Tag Archives: Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King

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 International 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

6th September 2016

Pink (making one of his rare appearances) arrived first with Red and Magenta, closely followed by Blue and then Burgundy.  So, with the food order done, we scratched about for something quick to play when Red suggested a little card game called Unter Spannung (aka 7 Ate 9).  This was a game she had picked up in Germany a week earlier when she’d been travelling and had found herself unable to resist spending all her money in a toy shop.  Although the rules were in German, Red and Blue had managed to come up with a translation and had played it quite extensively when they had been away in Switzerland for work.  Neither Red nor Blue speak any German, so they weren’t certain that they were playing correctly, but they had found it to be fun all the same and taught everyone else the same way.

Unter Spannung
– Image by boardGOATS

They described Unter Spannung as “Dobble with maths” and basically, the idea is that each player starts with a hand of four cards and a deck of cards that they must try to get rid of.  Each card has a number on the corner (the face value) and a modifier in the centre (of the form ±1, ±3 or ±3).  The game begins with a single face up card in the centre and simultaneously everyone tries to play a card where the face value matches the total for the centre card (i.e. the face value plus or minus the modifier).  Thus, if the card in the middle is 8±1, players can play any card with a face value of seven or nine.  The snag is that cards are only numbered one to ten, so the the maths gets a little more tricky.  For example, 8±3 is five or eleven, but since there is no eleven, it becomes one.  Simple enough, though at the lower end things become more difficult as negative numbers don’t simply become positive, rather, zero becomes ten and any negative must be subtracted from this.  So, 1±3 is four or minus two which in turn becomes eight…

Unter Spannung
– Image by boardGOATS

Like Dobble, cards are placed simultaneously in a frantic rush and the card then played becomes the new top card, which causes mayhem when someone has just got there first.  Unlike Dobble, players start with a hand of four cards but can add cards whenever they want, so as soon as there is a bit of a lull in placing cards everyone frantically draws cards from their deck.  The first player to get rid of all their cards (hand and deck) is the winner.  Although the game nominally only plays four, we added an extra and just played a slightly short round.  Red and Blue had an inevitable advantage having played before, and everyone else struggled to get their heads round it.  The first round went to Red who stomped her authority on the game early on.  Then Burgundy’s food arrived which he used as an excuse to duck out of the second round which Blue took having warmed up a little.

Unter Spannung
– Image by boardGOATS

With food and gamers arriving thick and fast, there was a brief hiatus, before we split into three groups.  The first group (Black and Purple) began their belated supper while Red, Blue, Pink and Magenta began the “Feature Game”, which was The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction.  This is a fairly short resource conversion card game based on The Manhattan Project boardgame.  In this simpler, card game version, players are firstly mining to create yellowcake, then purifying the yellowcake to get uranium which they can then use to make a bomb.  Players start with a hand of five cards, each of which is dual function, providing either an action or a people.  In order to get the yellowcake players need people to do the mining and then a mining card.  There are several different types of people:  labourers, engineers, scientists, etc.  These can be provided directly by cards, or using people and location cards to generate larger numbers or people with different skills. For example, a University can be used to create engineers or scientists.  Combining these with enrichment plant cards and yellowcake gives players uranium which in turn allows players to claim one of the face up bomb cards.  When acquired, these can be augmented by the addition of a bomb-loading card which also comes at a price.

The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction
– Image by boardGOATS

All the cards come in a range of input requirements and outputs, but in general, the more expensive cards give richer rewards.  There are always several bomb cards available and the game end is triggered when one player achieves a total of ten megatonnes of bomb (including any bomb-loading cards).  The rules were a little bit difficult to disentangle somehow so it took us a while to really get to grips with what should have been a fairly simple game and there was a high chance that the player who understood first would win.  In the event, luck played a fairly large part too as there are additional special cards.  These are important as the hand-limit of five cards is quite restrictive and the special cards can enable players to get extras. It was Pink who managed to get the first bomb card, although Red and Magenta both had substantial piles of uranium and yellowcake respectively.  Then from no-where, Blue suddenly built a seven megatonne bomb, quickly followed by Red and Magenta.  It was all too late though as Pink finished the game and with it comprehensively won.  In truth this isn’t really the sort of theme our group usually go for, and with a fairly heavy slice of luck and slightly rough roles we made heavy weather of it.  That said, we felt it was definitely worth playing again.

The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Green, Ivory, Pine and Burgundy played Imhotep, one of the nominees for the Spiel des Jahres this year.  We played it a few weeks back in July and it went down quite well, so since Green wasn’t able to stay for long it was a good opportunity for a second outing.  In this game, players take the role of builders in Egypt who are trying to emulate Imhotep.  The premise of the game is very simple.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions:  procure new stones (very large wooden blocks); 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 and, as we discovered last time, other players have the ability to screw up even the best laid plans.  Thus, the challenge is to work out how to accomplish strategies when the boats rarely go where you want them to.  There were two players who were new to the game this time, but it is easy to explain and play, although it is much much harder to work out where to place cubes in the boats and when to move things.  It usually takes a couple of rounds for the game to settle in and for patterns to emerge, and this time was no different.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the dust from the early quarry blocks had settled, Green had a one block lead in the obelisk (he had used the Obelisk to good effect last time out and narrowly won that game), Pine already had a good area in the Burial Chamber, Burgundy was big in the pyramid and Ivory had a smattering of cubes in most places.  When a boat with a single cube space appeared, Green decided to take a punt on it and see where he ended up. Surprisingly it stayed put until all the other boats had been docked, leaving it with just two choices: the Pyramid for four points or the obelisk to extend Green’s lead there to two cubes. Pine was first to have to make that decision, and chose to defer it by cutting more blocks from the quarry, Ivory and Burgundy followed and did likewise leaving Green with a free choice.  His supply of blocks was looking a bit thin though compared to the others and so he also chose to re-stock leaving Pine no choice since his sled was full.  After deliberation between the others (no-one wanted Green’s advice) he chose the obelisk and Green was pleased with two cube lead as he thought it would be quite easy to maintain.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game progressed everyone became more wily at positioning stones on the boats, and Pine was prevented from increasing the size of his Burial Chamber group and no-one else could get a larger grouping than two either!  The ‘Wall’ received a number of cubes this game, including quite a few of Ivory’s, and eventually it reached the third level.  Burgundy continued to dominate the Pyramid, while the the obelisk continued to grow and Burgundy was began to make inroads to Green’s lead, while Pine kept a watching brief in third.  By the latter part of the game everyone was so focused on their own strategies that they often failed to notice Burgundy attempting to dominate one particular boat.  The first time he did this he managed to collect two purple statue cards in one turn and the second time he got two cubes into the obelisk (although Green jumped aboard at the last minute to limit the damage). In the penultimate round, Burgundy had got three stones on a four stone ship.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Green was next and a quick count suggested that if this were to go to the obelisk it would lose him the lead.  So, he felt he had no choice; that boat had to dock somewhere else and he chose the Pyramid as the least damage, though it still netted Burgundy six points.  That gave Pine an opening to get a couple of his stones to the obelisk so that he overtook Burgundy, pushing him into second.  Going into the final round, the writing was on the wall.  Burgundy could no longer win the Obelisk win, and as long as Green placed a stone on the same boat as Pine, he was guaranteed the full fifteen points for first place (as last time).  Otherwise it was mostly just a mopping up exercise to get the most points possible with the last stones.  Both Burgundy and Ivory had managed two or three purple statue cards and so the final scoring was tight.  Despite being the only one without a green bonus scoring card (which gives points for the total number of cubes in the different areas), Green still finished a couple of points ahead of Pine in what was another close and enjoyable game.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finishing, Black and Purple having consumed their supper and Green heading off, it looked like it was change.  However, in the event, Green was directly replaced by Black and Purple and the other group began another game of Imhotep.  The game has an in-built expansion as each location board has a second side with slightly more involved building options.  For example, while Side A has just one large Pyramid, Side B has three smaller Pyramids and players choose which one to add their cube to.  Pink, who had played Side A at the UK Games Expo, was keen to give the alternative options a try.  It turned out that these actually add quite a bit to the complexity as they add another layer to the decision making.  This is because instead of just considering what everyone would get at each location, players have to consider what everyone will do at each location and what this will give them.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

So for example, instead of just looking at where all the cubes will go in the Pyramid and what they will score, the active player now has to consider which Pyramid each player will pick and what that leaves for everyone else.  For this reason, it possibly wasn’t the best choice for a first game.  As a result, as they had not played it before, both Red and Magenta struggled with trying to work out what they were trying to do and what strategies would work best.  In the early stages, it was all very tentative.  Instead of just building the highest, on Side B, points are awarded throughout the game for “mini-obelisks” containing just three blocks, though the early mini-obelisks are worth more.  Blue got an early start with Pink following in second place.  Meanwhile, Red and Magenta scooped up some of the early Market cards, correctly thinking they were important, hoping that it would allow them to learn what else might be a good strategy.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

It was in the third round it became apparent that we had a problem on our hands as Pink had taken a bit of a run-away lead in the Temple.  When playing with Side A players add cubes to a row of five blocks, with additional blocks going into the second and eventually third rows.  Points are scored at the end of the round for each stone delivered that is visible from above.  With Side B, blocks are added in  the same way, but the bonus are different.  Thus, the first “space” on the alter will give one point or two extra wooden blocks.  Other spaces give Market cards and even two points making it quite lucrative.  Unfortunately, for the rest of us, Pink had somehow managed to steal a march on the rest of us.  He then made a point of sending a small boats there which meant his early blocks continued to work for him well beyond their usual lifetime.  This was not helped by the fact that Pink also contrived to ensure that the little boats contained his blocks, so any that were covered were covered by his own blocks so he continued to benefit. Blue, having played the game before could see the problem and managed to muscle in a little, but it was slow and Pink stormed into the lead with nothing anyone else could do about it.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Blue and Magenta managed to break Pink’s strangle-hold on the Temple, while Red began to fall behind but continued to collect purple Statue cards stacking up points for the end of the game.  Magenta gradually began to dominate in the Burial Chamber too.  With Side A, the blocks are placed in position in strict rotation and the each player scores points for their largest contiguous area according to the Triangular Number Series.  With Side B, however, each row of blocks is evaluated independently and eight points awarded to the person with the most blocks in the row, with four points for second place and two for third.  With three rows, a player who goes into this heavily can pick up a lot of points which is exactly what Magenta did, winning two and coming placing on the third as well.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

With the game coming to a close, we all thought Pink had it in the bag, but we still had the end game scoring cards to count up.  Sadly, Red’s Statues didn’t get her quite as many as we thought, but it was very close with both Pink and Magenta finishing with forty-two points.  Blue just managed to squeak ahead though finishing with forty-three in what turned out to be yet another tight game.  So that was three out of three as it had been close first time we played as well when Green had won, taking the Obelisk.  This led some of us to speculate whether the Obelisk is perhaps a little too powerful.  Although it has featured heavily in all three games, the games have all been exceptionally close so the jury is still out.  Now that we know it is a potential game changer though, next time there might be more blocks placed there and a greater battle for supremacy. In turn that could let someone else slip through and score heavily elsewhere which could make it interesting.  It’ll probably get another outing soon as we can’t let Green remain unbeaten.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

While the second game of Imhotep was going on, at Blue’s suggestion, the other group got on with Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King.  This won the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year and has proved very popular with our group as there is quite a bit of variability in the set up ensuring the games remain interesting.  Despite the fact that she wasn’t playing, it was Blue’s suggestion as she knew that Black, Burgundy and Pine liked it a lot and thought that Ivory might appreciate it too.  Borrowing heavily from tile-laying games like Carcassonne, Isle of Skye is a much deeper game without adding an awful lot to the rules.  The idea is that players draw three tiles from a bag and and then secretly choose one to discard and set prices for the other two.  This is done by placing the tiles in front of a screen and a discard token and money for the player’s stash behind.  The money remains in place for the duration of the round, unless the corresponding tile is purchased by another player.

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

This mechanism is very clever as if nobody else wants the tile, then the player uses the money to purchase it themselves.  Thus, it is critically important to correctly evaluate the worth of the tile, depending on whether it is most desirable to sell it or keep it.  The other clever part of the game is the scoring:  This is mostly carried out at the end of each of the six rounds.  At the start of the game, four scoring tiles are drawn at random and these are used in different combinations at the end of the rounds in such a way that each appears a total of three times, but only one is used in the first round while three are used in the final round.  This time, the first two scoring tiles drawn both rewarded mountain ranges, so although this could have made for an interesting, competitive game, in the interests of balance, we decided to chuck them back and start again.

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

The four scoring tiles were: five points for the player with the most money and two for the player with the next most (A); two points for each cow on the road connected to the castle (B); three points for each vertical row with more than three tiles (C) and one point for each completed terrain (D).  Burgundy started collecting cattle while Black went for sheep.  Maybe it was because Black got there first, or perhaps it was because someone misheard, but Pine (who can usually be counted on to go for a woolly fleece) tried to use ships to build his score.  Purple isn’t a great whiskey drinker, but as usual, she built her strategy on a foundation of barrels.  This didn’t leave much for Ivory, but there is always someone who struggles with a lack of cash and someone else who seems unnecessarily flush.  This time it was Ivory who made a killing on his tiles and with money in the scoring tiles it guaranteed him a solid number of points to build on.  It was a another close game  with only five points between first and third.  It was Burgundy who just pipped Black to finish in front however, with Pine a close third.

Unter Spannung
– Image by boardGOATS

Red and Magenta were about to make a move, but with Isle of Skye still going, they stuck about for a couple more rounds of Unter Spannung, which Red and Blue took again, though it was a bit closer this time.  As the other group finished and Ivory headed off too, the rump were left to play one last game.  Black had been keen to play Pi mal Pflaumen, but had missed out when it was the “Feature Game” a few weeks back, so he was very keen to give it a go.  This game is a relatively simple little card game, but one that we struggled with the rules for last time and contrived to make a bit of a mess of this time too. Pi mal Pflaumen (or “Oh my Plums!” as we call it in a sideways reference to another little card game, Oh My Goods!), is a trick taking game with elements of set collecting and lovely artwork.  The idea is that each card features a fruit, a number and most also have some sort of special action.  Each player begins with a hand of cards and, starting with the start player, everyone takes it in turns to play one card.  Then, the player who played the highest value card chooses one of the cards which they place face up in a tableau in front of them, before they carry out the action associated with the card.

Pi Mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

There are several different special actions, it could be steal a card from another player; take the “watchdog” card (which guards against other players stealing cards), or take three “pi” cards.  Instead of an action, some cards indicate a scoring condition and the points awarded for achieving it.  These are of the form of, for example, ABC or AAA, indicating three different fruit or three identical fruit respectively.  The more fruit involved and the more similar the fruit, the more points they are worth.  When a player owns both the scoring card and the matching Fruit cards, they are all removed from their display and put to one side to score at the end of the game.  The game is played over three rounds and winner is the player with the most points at the end.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Last time we played, we had a fairly extensive discussion about the rules.  The rules are a little unclear:  they clearly state that “when a card is taken you must immediately carryout its action”, but they don’t make it clear whether this applies to claiming points on “Fruit Mix” cards as well.  We couldn’t remember how we played last time, but this time we played that points could only be claimed when the card was taken (with cards in the player’s tableau used to fulfill the condition).  In an added complication, we also had to decide what implications this had for cards that players have stolen.  The rules state that “you can immediately use a stolen card to create a Fruit Mix”.  Initially we presumed that this applied only to the fruit mix cards, but a little doubt began to set in.  Checking the rules fora online after the event suggested that Fruit Mix cards from the tableau could also be claimed, and the key phrase in the rules stated that “one or more Fruit Mixes” can be claimed when a card is taken, which is only possible if cards in the tableau are used, but this only became apparent some time after the game.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

It was another tight game with everyone claiming some low scoring Fruit Mixes in the first round, but Burgundy took a slight lead making him a target for the rest of the game.  In the second and third round, the value of the fruit mixes on the cards increases adding a bit of all or nothing element to the game.  For example, Blue had spent much of the game with low cards and, as a result had ended up taking the last card more than her fair share.  The last card comes with a bonus “Plum” card though, so if she had managed to pick up the twenty-five, she could have claimed a massive twelve points for a total of four Plum cards.  Purple did her best to help Blue out, but Black had a large pile of π cards and with Burgundy and Pink’s help was able to control things.  In the end it was Pink who finished with the most points, just three clear of Blue with Black in third place.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Well balanced games also make for tight results.