Tag Archives: Istanbul

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

4th October 2016

It was a quiet night, thanks to illness, work and other commitments.  There were still enough of us to split into two small groups, the first of which settled down to play Endeavor.  This is a game we’ve played a couple of times this year and still proves quite popular.  This time, only Green had played it before and Grey and Ivory were unfamiliar with it, so it was necessary to have a complete run-down of the rules.  The game is played over seven rounds, each of which consists of four phases:  Building, Population, Income and Action.  The idea is that players have four status tracks, one each for Industry, Culture, Finance and Politics, which roughly correspond to the four phases of the game and dictate what players are allowed to do at each stage.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players begin by choosing a building, some of which provide an increase in one (or more) of the four status tracks, some provide actions, while most others do a mixture of both.  Players then move population markers from their general supply to their harbour according to their current culture level.  A strong population is essential as it ultimately limits the number of actions players can take on their turn.  The income phase allows players to move some of their workers from buildings back into their harbour as dictated by their current level on the income track.  These add to the population players have available to do things with, while also making space on the buildings so that these actions are available for re-use.  The first three phases of each round are mostly just preparation and book-keeping; the guts of each round are in the final phase, where players take it in turns to carryout an action of their choice.  There are five basic actions: Taking Payment, Shipping, Occupying, Attacking, and Drawing Cards.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

In order to carryout an action, players must activate an appropriate building by moving a population marker from their harbour to the building.  In the case of shipping, occupying and attacking, the actions are carried out on the central, communal player board.  To ship, after activating an appropriate building, players can move one of the population markers to one of the six shipping tracks and take the token that was on the space.  These tokens are useful as they add to the status tracks, but some also give a free action.  Shipping is also important as it gives players a presence in a region which is necessary for occupying, attacking and drawing cards.  When a player places the last token on a shipping track, The Governor card from the top of the pile in the region is allocated and the region is considered “open”.  This means that players who already have a presence in the region can also occupy the cities within the region. This gives both tokens and victory points, but where a player occupies a city that is connected to another city they already occupy, they get an extra token, which can be very valuable, as well as providing extra points at the end of the game.  This makes position very important, but if someone occupies a city that another player wants, one option is attacking.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

This is carried out in the same way as occupying, but is a separate action and costs an additional population marker.  Occupying a region also adds to a players presence in the region: players can also draw the top card from a region’s stack and add it to their player-board, so long as their total presence in the region is higher than the card number.  Cards are important as they also add to the status tracks as well as provide victory points, however there is a card limit which is enforced when a player passes at the end of the round and any status track points gained with the card are lost when cards are discarded.  Once everyone has completed one action phase players continue taking it turns until everyone passes.  Thus, the final possible action is taking payment which is the simplest action and allows players to move one of their population markers back to the harbour so that they can re-use the building in the same round. In addition to the five basic actions, some of the more expensive buildings provide a choice or even a combination of two of the basic actions.  After seven rounds, points are awarded for cities, for connections between cities, for progress up status tracks, cards, some special buildings, and any left-over population markers.

Endeavor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

It was an inauspicious start: Grey was unhappy with the name, it hurt his language sensibilities, and he was very concerned as to where the “u” had gone.  Green was definitely at an advantage as the only person to have played the game before, but he did his best to guide the others for their first few turns. In truth, there is very little choice to be made in the first round or so, however, what choice there is tends to turn out to be critical by the end of the game.  With so little decision to make, the first round is always over in a flash, though the later rounds take progressively longer as the game goes on.  Ivory and Green both started building Workshops for the extra brick, while Grey went for a Shipyard and started to ship. In the second round, Ivory and Green’s Workshop enabled them to build more valuable buildings and Ivory took a Guildhall to get in on the shipping act, while Green declined the extra brick and went for the Shipyard. This gave him a second green population token and popped him over into gaining three population markers.  As the fog of first game confusion began to clear for Grey, he saw the advantage of the Workshop, so took it at the second opportunity.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

