Tag Archives: Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King

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

21st February 2017

We started the evening setting up the card games, The Golden Sails and 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!, but as more players arrived and time was getting on, we abandoned them in favour of the “Feature Game”, Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen or Cliff Hanger).  This is a game that that arguably should be come the group’s signature game as it is very simple little trick taking card game all about goats.  As the rules were explained, Grey (on one of his rare, but much valued appearances), commented that it was like Blackjack (aka Pontoon or Vingt-et-Un) – i.e. play to a limit, but exceed that limit and you are bust.  The idea is that players choose a card from their hand and play it face up in front of them – the person who plays the highest card takes the trick and with it all the cards played in the round.  The player who plays the lowest card plays draws a Goat Island card.  These have two ends with different numbers on them, so the first “loser” takes a card and places the goat-meeple on one end, choosing which end will become part of Goat Island.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

The game continues with players playing cards and winning tricks, and the player who plays the lowest numbered card adding to Goat Island, choosing whether to add a large or small amount to the total.  At the end of the game, the total of the four cards that make up the island define the limit and players who exceed that value are out.  The catch is that players are not summing the face value of the cards (which go from one to fifty), instead, a little like 6 Nimmt!, they are counting goats head symbols which have little relation to the face value of the cards.  We played the game twice through, since we made a bit of a mess of it the first time.  After a long discussion about whether completed tricks should be placed face down or not, Red who led first misunderstood and thought the cards were played face down, so that screwed up her first turn and lumbered her with a pile of cards she didn’t want.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

This led to Grey’s comment that the game was poorly designed as once a player is bust their game is over.  In fact though, the game is so short that effective player elimination doesn’t matter that much and in any case, players who are out can still try to take as many others with them as possible.  After the first hand (taken by Grey), we gave it another try.  By this time, Blue had managed to find out who leads after the first trick so instead of passing the honour round the table, we played correctly and the winner led.  The second game went to Red, and was definitely more fun as we began to see what the aim of the game was and how to screw up other people.  We were just beginning to get the hang of it, but felt we should move on to something else now everyone had arrived.  It was genuinely very quick though, so we’ll probably play it again and it might be worth trying some of the variants too.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

With such a short “Feature Game” and everyone being far too polite, we spent a lot of time deciding what to play next.  Orleans, Terraforming Mars, Viticulture and Agricola were all on the table, but nobody wanted to commit in case something better came along, or perhaps because they genuinely didn’t really mind and were happy to fill in once those who did mind had made a choice. Eventually, Magenta said she would like to play Isle of Skye and several said they’d be happy to play that if others wanted to play something else.  Ivory on the other hand said he was quite happy to play Agricola (which had been brought with him in mind, then Green walked in, making things slightly more complicated as with nine players one game would have to be a five-player which might make it long.  In the end Red got fed up with people being indecisive and started to direct people:  first she made a three player game of Agricola, then she found two to join Magenta playing Isle of Skye which left Blue, Burgundy and Red to find something else to play, which ended up being Imhotep.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep is a very simple game that we’ve played a few times since is was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres last year.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions:  procure new stones; load stones on a boat; sail a boat to a monument; or play an action card.  Players can only store a maximum of five stones and when they procure stones they can collect a maximum of three.  Stones are loaded onto ships one at a time, but which of the five possible destinations the boats end up at and the order they are unloaded in is vital, so timing and planning is everything.  What makes it particularly tricky is that the best plans in the world can be crushed by opponents with one small action: when they take a boat to the “wrong place” or “at the wrong time”.  There are four ships and five building locations, so one doesn’t get visited and the round ends when all four boats have sailed.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The building locations are double sided so the game can be played with the less complex Side A, the slightly more confusing Side B, or a mixture of the two.  Red had struggled last time she had tried Imhotep since she ended up playing with two people who had tried it before and wanted to play with Side B without fully appreciating how much more complexity it adds.  This time, therefore, we stuck to the simpler Side A, but instead added the Stonemason’s Wager Mini Expansion to give it just a little extra interest.  This little promotional item allows players a one-off, extra option:  the chance to bet on which monument will have the most stones in it at the end of the game.  Otherwise the game is unchanged and there are six rounds in total, as usual, with points scored in different ways for the different buildings; the player with the most points at the end is declared the best builder in Egypt.

