Tag Archives: Grog Island

6th October 2015

This week we started out debating the poor performance of the England Rugby team compared with Ireland who had hitherto failed to beat a team in the top ten, but were still likely to go through to the quarter final stage of the world cup (thanks largely to the vagaries of the draw).  While Blue and Pink finished their pizza Magenta, the Dobble Queen, schooled everyone else in a quick round of Dobble, before we split into two groups.

Dobble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

The first group played Grog Island.  This is an unusual game that it quite hard to get your head round because a lot is going on.  The theme centers on retiring pirates who are trying to work out how to spend their ill-gotten gains. The game is played on a board that represents the five peninsulas of “Grog Island”, which is where pirates that have survived to retirement can go to invest their spoils by buying pirate-like properties.  The key feature however is the innovative bidding mechanism.

Grog Island
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

On their turn, the active player rolls five coloured dice, and then places their first bid.  Bids are placed by selecting any number of the dice with the value of the bid equal to the sum of the number of pips on the upper-most face of the dice.  The bid must be less than the players total amount of gold.  The clever part of the bidding is that the dice that form the bid are placed in descending order, with each dice placed in one of the five available spaces, starting on the left with the highest value dice. If they can afford it, the next player may increase the bid, by increasing the total number of pips visible on the dice.  To do this they can add dice, replace dice, even completely rearrange the order of the dice, so long they do not change the number on any die and the dice remain arranged in descending order starting from the left.  The position and colour of the dice have a number of consequences, both for the eventual winning bidder, and for players who withdraw from the round early.

Grog Island
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Wout

The player who eventually wins the bid gets to carry out the actions associated with the dice according to their final position.  These include placing pirates on the island and blocking spaces on the island, but the peninsula is restricted to the colour of the die placed in the location associated with that action.  Pirates’ positions on the island are important, because these are the primary way players get points during the game, but since those points depend on the victory cards handed out at the start, everyone has a different combination of goals.

Grog Island
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor PZS69

Losing a bid can be useful too, however, as players who drop out of the bidding early get resources corresponding to the colours of the dice in the current bid.  Thus, if the current bid is comprised of the yellow, blue and green dice, the player receives lemons (yellow), fish (blue), and coconuts (green).  These resources can then be used to carry out one of the options on the shipping track.  Black and Purple had played the game before, though always with four players.  Red on the other hand was new to it and felt a bit overwhelmed trying to get her head round everything that was going on.  For this reason, while Black and Purple began collecting victory point cards and planning a strategy, Red kept it simple and played tactically, gathering resources and using them as best she could.  It was really close and it went right down to the wire, Red finishing with thirty-three, with Black and Purple two and five points behind respectively.  The discussion at the end suggested that different tactics might be necessary with different player counts.  On the other hand, the winner was was the player who had no idea what she was doing last time we played too, so maybe keeping it simple is the way forward with this game.

Grog Island
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Wout

Meanwhile, everyone else played the “Feature Game”, Tokaido.  This is a game where players take the role of pilgrims crossing the Japanese “East sea road”, meeting people, tasting fine meals, collecting beautiful items, discovering great panoramas, and visiting temples.  It had been Pink’s choice as he lives so far away that he rarely makes it to games nights and was able to come this time as he was on his way to Essen.  He chose the game because he had played it a couple of times with two and wanted to see how it played with more as he felt it was probably very different.

Tokaido
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The game is quite simple with fairly straightforward actions, but despite this there is a surprising amount to think about.  The idea is that players are travelling along a path, but only one player can stop on each space.  Each space allows the active player to carry out a predefined action which will usually give them some combination of money and/or victory points.  Since the player at the back goes first they have to choose whether to move to the closest available space and get the maximum number of moves, or whether to pick a space for its action, either to improve their own position or to obstruct someone else’s plans.  In practice of course, it is inevitably a compromise but one that is often based on marginal decisions.

Tokaido
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

There are a number of possible actions, some of which involve drawing cards from one of the available piles with players scoring more for collecting sets.  Players can also donate money to at the temple in return for victory points, but as money is quite scarce, this can be quite difficult.  At intervals along the route there are also inns, where players have to try to buy a meal, which are worth six points, however, each meal must be different.  The first player to arrive draws a hand of meal cards which have varying costs, and they get to select which meal to buy giving them the chance to to make live very difficult for everyone else.

Tokaido: Eriku
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor changeling

At the start of the game, each player draws a character card:  Burgundy took Sasayakko; Pink got Zen-Emon, Magenta took Umegae and Blue got Eriku.  Since nobody could work out what Eriku did (he was a promotional item and came without rules), Blue drew a second card and ended up with Hiroshiga.  Sasayakko and Zen-Emon both had special powers allowing the cheaper purchases of souvenirs from the village, which meant that Burgundy and Pink were fighting for the same spaces on the path.  Umegae allowed Magenta to take an extra point and coin every time she drew an encounter card, while Hiroshiga gave Blue a free panorama card at the three intermediate inns, which ultimately gave her two of the panorama bonuses.