The first few rounds raced past as everyone developed their own board, increased their  populations and took cities and shipping tracks, but some clear strategies were emerging.  Green had a large number of cities in central Europe and a smattering of shipping routes, but was pushing strongly for Africa (to make connections with his European cities and give some great bonus action chits). Ivory was also keeping a strong hold in Europe, but not so much on the shipping tracks, while Grey was concentrating on opening up India and the Far East. Ivory had built up a healthy row of cards, and although he was the only one to resort to slavery so far, it was only the one card.  In the fourth round Grey took the penultimate space on the India shipping track and gifted Green a super-turn, when he used his Dock to ship (thus opening up the region) and then occupied too. The newly occupied town linked to his European city and so he got that extra token too. Grey did get the bonus Governor card in consolation however.  And then, the regions tumbled, next were the Far East and then North America.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

By the fifth round, the first four cards in the central region had all been taken, and a quick count up showed Green had five cities. He waited until the sixth round and, since no-one had attacked him, he took the final card and abolished slavery. Luckily Ivory was not too badly affected by this and avoided the collapsing house of cards such an event can often trigger.  At the start of the final round, Grey spotted that Ivory had a cluster of four cities plus one in Africa: that gave him four connections.  He also noticed that there was one cornerstone city that connected them all. So he bravely marched in, took the losses involved in attack and swiped several points from Ivory in one go.  The final turns were used for mopping up as many points as possible and once everyone had passed, it was on to final scoring.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Not unexpectedly given his extra experience with the game, Green scored the most, with victory points from most areas.  Ivory was close behind in what had been a very enjoyable game.  In fact Grey had not only got over the mis-spelled title, but had enjoyed it so much that he went on to try to find a copy for himself.  Alas Endeavor is very out of print so if it can be found, it’s going to cost a pretty penny, which is a shame, as it is a really good game with good replay-ability, thanks to its random token layout.  On the adjacent table, there was much debate as to what to play, but eventually, the group settled on Istanbul, winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres two years ago.  We’ve played it a couple of times, but Pine was completely new to it, though both Blue and Red had played it before.  It is also a fairly simple game where players are trying to lead their Merchant and his four Assistants through the Turkish bazaar.  There are sixteen locations each with an associated action, but to carry out an action, the Merchant needs an Assistant to help out.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

The problem is, once an action has been completed, the Merchant must move on, however, an Assistant remains to complete the details of the transaction.  Thus, the Merchant can only carryout a transaction if he has the help of an Assistant.  When he runs out of Assistants, the Merchant cannot carryout a transaction and must either visit the Fountain and summon his Assistants or go back to stalls where the Assistants are to collect them.  The central play-area is made up of tiles representing each stall, so there are four possible layouts:  “Short”, where the distances between places that work well together are small making game-play easier; “Long”, where places that work well together are far apart, which forces players to plan ahead more; “Challenging”, where similar places are grouped together, and “Random”.  For this game, we chose “Long” routes to give us a slightly more interesting game.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Blue began by collecting money and visiting the Wainwright to build up the size of her cart, while Red began collecting the special tiles from the Mosque’s while they were still cheap.  Although Pine felt he understood the rules and the aim of the game perfectly, it took him a few rounds to work out how to go about making things work together effectively.  So it was that Blue just managed to get to the Jewelers before Pine and use a double card to buy two gems.  As Pine had only had the exact money for his own double gem purchase, he was now two Lira short and had to go and acquire more cash.  To add insult to injury, he had just acquired his extra Lira when Red pulled a similar trick and Pine had to go and find yet more cash.  While Blue and Pine were building piles of currency, Red was quietly collecting tiles from the Mosques and a full set gave her two gems.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of of boardgamephotos

Blue and Pine completed their carts and, with her gems from the Jeweler, Blue seemed to have got her nose in front.  That was before Pine, largely unintentionally, got his revenge for the problems Blue had caused him earlier in the game.  Everything Blue tried to do, Pine was there first and obstructed her plans.  In such a tight game, it was just enough to give Red the extra time she needed to get her fifth gem and trigger the end of the game.  Despite a massive forty-two Lira, Pine needed two turns to change them into gems leaving Blue just ahead in second place with four gems.  As Endeavor was still in the closing stages, Red, Blue and Pine investigated the “Feature Game”.  To celebrate our fourth birthday this week, this was to be Crappy Birthday a silly little filler/party game.  This game has a lot in common with games like Apples to Apples and in particular, Dixit.  The idea is that each player has a hand of cards featuring strange potential gifts.  On their turn, it is the active player’s birthday and everyone else passes them a card.  The active player then chooses what they think is the best and worst and returns them to the original owner who keeps them as points.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

