Tag Archives: Key Flow

Deutscher Spiele Preis 2019 – Time to Vote

Like every other sphere, boardgames also receive awards, the best known of which is probably the Spiel des Jahres.  The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize, is slightly less well known, but arguably better reflects the slightly more advanced, “Gamers Games”.  There is usually quite a lot of overlap with the recommendations, nominees and winners of the Spiel des Jahres Awards, but the Deutscher Spiele Preis typically rewards a slightly heavier game, often more in line with Kennerspiel des Jahres category.  This is especially likely to be true this year as the family Spiel des Jahres award, or “Red Pöppel” nominees, are particularly light.  The most recent winners of the Deutscher Spiele Preis include, Azul, Terraforming Mars, Mombasa, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Russian Railroads and Terra Mystica, with only Azul, last year’s winner, featuring strongly in the Spiel des Jahres awards (the first game to win both awards since Dominion in 2009).

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Game weight is not the only difference between the two awards:  The Spiel des Jahres nominees and winners are selected by a committee with a clearly defined list of criteria, whereas the Deutscher Spiele Preis (which is awarded at the International Spieltage, in Essen), is selected by a general vote which is open to anyone, players, journalists and dealers alike.  The incoming votes are evaluated by an independent institute and only votes with details of the full name and address are valid (any duplicates are removed).   All votes are treated the same with games placed first receiving five points, those placed second receiving four and so on.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Only new games from the previous year are included in the ranking, so this year that’s games released since May 2018.  Thus anything new at Essen last year or the Spielwarenmesse (Nürnberg) this year, is eligible.  This includes Architects of the West Kingdom, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra (the sequel to last year’s winner Azul), Dice Settlers, Endeavor: Age of Sail, Everdell, Key Flow, Newton, Reykholt, Solenia, and Teotihuacan: City of Gods, as well all the nominees and recommendations for the Spiel des Jahres award, like L.A.M.A., Wingspan and Carpe Diem.

Deutscher Spielepreis 2019
– Image from spiel-messe.com

Voting is open until 31st July and there are hundreds of free games and tickets for the International Gamedays at Essen to win.  It’s not necessary to submit a full list, so why not take the opportunity to vote for your favourite release of the year?

5th March 2019

The evening started with lots of chit-chat including discussions about the smell of weed (the cheap stuff is called skunk for good reason apparently), a Czech bloke who was eaten by his illegally kept lion and the fact that Pine was feeling very poorly (which ultimately turned out to be a nasty case of cellulitis rather than man-flu). Meanwhile, lots of pancakes were eaten and there was a mix-up between Blue’s and Green’s leading to much hilarity.  The return of Ivory after a a couple of months on “sabbatical” heralded the long awaited Key Flow, as the “Feature Game”.  Key Flow is a card game version of one of our favourite games, Keyflower, and before Ivory left we promised we would save it for his return.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple and Black quickly excused themselves from playing Key Flow, and with Blue, Burgundy and Green joining Ivory, the group divided into two with unusual alacrity.  Blue and Burgundy explained the rules, which though related to Keyflower (and by extension, Key to the City: London) with familiar iconography and similarly played over four seasons, give the game a very different feel.  Key Flow is a very smooth card drafting game, so players start with a hand of cards and choose to one to play and hand the rest on to the next player.  The cards come in three flavours:  village buildings, riverside buildings and meeples.  Village cards are placed in a player’s village, in a row extending either side of their starting home card.  Riverside tiles are placed in a row below, slightly off-set.  Meeple cards are used to activate Village cards by placing them above the relevant building.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

As in Keyflower, buildings provide resources, skill tiles, transport and upgrades.  They also provide meeple tokens which can be used to increase the power of meeple cards or activate a player’s own buildings at the end of the round.  Arguably the clever part is how the meeple cards work.  At the centre of each card there are a number of meeples which dictate the power of the card.  A single meeple card can be played on any empty building; a double meeple card can be played on an empty building or one where one other card has already been played.  If two cards have already been played, a triple meeple card is required to activate it a third and final time.  Alternatively, a lower power meeple card can be played with one of the meeple tokens, which upgrade a single meeple card to a triple meeple card.  Double meeple cards can also be upgraded, but each building can only be activated a maximum of three times per round.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

