Tag Archives: Hanabi

29th December 2015

The pub was very busy, and with one chef down with the lurgy (which had got four of us as well), food was delayed. So, unusually, we started off with a quick game. Expecting more people, we decided to play something short, and opted for Qwixx. This game was designed by Steffen Bendorf who also designed The Game (which has been popular with the group this year) and was nominated for Spiel des Jahres in 2013. So, it has a good pedigree, however, when it was nominated there were a lot of comments about its suitability and eventually, it was beaten by Hanabi, which most people agreed was a better game. We finally got the chance to give it a go in October and generally felt that although the rules made for a promising sounding filler, the resulting game was disappointing. Given how some people continue rave about it though, we’d were keen to give it another try and see if we’d been mistaken.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Qwixx is a very simple game: each player has a score card displaying the numbers two to twelve in the four different colours, red and yellow ascending and blue and green ascending.  On their turn, the active player rolls six dice, two white, and one of each of the colours, red, blue, green and yellow.  Every player may cross out the number corresponding to the sum of the white dice. The active player may then also cross out a coloured number corresponding to the sum of one white die and one matching coloured die. If the active player cannot or chooses not to cross off a number, then they must tick a penalty box, which costs them five points at the end of the game. The snag is that although numbers can be skipped, they must be crossed off in order, red and yellow ascending, blue and green descending.

Qwixx
– Image by boardGOATS

Points are scored for the number of each colour crossed out and penalties subtracted; the game ends when one player has picked up four penalties, or players have crossed off the last number for two colours locking them for everyone. Scarlet, an experienced local gamer who is usually unavailable on Tuesday evenings, commented that it was a bit like Yahtzee, but with slightly more decisions to make. This didn’t further endear the game to Blue, who has bad memories of playing Yahtzee as a child. Scarlet did manage to demonstrate a modicum of strategy when he chose to cross off a sixth red number rather than his first green number since that would give more points at the end. His discovery clearly gave him a bit of an edge as he took second place, eight behind Burgundy who won with eighty.  We had a bit of discussion about what strategy there was, but it was not really enough to rescue the game in anyone’s eyes and it now faces donation to a worthy cause.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, Grey and Cerise had arrived and seeing everyone else engaged decided to play a quick game of Hey, That’s My Fish!. This is a cute little abstract with a penguin theme, and, in common with games like Carcassonne, although it plays more, in many ways, it is at its best as a two player game when it is most vicious. The game is played on a grid of hexagonal tiles, with each player starting with four penguin figurines which players take it in turns to move in straight lines across the tiles. When a penguin is moved, the active player gets the tile it was sitting on, leaving a gap that cannot be crossed. Thus, the ice flow progressively melts away trapping the penguins in increasingly smaller spaces.

Hey, That's My Fish!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

A number of fish is depicted on each tile, and the player with the most fish at the end of the game, i.e. when there are no more valid moves, is the winner. This is just the sort of game that Grey likes, deliciously savage with plenty of opportunity to go for the jugular and for a while he had Cerise under the cosh. Her delight at the end was obvious though when the final reckoning put her four fish clear.  With food imminent for those who hadn’t yet eaten, and Green expected, we decided to split the group and start the “Feature Game”, Broom Service.  This game uses the role selection mechanic from Witch’s Brew (a game we played a few weeks ago), but adds much more with a board and a delivery mechanic.  Witch’s Brew was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2008, but was beaten by Keltis (a boardgame equivalent of the popular two player card game Lost Cities), but its reincarnation, Broom Service, won the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Like Witch’s Brew, players start with a hand of character cards from which they simultaneously choose a subset in secret. The start player then chooses a card and announces they are that character declaring they are either “brave” or “cowardly”. The other players then must follow suit if they hold that card. If a player is cowardly they take a lesser reward immediately, but if they are brave, they must wait until the end of the round to see if they get a reward. Once everyone has declared their position, the last brave player takes a greater prize and anyone who was brave earlier in the round gets nothing.  The character cards come in three types, Gatherers (who provide ingredients), Witches (who allow players to travel to an adjacent region) and Druids (who deliver potions to the towers). There is also the Weather Fairy who charms away clouds using magic wands.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The rules are modified by event cards that are revealed at the start of the round, and with less than five players, the game is also made tighter by the inclusion of “bewitched” roles (cue Burgundy and Pink demonstrating how to wiggle-twitch their noses like Tabitha). The game is considerably more complex than the cute theme and artwork imply. Compared with Witch’s Brew, there are also a number of small rules that it is difficult to remember at the start, though they are in keeping with the theme.  The game ends after eight rounds, and, although points are awarded for delivering potions during the game, there are extra points for weather clouds and sets of potions collected.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Grey quickly got his nose in front delivering potions early, but Scarlet and and Cerise followed suit and kept the points difference down. It didn’t last however, and before long, Grey had moved his witches away from everyone else’s into the south-east corner of the board where he was able to score heavily without competition.  Despite Cerise’s best efforts with the Weather Fairy and Scarlet’s set collecting, Grey had an unassailable lead and finished nearly thirty points clear with ninety-three points. Second place was much closer, however, Scarlet taking it by just two points from Cerise.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, once the matter of food had been dealt with, Blue, Pink and Burgundy were debating what to play. It had been narrowed down to Snow Tails or Snowdonia (with Pink requesting an expansion to add interest), when Green appeared, newly arrived from visiting relations over Christmas. He was keen to play Snowdonia, so that sealed the deal, with the Jungfraubahn expansion added as a sweetener.

Snowdonia
– Image by BGG contributor duchamp

The base game is not that complex and we’ve played it a few times, however, it is one of those games that somehow everyone struggles to remember how it works. With both Burgundy and Blue suffering with Seasonal Lurgy, adding the expansion was always going to make things more complicated too.  The idea is that players take it in turns to place their workers in the seven possible actions, which are then activated in order. These actions include, visiting the stockyard; converting iron ore into iron bars; digging to remove rubble from the track-bed; laying track; building part of a station; taking contract cards; and surveying the route.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

There are two twists: the weather and the game. The stockyard is refilled from a bag, and there are small number of white cubes in the bag which, when drawn cause the game to play itself. This mechanism came about because the designer dislikes players who hoard resources, so in this game, if people don’t keep things moving, the likelihood of white cubes coming out increases and the game moves along on its own. The other interesting mechanism is the weather which increases and decreases the digging and track laying rate making players’ timing key.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Green, Pink, Blue and Burgundy were still setting out the game and trying to work out what modifications the Jungfraubahn expansion made, when Broom Service finished, so Grey, Cerise and Scarlet played a quick game of Cosmic Encounter. This is a game they were all familiar with, though we’ve not played it on a Tuesday night before.  The game is reasonably straight forward, with each player leading an alien race trying to establish colonies on other players’ planets with the winner the first player to have five colonies on planets outside their home system.

Cosmic Encounter
– Image by BGG contributor RRunner

On their turn, The active player becomes “The Offense”. The Offense encounters another player on a planet by moving a group of his or her ships through the hyperspace gate to that planet. They draw cards from the destiny deck which contains colors, wilds and specials. The Offense then takes the hyperspace gate and points at one planet in the system indicated by the drawn destiny card. The Offense and The Defense both commit ships to the encounter and both sides are able to invite allies, play an encounter card as well as special cards to try and tip the encounter in their favour.  The game was close with lots of too-ing and fro-ing, but Cerise was the one to finally successfully establish five colonies, with Grey and Scarlet finishing with four and three colonies respectively.