After a couple of turns, Endeavor came to an end and the group joined up for a proper game of Crappy Birthday.  The key to playing this sort of game is knowing the other players.  Although we meet regularly, we don’t all know each other all that well, so this was always going to be interesting.  By the end, we’d learned that Red would quite like to bungee-jump; Green thinks turning his car into a caravanette would be fun (well, perhaps not his car); Blue has a pathological hatred of having her photo taken and Pine likes fluffy penguins and had been to the Westmann Islands and played with warm lava…  In the absence of cake (partly due to a mix up) we completed two rounds and Ivory and Green finished in front with three points apiece.  Given how unsuccessful social games often are with our group (most recently Codenames, which was very divisive), this was not expected to be a great success.  However, the cards were such fun and so unusual, that we all really enjoyed it.  Sadly, that means the game has poor replayability as, once the surprise has gone, the game will be much less fun.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

With that done, Red, Ivory and Grey headed off, leaving Pine, Blue and Green to play something quick.  After a little chit-chat Splendor was the chosen game, with both Pine and Blue having unfinished business after getting soundly beaten twice in quick succession.  In this game, players have just three options on their turn:  collect gem tokens, buy a gem card using gem tokens (and/or cards), or reserve a gem card and receive a gold (wild) token at the same time.  Players can have a maximum of ten tokens, though unlimited cards and the cards act as permanent tokens.  Thus, at its heart Splendor is an engine building game built on a set-collection mechanism.  Players score points when they buy some gem cards and for attracting Nobles which are awarded to the first player collect certain combinations of gem cards; the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points and the player with the most at the end wins.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The game started with both Pine and Blue going for it with all guns blazing.  The set up included three special Noble tiles:  one from the 2015 Brettspiel Adventskalender and two from the promotional tiles set, but all four Nobles included opals.  So, it was just as well that there were lots of opals out at the start of the game.  Blue and and Pine collected as many of them as they could.  Green picked up a few too, but found the competition was quite stiff and went for more rubies and sapphires.  It was Pine who picked up the first of the Nobles, but that galvanised Blue into action and she grabbed the remaining three in quick succession.  She was still a few points short of the finish line, and it was then that Green realised he had misread one of the cards.  Having had a similar lead and lost last time she had played, she wasn’t going to let this one get away, and ruthlessly gathered the remaining points she needed to quickly bring the game to a close.  Blue finished the game with sixteen four points ahead of Pine in second place.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Learning outcome: Some of the best games can be very difficult to get hold of.

Essen 2016

It is that time of year when, the leaves fall from the trees and gamers visit Germany.  No, Oktoberfest isn’t the draw (that happens in September anyhow), this is an altogether different annual German “festival” – The Internationale Spieltage, which is held in Essen.  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-October every year and is the one of the largest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions.   As such, many of the manufacturers plan their biggest releases for October with their debut at the Fair.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag.com

Last year there was a bit of a paucity of new games and it seemed to be all about expansions.  This year, while there are still plenty of expansions for well-loved games like Istanbul, Colt Express, Orléans and Ca$h ‘n Guns etc., there are also a lot of new games based on old favourites.  For example, there is Key to the City – London (which has a lot of elements of one of our favourite games, Keyflower), Jórvík (an update and re-theme of Die Speicherstadt), X Nimmt! (a variant on the popular but chaotic 6 Nimmt!), and the latest incarnation of the Ticket to Ride series, Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails.  There will be plenty of other interesting original games too though, including The Oracle of DelphiA Feast for Odin, Cottage Garden and The Colonists.  Several members of the group are going this year, and they’ll no doubt bring back lots of exciting new toys to share with everyone.