The really clever part is that the meeple cards have arrows on them indicating where they can be played:  in the player’s own village, in the neighbouring village to the right, the village to the left, or some combination.  In the four player game, this means everyone has access to the buildings in three of the villages, but not the fourth (located opposite).  And in this game that was critical for Blue.  As in Keyflower, players begin the game with a small number of winter scoring tiles (cards in Key Flow), which can be used to drive their strategy.  In Key Flow, each player additionally chooses one at the start of the final round, so they know they are guaranteed to keep one of these and can invest more deeply in one strategy.  As a result, Blue was caught in a difficult situation.  As the game developed, Burgundy and Ivory both collected a lot of skill tiles; Blue was also interested as she had received the Scribe winter card at the start which gives seven points for every set of three different skill tiles.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for Blue, she could only get pick-axe skill tiles and Green sat opposite, had the Hiring Fair which would have allowed her to change some of them, but the seating position meant she couldn’t use it.  Ivory had other plans, however, and was busy picking up pigs and sheep.  Burgundy was producing gold and Green was producing wood.  Everyone was hampered by a paucity of coal as the Key Mine and miner cards were among those removed at random at the start of the game.  The game progressed through the seasons, and the game is very smooth, with more restrictions on the decisions and less of the negative, obstructive bidding that often features in Keyflower, making it a bit quicker to boot, though the setup is a little tedious.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Green were not in the running which was notable as they usually both do well with Keyflower, but both had struggled to get the cards or skill tiles they needed for their strategies.  In truth, though the theme is similar and the iconography and some of the mechanisms are the same, the two games are really very different, so perhaps it was not so surprising after all.  It was very, very close between Ivory and Burgundy at the front though, with just two points in it.  Ivory had no points from autumn cards, but a lot of upgrades and lots of points from his winter tiles.  In particular he scored well for his Truffle Orchard, which rewards players for having a lot of pigs and skill tiles, that he coupled with the marvelously named Mansfield Ark which allows pigs to be replaced with sheep.  In contrast, Burgundy had fewer upgraded buildings, but a lot of autumn cards that scored points for him, especially his Stoneyard.  It wasn’t enough though, and despite Green dumping his winter tile to try to limit Ivory’s scoring options, Ivory just beat Burgundy into second place—Welcome back Ivory!

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

While Blue and Burgundy explained the rules to Key Flow and set up the decks of cards, the other debated what to play.  Auf Teufel komm raus came out of the bag and then went back into the bag when Purple decided she didn’t want to play it, only for it come back out again in response to the chorus of protests, and this time make it onto the table.  This is a game we played for the first time a few weeks ago and enjoyed though we struggled with constantly making change due to a shortage of poker chips that make up the currency.  Thanks to the very kind people at Zoch Verlag, now furnished with a second pack of chips, it was time to play again.  The game uses “push your luck” and bidding in combination to make a simple but fun game.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone simultaneously places bets on the maximum value of coal that will be drawn out of the fire by one player in the round. Players then take it in turns to draw coals, either stopping when they choose or going bust if they draw a piece.This time, despite her reluctance to play it, Purple started very quickly and held the lead for most of the game.  Like last time, Mulberry skulked at the back, and abused this position to overtake Pine at the end by making a pact with the Devil.  Black stayed hidden in the pack for the majority of the game and then, in the final round pushed the boat out and gambled big.  In this game going large can lead to a spectacular win or equally spectacular loss.  This time, the gamble paid off and Black raked in a massive three-hundred and eighty points taking him just ahead of Purple in the dying stages of the game.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

With Auf Teufel komm raus over and Key Flow still underway, Purple was able to choose a game she wanted to play, and picked Hare & Tortoise.  This is an old game, the first winner of the Spiel des Jahres award, forty years ago. The game is a very clever racing game where players pay for their move with Carrots, but the further they move the more it costs.  The icing on the cake are the Lettuces though:  each player starts with a bunch of Carrots and three Lettuces—players cannot finish until they have got rid of all their Lettuces and nearly all of their Carrots.  On their turn the active player pays Carrots to move their token along the track; each space has a different effect including enabling them to eat Lettuces, but each will only hold one player’s token at a time.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Competition for these Lettuce spaces is always fierce, but that’s not the only stress, as efficiency is key, players who move too fast consume their Carrots too quickly and have to find a way to get more, which slows them down.  The winner is the first player to cross the finishing line, but that’s only possible if they’ve eaten all their Lettuces and almost all of their Carrot cards.  Last time we played Hare & Tortoise, it was six-player mayhem and a real scrabble as a result.  This time with just four, it was still a scrabble, but not quite as intense.  Black got his nose in front and managed his timing very effectively so was first to cross the line.  Pine and Mulberry were close behind, the latter just two turns from crossing the line herself.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Hare & Tortoise finished at about the same time as Key Flow; Pine had looked like death all night and Mulberry had an important meeting in the morning so both left early.  Ivory, on the other hand, said he would stay for another game so long as it was short, so the rump of the group settled down to an old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.  Everyone knew the how to play: players simultaneously choose a card, then simultaneously reveal them before playing them in ascending order placing each on the row ending with the highest card that is lower than the card being played.  When the sixth card is added to a row, the first five are taken and the number of heads contributes to the player’s score, lowest score wins.  We tend to play a variant over two rounds with half the deck in each round and not resetting the table in between.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Blue continued her poor run of form and top-scored in the first round with twenty-six, closely followed by Purple with twenty-two.  With a round to go, Burgundy, Ivory, Green and Black were all still in with a shout though.  Unusually, the second round went very similarly to the first, with Purple top-scoring with thirty-one (giving her a grand-total of fifty-three), Burgundy and Ivory getting exactly the same score as they had in the first round, and Green finishing with a similarly low score.  Only Black and Blue had significantly different scores, and while Black’s second round score destroyed his very competitive position from the first round, nothing was going to put Blue in with a chance of winning.  It was Ivory, again, who was the winner though, with a perfect zero in both rounds—two games out of two on his return (while we are very pleased to see him back again, we’ll have to put a stop to this run!).

