to a Tortoise space and collect several more in one go.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, luck changed for Green who had ended up with a fistful of Carrots and he joined Purple near the finishing line and the last Lettuce space.  But who was going to be able to rid of their excess Carrots first and get across the line?  Both Green and Purple had rather too many Carrots and were left pootling about at the front of the race, while Red and Black were languishing at the back still trying to get rid of their Lettuces.  Maroon was steadily moving along, but it was Mulberry, who charged back through the pack and, without any lettuces left, hared past the Purple and Green tortoises to snatch the victory.  Nobody could really be bothered playing for the minor places, but a quick check suggested that that Purple would have been next in what is still showing a worthy game, and might still be in the running for a Spiel des Jahres even now were it a new publication.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Pine, Burgundy and Blue had eventually decided what to play, opting for one of the 2018 Spiel des Jahres nominees, Luxor.  This is a clever hand management and set collecting race game from Rüdiger Dorn, designer of a wide variety of games including The Traders of Genoa, Goa, Istanbul, Karuba and one of our all time favourites, Las Vegas.  These games have very little in common with each other and Luxor is different again. In this game, players exploring the temple of Luxor collecting treasure as they go.  Players start with two “Indiana-Jones-eeples” and move them round the board by playing cards from their hand.  The clever part of this is that players have a hand of five cards, but like Bohnanza, must not rearrange the order.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, the active player can play one of the cards at either end of their hand, i.e. the first or last card.  They use this to move one of their meeples, along the twisting corridor towards the tomb at the centre of the temple.  If they can, they carry out an action based on the space they land on, then replenish their hand from the draw deck, adding the card to the middle of their hand.  This hand-management mechanism is one of several clever little touches that elevate this game beyond the routine.  Another is the movement mechanism:  players move, not from space to space but from tile to tile.  Some of the tiles are in place throughout the game, but when a player claims a treasure tile, these are taken from the board into the player’s stash.  This therefore provides a catch-up mechanism as the path to the tomb effectively gets shorter as the game progresses.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can claim treasure tiles when they have enough of their “Indiana-Jones-eeples” on the tile.  Each tile gives points individually, but there are three different types of treasure and players score points for sets; the larger the set, the more points they score at the end of the game.  Treasures aren’t the only tiles players can land on though.  There are also “Horus” tiles (which allow players to add more interesting cards to their hands or take key tokens), Osiris tiles (which move players forward) and Temple tiles (which give players a special bonus).  These non-treasure tiles are never removed providing stepping stones as the treasure tiles disappear.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players strive to be the first to enter the temple chamber which will win them one of the two sarcophagi.  When the second player enters the temple chamber, they win the second of the sarcophagi and trigger the end of the game with play continuing to the end of the round before scoring.  There is a smorgasbord of points available with players scoring for how far their meeples have made it towards the temple, for scarabs they may have collected en route, and any left over keys or sarcophagi they have, as well as for the sets of treasure they collected.  The balance of these points change dramatically with player count – with two, treasure is everything, but with more, there is increased competition.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy shot out of the blocks like a hare, with Blue and Pine doing their best to try and follow.  Burgundy had got a set of three necklaces before Pine had managed a single treasure and despite the fact that the game was hardly started, he was already hoping that “slow and steady” might win the race.  It wasn’t long before Blue collected a few jewelled statues and Pin had a couple of fine vases, and finally the treasure hunt was on its way.  Burgundy’s “Indiana-Jones-eeples” were stealing a march  and making rapid progress, while Blue had managed to get one left one behind.  Despite the built-in catch-up mechanisms, it seemed there was little Blue or Pine could do to arrest the inexorable march of Burgundy.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Blue sent a scout in ahead, and she was the first to enter the temple chamber, picking up the first sarcophagus.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy followed though taking the second and triggering the end game.  Blue and Pine tried to make as much as they could out of their last turns, but it was too little too late.  Each treasure token comes with a small number of points which are supposed to be scored when the treasure is collected.  Previous experience suggests players are so excited at finding treasure that they forget to collect these points, so we added a house-rule, and saved collecting these until the end of the game.  Since the points are similar in value, they give a rough idea of how players stand.  It was only when these were counted that Blue and Pine realised just how far behind they really were, with Burgundy taking forty-one compared with Pine’s twenty-eight and Blue’s twenty-two.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