Cosmic Encounter
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

By this time, the other group had finally sussed out what they were doing and had got under way with Snowdonia.  The Jungfraubahn expansion changes the game quite considerably replacing fog with snow which adds rubble to the track that must be cleared again before track can be built.  It also introduces dynamite which can be used to remove large amounts of rubble as well as being used to initially clear a route through the mountains before the track-bed is prepared. Added to these, the new contract cards, seemed to introduce even more bad weather than “north-wet” Wales!

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Blue and Burgundy were both a bit slow off the mark and struggled to really get going. In contrast, Green quickly picked up an engine and Pink got a couple of valuable contract cards. With Grey and Cerise leaving, Scarlet was left as an interested spectator. Eventually, Blue and Burgundy got going, but it was a bit of a rear-guard action.  With the expansion, the game was taking slightly longer than expected, so Green, decided to take the opportunity to play Scarlet as a substitute and went home leaving the rest to finish the game without him. He had set out his plan and Scarlet did an excellent job executing it, however, Pink just had the edge.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ansi

Green/Scarlet took a massive seventy-nine points in bonuses and with twenty-nine points for station building together with the maximum for his surveyor, they finished with one hundred and twenty-two.  The break down for Pink was nearly completely reversed with him taking seventy-eight points for station building and nearly sixty more in bonuses, giving a total of one hundred and thirty-eight, and the game.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Learning outcome: Lurgy does not improve gaming ability.

20th October 2015

While Burgundy, Magenta and Blue waited for their supper to arrive, they began a quick game of Bellz!, the “Feature Game”.  This is a very simple manual dexterity game, albeit one that is very well presented.  The pouch opens out to form a soft bowl containing bells in four different colours.  Each colour includes bells in three different sizes; the aim of the game is to be the first person to have picked up all the bells of just one colour using the stick which has a magnet in each end.  On a player’s turn they can pick up multiple bells or chicken out and stop at one, but if they pick up any bells that don’t match the colour of those they have already collected then that turn is forfeit.

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

It is certainly more difficult than it looks and there is a little bit in the way of tactics as the magnetism gets weaker further away so with skill it is possible to daisy chain bells and only pick up certain bells.  There is also a strong magnet one one end of the “wand” and a weaker one on the other.  Th rules are not completely clear (and are completely in German in any case!), and gamers inevitably ask whether the bowl can be moved and how much shaking is allowed, which were things we house-ruled.  We had had about two turns each when Green arrived and joined in.  Food arrived and we were still struggling so we carried on as we ate.  Burgundy ran out the eventual winner with Blue following close behind leaving Magenta and Green to fight it out for the last bell.  Grey and Cerise promptly turned up and, as it is an eye-catching game, also had a go with Cerise taking the honours.

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This was followed by a discussion of the Essen game fair including some of the games seen and purchased by Blue and Pink.  By far the majority of the toys they picked up were expansions for games we’ve played before including:

Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor sdetavern

There were several new games too though, in particular:

There were also older games, some of which we’ve been interested in for a long time.  For example Rockwell was a big game at Essen two years ago, and Green and Blue have expressed an interest in both at the time and since.  Somehow either the price wasn’t right or it wasn’t available at the right time, until now when a good deal beckoned. Blue and Pink picked up a number of small games as well.  These are often hard to get hold of except at places like Essen and are sometimes a hit, and sometimes not so popular, but as they are relatively inexpensive and take up little space in the luggage, they are what makes the fair special.  Finally, there were the promotional items, extra copies of which Blue handed round.

Rockwell!
– Image by BGG contributor Rayreviewsgames

Eventually we decided it was time for a game, and with six the decision is always whether to split into two groups or not.  Green suggested Eketorp for six, but Blue really wasn’t keen, so eventually we opted for Codenames, a new social deduction team game based on the meanings of words which had received a lot of good reports before Essen.  Green pulled a face at the idea of “a word game” and Burgundy commented that social games were not really his thing, even Blue who bought it wasn’t terribly keen because it had sounded un-promising when she read the rules.  Cerise was almost enthusiastic though and Magenta pointed out that it shouldn’t take long, so we gave it a go.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The idea is that there is a grid of twelve cards and the players split into two teams, with even numbers of male and female, we did the childish thing and played boys vs. girls.  The leader of each team is the Spymaster, and as Grey had popped out for a second, we volunteered him to be one so it was natural that Cerise should be the other.  The Spymasters’ job is to get their team to reveal the cards/words that correspond to their team of “agents”, by giving clues.  The clue must be a single word followed by a number which reflects how many words are indicated by that clue.  For example, the clue, “trees: three” could be used to indicate the words “oak”, “ash” and “elm”.  Members of the team then touch cards that they think are their agents; they must indicate at least one, but may try up to one more than the number in the clue.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor aleacarv

The Girls started off badly finding a neutral and the Boys started off well quickly getting a three card lead.  Before long, the Boys started to get a bit stuck with movie clues and the Girls began to catch up.  As Magenta pointed out afterwards, it was important to listen to both the clues and the discussion of the other team as you can get extra clues.  And so it proved in the end.  With the teams tied, the clue was “Regents; two”.  Blue and Magenta misheard and thought Cerise had said “Regions”.  The Boys struggled on their turn too though, and suddenly the Girls had another chance.  When Green had repeated Cerise’s clue during the Boys’ discussion, Blue had suddenly realised the Girls’ mistake and they were able to find “Park” and close out the game.  Although it is not really our sort of game, everyone was very complimentary about it and as a group we enjoyed it much more than we thought we would.  We could all think of people who would like playing it and now that we know how it works, it would be much quicker to play next time too, making it a surprisingly fun filler with the right group.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With that done, we had to decide what to to play next and, with too many for Cosmic Encounter, inevitably Eketorp was raised again.  Grey was very enthusiastic, but Blue really wasn’t keen, especially as it can drag with six players.  Much to Blue’s delight and eternal gratitude, Magenta tactfully suggested that, despite being a Viking, she could play something else with Blue and Burgundy.  With that, Green happily started explaining the rules.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Ceryon

Eketorp is a game where players attempt to gather resources to build their Viking stronghold on the Swedish island of Öland.  In this game players try to second guess which resources the others don’t choose, with a battle and a potential extended stay in the hospital as the reward for failure.  The game itself is played in several rounds.  First material is distributed across the board according to the card revealed at the start of the round.  The players then decide, in secret (behind their player screens), which areas to send their Vikings to.  Vikings can either go to one of the seven resource or brick areas, reinforce the defence of their own village, or attack one of the other players’ villages.   Players then reveal their choices  and place their Vikings on the central board.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

Depending on how the various Vikings meet, peace may be preserved or battles may ensue.  Vikings on a material field live in peace if there are sufficient building bricks, i.e. there is the same number of building bricks (or more) than there are Vikings wanting them.  If there are insufficient bricks available, then there will be a battle.  Battles also take place on a siege field in front of a player’s castle for the right to lay siege if several Vikings are positioned there.  Battles always take place in a particular order. Firstly, the starting player engages in a battle, then everyone else takes turns until all battles and sieges have been resolved.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor helioa

