Tag Archives: Ivor the Engine

Next Meeting – 20th August 2019

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, 20th August, at the Horse and Jockey pub in Stanford-in-the-Vale. As usual, we will be playing shorter games from 7.30pm as people arrive, until 8pm when we will start something a little longer.

This week the “Feature Game” will be Ivor the Engine. This is a great little card-driven, sheep-collecting, train game featuring fabulous artwork from the late, great Peter Firmin.  Although it is not a difficult game to play and looks like a cute kiddies game, it has vicious little teeth that make it a fine little game.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

And speaking of trains, and sheep…

A mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer were traveling though Scotland by train, when the engineer looked out the window, saw a black sheep.  He exclaimed, “Hey! They’ve got black sheep in Scotland!”

The physicist looked out the window and corrected the engineer, “Strictly speaking, all we know is that there’s at least one black sheep in Scotland.”

The mathematician looked out the window and corrected the physicist, “Strictly speaking, all we know is that is that at least one side of one sheep is black in Scotland…”

UK Games Expo 2019 – Not as Hot as Last Year, but that’s a Good Thing…

Last weekend was the thirteenth UK Games Expo (sometimes known as UKGE, or simply Expo), the foremost games event.  Every year it grows bigger, and this was no exception. Historically, Expo is focused on gamers playing games rather than publishers selling new games, however, the exhibition aspect has been growing, and this year there were two halls full of vendors selling games and demoing wares.  Last year, there was an issue with the air conditioning on the Friday which, combined with the thousands of “hot water bottles” walking about looking at games, made it unbelievably hot.  This year, working facilities and a little more space made it much, much more pleasant, although Saturday was busier than ever!

UKGE 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

This year the hot games included Wingspan, copies of which were flying off the slightly wobbly shelves following it’s recent Kennerspiel des Jahres nominationFoothills, a two player Snowdonia game by UK designers Ben Bateson and Tony Boydell (designer of the original Snowdonia, Ivor the Engine and Guilds of London) was another extremely popular game.  Foothills is produced by Lookout Spiele, but there were sixty copies available from the designer’s Surprised Stare stand, which sold out in less than forty minutes (though there were a small number of copies to be had elsewhere for those that kept their eyes peeled).

Foothills
– Image by boardGOATS

Surprised Stare were also demoing Foothills and another Snowdonia-based game, Alubari, which is due for release later in the year (hopefully).  There was a new Ticket to Ride game available (London) as well as another instalment in the Catan series (Rise of the Inkas); the new expansion for Endeavor: Age of Sail was also available to see (coming to KickStarter later in June) and “old” favourites like Echidna Shuffle were there to be played and bought too.  There were some very good deals to be had from some of the third party sellers as well, including some of the Days of Wonder games for just £15.

Horticulture Master
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the reasons for attending conventions is the opportunity to see and play games that are not available elsewhere.  One example was Horticulture Master, a cute little Taiwanese game with beautiful artwork, which combined card collecting elements from Splendor with Tetris-like tile laying from games like Patchwork and Bärenpark.  Another cute little game was Titans of Quantitas from Gingerbread Games, a clever two player strategy game based round the old fashioned digital rendering of the number eighty-eight.  What really made this game special though was the fact that the stall was guarded by a fiberglass goat!  Not everything was quite as wholesome though, as one Games Master was thrown out and banned for life for including content in a role-playing game that allegedly involved sexual violence and played on the shock factor.  This is definitely the exception rather than the rule, however, and UK Games Expo is a great place for family and friends to spend a weekend.

UKGE 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

24th July 2018

It was a quiet night, and the atmosphere was slightly subdued as our thoughts were with Green who had had a very rough day and therefore wasn’t with us.  Burgundy and Blue were still eating, so Pine, Red and Ivory began punching out Pine’s brand-spanking, new copy of the “Feature Game”, AzulThis week, Azul won the Spiel des Jahres Award, but despite the fact that it only came out at Essen last year, and has been difficult to get hold of for much of the time, we’ve still managed to play it a lot.  Even so, Red seemed to have managed to miss out, so an explanation of the rules was in order.  It is quite simple to play, if a little abstract.  The idea is that players are tile laying artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora with “azulejos”.  On their turn, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory displays (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles in one of the five rows on their player board.

