Tag Archives: Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King

20th July 2021 (Online)

Since last time, there had been quite a bit of debate about returning to the Horse and Jockey, but there was a little hesitancy and with the extremely hot weather, staying at home this week turned out to be the right choice all round.  As the decision had been just a little bit last-minute, we chose to keep the “Feature Game” simple and opted for the Skills Mini Expansion for Cartographers.  We have played Cartographers several times and everyone has really enjoyed it.  With the Spiel des Jahres winners announced this week, this was also the nearest we could get to playing a game to mark the occasion (it received a nomination for the Kennerspiel award last year).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

Cartographers is a “Roll and Write” type of game, but one with more of a “gamery” feel than most.  It is based on Tetris, with shapes revealed on the flip of a card in a similar way to other games we’ve played this year like Second Chance and Patchwork Doodle.  However, the thing that makes Cartographers more “gamery” than these is the addition of terrain and players usually have to make a choice, either of the shape or the terrain.  The terrains are tied in with goal cards, four of which are revealed at the start of the game.  Two goals are then scored at the end of each of the four seasons, in a similar way to another game we like, Isle of Skye.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

There are lots of other little aspects of the game that make it interesting—the presence of Ruins and Ambush Cards in the deck, for example, deliver a curved ball, just when players feel they are in control.  Players can also build their income by surrounding mountain ranges and choosing to play certain shapes; this gives more points at the end of each round.  The Skills expansion gives players a way to offset this income for special actions which potentially give players other ways of achieving their goals, further adding to the decision space.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the most impressive things about Cartographers is the amount of variety that is built into the game, which means every play feels different and the game stays remarkably fresh.  So, there are two different player maps and four of each type of goal card.  This variety is carried through to the Skills expansion; there are eight cards of which three are chosen at random.  This time we chose the B side of the map (with empty “wasteland” spaces marked) and drew the Greenbough, Mages Valley, Wildholds and Borderlands goal cards together with the Search, Negotiate and Concentrate skills cards.  These skills cost anything from free (like Search) to three (like Concentrate), and each can be played multiple times per game although only one can be played each Season.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

We quickly realised that the expensive skills like Concentrate are only likely to be played in the final round, as the cost is in “income” and that income is generated at the end of every round.  So, playing Concentrate at the start of the game will ultimately cost a player twelve points, while playing it in the final round will cost three just three points.  For this reason, the free Search skill was always likely to be used by almost everyone in almost every season (and so it proved).  Of course, the higher tariff reflects the increased power though:  Search allows players to increase the size of the shape they are drawing by a single square; Negotiate (which costs one) allows players to draw a two-by-two shape, and Concentrate allows players to draw the shape a second time.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

As well as the skills which we had not played with before, several of the goal cards were new to us as well, including Greenbough (which rewards gives players one point per row and column with at least one Forest square in it) and Mages Valley (which gave points for each space next to a Mountain—two points for each Lake and one point for each Arable).  We’d played with the Wildholds goal before though (which gives six points for each Village of six or more spaces) and, although Borderlands was new to us (which give points for each completed row or column), we’d played The Broken Road goal which is similar (giving points for completed diagonals).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The game began much as usual, and Pink, who was watering the tomatoes in the “mini-market-garden”, commented that he could hear Burgundy muttering, sighing and generally sounding stressed from outside.  Although we had played with “Wastelands” before, we had all focussed on how the fact some of the spaces were already full would help.  We had all forgotten how much the Wastelands obstruct plans and generally make life considerably more difficult.  Blue made a bit of using the ruins spaces to give her more flexibility later, but had forgotten that it would reduce the number of spaces she would be able to fill later in the game.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

It was clear after the first round that Ivory was going to be tough to beat, a feeling that was cemented after the second round.  Unusually, Burgundy was the first to post a score, with a total of one hundred and forty-one.  Although this was high enough to earn him second though, when Ivory’s score came through he was a massive twenty-five points ahead.  Once again, it had been a very enjoyable game, and as we tidied up there was a little bit of chit-chat about the skills and what they added to the game.  Since they are not compulsory, the consensus  was that we should add them every time, though it was clear that they had been widely used because of the presence of the free Search skill, which everyone had used, and some in every round.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

With Cartographers over, we had a bit of a discussion about moving back to our much loved and greatly missed, Horse and Jockey.  We’d conducted some anonymous surveys over the preceding week to try to gauge opinion trying to ensure that nobody felt under pressure to do anything they weren’t comfortable with.  Some of the group had been back on occasional Thursdays, playing old favourites like The Settlers of Catan, Wingspan, and Roll for the Galaxy and new games like Red Rising, Mercado de Lisboa, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam, Tapestry (with the Plans and Ploys expansion), Ginkgopolis, Everdell, and Draftosaurus (aka “Sushi Go with Dinosaurs”).  Others, however, had not been to the pub for nearly eighteen months.  After some discussion, we decided that we’d schedule a trial visit in ten days time, so that those who had not been out could see how they felt without committing, and those that went could report back to those that were feeling a little more reticent.

The Horse and Jockey
– Image by boardGOATS

After that, we moved onto Board Game Arena.  It was a quiet night without both Pine and Lime, and once Green and Ivory had left as well, we were down to five which gave us a lot of options.  Coloretto was one, but in the end we chose Niagara, a game we’ve all played quite a bit, but never online, and we were keen to see the new Board Game Arena implementation and whether losing the tactile moving river would leave the game lacking.  A strong element of the game is the element of simultaneous play, however, and this was a large part of the appeal this time.  Players simultaneously choose a Paddle Tile which dictates how far their canoe will move in the round.  Then, in turn order, players move their canoe up or down the river, paying two movement points to pick up a gem from the bank (or drop one off).

Niagara
– Image by BGG contributor El_Comandante
adapted by boardGOATS

The winner is the player to get four gems of the same colour, five gems of different colours, or any seven gems safely home and into the shallows.  On the face of it, this is relatively simple, but the really clever part of the game is the movement of the river.  In general, the river moves at the speed of the slowest boat—if the lowest numbered Paddle Tile is a two, then the river moves two spaces and all the boats move with it.  However, one of the Paddle Tiles is a weather tile which enables players to increase or decrease the rate to make life harder or easier.  Since everyone has to play all their Paddle Tiles before they can recycle them, the timing of their weather tile is critical: players who leave it to the end run the risk of the river running fast and losing boats over the cascade because they can’t do anything about it.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

And it wasn’t long before that’s exactly what happened, when both Blue and Black got their timing wrong and lost boats over the falls, so had to pay hard earned gems to get new ones.  Then, to add insult to injury, Pink sneakily crept up on Blue and stole another gem from her.  Players can only steal if they land on the same space as another boat while travelling upstream, and even then it is a choice.  There was much ill feeling especially from Blue, but she wasn’t the only one.  And with that, the gloves came off and everyone tried to redress the balance and ensure that such bad behaviour would not go unpunished.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Pink was abreast of that though and had a plan.  Knowing his bad behaviour would make him a target he collected gems in one boat letting others take them while he stole the gems he wanted and got them to shore quickly.  Much to everyone’s disgust, he soon had five different gems and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him getting them home.  Burgundy actually had more gems giving him a nominally higher score, but his set of six did not include five different colours and Blue’s set of five included three nuggets of amber.  The victims of Pink’s grand larceny were unimpressed with his terrible behaviour, and as it was getting late, we decided to call it a night.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

Learning Outcome:  Theft is totally unforgivable.

11th May 2021 (Online)

There was the usual chit-chat and community update, but eventually everyone was ready to start playing the “Feature Game” which was the Neue Entdeckungen (New Discoveries) expansion to Cartographers.  Cartographers is a “Roll and Write” game we’ve played and enjoyed quite a bit over the last year. The base game is simple enough, but unlike a lot of the games we’ve played, has more of a “gamery” feel to it than some of the simpler Tetrissy games it is related to like Second Chance or Patchwork Doodle.  The thing these games all have in common is that players are given shapes to draw on a personal player grid.  What makes Cartographers different is the addition of goal cards which give points at the end of each round, in a similar style to another game we have enjoyed playing, Isle of Skye.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Adapted from image by BGG contributor
Johnny Dangerously

Each cards depicts a shape and terrain, giving some element of choice in either terrain type or shape.  The game is played over four rounds, each consisting of several cards.  At the end of each round two of the four goal cards are scored, such that each is scored twice during the game.  This time, the four goal cards were Stoneside Forest (A), Shoreside Expanse (B), Wildholds (C), and The Broken Road (D).  At the end of the first round the first two of these, Stoneside Forest and Shoreside Expanse were scored.  Stoneside Forest gives points for connecting the mountain spaces that are preprinted on the map.  Shoreside Expanse on the other hand rewards players for each area of lake or arable not adjacent to arable or lake (respectively) or the edge of the map.