Battles are fought using cards chosen from a starting hand of four.  Each player choses a card in secret and then they reveal them simultaneously with the highest card winning.  The difference in value between the two cards determines the battle difference which indicates which area of the hospital the loser ends up in.  In the case of a tie, both parties go to the hospital.  The clever bit is that once a battle has been fought, players swap cards and place the new card face down in front of them.  Once a player has played all their cards in battles, they take the cards in front of them to form a new hand.  In this way, the game is self-balancing so that a player who has a bad card draw at the start will have a better hand later in the game and vice versa.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

If village siege is successful, then the attacker gets to pillage bricks from the village wall.  Bricks may only be taken from the walls that are two bricks high and the  total point value of the bricks taken may not exceed the battle difference.  Bricks can only be removed from top to bottom and the attacker can then take one of these bricks home (with the remainder going back into the reserve).  Once all battles have been resolved all the winning Vikings can take their bricks home and add them to their village wall.  Each wall comes in six parts and a maximum of three bricks can be stacked in each giving a maximum of eighteen in total.  Once a brick has been used, it cannot be moved at a later date.  The bricks are nominally made of different material and are worth different amounts at the end of the game (green, or grass is worth one whereas grey or stone is worth four for example).  The end of the game is triggered when one player reaches the maximum of eighteen bricks.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

At the start, with no village walls to attack or defend, and all Vikings fit and healthy, the central resource pools were particularly busy places.  After many attacks and counter attacks, eventually all were either victorious and claimed resources, or were licking their wounds in differing levels of the Viking hospital (talk about a beds crisis!).  Green took the early lead at this point. Round two was much quieter, with less than half the Vikings available to go brick hunting, so everyone was relatively successful with their choices.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor DrGrayrock

Over the course of the next couple of rounds, the game board became more crowded and there was even the odd cheeky raid on a village.  By this time, Grey had managed to create a nice evenly built village wall, one or two bricks high made up of both grass and wooden bricks (worth one and two points respectively) – easy pickings in a fight, but less threatening too. Green was a bit lopsided, concentrating on building with a range of brick colours mostly on one side in order to limit the attack directions.  Cerise however had quietly managed to built quite a good wall round a large part of her village with a lot of clay and stone bricks (worth three and four points).  So, the next two rounds were characterised mostly by Grey and Green attacking for Cerise’s wall.  The first attack by Green was successful, but only enough to nab the top green brick, hardly a dent at all and netted only one point.  Grey’s attack was a stalemate.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Garry

In the final round, Cerise found herself surrounded on all sides with Green and Grey attacked from one side each.  Again only Grey was successful enough to break down part of the wall though.  Then for the final battle of the game, Grey and Green had to go head to head for the right to attack Cerise from the third side – it was a draw and Cerise was safe!  As Cerise was the only one who had managed to build a wall at least three high all the way round she picked up the five point bonus and proved herself the superior Viking with a score of forty-four leaving Green and Grey some way behind, fighting it out for the wooden spoon.  In the end, Grey decided he didn’t like the game after all, because had Cerise beat him!

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

Meanwhile Blue, Burgundy and Magenta conducted a brief audit of the games available and Burgundy’s eyes lit up at the idea of trying out the new Ticket to Ride Map Collection as he had played a lot of Ticket to Ride and prided himself on being quite good at it.  Magenta is also no slouch either however, and was also keen as she had won her last three games of Ticket to Ride: Europe.  Similarly, Blue has slightly unjustly acquired a reputation for beating people at Ticket to Ride, and although she hadn’t played it much recently, she had won her demonstration game at Essen and had enjoyed it too, so was very happy to give it another try.  Although everyone was keen to try the UK map, to avoid giving Blue an unfair advantage, the Pennsylvania side was chosen.

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic Ticket to Ride game is really very simple.  On their turn the active player can do one of three things:  pick up two coloured train cards from the face up display or the face down draw deck; place plastic trains on the map using cards to pay and scoring points; or draw ticket cards, which name two places and give points at the end of the game if the player has built a route between them, but score negatively if not completed.  From there, each different version makes small changes to the rules, for example, some editions include tunnels and/or ferries and sometimes there are extra cards or bonus points etc..  So, the first problem was trying to remember which of the specific rules are applicable to the base game and then integrate them with the new rules for the Pennsylvania map.  In particular, this was whether we should be using the double routes and how many points the different routes should be worth since there was no score table.  Eventually, we decided to use single tracks (ala three player Ticket to Ride: Europe) and scored routes as follows:

  • Single car:  One point
  • Two cars:  Two points
  • Three cars:  Four points
  • Four cars:  Seven points
  • Five cars:  Ten points
  • Six cars:  Fifteen points
  • Seven cars:  Twenty-one points

The seven car route from Cumberland to Baltimore engendered a lot of discussion, as there aren’t any routes of that length in Ticket to Ride: Europe.  Burgundy was fairly sure they were worth eighteen points in Märklin, but the increase in points from six to seven cars seemed very uneven compared with the change from five to six cars.  In the event, it didn’t make much difference, but checking the rules online later confirmed that Burgundy was right and it should have been eighteen.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy was quite pleased with his starting tickets getting three east-west routes that he thought could largely be coincidental.  His delight faded to despair, when in the first turn, Blue took the route from Altoona to Johnstown and quickly followed it by adding the Altoona to Dubois, in quickly completely scuppering his plans.  Magenta was equally unimpressed that double routes were not in use when Burgundy and Blue quickly completed all the connections to Johnstown rendering one of her tickets impossible within the first few turns.  From there, the game quickly descended into a knife-fight in a phone box with everyone scrabbling to make their starting tickets and it looking very much like nobody was going to succeed.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

As Burgundy pointed out though, tickets were not going to be so important in this game as there were a lot of points available from the Shares.  This is a new feature specific to this map.  The idea of these is that most routes also have one or more company logos shown next to them on the map.  When these routes are completed, players choose which company they would like to take a share certificate for.  The companies are different sizes with some companies having a lot of certificates available while smaller company others have fewer.  At the end of the game, each player’s stock holdings are evaluated and points awarded.  The bigger companies are worth more points, however, it is harder to get the majority stake in these.  In the case of a tie, the share certificates are numbered and the points go to the person with the one taken first.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