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory decided to quit while he was ahead, leaving five to play Sagrada with the expansion.  Sagrada is a similar game to Azul, using dice instead of tiles and with a stained glass theme (which was slightly controversially also used in the recent Azul sequel, Stained Glass of Sintra). In Sagrada, each player has a grid representing a stained glass window.  At the start of the round, a handful of dice are rolled, and players take it in turns to choose one and place it in their window.  Once everyone has taken one die, everyone takes a second in reverse order (a la the initial building placement in Settlers of Catan).  This leaves one die which is added to the Round Track—the game ends after ten rounds, i.e. when after the tenth die has been placed on the Round Track.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

When players place dice, they must obey the restrictions on the window pattern card selected at the start of the game.  This time we played as well as two cards from the main decks (Gravitas for Purple and Firmitas for Black), we also used three promos: Vitraux (Blue), International Tabletop Day (Burgundy), and Game Boy Geek (Green; ironic as he’d never had a Game Boy in his life!).  This doesn’t score any points they come from the objectives:  public, which are shared and private which are personal.  This time, the public objectives awarded points for columns with different colours, rows with different colours and columns with different numbers.  The original game only included enough material for four players, but the recent expansion provided the additional pieces for the fifth and sixth, and four of the five private objectives came from there, giving those players the total face value of dice played in specific places.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to the private objectives, the group also decided to use the private dice pools.  When these are used, players only take one die from the draft (instead of two), taking the second from a pool rolled at the start of the game.  The final part of the game is the tool cards, three of which are drawn at random.  These can be used by players to help manipulate dice after they’ve been rolled or placed.  This time the tools were the Grinding Stone, Lens Cutter and Tap Wheel which enabled players to rotate dice to the opposite face, swap a drafted die with one from the Round Track and move two dice of the same colour that matches one of the dice on the Round Track.  To use these Tools, players must pay in tokens that are allocated at the start of the game according to the difficulty of their window pattern card.  Any of these left over at the end of the game is worth a point, but otherwise, points can only be scored by completing the objectives, and any dice that cannot be placed score negative points.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

The problem with this game is that it is extremely easy to get into a pickle and end up placing dice illegally.  Blue, who was a bit all over the place due to a night shift on Monday thought she would be the culprit, but it was Black who fell foul of the rules, and several times too.  Each mistake only cost him one point though, and in some respects it is better to have to remove dice than compromise plans.  Although she didn’t make any mistakes, Purple was concentrating so hard on placing all her dice she completely forgot to work on the objectives.  Misplaced dice tend to be indicative of other problems though and Blue was absolutely determined not break the rules this time, having made a complete pig’s ear of the game just over a year ago at New Year.  As a result she concentrated so hard that she gave herself a headache.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end, arguably it was worth the sore head as Blue not only avoided any illegal die placements, but also managed to get sets of different colours for all five columns in her window. Green managed four out of his five columns though and did well on some of the other objectives too.  Burgundy hadn’t done so well on that objective, but had done better on others, especially his own private objective.  It was very close for second, with Burgundy just one point behind Green’s sixty six, but Blue, headache and all was well in front with over eighty.  As they packed up, the group discussed the inclusion of the private dice pools and the effect of the extra player.  Blue felt the dice pools gave a better chance to plan, while Black felt they made the decision space more complex and slowed the game down.  Certainly, with five there’s a lot of thinking time and it can be very frustrating to see others ahead in the turn order take all the “best” dice, something that seemed worse with more players.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It’s great to welcome people back when they’ve been away!