Azul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Each row can only contain one colour, but players may have more than one row with any given colour.  The catch is that each player only has five rows, each with a set number of spaces, one to five.  Players can add tiles to a row later in the round, but once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row.  Once all the tiles have been picked up, players evaluate their board, and, starting with the shortest row, one of the tiles from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored. Players score one point for a tile that is not placed adjacent to any other tile, whereas tiles added to rows or columns score the same number of points as there are tiles in the completed row (or column).  The game continues with players choosing tiles from the factory displays and then adding them to rows, the catch is that as the mosaic fills up, it is harder to fill the rows as each row can only take each colour once.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

End game bonuses, keep everyone guessing right up to the end which adds interest and occasionally it can be really nasty when someone ends up with a pile of tiles they can’t use.  Red, Ivory and Pine got going quickly, and once Burgundy and Blue had finished with their supper, they moved to a table near the door to make the most of the draught and started a second game with Black and Purple.  Having played the game quite a bit, nobody pulled their punches:  It was only the second round when Blue had to pick up ten yellow tiles netting her fourteen negative points.  She was fortunate that she didn’t have fourteen to lose, but when Black picked up seven yellow tiles a couple of rounds later he was less lucky.  On the next table Ivory was being nasty to Pine, leaving him with Hobson’s Choice and minus ten points either way.  Playing “dirty” clearly worked for Ivory as he won the first game, though there was some confusion of the scoring, which Pine blamed on his over-hot head.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

In the other game, there had been a lot negative points and a lot of bonuses, it was all surprisingly close.  In the last round, Purple took the tiles she needed for a full set of reds and Blue had scotched a ten point bonus for Burgundy.  Despite that, Burgundy still picked up a massive twenty-seven points in end-game bonuses, but much to everyone’s surprise he didn’t quite manage to catch Black who finished with a eighty-five.  It had been quite a stressful game, but as usual, we’d all enjoyed it, and discussion moved on to the new release coming in October: Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, which we are all looking forward to, as long as it doesn’t “do a Queendomino“.*

Azul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Red, Pine and Ivory had started their game first, and with only three players compared with four on the other table, it was no surprise that that also finished first.   As they were looking round for something to play, Red spied Yardmaster, one of her favourite games, in Blue’s bag.  Neither Pine nor Ivory had played it before, but it wasn’t difficult for Red to persuade them to give it a go.  Unlike most other train games, in Yardmaster, players are building a locomotive rather than routes.  On their turn players can do two from the three possible actions:  draw a cargo card (either blind or from the face up discard pile); buy a railcar card from the four face up cards in the middle, or swap their “Exchange Token” with any other one around the table.  To buy a railcar, players pay using sets of cargo cards, so a yellow number three railcar will cost three yellow “oil” cards.  The exchange tokens allow players to use other cargo cards at a rate of two-to-one, however, if a player only had two yellow oil cards but also had two blue “coal” cards and the blue exchange token, they would still be able to buy the yellow number three railcar.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

When buying a railcar, if the number or colour match the previous car, then it must be added to the end of their locomotive.  If not, then players can park it in their personal sorting yard and add it later, when another railcar is being bought and added to the locomotive.  This is the clever part of the game as it allows players to “stack” points in their personal train yard enabling them both to take some risks and strategically remove railcars from the grasping hands of their opponents.  Players score is the total of the numbers of the on the railcars making up their locomotive at the end of the game.  Ivory started out with a really clever move, using a discarded “extra move” cargo card to take another “extra move” card and Pine and Red thought it was all over before it had begun.  It wasn’t though, and despite it being a very short game, Ivory quickly got bogged down trying to buy a high value, “Purple Four”, which gave both Red and Pine the chance to get past him.  Although he was new to the game, it was clearly one that made sense to Pine who finished four points ahead of Red.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor moonblogger

As both games finished Blue, Burgundy, Black and Purple moved back to the group’s usual table and the options were discussed.  With seven players and Red present, Bohnanza was always a possibility, but with the heat sapping everyone’s strength, nobody fancied playing anything too strenuous and the deal was sealed.  Everyone is very familiar with this, even Ivory who has played it the least, so as Burgundy shuffled the deck and removed the cocoa and garden beans, everyone else reminded each other of the rules:  must plant the first card in hand, may plant the second as well; turn over two cards from the deck which must be planted before any other deals can be finalised; trading can only be with the active player; draw four cards at the end of a turn; two coins for a third bean field; fields with only one card can’t be ploughed in unless they all have only one card, and don’t forget – you can’t rearrange your hand!