The shares certainly did have a massive impact on game play.  Normally in Ticket to Ride, players achieve their first routes and then start picking up tickets, trying to maximise the number of longer routes as these give the best points return for the cards and trains, but, that wasn’t how this game went.  Although Blue bravely picked up some more tickets and was promptly followed by everyone else, this was the only time anyone did this as everyone got in everyone else’s way so much it was just too risky.  Since achieving tickets was proving so challenging, everyone started trying to pick up share certificates which meant building small routes as these were the cheapest and easiest way to get them.  Then suddenly, Burgundy declared he was out of trains and the game came to a quick end which only left the scoring.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Burgundy had moaned about how badly he had done, neither Magenta nor Blue realised just how badly until it came to scoring tickets.  It’s true that the first ticket scored him ten points, but all the others were incomplete losing him nearly all the points he had accrued from placing trains.  Magenta also had a ticket she had failed to achieve, but it hadn’t cost her nearly so dearly.  Blue on the other hand had somehow managed to make all her connections and therefore also picked up an extra fifteen points for the Globe Trotter Bonus.  Unfortunately for Burgundy, although he had done well on the shares, the horror-show that had been the tickets had put him right out of contention and he was nearly lapped (though not quite!).  Although Magenta had shares in more companies, the combination of the extra tickets and the fact that Blue had managed to hang on to the majority in a couple of the larger companies made the difference.  Blue finished on one hundred and ninety eight, just over thirty points ahead of Magenta in what was a very tough game.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

With Grey and Cerise gone, that left us with time for a quick filler to finish.  11 Nimmt! and Deep Sea Adventure were both in the frame, but Green liked the sound of Qwixx, which had been nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2013, but was beaten by Hanabi.  The game sounded interesting though there was very little to it.  On their turn, the active player rolls six dice, four coloured and two white.  Each player has a score sheet with four tracks:  the red and yellow tracks go from two to twelve and the blue and green tracks go from twelve to two.  Once the dice have been rolled, all the players may cross off a number of any colour that corresponds to the sum of the white dice, if they choose.  The active player may additionally cross off one number corresponding to the sum of one of the coloured dice and one of the white dice.  They can choose which of the white dice they are going to use, but the die colour must match the colour of the track.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

The snag is that players must progressively cross off numbers to the right, i.e. once they have crossed out the red five for example, they cannot go back and cross out the red four.  Also, while all the other players can freely choose whether or not to use the white dice, the active player must cross out something on their turn or take a penalty (minus five at the end of the game).  Finally, if someone wants to cross out the last number on any track (twelve for red and yellow, two for green and blue), they must first have crossed out at least five other numbers on that track, at which point the die corresponding to that colour is locked and the colour is closed for all players.  The game ends when two dice have been removed from the game or when one player has accrued four penalties.  Scores are awarded for the number of crosses in each row according to the triangular number sequence also used in Coloretto (one, three, six, ten, fifteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight, etc.), so every additional cross is worth an ever increasing amount.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game started with everyone being very cagey and not taking the option of scoring the white dice as they were too high, but eventually, some people were braver than others and different patterns began to emerge.  Initially, the game looked very promising with the potential interplay between different effects, like the probability distribution for two dice, balancing the high scoring potential with not getting stuck and picking up penalty points.  Blue was even wondering whether it would be necessary to get another scoring pad.  However, being gamers, we all played to a very similar strategy and, before long, the inevitable happened, with everyone stuck waiting for the most unlikely dice rolls (two and twelve).  As a result, Burgundy who got there first started picking up penalties closely followed by Green.  The game ended when Burgundy picked up his fourth penalty point and we added up the scores.  Magenta, who had only taken the one penalty finished five points ahead of Blue with Burgundy and Green nearly twenty points behind thanks to all their penalties.  And then the inquisition began.

Qwixx
– Image by boardGOATS

We all really like the game at first because of the way the probability interacted with the constraints on number selection, however, we quickly found that it felt very random because the game was self-balancing.  As their game finished, each player was going to be hoping for lucky dice rolls.  Since twelve and two are relatively unlikely which would have a delaying effect, during which time, anyone who had not got quite as far was going to be able to grab a couple of extra crosses.  The random nature of rolling dice meant that ultimately, the effect of any strategy or tactics applied during the game were vastly outweighed by the randomness of the dice at the end.  Although we felt it was probably a good game for children to have fun with, as a game, it was very surprising it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is good to play games outside your comfort zone.

8th September 2015

We were late starting and, since we were expecting more, we decided to split into two groups and play something quick and light to start.  By coincidence, both groups began with cooperative card games.  Green, Grey and Cerise started with Hanabi – winner of the Spiel des Jahres a few years ago.  At the time we played it quite a bit, but Grey and Cerise had never been involved.  The idea of the game is very simple:  collectively, the players have to lay five cards in each of five colour-suits in numerical order.  The catch is that players are unable to see their own cards and instead turn their hand round so everyone else can see it.  As a group they then have to use deduction to work out which cards to play and in what order.

Hanabi
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

On their turn, a player can do one of three things, play a card, give a clue or discard a card.  The number of clues is finite, though discarding cards buys extras.  When a card is played, the player doesn’t have to know what it is they are playing, so long as it can be added to one of the suits.  If it can’t, the group lose one of their three lives.  We have never been able to successfully complete the challenge of laying all twenty-five cards, so the group score is the sum of the highest card placed in each suit, or current maximum being twenty.   As a group we gelled well and through judicious use of efficient clues we were able to get lay all five cards for three colours and three cards for the other two.  This gave a total score of twenty-one, a new club record – definitely deserving of a “Very good! The audience is enthusiastic!”.

Hanabi
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bovbossi

Meanwhile, Red, Blue, Cyan and Burgundy were playing the altogether less stressful, but equally puzzling, strangely eponymous, The Game.  Similarly, everyone has a hand of cards and they have to be played in numerical order, but in this case every card as to be played on one of four piles, two ascending and two descending.  There are two additional rules:  Players can say anything they want so long as they don’t give specific number information, and if they have a card exactly ten more or less than the top card of the pile they are playing it on, they can ignore the ascending/descending rule.  On their turn, players must play at least two cards before replenishing their hand, but can play as many as they want.

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

This was nominated for Spiel des Jahres this year and we’ve played it a few times since then.  Our best result was in a two player game a couple of months ago, when we had one solitary remaining card, however, we felt at the time that it might have been slightly easier with just two as you can plan better.  This time, it seemed were were doomed from the start with first Red, then Blue having nothing but really, really low cards and no-where to play them.  We managed to survive that though, and with a couple of really effective uses of the “Backwards Rule”, we managed to exhaust the draw deck.  Blue checked out first, quickly followed by Cyan and Burgundy leaving Red to play her last few cards and close out our first victory.  Next time we will have to play with one less card in hand…

The Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

The games finished pretty much simultaneously and then a great debate began as to what to play next and how to split the group given that there were people who didn’t want to stay late.  Green proposed Eketorp, but this is one of Blue’s least favourite games, so she was looking for an alternative when Grey asked whether we had anything that would play everyone.  Blue mentioned Bohnanza, but although Red’s eyes lit up and Cerise looked interested, this time Green was not keen.  Grey wanted to play something with “fighting” and eventually, Green and Grey got fed up with the discussion and decided to play a head-to-head game of Carcassonne.

Carcassonne
– Image by BGG contributor ldaponte

Carcassonne is probably one of the best known of the modern, Euro-games, and is often considered to be “nice” – this is not true when it is played with just two however.  The idea of the game is that players take it in turns to draw and place tiles on an ever-growing map.  They can then add a meeple to any features on that tile before scoring any features that have been completed as a result of placing it.  Players have a finite number of meeples and, with two players, muscling in on someone else’s city is just as effective as building one yourself, making it very definitely, “nasty”.  And so it proved.  Playing with the first expansion, Inns & Cathedrals, Grey started with a few meeples on roads while Green placed a couple of early farmers. Green then took an early lead by completing a city with a cathedral, but then seemed to stutter. Grey continued to plug away eventually catching and passing Green nearly lapping him.  Green was hoping to reap the rewards of the early farmers, but with his last two tiles Grey placed a cheeky farmer and then joined it to the big field.  This cancelled out the huge farm bonus and put the game beyond doubt by sharing Green’s massive thirty-three point farm, finishing forty-one points ahead.