Der Kartograph: Neue Entdeckungen
– Image by boardGOATS

Stoneside Forest was made more challenging by the fact we were playing with the Neue Entdeckungen (New Discoveries) expansion which adds new ambush cards (from the Ambush Mini Expansion) and a new map with wastelands.  Wastelands are areas that are preprinted on the maps that players are unable to use, but are considered already filled.  There is an alternate map in the base game with a large area of wasteland which we played with last time, but the Neue Entdeckungen expansion map has several smaller areas of wasteland adding a different set of challenges.  we’ve played with both Shoreside Expanse and Stoneside Forest before, so for the first round, we all knew what we were trying to do.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

Wildholds and The Broken Road were new to us though.  The Wildholds gives eight points for for each village area occupying six or more spaces.  Eight points is a lot, and if an area is complete in time for the first scoring phase, it will also score the second time making it very lucrative.  With this in mind, Ivory started planning for Wildholds early in the first round, while others concentrated on first round goals first. The final goal, The Broken Road, rewards players with three points for every complete diagonal that connects the left hand edge of their map with the bottom edge.  With eleven possible diagonals, everyone was of the impression that The Broken Road would be easy to score a lot of points with, but it turned out to be more difficult than most people expected.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

In fact, most people left it to the end assuming it would take care of itself, only to discover that it didn’t really.  That said, unusually, the arrival of the Ogeroffensive Ambush card actually did most people a favour.  This is unusual, as Ambush cards give players negative points for any unfilled spaces adjacent to their goblin spaces at the end of the round.  We play the cards using the solo rules where players place them in a given corner and, if that is already filled, slide it one space in a given direction following the edge of the map.  They continue spiralling in to the centre until they find an empty space.

Der Kartograph: Neue Entdeckungen
– Image by boardGOATS

Because the Ogeroffensive arrived as the first card in the round and starts in the bottom left corner, for many people it actually gave them twelve points (filling two diagonals and scoring for two rounds).  Arriving so early in the round, most of those who were able to benefit from it, didn’t even score many negative points as there was plenty of time to fill any empty spaces.  All three of the ambush cards we introduced came out early in the rounds which meant they added a more strategic obstacle rather than throwing an unexpected spanner in the works as they do when they come out at the end of the round.

Der Kartograph: Neue Entdeckungen
– Image by boardGOATS

The rounds get shorter as the game progresses and it wasn’t long before it was the final round and everyone was looking to maximise their final scores.  From the in-game table chatter, it was clear that Ivory and Burgundy were going to be difficult to beat and, as is so often the case, so it proved.  This time, Burgundy had the edge over Ivory and took victory by four points.  The battle for the final place on the podium was fierce too, but Black ultimately took that from Blue by just two points.  Regardless of where they ended up though, everyone had enjoyed it.  From there, we moved on to another “Roll and Write” game that we’ve played quite a bit over the last year, Railroad Ink.

Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition
– Image by boardGOATS

This is a fairly straight-forward game where dice are rolled and players have to write the road and rail segments on their maps.  The base game is played over seven rounds with four white dice rolled in each round.  In this game, all the dice have to be used, but players also get three chances to play special “cross-roads dice” during the game.  At the end of the game, players score for their longest rail segment, their longest road section, the spaces they have succeeded in filling in the centre of the board and the number of entrances they have managed to connect together.

Railroad Ink on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, however, we decided to play it online through Board Game Arena rather than engaging our inner artist and playing on paper.  There were advantages and disadvantages to playing the game online and people had mixed feelings about it.  It was certainly easier to correct errors, but somehow it lost… something…  It was another highly enjoyable game though and the results were also close at the top.  With Ivory taking an early night, the challengers to Burgundy’s crown were Green and Blue.  Despite their best efforts, Burgundy’s crown was too firmly wedged, and he finished four points ahead of Blue and five ahead of Green.  Although Cartographers had taken longer than many of the games we play, and time was marching on, there was still enough for one last game.  And this time, with just six, we relatively quickly (for us) settled on For Sale after a quick Vevox vote.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

For Sale is an older game that has had a bit of a resurgence recently for us.  The idea is that the game comes in two phases:  firstly, players use their starting $14,000 to buy properties at auction, then they use these properties to “bid” for cheques in the second phase.  The winner is the player with the highest total in cheques and left over starting currency.  It is such a quick game to play that this time we played it twice.   The first time through, Pink paid $8,000 for the space station while Purple picked up the cardboard box for free.  But then, Pink sold his space station for $15,000 and Purple ended up parting with her box without return.

For Sale on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

That is only part of the story of course, but important to most people was that Burgundy didn’t take his third win in succession.  In the end, everyone (except Burgundy) was content as they got that part of their wish as Black topped the podium edging in front of Blue, though Burgundy was just a couple of thousand behind.  You can’t keep a good gamer down for long though and Burgundy saw the second game as his chance for revenge.  In the event, the same three were on the podium, but with Black and Burgundy swapping places.  This time it wasn’t close at all either, with Burgundy finishing $9,000 ahead of his nearest challenger.  And that was that for another week.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sites of Insectoid Invasions should be shown on every map.

2nd February 2021 (Online)

There was a bit of chit-chat as people turned up clutching their brown, manilla envelopes, delivered over the previous few days by Purple Packet-force or Pink Parcel Post.  At 8pm, everyone opened their envelope to find the bits and pieces for two games: the “Feature GameTake it Easy!, and Das Labyrinth des Pharao (with the Sphinx und Triamide expansion boards) which we will play in a month or so.  There was also a little chocolate, so as people munched, Blue explained the rules to Take it Easy!.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

Take it Easy! is a tile laying game where players have a pile of hexagonal tiles which they place on their hexagon player board (because hexagons are simply the bestagons).  Each tile has three pipes crossing it, in three different colours.  There are a total of nine different coloured pipes, three in each different direction.  Tiles are drawn from a stack one at a time, and each player adds them to their personal player board.  The rules are simple:  the tiles can be placed anywhere on the board but must be placed so the numbers are the right way up so that the directions of the nine different coloured pipes are fixed.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

Players score points for any pipes that contain only the one colour, and the number of points is dependent on the colour of the pipe (the number on the pipe) and the number of tiles in the pipe.  Thus, a yellow pipe, five tiles long going straight down the middle scores forty-five points, while a black pipe, along the edge, just three tiles long would only score three points.  There are a maximum of fifteen pipes, but it is almost impossible to complete all successfully, especially as there are some tiles that are not used, so there is an element of chance as well as hedging bets.  Blue and Pink drew tiles and displayed them for everyone to see.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

The pieces the players used had been modified with the addition of letters to make it slightly easier for players to uniquely identify the individual tiles.  We were about three or four tiles in, when someone’s comment suddenly made Green realise that he’d started with the wrong tile.  Having form with this sort of thing, Green got a certain amount of stick for “cheating”, but having found it early, he corrected his mistake and we carried on.  As the game drew towards a conclusion, the number of spaces players had left progressively decreased, and increasingly, players needed specific colours and then specific tiles to complete their pipes.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink was particularly desperate, but inevitably didn’t get the yellow pipe he so desperately wanted, which ultimately cost him thirty-six points.  As everyone else was still taking off their shoes and socks to add up their scores, Ivory gave his total as one hundred and ninety-four, to howls of distress from everyone else, who clearly felt they were nowhere close.  Indeed, the closest score was a hundred and eighty-two from Green in second with Blue four points behind him.  Although everyone believed Ivory’s score, they were keen to see how he’d done it so we looked at the photo he’d sent in and admired his layout and looked sadly at their own.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

Take it Easy! hadn’t taken very long to play, indeed it was only quarter to nine.  Everyone had really enjoyed it and now they felt they understood the game a little better, they all fancied another chance to see if they could catch Ivory on the second attempt.  So, this time everyone had their plan and they were keen to get going.  As the tiles were drawn there were variously coos of delight when a desired tile came out and teeth sucking when the tile was difficult to place.  Again, as the game progressed, the teeth sucking and pleas for particular tiles got more desperate.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

When the last tile was drawn the stress was released and everyone settled down to count.  Ivory was first to finish his arithmetic, and when he commented that he’d done better than last time, everyone else’s hearts sank.  Ivory set a new target of two hundred and two, but aside from him, almost everyone else failed to improve on their first score (Lime’s excuse was that he was missing the help of his assistant).  Lilac was the most improved though, increasing her score by sixty to take an excellent second place with one hundred and ninety-six, with nobody else coming close.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

We had all really enjoyed Take it Easy! and we’ll definitely give the game another outing, but in the meantime it was still quite early, so although Lime took an early night, everyone else was keen to play Cartographers.  This is a game we’ve been trying to get to the table since before Christmas, but have been unsuccessful thanks to the IT gremlins last time, and On Tour and electing the Golden GOAT taking longer than expected.  However, even two plays through of Take it Easy! had not taken over-long and with everyone familiar with the rules, we thought there was time to squeeze it in.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

That was before the gremlins returned, this time to kybosh Ivory’s printer.  It looked like plans would have to be revised, but after a bit of poking he persuaded it to cooperate and everyone settled down to concentrate on their artwork. Cartographers is a “Roll and Write” type game or perhaps more accurately a “Flip and Colour”, as the game is driven by cards instead of dice and players are colouring terrain blocks, fitting shapes together in a Tetris-style.  This is similar to other games like Second Chance and Patchwork Doodle, but is definitely a step up thanks to goal cards revealed at the start of the game.  There are four goals two of which are scored at the end of each round in a way reminiscent of the scoring in another game that is popular with the group, the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Isle of Skye.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