From there matters only got worse.  Burgundy’s “Indiana-Jones-eeples had made it further into the temple than anyone else’s and he had larger treasure sets too.  His final score was a massive one hundred and eighty-three, nearly fifty more than Blue and seventy-five more than Pine.  It’s all about getting the right cards Burgundy explained as the group tidied up.  “Mmmm, I had the right cards, just not in the right order,” muttered Pine in response, a comment that pretty much summed up the entire game.  It was much, much later however, that we realised we’d got the scoring very wrong.  Players are supposed to score for the number of complete sets of three treasures, rather than for the the magnitude of each set.  While this would have made a huge difference to the game of course, it probably would not have changed the overall outcome as Burgundy was in total control throughout.  Nevertheless, we should give it another try soon, this time with the correct rules…

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finishing pretty much simultaneously,the question was what to play next.  Mulberry and Maroon went home to nurse their jet-lag taking Red with them, leaving six.  Pine said he would stay for something short (and short didn’t include Bohnanza), but would be happy to watch if others wanted to play something longer; Green said he could also do with an early night and didn’t mind watching either.  Inevitably, that created indecision and it was only when Green decided to go and Pine started a two minute countdown that Blue eventually made a decision and got out No Thanks!.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

No Thanks! is one of our oldest, “most favourite-est” games that we’ve sort -of rediscovered, giving it a few outings recently; as Blue shuffled she considered how clear and simple the cards were, and how well they were holding up given their age.  The game is very simple too:  the first player turns over the top card and chooses to either take it or pay a red chip and pass the problem on to the next person.  The player with the lowest total face value of cards is the winner.  There are two catches, the first is that when there is a run, only the lowest card counts, and the second is that nine cards are removed from the deck of thirty-four before the game starts.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy, Purple, Pine and Blue were in the business of collecting cards hoping to build substantial runs.  It was just as the game was coming to a close that Pine collected a card and a handful of chips fumbling as he did so and thought he’d dropped one.  He was sat on a bench between Black and Burgundy, so rather than disturbing everyone immediately, there were only a couple of cards left so he decided to leave finding it until the end of the game.  Blue and Pine fared better in their card-collecting than Burgundy and Purple, but Black had kept his head down and finished with just one run and with it the lowest score,  We recounted all the chips a couple of times and there was definitely one missing, sop as Blue packed away everyone else started playing Hunt the Game Piece.  It’s not often that we play this, but, we have had a couple of epic games, including one where a token ended up some thirty feet from where we were playing and the other side of a pillar.  This edition, the “No Thanks! Red Chip Version”, was particularly special.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

After about five minutes hunting, one of the bar-staff asked, “Oh, what are you looking for?” and then added, “I love it when you play this!” and joined in.  Fifteen minutes later, there was still no sign despite looking in lots of nooks and crannies, checking trouser turn-ups and shoes, and emptying all the bags in close proximity.  Then Purple said, “I can see something red down here…” as she shone the light from her mobile phone between the cracks in the floor-boards.  And there indeed, nestling about half an inch below the suspended floor, only visible when the light was exactly right, was the small red chip.  It was exactly where Pine had been sitting and must have dropped straight through the gap between the floorboards and fallen over so it was lying flat, nestling in the fluff and totally inaccessible.  So Purple won, but it was Game Over for the time being.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes Bohnanza is quicker than that other “short” game…

1st May 2018

When we played Mini Park a couple of weeks ago, we had all found it a little underwhelming.  At the time we had felt it might be better with fewer people, so as it was a very short game, while we were waiting for food to arrive, we decided to give it another try. The game is a hexagonal tile-laying game where players choose one character which dictates the end game scoring.  We played the “advanced” game which has slight changes to the scoring and pairs each scoring character at random with a second character.  The latest version of the rules suggest that these subsidiary characters should be kept secret, but we felt that would make things a little bit too random.  We did adopt the simpler in-game scoring though.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

This time there were only three players, so everyone got two characters instead of one:  Burgundy took the people (Man and Child); Blue took the wildlife (Fish and Bird), and Magenta got everything else (Cyclist and Cat).  Unquestionably it was better this time round.  The Fish was still very powerful, but this time it was largely luck of the draw as Blue took it early and then managed to draw lots of pond tiles, netting her a massive forty-five points, with Magenta getting twenty-two.  The Cyclist was a lot less powerful this time though, and combinations of main character and subsidiary had a much stronger effect as well.  For example, while Blue had two of the strongest main characters, her subsidiaries were the weakest; on the other hand, Magenta and Burgundy had a much more even distribution of points across the board.  The end score was much closer this time, and despite the obvious high Fish score, it wasn’t the foregone conclusion of last time.  Nevertheless, wildlife won in the end with Blue finishing on eighty-six, ten ahead of Magenta in second place.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