Carcassonne
– Image by BGG contributor Hayzuss

On the other table, discussion had finally ceased an everyone had settled down to one of our current favourite filler games, 6 Nimmt!, another “laying cards in the right order” game.  Somehow, this is a really confusing game, but it is this feeling that you sometimes have control but not being sure why that makes it so compelling.  The game is played with a deck of cards numbered from two to one hundred and four, each of which features a number of “Bulls Heads” (mostly just one, but some have as many as seven).  The idea is that everyone then simultaneously chooses and reveals a card from their hand.  Then, starting with the player who played the lowest card, players add their cards to the four rows on the table.

6 Nimmt
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each card must be added to the row which has the highest card that is lower than the one to be played, i.e. if rows end with ten, twenty, thirty and forty, then card thirty-five should be added to the row containing number thirty.  If the card played would be the sixth card in that row, then the player “wins” all the cards and the played card becomes the first card in the new row.  The winner is the player with the fewest “Bulls Heads” or “Nimmts” at the end of the game.  We generally play the game in two rounds with half the cards dealt out at the start of the first round and the rest for the second.

6 Nimmt
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With two players new to the game, chaos was inevitable, however, it was Blue who ended most out of synch, collecting twenty-four Nimmts in the first round, and Burgundy who managed to keep it together and escape without picking up a single card.  Roles were reversed in the second round with Blue winning with just six Nimmts while Burgundy picked up thirty-two!  Overall though, it was consistency that won through for Red who finished with a total of nineteen, five ahead of Cyan in second place.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Carcassonne was still going on the next table, so Cerise mugged Grey for the house keys and headed off with Red and Cyan, leaving Burgundy and Blue to play a quick game of Coloretto.  This push-your-luck set-collecting game has had a few outings recently, and although three or four are much better numbers, we feel it plays surprisingly well with just two.  The idea is very simple, either you draw a coloured chameleon card and add it to a truck, or take a truck.  Players score positively for three sets and negatively for the rest, so the idea is to try to load trucks with coloured cards you want.  This time Blue started badly and from there it just got worse, finishing with Burgundy giving her a comprehensive thrashing, winning by more than twenty points.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

Carcassonne and Coloretto finished together and Burgundy, Green and Blue decided there was time to give Port Royal another go.  We played it about a month ago, when it took a surprisingly long time for a quick filler, everyone said they’d like to try it again, and Green worked out a strategy based on Expedition cards that he was keen to try.  In summary, the game is played in turns with the active player turning over cards.  They can keep turning over cards until either they choose to stop or they draw a second ship card that they cannot repel.  Assuming they choose to stop, they can then take a ship card or buy a character card before the remaining cards are offered round the table with players paying the active player one doubloon if they choose to buy/take a card.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Last time we had found some issues with the rules which we had not really been able to resolve.  The question was, since the Admiral allows a player to take two cards, does that mean they apply the Jester/Governor special powers twice?  On reflection, after the last game we had felt that the way we played (by a strict reading of the rules) was incorrect as it meant the combination was exceptionally powerful.  So for our second try we didn’t allow this and subsequent checking online appears to suggest that we played the way the designer intended this time.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Another question we’d had was, could a player repel a card if it was the first of a colour to be drawn, or is it only the second card that can be repelled?  Strict reading of the rules appeared to allow this, so this time we played this way.  Blue was the main beneficiary of this rules “change”, as she quickly added not one, but two Admiral cards to her earlier Sailor.  The ability to repel cards before it was essential makes it much more likely that a player is going to be able to draw five cards without going bust.  Since this gave Blue four doubloons every time, it meant she was never short of cash to buy the high value cards. Meanwhile, Green struggled to get his strategy to work with three (partly due to the lack of Expeditions) and Burgundy, who had wiped the floor with everyone else last time round, couldn’t get the cards he needed to get going quickly (not helped by the fact that he initially didn’t use the full power of his Jester).

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This time with just three it was a much, much quicker game and it played quite differently.  In the first couple of hands almost all the tax cards came out giving everyone extra money and it wasn’t until near the end that any of the mission cards were drawn.  It quickly seemed like Blue had the game in the bag although in the event, it wasn’t quite that cut and dried.  Blue brought the game to an end, but Green and Burgundy couldn’t quite get the cards they needed.  The game finished with Blue winning by five points and Burgundy taking second place on a tie-break.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Since Port Royal had played so quickly, we decided to give Zooloretto: The Dice Game a quick go.  This is a game that we’ve got out a couple of times, but then decided not to play because other people have arrived.  It was a while since we’d actually played it so we had to have a quick read through of the rules.  Each player rolls two dice, and like Coloretto or Zooloretto, they then place these on the trucks.  Alternatively, players can take a truck and tick off animals on their score sheet.  Bonuses are awarded for being the first player to complete an animal collection, but if the maximum is exceeded, then players lose points.  The game ends when one player has completed four of their animal collections and have only one space left in the last enclosure.

Zooloretto: The Dice Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Burgundy started off well, with Blue and Green struggling to get any really helpful dice.  Burgundy both completed most sets first and also brought the game to a close, so the writing was on the wall:  he finished six points clear.  It was only when we were scoring, however, that we realised that Green hadn’t quite understood – he’d been going for lions assuming the bonus was lots more as you needed more of them to get the set.  Oops; blame the person explaining the rules…

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

Learning Outcome:  We like deep games, but little games can be a lot of fun too.

30th June 2015

Continuing the theme from last time, food was a priority, so we didn’t get started until well after eight o’clock.  We split into two groups, the first playing Steam Donkey again as it turned out that we had played it wrong two weeks ago. This card game involves building a seaside resort consisting of a four by three grid of attraction cards.  The idea is that players build the attractions from their cards in their hand, then take passengers from the station who visit their attractions, which they then take from their tableaux to become cards in their hand.  The more popular attractions get more passengers, thus yielding more cards.  Unfortunately, it turns out that on their turn, each player can do only one of these three actions instead of all of them!  It was still a tight game though, with Burgundy and Magenta drawing for first place on fifty-two points.  As, Magenta commented though, “Playing it right is better…”

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Grey, Green, Cerise and Blue tried an older game, Gheos, which is new to the group.  When Cerise and Grey introduced it, Blue (who had played it a very long time ago) commented that all she could remember was that it was a bit like Carcassonne, but the tiles were triangular and it was a lot nastier.  In this game, players have three tiles in their hand and on their turn place one extending the play area, or replacing one of the existing tiles.  The tiles form land rivers which make islands (land comprising two small sections of land surrounded by water) and continents (larger areas of contiguous land).  Unlike Carcassonne, all the edges are the same so every tile can go anywhere, but some places are better than others of course.