Tokaido
– Image by BGG contributor asdoriak

Since the character cards drive the strategy, Burgundy and Pink both started out collecting souvenirs while Blue went for panoramas.  Magenta was the only one who was completely new to the game and, as it is very different to anything else we’ve played, she struggled to find a strategy in the first few turns.  As Umegae ensured that she had an extra source of money, Magenta managed to avoid getting into financial difficulties and quickly built up an unassailable lead at the temple and, by buying the expensive meal cards, managed to secure that bonus too.  Money was much more of an issue for Blue as she started out with less than everyone else and really struggled to ensure she had enough to buy a meal at each of the inns.  Burgundy also had a bit of a cash-flow crisis as he was buying souvenirs at every possible opportunity, but at least he was doing well picking up points.

Tokaido
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Pink didn’t escape financial worries either and, as he was losing out to Burgundy for the village spaces, he wasn’t picking up as many points.  The game finished with a clear win for Burgundy who’s souvenir buying strategy clearly paid off giving him a lead of ten points over second place.  It was much closer than it had looked earlier in the game however, and only two points separated Pink in second and Blue at the back.  It was a game we all enjoyed though, and it does indeed play very differently with two and “lots”, for two main reasons.  Firstly, with two players, controlling the dummy player is a key part of the game, but he is not used with three or more people.  Secondly, with more than three, some of the spaces have a sort of “siding” that can be used by a second player.  This second player is remains behind the first person to arrive, which messes with the turn order and takes a little getting used to.

Tokaido
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Tokaido finished first, so we played a quick game of Love Letter with the winner decreed as the person with the most points when Grog Island finished.  The usual hilarity ensued as one player managed to take out another by shear blind chance using the guard, or occasionally by clever deduction.  It was all level with one hand each, when Grog Island came to an end and it all came down to the last hand which was taken by Burgundy.

Love Letter
– Image by BGG contributor thatmadgirl

Red and Magenta were preparing to leave, but we managed to persuade them to stay for a quick game of one of our current favourite fillers, 6 Nimmt!.  This is such a silly game:  clearly there is more to it than just chance, but none of us can really work out what, which is why it continues to keep us intrigued.  We usually play this in two rounds, each with half a deck, and typically, whoever does really well in the first round (generally Burgundy) does appallingly badly in the second.  Everything went according to the script with Burgundy winning the first round taking just the one “nimmt”, and then starting the second round picking up cards.  However, that’s where it stopped and Burgundy finished with just eight, the clear winner.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

With the departure of Red and Magenta, and Blue and Pink wanting an early night because they were travelling the next day, we decided to play another short game and opted for one of our current “go-to fillers”, The Game.  We’ve played this a lot recently, but only actually won once.  This time we started very, very badly indeed with nobody really having any very high or very low cards.  Then the inevitable happened and about half of us only had very high or very low cards.  We’ve known for some time that this game is a lot more difficult with more players and with five it is especially challenging.  Nevertheless, despite doing so appallingly badly at the start, the end result was not as bad as we expected and we finished with three cards left.

The Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Learning Outcome:  Some games play very differently with different numbers of players.

Boardgames in the News: Are Games Getting Cheaper?

There have been a lot of good deals about recently.  First there was Black Friday.  This traditionally American festival of consumerism occurs on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and this year even affected some of the online Boardgame sellers in the UK – anyone for Grog Island at £15?  Then there were the Amazon “Lightening Deals”.  These are deals that are advertised in advance with a specific start time and a limited stock.  This year, we’ve had King of Tokyo and Dominion at £15 each.

The latest one beats all these though.  Thanks to a malfunction in the software used by third-party sellers to ensure their products are the cheapest on the market, prices were reduced to as little as 1p.  Reports suggest that one buyer bought ninety-five board games that should have cost £12.99 each for 99p each!  Ooops.

Amazon Glitch
– Image from theguardian.com

2nd December 2014

We were very late starting, but after a short discussion we decided to go with the “Feature Game” which was Grog Island.  This is an “Essen Special” that we’ve not played at the group before, but it has turned out to have been a bit of a hit elsewhere due largely to its innovative bidding mechanism.  The game revolves around retiring pirates who aer trying to work out how to spend their ill-gotten gains. This game is played on a board that represents the five peninsulas of “Grog Island”, which is where pirates that have survived to retirement can go to invest their spoils by buying pirate-like properties.

Grog Island

The idea is that each player receives a hand of end-game victory point condition cards, a number of pirate meeples and markers, eight gold coins, a treasure card (containing an undisclosed amount of gold) and a parrot card.   On their turn, the active player rolls five coloured dice, and then places their first bid.  Bids are placed by selecting any number of the dice with the value of the bid equal to the sum of the number of pips on the upper-most face of the dice.  The bid must be less than the players total amount of gold (including hidden treasure cards).