Essen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Gonzaga

20th October 2015

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

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

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

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

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

There were several new games too though, in particular:

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

Rockwell!
– Image by BGG contributor Rayreviewsgames

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

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Codenames
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor aleacarv

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

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Ceryon

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor helioa

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor DrGrayrock

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Garry

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

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

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

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

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Qwixx
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Essen 2015

October is the time of year when a boardgamer’s thoughts turn to Germany, specifically, Essen.  Essen is the ninth largest German city and most people in the UK have never heard of it.  Most people who are not gamers that is.  In German, the word “Essen” means “food”, but to gamers it means “Spiel”:  the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world, The Internationale Spieltage is held every year in Essen.  The fair runs for four days every year and is the one of the largest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions.   As such, many of the manufacturers plan their biggest releases for October with their debut at the Fair.  This year, there are lots of exciting new games, including Richard Breese’s new game, Inhabit the Earth, Favor of the Pharaoh, and the highly acclaimed games Codenames and The Voyages of Marco Polo.  There are also a number of expansions for some of our favourite games including Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Evolution, Istanbul, Colt Express etc.  Only two of us are going this year, however, they will almost certainly bring back lots of exciting new toys to share with everyone.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag.com

Spiel des Jahres Nominations – 2015

Each year a jury of German-speaking board game critics (from Germany, Austria, Switzerland), review all the games released in Germany in the preceding twelve months.  Their job is a really important one amongst gamers, because they award the coveted Spiel des Jahres, the German Game of the Year.  There are also other awards including the Kinderspiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres (Childrens’ and Connoisseurs’ Games of the Year).   These awards are highly lucrative for the winners as many German families look for the red logo when choosing games to buy at Christmas.

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

The criteria used by the judges include:

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

The announcement of the Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres awards will be made early in July.  Last year, the winner was Camel Up with Splendor as runner-up and Istanbul taking the Kennerspiel des Jahres award.  The nominees for this year have just been announced and this year, unusually, we haven’t played any of them in the group yet.  However, one of our more popular two-player games, Patchwork was included as a recommended game and we are planning to play one of the nominees, Machi Koro, this week.

27th January 2015

We started off with our “Feature Game”, which was the card game, SaboteurWe’ve played it a few times before, but basically the idea is that the group is split into two teams:  Dwarves and Saboteurs.  The aim of the game for the Dwarves is to lay cards forming a tunnel that leads to the gold, whereas the Saboteurs job is to stop them.  So players take it in turns to play cards.  These cards could be tunnel cards, which are added to the play area and, although they generally extend the tunnel, there are also dead-ends which can be used by Saboteurs to upset the Good Little Dwarves’ plans.  Alternatively, there are action cards, which come in several types.  There are broken tool cards, which allow players to prevent other players from laying path cards (useful if you suspect there is a Saboteur about); mended tools which are used to repair broken tools (useful when a Saboteur has been trying to slow everyone down by smashing up their tools); map cards (useful when a nasty Saboteur has been misleading everyone telling them the gold is in the wrong place), and rock-fall cards which can be used to remove tunnel cards (useful when an evil Saboteur has been causing havoc).  The round ends when the draw deck is depleted and gold cards are allocated to the winning side.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

As people arrived, Blue explained the game to the people unfamiliar with it and pointed out that, despite his protestations, Green was always a Saboteur.  At which point, in walked Green, commenting, “Whatever Blue may have said, I’m NOT always the Saboteur…!”  Needless to say, it quickly became apparent that Green was very definitely a Saboteur, but despite his best efforts (assisted by Yellow and Cerise), the dwarves found the gold, though it was pretty close at the end, coming down to the last few cards.  The second round was under-way with Burgundy indicating that the central target card was gold (a fact disputed by Grey) when Black and Purple arrived.  Since they’d missed the start they began a game of Patchwork.  This is a recently released two-player game where players compete to build the most aesthetic (and high-scoring) patchwork quilt, buying tetris-like patches with buttons.  The patches are laid out in a circle round the central time board, with a cotton reel marking the start.  On their turn players can purchase one of the three patches immediately following the cotton reel; they then pay the cost in buttons shown on the patch, and then add it to their personal “quilt board”.  In addition to the cost in buttons, the player must also advance their time token on the central time track: if the active player’s time token is behind or on top of the other player’s time token, then they take another turn, otherwise play passes to the opponent.