Gheos
– Image by BGG contributor Gonzaga

When a player places a tile, if the continent has not already been settled, they can choose to place a settlement receiving followers equal to the total number of wheat sheaves shown on that continent.  If a player doesn’t start a new settlement, placing a tile allows the active player to recruit a single follower of their own choice.  Followers are important because they dictate how many points players get during scoring.  Everyone scores points when epoch tiles are drawn and each player has three cups tokens which they can play at the end of their turn triggering allowing them to score alone.  Epoch scoring gives players points equal to the number of pyramids on a continent multiplied by the number of followers they have for the tribe settled on that continent.  Cups tokens work in a similar way with points awarded for every follower multiplied by the number of cups on the continent, but only the active player gets to score these.

Gheos
– Image by BGG contributor Outside Lime

Since tiles can be replaced, rivers can be moved creating islands, and merging continents, creating war, causing migration and even leading to extinction (since islands are to small to sustain a tribe and continents can only support one tribe).  This is what makes the game nasty since a players’ followers are immediately lost.  The complexity of the rules associated with migration and war coupled with the different triggers for scoring meant that it took Blue and Green a while to get their heads round it.  Despite Cerise’s protestations, she showed them the way to score taking an early lead.  Grey’s experience showed in the latter stages, however, giving him the first place, eight points ahead of Blue in second.

Gheos
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor KSensei

Green had been desperate to play his new game, Fresco, so had agreed to play Gheos with Grey on the condition that he would play Fresco next.  This is a game where players are master painters working to restore a fresco in a Renaissance church.  Each round begins with players deciding what time they would like to wake up for the day. The earlier they wake up, the earlier they are in turn order, and the better options they get.  However, if they waking up early too often, the apprentices become unhappy and stop working as efficiently. Players then decide their actions for the turn, deploying their apprentice work force to the various tasks:  buying paint, mixing paint, working on the fresco, raising money to buy paint by painting portraits, and even going to to the opera to increase the apprentices’ happiness and inspire them. Points are scored mostly by painting the fresco, which requires specific combinations of paints.  For this reason, players must purchase and mix their paints carefully and beat the other players to the store to buy the pigments and fresco segments they would like to paint.

Fresco
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

As a new game, that claimed to take an hour, it was clear it was not going to be quick, so Blue decided to help things along by reducing the number of players and joined the other group to play something shorter before Magenta had to leave.  Although Fresco  was not difficult to explain the other group had nearly finished their first game before play actually started.  With only three market stalls in the three player game and a possible three actions in each section for each player, the game very quickly fell into a routine where the earliest player went to the market to buy paint, with each assistant closing the stall afterwards. This left the other two players painting portraits for money and visiting the theatre to enhance their mood. This rotated around as the paint buying player completed retouching the fresco for tile points and thus pushing into the lead on the score track and moving down the order to choose when to get up.  This did not feel right and the consensus was that maybe the three player game was broken and it needed a fourth player to work. Nevertheless, in a game that nobody had played before, Cerise made it her own, winning by nearly twenty points.

Fresco
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Meanwhile, the other group were playing another new title, confusingly called The Game, which is a cooperative card game nominated for Spiel des Jahres this year.  In this game, players have a hand of five cards from a deck containing cards numbered two to ninety-nine and there are four piles: two starting at 100 and decreasing, two starting at one and increasing.  On their turn, players must play at least two cards and can play more as long as they obey the basic rules.  The cards can be played on any pile so long as it is lower in number than the top card of a decreasing pile or higher than the top card on the increasing pile.  Alternatively, if the card is exactly ten more or less than the the top card on the pile, the “backwards rule” can be invoked and the pile can be pushed back.  The aim of the game is to place all cards on the four piles and it is much more difficult than it seems.  The Game is often compared with Hanabi because it is a cooperative card game, however, the game play and the atmosphere it is played in are very different. In Hanabi, the best games are played in near silence where everyone is trying desperately not to give away any unintended information.  In The Game, players can say anything they like, so long as they don’t give away any specific number information.  This makes it much more chatty, though it took us a while to work out what was useful information and we only got about halfway through the deck before Magenta was unable to play a card.  Clearly one to try again to see if we can do better.

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

Fresco had only just started, so down to four players, Black Fleet came out for another outing.  This is a beautiful over-produced game that we played a few weeks ago, where each player has a merchant ship which they use to collect goods from one port and take to another port earning money.  However, each player also has a pirate ship which they can use to take goods from the merchants.  This also earns players money, but they must beware of the navy vessels which every player can manipulate to sink pirates and use to try to protect their merchants.   On their turn, the active player plays one card which moves both of their ships and one of the navy ships, during which, each ship may perform one action.  The idea of the game is that players can also play fortune cards which modify their actions and also use their money to buy  advancement cards which change the rules of the game, sometimes dramatically.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor The_Blue_Meeple

This time, Black got his nose in front buying the first advancement card, but it wasn’t long before Blue and Burgundy caught up.  While Purple was struggling to get anything and kept falling victim to everyone else, Blue moved into the lead with her very effective use of her False Colours and Secret Plans advancement combo (which together allowed her to swap her pirate with one of the navy ships and then earn four doubloons for attacking a merchant).  Burgundy pushed hard with his Delivery Bonus and judicious use of the Pirate Hideout (which allowed him to move his pirate more unpredictably), but could not get enough money to buy his last card leaving Blue to win.  Despite being the first to buy advancement cards, Black finished last as his cards felt relatively under-powered.  So maybe next time, now we all know how to play, we’ll try drafting the cards at the start.  That way there is less chance of one player getting more than their share of the best cards,

Black Fleet
– Image by BGG contributor lacxox

Fresco had finished first, and Green moved over to watch the last moves of Black Fleet, commenting sadly on how the game was broken with three players, which elicited the automatic response of, “Have you checked the rules?”  Whenever anyone online says a game is “broken” that is always the response and it often turns out that they weren’t playing right.  So despite his protestations that they had played correctly, while the last ships were being sunk, Green double checked and found what was wrong. Each player may have three assistants visit the market stalls, but they all visit the same stall and buy one tile, rather than buy one tile from each stall. Thus there will always be a stall open for each player.  This made a lot more sense and will really open the game up for those difficult decisions of timing and tasks. The rules check also brought to light an error in the way the bishop moves:  he was supposed to jump to the retouched or claimed tile each time rather than just staying put.  Although that was a much more minor mistake it was enough to make the choosing of tiles less interesting.  Another game to play again, and correctly this time!

Fresco
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Learning Outcome:  Games are better when played according to the rules…

7th April 2015

Blue and Pink arrived very early and decided to play a quick game of Onirim before their food arrived.  This is a cooperative, two player game with an unusual theme:  players are Dreamwalkers, lost in a mysterious labyrinth – they must discover the eight oneiric doors before dreamtime runs out trapping them forever.

Onirim
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor zombiegod

The idea is that both players have a hand of five cards, three that are their own, and two which are shared and kept face up on the table.  On their turn the players can do one of two things:  play a card, discard a card.  Cards are played one at a time face up in front of the player.  The aim is to play a three cards of the same colour in succession, which allows the player access to the oneiric door of the corresponding colour.  The important thing about the cards is that in addition to a colour suit, they also have a symbol – a sun, a moon or a key.  When played, adjacent cards must not have the same symbols (regardless of colour).  This is much more tricky than it sounds as sun cards are most abundant and key cards have special powers, which means you don’t want to waste them.  For example, if a key card is discarded, the player triggers the prophecy which means they can look at the next five cards, discard one and return the rest in any order.