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

As usual with a large number of players, it was a tight game and everyone spent most of it telling people not to trade with everyone else as they were winning.  Three times through the deck doesn’t take long and people don’t get many turns, but it was Blue, Black and Purple who stood on the podium at the end with everyone else within a point of each other.  It was Blue who made up for her dire showing in Azul though, beating Black into second place by a massive two points.  There was still time to play something else, but the heat had clearly got to everyone as the conversation degenerated into a discussion about everyone’s favourite childhood cartoons and how many had inspired boardgames.  The late, great Peter Firmin‘s Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog both got a mention, but then age and nationality created a bit of a divide, and the evening ended with Pine crowing, “My name’s Pig and I like cream cakes!”  His head was definitely over-hot.

Pipkins
– Image taken from youtube.com

Learning Outcome:  Children’s TV programs were very weird in the 1970s.

* Queendomino is the follow-on to the 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner, KingdominoWhen the group played it, we found the new game replaced the smooth elegance of the original with a more clunky, complex, long-winded game that was no where near as good as the games it was trying to compete with (much like Tsuro of the Seas a couple of years before).

Boardgames in the News: But Emily loved him…

Sadly, Peter Firmin, “father” of Bagpuss and Basil Brush, passed away yesterday after a short illness, aged eighty-nine.  In addition to the old, saggy cloth cat (baggy, and a bit loose at the seams) and the anarchic fox (boom BOOM!), together with Oliver Postgate, Peter brought many other childhood favourites into our homes.  These include, The Clangers, Pogle’s Wood, Pingwings and What-a-Mess.  To gamers though, the most interesting are probably Ivor the Engine, Noggin the Nog, both of which have recently inspired boardgames that Peter Firmin personally illustrated in his unique and beautiful style.  He was a lovely man who will be greatly missed by all who knew him and those who were inspired by him.

– Image by boardGOATS

13th December 2016

Unsure of who was coming, to get everyone in the mood, we started off with the quick set collecting game, Coloretto.  We’ve played this little filler a few times, but somehow, Red felt she’d missed out. The game is very simple: on their turn the active player either draws a chameleon card and places it on a “truck” or takes a truck (which means they’re out for the rest of the round). The idea is that players are collecting sets of cards, but only three will yield positive points, with the rest scoring negatively.  The really clever part of the game is the scoring which uses the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.), which rewards one large set more than two or even three small ones. It was very tight between Blue and Ivory who both picked up sets of six, but Blue finished one point ahead thanks two her second set, three green chameleons.

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

With everyone arrived, we moved on to the evening’s “Feature Game”, Marrakech, a very simple little area control game played through the medium of the Persian rug. Played on a small grid, each player starts with thirty lire and a pile of pieces of carpet.  On their turn the active play can rotate Assam, the master salesman a maximum of ninety degrees left or right, before they roll the die to find out how far he must be moved.  If Assam lands on a carpet square of an opponents colour, then the active player must pay the owner “rent” equivalent to the total size of the carpet.  Once Assam has been moved and any dues paid, the active player places a strip of carpet. The carpet pieces are all the same size (twice as long as they are wide) and cover two squares on the board.  They can also overlap with pieces laid previously, but cannot be placed wholly on top of one single rug.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

This is where the strategy comes in – is it best to try to make a large contiguous area which will be very lucrative every time someone lands on it (but that players will avoid if at all possible) or is it better to make many small areas that players will be more likely to land on?  The game ends when everyone has played all their pieces of carpet and the winner is the one with the most money (each visible piece of carpet earns its owner one lira).  Marrakech is a nice little game, but what really makes it is the quality of the rendition.  Assam is a beautifully made and painted wooden piece; the “coins” are wonderfully tactile wooden discs and the carpet is well, a strip of coloured fabric.  Without these touches, the game would still be as good, but would be very abstract.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