Patchwork
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Percatron

Instead of purchasing a patch, players can also pass, in which case, they move their time token to the space immediately in front of their opponent’s time token and take one button from the bank for each space moved.  Players can place their patches anywhere on their quilt so long as it doesn’t overlap any other patches.  This is not the only way to get buttons; in addition to a button cost and a time cost, each patch also features 0-3 buttons.  When a player moves their time token past a button marker on the time track, they sum the number of buttons on their quilt and get this number of buttons from the bank.  The game ends when both players are in the centre of the time track.  Each player then loses two buttons for each blank square on his game board and whoever has the most buttons wins.

Patchwork
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
greetingsfrombergen

Meanwhile, on the first table, the second and final (third) round of Saboteur had both finished with the Saboteurs making almost no impact on Dwarves’ ability to find the gold.  When the teams are drawn, there is always one card more than there are players, so one card is always left out.  The idea is that this introduces an element of ambiguity, however, we felt that this also unbalanced the teams.  For example, with eight players, the teams go from five Dwarves and three Saboteurs to six Dwarves and two Saboteurs, making it almost impossible for even a vaguely competent team of Dwarves to lose.  We discussed the options including whether it would be better to have a set-up phase where the everyone closes their eyes and the Saboteurs open them and look at each other (similar to Werewolf or The Resistance), but we felt this would give a large team of Saboteurs too much power.  In the end, we decided it would be better to remove the spare card and ensure there was the maximum number of Saboteurs.  Since Black and Purple were still going, we decided to play one extra round.  This worked much better, and thanks to a horrid distribution of cards for the Dwarves and some brilliant play by the team of Saboteurs led by Burgundy, there was nothing the Dwarves could do.  It was fitting therefore, that Burgundy finished one gold ahead of his closest competition.  On reflection, we decided there were definitely a couple of House Rules we would implement next time we play.  Firstly, we would remove the extra card when allocating players to teams, this definitely seemed to create a much more balanced game.  Secondly, we would probably also play several separate rounds and not worry about allocating gold at the end of the game.  This way, we could play one or two rounds and stop when the game had outstayed its welcome, rather than feeling that we should play to the end.

Saboteur
– Image by BGG contributor ckhiew

Patchwork was also coming to a close; scores there were quite close until the final scoring, when it turned out that Purple had more “gaps” in her quilt which lost her more points, leaving Black to take the victory.  With both games finishing we had a slight shuffling of seats, with the first group playing Mascarade.  This is a “micro” game, albeit with big cards.  The idea is that each player begins the game with a character card, but after a brief spell with them face up, everyone turns them face down and that’s the way they remain for the rest of the game.  So, the game is all about deducing which player everyone is, while trying to collect enough money to win the game.

Mascarade
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

After some initial trading, on their turn, each player can do one of three things.  Firstly, the active player can declare that they are a particular character, say, The King.  If nobody objects they can then carry out the action associated with The King, unmolested (in this case, take three coins).  On the other hand, another player may protest and claim that they are actually The King, in which case all players claiming to be The King must show their cards and whoever is correct, gets to take three coins from the bank, and all the others pay a fine of one gold coin.  A player’s second option is to “swap” their card with that of another player; since the actual exchange is done under the table, it is possible that there is no swap at all, and only the active player will know either way (or not, since everyone always seems to immediately forget which card is which).  The final option a player has, if all is complete confusion, is to look at their own card.

Mascarade
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

It always takes a little while to get the hang of the characters in play, and with people unfamiliar with the game, it was slow to get going. Orange was happy to be The Queen and collect her two gold each round, as did The King.  After a couple of turns, however, Red realised the power of The Witch and swapped her somewhat diminished fortune with that of Blue, who, as The King had managed to build a reasonably sized pile.  Meanwhile, the fines had built up and then the Judge became of interest and suddenly, the game clicked with everyone around the table, and people tried to manipulate the card they got and call others on their declarations.  Gradually, some of the piles started to get perilously close to the magic thirteen coins, especially since The Cheat was in play (if declared correctly, that player needs only to have ten coins to win).  The game finished somewhat abruptly, when Red declared that she was The Bishop and, as everyone knew she was right, there was nothing we could do.  And then it was home time for some.