With Mini Park and food over, it was time to play something more serious, and we moved on to the “Feature Game”, Lords of Xidit.  This is a reimplementation of the simultaneous programming game, Himalaya, which has a very unusual scoring mechanism.  The game is set in the fantasy land of Xidit, which is under attack.  The last hope for restoring peace lies with the Kingdom’s noble heirs, the Idrakys, who must travel the Kingdom recruiting brave soldiers and restoring the threatened cities.  The game board is a map of Xidit, depicting the cities, on which double-sided tiles are placed, showing either recruitment or threats.  The game is played over twelve years with each year consisting of players giving their Idrakys six secret orders using a special player board, and then executing them in order.  There are three possible orders for the Idrakys:  moving along one of the three road types; in a city, either recruit a Unit or eliminate a threat (depending which side the tile is showing); or wait.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The catch is that if the action is possible, it must be carried out, so if the order is move along a green road, that is what it must do.  Similarly, if a player’s Idrakys is in a city where the tile is recruitment face up, they must recruit a Unit.  The Units come in five different types, in order of increasing power: Peasant Militia; Archers; Infantry; Clerics, and Battle Mages which are orange, green, grey, white and purple respectively.  When the city tiles are Recruitment side up, they hold five Units, in predetermined colours, and when recruiting, players can only take one Unit and it must be the least powerful available.  These Units can then be used to defeat a Threats in exchange for Gold Sovereigns, placing their Bards or add Stories to the city’s Sorcerers’ Guild Tower if it is their own.  When a Threat or Recruitment tile is removed, another is drawn from the respective stack and placed on the appropriate city.  If there are insufficient tiles in the Treat stack, then the Titan tiles are turned over, to the Raging Titan’s side—these are super-aggressive Threats that are not associated with a city and can be eliminated in a similar way to other Threats.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of boargamephotos

At the end of the fourth, eighth and final (twelfth) year, there is a Military census where, beginning with the Peasant Militia (and continuing with the others in turn), players secretly hold a number of Units in their hands before a simultaneous reveal.  The player with the most of Units receive a reward; players are not obliged to reveal all their Units of that type, indeed, bluffing can be a good idea when trying to mislead players at the end of the game.  This is because the final census is followed by a series of assessments, where the weakest player in each one is eliminated until one player is left.  Each assessment ranks the players based on either their Wealth, their level of Influence with the magical community, or their Reputation across the Kingdom.  The last player remaining at the end of the assessment stage is the winner.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game looks complicated, but was actually surprisingly easy as long as the Threat/Recruitment piles are managed effectively.  Game play is also very quick, much to everyone’s surprise: it never took too long to work out what the six actions were going to be and even when someone took a bit longer than usual it was never excessive.  Carrying out the actions was very quick too—players barely had time after completing one action before it was time for the next.  As such this game does not suffer from “Analysis Paralysis” and there never seemed to be any down time, unusual for a game like this and a welcome change.  The other curiosity was that even though there is never anything hidden (although items are hidden behind a players screen, they are collected in the open, so it is entirely possible for players to keep track of how each other are doing) no-one had any real idea of who was actually winning.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There were the occasional blunders as someone miscalculated and carried out the wrong action (such as going to a city to recruit just after someone took the last unit), or as in the case of Pine towards the end, looking at the wrong Idrakys counter when working out route and actions for the turn.  On the whole though, everyone was were able to plan the sequence of commands each “year” without difficulty.  The key to this game, however, is probably keeping a close eye on which Threat/Recruitment tiles are due to come out in the next couple of turns to try to plan an efficient route and arrive at the right city at the right time.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The unique elimination based scoring system worked well, keeping everyone guessing who would win right to the end. By the end of the game, Green and Black had both managed to build all their towers (the final round of elimination scoring), while Pine had the least. The Bard tokens (the penultimate elimination round) seemed relatively close, but Burgundy and Pine had both been fighting over the hidden central citadel so that outcome was unknown.  Before these two assessments could be addressed, players have to survive the elimination round for gold coins, and these are hidden.  Green had got off to a good start and gained a lot of gold at the beginning of the game; given his strong position in with respect to towers and bard tokens on the board he looked like the front runner. Unfortunately, he had neglected to collect gold later in the game and ended up with the least, just one less than Black, so was out in the first elimination round.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

Then there was a discussion as to whether Green’s Bard tokens should be taken off the board and disregarded now he had been eliminated.  The answer didn’t seem to be in the rules, but it was at that point that we realised we should have scored everything first and then gone through the elimination checks so Green’s bard tokens remained.  Towards the end of the game, there had been a flurry players placing Bard tokens and, as a result Green again had the lowest Bard score, but since he had already been eliminated, Black was the next to go, leaving only Pine and Burgundy in the Sorcerers’ Guild Tower elimination round.  We knew that Black and Green had the most, but as they had both been eliminated it the best of the rest, and that was Burgundy. This was a surprise to everyone as he and Pine would have been knocked out much earlier, demonstrating that playing to win (i.e. concentrating on the final elimination) is not the way to play this game.

