Tag Archives: Keyflower

25th July 2017

The evening began with Burgundy and Blue playing a non-Extreme version of The Game: ExtremeThe Game was one of our more popular games, but seems to have been somewhat neglected of late.  It is one of those simple games that we really enjoy as a group, and is unusual because it is a cooperative game, which we generally avoid.  The game consists of a deck of cards numbered two to ninety-nine, which are shuffled and everyone is dealt a hand (seven in the two player game).  On their turn, the active player must play at least two cards onto the four piles following a handful of simple rules.  Two of the piles start at one and every card there after have a higher number than the card on top; the other two start at 100 and the cards that follow must have a lower number.  The aim of the game is for all the cards to end up on the four piles, so timing is everything – play a card that is too low and someone could get shut out and be unable to play one of their cards.  This makes communication important: players can say anything they like, but must not give specific number information about the cards they hold.  There is one “get out of gaol” rule, sometimes known as “The Backwards Rule”, where players can play a card on the wrong deck, but only if the card is exactly ten different to the top card.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

The Game: Extreme is just like the The Game, except that some of the cards have extra icons on them which limit the number of options available and consequently make being successful even more difficult.  Although we have played the full version, we have found that the basic game is usually quite challenging enough for us, so we chose to stick to the original game this time and ignored the extra symbols. Blue and Burgundy had just started when Pine turned up so he grabbed six cards (the number of cards in hand for three players) and joined in.  It was just as well that it was only the base game, because after Blue had an excellent start, everyone else thereafter had very middling cards, that is to say, they were all in the thirty to seventy region.  Then things got worse, because having been forced to move to the middle, everyone drew single digit cards and cards numbered in the nineties.  Everyone blamed Burgundy because he shuffled, but he had some of the worst timed cards of all.  Remarkably, the draw deck was eventually exhausted and there was a moment’s respite as layers only had to play the one card.  It wasn’t long before it was all over though, with Blue stuck with a large number of unplayable cards.  In the end there were eleven cards left unplayed – a lot worse than our best (we have beaten it in the past), but not so bad considering our truly dismal start.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone who had been expected arrived, we moved on to the “Feature Game”, which, following it’s entirely predictable Spiel des Jahres win last week, was Kingdomino.  The game consists of dominoes featuring two terrain “tiles” with some tiles also depicting one or more crowns.  When the dominoes are placed, one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or connect to their starting tile (which can be considered to be “wild”).  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space and if one or more dominoes cannot be placed according to these rules, then they are discarded. At the end of the game, each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region and adds them up together with any bonuses to give their score.  We’ve played this a lot since Expo, and found it very enjoyable, so everyone was happy to give it another go.  With a total of seven people we split into two groups, the first was a group of three consisting of Black, Purple and Green.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

With only three playing a dozen dominoes were removed and it was not until the end of the game that it became apparent that over half were pasture tiles.  As a result, it was unsurprising that Green managed to corner the market in pastures with four squares and two crowns leaving Black and Purple with only one tile and no crowns. In contrast, Purple ended up with all the swampland (with two squares and three crowns), while Black and Green only managed only a couple of tiles and no crowns.   Black’s wheat, woodland and water provided good solid scoring, while Green added two woodland areas and a small strip of water to his.  In a very close game with just four points between first and third, it was Purple’s extensive wheat field that made up the bulk of her winning score of forty-nine.  On the next table, with four players, none of the dominoes were removed, but that didn’t stop fate getting involved.  In this game, all the high numbered (and therefore valuable) dominoes came out at the start, making it very obvious who wanted what later in the game.  In the first game everyone had managed a perfect five-by-five grid with the castle in the middle so they all picked up the bonus points.  In the second game, Burgundy failed on both counts so started fifteen points adrift.  Despite this, he still finished with a very creditable fifty points and was only beaten by two points by Blue in what was also a very close game.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Both games finished more or less together and there was just time for a little chit-chat before we moved onto the next game.  Inevitably, people were interested in how Keyper had gone, when the group had been fortunate enough to participate in a play-testing session with the designer.  As a group, we love Keyflower and were keen to see how this one plays out.  Although the game is quite deep, it isn’t actually as complex as it seemed at first and the novel game boards that change throughout the seasons were described as “Genius” by Black while they simply fascinated Blue, reminding her of a Moomin toy she had picked up in Helsinki airport ten years before.  Pink on the other hand was captivated by the individual art on the MeepleSource Character Meeples in the deluxe edition.  The general consensus seemed to be that everyone was looking forward to playing it again on its release, which will probably be in a couple of months time.