Grog Island

The clever part of the bidding is that the dice that form the bid are placed in descending order, with each dice placed in one of the five available spaces, starting on the left with the highest value dice. If they can afford it, the next player may increase the bid, by increasing the total number of pips visible on the dice.  To do this they can add dice, replace dice, even completely rearrange the order of the dice, so long they do not change the number on any die and the dice remain arranged in descending order starting from the left.

Grog Island

The position and colour of the dice have a number of consequences, both for the eventual winning bidder, and for players who withdraw from the round early.  The player who eventually wins the bid gets to carry out the actions associated with the dice according to their final position.  These include placing pirates on the island and blocking spaces on the island, but the peninsula is restricted to the colour of the die placed in the location associated with that action.  Pirates positions on the island are important, because these are the primary way players can get points during the game, but since those points depend on the victory cards handed out at the start, everyone has a different combination of goals.

Grog Island

Players who drop out of the bidding either because they can’t or choose not to increase its value, get resources corresponding to the colours of the dice in the current bid.  Thus, if the current bid is comprised of the yellow, blue and green dice, the player receives lemons (yellow), fish (blue), and coconuts (green).  These resources can then be used to carry out one of the options on the shipping track.  For each resource, there are two options available:  the top option costs a single resource and varies as the game progresses, while the bottom option is always the same and allows players to place a single pirate on the peninsula of that colour.

Grog Island

We eventually got going, and after some rules confusion (despite extensive discussion before we began), Blue won the first round so had almost no money and very little to show for it.  Purple and Green both managed to win a couple of rounds while Black, struggled to win anything.  Victory points are awarded at the end of the game depending on the conditions on the victory point card, so every turn that Black didn’t win an auction, he ominously took a card.  Now in this game, the dice cannot be freely placed:  they must be placed in descending order (and are locked so the value cannot be changed).  This, coupled with the fact that the bid must always increase (but players don’t want to spend more than they have to) means there are restrictions on where the dice can go.  Black tried everything, he even used Parrot cards to change the number on dice, but unfortunately, somehow, when he eventually did win an auction, he couldn’t do much with it.  Meanwhile, Blue (who hadn’t been feeling at all well), just collected resources and Purple and Green carried on winning auctions and accruing a lot of money.

Grog Island

Blue had spent most of the game checking things with the rules as she seemed completely incapable of remembering what was going on, but despite this, she eventually managed to win a second auction and then suddenly realised that she had collected enough resources to start to place pirates without winning having to win auctions, which meant she didn’t need any money. Purple and Green both also had pirates left to place when three rounds later, Blue brought the game to an end by placing her final pirate.

Grog Island

Black went first with the scoring, and woefully shook his head saying, “I’m screwed,” as he revealed his goal cards and the fact he’d succeeded in almost none of them.  As we moved on to score Green, Black added, “You need to be somewhere round here,” gesturing at the thirty-five point mark; we all muttered disbelievingly.  Green also thought he’d done badly, but in actual fact had nearly double the number of points Black had achieved and was within one point of Purple.  Much to everyone’s surprise, possibly Blue’s most of all, she ran out the clear winner with thirty-five points.

Grog Island

Because of the late start and the inordinate amount of time it had taken to explain and then play Grog Island, we only had time to play one other quick game.  Purple nipped out for a moment and, in her absence, the rest of us elected to play Indigo.  This is a pretty game that we’ve played before on a Tuesday, and was described by Black as, “Like Tsuro in reverse.”  The idea of Tsuro is that players start with a stone on the edge of the board, and they take it in turns to play tiles that extend the path their stone is sitting on and the winner is the one who keeps their stone on the board the longest.

Indigo

In Indigo, the stones start on the board and players have to build paths to guide the stones into their gate.  The really clever part of Indigo is that each gate is shared by two players, making it a sort of semi-cooperative game.  In the four player game, each player shares one gate with every other player, so three out of the four players have two gates next to each other and one on the opposite side of the board.  The final player, in this case Green, has a gap between each of his three gates, spreading them evenly around the board.

Indigo

The game started quickly with Purple and Blue teaming up to bring a yellow stone home, giving them one point each.  Then it was Green’s turn, but from then on, Blue and Black teamed up to build a highly lucrative gate pulling in a handful of green stones and the three-point blue stone.  There was only a single point between first and second and, unsurprisingly, it was Black and Blue who were in the running, with Blue edging it by a nose giving her a clean sweep for the evening.  Path laying games are definitely Blue and Black’s sort of games, and equally certainly, not Purple’s favourites although she doesn’t mind Tsuro.  Green commented that he felt it was much harder with the gates spread out, though Blue was less sure, as she felt it should be easier as stones were never very far away.  Well, we’ll just have to play it again sometime to find out, though as Purple is not so keen it may be a little while…

Indigo

Learning Outcome:  You don’t have to feel 100% to win.