Lords of Xidit
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Overall everyone really enjoyed it:  it was fast, fun and there were a few surprises too. Nobody of us felt it was award-winning, but it was certainly one we would play again, and probably more than once.  Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, everyone else was playing Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a tile laying game where players are building an extravagant castle for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, one room at a time.  Rooms selected randomly are sold off in batches with one player, the Master Builder, setting the prices for each room in the batch.  Payment is made to the Master Builder (similar to the auctions in Goa), but as they are the last player to buy, there is a large element of “I divide, you choose” (similar to games like …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne).  Thus, the idea is that the Master Builder wants to arrange the tiles such that rooms desired by the other players are expensive, but generally not too expensive, and similar to Goa, having a lot of money is powerful, but when you spend it, you give that advantage to the active player.  The other interesting mechanism is controlling the room layout so that rooms that work well together are daisy-chained yielding the most points.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

When a room is placed, points are scored for that room, but also the room it is attached to.  Most of the points are dependent on the type of room they are connected to, so, a large purple living room with (say) six doors, will score every time a room is added to it.  If it scores two points for every “blue sleeping room” that is connected to it, it will score two points when it is first placed (next to a sleeping room, but four when the next is added to it, then six and so on.  However, the difficult part is trying to find six blue rooms that also score when they are placed next to a purple living room.  Balancing the synergistic effects are really what make the game interesting.  When a room is completed, there is a bonus, this can be extra points or some other advantage like an extra turn or money etc..

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

At the end of the game there are also bonus points for the player who best fulfils the requirements for the “King’s Favours” as well as points for personal bonuses.  The game uses a card-deck to determine which rooms are drawn and when it is exhausted it triggers the end-game.  One last round is played before all the bonuses are calculated and the winner is the player who finishes with the most points.  Although we played this quite a bit a couple of years ago, it has been neglected of late, and as a result, we had to recap the rules.  The problem with it is, the scoring when rooms are placed is a little counter intuitive, so a bit like Roll for the Galaxy, it is a game we often struggle with at first.  In fact, when it first came out, Blue and Magenta played it a few times, but only realised how the game “worked” when they played with a new player who just intuitively understood how to score heavily, and gave them a trouncing.  Although Blue had somehow forgotten again, it turned out that Magenta had not.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Blue started off buying a tile in error and thereafter was forced down a orange utility room strategy:  these tend to give fewer points when placed, but give bonus cards that score at the end of the game.  Clearly it was a game that wasn’t going to go well for Blue as, forced to which card to keep, the first card she discarded gave bonus points for money, and after a couple of rounds, it was clear this would have scored heavily for her if she had kept it. Purple had also played the game a few times before and also suffered the mental block associated with scoring.  She tried to build a lot of downstairs rooms and gardens, but again wasn’t able to get the room placement scoring to work for her.  Ivory was completely new to the game, and could be forgiven for not grasping the subtleties, but he was still in second place before the end game scoring and was clearly collecting blue sleeping rooms for an end-game bonus.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Early on, Magenta had managed to place a large purple Vestibule that scored four points for every adjoining yellow food room.  The key is, not only does each food room score four points, but they score every time another room is added.  With four doors and three of them leading to food rooms, this room alone scored her more than twenty-five points, which might have explained why Magenta was nearly twenty points clear before the end game scoring.  The final round was triggered when we ran out of room cards and that was followed by the Favour scoring.  Purple scored best here, picking up points in every category, but doing particularly well for her downstairs rooms.  The final scoring was the orange bonus cards.  Everyone thought that this was where Blue would make up ground as she had a fist full of them.  Unfortunately for her, none scored very well and some didn’t score at all.  Magenta had managed to pick up a few at the end of the game which scored well, meaning she finished some twenty-five points clear of everyone else who finished in a little group with a spread of just three points, with purple just beating the other two to take second place.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Both games finished at around the same time, and there was just enough time for something fun and not too long, so we opted for another game of one of our favourite, relaxing, light dice-chuckers, Las Vegas.  Despite the fact that we play this game a lot, Ivory had somehow missed out.  We thought it might be because he often leaves early and we often play it at the end of the evening.  Since he was sticking about this time, we all felt an introduction was essential.  The rules do not sound inspiring, and Ivory didn’t look terribly impressed.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money that comprises anything from one to eight notes; the player with the most dice in a casino takes first choice, then the second and so on.