Next Meeting – 5th March 2019

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 5th March, 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 Key Flow, a sort of card game version of one of our favourite games, Keyflower.  In truth, though the theme is similar and the iconography and some of the mechanisms are the same, the two games are really very different.  Key Flow is a card drafting game where players are adding cards to their village, and to the river that flows alongside.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

And speaking of rivers…

Jeff had just been handed his P45 and was feeling very, very down.  He had loved his job and been proud of what he did and didn’t know how he was going to tell his friends and family.  Walking home, he crossed a bridge high above the Thames.  As he looked over the railing he contemplated his position and suddenly found himself standing on the top rail getting ready to jump.  As he perched precariously, he happened to look down and saw a little man with no arms dancing on the river bank below.

Jeff thought, “My life isn’t so bad after all—at least I have both arms.” And with that he got off the railing.  Filled with a strange feeling of relief, he then walked down to the river bank to thank the little man for saving his life.

“Excuse me…” Jeff said as he approached the little man.  “I Just wanted to say thank-you.  I was about to jump off that bridge and kill myself, but when I saw you dancing even though you have no arms, I changed my mind.”

“Dancing? I’m not dancing,” the armless man replied bitterly.  “I’ve got an itch and I can’t scratch it!”

30th October 2018

The evening began with the inevitable post-Essen chit-chat and games-mule deliveries (though most of it hadn’t been unpacked so that’s something to look forward to next week too).  Burgundy was very pleased with his substantial pile of Concordia expansion maps though (including the new Venus expansion and older Britania/Germania, Gallia/Corsica packs), and Pine was thrilled to hear there was a copy of Echidna Shuffle on its way for him too.  With food delayed, and a lot of people already arrived, we decided to get going with the  “Feature Game”.  Prior to Essen, we had planned to play Key Flow, however, that was still packed and there hadn’t  been time to learn the rules, so instead the “Feature Game” chosen was Peppers of the Caribbean.  This is  a cute little set collecting card game with a very loose pirate theme.  Each card features a number, a colour and a type of food.  The idea is that there is a face up market and on their turn, players can either take cards from the market, or play cards.

Peppers of the Caribbean
– Image by boardGOATS

To take cards from the market the active player must first discard a card and can then take all the cards of that colour or all the cards of that food type into their hand (discarding down to seven if necessary).  Alternatively, they can play a set of three or four cards where all the cards have different colours and different food types.  Of these, two cards are discarded and the remaining cards are kept for scoring.  At the end of the game, players sum up the face value of the cards in their pile of kept cards, and the highest score is the winner.  There are one or two fine details, for example, as well as “chilli cards” there are also rum cards which feature two colours and no food.  These have a high value (six, compared with one to four for the chilli cards) and can help people make sets more quickly.  However, as they have two colours, this means there can only be one rum card in a set and the maximum set size is then three, so only one card can be kept reducing the scoring opportunity.  There are also bonus points cards which are drawn largely at random from a pile—some of these are end-game bonuses and others reward the first player to reach a goal (e.g. be the first player to have all four different food types in front of them).

Peppers of the Caribbean
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Pink had played the game a couple of times in their hotel bar at Essen and on the train home.  They had found it a diverting little game with two players and had wondered how it would play with more people.  Somehow it is one of those games that is slightly confusing at the start and things were made more challenging as we began with three players and ended up with five as more people arrived, meaning the rules got explained several times from different points.  As a result there were slow starters and “fast twitch” players.  It was close at the top though with Burgundy and Ivory some way ahead in a tight finish which Ivory took by just three points.  Although everyone would probably play it again, it was clear that the game would be better with fewer players where there would be less fluctuation in the market and everyone would have more of a chance to get what they want.  It only became clear some time later that there had been a mix-up somewhere along the line and although the side of the box said it was suitable for five, the bottom and the website indicated that the game was only intended to play a maximum of four anyhow…

Peppers of the Caribbean
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as the game was coming to an end, Black and Purple arrived in need of some R&R after what had been a trying day.  They had also brought some of their Essen Loot (including a copy of Las Vegas for Red), and the Essen discussion began again.  Black and Purple had been at the fair for the full four days and felt that a minimum of two was needed to see everything, but three days was a more realistic time.  Blue and Pink had been there for just two days as they can’t cope with the crowds for more than that.  Even they are considering a Thursday-Friday-Sunday strategy for next year though as there are now six halls (some very large indeed), and they felt they had missed a lot of things that they had wanted to see this year.  That said, a lot of games sold out including the expansions for Altiplano and Great Western Trail (Altiplano: The Traveler and Great Western Trail: Rails to the North), Mini Rails (again!), Hanamikoji, Food Chain Magnate, Roll to the Top, Majolica, Spirit Island, Echidna Shuffle, Ceylon and headline releases Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Architects of the West Kingdom, Newton, The River and Everdell.  Some of these went ridiculously fast, for example Everdell apparently sold out in six minutes on Saturday despite its not insubstantial price tag of €70.