This time the four goal cards were Stoneside Forest (three points for each mountain terrain connected to another with forest), Shoreside Expanse (three points for each lake or arable that is not adjacent to water, farmland or the edge of the map), Great City (one point for each space in a player’s second largest city) and The Cauldrons (one point for each single, empty space completely surrounded; the only goal card that was different to when we played the game back in September).  Goals A and B are scored at the end of the first round, Goals B and C at the end of the second and so on.  The game proceeds with players drawing their choice of shape and terrain from the card revealed, trying to score as effectively as possible for the current round, but also with an eye to scoring in later rounds.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is made more interesting in that cards give players a choice of terrain or shape and sometimes both, increasing the decision space over games like Second Chance and Patchwork Doodle.  Additionally there are Ruins cards which restrict where players can play for a turn, and Ambush cards which force players to put negatively scoring shapes on their board.  In the past, we have used the house-rule that instead of introducing one Ambush every round we only add them from the second round onwards to give people a chance to settle into the game.  Additionally, because we are playing remotely, we play the Ambush cards using the solo player rules.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

Although we like the spice the Ambush cards add, they can swing the game quite a bit and add a bit of randomness.  Part of the driving-force to play Cartographers was the desire to try out the alternative, “Wastelands” map, so because of the additional challenge we thought this would add, we again used the house-rule, and only added three Ambush cards during the game.  The “Wastelands” are an area of the map that is inaccessible to the map-makers and as such is terrain already filled in, but is space that cannot be used.  It quickly became apparent that this meant players filled up their maps much more quickly so it became harder to place the bigger shapes from a much earlier point in the game.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

For some, this was an advantage when it came to the Ambush cards later in the game, as it meant there wasn’t sufficient space to add them to the player board.   The first round was full of Water and Farmland, which was useful for the Shoreside Expanse goal (at the end of the first and second rounds), but keeping them separate with the additional obstacle of the Wasteland was difficult.  Worse, this caused obstructions for players trying to score for connecting their Mountains using forest (Stoneside Forrest, scoring in the first and final rounds).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

There was also a lot of Settlement early on, with Woodland relatively scarce.  There weren’t any Ruins until later either and with the first Ambush card only appearing in the third round, players could mostly do what they wanted in the early part of the game.  When the Ruins came towards the end, some players had no choice where to place them while others benefited from being unable to place them at all.  The same was true for the Ambush cards with some players being unable to play them at all and therefore not picking up negative points at the end of the game.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

When everyone was feeling the pinch the Marshlands card appeared, which is one of the biggest shapes.  Purple’s distressed cry of, “It won’t fit, I can’t get it in!”, was followed by Black’s dry response, “It’s too big…” which had everyone else in stitches.  From there it wasn’t long before the game came to an end.  Ivory was once again the first to report his score, posting a massive total of one hundred and eight, which most people felt would not be surpassed.  Indeed, that was the way it stayed with nobody else exceeding a hundred (after Black’s goblin-related recount), until Pink, giving his score last, sneaked into the lead with one hundred and twelve.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

It was quite late, so Ivory headed off to bed as did Lilac, but there was still time for the rest to play a game of our current end of evening favourite, the Professional Variant of 6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena.  This is so simple yet so much fun:  players simultaneously choose a card from their hand and then add them to one of the four rows in order.  The fast play, lack of down time, and the illusion of control together with the sudden disasters that befall people who are doing well, just hits the spot for the group.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Burgundy started the race to the bottom, but was quickly joined by Purple.  Her efforts were outstripped by Burgundy though who had high cards when he wanted low ones and low cards when he wanted high ones.  As a result, he finished with a very impressive minus twenty-seven.  At the other end, Green, Pink, Pine and Blue were neck-and-neck, until Green started collecting nimmts.  Pine, who always does well in 6 Nimmt! held the lead for most of the game, but with the end in sight, it all went wrong for him leaving Blue to take the glory just ahead of Pink.  Thanks to Burgundy’s prowess at collecting nimmts there was still time for one last game.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

There was a lot of discussion about options, but when someone pointed out that No Thanks! had had been added to the list of games (albeit in beta), everyone was keen to give it a go.  As Blue set up the game, Pine asked whether there was a “drop a token between the floorboards option” in reference to a memorable evening that had ended with a round of Hunt the Game Piece only to find that it had dropped seamlessly through the gap to nestle in the dust under the floor of The Jockey.  That sort of diversion aside, we all know the rules and the game is (usually) quick to play, so we thought we’d give it a go.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

No Thanks! is an extremely simple game:  the top card from the deck is revealed and the first player has a simple choice, take the card or pay a chip to pass the decision on to the next player.  When a player takes a card, they also take any chips and then turn over the next card and start again.  The cards have a face value between three and thirty-five, but nine cards are removed at random.  When the deck is depleted, players sum the face value of their cards and subtract this total from the number of chips they have to give their final score—the player with the most positive score is the winner.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The really clever part of the game is that players who have a run, only count the lowest card.  This means cards have different values to different players and there-in lies the tension and the fun.  Further, since the number of chips players have is kept secret, players have to decide whether the card they want will still be available when their next turn comes.  The version of the game we usually play, nominally only plays a maximum of five people.  The more recent version plays up to seven, as does the Board Game Arena implementation.

No Thanks! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

The first thing we discovered was that the “Spend a Chip” button was perilously close to the top of the cards which meant it was very easy to “sausage-finger” and accidentally take a card without meaning to.  Black was the first to fall foul of this, but he was not the only one.  The second thing was that somehow, playing online somehow took away some of the tension, perhaps partly due to the automatic bidding, possibly contributed to by the fact we were playing with six, but probably mostly due to the fact that players cannot see the angst of their opponents as they try to make the simple decision.

 

No Thanks! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Success in this game is always achieving a rare positive score.  This time, Pink hogged all the chips finishing with nearly half the total in the game.  This put pressure on everyone else and even the winner finished in the red, albeit with a lot more than the minus sixty-four scored by the player at the bottom.  The winner was Pine, with minus six, some nine points ahead of Burgundy in second place.  Although we all enjoyed playing, somehow it didn’t have quite the same effect as 6 Nimmt!, so the search to find another game we can play at the end of the evening continues.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Never assume the name of a game is a guide on how to play it.

15th September 2020 (Online)

Green and Lilac were first to roll up, with pizzas and a large basket full of wild mushrooms.  While they finished their supper, everyone else rolled in and joined the largely aimless chit-chat before Blue started to explain the rules for the “Feature Game“, Patchwork Doodle.  This is another “Roll and Write” style game in the “communal colouring in” vein.  As such it is quite similar to the Second Chance (which we played last time), but with different scoring and a little more planning.

Second Chance
– Image by boardGOATS

Both games are based on the Tetris idea where shapes depicted on cards are drawn in a grid.  In Second Chance, the cards are revealed two at a time and players choose one to draw on their grid.  If they can’t add either, they get one card just for themselves; if it fits they stay in, if they still can’t draw it, they are out.  When the last card is turned over or the final player has been eliminated, the winner is the player with the fewest empty spaces.

Second Chance
– Image by boardGOATS

In Patchwork Doodle, eight cards are revealed at the start, so everyone can see all the cards that will come out in the round.  The chief seamstress then rolls a d3 die to move the factory foreman, and players all draw the shape he lands on.  The round ends after six of the eight shapes have been used.  After each round there is a scoring phase and, the final score is the sum of the three totals minus the number of empty spaces.

Patchwork Doodle
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to the change in scoring, everyone has three special actions: they can use a shape either side instead of the one selected, make a single cut and draw one of the two resultant shapes, or fill a single one-by-one square.  Additionally, there is a fourth action which allows everyone to use one of the other three actions a second time.

Patchwork Doodle
– Image by boardGOATS

The interesting, and indeed difficult bit to understand, is the scoring.  Players score the number of squares in (usually) their largest square, plus one point for each row or column it is extended.  Thus a five-by-three rectangle will score eleven points (nine for the three-by-three square, and two points for the extra two rows).  Usually the largest continuous rectangle will give the most points, but sometimes that is not the case and players have to work out what will give them the biggest points haul.

Patchwork Doodle
– Image by boardGOATS

Once everyone had got to grips with the scoring and asked all their questions, Pink rolled the die and silence descended as everyone concentrated on their colouring in.  At the end of the first round, Pine, Lilac and Ivory had their noses in front achieving a five-by-five square while others were struggling to get much less.  By the second round, people were getting the hang of things and it was clear that Ivory was the one to beat, although Green had a bet on Lilac as she was doing a lot better than he was.

Patchwork Doodle
– Image by boardGOATS

By the final round, there was a peaceful calm as people engaged their inner toddler.  The scores were a little bit incidental as Mulberry won the prize for “The most inventive work with just two colours” and Lilac just pipped Black and Pine for the neatest and “staying within the lines”.  Pink stumbled at the end going for artistic impression over scoring, putting the penultimate shape in the corner instead of filling the hole in the middle.  Blue top scored with one hundred and twenty, just beating Ivory, largely thanks to the fact she had only one unfilled space.