– Image by boardGOATS

There are two little rules that make the game work: firstly, players must place all the dice of one number, and secondly, before any money is handed out, any dice involved in a draw are removed.  It is these rules that make the game interesting, raising the decisions above the trivial.  Although the base game only plays five, we add the Boulevard expansion, which adds more players, more high value notes, and big dice, which are “double weight” so increase the stress when bidding.  We also add the Slot Machine, where each number can be placed once, but only once, so it gives players another nice alternative to the conventional casinos.  The rules the player with the most money after four rounds is the winner, but the fourth round often drags, especially if you don’t feel you are in with a chance, so we generally house-rule it to three rounds. Despite his obvious misgivings, it wasn’t long before Ivory was chucking dice with everyone else and having great fun.  Unusually, Green, Blue and Burgundy scored quite well, but Pine thought he had it with his $370,000 until Ivory revealed is massive $440,000.  Definitely beginners luck…

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes experience pays, other times beginners benefit.

Spiel des Jahres Nominations 2018

Almost every time we’ve played Azul, the topic of conversation has moved on to the Spiel des Jahres and how it would be a travesty if it did not receive at least a nomination. It was with this in mind that we read the Spiel des Jahres nominations when they were announced this morning.  There are three nominees in each of the three awards:  a children’s game award (Kinderspiel des Jahres), the “Advanced” or “Expert” Kennerspiel des Jahres, and the main Spiel des Jahres (often interpreted as the “Family Game” award).  In addition, for the first time since 2010, there is also a special award for Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 by Matt Leacock & Rob Daviau, reflecting Pandemic, Forbidden Island and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 that were all nominated, but failed to win a prize, and have had a significant influence on cooperative and legacy games as a whole.  The other nominees are:

  • Kinderspiel des Jahres
    Kinderspiel des Jahres 2018Emojito! by Urtis Šulinskas
    Funkelschatz (aka Dragon’s Breath) by Lena & Günter Burkhardt
    Panic Mansion (aka Shaky Manor) by Asger Harding Granerud & Daniel Skjold Pedersen
  • Spiel des Jahres
    Spiel des Jahres 2018Azul by Michael Kiesling
    Luxor by Rüdiger Dorn
    The Mind by Wolfgang Warsch

Firstly, more than half of the nominees were designed by either Wolfgang Warsch, or Michael Kiesling, so huge congratulations to them.  In our view, Azul richly deserves it’s nomination and it would be no surprise if it ultimately wins the award.  Of the other two nominations for the “red pöppel”, The Mind has received quite a lot of attention, and is a bit like a cross between Hanabi and The Game (both of which have been acknowledged by the Jury in the past, in 2013 and 2015 respectively).  Luxor has a good pedigree as it is designed by Rüdiger Dorn (also designer of The Traders of Genoa, Goa, Istanbul, and one of our group favourites, Las Vegas), but it is a bit more of an unknown as it has only just come out.  Usually the Kennerspiel Prize winners are a good fit to our group, but this year they are also largely unknown to us, so there is clearly a lot to discover before the winners are announced in Berlin on 23rd July (Kinderspiel des Jahres winners will be announced in Hamburg on 11th June).

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

 

2nd June 2015

After the bustle of last time with three parallel games, it felt really quiet to be back to a single table.  Unfortunately, the missing people were those that the “Feature Game”, Bania had been aimed at, but we decided to give it a go anyhow as it was supposed to be short.  It had also received an uncharacteristically poor review in the latest edition of the SpielBox magazine, and we were curious as to why.

Bania in SpielBox
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is simple enough, comprising the elements of hand-management and tile laying.  The idea of the game is that players are building tents in the desert.  When they build a tent, there is no cost if they can place it next to other tents of the right colour, otherwise they must any additional cost in cards from their hand.  Thus if a tile needs red, purple and yellow but can only be placed next to a red and yellow, a purple card is also required.  On their turn, the active player can place as many tiles as they want to from their hand four and if they place all four, then they can draw another four tiles and keep going as long as they want or are able.  Once they can no longer place tent tiles or otherwise choose to stop, they draw tiles to replenish their hand back to four and play passes to the next player.

Bania
– Image by boardGOATS

Points are scored during the game for building tents which can be placed more or less anywhere.  However, once a settlement consists of seven tiles it is “complete” and it cannot be added to.  Adding to a growing settlement scores one point whereas starting a new one scores three points.  Thus extending a settlement costs less, but also earns fewer points  and the key part of the game is the source of cards.  These come from the elephant:  if it is on the board at the start of the active player’s turn then they can take a card corresponding to each colour present in that settlement.  When a settlement is completed, the elephant is returned to its owner and will yield nothing at the start of their next turn (although they can place it on any tile they as they lay it).  So players want their elephant to stay in a settlement consisting of four different colours, but want to complete it themselves so they can place it again straight away.