Onirim
– Image by boardGOATS

Once a player has played or discarded their card, they replenish their hand with a card from the draw deck.  There are seventy-six cards in the deck, including eight doors and ten nightmare cards.  Nightmare cards are a problem, when they are drawn, players have to deal with them in some way.  Players can mitigate the effects of a nightmare by discarding a key card, discarding a gained door or by discarding the whole of their hand (i.e. all five cards, including the two shared cards).  If the player cannot do any of these (or chooses not to), then they must discard the next five cards.  This is bad because the deck is like a ticking clock and the game ends when there are no cards left to play.  Worse, nightmare (and door cards) are not truly discarded as they are returned to the deck once the five cards have been drawn, so their effect does not go away.  On the plus side, if you are replacing a card and you draw a door card, if you have a key card of the same colour, you get to keep it.

Onirim
– Image by boardGOATS

Like Hanabi, this is a cooperative game that can be played with a lot or a little “table talk”.  Since it is quite a tough game, we decided to play with all the cards face up, but with no talking.  We had just started and the game was going unusually well when food turned up.  Sadly, we were very easily distracted and quickly lost focus which led to inevitable defeat as we finished just one door short.  Once we’d finished eating, we gave it another go, but quickly regretted squandering our good beginning in the first game as the second game had a terrible start.  Things picked up, but we still didn’t get close, finishing with six doors.  We were just finishing when Grey and Cerise wandered in clutching a new game called Slavika.

Slavika
– Image by BGG contributor cnidius

Slavika is a card game of heroes and monsters with really beautiful artwork.  Each player is the head of a household and has two hands of cards, one of heroes and one of monsters.  On their turn each player plays three cards, the first card must be a hero, the last card must be a monster and the second card can be either a hero or a monster.  Each player starts with six heroes in their family and five monsters, each with a strength; although monsters are replenished once played, heroes only return when they have finished being heroic.  The idea is that there are a number of regions that players are fighting to protect from the monsters.

Slavika
– Image by BGG contriutor cnidius

Each region is different and has a maximum number of heroes and a maximum number of monsters:  when world is over-run with monsters, the battle is concluded and the combined strength of the monsters is compared with the combined strength of the heroes.  If the heroes win, then the player who contributes the most to the battle (the most heroic player) wins the points and also the treasure stored on the island and the heroes fighting for that world are returned.  If there is also a thief, however, then the most heroic player wins the points but the thief runs off with the treasure.  If the monsters win, then nobody wins anything, the monsters leave, the heroes return home and another treasure card is added to the region and the fighting begins again.  Blue had no idea what was going on, and Pink was not much wiser, but after a couple of rounds they got the hang of it a little and everyone realised that if people insisted on thinking before playing cards, it was going to take way longer than the stated thirty minutes!

Slavika
– Image by BGG contributor MacTele

By this time, Red, Yellow and Orange had also arrived and had riffled through the bags and chosen …Aber Bitter Mit Sahne (aka Piece o’ Cake).  This is a cute little set collecting game that we first played a few weeks back.  The idea is that one player divides the cake and then the others choose which slice to take and how much of it to eat.  Points are scored at the end of the game for the player with the most of each type of cake and for the number of “blobs” of cream on cake that has been eaten.  In case of a draw, all parties win the pints, but no points are scored for sets that aren’t the largest.  Thus, the player dividing needs to try to make sure that they are left with something useful after everyone else has chosen, but at the same time, they don’t want to give away anything too enticing.  Similarly, players choosing have to be careful to take something that is useful, and keep something they think they can build a large set of while maximising the number of blobs of cream they eat.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Red ran away with the first game, but the second was much closer and came right down to the wire with Orange just beating Red by two points.  Meanwhile, Blue, Pink, Grey and Cerise were still playing Slavika, so Red, Yellow and Orange decided to give Tsuro a try.  This is a bit of an old favourite as it is fairly quick, plays up to eight, is very easy to teach, and has a nice healthy dose of tension.  In summary, players start with a hand of three tiles each depicting track and a stone on the edge of the board.  On their turn, the active player plays one tile in their chosen orientation and then moves their stone along the track.  Players must try to stay on the board unless they have no choice and if two stones collide both players are out.  Hands are replenished until there are no tiles left, and when people are knocked out, they redistribute their tiles amongst the remaining players.  Last player on the board wins.

Tsuro
– Image by BGG contributor jeremiahlburns

With only three players, it was slow to get going, but before long  Yellow and Orange had fallen off the board leaving Red to take her second win of the evening.  Just as Red was finishing off her competitors, Pink was trying to use his thief to steal two treasure cards only to find that they were both “moon” cards.  As two moon cards had already been found, that finally brought Slavika to a very abrupt end with Cerise the clear winner.  This left time for another quick game of Tsuro, this time with all seven players joining in.  With Pink’s help, Blue managed to run out of space after just a few turns and spent the rest of the game egging Orange into pushing Red off the board.  Before long Cerise, Yellow and Red had all joined Blue spectating and the game was hanging in the balance with it unclear whether Grey, Pink and Orange would come out on top.  Unfortunately for them, neither Grey nor Orange had useful tiles and Pink ran out the clear winner.

Slavika
– Image by BGG contributor cnidius

The evening finished as it began with just Blue and Pink.  Tempted though they were to have another go a finding the oneiric doors, they decided instead to play the “Feature Game”, Harbour.  This is a recent successful KickStarter project and is a neat little worker placement game with a market manipulation twist.  The idea is that each player has a single worker and can place them on one of the central buildings or a building owned by one of the players (at a cost if it is not their own).  Each building enables players to buy goods or exchange goods they already have for other goods.  Alternatively, some buildings allow players to sell goods and buy a building, and this is where the dynamic market comes in.  There are four types of merchandise, and each has a value, but each can only be sold if a minimum quantity is reached.  For example, players may get $5 for shipping fish, but they must have a minimum of five fish in order to be able to sell them.  Meanwhile, wood may only yield $2, but players will only need two in order to be able to sell.  When someone sells something in the market, demand changes the values at market, with the values of unsold goods increasing and the value of items just sold dropping.

Harbour
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Each player can store a maximum of six of each item, and unless they have a building that allows them to store goods when selling, if they sell, they must sell everything.  Thus, the game is all about timing and selling goods before other players and when the price is right.  The game ends when one player has built four buildings, leaving the other players with one final turn.  Blue and Pink had played the game once before and Pink was of the opinion that the person who managed to build four buildings first would win.  Blue was less convinced as she felt that that player could get once less turn and that would allow other players to buy more valuable buildings.  This wasn’t an opportunity to test these theories, however, as Blue quickly bought three high value buildings and Pink’s less profitable buildings were sufficiently undervalued to ensure that Blue’s commanding lead was insurmountable.  It is definitely an interesting little game though and will get another outing soon.

Harbour
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kladan

Learning Outcome:  Don’t get distracted by food.