Patchwork Doodle
– Animation by boardGOATS

Mulberry commented that the communal colouring in was very calming, and Lime said that although he had really enjoyed it, the next game looked too complicated given that he had been up since 4am, and was finding it hard to focus.  The next game, Cartographers, certainly was a step up, so despite having done really well in Patchwork Doodle, Lilac also decided to duck out.  Cartographers is another “Roll and Write” game, but has slightly more of a “boardgame feel” to it.  In fact, part of the reason it we chose it was to celebrate the fact that it had just been announced that Cartographers was runner-up in the 2020 Deutscher Spiele Pries.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Adapted from image by BGG contributor
Johnny Dangerously

The game is played over four seasons during which cards are revealed showing Tetris-like shapes which players draw on their player board.  The difference is that this time, the cards show options giving players an element of choice, either between two different shapes or in the colour to be used.  The colours represent different terrain types, and there are mountain spaces and ruins spaces also pre-printed on the map.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

At the beginning of the game, goal cards are identified for each season; a selection are available which gives games a lot of variety.  Two of these are scored at the end of each round in a similar way to Isle of Skye, another game that is quite popular with the group, but of course one that we can’t really play at the moment.  These scoring cards are really the driving force of the game, essentially creating a set of criteria that players try to follow when adding pieces to the map.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

This time the scoring cards were “Stoneside Forest”, “Shoreside Expanse”, “Great City” and “Lost Barony”.  These can be really quite variable, for example, the first of thesegave players points for each mountain space connected to another solely by forest.  In contrast, the “Shoreside Expanse” rewarded players for each block of farmland not adjacent water and for each block of lake not adjacent to arable, or the edge of the map.  The Great City, however gave points for each square in players’ largest cities and the lost Barony was reminiscent of Patchwork Doodle giving points for the largest completed area in a square.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The other interesting addition is the “Ambush” cards.  In the “Rules as Written”, one of these is added at the start of each round and when they appear, players pass their map to their neighbour who adds the shape in the most inconvenient place they can.  These then give players negative points for each empty adjacent space.  This doesn’t work well with remote gaming, so we play these using the solo rules where the shape starts in one corner and and moves stars following the edge, progressively spiralling towards the centre until it finds a space that it fits in.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

Although we played Cartographers a few weeks back, quite a lot of people missed out, so we decided to add the “House Rule” that we wouldn’t add Ambush cards for the first round to give players a chance to get started. This works nicely, however, because they are removed from the deck once they have appeared, adding one less makes their appearance much less likely.  For this reason, in future we would probably just add two at the start of the second round as they certainly add quite a lot to the game.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the edge case rules had been clarified, Blue started revealing cards.  Each card has a time counter in the top left corner where the number is roughly based on the number of spaces the shape fills.  This helps to control the rate the board fills at and maintains the level of tension throughout the game.  This time, the first round included quite a few large pieces, one of which was forest which enabled those who spotted it to connect two mountain squares and score a quick six points.  Otherwise, the first round was all about players trying to find good places to place lots of fields and water ensuring they didn’t touch and starting a large city to set up the next round.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The next round was all about the first Ambush card: the Gnoll Raid.  Pink had a near perfect place to put it, tucked neatly round the Rift Lands space he’d placed on his ruins in the previous round.  As he looked pleased with himself, others applied the complicated Ambush rule and variously sounded please or unimpressed depending on how much work it had left them with and how many negative points they had to mitigate.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The third round was fairly quiet as there was no Ambush, increasing the chance of one appearing in the final round.  The last round started very slowly and gently with lots of very “low time” cards appearing and everyone sounding initially unimpressed, then quite pleased as they discovered pleasing ways of filling spaces to help satisfy the “Lost Barony” scoring card.  Then, just when everyone was nearly nearly home safe and sound, we were ambushed by the penultimate card of the game: the Bugbear Assault.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The Bugbear Assault is two one-by-two columns with a gap down the middle, making it quite hard to place at the end of the game.  Mulberry was unable to place it and therefore got away unscathed, but others like Burgundy, Purple and Black found they were suddenly four or five points worse off than they had been a moment earlier.  The final piece was also difficult to place being large and awkward, and then it was just the final scores.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Animation by boardGOATS

It was really tight at the top, with Pine and Pink taking second and third respectively, separated by just a single point.  Ivory, however, who had lost out by four points to Blue in Patchwork Doodle, managed to take victory by the same margin, winning with the same total of one hundred and twenty points.  With that, Ivory departed for the night, and Pine and Green said they would follow.  Before he went, however, Green shared an image of kookaburra which looked a bit like a goat provided you mistook it’s beak for an ear…

Goat or Bird?
– Image by boardGOATS

The chit-chat moved on to the Jockey and what it was like there now.  Black, Purple, Blue and Pink had enjoyed a meal and a distanced game of Wingspan there and Ivory had joined Blue and Pink for games of Everdell and the new mini Ticket to Ride, Amsterdam.  In both cases the pub had been quite quiet, but had felt very safe, partly because there was so much space and partly because the staff had done an excellent job of cleaning.  The pizzas were just as good as always, and it was really good to see the staff again.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Green commented that he was now quite bored with “colouring in”, so Pine’s parting shot was “Blue’s doing a great job”.  Blue agreed that there had been “colouring in” for two weeks running, but that it would be different next time when they would likely be playing Welcome To…, and sadly, there wasn’t really that much alternative to “Roll and Write” that we hadn’t already tried.  Burgundy added that nobody could play what they wanted all the time anyhow, especially at the moment.  And with that, there were five left to accommodate, who switched to play something more interactive on Board Game Arena.

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

After a bit of discussion and general ambivalence, those left eventually opted for Coloretto.  This is a very light and simple set collecting game that we all know the rules for:  turn over a card and place it on a truck, or take a truck.  Despite the simplicity of the rules, the game itself is very clever and can be played positively, or aggressively taking cards others want.  The winner is almost always the player who best balances these two elements.

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the three of the first four cards to be drawn were Rainbow coloured Jokers.  These are such valuable cards that first Black, then Blue, then Purple took them on their own leaving Burgundy and Pink without a look-in.  From there, Burgundy started collecting sets of blue and brown chameleons, while Pink started work on collecting a rainbow—totally not the point of the game.  Black took a cart that Blue wanted, so she took one that Burgundy wanted and the tit-for-tat rippled through the group.

Coloretto on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

It was quite tight at the end, and by that point almost everyone had joined Pink with five different colours.  Not that it did him much harm as he finished with a very creditable twenty-four to give him second place, just behind Burgundy who finished with twenty-eight.  With that, he decided it was bedtime and that left four…

Coloretto on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

After a bit of debate, the now dwindling group settled down to a game of Kingdomino.  We have all played this game a lot, so it was remarkable that we managed to make such a meal of it.  The game is very simple, but punches above its weight in terms of depth.  The key part is the domino market.  There are are two rows sorted by value; on their turn, the player takes their tile from the first row and moves their meeple to their chosen tile in the second row.  Since tiles are taken in order from least to most valuable, players are trading value for turn order and thus, choice in the next round.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

In other words, if a player chooses the least valuable tile, on their next turn they will play first and therefore have first choice and can pick from four tiles.  Alternatively, if they choose the most valuable tile, they will play last in the next round and will have Hobson’s choice.  The dominoes are placed in the players’ kingdoms with players scoring points for each terrain type, where the number of points is the number of crown features multiplied by the number of squares in the area.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, Blue, who set up the table chose the rules and picked the seven-by-seven variant, and the bonuses for completing the kingdom and for placing the starting tile in the centre.  Sadly, as the expansion has not yet been implemented on Board Game Arena, the seven-by-seven variant is only available for the two-player game.  There is no warning about this, and Blue was slow to realise, screwing up one tile placement and then was unable to complete her kingdom or get her castle in the middle.

Kingdomino on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Just as Blue was realising and the extent of her problems, and failing to put them right, Burgundy was busy building a very fine kingdom that would rival “Far Far Away” and when everyone else was unimpressed with the tile draw commented, “Well, all those are good for me.”  The immediate response was, “Just as well, since you don’t have a choice…”

Kingdomino on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

Meanwhile, Black put a tile in the wrong place and made a wonderful growling noise, something between a cross dog and an angry bear.  Then discovered the cancel button and cheered, only to discover that the piece he wanted wouldn’t fit after all and howled with disgust.  The Silent One definitely wasn’t silent this time!  In fact, he thought he would have beaten the winner, Burgundy, if he hadn’t placed a single tile the wrong way round, so we decided to play again.

Kingdomino on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

This time, Black started going for lakes but had competition from Purple who was also after lakes, but augmented them with forest.  Burgundy went for marshland and Blue actually managed to complete her kingdom and get her castle in the middle this time.  It was much closer, and all the kingdoms were much more mixed.  The winner was Purple though, who just edged Black.  Everyone was really pleased, especially when the Board Game Arena presented her with a trophy for her first win at Kingdomino.  And that seemed like a good way to end the evening.