Bania
– Image by boardGOATS

In the event that a player needs more cards then they have, instead of laying tiles (and placing their elephant), they can roll the four dice a total of three times, saving as many as they choose from each roll.  There are six options corresponding to the four colours, and additionally an elephant’s head and an “elephant aaarrrse” (as it quickly became known thanks to Grey and his cool accent). A complete elephant gives the player their “elephant cards” again (which is only useful if the elephant is on the board), otherwise they get the resources shown on the dice.  The game ends when no more tiles can be placed and the winner is the player with the most points once the all important bonus points (for the player with the most of each resource) have been added to the tally.

Bania
– Image by boardGOATS

Grey got the game under way but it was Burgundy who showed us how to deal with the elephant.  By completing the settlement his elephant was occupying and then placing a new tile, he was able to pick up cards at the start of consecutive rounds.  Meanwhile, Green picked up on another trick for scoring extra points.  Starting a new settlement and then placing a second tent tile to link it to another settlement could give four points for the cost of three cards if the placement was chosen carefully;  placing the tiles in the same place but reversing the order could still cost three cards, but would only yield two points.  Eventually, we came into the home straight, but as it was all quite tight, bonus points suddenly seemed really, really important so nobody wanted to end it and we spent nearly two full rounds just collecting cards before the last tile was laid.  In the end it was a tight game with just five points between first and last, but Blue finished in front, two points ahead of Burgundy.

Bania
– Image by boardGOATS

We had had very little difficulty with the rules of Bania, but quickly realised that the chief downside of the game was “analysis paralysis”.  Because each player can place as many tiles as they want, there is very little planning a player can do in advance as everything will have changed by the time it is their turn.  The fact players couldn’t plan much in advance slowed everything down a lot (we even managed trips to the bar between turns!), although we felt this might be a bit alleviated a little with fewer players as the rounds wouldn’t seem quite so long.  The analysis was sometimes a bit negative too as it was often a case of, “Can’t do this, or this or this, so, um, well, I’ll have to do something with these then…”  On reflection, we decided that part of the problem was that we all got a bit hung-up on picking up “cheap single points” for adding to settlements rather than trying to get the three points for starting a new one.  The biggest problem we found, however, was simply that the game outstayed its welcome – the box claimed it would take half an hour and it took us well over twice that.  We still weren’t sure it deserved the stand-out negative review that it got from SpielBox though.

Bania
– Image by boardGOATS

Next we had a big discussion as to what to play next.  Green had some new toys he was desperate to play with, but Blue felt that since Grey could stay as long as he wanted this time, it was a good opportunity to play something a bit longer.  Burgundy had played recently been introduced to Castles of Mad King Ludwig and had loved it and was keen to give it another go, so that clinched it.  Grey and Green were new to it, so Blue explained while Burgundy got on with arranging tiles chipping in when Blue missed stuff out.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a tile laying game where players are building an amazing, extravagant castle for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, one room at a time.  Rooms selected randomly are sold off in batches with one player, the Master Builder, setting the prices for each room in the batch.  Payment is made to the Master Builder (similar to the auctions in Goa), but as they are the last player to buy, there is a large element of “I divide, you choose” (similar to games like …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne).  Thus, the idea is that the Master Builder wants to arrange the tiles such that rooms desired by the other players are expensive, but generally not too expensive, and similar to Goa, having a lot of money is powerful, but when you spend it, you give that advantage to the active player.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

The other interesting mechanism is controlling the room layout so that rooms that work well together are daisy-chained yielding the most points.  When a room is placed, points are scored for that room, but also the room it is attached to.  Most of the points are dependent on the type of room they are connected to, so, a large purple living room with (say) six doors, will score every time a room is added to it.  If it scores two points for every “blue sleeping room” that is connected to it, it will score two points when it is first placed (next to a sleeping room, but four when the next is added to it, then six and so on.  However, the difficult part is trying to find six blue rooms that also score when they are placed next to a purple living room.  Balancing the synergistic effects are really what make the game interesting.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

When a room is completed, there is a bonus, this can be extra points or some other advantage like an extra turn or money etc..  At the end of the game there are also bonus points for the player who best fulfills the requirements for the “King’s Favours” as well as points for personal bonuses.  The game uses a card-deck to determine which rooms are drawn and when it is exhausted it triggers the end-game.  One last round is played before all the bonuses are calculated and the winner is the player who finishes with the most points.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Burgundy started off launching himself into the lead with the aid of several yellow food rooms which gave him an extra turn.  Green and Blue started out fighting over the downstairs rooms before Blue took herself off and started building purple living spaces to try to compete for one of the King’s Favours.  Meanwhile, Grey was struggling a little with the peculiarities of scoring but as he got the hang of it, he started to amass points with several large red activity rooms.  It was when Blue jumped from a distant fourth place to the front of the pack by completing a purple living room surrounded by corridors, which when completed was re-scored giving her some twenty-plus points in one round, that the game was blown apart.  Blue had built up a significant lead, but Burgundy and Grey were catching her, when the game moved into the final round leaving it all down to the bonuses.  Grey took the highly contested points for “square rooms”, and Green took the points for the most downstairs rooms.  Blue took the points for small rooms and purple rooms.  It was really the personal bonus cards that made the difference though, and they left Blue the winner, some ten points clear of Burgundy.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Experience often helps.