Essen 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple and Black were particularly pleased with Solenia, which they had played at the fair and then managed to grab one of the last few copies available.  A beautiful game with a totally over-produced large yellow airship and cards with a hole in the middle, it wasn’t long before it became clear that it was going to be one of the games to make it to the table. The pretext is that several millennia ago, the tiny planet Solenia lost its day-and-night cycle:  its northern hemisphere was forever plunged into darkness, and its southern hemisphere was eternally bathed in bright sunlight. Players travel the world delivering the rarest gems and stones to the “Day People” and take wood and wheat to the “Night People” who need them to survive. In return players receive gold stars and the player with the most of these at the end of the game is the winner.

Solenia
– Image by boardGOATS

In each round, players take it in turns to play one card from their hand onto an empty space on the five-by-five game board. Cards can be played either on a “Floating Island” or a “Floating City”.  Cards played on Floating Islands will give as many resources as the value of the card played of the type corresponding to the City.  Cards played on Floating Islands enable players to fulfil a delivery tile by delivering the resources depicted on it.  Cards must be played adjacent to the airship in the centre of the playing area or adjacent to one of the players previously played cards.  When someone plays a zero card, the airship advances one space along the modular board.  At the end of that turn, the back piece of the game board is removed and players receive resources based on the cards they have on this strip of the playing area.  This strip is then turned over (turning night to day / dawn to dusk or vice versa), and it is placed on the front edge of the game board, and thus the airship moves across the planet.  This constantly changing board rolling from day to night and back to day again gives the game a unique feel.

Solenia
– Image by boardGOATS

Although resources were far from scarce (unlike other resource management games), it still has quite a bit of resource management thanks to a strict resource limit on a players personal board.  Thus, the real problem came in deciding which were the most important resources to keep, a little bit of area control/route planning, and a few paths to victory points. The constantly changing nature of the game doesn’t lend itself to a developing narrative though having played it before, Black and Purple had an edge over Green.  This wasn’t helped when Green misunderstood one of the cards and tried to do something clever to multiply his points.  The first attempt failed, but on the second try he thought he had achieved more points and then the misunderstanding came to light—the bonus points only applied to the card itself not to all types of terrain he had cards on.  It would not have changed the placings though.  It was very tight between Black and Purple until Black managed to gather together three pairs of day and night bonus chits, which hadn’t been looking likely until the last couple of turns.  With that, he just sneaked his nose in front, winning by three points.  Overall Solenia is a clever game that takes a run through to get a feel for how it works and then you then just want to play again—it certainly won’t be long before it gets another outing.

Solenia
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile the other four were giving Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra a try.  This was another Essen release, and one  that had generated a lot of “buzz” in advance as it was produced by the same team that originally published this year’s double award winner, Azul.  Blue, Purple, Black and Pink had all tried it while in Germany and found the scoring sufficiently different and interesting that they had collectively come back with two copies.  Initially the conversation centred around the clear plastic tiles that, largely dependent on age, reminded some people of Spangles (“The sweet way to go gay”) and others of “Tunes” (“Help you breath more easily” and thus “Book a second-class ticket to Nott-ing-ham”) .  Once the subject had moved away from 1980s confectionery, attention focussed on the new game and its similarity and contrast with the original Azul.  As in the original, players take all the tiles of one colour from a “factory” and put the rest in the middle, or they take all the tiles of one colour from the middle.  Tile placement and scoring is rather different however.  All the tiles taken in a turn are placed in a single column of the player’s personal player board.  This board is modular with the double-sided strips laid out  at random so everyone has a different starting setup.

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

Above the board each player has a figure, their Glazier, who marks one strip.  Tiles must be placed in the strip immediately below the Glazier, or in a strip to the right of the Glazier.  The Glazier gives players another option on their turn too, as players can choose to reset his position to the left most strip (instead of taking tiles).  Scoring is very different, with players getting points when strips are completed. The number of points scored is the sum of the score depicted below the strip, plus the score for any strips to the right that have already been completed.  There is also a colour bonus—each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game, and any tiles that match the colour for the round score extra.  Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed, reducing the players placement options.  This provides a subtle catch-up mechanism that takes effect towards the end of the game.  Any left over tiles that cannot be placed yield a penalty (as in the original Azul game), but this is also different.  In addition to the positive score track, there is also a negative score track where the steps start off small and then get larger; penalties are accrued for left-over tiles and also for being first to take a tile from the middle (and with it the Start Player token). There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips. All in all, the game is definitely a step up in complexity, making it more of a challenge for those who have played Azul extensively.