Keyper
– Image from kickstarter.com

With drinks refilled there was the inevitable debate as to who was going to play what and eventually, Pine joined Black, Purple and Green for a game of Jamaica.  This was the group’s first ever “Feature Game” and as such is an old favourite; quick to learn and fun to play, but oh so difficult to do well in. Pine was new to it, so a run-down of the rules was in order.  Essentially a race game, the board depicts the island of Jamaica surrounded by a water race track where each space is a Port, a Pirates’ Lair, or “Deep Sea”.  For the most part, there is just one route, but there are a couple places where players can choose to cut a corner to get ahead, but there are always consequences.  Each player has a ship, a player board representing their ship’s hold a starting amount of food and gold together with a deck of action cards from which they draw three.  At the start of each round, the Captain rolls the two dice and places them in the middle of the board – one on a “morning” spot and the other on the “evening” spot. Each player then chooses one of their three action cards and places it face down in front of them.  Staring with the Captain, players then take it in turns to carry-out the two actions on their card, applying the number on the morning die to one of them and the number on the evening die to the other.

Jamaica
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor Punkin312

The actions vary from sailing (forwards or backwards) to taking food, gunpowder or doubloons, and in each case the number of spaces or the amount of resource depends on the morning and evening dice.  When sailing the player must move their ship the exactly amount and then carry-out the action according to the space they land on: in Deep Sea, they must discard food; at a Port, they must discard gold; at a Pirate’s Lair they get to take any treasure that may be there (and they aren’t all good).  More seriously, if there is another ship on the space, there is a battle which is resolved with dice and gunpowder.  The game ends when one player makes it all the way round the island and back to Port Royal and players score points for how far they got, the number of treasures they stole and the amount gold they collected.  Random role meant he was the starting captain, but he was happy to go first.  The flotilla started slowly, but Pine and Purple soon found a little wind to get started, while Green and Black remained in port for a while longer.  Inevitably, Pine and Purple were soon fighting it out with Purple winning the first melee.

Jamaica
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Purple also managed to steal the first treasure, which everyone quickly realised was a stinky one when she beat Black in battle and passed it along.  Black kept his ship smelling sweet by fighting and beating Pine soon after and passing it on again… From then on, even though Pine had managed to gain more bonus cards, no-one dared take one as booty, just in case!  By this time, Purple was full-sail ahead and also gained the “roll again in battle” card, Black found the luxury of an extra card in hand, and Green remained lingering far behind the others.  This soon changed within a couple of rounds, when a quick reverse for Green resulted in the plus-two cannon card and double high scoring forward brought him back into the fray.  With his eye on the treasure in the Pirate’s Lair as he sailed past, he knew he didn’t have enough to pay the harbour tax at the Port and would therefore be “forced” to go back a space to the Pirates’ Lair.  First he had to deal with Purple who was ominously lurking at the entrance to the harbour.  He bravely took her on and won, taking some gold as his prize, but then realised his mistake – now he could pay the tax and would not have to reverse to the unclaimed treasure!

Jamaica
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Purple and Pine continued their tit-for-tat squabbling and Purple’s boat got heavier while Pine’s got lighter.  Black tactfully mostly avoided too many fights, leaving his hold almost empty for much of the middle of the game.  Green, on the other hand, took on Purple once again, and lost and with it went his plus-two cannon. Purple was beginning to look invincible with both fighting bonuses and a hold full of cannons to boot, but she did not do much fighting after that, since everyone else tried their hardest to avoid her!  Pine then came within a whisker of landing in Port Royal, which was just six spaces away, so everyone knew the end was nigh and every round was about maximising points. A six was rolled and everyone thought that would be it, but Pine decided to stay put and claim some more gold, then promptly lost some to Purple who joined him in Port.  With a three and a six rolled the end was triggered when Green just struggled across the line, gaining seven points, but losing five gold in duty at the Port.  Black stayed put and just piled in more gold while Purple and Pine both raced across the line.  It was close at the front, but Pine romped home with just enough bonuses to pip Purple by two points.

Jamaica
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor The_Blue_Meeple

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Burgundy and Blue were introducing Ivory to Orléans.  This is one of Burgundy’s favourite games and he was almost purring as he was setting up while Blue explained the rules.  The idea is that each player has a bag and, at the start of the round they draw workers from it.  Players then place their workers on it their market which has a maximum of eight spaces, before moving as many as they want onto their personal player board which dictate the actions they can carry out.  Once everyone has placed their pieces, players take it in turns to carry out their actions.  There are a variety actions, but a lot of them involve taking another worker that is added to the bag along with any workers that have been used.  Thus, the game is mechanically very simple: draw workers from a bag, plan which actions to do and then do them with points awarded at the end of the game.  This simplicity belies the depth of the game and the complexity that comes as a result of combining the different actions though.