23rd October 2014: A Post Essen Special

This was a special Thursday night meeting because we’d had to cancel Tuesday (because the pub was holding a Chinese Night) and everyone who went to the Spieltage in Essen couldn’t wait to show off their new toys!  As it was a Thursday, we couldn’t use the pub, so we spent the evening at a private house in the village, something we used to do routinely after the fire, but haven’t done since the pub reopened.

Essen 2014

Typically, almost everyone came which meant we needed a second table!  While people arrived and drinks were found, Essen was discussed and the games played and bought were presented.  New games were the order of the day, so one table opted for Castles of Mad King Ludwig, while the other began with Istanbul, the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres.  It was exciting to break new games out of their shrink wrapping, but something that hadn’t been appreciated, was the time it would take to punch the components and learn the rules.

Frames

Although Castles of Mad King Ludwig had a lot of components to remove from their cardboard frame, at least the rules didn’t need to reading as one of the players had played it at Essen and was prepared to teach it.  Time was also saved someone the punching by using poker chips – although the components and box are generally really nice, the small cardboard money tokens are a little fiddly.

Poker Chips

The game itself is quite a simple game in many ways:  the idea is that players buy rooms to add to their castle.  A deck of cards is used to determine which rooms are available, and game ends when this deck has been exhausted.  The active player, or Master Builder then chooses the respective value of each room.  The clever part is the sale, an idea which appears to have been borrowed from Goa, where all monies are paid to the active player except for those spent by the active player, which go to the bank.  Thus, the idea is that the Master Builder wants to arrange the tiles such that rooms desired by the other players are expensive, but generally not too expensive, and similar to Goa, having a lot of money is powerful, but when you spend it, you generally give that advantage to the active player.

Castles of Mag King Ludwig

So, each room has a cost, but also a points value when placed, a size, and some sort of bonus for “completing” it.  A room is considered complete when every door leads to another room and this is where there is a spacial element to the game, since it is necessary to ensure that doors are laid out in such a way that rooms can be completed if appropriate.  The bonuses vary from an extra turn to money to extra victory point cards that are applied at the end of the game.  Some rooms also yield bonuses for “adjacency” which is determined on a room by room basis when the room is placed.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Ably assisted by Purple, Black explained the rules to Blue and Pink and then play began.  All was apparently proceeding well, when we discovered that despite the fact she was in the lead, Blue was unsure when the room bonuses applied – on placing, or to rooms added after placing.  This confusion was duly rectified (it is on placing) when we discovered that Pink hadn’t quite got a complete grasp of the rules either.  And then Purple, who was suffering with post-Essen lurgy, took her turn to have a fuzzy-rule moment.  Meanwhile, Black, who was concentrating on keeping everyone else on the straight and narrow found his castle was suffering a little and was starting to fall behind, so he quickly took measures to improve his situation by building a couple of Red rooms which yield a lot of points, though have some significant penalties if you get things wrong.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

As the game headed towards the conclusion, Black was clearly in front and pulling away, but that was without the final scoring.  At the end of the game there are points available for any bonus cards held by players as well as for winning the King’s Favour.  The King’s Favours are scored separately with points potentially available for the everyone as players are ranked and score points accordingly.  There are four competitions that change with each game, and in the four player game, first place earns eight points, with four, two and one for second, third and fourth place respectively.  In this game, the King favoured castles with the largest footprint of living and utility space, as well as those with a lot of corridors and circular rooms.   Having picked up a lot of orange utility rooms early in the game, Blue had a lot of bonus points to score as well as coming first in two of the Kings Favour competitions, taking her well clear of Black in second place.

Istanbul

Meanwhile, Green, Azure, Red and Orange battled their way through learning the rules to Istanbul.  This is also a fairly simple game where players are trying to lead their Merchant and his four Assistants through the Turkish bazaar.  There are sixteen locations each with an associated action, but to carry out an action, the Merchant needs an Assistant to help out.  The problem is, once an action has been completed, the Merchant must move on, however, the Assistant remains to complete the details of the transaction.  The play-area is made up of tiles representing each stall, so there are four possible layouts:  “Short”, where the distances between places that work well together are small making game-play easier; “Long”, where places that work well together are far apart, which forces players to plan ahead more; “Challenging”, where similar places are grouped together, and “Random”.  As nobody had played it before, we didn’t know quite what to expect, so for this game, we chose “Short”.