26th August 2014

We started the evening with a big bowl of chips, some ice-cream and a game of Hanabi.  This is a a co-operative game where everyone works together to try to achieve a common aim.  The idea is very simple:  everyone has a hand of tiles which are turned to face away, so that players can see everyone else’s tiles, but not their own.  On their turn, players then either play a tile, give a clue about the colour or number of the tiles in front of a player, or discard a tile (and recover a clue).  The aim is to lay twenty-five tiles in order within their suits.

Hanabi

Everyone had played the game before, but never together as a group, so we had a quick discussion of conventions.  The game can be played very strictly in complete silence with “poker faces”, but given how hard the game is, we’ve always played it in a fairly relaxed way.  Some groups have a lot of extra ways of giving clues, for example, if a player has three green tiles, they point to them in a prearranged order, say, from lowest to highest, however, within the group we’ve always felt this is a step too far.  We typically play with a conveyor-belt, where new tiles are generally placed at one end and, in the absence of other information,  should it be necessary, the oldest tiles are discarded.  This not only helps the players giving clues ensuring that tiles stick about for as long as possible and makes sure people know which tile is “in the hot seat”, but also helps the owner remember which tile is which.  In the past, we’ve also used some element of the active player talking through their thought process so that other players can learn how people think.  This is nice when learning, but does have the tendency to give away a little too much information, so this time, with more experienced players, we tried to keep that to a minimum.

Hanabi

We started off well with one player beginning with three ‘ones’ all of different colours, but then the trouble set in.  The absence of “twos” meant that nobody could really find any really good clues to give and before long we were forced to discard tiles which led to the inevitable consequence of throwing away both white “threes”.  Although it limited our highest possible score, it had the advantage that people could freely discard white tiles and recover clues.  Doors opened a little and we managed to play complete blue, green and red fireworks.  The total of nineteen gave us an excellent crowd pleasing display, though it would be interesting to see if the same group could do as well, or even better next time, playing a little more strictly.

Hanabi

Meanwhile a couple of other players arrived and, seeing that the game had some way to go, decided to start a quick game of The Little Prince:  Make Me a Planet.  This is a pretty little game based on the book, The Little Prince, by the French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  We’ve not played it before on a Tuesday, though many of us have played it on other occasions.  The idea is that each player is trying to build a planet from a total of sixteen square tiles.  The tiles have one of four different motifs: characters, up edges, down edges and middles and when four of each are combined, they make a picture of a planet with the four corner spaces occupied by the characters.

The Little Prince:  Make Me a Planet

On their turn, the active player chooses a motif, draws one tile per player and keeps one.  They then choose another player and pass on the remaining tiles for them to select one, then pass remaining tiles on etc.   The final player gets no choice and gets to keep the last tile, but to make up for that, this player becomes the start player for the next round.  Each tile features a number of items:  lamp posts, sheep stars, strange-looking foxes, elephants, baobob trees, cobras etc. which are used for scoring.  The score for each item depends on the characters, however, and items will score highly for one planet and poorly, or even negatively for another.  The game was tight all the way through, but Purple finished ahead with a lead of seven points.

The Little Prince:  Make Me a Planet

The games came to an end and we decided to start two simultaneous games of The Speicherstadt, our “Feature Game” for the week.  This is an unusual auction card game where players compete for victory points, which come mainly from contracts (sets of resources) and special cards.  The game is set in Hamburg around 1900 where there was a unique complex of storehouses (Speicherstadt) and a network of canals and bridges forming a terminus for spices, coffee, tea and carpets from all over the world.  Players act as wholesaler at the heyday of the Speicherstadt acquiring shiploads for the storehouses and making profits selling selling them.  We played this game quite a bit a few months back, but somehow seemed to have forgotten how to play it.  After a period of staring blankly at the rules, we remembered that each player starts with three meeples which they use for bidding, and bid by placing them above their chosen card (and any meeples already there).  Once everyone has declared their interest, the first card is auctioned:  the person at the front of the queue has the first chance to buy and the price is set by the total number of meeples in the queue.  If they choose to buy at that price, they pay up and the auction is over.  If they choose not to buy (or are unable to), then they forfeit their opportunity, remove their meeple and the next person has a chance (and the cost is reduced accordingly).  The deck is stacked so that contracts mostly come out first, then “schiffs” which carry the goods used to fulfil the contracts.  There are also firemen (or feuerwehrmenn) and a smattering of other interesting and valuable cards.

The Speicherstadt

In the first game, Blue failed to acquire any firemen and was duly punished by losing a total of ten points during the game.  Because Orange and Red had not played before, they had neglected contracts in the early stages, which meant goods were plentiful and were mostly sold.  Blue picked up the most contracts, but it was nowhere near enough.   On the other hand, Orange took all ten points, so the question was whether the contracts and Counting Houses held by Red were enough.  It came right down to the wire and the game finished with just one point in it, in Red’s favour, by just two points.  Meanwhile, the second game was playing in a completely different way.  In contrast to the first where contracts had gone unclaimed and all the “schiffs” were bought and goods sold, in the second game, most of the contracts had been snapped up, but with a shortage of money, some of the ships had not been bought.  In the second game, Green had picked up most of the firemen points and finished thirteen points clear of Black, his nearest challenger.

The Speicherstatd

A couple of people left early and those remaining played decided to play Montego Bay.  This is a game we’ve played a few times before, that features simultaneous card selection, which are then played in a predefined order.  Cards are numbered one to five and each player chooses two to move their big docker and their little docker round a circular track.  If they land on a space that is already occupied, then the piece that was there, moves to the other side of the track if that space is available.  If that space is also occupied, then the active piece moves as far as it can and then stops.  Each space corresponds to a cellar that contains some number of barrels which players then take it in turns to load into boats.   When a boat is full (or if it is the first boat in line at the end of the round), it sails and players score points for having the most barrels in boats when they go.  Beware the broken barrels though, if a player lands on a cellar with some of these they must remove the corresponding number of barrels from the boats rendering the best laid plan in tatters.

Montego Bay

Black started off really well with excellent timing on a couple of boats and catching lots of points as a result.  Then Purple joined in before Green took a commanding lead.   Blue made some in-roads, but proved her own worst enemy when she landed her big man on a cellar with broken barrels and then, to add insult to injury, landed her little man on the same space, moving the big man to the other side where there were even more broken barrels waiting for her.  Green ran out the winner with forty-four points to Blue’s thirty-eight in second place.

Montego Bay

Learning Outcome:  If fire is inevitable, ignore it at your peril.

Spiel des Jahres Nominations – 2014

Every year the a jury of German-speaking board game critics (from Germany, Austria, Switzerland), review games released in Germany in the preceding twelve months and award the best the German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres.  The criteria used include:

  • game concept (originality, playability, game value),
  • design (functionality, workmanship),
  • layout (box, board, rules),
  • rule structure (composition, clearness, comprehensibility).

Last year, the winner was Hanabi, and previous winners include, favourites like Ticket to Ride: Europe, Niagara, Zooloretto, Alhambra, and Carcassonne.  The nominees for this year have just been announced and include (amongst others) Splendor, which we played last time we met.

Spiel des Jahres