We had two copies and plenty of people who were interested in it (to quote one of the GOATS, “I want to play the carpet game!”), so we played two parallel games.  Red, Blue, Ivory and Pine were first to get going with the slightly newer, brighter version of the game.  Pine and Red started out quite aggressively building large areas of carpet, trampling on each other and Blue and Ivory in the process and building a mini-carpet-mountain seven or eight layers high.  Throughout, it felt tight, but in practice, there was only ever going to be one winner and Red finished eleven lira ahead of Blue in second place.  On the next table, playing with the more traditionally “sandy-coloured” version, Green, Ivory, Purple and Black were playing a slightly more strategic and less vindictive game.  The result was a closer game with everyone within four points of each other, but was won by Green, just two lira ahead of Black.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finishing almost simultaneously, there was a quick bout of musical chairs, with Green joining Ivory and Blue for a game of Ivor the Engine (its first outing with the “mammy sheep” picked up at Essen).  This is a cute little game with a viciousness that lurks just below the surface and belies the gentle art-work from the Ivor cartoons as drawn by Peter Firmin.  The idea is that players are travelling round Wales collecting sheep and the person with the most sheep at the end of the game is the winner.  A single sheep can be collected whenever you start your turn on a town or village with sheep in it, but more sheep can be collected if you are in a town or village without sheep and perform a task to “help Ivor”.  Helping Ivor comes at a price, however, as in order to do this you have to play one of the dual-purpose cards from your hand, which means you cannot use it to help you in other ways.  At the end of your turn you add one card to your hand from the face up displayed cards, however, when the chosen card is replaced from the draw-pile though mixed in with the errand cards are event cards which can be nice or nasty.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue got lucky, and started off in Grumbly Town which happened to have only one sheep. Since she also had a card for Grumbly Town, this meant she could pick up the one sheep and then play the card to help Ivor, netting a total of six sheep before Ivory had even had a chance to take a turn.  That was where her luck finished though, and Green soon caught up quickly followed by Ivory.  The cards fell well for Green as he picked up several cards for Tewin as he traveled to the south-east corner of the board picking up lots of sheep as he went.  Ivory had a little poke at him, taking a couple of his sheep when he had the chance, then , out of fairness, he then had a go at Blue, taking both the last sheep and the lost sheep token from her current location. Next turn, Green did the same to Blue and just to compound things, “the game” joined in, giving a total of nine sheep she’d missed out on.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

Feeling rather “got at”, and in desperate need of time she tried to stop Green from finishing the game by doing the only thing her cards allowed her to do – put sheep in Tewin to slow Green down.  It was all too little too late, and twenty-five sheep is not an awful lot, so it wasn’t long before Green passed the threshold and triggered the last round.  Still with no useful cards and in a position that was not going to trouble the scorers, Blue was forced to do nothing, leaving Ivory to do what he could to catch up.  With some effort he was able to cross the line, but was still some way short of Green who still had his final turn to come.  In the final accounting, Green finished on thirty-five, nine sheep ahead of Ivory, and more than twenty clear of Blue, in what had been a very unforgiving game.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Red, Black, Purple and Pine were looking for something to play. With Burgundy away worrying about his MOT, Pine fancied his chances at Splendor.  We’ve played this little chip-collecting and card development “engine building” game quite a bit, but we all still seem to quite like it when we are looking for a light filler game. Since Black, Purple and Red had also suffered at Burgundy’s hands recently, they were very happy to join Pine in the certain knowledge that, for once, Burgundy wouldn’t win. The idea of the game is that players collect chips to buy gem cards which can, in turn, be used in lieu of chips. More expensive cards are also worth points and the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points (and the round is completed to give everyone the same number of turns). Points are also awarded for “nobles” which go to the first player to get a specific combination of gem cards and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.