Orléans
– Image by BGG contributor styren

In addition to taking a worker, the most actions come with a bonus; some of these help players manage their game, while others give players scoring opportunities.  For example, going to the Castle will give a player an extra “Knight”, but will also enable them to take an extra worker out of the bag on subsequent turns and so on.  Each of the Character actions has an associated track on the communal player board and the players move one step along these tracks each time they carry out an action receiving a bonus as they go; in general, the bonuses increase the further along the track players are.  Probably the biggest source of points, however, comes from a combination of traveling around France building Trading Stations, collecting “Citizens” and traveling along the development track.  This scores heavily because the total awarded is equal to the product of the number of Status Markers achieved along the development track, and the sum of the Trading Stations and Citizens.  This is not the only way to score points though, something that was very evident in this game when it came to scoring.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

The game started slowly, with everyone trying to fill their bag with useful characters.  Blue began by going to University which gave her a good start along the development track, though of course this meant nothing without Citizens and/or Trading Stations to act as a multiplier.  It also gave her a lot of grey Scholars, which she mostly put to good use in the Cloister to get yellow Monks, and before long her bag was a veritable monastery!  This meant she was forced to neglect other areas though.  Meanwhile, Burgundy had started by looking at the map of France and the lay out of resources and had noticed that there was a lot of wool and cloth on the eastern border, so he began moving and collecting resources with a vague plan to add a Tailor’s Shop or Wool Merchant to add more, though things didn’t work out quite like that when Ivory got in on the act and his blue Sailors decided to hide in his bag.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory had begun by building the basics, starting with his Castle which gave him lots of red Knights and allowed him to draw more people out of his bag, then moving on to brown Craftsmen adding automation and then blue Sailors that provided lots of money.  This meant his development track was sorely neglected and he looked like he was going to be in trouble as places at the University ran out.  He had a plan for that though, and added the Observatory to his board which allowed him to move large distances along the Development track, something he used to great effect.   As the game drew to a close, event tiles continued to be drawn in pairs with the same event occurring in consecutive rounds – something Burgundy got the blame for again.  The fates got their revenge however, and Burgundy’s shy Sailors continued to hamper his plans while Blue headed down the west coast of France to build her final score.  In the final rounds there was a flurry of building and sending people to the Town Hall to pick up those few extra citizens.  The final score was close, very close, with everyone scoring in different areas:  Burgundy and Ivory had large piles of cash, while Blue was cash poor and made the majority of her points through the development track and Trading Stations.  Similarly, Ivory scored highly for his cloth, while Burgundy scored for his wool and Blue had the most cheese.  There were only eleven points between first and third, but Blue finished just ahead of Ivory in second place.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Jamaica had come to an end, so with Burgundy tied up in the battle for France, Pine, Black and Purple fancied their chances at Splendor.  The game is very simple: 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.  This time, although it started as a tight game, Black quickly got his nose in front and there he stayed.  Pine picked up a noble, but that was matched by Black and the writing was on the wall long before Black triggered the end of the game, finishing with a total of sixteen points, five more than Pine in second.

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

With Orléans over, Ivory headed home leaving just enough time and people for one last quick game, another old favourite, Bohnanza.  The original bean trading game, the cleaver part of the game is that players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand and must play them in the order they arrive.  Thus, on their turn, the active player first plays the first card in their hand with the option of playing the second if they desire.  Once they’ve been planted, two cards are drawn which can be traded, but must be planted by someone.  The game is very free flowing with lots of table talk, which perhaps explains why it took a lot longer than planned.  Burgundy once again got the blame when cards grouped together, that didn’t stop Blue from getting in a tangle with Garden and Cocoa Beans, harvesting them only to draw one straight away.  Despite this, was a close game and finished in a three-way tie for first place, with Pine just one point behind in second.  Unusually, Burgundy trailed a long way behind, capping a hard fought evening that went unrewarded.  As he commented on the way out of the door though, while it had been an unsuccessful evening, it had still been enjoyable.

– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Losing can be fun, but don’t let Burgundy shuffle.

16th May 2017

Since Red had been hankering after playing the “Feature Game” for a year or so, the first thing we had to do was work out who was going to play it.  With Burgundy starting his pizza, and Red and Blue’s still to come, we decided to play something to keep Pine occupied while we waited to see who else was coming.  We were just setting out Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen) when Purple and Black arrived closely followed by Green.  Pine was sure Ivory wasn’t coming, so with two copies of the “Feature Game” to hand, we then began a debate about how to divide the group into two.  At this point, the matter was sort of settled by Ivory’s arrival, so the four player comfortably ensconced at “the wrong table” continued setting up their “goaty game” while the others migrated back to our usual, now vacated table.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen) is a simple little “push your luck” game, based on Blackjack (aka Pontoon or Vingt-et-Un), but with a moving target.  Thus the idea is to collect cards up to a limit, but exceeding that limit yields a score of zero and the player is “bust”.   So, players choose a card from their hand and play it face up in front of them – the person who plays the highest card takes the trick and with it all the cards played in the round a score equal to the total number of goats heads on the sides of the cards.  Unfortunately, they get to lead again and worse, the player in last place gets to add a card to “Goat Island” and choose whether to contribute the larger or smaller number to the limit.  Burgundy went bust first taking the first two hands, followed by Red.  When Blue dumped a nice large card onto a trick Pine was winning he went out too, leaving Blue to take all the final trick.  The only question was whether she had managed to stay within the limit, but finishing with twelve, and given a limit of twelve she just squeaked in to win.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