Imhotep: The Stonemason's Wager Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Blue and Burgundy started out visiting the Market picking up statues, but with both in the same market it was always going to be a struggle.  Meanwhile, Red stole an essentially insurmountable lead in the Obelisks.  Blue took a green card that would yield a point for every three stones in the Burial Chamber at the end of the game, so she tried to encourage boats to go there.  Unfortunately, because she also nearly picked up a significant score on the Burial Chamber, but Burgundy was first forced to obstruct her plans and then Red and Burgundy started sending boats to the Temple instead.  In general, it was quite a cagey game with everyone concentrating on not letting anyone take too many points rather than trying to make a killing themselves.  Going into the final scoring, it was all quite close.  Red took the points for the Stonemason’s Wager, and Burgundy took points for statues, but Blue had a lot of bonus points from a range of sources, giving her first place, ten points ahead of Burgundy in second.

– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep finished, but next game was not far behind, so Blue, Red and Burgundy played a couple of quick hands of Love Letter while they waited.  With its quick play, this micro-game is one of our go to fillers.  The idea is that each player has a single card in hand, and on their turn they draw a second and choose one of the two to play.  Each card has an action and a number, one to eight.  Players use the actions to try to deduce information about which cards others are holding and, in turn use that to eliminate them.  The winner is either the last player standing or the player with the highest ranking card at the end of the game.  In the first round, Blue was caught holding the Princess leaving Burgundy to take the round.  The second played out to the final card.  With just two possible cards left and the Princess still hiding, Red took a chance and played the Prince, forcing Blue to discard her hand.  This meant she had to pick up the set-aside card, which was, of course, the Princess, making it a two-way tie.

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Magenta, Purple and Grey had been playing a game of Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King.  This won the Kennerspiel des Jahres last year, and has proven to be quite popular with our group.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with the added feature of 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.  This time, with points available throughout for completed areas (lakes and mountains), this was a clear target, however, identifying a strategy and making it work are two different things.

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

For example, Purple was unlucky that she was unable to get any tiles with cows on roads until the final round, which meant she struggled to build a score early in the game.  Although this meant she picked up the bonus money for being at the back, she still struggled to get the tiles she wanted.  Similarly, Grey was unlucky in that he placed a tile that later became an real obstacle making it difficult for him to place tiles later and get points.  It was Magenta though who had been able to build an early lead, and kept it throughout picking up points every round.  A couple of lucky tile draws gave her good tiles that both Grey and Purple wanted making it a sellers market, and leaving Magenta with lots of cash to spend towards the end of the game.  Going into the final scoring, Magenta had a sizeable lead, but Grey had a large pile of cash which yielded a tidy eight points and very nearly gave him the game.  Magenta managed to fend him off though with the one point she took for her remaining seven coins, making the difference between first place and second.

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

With the games on the first two tables complete, Red, Magenta and Grey went home leaving Purple, Blue and Burgundy to play yet another in the long running campaign to beat Burgundy at Splendor.  This simple set collecting, engine builder has proved to be quite intractable.  Blue and Pine in particular have had several attempts to get the better of Burgundy, but so far he has just had the edge.  Sadly this this game was no exception, though the game was very, very tight. There was a shortage of Opals cards available, despite the presence of lots of cards needing them.  Emeralds were also quite scarce at the start, but Burgundy managed to build a substantial collection of Diamonds to keep the threat alive.  Blue thought she had finally got Burgundy trapped but in the final round Purple took a card and the replacement was a sapphire that Burgundy could take and gave him eighteen points, one more than Blue (who was last in the turn order).  Yet another very, very close game – we’ll get him in the end…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, all evening, Ivory, Black and Green had been engaged in an game of Agricola.  This had started out with an extensive effort to disentangle the cards for the base game from the myriad of expansions Blue had somehow crammed into the box.  Once this was sorted though, and the game was set up, a rules explanation was necessary as Ivory hadn’t played it before.  The archetypal worker placement game, players star out with a farming couple and a shack and during the game try to build up their farmstead, livestock and family, the winner being the player with the most successful farm. Actions available include things like upgrading the farmhouse, ploughing and sowing fields, enclosing areas, taking livestock, and, of course, procreating.  One of the clever parts of the game is that each round, an additional action become available, but the order of these is not known in advance.  The stress is provided by harvests that occur at intervals during the game and require players to have enough food to feed their family, or resort to begging (which yields negative points at the end of the game).