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

Everyone was up for it, and it started out with players taking it in turns to pick up cards, keeping everyone guessing as to who had the edge. Before long, Black, Pine and Red edged ahead, then suddenly, Black declared he had fifteen points and everyone else panicked.  It wasn’t long before someone smelled a rat and there were demands for a re-count.  With the discovery that Black had miscounted and only had fourteen points, there were the inevitable tongue-in-cheek accusations of cheating and a second “final round” began.  Although this gave everyone a second chance, it wasn’t quite enough, and Black won with eighteen (despite “cheating”).  Pine finished in second, three points behind, so he’ll have to wait a little longer to win Splendor. One thing everyone was pleased about, however, was that at least Burgundy hadn’t won, and that was almost as satisfying as beating him, though not quite, obviously.

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

With Ivory and Green heading off early, that left five players and a debate as to what to play next.  Somewhere in the discussion “Beans” got a mention, and from then on, despite conversation moving onto Christmas music and everyone’s favourite version of “The Bean Rhyme” (“Beans, beans, good for your heart…” – who knew there were so many different versions?), the final game was inevitably Bohnanza.  This game is very simple:  in front of each player are two “Bean Fields” and on their turn, players must plant the first card in their hand and may plant the second.  Once the active player has planted the card(s) from their hand, then they turn over the top two cards from the draw deck:  these must be planted by the end of the turn, though not necessarily in one of the active player’s fields if they can be traded.  Once all these cards have been planted, the active player can then offer to trade any unwanted cards in their hand before their turn ends with them replenishing their hand from the draw deck.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

The catch is that players are not allowed to change the order of the cards in their hand which must be “planted” in the order they arrive.  However, it is possible to remove unwanted cards by trading them away (either during their turn or with the active player).  This simple mechanic coupled with the different availabilities and values of cards when they are harvested, are the critical parts of the game.  Thus one of the key points is the ability to value a bean and not overpay for it, or equally important, not give it away for less than it is worth.  The problem is that “value” depends on perspective, and this caused an otherwise friendly little game with a bit of bite to become a little bit nasty.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Blue had picked up and planted the first two Cocoa beans, so when Purple drew a third, Blue asked whether she would trade.  Blue didn’t have much to offer, but offered what she could and pointed out that there were only four Cocoa beans in the game and since we were less than a quarter of the way through the deck on the first pass, Purple could be waiting a long time.  Purple had other plans though and commented that it was a very valuable card and determinedly planted it.  On her next turn, Blue dug up her pair of Cocoa beans and put both in her money stack.  So it was more than a bit irritating for her when she promptly drew the fourth Cocoa bean card.  Blue was feeling a bit obstreperous after the rough treatment in Ivor and Purple was unable to offer a good trade.  So, much to Purple’s disgust and despite the difficulties it caused both of them, Blue planted the offending bean before immediately digging it up.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

This had a couple of consequences.  Firstly, Blue’s plans were now in tatters, and secondlym Purple had to choose whether to get rid of the Cocoa bean (with singles being hard to get rid of) or whether to wait for the second pass through the deck.  Purple doggedly stuck with it, so it was particularly unfortunate when Blue drew the Cocoa bean card almost as soon as the deck was turned.  With little chance to get rid of it and still in a very kamikaze mood, Blue planted it a second time before digging it back up again.  Purple was not impressed.  Fortunately, on the third pass, the Cocoa bean finally landed in the hands of Red.  She wasn’t in a silly mood like Blue, so Purple finally got her second Cocoa bean and was able to harvest them for two coins.  It was only just in time though and she had played nearly the entire game with only one field, and still finished third – quite an achievement.  Red finished in first place, just one coin ahead of Blue who had spent most of the game trying to dig herself out of her self-inflicted mess.

Learning outcome:  Value is dependent on circumstances and very much in the eye of the beholder.

31st May 2016

For the first time since he and Cerise’s new arrival, Grey turned up.  Everyone was really pleased to see him, and as he fancied a “nasty” game, he joined the group playing the “Feature Game” which was Vanuatu.  On the face of it, this is a fairly straightforward role-selection and worker placement game, but with more than the usual amount of interaction.  The aim of the game is to obtain prestige in the archipelago of Vanuatu, by moving tourists and goods, fishing, and drawing sand pictures.  The game structure is simple enough:  players start by choosing a character, then they choose actions they would like to carry out, before the actions are resolved.  There are one or two nasty elements that became more apparent as the game progressed.