With that done, and the pizzas also taken care of, it was time for Keyflower, the “Feature Game”.  This is one of the group’s favourite games, but has been someone neglected of late.  On checking back, we found it was two years since we last played it, though we had played Keyflower’s little brother, Key to the City – London (released at Essen last year), more recently.  Both games have the same general flow, using the same tile laying and auction mechanism, but with different tiles and resources used in different ways.  The basic mechanism is quite simple, though the resultant game is much deeper.  The game is played over four rounds or Seasons,  with players taking it in turns to bid on a tile, carry out an action or pass.  Once everyone has passed in succession, the round is over, and the tiles are are added to the winning players’ villages.  After four rounds, the player with the most points wins.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part of the game is that the bidding and actions are both carried out with Keyples (which is what meeples are called in these games).  So, on their turn, the active player can bid for one of the tiles.  If that tile already has a bid against it, then the active player must follow suit by bidding with the same colour and with at least one additional Keyple, thus increasing the bid.  Only winning bids are paid for at the end of the round, with loosing bids are returned to their owner, which is just as well because Keyples are scarce, very scarce.  In fact, losing bids belong to their owner during the round too as players can move losing bids and use them elsewhere adding more Keyples if necessary.  On their turn, players can also activate tiles by placing Keyples on the tile which gives a resource or an action.  These resources are then placed on the tile or, in the case of skill tiles, placed behind their player screen.  There are several different actions available, but one of the key things players will want to do during the game is upgrade tiles.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Tiles are double-sided:  when a tile is first added to a village, it has a corresponding action, but upgrading and turning it over will make it more useful.  For example, the Workshop tile gives either one coal, one wood or one stone, but when upgraded gives one of each. Tiles can typically be activated three times each Season, but players must follow colour suit and the cost increases by one each time; tiles can hold a maximum of six Keyples.  One of the more unusual things about Keyflower is that players can activate the tiles in other peoples’ Villages.  This is interesting because the first player to activate a tile dictates the colour for the rest of the round, so if an opponent activates a tile with “the wrong colour” it can make life very difficult for the Village owner.  On the other hand, since all Keyples working in the Villages return home and go behind the owners’ screens at the end of the Season, activating a tile in someone else’s Village is effectively giving them valuable Keyples.  Perhaps one of the most interesting thing about the game is that strategies almost never turn out quite the way people plan.  Other players can innocently make a tile too expensive or even completely unattainable by starting bidding with “the wrong colour”.

– Image by boardGOATS

Also, although the tiles are well balanced, depending on player count, some tiles are not introduced into the game which can make it difficult to get that resource that was essential to a that particular strategy.  This means that players tend to do best by keeping their options open for as long as possible and then trying to bring it all together at the end.  At the start of the game, each player is given some tiles for the final round, Winter and each player can choose which of these they want to make available to the highest bidder.  They can choose as many as they like to introduce, though they must include at least one.  This decision doesn’t have to be made until the start of the final round, so although they don’t direct players’ strategy exactly, they can give people a bit of a general steer.  The first group of players were Green, Black, Purple and Ivory.  Green, Black, and Purple have played Keyflower quite a bit over the years, and although Ivory was new to the game, he had played Key to the City – London, which has a lot of similarities.  This made the group quite experienced, but that is certainly no guarantee of success in Keyflower.  And how many points make success, was something Ivory asked before they started and received the reply from the other side of the room, “Over a hundred!”, to which, everybody laughed.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Spring is the Season for resources, and Purple led the way by picking up the Key Mine, Key Wood and Keystone Quarry tiles providing coal, wood and stone.  Although a strong start, sometimes it is easy to get carried away with bidding which can result in a shortage of Keyples for later rounds.  On the other hand, if the tiles are particularly useful, they can prove a valuable source of Keyples when other players are tempted to activate them.  Unfortunately for Purple, Ivory picked up the Workshop and quickly upgraded it making it a much more enticing tile.  Purple’s cause was not helped by Green who was being particularly parsimonious with his Keyples as he had the Craftsmans’ Guild as one of his Winter tiles and was hoping to make it pay at the end of the game.  Useful actions can be a double-edged sword however, as Black found out to his cost when everyone kept activating his tiles before he got the chance, and generally with colours that he did not have.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Going into the final round, everyone’s plans were on a knife edge.  Black’s plans fell apart when, after picking up the Stone Yard (which rewards players for getting stone), in a fit of enthusiasm he upgraded his mason tile.  This meant that instead of turning skills tiles into stone, he could now turn them into gold, which is very nice, but was worth about half the number of points to him as well as being a lot more interesting to everyone else.  As Winter progressed, the bidding got more determined and everybody had to fight their corner, but especially Green and Ivory.  Ivory took the boat tile Green was after, but failed to stop Green winning the Craftsmans’ Guild.  Ivory had been quietly collecting skills tiles and squirrelling them away behind his screen, and it was clear why when the Scribes tile appeared at the start of Winter.  Green made his move early, putting in a large bid to try to stop him from getting it, but when Ivory countered, Green couldn’t afford to increase the bid further.  In fact, it wouldn’t have helped if he’d been able to continue, because Ivory had a number of Keyples in reserve, just in case.  And it was those reserve Keyples that clinched it, with Ivory winning with seventy-six points, twenty-one points ahead of Green in second.

– Image by boardGOATS

On the other table, things went a little differently.  While Blue and Burgundy had played Keyflower a lot and it was one of their favourite games, Pine had only played Key to the City – London, and Red was completely new to the game, though she had been hankering after giving it a go for a ages.  In this game, Pine started off very strongly and then proceeded to build a very nicely balanced little village coveted by both Blue and Burgundy.  With both the Miner and the Gold Mine tiles as well as as the Smelter, Pine had access to coal and lots valuable gold and the others felt he only needed a couple of nice Winter tiles to top it off for a really high score.  Burgundy picked up the Keystone Quarry giving him plenty of stone once he had upgraded it.  As it was, Burgundy’s Workshop was in high demand for those who needed timber for upgrading their home tiles, but the almost complete lack of wood in any Village, became apparent when the Timberyard and Sawmill tiles both appeared in autumn and nobody had any wood to do anything with them.  Burgundy’s problems were exacerbated by the shortage of tiles that would give points for stone.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Having bid for a lot of tiles in the opening round, and won none Blue was left trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and cobble together a score from the Apprentice Hall and the flotilla of boats she ended up with at the end of Spring.  As she was completely new to the game, Red found herself a little overwhelmed by the amount the game gives players to think about.  While the mechanics are fairly straightforward, there are a lot of considerations to take into account when bidding and, unlike the arguably slightly simpler Key to the City – London, getting resources to the right location can be challenging.  Red started off with the Peddler tile in spring, which enabled her to swap yellow Keyples for special green Keyples.  This gave her an early start going for the Key Market Winter tile that she had in her hand (which rewards players for the number of green Keyples they have at the end of the game) with the added bonus that she would be in a strong position to bid with green Keyples if she needed to.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Despite having a fair idea what people had, somehow the Winter tiles were still a bit of a surprise and the scrap began as players tried to make they didn’t lose out.  With the other game finishing first, the others came over to spectate and see how their game had compared. Burgundy got his Craftmans’ Guild tile and, tried to stop Blue picking up both the Key Guild and the Scholar, but with both in the game, it was odds on that Blue would get one.  In the end she managed to take both and having a huge pile of skill tiles to go with them gave her a healthy number of points.  Pine took the Keythedral and decided to fight for his choice of end game boat tile, taking the Keyflower tile giving him points for his transport abilities.  As everyone was a little short on Keyples except Blue (largely thanks to having not spent any on bidding during the game) was also able to pick up the Village Hall (and score points for the large number of Red Keyples she had amassed) as well as picking up sixteen points for her sizeable river.  These gave her a total just shy of that magic hundred, and thirty-seven points ahead of Pine who’s lovely little village gave him an excellent second place.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

With the other group not staying to watch the packing away, Pine, Burgundy, Blue and Red felt they needed something quite quick and fun to lighten the mood before bed, indeed a bit 6 Nimmt!-a-like.  With that in mind, we went for 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!, which has a similar run building and picking up cards element as 6 Nimmt!, but a little more strategy, or at least, an illusion of more strategy.  The idea is that on their turn they play one card from their hand and add it to one of three rows, in its correct numerical order.  If it is the fifth card added to the row (in any position) they have to pick up cards and add them to their collection.  The cards they pick up depend on where the card was added however:  if the new card is the last in the row, the player picks up the first card in that sequence, otherwise they take all cards higher in number.  The cards come in seven different colours; at the end of the game one card of a colour will score one point while two cards will score five, but three will score minus three.  Thus, players are ideally trying to collect two of each colour, but three is one too many…

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

The first player to have at least one of each colour face up collects an intermediate bonus, which diminishes for players who achieve this feat later in the game.  Players with six or seven different colours at the end of the game receive five or ten bonus points respectively.  Each player starts with a hand of eight cards and a face down deck of twelve cards.  When they have played their hand down to the last two cards, they can draw back up to eight.  This introduces just a little bit of stress during the game, and prepares players for the inevitable stress at the end.  And stress there was a plenty.  Blue had played the game a few times with Pink and found it interesting, however, with four it has added spice, especially towards the end.  Blue picked up the first intermediate swiftly followed by Pine and then Red.