Kingdomino on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

Learning Outcome:  Colouring in nicely is an important board gaming skill.

21st July 2020 (Online)

The evening started with everyone eating their supper and chatting about where they had been out.  Pine admired Green and Lilac’s pizzas and Blue and Pink told everyone about their visits to The Jockey beer garden.  Pine shared his experience visiting the café at the Court Hill Centre on The Ridgeway, and there was a lot of discussion about how The Maybush had re-opened (again) and how it might compare to the Rose Revived over the road.  Purple commented that BBC4 was re-showing their series about the history of board games, Games Britania, which sounded quite interesting.

Llandudno
– Image by Lime

Once everyone had joined the Microsoft Teams party (minus Lime who was enjoying the view in Llandudno), we settled down to play the “Feature Game“, which was Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale.  This is a slightly more complicated “Roll and Write” game, that builds on our experience with Noch Mal! and Second Chance both of which have worked well.  Although Cartographers is a little bit more involved than some of the other games of this kind, it works well with many players.  It was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres Award this year and we thought we would play it to celebrate the winners of the Spiel/Kennerspiel des Jahres winners which were announced on Monday.

Pictures
– Image adapted by boardGOATS from the
live stream video on spiel-des-jahres.de

We’ve had little chance to play any of the Spiel/Kennerspiel des Jahres nominees so were not in a position to comment on them.  That said, the winners (Pictures and The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine respectively), were not games that are a good match for the group anyhow, though some of the runners up might have been of interest under more normal circumstances.  As it is now, Cartographers is the only game we can really play at the moment as it can be played remotely with a couple of minor tweaks.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is another “Tetrissy” game where players can, once again, release their inner toddler and enjoy an evening of colouring in.  The idea is that players have been sent out by Queen Gimnax to map the northern territory, claiming it for the Kingdom of Nalos.  Through edicts, the Queen announces which lands she prizes the most, and meeting these demands increases players reputation – the player with the highest reputation at the end of the game is the winner.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The game takes place over four seasons, a year.  During each season, Exploration cards are revealed, each depicting the terrain type (Lakes, Woodland, Farmland and Village) and shape that has been discovered which players draw on their map.  These can be rotated, or mirrored, but must be drawn so they don’t overlap with a filled space and are wholly within the borders of the map.  Some Exploration cards give players a choice of terrain, others a choice of shape, but all come with a “time”, zero, one, or two—when the total reaches the number for that season, the round is over, the cards are returned to the deck which is reshuffled, and the map is scored.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the game, there are four scoring cards revealed and these are scored in pairs at the end of each round, similar to Isle of Skye.  Thus at the end of the first round, Spring, cards A and B are scored, at the end of the Summer, cards B and C are scored and so on.  This time the four scoring cards were Sentinel Wood, Canal Lake, Shieldgate and The Cauldrons.  These delivered points for Woodland adjacent to the edge of the map; Farmland and Lakes next to each other; the size of players’ second largest village and any single spaces surrounded by mapped territory.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

There are two maps available; for our first game, we chose to use “Side A”, which comes with five spaces already filled with Mountain terrain and six spaces marked with Ionic columns as Ruin spaces.  These act as normal spaces, though when a Ruin card is revealed, the next Exploration card revealed must cover one of those Ruin spaces.  If a shape does not fit or cannot be placed according to the rules (or over a Ruins space if required), the player fills a single, one-by-one space with the terrain of their choice.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to Exploration and Ruins cards there are also Ambush cards.  There are four of these special cards, and one is added to the deck in each round.  They can have a massive impact on the game, so when they are revealed, they are removed from the game.  The Ambush cards depict a shape and a direction, clockwise or anti-clockwise.  The idea is that players pass their map to the next player in the direction depicted and they add the shape to the map filling it with purple monsters.  Each space orthogonal to a Monster space, then scores minus one at the end of the round, and every round that follows.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

We had planned to reduce the number of Monsters (introducing the first one in the second round and seeing how it went), but holding up maps and trying to explain where the Monster terrain should go was always going to be a problem.  Burgundy, who had watched the Rahdo’s Run Through online suggested playing them with the Solo rules.  These place the Monster terrain in one corner and if it doesn’t fit, it is then moved around the map first hugging the edge and then slowly moving inwards in a spiral until there is a space it fits in.  Since we played the first round without them, and one didn’t appear, we only revealed two in the whole game, but playing this way worked well.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The first round started with an Orchard and a decision:  with Sentinel Wood giving points for woodland round the edge of the map and Canal Lake giving points for Farmland next to Lakes and Lakes next to Farmland, was it best to start with Woodland or Farmland?  Hindsight is a wonderful thing and, when the Fishing Village and Hinterland Stream were also revealed (both providing either Lake or Farmland) it was clear that Woodland was the wrong choice.  With just four cards in the first round, it quickly became clear that placing Farmland and Lakes well could score highly, which is exactly what Green and Burgundy did.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone else went into the second round feeling they had lost already, and when most of the cards that came out had a timing of two and didn’t include Lake and Farmland, it looked like Green and Burgundy were just going to stretch their lead further.  There was much hilarity when Black asked what people would score if they only had one big red thing—he worked it out amid the giggles, eventually.  With time almost out, the first Ambush card, Gnoll Raid, put in an appearance.  This scuppered lots of people’s plans and gave almost everyone plenty of negative points to work on, especially since there weren’t many more cards to go in the round.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The third round was relatively uneventful with players working hard to mitigate the effects of the Gnoll Raid while ensuring there were plenty of single space gaps to score in the last two rounds.  At the start of the final round, the Kobold Onslaught was revealed and with a slightly awkward profile, most people were going to have problems reducing their negative tally.  That said, with gaps giving positive points, some people found that the negative effects could be neutralised to some extent.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

Some of the scores in the final round were very large compared to those earlier in the game, some were in the thirties compared with single digits in the first round.  This was largely because players had been able to plan for the final round of course, in particular by lining the edge of their map with Woodland.  As players tallied up their scores it looked like Burgundy had it, especially with his thirty-nine in the final round, however, Blue had done well in the second and third rounds which was just enough to beat him by a single point.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

While Blue and Burgundy double-checked their maths, Pink commented that he was going up to Durham to check the house was OK.  Pine replied that he was just like Boris Johnson’s father Stanley who had been to Greece to check his holiday home, then asked whether he’d prefer to be compared with Stanley Johnson or Dominic Cummings.  Pink thought about it, then said that although Stanley Johnson was irritating, he was only marginally more irritating than Stanley Unwin and Dominic Cummings was actually evil, so it would have to be Stanley.

Stanley Unwin
– Image from televisionheaven.co.uk

There was a lot of conversation about this largely theoretical point when Pine suddenly said, “Who?  Who’s Stanley Unwin?  I think I may have got him confused with Stanley Holloway and was thinking about Albert and the Lion…” This prompted memories of the stick with a horse’s head handle and lots of tales from The North and reminiscences of holidays in Wales.  Despite this sojourn and the fact that Cartographers is more complex than the “Roll and Write” games that we’d played previously, it hadn’t taken very long to play.  So after a bit of a discussion of the options, we decided to give our old favourite 6 Nimmt! yet another outing, on Board Game Arena.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

This is a simple game that we’ve played a lot, where players simultaneously choose cards and then, starting with the lowest card revealed, add them to rows of cards on the table.  The player to place the sixth card in any given row instead takes the five cards on the table, which then go in their scoring pile.  The rows always increase in in number from left to right.  In the version of the game we play, cards are added to the high end of the row where the end card is has the highest value that is lower than the card placed.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

There is a variant, where players can add cards to both ends of the rows, but last time we played, Pine, the only one who had played it said it was very random so we gave it a miss.  The subject came up again, but with everyone involved, we decided to stick to the “normal version”.  This time, Purple was the first to pick up cards, taking ten “nimmts”, quickly followed by Blue, and the game was starting to look like a re-run of the last time we played.  Team Greeny-Lilac really struggled using a mobile phone, so Blue shared her screen between turns so he could better see the layout.  Despite their inability to see the cards on display properly, they were doing really well, until their vision improved when Blue started to share her screen.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

At that point, they suddenly started to pick up cards and it all went down hill.  In fact the were going down hill so fast that they hit the fence first smashing through it with a very fine minus eight, while Black was the winner with fifty-six.  Ivory decided to call it a night there, but everyone else was happy to give it another go.  This time, Purple saved Team Greeny-Lilacs blushes by ensuring they didn’t finish two games at the bottom, and Burgundy took the honours finishing with forty-eight.  With that, Team Greeny-Lilac decided they’d had enough of fighting with the website on a mobile.  With numbers dropping to six, Pink was keen to give the “Professional” game a go.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Six is a funny number for 6 Nimmt!, so despite Pine’s reluctance, we decided to try it.  In this variant, cards can go on either end of the row, whichever is closest.  So a twelve would normally go after a ten, say, but in this version if one of the rows starts with a thirteen, it would go before that instead, shifting all the cards along.  If this means there are now six cards in the row, then the cards move into that player’s scoring pile and the card they played forms the starting card for the row.  This game always causes a lot of moaning and groaning and cursing, though as a nice group of people, we also always say thank-you when someone else picks up a fist-full of cards on our behalf, saving blushes. The “Professional” variant, however, was absolute mayhem!