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

The way the actions are chosen and then resolved is particularly unusual.  Starting with the Start Player, players take it in turns to place one or more of their action selection tokens.  Everyone starts with five tokens and can place tokens on any single action space.  Players cannot pass, but if they don’t place all their tokens on their first pass they get another turn to place one or more tokens, and play continues in this fashion until everyone has placed all five tokens.  The actions are then resolved with players choosing which actions to take. In order to carry out an action, however, the player must have the most tokens on the action space (with ties resolved using turn order as a tie-breaker).  In the event that the player doesn’t have an eligible action to take, they must remove their tokens from a space without taking the action.  This makes it particularly nasty as, where a player has multiple options available to them, they can use this to delay other players from taking actions and sometimes cause them to miss actions altogether.  In extreme cases players can end up doing nothing for a whole turn.

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

In the first round, Blue showed how to score points, garnering a massive fifteen points by using the Collector to enable her to pick up extra beef which she was then able to ship immediately completing a vessel that Burgundy had started.  Unfortunately, this left her with no money which meant her game then stalled such that four rounds later she had failed to even double the score she’d had at the end of the first round.  Burgundy had watched some video reviews and had a good idea of how the game played, as such, he was the only one who really appreciated what an unusually large haul Blue had managed to take in that first round.  Despite the massive deficit, he began to steadily ship visitors and buy huts, something everything else made the mistake of letting him get on with.  Black on the other hand, was discovering first hand just how nasty the game can be and really struggled to string actions together and turn them into points.  Meanwhile, Blue and Grey engaged in an extended scrap over some fish.  Blue came off worst since Grey had a spell as the start player, though he didn’t exactly come off unscathed either.

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

In the closing rounds Black finally managed to build himself a hut; Blue finally managed to get her fish, sell them and then took the start player.  This enabled her to disrupt Burgundy’s plans by first nicking the character he wanted (Diver) and then pinching the high value treasure from under his nose.  It was all way too little and much too late.  Although Black had found himself pushed out in the first half of the game and Blue struggled to make good on her early promise (crippled by the exhausting fish wars and a lack of money), the game was quite tight between first and second.  In the event, the deciding factor in the game was an almost missed moment when Grey bought resources and shipped allowing Burgundy to follow suit and also pick up the bonus for completing the vessel.  With a small difference between first and second (by our scoring) that could easily have given Burgundy the game.  In the final scoring, Grey liquidated his huge pile of treasure, though it didn’t yield quite as much as expected leaving Burgundy the winner, six points ahead of Grey.

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

Delivering tourists to islands is fundamentally very important in this game, which is something we didn’t really appreciate until we got to the final rounds.  The rules state that each player scores “two prosperity points for each of their stalls, for every tourist pawn present on their island”.  The example in the text clarifies that a player with two stalls on an island where there are four tourist pawns scores eight points per stall, or sixteen points in total.  We hadn’t appreciated the extra multiplier, so we evaluated the scores twice using the rules and our original understanding.  In the event, it had no effect on the placings, just increasing Burgundy’s majority. It did give us a better understanding of how tough the game is though.  The harshness also leads to a lot of “analysis paralysis”, since each move is so very critical.  That said, we all enjoyed the game and, by the end could really see how clever it is.  An unusually nasty game, this is definitely one to try again soon and is well deserving of its new release.

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

Meanwhile, the other table were playing Ivor the Engine.  This is a great little game that Purple had been itching to play for some time and, since Pine likes sheep, Green was happy to join in. The idea is that players are travelling round Wales collecting sheep and the person with the most sheep at the end of the game is the winner.  A single sheep can be collected whenever you start your turn on a town or village with sheep in it, however, more sheep can be collected if you are in a town or village with NO sheep and perform a task to “help Ivor”.  Helping Ivor comes at a price, however, as in order to do this you have to play one of the dual-purpose cards from your hand, which means you cannot use it to help you in other ways.  At the end of your turn you add one card to your hand from the face up displayed cards, however, when the chosen card is replaced from the draw-pile, the game has a sting in the tail:  mixed in with the errand cards are event cards, and these can be nice, or nasty…