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy is well known for his muttering, but this time he had Pine for company.  In fact, Pine soon surpassed Burgundy, muttering about how nasty the game was.  When it came to the end-game scoring it was clear that he had something to mutter about finishing with almost as many negative points as positive ones and he was only saved from the ignominy of a negative score by the intermediate bonus he had collected.  Perhaps she was too tired to moan or maybe she didn’t feel the need, but Red quietly just got on with the game and, with perfect timing, took the full ten point bonus at the end of the round.  With Burgundy doing the same, it was close at the tome, but Burgundy just sneaked in ahead of Red, finishing five points clear with forty-seven points.

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It may be Nasty, but “The Nasty Game” is Good Fun!

15th Movember 2016

It was another very quiet night thanks to work commitments and illness, so we started late.  Our numbers were bolstered by the return of Yellow, who visited back in July when he was in the area for work.  Clearly we hadn’t frightened him too much last time and he made a return visit, bringing us up to a total of six.  This gave us two possible options: split into two groups of three, or play something with six players.  With six players, Keyflower is usually in the mix as it plays very well with that number, and indeed it had been part of the “possible plan” for the evening.  However, the “Feature Game” was Key to the City – London which also plays six and is a slightly more streamlined re-implementation of Keyflower.  Since everyone was keen to try it so we decided to give it a go with with the full complement.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic structure of both Keyflower and Key to the City is actually fairly simple, but the strategy behind the games is much more complex.  Both games are played over four rounds with players bidding for tiles to add to their village/borough.  The bidding is particularly unusual as the currency is “Meeples” and, although bidding must increase and “follow suite”, it is free-form, i.e. all the tiles are auctioned simultaneously.  So, players take it in turns to bid, but as the round progresses, players have to decide whether to “spend” Meeples on bidding for other tiles, or whether to keep an emergency supply in case someone tries to out-bid them on a tile they really want.  Tiles are generally worth points at the end of the game, but most also provide some advantage when they are activated during the game.  This could be the provision of a resource, or it could be the opportunity to convert one resource into another.  Any tile in play can be activated by any player placing a Meeple on it.  So players can get a benefit from tiles belonging to other players, or even tiles that are still being auctioned.  Tiles can be activated many times, but each time, the cost goes up and the player must use an extra Meeple.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

When activating tiles, players also have to “follow suit”, so Meeples must be the same colour as any others already there, or, if the tiles is being auctioned, the colour should match any previous bids.  At the end of the round, any Meeples used to activate a tile are returned to the owner of the tile, thus, player’s are effectively paying Meeples to activate other players’ tiles.  And Meeples are valuable, very valuable.  The disadvantage for the tile owner, however, is that once their tile has been activated, they may not have enough Meeples in the correct colour to use the action themselves.  The round is over when every player has passed consecutively, at which point, all losing Meeple-bids are returned to their owner, all winning bids are placed back in the Meeple bag, all tiles are handed to the winner (or removed from the game if there were no bids) and any Meeples used to activate tiles go behind the owners player screen.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Three of the players were familiar with Keyflower, but only one had played Key to the City before, as it was only released at Essen this year.  Although the basic structure of the game is the same, it is slightly simpler and more streamlined.  For example, in Keyflower, green Meeples are “special” and can only be acquired by activating certain tiles making them much rarer.  Thus, players with green Meeples have a big advantage when bidding and activating as it is much harder for other players to follow suit.  In Key to the City on the other hand, there are no green Meeples at all.  Similarly, in Keyflower, tile placement is very important as resources must be located where they are to be used and can only be transported by road (which needs activation in itself).  This is not a consideration for players of Key to the City, however, there is a different positional aspect to the game.  The octagonal wooden resource cylinders that feature in Keyflower are replaced by wooden utility “connectors”.  These are placed across the edge of a tiles and used to link tiles together.  At the end of the game, tiles that are connected together can score points for players with the correct corresponding scoring tiles.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Another significant difference between Keyflower and Key to the City is the way the rounds end.  In Keyflower, players can continue taking it in turns to bid or activate tiles until everyone passes.  In addition to the village tiles, players can also bid for boats which determine the turn order as well as the number and colour of Meeples they get in the next round.  These are not present in Key to the City, instead, players have an additional, one-off option of “sailing”.  When a player passes, they can, as in Keyflower, rejoin the bidding in later turns if they wish.  In Key to the City, players can instead choose to sail, which finishes their round.  This is potentially dangerous as it leaves the player without the option to counter-bid if someone else outbids them.  However, there is an incentive to sail earlier as the first players to sail can choose to take the river tile (which give scoring opportunities) or start the next round, with the earliest adopters thereafter getting more Meeples to use in later rounds.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