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

As most of the group fall into that category, we had high hopes that Stained Glass of Sintra would be a good fit.  It certainly offers a new challenge, though it was clear that the fact Blue had played it before gave her a significant advantage.  For example, the timing of repositioning the Glazier is very critical.  It doesn’t necessarily prevent a player getting a load of tiles they don’t want (as everyone can reposition their Glazier and the problem will come back round), but players don’t want to be stuck with their Glazier far to the right at the start of a new round as that limits their choice when the options are at their best.  Similarly, player don’t want to reposition their Glazier too frequently as this reduces the number of tiles they take and therefore affects their score.  Behind Blue it was very tight for second place with just five points covering Pine, Burgundy and Ivory.  It was Pine who got his nose in front though, by keeping his negative score down and concentrating on his end-game bonuses.  Unfortunately, the game is not as nicely produced as the original: the broken glass tower is made of very thin card (more like thick paper) as is the score board.  The “glass” pieces are also somehow not as nice as the resin tiles in the original and the colours are less distinct as well.  These negatives are a real shame as they take the edge off what would otherwise be a excellent reimplementation of the superb original game.

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

Green and went home for an early night leaving five others plus Pine who wanted to play something “in about forty-five minutes”.  Deciding what to play took so long that there nearly wasn’t time to play anything at all, but after three new games, everyone was in the mood for something “comfy”, and eventually Bohnanza appeared.  Pink’s new “Fan Edition” was still packed, as was the Jokerbohnen mini-expansion that Blue had acquired.  She had not brought her Spanish copy either, so it was the “boring” Rio Grande Games edition.  Familiarity sometimes has its place though, and this was one of those times. Nobody needed a reminder of the rules (plant the first bean in hand; optionally plant the second; turn over two cards and plant or trade them; trade from hand, and draw cards placed at the back of the hand), but the setup varies for different numbers.  It wasn’t long before we were underway, however, and Purple quickly began to amass a  crazy number of Red Beans.  It felt like nobody else could really compete although Black came very close finishing with thirteen coins, one behind Purple.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  New is very exciting, but that comfy pair of old slippers still has its place.

Essen 2018

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

Essen 2018
– Image from spiel-messe.com

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

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

16th October 2018

Blue was late after an unscheduled nap, so Burgundy consumed the first half of his supper alone.  Blue was quickly followed by Ivory and Pine and then a new visitor, Navy.  With Cobalt last week (who was busy moving house this week so couldn’t come) that makes two new people in two weeks.  Navy is a more experienced gamer and is into slightly more confrontational games than those we normally play, but that’s good as it might encourage us to leave our comfort-zone of cuddly Euros set in medieval Germany.  As we were all introducing ourselves, Green, and then Black and Purple turned up and the discussion moved on to how we choose the “Feature Game” (Blue suggests something to Green who mostly replies that he’s never heard of it, but it sounds quite interesting…).  Recent discussions have centred round the new Key Flow (aka “Keyflower the card Game”) for the next meeting and maybe Imaginarium (or, “The One With The Elephant on the Front” as Navy referred to it).  With that, Green started getting out this week’s “Feature Game“, which was Greed, a card drafting game where players are crime lords trying to earn more money than anyone else through clever use of their cards.

Imaginarium
– Image by BGG contributor W Eric Martin

At it’s heart, Greed is a quite simple, card-drafting game with a healthy dose of “take that” and a gangster theme.  Players start with a hand of twelve cards and “draft” three cards  (i.e. choose a cards and pass the rest on, three times).  Players then simultaneously choose one card then together reveal this card and action it before the it is replaced with another drafted card.  A total of ten cards are played in this way per person before the players tally their holdings and the player with the highest value is the winner.  Obviously, the game is all about the cards and there are three types, Thugs, Holdings and Actions, but it is the combination of these that is critical.  Actions have a unique effect associated with them while Thugs and Holdings typically also have a cost or a condition associated with them (e.g. cash paid to the bank or a collection of symbols on cards held).  Holdings are the key however.  When a Holding is played a token is placed on that card for each symbol on it and an additional token for each symbol of that type already possessed. These tokens are worth $10,000 each at the end of the game which is added to the value of cash collected through card plays.

Greed
– Image from kickstarter.com

Although it was Green’s game he had only played it once and that was over a year ago, while Burgundy had read up on it.  Pine and Navy had joined them to make the foursome.  The game takes a few rounds to understand how it really works.  After that, it’s quite easy to play, but working out which card to take and which to play is much harder, as they all seem to be really good. Unfortunately Navy struggled a bit at the beginning and made mistakes in his first couple of plays as he either found he couldn’t actually play his chosen card and had to just ditch it, or wasn’t able to get the indicated bonus. However, as he had not accumulated any wealth early on, it also meant he didn’t lose any when Green played a couple of cards which meant everyone else lost dollars, which leveled the scores a little.  Burgundy’s preparation really helped when he played a Holding card and proceeded to place six tokens on it, so by the half way mark it was looking like a two horse race between Burgundy and Green with both Navy and Pine looking short on cards.