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

The game features the iconic art-work from the Ivor cartoons as drawn by Peter Firmin and little wooden sheep.  We have variously called the “square five sheep” pieces “flat pack” sheep or “squashed” sheep, however, Pine’s commented that if you get five sheep, you get enough to make a rug!  With only three playing we began the game quite spread out. Green and Purple stayed near their starting location to collect the last sheep and thus pick up the lost sheep bonus (an extra two sheep), but Pine got caught out by a double space. He had thought it was only a single space with one sheep and was expecting a bonus which disrupted his plans.  Aside from that, it was a fairly quick start and we had all gathered in a number of sheep. Pine was the first to use a card action on somebody else and with both Green and Purple having a similar number of sheep, he let chance decide who was to lose two of their flock.  Unfortunate for Purple fate decided it was she who must lose.  In the very next round, Green was able to claim his second Grumbly Town card for four more sheep, so perhaps Pine/chance chose the wrong player to kibosh.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

To compound this mistake, the first event card to turn up resulted one sheep being lost from every region. This left Pine and Purple in cleared regions (good for claiming the cards, but not good for claiming the two-sheep bonus). For Green, however, one sheep remained. This helped him to get the 2-sheep-bonus and the location card.  From this point on it was another “Get Green” game. Unfortunately for Purple and Pine, they had little opportunity to do this and the events (which came all together) were fairly benign.  Green had one more “nasty” action card to use, which he played on his nearest competitor (well it would be unfair to play it on the losing player), so Purple lost another two sheep.  In the end Green claimed his twenty-fifth sheep with a five sheep town card. His event card bonuses brought his total up to thirty-three with Purple close behind with several end of game bonuses.  Overall it was a bit of a baaa-rmy game…

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

With the fishing wars still underway in the South Pacific, Purple, Green and Pine moved onto Alhambra, another of of Purple’s favourites and also new to Pine. This is a tile laying game where players are building their city.  Basically, on their turn, the active player buy coloured tiles with different coloured money cards and add them to your Alhambra. If they can pay with exactly the correct amount, they can buy another tile, but if they over-pay, they get no change and their turn ends. While this all sounds simple enough, there is the little problem that most of the tiles have walls along one, two or three edges, and when placed, these must match up without partitioning the Alhambra.  These walls are critical as poor play in the early stages can mean it is possible to get backed into a corner later in the game.  We’ve played Alhambra a few times as well as its predecessor, Stimmt So!, so we decided to play with a couple of expansion modules: The City Gates, which can be placed where there are two adjacent parallel walls enabling the player to build behind the wall, and The Magical Buildings, which provide one tile extra of each type which can be placed in any orientation.

Alhambra
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

Purple went for the Purple Towers. She was able to come so dominant in towers that Green was not able to attain any, and Pine only got 3.  It seemed that whenever a tower tile came out the bag, it was just before Purple’s turn, and she was not averse to over-paying for them, though often she did not need to. It happened so regularly it was funny and she before long she had to buy the tile just to maintain the magic, even if it was detrimental to her actual game plan!  Green went for the Green Garden tiles. He also quickly became dominant in them and was going to stop when he had the unbeatable majority, but when the Garden tile without a wall came out it was such a good fit for his Alhambra that he just had to go for it. Green also took the first two White Palaces, but was unable to get his hands on the others. Pine and Purple snapped them up to equal his two and Purple surpassed Green into the lead, which she then maintained, despite a last minute battle for the last couple of tiles.

Alhambra
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

Red and Brown tiles were in very limited supply at the start of the game. Pine managed to collect a single one of each, and that was all he needed to maintain supremacy in these colours for quite some time. In the second half of the game everyone managed to get one red tile so the real battle for red did not happen till the final few turns. The final market board had three red tiles on it, so Green and Pine shared the category.  The brown tiles were also loaded towards the end of the game, and Green took the lead briefly before Pine took it back again.
Blue tiles were fought over by Pine and Green. Both had two by the first scoring round and had to share one point (meaning they scored nothing); this was a tight battle, but Pine just clinched ahead at the end. Purple managed to place her Alhambra with some very long walls. She had a 17 point wall by the second scoring, but then had to do several re-designs as she found herself blocked with not enough gates to help her out.  In the final scoring, Green romped home with nearly a hundred and fifty points, leaving Pine and Purple to fight it out for second place. For a while, it looked like Pine might take it, but Purple’s Towers and long wall clinched it in the end, in what had been a much tighter game than the scores suggested.