With three players unfamiliar with both Keyflower and Key to the City we began with a rundown of the rules as well as highlighting the differences between the games for those who had played Keyflower.  Once done, as everyone looked at their final round tiles, Ivory asked what a winning score might be.  Simultaneously Blue and Yellow responded with “fifty” and “a hundred”!  A quick look through the book showed, much to Yellow’s dismay, that the group’s winning scores for Keyflower have generally been above seventy-five.  As everyone digested this and we began the first round rather tentatively as players were uncertain of the value of the different tiles.  Blue and Yellow were keen to avoid over-paying as they had knew how valuable Meeples could be later in the game when they can get scarce, consequently, they refused to couter-bid beyond their comfort zone and finished the first round with almost nothing between them.  Green, on the other hand, led the way and acquired a lot of tiles with Ivory, Magenta and Pine, all new to the game, following his lead.  It was towards the end of the round that the great rules debate happened.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Yellow and Green had both sailed and the question arose whether sailing counted as passing, because if so, everyone had passed, if not everyone else could continue bidding.  Blue checked the rules which said, “If a player passes they can play again later, unless all the other players who have not already sailed also pass.  If all the remaining players also pass then all players sail in the order that they passed.”  Green was adamant that this could be read either way, and started checking on the BGG rules fora to see if there was discussion on the subject.  By the time he had established that there wasn’t, everyone else had decided that bidding should continue, had done the bidding the wanted and the round was over.  We muddled through the second round in a similar fashion with Yellow and Blue finally taking some tiles and strategies starting to emerge.  Pine and Magenta struggled with the implications and wider objectives of the game, while Ivory (also new to it) purred quietly in the corner as he began to get his head round the game, collected tiles and started to build a strategy.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Magenta started out enticed by the monument tiles while Yellow, struggling to win bids started collecting river tiles and began connecting them and taking tokens to exchange for upgrades.  Ivory, still purring softly in the corner, managed to pick up tiles that required brown and red connectors as well as the Barbican which provided them.  Blue was trying to connect her tiles, but didn’t have the tiles to provide the connectors as they had mostly come out in the first round when she had failed to pick up any tile at all.  Pine was just starting to get his head round the iconography, but getting hold of connectors was proving challenging.  Meanwhile, Green was ominously winning the bids for the buildings that provide Skill tiles, including the Bank of England and the Senate House and seemed to be trying to re-implement his favourite Keyflower strategy.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

As we went into the last round and the final tiles were revealed, everyone looked round and tried to decide what they might get and how far they could to push their luck to get a few extra points. With everyone trying to upgrade their buildings, the need for Skill tiles was great and, since Green had a most of them, he received a lot of Meeples in return, most of which were red.  This inspired him to go for Lords Cricket ground which would give him two points for each one if he could secure it.  Green commented how much he hated cricket at which point he realised that he was winning both the Oval and Lords.  Blue took the Oval from him before Ivory went “all in” with a huge pile of red Meeples, with it taking about twenty points from her.  With their own projects to complete, nobody obstructed Green in his plans and he finished with a massive thirteen red Meeples (and the scoring tile) as well as a very large pile of Skill tiles.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

With the final round over, players began to add up their points.  Although six-player games can be epic, one of the disadvantages is that it can be very difficult to see what players at the opposite end of the table are doing.  Thus, it was only at the end when we went through the scoring that players could really see what everyone else had been doing and where they were getting their points.  Ivory, with his large pile of yellow Meeples, substantial sewage and underground systems finished with a very creditable sixty-six.  This score was exactly matched by Blue who had a vast telecom’s network and had picked up a couple of monuments which she had managed to upgrade to get the full twelve points. It was Green however who finished with the highest score, nearly twenty points ahead of Yellow and Blue thanks largely to a massive twenty-six points for his pile of red Meeples and much the same again for his Skill tiles.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

As we packed up there was the inevitable postmortem.  Magenta and Pine could both see how clever the game was and were keen to give it another try now they had a better understanding of its flow.  Ivory had really enjoyed it too and was also keen to give it, or (Keyflower) another go.  The others focused on the comparison between Key to the City and Keyflower.  Green said he strongly preferred the artwork for Keyflower, while Blue felt that the axonometric projection and sharper style was better suited to the London theme.  She also commented that if Key to the City had been released first, it would have received all the plaudits and Keyflower would have felt “more fiddly”, consequently, perhaps Key to the City was a better game to learn with.  The overwhelming consensus though, was that a typical game collection didn’t really need both, but we’d happily play either.  As Magenta and Ivory headed off, discussion moved on to the current KickStarter for Keyper, which it turned out, two of us had backed, but we won’t see more of that for another year.

Isis and Osiris
– Image by boardGOATS

There was just time for a quick game to close with, and we settled on Isis & Osiris.  This was a another game picked up at Essen and had got its first outing two weeks ago.  Green was the only player who had been part of that game however, so we all needed a run-through of the rules, which were simple enough.  At the start, players are dealt a pile of tiles, face down, and get a handful of octagonal wooden blocks in their colour.  Game play is very simple: on their turn, the active player can either place a tile face down, first showing it to everyone else, or they can place a block.  At the end of the game, all the tiles are turned face up and players score points for those tiles orthogonally adjacent to their blocks.

Isis and Osiris
– Image by boardGOATS

As players played their wooden blocks, the following players turned over negative tiles and placed them next to them, ensuring lots of negative scores.  As more and more negative tiles put in an appearance, we were all wondering what had happened to the positive ones.  By about half-way through we were were certain they had to appear soon, but with four players, some of the tiles are removed from the game, and we were all coming to the conclusion that those tiles were all the high scoring ones. As it turned out, that wasn’t quite the case, though the balance of the tiles in the box was definitely on the positive side.  Once all the spaces had been filled, we turned over the tiles and it became clear that one wooden block made all the difference.  With three of us finishing with negative totals, it looked a lot like the score line from an episode of QI, but it was Pine that finished with a massive “plus seven QI points” to win the game.

Isis and Osiris
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Some games need to be played more than once.

Essen 2016

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

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag.com

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

Essen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Gonzaga

Boardgames in the News: What is a Meeple?

Reading our game reports, a fairly commonly used term is “Meeple”.  The word is used so widely amongst Euro gamers, that it was adopted for the name of the Oxford boardgame café, Thirsty Meeples, however, non-gamers are completely unfamiliar with it.  So, what does it mean and where does it come from?

Carcassonne!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor wizardless

The term was allegedly coined in 2000 by Alison Hansel while paying the tile laying game, Carcassonne.  In Carcassonne, players draw a tile and then add it to a growing map before placing a wooden figure on the tile.   Thus, meeple was a conjunction of “my” and “people” and was used specifically to refer to the characteristic wooden people-shaped pieces used in Carcassonne and more recently, games like Keyflower.  Since then, the range of game pieces available has increased hugely and the term has been adapted and broadened.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

For example, Agricola has a wide range of resource tokens, including sheep, pigs and cows, which are often collectively referred to as “animeeples”.  Similarly, the wheat and vegetable resource tokens are often referred to as “vegimeeples” or even “vegeeples”.  So, the suffix “-eeple” has now come to mean game token, interestingly, usually one that is shaped.  Thus, people playing games like Ice Flow or Salmon Run might talk about “fish-eeples”, devotees of Caverna may discuss “dog-eeples” and “donkeeples”, and players of the Arctic Bounty expansion for Fleet might comment on “crab-eeples”, though they may also be collectively referred to, simply as meeples.

Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
– Image by boardGOATS

So, generically, a meeple is a game piece, usually made of wood, and often, but not necessarily with two arms, two legs and a head…

Meeples
– Image by boardGOATS

20th October 2015

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

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

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

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

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

There were several new games too though, in particular:

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

Rockwell!
– Image by BGG contributor Rayreviewsgames

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

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Codenames
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor aleacarv

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

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Ceryon

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor helioa

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor DrGrayrock

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Garry

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

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

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

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

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Qwixx
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Boardgames in the News: The Best Games Featuring Maps

The “Brilliant Maps” Blog recently listed what it considered “The 28 Best Map Based Strategy Board Games You’ve Probably Never Played“.  Leaving aside the fact that most dedicated gamers will have played many of them, how valid is this list?  On closer inspection it turns out that the list is really just the top twenty-eight games listed on BoardGameGeek.com (BGG) that happen to have a map for the board.  As such, it makes no subjective judgement on the quality of the map and is simply a list of the best games according to BoardGameGeek that feature a map.

Twilight Struggle
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor killy9999

For example, the game with the highest rating on BoardGameGeek.com is Twilight Struggle which is a Euro/war game hybrid and is therefore played on a map.  The map is not particularly picturesque, however, though for those old enough to remember, its spartan nature is strongly evocative of the Cold War setting.  Is it a great map though?  It certainly captures the theme of the game and perhaps, as such, it is indeed a great map.

Terra Mystica
– Image by BGG contributor Verkisto

Unsurprisingly, many of the games mentioned are war games.  There are a fair number of Euro games too though:  high on the list are Terra Mystica at number two, Brass at four and Power Grid at six.  Number ten on the list is Concordia and eleven is El Grande – a game that is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year.  Further down are Tigris and Euphrates, Steam, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Carcassonne and finally, just sneaking onto the list, The Settlers of Catan (or Catan as we are now supposed to call it).  All these games indeed include maps of some description, but overwhelmingly, they are also all well-established “classic” games.  Are they the best maps though?

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

There are some stunningly beautiful games that haven’t made the list, for example, Amerigo is played on a beautiful seascape and Lancaster includes a lovely map of the England.  How do we define “map-based game” however?  Clearly, a map is is a two-dimensional play space so that excludes games where the play-area is predominantly linear i.e. “a track”.  But what about games where the map is produced as the game is played?  If Carcassonne is considered a map game, other games where the board is built during the play should also be included, like Saboteur and Takenoko.  What about one of our favourite games at boardGOATS, Keyflower?  In this game, players buy tiles and then use them to build their own personal little village map.  Should this be included too?

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately, none of this really matters of course:  a game is a game and it all comes down to how much people enjoy playing it.  One thing is clear though, while a game can be good in spite of the rendering, playing with beautiful components can only enhance the boardgame experience.

Carcassonne
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Topdecker