Greed
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Through the second half of the game, Pine really got the hang of it and started raking in the dollars and had quite a pile of cash. Green then played a Holding card which enabled him to add chits equaling the same number as the maximum on another players cards, which meant he was able to gain from Burgundy’s excellent earlier play.  In the final rounds, Green played another card which removed one of his holdings only to be able to play it again the following round with even more tokens than it had previously. There was a brief discussion as to whether he should get the usual amount for it as well as the removed ones and two extras, a decision that went in Green’s favour, but the real question was whether it would be enough to beat Burgundy.  In the end, it was close, but the answer was no and Green finished with $30,000 behind Burgundy’s winning total of $235,000.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the next table everyone was being indecisive, but in the end the decision was made in favour of Roll for the Galaxy.  This is a game that really fascinated the group for a while because somehow it behaves differently to everything else we play and we really struggled to get to grips with it.  At the time, we concluded that our struggles were probably because we weren’t playing it enough so effectively had to learn it afresh every time we played.  For this reason we went through a phase of playing it quite a bit, but that was some months ago now and it was definitely time for another outing.  In principle, it is not a difficult game and the core mechanism is similar to the so-called “deck builders” (like Dominion) or “bag builders” (like Orléans or Altiplano), except instead of building a deck of cards or a bag of action tokens, players are building their supply of dice.  In Roll for the Galaxy, each different die colour reflects the different distributions of the dice, so for example, white “Home” dice feature each of the symbols for Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship once and Explore twice.  On the other hand, the yellow “Alien Technology” dice have three faces that depict the asterisk (“Wild”) and one each of Develop, Settle and Produce.  Thus, where probability affects which cards or tokens are drawn in the other games, in Roll for the Galaxy, players have more control over which dice they are using, but chance affects how those dice roll.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In principle, Roll for the Galaxy is not a difficult game and the basic mechanism is similar to that in Dominion or Orléans/Altiplano, except instead of building a deck or a bag of action tokens, players are building their supply of dice.  Each different die colour reflects the different distributions of the dice, so for example, white “Home” dice feature each of the symbols for Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship once and Explore twice.  On the other hand, the yellow “Alien Technology” dice have three faces that depict the asterisk (“Wild”) and one each of Develop, Settle and Produce.  Thus, where probability affects which cards or tokens are drawn in the other games, in Roll for the Galaxy, players have more control over which dice they are using, but chance affects how those dice roll.  Although the dice are important, like Greed, the game is really all about the special powers the players’ tableau, in this case made up of World tiles rather than cards.  Ultimately the game is really a race to trigger the end of the game is when the victory point chip pool runs out or a player builds their twelfth World.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Game play is mostly simultaneous:  players roll their dice and  allocate them to their phase strip.  Each player can choose one phase that they guarantee will happen, so in a four player game there is a maximum of four phases per round and where players choose the same phase there will be fewer, sometimes even only one.  The phases are:  Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce & Ship which correspond to draw Worlds from a bag; “spend” dice to build development Worlds;  “spend” dice to build production Worlds; place dice on production Worlds, and move dice from production Worlds in exchange for either victory points or money (which in turn can be used to speed up recycling of dice).  While we were setting up Ivory regaled us with the first few pages of Julia Donaldson’s “The Gruffalo”.  We will miss him and his stories when he takes his paternity leave in the new year.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor The Innocent

Blue began with the poor starting combination of a level six development World and a level one settlement, or a a level one development World and a level six settlement so began by rectifying the problem by exploring.  The game rocked along at a merry lick, with Black and Purple building and Ivory thrilled that he finally managed to build his first ever “Alien Technology World”, a feat he quickly followed with his second. Blue was slower building, but had a few high value developments and made good use of these before she began collecting some victory points.  This started a sudden cascade of Black and Ivory collecting points as well.  As a result, everyone focused on the number of victory point chips as the end game trigger, so much so that nobody, spotted that Purple had built her twelfth World.  As the group was just about to start the next round and everyone likes seeing their plans fulfilled, they played on anyhow.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor dodecalouise

Although it was a very tight game and everyone added to their scores, the extra round probably didn’t make any difference to the final placings.  Black and Ivory took over twenty victory points in chips alone, but they were offset by Blue’s high value Worlds and bonus points which gave her fifty-six points, just three more than Black in second place.  Everyone enjoyed the game, but there was one non-game highlight: Green’s sad little face when he looked across and broke off from setting up Greed with the sad comment, “Oh, They’re playing Roll for the Galaxy…”  Well, as everyone had a good time and with players getting quicker at it, it’s less of a labour than it used to be, so it surely won’t be long before he gets a chance to play it again.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Greed finished first and as it was still early there time for another game, but nobody wanted to have a late night so the group picked something shorter and settled on this year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul.  This was another game that was new to Navy, but it is very popular in the group and we’ve played it a lot.  Players are tiling a wall, taking tiles of one colour either from one of the factories (putting the rest in the central pool) or from the central pool.  Tiles are added to rows on the players’ boards and at the end of the round one tile from each full row is transferred to the players’ mosaics.  The aim is obviously to fill all the rows to transfer the maximum number of tiles, however, any excess tiles score negative points.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Navy quickly got the hang of this one and all the scores were close for a lot of the game, though it was noted how neat Green’s mosaic was looking as he managed to fill the first left hand vertical row and nearly completed the second as well before placing anywhere else.  Burgundy and Pine were both less tidy, but was still picking up extra points for connecting tiles when placing them. Although Navy’s board was a little more scattered, but that would help him to catch up later.  Everyone thought they were entering what would be the final final round with  three players with at least one row just one tile from completion, amazingly nobody completed them and everyone get one extra round.  This meant the group actually ran out of tiles to place on the central discs, triggering the end game in different way.  After this final round and final scoring, Pine finished on top of the podium, ahead of Burgundy in  second place with Navy in a very respectable third in a close game.

Azul
– Image by BGG Contributor styren

While Roll for the Galaxy was finished, there was a bit of chit-chat about strategy and it was clear that to do well at the game, you also need to keep a close eye on what everyone else is doing too. This can be tricky when you are struggling to work out what to do on your own board however.  Winning or losing though, Azul is a nice game that always delivers a challenge; it will be interesting to see how the new stand-alone version of the game, Stained Glass of Sintra compares and if it is as good or better than the original, or whether it “does a Queendomino or Tsuro of the Seas“.  No doubt we will find out in due course.  With that, those that wanted an early night headed for home, leaving Black, Purple, Burgundy and Blue with time for one last, shortish game.  Black suggested San Juan which had been played at the last Didcot Games Club meeting, and everyone else concurred.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

Essentially, San Juan is sometimes referred to as “Puerto Rico the Card Game”, but in truth they are very different games although the artwork and roll selection is similar.  In practice, it is actually a simpler version of the card version of Roll for the Galaxy, Race for the Galaxy.  The game uses the same multi-purpose card mechanism seen in games like Bohnanza, though in this case, cards can be buildings, goods, or money.  The idea is that players take it in turns to choose a “role” and then everyone carries out the action associated with that role, though person who chose it carries out with the “privilege”, a slight advantage.  The roles are Councillor; Prospector; Builder, Producer and Trader.  Players have a hand of cards and can use the Builder to build these cards to paying for them with other cards from their hand.  Hands are replenished directly using the Councillor or Prospector.  However, it is much more efficient to build an engine using production buildings.  These take cards from the deck and turns them into goods when a player chooses the Producer role; when the Trader role is chosen, these goods can be traded for cards according to the current value depicted on the tally stick.  The game end is triggered when someone builds their twelfth building.

San Juan
– Image by BGG contributor Aldaron

Black and Burgundy were quick out of the traps building their efficient production engine, with high value coffee and silver producers.  Purple started with “purple buildings” before also moving into sugar production and then Monuments.  Blue on the other hand started with a hand full of nice looking purple civic buildings that she didn’t want to part with and after three rounds hadn’t seen a production building, so decided to try something different and built a Tower (to increase her hand limit from seven to twelve) and started building.  Elsewhere on the table Burgundy was stealing a march on everyone else, adding a Well, Smithy, Aqueduct and Market Hall to his high value buildings.  When he added a Library which enabled him to use his privilege twice, he began turning over cards at a phenomenal rate and it looked like the writing was on the wall.  Everyone was keeping a careful eye on everyone else, trying to make sure they didn’t fall behind in the number of buildings they had, and before long, the game end was triggered and it was the final round then the scores were added up.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

After the scores had been added up, Black bemoaned the lack of the endgame scoring bonus cards that rewarded the production buildings and monuments that he had been collecting (Guild Hall and Triumphal Arch).  It was then that Blue explained that she had been stashing them under her Chapel as she had no use for them and didn’t want the others to have them.  It was possible that this tactic made the difference, as despite having only two production buildings, her City Hall and Chapel delivered a massive thirteen bonus points, just enough to offset the cheaper buildings she had been forced to build.  Remarkably, Blue finished with thirty-one points, four ahead of the “Production King” Burgundy.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thatmadgirl

Learning Outcome:  Though difficult, it is important to keep a close eye on what everyone else is doing.