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

It certainly wasn’t random, but the predicting what might happen was considerably more complex than for the standard game.  For some this made it more interesting, for others it just seemed total chaos.  Everyone was very glad the computer was working out where to place the cards though.  There were a couple of very interesting consequences of the new rules, though.  For example, low numbers, in particular single digits, are no-longer near-automatic pick-ups.  So, instead of waiting to play number one when there is a row with a singleton, it can now be used to mess everyone else about.  As it is always going to be resolved first, it will always go at the front of another row.  Additionally, cards that were previously very safe plays, are now not.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

So, playing a forty-four after a forty three as the fifth card in a row was almost always safe under the normal rules, but with this variant, if someone else has played a card at the front of that row, that forty-four is now the sixth card guaranteeing a pile of nimmts.  Similarly, rows with the highest cards are usually dead and just increase the competition for the other rows making it more difficult.  With the new rules though, these rows can still be played and can become a trap for the unwary too.  As a result, the new rules made it really interesting, but could have completely unpredictable effects, and everybody felt it would be too random with more than six players.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

Some things don’t change no matter what you do and Purple seemed to have an uncanny knack of picking a card that went in just the wrong place.  Nobody really understood how, but Pink won the first round—not to say that Pink shouldn’t have won, just that everyone was so busy trying to work out what was going on and why, that nobody was watching what Pink was doing!  It was an absolute hoot though, and when Pink said he thought it was time he went to bed Blue commented that it wasn’t fair for him to leave without giving everyone else a chance to challenge him to another game. So, only slightly reluctantly, he stayed for one more game. This was just as crazy as the first and just as much fun too.  This time it was very close between Black and Blue, with Blue just edging it.  But the winner wasn’t important, it was all about the game.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Under the right circumstances, even a favourite can be improved.

3rd March 2020

After a short, but sweet battle over who wasn’t going to have the last lamb pie and mash, Burgundy and Blue settled down to eat.  They were soon joined by Pine, Lime, and then Black and Purple bringing news of their new black and purple car.  When Ivory and Green arrived, the key players were in place for the for the “Feature Game”, the Hellas map from the Hellas & Elysium expansion to Terraforming Mars.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

In Terraforming Mars, each person takes the role of a giant corporation, sponsored by the World Government on Earth to initiate projects to make Mars habitable.  This is by raising the temperature, increasing the oxygen level, and expanding the ocean coverage.  The Hellas map presents a new areas of Mars to explore, in particular, the Mars south pole and the enormous seven-hex Hellas crater that just begs to become a giant lake.  Building around the pole gives placement bonuses in the form of heat and possibly even water.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of each round, players draw four cards, keeping as many as they like, but paying 3M€ per card.  Since the cards are so critical to the game-play, there is a variant where the cards are drafted, letting players see more of the cards available, but making the decisions more critical.  Players then take it turns to take one or two actions from seven possible actions.  At the end of the round, players simultaneously produce, turning any energy into heat, taking finance according to the combined total of their Terraforming Rating and their M€ production level, and finally receiving all other resources according to their production levels.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends once all three Global Parameters are met:  all of the Ocean Tiles have been placed, the Temperature has reached 8°C, and the Oxygen Level is at 14%. The game is driven by the cards, but the guts of it are the actions.  These include: play a card; use a Standard Project; use an Action Card; convert eight plants into a greenery tile and raise the Oxygen Level; use eight Heat to raise the Temperature; claim a Milestone, and fund an Award.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

Each card has a set of requirements, for example, Grass cannot grow at very low temperatures, so the Grass Card can only be played when the Temperature is above -16°C.  Other cards may require the player to spend energy, or other resources.  They also have a financial cost, though some can be paid for using Steel and/or Titanium as well.  There are three types of cards: red Event Cards, Green Automatic Cards and Blue Action Cards.  Green and Blue cards have an effect that occurs when they are played.  Red Event Cards have  an action that takes place once and are turned face down once they have been played.  Blue Action Cards also give the player a special ability that can be activated many times during the game, but only once per round.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to the actions on the cards, players can also carry out actions associated with Standard Projects.  These can be used several times per round and mostly involve spending money to increase the Temperature, add tiles to the board, or increase the player’s Energy Production.  Players can also sell cards at a rate of 1M€ per card, an expensive option as it’s less than they cost to buy, and it costs an action, but needs must when the Devil drives.  Finally, players can claim milestones (if they have played enough cards with Tags that qualify) or fund an award.  These cost money, but give Points at the end of the game.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

This is the basic game play, but there are a lot of expansions and variants, so setting up was slow as the group tried to figure out which cards came from which expansion and what bits they actually needed to use.  They got there in the end and chose to add in a few extra corporations to the standard set. Only Ivory received one of them, but still chose an original corporation, Ecoline, which gave him Plant production and reduced the number of plants he needed for a new Forest tile from eight to seven.  Green went for Inventrix, which gave him three extra cards at the start of the game and reduced the restrictions on the environmental requirements.  Burgundy chose Teractor, which allowed him to play cards with Earth Tags more cheaply.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory made an early play to plant a city amongst the northern green belt. He knew it was an unusual opening move and a bit of a gamble, but one he hoped would pay dividends later.  Burgundy also planted a city in the first round, nearer to the large potential ocean area in the Hellas crater. Green waited a little longer for his first city, but broke away from the others to plant it near the southern polar region, hoping to expand upon the unique scoring potential for this new board.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

Like most games of Terraforming Mars this one progressed gradually and slowly as everyone built their “engines”.  Ivory was clearly working on a Forest growth strategy, and also looking for the bonus end game awards.  Burgundy was trying to build cities next to oceans for bonus money and also keeping the sides of his cities next to Forests for end game scoring.  Green tried to use his relaxed environmental requirements to his advantage by playing cards early, but in the process failed to do anything with his southern city goal.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory made the first Milestone claim, taking the Energizer, for increasing his Energy Production to six.  He was about to claim the second too, Diversifier, for having eight different tags played, but then realised that he couldn’t use the Red Event cards and so couldn’t claim it after all.  Very soon after Green took it instead, much to the annoyance of Burgundy who was also on the verge of taking it, and would have done so on his next turn.  Ivory later claimed the third Milestone, Tactician (five environmentally restricted cards), which both he and Burgundy had noticed Green could have claimed earlier and made noises to that effect, but weren’t specific.  Green, however, had forgotten what it was awarded for and hadn’t noticed he qualified.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

As for the Awards, Ivory again funded the first one to activate the Cultivator, obviously key to his strategy as as it rewarded most Forests.  Ivory also wanted Space Baron in play (for most Jovian tags) and Burgundy paid for the final Magnate Award, which rewards the player with the most green cards.  In the end though, Burgundy won all three awards, with Ivory taking second place in two and Green just pipping Ivory to second by one card for the Magnate Award.  When it came to the scoring, the Terraforming Ratings were quite close with Ivory just ahead of Burgundy as he had been for most of the game.  Burgundy took a lot of points for the awards though and scored heavily for his cities.  The overall winner was therefore Burgundy with eighty-three points, sneaking ahead of Ivory who took second place.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

While the Terraforming Mars group began setting up, everyone else took a slightly more relaxed look at the options available, and after some discussion, the group settled on Isle of Skye.  This won the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2016 and is a game most of the group have played before and really enjoyed.  The best way to describe it is a bit like Carcassonne, but with individual play areas and a very clever auction for the tiles.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that players start with three tiles drawn randomly, and place them in front of their screen.  Behind the screen they use their own money decide the price of two of the tiles and choose one to discard.  Once everyone has revealed their prices and discards, the first player chooses a maximum of one tile to purchase from the offering.  They cannot choose one of their own, and they pay the amount shown to the owner of the tile.  Once everyone has made their purchase, players then buy any remaining tiles in front of them, paying with the money the used to indicate the price.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

This auction is very clever for lots of reasons. Firstly, the player with the best tiles, does not necessarily get them.  If they think they have something valuable, then they can give it a high price and will either end up keeping it (paying the money to the bank), or end up getting a lot of money for it.  For this reason, the key thing is getting the value right—over-pricing a tile risks it failing to sell and getting landed with it at a heavy cost.  This was Ivory’s comment from the next table.  There is a more subtle aspect to the auction, however.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Although they have the widest choice, if the first player prices their tiles too high, they may not have sufficient funds to buy anyone else’s, worse, nobody else will buy their tiles which means they will end up having to pay for them themselves, leaving them short of cash in the next round as well.  On the other hand, because the money paid for tiles and the money used to indicate their cost go straight into the seller’s hand, players later in the turn order, may have less choice, but will likely have more available cash.  In this way, the advantage of turn order is self-correcting and everyone has difficult decisions to make and probabilities to consider, though the decisions are different for each player.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the tiles have been bought and paid for, players add them to their kingdom.  Like Carcassonne, the terrain type on the edges of the tiles have to match up (though roads do not), and the tiles have features that are used for scoring.  There are more different features than in Carcassonne, however, and the scoring is very different.  In each game there are four scoring conditions, and each one is used three times during the game (five rounds for the five player game).  Additionally, there are also tiles that feature scrolls which are personal scoring conditions that take effect at the end of the game.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

As Lime was new to the game, the group decided not to include the main components of the Journeyman or Druid expansions.  All the tiles went into the bag though, including those from both of the large expansions and the several mini expansions (the Adjacency Scrolls, both Tunnelplättchen, the Themenplättchen and the Kennerspiel des Jahres Promo), and anywhere the main feature required one of the main expansions were just rejected when they were drawn.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine got a flying start in the first round getting five points for his Broch/Lighthouse/Farm combo and a couple of points for a completed mountain range.  As the game progressed, more buildings fell into his lap and the points kept coming.  Black tried to collect Broch/Lighthouse/Farm sets, but couldn’t get any Brochs, so gave up and concentrated on getting diagonals instead.  This is not as easy as it looks because every tile added to a diagonal requires the fixed placement of two tiles.  Each round, players get a maximum of three tiles, so this is very restrictive.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

It was a hard game:  Lime failed to complete and score any mountains and Purple struggled as there were two rounds when she failed to get any points at all.  Blue started off trying to build in a diagonal, but ended up picking up points for Barrels connected to her Castle by road, mostly at Lime’s expense.  She was aided when Pine drew a Barrel tile that Lime really fancied and had lots of money to pay for.  Not wanting to give away his plans, Lime told Pine he didn’t want the tile, so Pine, who believed him, chucked it away, leaving Blue a clear run.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine maintained and grew his lead, though the others did threaten to catch up towards the end.  His Brochs and enclosed scroll giving him two points for each one made all the difference though and he finished with sixty-nine points ten ahead of second place.  The battle for that was much closer with three players within six points of each other.  It was Blue who sneaked in front though, just ahead of Lime who put in a very creditable performance on his first attempt.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Terraforming Mars was still going on the next table, so although it was getting late the group decided to play something short, and considered Coloretto, but in the end settled on No Thanks!.  This is a really quick and simple “push your luck” reverse auction game.  Everyone starts with eleven chips and on their turn, either takes the card on offer (and any chips on it) or pays a chip to pass the problem on to the next person.  The aim of the game is end up with the lowest card total, subtracting any chips they have left.  The catch is that if a player has a run of cards, only the lowest is counted, however, at the start of the game nine cards are removed from the thirty-three in the deck…

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Black won a relatively uneventful first round with twenty, while Purple “top scored” with fifty-three.  It was quick and Terraforming Mars was into another round, so Lime suggested another round and everyone else concurred.  This was more remarkable.  Blue was first to take card.  Since the player who takes a card then has first dibs on the next card, when the next was close the the first, she took that too.  This continued with only a couple of breif interludes for cards she really didn’t want.  In the end, she had a remarkable run of fifteen cards from the twenty-four in play.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for her, as they were mostly low value cards and cards she needed, she had been unable to milk them to get chips from the others.  So she finished with a very reasonable thirteen, but in forth place behind Lime with twelve and, remarkably, Black with minus three and Pine who took the game with minus four, winning by virtue of the fact he played later in the round.  The Terraformers were just finishing, so the cards were shuffled for a third and final time.  This time, Lime tried the collecting cards trick, but he was not as lucky as Blue and ended with a card total of ninety-nine (and twenty-three chips).  Black and Blue both finished with a more normal nine, and tied for the win.  With everyone finished, but time was marching on, so everyone decided to say “No Thanks!” to another game and went home.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Getting a lead is good, but you have to be able to keep it.

5th February 2019

Far from being over-run by new people flocking to games night in response to our advert in the Parish Newsletter, it was one of the quietest weeks for ages.  With Ivory still on “sabbatical”, Mulberry in the States, and Pine, Pink and Red all having something better to do, for the first time in ages, we were down to just five and a single game.  Burgundy was just finishing eating and Blue was waiting for the imminent arrival of her pizza, so the group decided to play something short that could be played while feeding.  After a brief discussion the group began a game of Walk the Plank!, and inevitably, Blue’s pizza arrived just as it started.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Walk the Plank! is an old favourite that has been somewhat neglected by the group of late.  It is a very silly programming game where players control pirate meeples who try to push each other off the ship and, when plans go wrong, occasionally jump overboard.  The idea is that each player begins with a hand of action cards and simultaneously everyone chooses three cards to play and the order they are going to play them in, placing them in a stack with the first card on top.   Once everyone has chosen their cards, the players take it in turns to take the top card off their pile and carry out the action using one of their three “pirate-eeples”.  Actions include shoving other players meeples closer to the end of the plank (or into the sea); running towards the ship; retracting or extending the plank, and even changing along the plank pushing another player closer to the sea.  As we were playing with the Limited Edition which comes with some extra cards, so for a bit of variety, we added the Dynamite and Ghost Pirate cards.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The first of the extra cards, “Dynamite”, pushes everyone on a given piece of plank one space closer to the sea. The other, the “Ghost Pirate”, scares everyone on a a piece of plank so much that they run away, half towards the sea and half towards the ship.  The newly bespectacled Green was of the opinion that the extra cards were generally a little over-powered, so we house-ruled it so that they could only be played once each.  When we play this game we include a couple of other house rules too:  according to the rules as written, the last piece of the three piece plank should not be removed when shortening the plank and the game is supposed finish when there are two meeples left.  While we understand why these rules exist, we find that sharing victory means the game feels a little unresolved so we play through to the bitter end.  Similarly, we quite like the madness removing the last plank adds, and in such a short game, crazy chaos seems entirely appropriate.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

And chaos there was aplenty this time round too:  Burgundy was quickly out of the game when the third and final of his meeples was banished to the deep.  As the first person to be eliminated, Burgundy was given the slightly dubious honour of returning as a Ghost.  In this mini-expansion, the player returns as a white pirate-eeple doomed to haunt the ship and generally cause mayhem for everyone else by playing one shove card per round.  When the last of Black’s pirates joined Burgundy’s there was some discussion about a second ghost, but we decided it would just prolong the game.  It wasn’t long before he had company on the sidelines though, leaving just Blue and Purple.  With both of them perched precariously on the end of what was left of the plank and Blue set to go first the game was her to take.  However, she decided she couldn’t take advantage of the position and instead retracted the plank unceremoniously pitching both of them into the drink.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

With Blue finished with her pizza, and it clear that nobody else was coming, the group decided to move on to the “Feature Game” which was to be Through the Desert.  This is an old game, but one that is very simple to play, though difficult to play well.  It is an area control game with pastel camels that many feel is reminiscent of the classic game, Go.  The game begins with players placing one camel in each colour on the board.  Each of these has a rider (Leader) in their own colour, so these camels are the start of the player’s camel trains or Caravans.  After the initial placements, on their turn, players take any two camels from the general supply and add them to the board.  There are a few rules about placement – each one must be placed next to camels of the same colour to become part of one of that player’s caravans, and must not be placed next to a caravan of the same colour belonging to another player (as this would cause them to join).

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

The aim of the game is to gain points through via the four sources.  Firstly, there are several oases marked with green plastic palm trees; players who connect a caravan to an oasis get five points.  There are also watering hole tokens—players who place a camel on these spaces can claim these tokens which are worth up to three points.  Players who finish with the longest Caravans in each of the colours are also rewarded with points at the end of the game.  The most lucrative source of points, but also the most risky is enclosing areas.  It is in this way that it is most like Go.  Go is a very ancient game played on square grid with black and white stones.  People often try to compare it to Chess, though in truth, beyond the facts one play plays black, the other white and the game is played on a rectilinear grid and both are very old, the two games have almost nothing in common.

Chess
– Image by Unsplash contributor sk

Chess is a game with a very rigid structure where players control armies that are lined up to face each other.  Each piece has a clearly defined role and movement pattern and games develop in a very particular way.  The highly structured nature of the game means strategies are developed by analysing all the possible or likely moves which makes it highly programmable.  In contrast, Go is all about territory and pattern analysis, which has traditionally made it much more challenging for computer programmers and it is only recently that software engineers have been able to use machine learning algorithms that have the ability to beat Go champions.  In Go, players place their stones on the intersections of a rectilinear grid with the aim of marking out territory.  There is a lot of psychology in the early moves with players declaring their space; if a player is too aggressive at the start, they won’t be able to defend their position, if they are too timid with their opening they will have lost before they’ve begun.

Go
– Original image by Tomasz_Mikolajczyk on pixabay.com

Ultimately however, Go is a complex game of strategy where players are trying to capture their opponent’s stones and with i,t territory.  A single empty space inside a group is called an eye; for a group to remain alive it must contain at least two eyes.  Creating eye spaces in a player’s groups and trying to prevent their opponent from making eyes is one of the key aspects of Go.  It is in regard to building territory that Through the Desert is similar to Go, however, there are two significant differences.  Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the game is played on a hexagonal rather than a square grid.  The main difference is in the game-play though:  in Through the Desert pieces must be added to an existing caravan and surrounded pieces are not removed from the board.  Nevertheless, despite the differences it is unquestionably true that the Through the Desert is reminiscent of Go and was likely inspired by it.