Mascarade
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor pan_satyros
and pelnapara.znadplanszy.pl

Meanwhile, the second game was still going.  They were playing Colors of Kasane, one of our “Essen Specials”, but one we’ve not got round to playing until now.  It is a Japon Brand game, and they have a bit of a reputation for creating little, yet interesting games:  as Black commented, “They have a different way of thinking.”  They also have a bit of a reputation for rules that are difficult to understand; even when they seem clear, it often turns out that they aren’t, and we’ve fallen foul of this one before, most noticeably with Secret Moon (the sequel to Love Letter).  Colours of Kasane was no exception in this regard which may go some way to explaining why its taken so long to play it!

Colors of Kasane
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Nevertheless, the game itself is reasonably simple and beautifully rendered with pretty little Japanese fabric buttons used as player markers, reflecting the theme of a festival held at the Emperor’s court for which the players must make their own beautiful robe.  The game play is a mix of hand management and set collection.  The idea is that players take one card from the four available, and then, from their hand the active player may lay cards.  However, the cards can never be rearranged (similar to Bohnanza) and sets can only be laid from the most recent end (i.e. a “last in, first out” system) and may also include the last card laid.  Any cards laid must meet the requirements shown on one of the target cards, which also indicate the amount scored:  the more challenging the target, the more it is worth.  These target or scoring cards allow players to place of groups of even numbered cards, groups of odd numbered cards, melds with the same number, ascending or descending sets of cards, cards summing to ten etc. etc..  The key thing is that once a specific combination has been played, a glass bead is placed on it and no other player can score it.  This means it becomes increasingly difficult to play cards and score points, worse, someone else might claim something you have been building towards and render all the hard-work useless.  This is one way that players can mess with each-other’s plans, another is when picking up cards:  cards are laid out in columns so that players can see all the cards, but only the card at the bottom of each column is available to take.  Since the cards laid must necessarily include the card just picked up, a player’s plans can easily be blown out of the water by an opponent who watches carefully.  The winner is the player with the most points, with bonuses awarded for players who succeed in playing more than eight cards and either used a lot of different colours or who colour coordinated their “robe” and also for any players who managed to play all twelve of their cards.

Colors of Kasane
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game began with everyone groping their way through the the first round trying to get an idea of how the game played and how players and cards interacted and what strategies should be employed.  By the time Blue joined to sneeze and spectate, it was clear that all the best plans had gone horribly awry.  Black, who had brought the game and taught everyone the rules, was struggling, but he was not alone in that.  Green and Purple were also finding other players obstructing their plans, and even Burgundy (the eventual winner) was having difficulty placing the cards he wanted.  The challenges posed by the game were reflected in the fact that nobody got the bonus for playing all twelve cards:  definitely a game that requires a second try.

Colors of Kasane
– Image by BGG contributor matador

We finished with Istanbul, a game we’ve played a couple of times recently, so didn’t require too much in the way of rule revision.  Since Burgundy was the only person who  had not played it before and everyone else had previously played it with the “short track layout”, this time we used the “large number layout”.  This puts all the Warehouses together and a long way from the Mosques, and puts the money making a long way from the Wainwright.  Black started and went straight to the Post Office before expanding his cart with a trip to the Wainwright.  Purple also made several visits to the Post Office, coupled with a few trips to the Warehouses while Burgundy and Blue attempted to improve their success rates with visits to the Mosques.  Green on the other hand, paid several trips to the Caravansary to collect bonus cards in the hope that a few of these would help him out later on.  It is unquestionably a more interesting game with five players and useful things further apart, but that didn’t stop Black delivering the rest of us a sound thrashing.  All of a sudden, he ended the game as he collected his fifth gem when nobody else had more than two.  On inspection, other players were closer than it seemed:  Green collected his third gem on his final turn, Burgundy had loads of Lira and everyone else was well on the way to getting everything they needed, however, they needed several more turns to do it.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

Learning Outcome:  It’s true, Green always IS a Saboteur!