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, instead of playing the family game, we played the full version which includes occupation and improvement cards.  The challenge with this game is to use the cards effectively, but not to get carried away and try to force the strategy to use cards to its detriment.  Green started with occupations and used them to quickly fenced a large padock for sheep (building one gave him three extras).  He then ploughed and got three fields up and running before going back to enclosing pasture for cattle. Despite only having two family members, he struggled to have enough food until he eventually managed to nab a cartload of clay and used it to build a an oven, which proved invaluable at keeping hunger at bay.  Towards the end, he finally managed to develop his family and added a pig for a total of twenty-nine.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Black played a quiet game, also didn’t grow his family and farm developed only slowly too.  As he often does, Black instead concentrated on home-making and upgraded his house to clay and then stone in quick succession.  Somehow he didn’t struggle at harvest time as much as Green, probably because he went into building ovens which provided his food.  This was at the expense of his farm, which remained stubbornly small, right until the end.  The unused spaces cost him though, as did his lack of pigs, and he finished with a fine house, but only one child and a score of twenty-three points.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory went for a different strategy, starting by going for lots of food, and support for getting food later.  In particular he made good use of his Mushroom Picker.  Building his food engine so early enabled him to grow his family early in the game giving him extra actions.  These he used to quietly collect lots of resources, which enabled him to build a large field for sheep.  He then enclosed second pasture and just swiped a field full for boar before Green got them. He only ploughed late (perhaps it was the snowy landscape that delayed him), but his early food strategy really paid off.  All his extra cards were valuable too and added ten points to his score, giving him a total of forty-one points and victory by a sizeable margin, despite Green’s inadvertent cheating!

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as Agricola came to an end, Splendor finished too.  So, after helping to shoe-horn the miriad of little pieces back into the boxes, Ivory and Green headed off leaving Black to join the others.  The ever dwindling numbers were boosted with the arrival of Pine, who had been two-timing us with the WI – he said they had the lowest average age of any WI he’d ever come across, so maybe that was the appeal.  The remaining five gamers felt there was time for one more game, as long as we could keep it to about forty-five minutes.  We are not the quickest at playing, or choosing and time was beginning to get tight, so we opted for Bohnanza as it played quicker than other suggestions and it wouldn’t need any rules reminders (like 11 Nimmt! and Port Royal).  The game is one of our old staples, is quick to learn and keeps everyone involved throughout.  The key to the game is that players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand and must play them in the order they arrive.  Thus, on their turn, the active player first plays the first card in their hand with the option of playing the second if they desire.  Once they’ve been planted, two cards are drawn which can be traded, but must be planted by someone.  This can lead to free gifts, but also players being nasty and refusing to take even the apparently most lucrative trades.

– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Pine was making up for lost time, and the well-known good nature of the WI hadn’t rubbed off.  He accused Burgundy of just about everything he could think of, in an effort to persuade everyone else not to trade with him. Black had one of his worst games for a long time with all the wrong cards coming up at the wrong time giving him nothing to work with.  Otherwise it was a very tight game. In the dying turns, despite Black’s protestations, Purple and Pine both gave Blue exceptionally favourable trades (possibly in an effort to square things from earlier, but more likely to ensure that Burgundy didn’t win – again).  Much to Pine’s surprise, that left him in joint first place with Blue, one coin ahead of Burgundy (possibly the most important factor to him).  Feeling she had been gifted a joint win by Pine’s generosity at the end, Blue offered to concede to Pine, but on checking the rules he won anyhow on the tie-breaker, as the player with the most cards in hand at the end.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Learning Outcome:  Cheating doesn’t pay.

Deutscher Spiele Preis – 2016

In 1990 the German magazine “Die Pöppel-Revue” introduced The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize, which is now awarded annually at the Internationale Spieltage, Essen.  Whereas the Spiel des Jahres rewards family games, the Deutscher Spiele Preis is awarded based on votes from votes from the industry’s stores, magazines, professionals and game clubs, so it tends to reflect “gamers games” and is usually more in line with the Kennerspiel des Jahres.  This year the award went to Mombasa with the Spiel des Jahres winner Codenames in second.  Spiel des Jahres nominees Karuba and Imhotep also featured in the top ten as well as this years winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King.

Mombasa
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In Mombasa, players acquire company shares with the aim of earning the most money.  The game features a unique, rotating-display hand-mechanism that drives game play. Each round players choose action cards from their hand, then reveal them simultaneously and carry out the actions. These cards are then placed in a discard pile, and the previously played cards recovered for the subsequent round.  The company boards are double-sided, so games vary quite a lot depending on which tracks are revealed and which companies they are asigned to.
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Mombasa
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos