Tag Archives: Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King

21st July 2020 (Online)

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

Llandudno
Image by Lime

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

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

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

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Image by boardGOATS

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

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Image by boardGOATS

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

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Image by boardGOATS

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

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Image by boardGOATS

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

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Image by boardGOATS

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

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Image by boardGOATS

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

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Image by boardGOATS

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

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Image by boardGOATS

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

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Image by boardGOATS

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

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Image by boardGOATS

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

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Image by boardGOATS

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

Stanley Unwin
– Image from televisionheaven.co.uk

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

6 Nimmt!
Image by boardGOATS

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

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

Somethings don’t change not matter what you do and Purple seemed to have an uncanny knack of picking a card that went in just the wrong place.  Nobody really understood how, but Pink won the first round—not to say that Pink shouldn’t have won, just that everyone was so busy trying to work out what was going on and why, that nobody was watching what Pink was doing!  It was an absolute hoot though, and when Pink said he thought it was time he went to bed Blue commented that it wasn’t fair for him to leave without giving everyone else a chance to challenge him to another game. So, only slightly reluctantly, he stayed for one more game. This was just as crazy as the first and just as much fun too.  This time it was very close between Black and Blue, with Blue just edging it.  But the winner wasn’t important, it was all about the game.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

3rd March 2020

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

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

5th February 2019

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Chess
– Image by Unsplash contributor sk

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

Go
– Original image by Tomasz_Mikolajczyk on pixabay.com

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

Go
– Original image by Przemek Pietrak on flickr.com

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

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essen 2018

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

Essen 2018
– Image from spiel-messe.com

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

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

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

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

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Mayfair
– Image from twitter.com

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

Lookout Spiel
– Image from lookout-spiele.de

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

Asmodee
– Image from lookout-spiele.de

Essen 2017

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

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag-en.com

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

Keyper
– Image used with permission of designer Richard Breese

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

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.

26th July 2016

To celebrate Codenames winning the Spiel des Jahres Award, this week it was our “Feature Game”.   Although the game seems to be very, very popular, it definitely has the “Marmite Factor” amongst our group.  It also really needs a group of a reasonable size.  Since it is relatively quick, even the most reluctant agreed to give it a go, especially as Cerise had made it for the first time in ages and it was a game she had really enjoyed last time we played it.  It was also Turquoise’s first visit, so a team game seemed a good way of starting.  The idea of the game is that there are two rival teams of Spies, each with a leader or Spymaster.  The Spies are trying to locate their Agents, but these are only known by their Codenames, and only the Spymasters have the key to who is on which team.  The Codenames are laid out on the table in a five by five array where everyone can see them together with some innocent bystanders and an Assassin.  The Spymasters then take it in turns to give clues to their team so that the Spies can identify their own team’s Agents by pointing at them.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

Clues are of the form “word; number”, where “word” is a clue that connects several cards and “Number” is the number of connected cards.  For example, the clue “bird; three” might connect “sparrow”, “beak” and “Naomi Campbell”.  The team then discuss the clue and point to code cards, one at a time.  If they get it wrong, their turn ends straight away, so ideally they should start with the answers they think are most obvious.  If the Codename corresponds to one of their agents, then the team can guess again, and keep trying until they have exhausted their theoretical maximum number cards that match the clue (three in the example).  Importantly, the only measure of “correct” is whether the Codename is one of the Agents, the agent chosen does not actually have to match the current clue.  So, a team who can’t make sense of a clue or identify all the Codenames may decide point to a Codename that matches a clue given earlier in the game.  For this reason, when a team get all their theoretical maximum number of Codenames for that turn right, they also get one extra chance.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

So, the trick is for the leader to come up with clues that cover multiple correct answers so that the rest of the team can identify the complete set before the opposition identify all theirs. Unfortunately, we had a particularly unconnected set of words and two Spymasters, Blue and Burgundy, who were particularly useless at this sort of thing.  Consequently there were lots of clues like “continent; one”, and when Blue got adventurous and went for “music; two” she totally confused her team and was perilously close to a hint that could lead to the Assassin (Codename “Snowman”) and bring the game to an abrupt end.  “Zooloretto; two” also fell on stony ground since nobody on Blue’s team had actually played it (where everyone in Burgundy’s team had).  The game remained finely balanced as Blue continued to try to give slightly more adventurous clues which her team didn’t always get, while Burgundy played safe with smaller clues that his team understood.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

It all came to a head when, with only two Agents left to find, Burgundy decided to be adventurous and gave the clue “film; two”.  His team quickly got one of them, “Alien”, but the second was more tricky.  Green thought it was probably “forest” (as in “The Forest Moon of Endor”), but could also be several other things.  Cerise, on the opposite team leant a hand and suggested that it could be “wind” as in “Gone with the…”  or maybe “snowman”.  Meanwhile, Burgundy remained stony-faced, in what were very trying circumstances.  Eventually the team ignored Cerise (who had managed to suggest both the correct answer and the Assassin), which gave Blue and her team one last chance.  With only one Agent left to guess, there was only a short pause before they finished the game.  There was a big sigh of relief all round as everyone was put out of their misery, particularly Blue and Burgundy who had found the whole clue-giving experience very stressful indeed.  Unquestionably, with the right crowd Codenames could be great fun, but sadly, we just aren’t it, so it is unlikely to get another outing in the near future – definitely not our group’s Spiel des Jahres this year.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

With that over, we decided to split into two groups.  Black and Purple were keen to give Imhotep a try (one of the other Spiel des Jahres Award nominees), as they had wanted to play it at the UK Games Expo, but it had been constantly booked out of the games library.  Burgundy had played it (also at Expo, with Blue and Pink), had enjoyed it and was happy to give it another go, so Green made up a group of four.  As well as being the key protagonist in the film, “The Mummy”, Imhotep was also a priest and a great architect.  So 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; 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.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Admittedly the lovely big wooden blocks make this game feel like a “junior” board game, but Imhotep is anything but.  It is one of those games that is easy to learn but difficult to master. Although players have a range of options, trying to decide which one is best depends on what has already transpired, what opponents do and how the game will develop.  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”.  It turns out the cubes are large for a good reason:  stacking cubes is a key part of the game and anything smaller would make a very wobbly obelisk.  There are four ships and five building locations, so one doesn’t get visited and the round ends when all four boats have sailed.  There are six rounds in total 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
– Image by boardGOATS

Once everything was set up, the game got under way, but then almost stalled. Nobody had any idea what should be a good opening gambit.  Placing a cube on a ship was the easy choice, but which ship and in which position?  After some head scratching, everyone began placing cubes on boats, making plans where wanted the ships should go, waiting for them to be full, when suddenly, Purple jumped the gun and sent the first boat on its way.  She chose a boat with one cube of each of her competitors and sent it build an Obelisk, catching everyone by surprise.  It wasn’t a particularly bad place to go, but the obelisk doesn’t score until the end and since the highest scores are for the tallest towers, it might not actually be the most efficient use of a cube, especially so early in the game.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The rest of the first round continued to be a lesson in frustration as each of the other boats ended up somewhere other than where players had planned. The next boat went to the Burial Chambers (another scoring at the end of the game), the third to the Wall (scored at the end of the round, but only one point per cube) and the last went to the Market to get cards. As Green was first on the boat he had the first choice of the cards available and based on that first boat he chose the card that gave him an extra point for every 3 cubes in the Obelisk (any three cubes, not just his own).  Now no-one other than Green wanted a boat to go to the Obelisk.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The second round began a little more cautiously.  Everyone had a better idea of how the round would go and began placing their cubes in particular positions on the ships.  The game continued to frustrate everyone as the ships just wouldn’t go where players wanted them to go.  This is frustration is similar to that in Zooloretto where players place animals on trucks, but have to wait until the next turn to collect them, if someone else hasn’t got there first, of course.  In Imhotep, it was usually pretty obvious where players wanted the boat to go, so someone else almost always got there first to send it somewhere else!

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The unusual scoring of the Pyramid (not steadily increasing or decreasing points) meant that everyone tried to position themselves carefully for that optimum high scoring space, but no-one ever managed to get the boat set up quite how they wanted.  As a result, again no boat went to the pyramid.  The obelisks grew, and the pattern of the Burial Chamber was going in Black and Burgundy’s favour and the Wall scored a few more points, mostly for Purple. The Wall was beginning to show its strength as a cube placed there can score round after round until it is covered – potentially scoring well.  The market cards were dolled out, with Burgundy and Black both taking a blue extra action cards for later use. Green wasn’t sure what to take and ended up with a purple end game scoring card which would only come into it’s own if he could collect a few more.  In the third round the pyramid finally got started, in Black’s favour. The game continued in much the same way, individual plans were more and more obvious and as a result became harder and harder to fulfil.  The trouble was, in taking an action to scupper someone else it often helped a different player or upset their own plans.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

By the end of the game nobody was sure who the winner was going to be.   Before adding all the end-game scores, Burgundy was ahead of Black and Purple, with Green trailing behind.  Everyone had managed a couple of areas in the Burial Chamber, but despite best efforts to scupper him, Burgundy still had the largest area.  The Obelisks had become a fraught battle field at the end.  Black had thrown down the gauntlet to take a boat there which only had two of his cubes and pushed him into the lead, but in the penultimate round Green had sailed a sneaky little single cube boat which made his tower equal.  By making sure that he placed a cube in any boat that Black had used, Green then ensuring that he would at least share the Obelisk spoils. The presence of a single cube boat in that last round, was interesting, but no-one wanted to use it as it was guaranteed that the cube would get taken to the least useful dock, so in the end the Obelisk scores for first and second place were shared between Black and Green with Purple and Burgundy sharing the scores for third and fourth place.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

With Black now several points ahead, Burgundy and Green were vying for second with only the the green and purple end-game scoring cards left, though only Black and Green had any.  Black scored points for every three cubes in the burial chamber, which extended his lead and now looked unassailable.  Green got his Obelisk cubes score, which proved to be the same as Black took for the burial chamber, but with three purple cards giving him another six points he leap-frogged over Black to win by one point.  It was an incredibly close game which suggests that where cubes go may not matter as much as it feels like it should.  On one hand, this seems like a good thing as it relieves the pressure of all those boats going to the “wrong place”, but on the other hand it may suggest the game is a little too balanced making strategy play is less important, which would be a great shame.  Everyone really enjoyed it, however, and would definitely play it again especially as it plays quickly and the alternative tile options look as though they would add variety and new challenges to the game keeping it fresh.  For our group, from the nominations list, this would definitely have been our choice of Spiel des Jahres.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, everyone else was engaged in a brutal game of Colt Express, the worthy winner of last year’s Spiel des Jahres.  This is a programming game, where players take it in turns to choose the cards to they will play, but only action them after everyone has chosen.  Since everyone then takes it in turns to carry out their actions, the game is full of unforeseen consequences.  The game has a Western theme and is played on a fabulous three-dimensional train.  The idea is that each player is a bandit attacking the train trying to move about to pick up cash and jewels while avoiding the Marshall and shooting each other.  Although we’ve played this a few times, we had a couple of people who hadn’t played it before so we had a quick run-down of the rules first.  Each player starts with the same deck of action cards and six bullet cards.  A round card dictates how many cards will be played and how (face up or down; in pairs or singly) and players each shuffle their action deck and draw six cards.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Players then take it in turns to play the action cards.  At the beginning of a round everyone can see where everyone else is and it is easy to choose which card to play and predict its outcome.  Before long, however, things begin to become unpredictable and by the time players have to choose a second card it is highly likely that plans will have gone awry, though of course, nobody know this yet.  Once the cards have all been played, the pile of cards is turned over and the cards are actioned in the order that they were played.  It is only at this point that people realise the mistakes they’ve unwittingly made, shooting nobody or the wrong person, trying to pick up jewels that aren’t there or finding they’ve got nowhere to go because the Marshal is in the way and has screwed up their plans.  As the game progresses, things get worse too since shooting someone involves passing them a bullet card.  This is added to their action deck, but is a dead card and gives no possible actions.  Multiple bullet cards means the chance of drawing them increases making the action cards drawn all the more precious and adding pressure to make the maximum use of them.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Colt Express is a light, fun game and inevitably, someone gets picked on.  This time Blue was the victim (playing the character Django).  Magenta (playing the innocent looking Belle) started using Blue for target practice, but Cerise (Doc) was very quick to join in the fun.  Blue did her best to escape and briefly managed to grab the $1,000 strongbox (gold bar in our version of the game) before Magenta biffed her soundly on the nose and nabbed it.  Meanwhile, Cerise and Turquoise were doing an excellent job of gathering up the loot and robbing the passengers blind, before they decided to try to empty their revolvers.  Obviously, this was mostly at Blue’s expense and with so many bullet cards she struggled to do anything, but that didn’t put people off of course.  Before long even the Marshall was getting in on the act and, much to her disgust, Blue finished the game with more bullets than action cards and no money or gems at all.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

For everyone else, however, the game was quite close.  Magenta had managed to hang onto the gold bar (aka strongbox) and one gem, but it wasn’t enough to compete with Turquoise and Cerise.  Turquoise had picked up a massive five money purses while Cerise added the Sharp Shooter bonus to her one gem and single purse.  Much to our surprise, both totalled $1,850 which meant we had to check the rules for a tie-breaker.  It turned out this was the number of bullets received, which meant that even though she was a long way from competing, Blue had an influence on the result.  As well as being a bullet-magnet, Blue had just about managed to fire a couple of shots in return.  Cerise had been one of the main attackers, so she had caught a few of Blue’s bullets as well as a couple of Magenta’s.  Since Turquoise had rarely fired at anyone, she had picked up just two bullets and with it, her second win of the evening, with Cerise getting her comeuppance.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor lacxox

With it nearing “pumpkin time” for Magenta and Turquoise, there was just time for one last quick game and, almost inevitably, that was 6 Nimmt!.  How this game is still interesting for our group, is a bit of a mystery.  It is short, everyone is always happy to play it and, since it has such a small footprint, it gets brought every week which means it is there when the occasion is right, the mystery though is why people haven’t got bored when other games have long since fallen off the radar.  This time Purple started badly picking up twenty Nimmts in the first round while Turquoise began with a clean sheet.  Burgundy started well with just two Nimmts, but since he always has one good round and one bad, everyone was just waiting for him to start collecting cards in the second round.  Magenta and Blue both had consistently low scores, but they weren’t low enough, and while Purple also made a virtue of consistency, that’s not so good when the scores are both high.  Sadly, Turquoise was forced to pick up a couple of high-scoring of cards while Burgundy, very unusually managed to string two good rounds together.  With a clear round for his second, Burgundy took the game with a total of just two Nimmts, beating Turquoise into second place.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

With Cerise, Magenta and Turquoise heading off, that left a short hour for something else.  Black was keen to play Isle of Skye, the winner of this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres, but Green somehow hadn’t played it and we debated whether it would overrun.  Before long we’d prevaricated enough to definitely rule it out due to lack of time and we started hunting round for something else.  In the end we settled on The Game, a nice little cooperative card game that was nominated for last year’s Spiel des Jahres.  We played this quite a bit for a while, but somehow it has fallen out of favour a little of late, but for no very good reason.  The rules are simple: on their turn, the active player lays a minimum of two cards on any of the four piles following the appropriate trend – two piles must always increase, two decrease; the exception to this is if you can play a card where the interval is exactly ten in the wrong direction (known as “The Backwards Rule”).  Players can talk about anything so long as there is no specific number information given and the aim is to cooperatively get rid of all ninety-eight cards by playing them on to the four piles.

The Game
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The Game started badly and then it got worse.  Before long we were wondering whether we were even going to get through the deck.  Our excuse was that the game is harder with five, but that may or may not actually be the case.  Eventually, we finally managed to exhaust the draw deck, leaving just the cards in hand, but it was inevitable that we weren’t going to be able to place every card as several players had lots of very low cards in a run.  In the end we finished with eight unplayable cards.  We felt we might have been able to place a couple more with a bit more planning, discussion and thought at the end, but everyone was tired and it was home time, so our collective competitive streak had deserted us.  Maybe it will come back for next time…

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Prize-winning games can be a little bit hit and miss and depend strongly on the group too.