Istanbul

Thus, a player’s turn consists of moving their stack of pieces (with the Merchant on top) one or two stalls around the bazaar.  If the stack ends on a space where there is already an Assistant of the same colour, then the stack is placed on top of that Assistant, otherwise, the bottom Assistant in the stack is removed and placed next to the stack.  Then, if the play wants he can perform an action at that stall, for example, buy goods at the fabric, spice or fruit warehouses, sell goods at one of the markets, or buy gemstones from the dealer etc..  If the player does not have an Assistant to collect or leave, then the players turn ends straight away, similarly, if a player meets someone else’s Merchant, they must pay them two Lira each, and forfeit the right to an action.  Meeting one of the other characters in the game also has consequences:  the Governor allows players to buy bonus cards; the Smuggler allows players to buy or trade goods, and a family member can be captured and sent to the Police Station in return for a reward.  The game ends when a player has five rubies.

Istanbul

Each player tried different strategies and tactics and to begin with, everyone was quite close and before long, everyone had with two or three of the five required rubies.  At this point, Green and Red looked at the gem dealer and felt that his gems were very expensive and that it was going to be a while before anyone could get enough to end the game.  However, Orange was buying goods and then selling them in the market and then used his double buy bonus card to jump from two rubies to four. Meanwhile, Azure had gained a special bonus token that allowed her to change a dice roll and then set about visiting the “Tea House” and gambling on dice rolls.  With the ability to change dice rolls, it meant she could call higher and therefore win more money which she took next door to buy her rubies.  By the time Green and Red realised that Azure had enough to buy her remaining rubies, it was too late and Azure had secured the win.

Istanbul

Despite having to learn the game from scratch, Istanbul finished long before Castles of Mad King Ludwig, so they decided they liked the gem-stone theme and went on to play a game that is already quite well known within the group, but has been so popular that a copy was also purchased at Essen – Splendor.  From the group who had finished, only Green was familiar with it, so he took the responsibility of teaching.  Red started out collecting rubies, while Green bought onyx and diamond and Azure and Orange went for  across section.  Orange built up a stack of chips which enabled him to quickly build a good stack of non-scoring gem cards, these, in turn rapidly led to a lot of low level scoring cards. Red continued to concentrate on Rubies, but branched out a little and gaining some of the high scoring cards.  Then suddenly, one player remembered the option to reserve a card and take a gold token and before long everyone was doing it!  Green thought he was about to win and activated his saved five-point diamond card to claim three points for one of the Nobles (four onyx and four diamond) only to realise that he already had enough diamonds and it was onyx that he needed!  Meanwhile, Azure quietly got on with building a mixed set of gems cross-colour starting with low value, moving on to middle and finishing with high values and with it took the game.  No-one secured the patronage of a Noble, though Green came closest as he took second place.

Splendor

Azure and Orange, Green and Pink headed home leaving Blue, Red, Black and Purple with just time for a quick game of the Romeo and Juliet themed card game, Council of Verona.  This is another new game, but it has a lot in common with Love Letter, a quick little game that we’ve all played a lot and are very familiar with.  The idea of Council of Verona is that on their turn, they play a card (a Montague, a Capulet or a Neutral)  either in Exile or in Council.  Broadly speaking, the cards come in two categories:  cards with an action and cards with an agenda.  So once they’ve played a card, players then they choose whether to perform any action associated with that card and, if they wish, they may then play an influence token on any agenda cards in play.  Each player has three influence tokens, a zero, a three and a five.  At the end of the game, the influence tokens are evaluated for any agendas that have been successfully fulfilled and the scores totalled up accordingly.

Councils of Verona

The rules suggest that you play three rounds and draft the cards at the start, but since we were all unfamiliar with the game, all tired and two of us were suffering from post-Essen-lurgy, we decided to play just one quick game and deal the cards out randomly and try to get a feel for it.  Blue and Purple played Romeo and Juliet (who want to be together) into Council and added influence tokens, while Red played Prince Escalus (Neutral who wants council to be balanced) and added a token.  Blue then played Lord Montague (wants more Montagues on Council than Capulets) and Black, Red and Purple retaliated by shuffling things around.  Blue who went last, played Lady Montague allowing her to swap two influence tokens giving her a winning score.

Council of Verona

Learning Outcome:  New games are a lot of fun!