Alhambra
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

With the knife-fight in a phone-box that was Vanuatu finally over and not enough time to play anything else really, we degenerated into chit chat.  Blue commented that she really wanted to like Alhambra , but found that she preferred the game play of the simpler Stimmt So! and Black concurred though that was far from the majority opinion and the expansions certainly added a bit too.  Green had taken two of the gatehouses and used only one as he had been very carefully building his Alhambra not to box himself in. Pine and Purple took and used only one each though Purple could certainly have used an second as she had several re-designs.  She didn’t want to “waste” anymore actions “just” taking a gate though.  Everyone used and loved the Magical buildings though, Pine got the most (three of them), while Purple used two and Green was only able to get his hands on one.  In this game though, we found concentrating on only the highest scoring items is not always a guaranteed route to victory, but should stop you coming last!  We finished with a quick discussion of our plans for the weekend, which included a visit to the NEC in Birmingham for several of us who were going to the UK Games Expo.  Should be a good weekend!

Alhambra
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

Learning Outcome:  Nice or nasty, tight games are the most fun!

16th December 2014

This week we stuck to “old favourites” and started off with the quick fun and very silly game that is Walk the Plank!.  We’ve played this a few times before, and we always play to the “last pirate standing”.  Since Red had chosen the game and White had not played it before, Blue started off by shortening the plank and pushing Red off the end.  This set the tone for the game with Red taking her revenge on Blue and then White joining in the fray.  A few rounds in and with one Blue and a couple of Red pirates down, it was Blue’s turn to start.  All three of White’s pirates were perched precariously on the end of the plank with Red’s one remaining pirate, so the game ended suddenly with a very loud splash when Blue inevitably shortened the plank…

Walk the Plank!

With the arrival of Purple and Black (and their pizza), we decided to play another of Red’s favourite games, Bohnanza. It’s amazing how a game that so many people feel is such good fun, sounds so totally uninteresting when it’s explained.  True, as White pointed out, this applies to quite a few games, but Bohnanza is definitely the “poster child”.  After a quick rundown of the rules, we began. Purple was very generous, offering beans for free at regular intervals, though of course she had an ulterior motive. However, otherwise, as Black commented, “It’s a tough crowd tonight,” as deals were pushed and even turned down.  It was fitting therefore, that such a tight game should end with a draw, with Red and Blue sharing the honours.

Bohnanza

Next, we decided to play something a little deeper and, after some discussion, we opted for one of this years most popular games: Ivor the Engine. Although we’ve played “Ivor” a lot at games night, Red and White were both new to it. It’s a cute little game, though it has a sharp edge if you want to play it that way. With a full compliment of players, it was always going to be a fairly tight game, and although Blue started well with a couple of jobs at Mrs Porty’s House, everyone else struggled as Purple got in their way.  Blue was promptly penalised for her good start though, when the first event card came out and caused the leader to lose sheep.   Since everyone else had now cleared sheep from the locations that corresponded to their cards, Blue was then suddenly left behind.  As everyone galloped on, Red, managed to pick up eleven sheep with one visit to Tewyn!  Black was closing in on the finishing line, when Blue managed to complete a couple of jobs at Dinwiddy’s Goldmine and use the gold to buy a couple of event cards.  That tipped the balance in her favour and she finished just ahead of Black.

Ivor the Engine

We finished the evening with a few rounds of No Thanks!.  This is another game we used to play quite a bit, but hadn’t played for six months.  It is such a simple, push your luck game that experience isn’t necessary, and it really brought out White’s vindictive streak.  After three games, honours finished about even and it was home time.

No Thanks!

Learning Outcome:  Old favourites are still favourites, and for a good reason.