Go
– Original image by Przemek Pietrak on flickr.com

With five players, everyone starts the game with Leaders mounted on four of the five different colours of camel.  Starting placement was quite difficult because nobody really knew constituted a good starting position, though some claimed to know what a bad one was.  Maybe there was an advantage in going last, or perhaps Black had a better idea than everyone else, but it quickly became apparent that that he had a large corner of the board all to himself.  This put Burgundy in a very difficult position as he was the only one who could do anything at all about it, but he had other plans.  In the end, Burgundy decided to do his own thing because the damage he could do to Black was minimal and it would be a significant expense to himself.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

Elsewhere, Burgundy was in a four-way tussle with Purple, Green and Black for access to an oasis and Green and Burgundy combined to prevent Blue from connecting two of the oases.  Meanwhile, Purple collected a pile of watering-hole tokens, and Burgundy was attempting to enclose an enormous space in the middle, while Green and and Blue were hoping to fly under the radar and get away with discretely annexing small areas at the edge of the board.  It wasn’t long before the number of pale blue camels was dwindling and Black was left trying to decide whether it was in his interest to bring the game to an end.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

When Blue reduced the handful to one lonely looking camel, Black could resist no longer leaving Burgundy’s audacious attempt to claim on the large central area incomplete and looking temerarious as a consequence.  Everyone had thought Black was so far in front that they were playing for second place, however, it turned out that the game was much closer than expected.  Green had scored slightly more for his oases and the length of his Caravans than Black and Black’s large corner hadn’t given him quite as much territory as it had first appeared.  It was very close, but Green took it by just two points.  As the group packed away, feelings were generally positive, but everyone was agreed that they’d play it differently next time, so we’ll have to give it another Go sometime soon.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

With five players, the options were limited – we generally try to avoid two-player games and we were a bit short on good five-player ones.  In the end, it was either yet another game of Bohnanaza, or the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Isle of Skye, and Isle of Skye won easily.  Although this is a game we’ve played quite a bit and know reasonably well, we decided not to add the new Druids expansion as it is a while since we last played the base game and we felt we could do with a reminder.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with an auction at the start of each round and scoring at the end of each round.  The scoring is one of the interesting parts of this game as the four scoring criteria change from game to game and, and each one scores three times during the course of the game.  Choosing how to prioritise these to drive a strategy is one of the keys to playing well.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, points were available for cows in the largest field; brochs; completed areas, and lighthouse-longboat combos.  The game proceeded along its usual course:  Burgundy had stacks of money but no tiles because everyone kept buying them while Blue and Black had plenty of tiles, but no money.  Black with a very linear kingdom was reminded by Purple that the goal for that shape wasn’t in use this time.  It didn’t seem to matte as he stormed off into the lead with a large field full of cattle, but it wasn’t long before others gave chase.  The winner in this game often comes from the back, because there is a “catch-up mechanism” where players get money in the later rounds, with those at the back getting more.  So, when Green and Blue eventually caught up with Black, the positions were important and Green looked ideally placed one point behind Black who was one point behind Blue.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Although the points awarded at the end of the rounds are valuable, it is usually the end game scoring through the scrolls that is critical.  These provide personal targets for each player, and score twice where terrain is “completed” (i.e. completely enclosed).  So towards the end of the game everyone scrabbled to maximise their points.  Green took a tile Blue wanted to keep, so Blue took one that Burgundy had priced very highly giving him even more money, but not the one tile that was really crucial to his plans.  Black added a couple more farms, while Green went for ships Purple went for light-houses and Blue tried to get both.  Burgundy and Blue were also working on the communal, end of round scoring for the brochs (prehistoric circular stone towers found in the highlands and islands of Scotland).  In the case of scoring for brochs though, one would give one point, two would give three and three six points.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

With two players fighting for them brochs were scarce, but by the final round both Blue and Burgundy had managed to get their quota of six.  They were less than impressed when Black pointed out that the brochs only scored if they were in the same mountain region.  Although Black had read the scoring in full, somehow it had failed to make it to the end of the table as both Blue and Burgundy had missed it.  Green pointed out that anyone affected should be called out for cheating, but Burgundy was in such dire need of points nobody was going to contest him claiming them.  The scoring at the front was a bit closer though.  As the points were calculated though it was clear that Green needn’t have worried.  Although he was only one point behind Black, Blue’s fleet of ships meant she was twelve points clear, and it was obvious that even allowing for the extra points, she would still have won.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  If the rules are that important to your game-plan, clarify them first.

Essen 2018

Last week was The Internationale Spieltage, the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world, known to Gamers worldwide simply as “Essen”.  The fair runs Thursday to Sunday in mid/late-October every year and is the one of the biggest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions with many new releases and timed to coincide with the end of October.

Essen 2018
– Image from spiel-messe.com

This year several of the group went, and despite a lot of games selling out really early, they came back with expansions for well-loved games like Kingdomino (Age of Giants), Isle of Skye (Druids) and Altiplano (The Traveler), some new games like Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, Solenia and Key Flow, and some old classics like Mississippi Queen.  It will be exciting to see how these new toys go down with the group over the coming months.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image used with permission of boargamephotos

Boardgames in the News: The Consequences of Losing Catan—The Demise of Mayfair

The dramatic growth of Asmodee has been the subject of much comment over the last few years, but more recently it appeared to have slowed a little.  It would seem that perhaps the consequences are now beginning to kick in though.  Nearly two years ago, Asmodee acquired the rights to the English Language edition of the Catan series of games from Mayfair Games.  At the time there was some speculation as to the effect this would have on Mayfair as the Catan range had dominated their catalogue and provided a high proportion of their revenue.  The loss of such a large part of their portfolio inevitably led to major restructuring particularly as the then CEO of Mayfair, Pete Fenlon, left to become the CEO of the new Asmodee owned “Catan Studio” taking a bunch of other people with him.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, Mayfair not only lost the Catan franchise, but also their entire development team and graphics department. Essentially, they were left with Alex Yeager as lead developer, head of acquisitions, and marketing manager and a catalogue of about a hundred games including some of the popular 18xx series, Martin Wallace’s Steam, Caverna: The Cave Farmers, Lords of Vegas and Nuns on the Run.  Mayfair also had a controlling influence in the German company, Lookout Games which they had acquired back in 2013, and this partnership had produced games like Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King, Costa Rica and Patchwork. The Mayfair strategy was primarily to focus on the partnership with Lookout while continuing to support their existing catalogue, and then, once that was stable, further develop the Mayfair-exclusive products.

Mayfair
– Image from twitter.com

Questions were first asked when Mayfair didn’t exhibit at PAX West or PAX Unplugged, despite featuring in the exhibitor list, though they did present as usual at BGG.CONAt the beginning of November, however, Alex Yeager announced that he had left Mayfair, and this, together with the earlier departure of Julie Yeager and Chuck Rice indicated that the chairs were being shifted on the deck of the Titanic, and there were rumours that Mayfair was in trouble.  Mayfair had not independently produced a new title since the loss of the Catan franchise, but they still had their controlling stake in Lookout Games and producing the English language version of the popular Lookout range of games seemed like the basis for a strong partnership.

Lookout Spiel
– Image from lookout-spiele.de

Lookout Spiele was a highly successful German company responsible for developing games like Agricola, and more recently Bärenpark and Grand Austria Hotel.  At Spiel in October, Mayfair and Lookout shared an extremely popular booth, and it seemed so successful that there were rumours that another merger was on the cards. Sadly however, this was not the case, and on Friday it was announced that Mayfair had sold its three remaining assets (their games inventory, the IP, and their 74% stake in Lookout GmbH) and was closing their doors after thirty-six years.  Simultaneously, Asmodee acquired the remaining 26% of Lookout from the original owner, Hanno Girk and on Friday announced their take-over of Lookout.  With that, one of the most productive and popular of the German board game companies joined the likes of Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Space Cowboys, Z-man Games, Pearl Games, Ystari, Plaid Hat Games and of course Catan as yet another “Studio” in the great Asmodee Empire.

Asmodee
– Image from lookout-spiele.de

Essen 2017

It is that time of year again when the gamers’ minds turn to Essen and – The Internationale Spieltage.  To Gamers worldwide, Essen is synonymous with the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world.  The fair runs Thursday to Sunday in mid/late-October every year and is the one of the biggest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions with many new releases and timed to coincide with the end of October.  This year the first day will be this Thursday, 26th October and games, publishers and their wares are all making their way to Germany for four days of fun and games.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag-en.com

Last year several of the group went, and they came back with a lot of expansions for well-loved games like Istanbul, Colt Express, and Orléans and picked up some new games like Key to the City – London, Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails and Cottage Garden.  This year, new games include Queendomino, Indian Summer, Altiplano and Keyper, with expansions to old favourites like Isle of Skye, Imhotep, Ticket to Ride, Terraforming Mars and Splendor as well.  Once again, several locals are going and they are sure to bring back some interesting toys to play with over the coming months.

Keyper
– Image used with permission of designer Richard Breese