Tag Archives: Keyflower

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!”

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.

4th September 2018

Blue, Red, Burgundy and newcomer, Mulberry, were finishing their food when Pink arrived after a long drive from the north-east.  While he was waiting for his food he opened a very special present Red had brought back from Spain for him.  Pink and Blue have quite a few games and for various reasons there are one or two that they have multiple copies of.  However, there is one game that they have many, many copies of.  Ironically it is a game Pink doesn’t even like playing very much, and yet, it has become a bit of “a thing” that every time Pink goes to Essen he comes back with yet another copy (ideally in a different language, but often just another German copy).  Red has strong opinions about this particular game though, and believes that by far the best language to play it in is Spanish, so kindly brought Pink a copy back from Spain to add to his burgeoning collection.  As he began to unwrap it, Pink took a few moments to realise what it was, but was really touched by this very special gift of Bohnanza.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

There wasn’t time to play it before food arrived, then everyone else was turning up and the “who’s going to play what” debate began.  The “Feature Game”, Keyflower with the Farmers expansion had been Pink’s request and Keyflower is one of Blue’s favourite games, so they were a bit of a foregone conclusion.  They were quickly joined by Burgundy who is also very fond of the game, and Ivory who was keen to see if the expansion changed the balance and the strategies available.  Since that was likely to be the long game, they got on with it while everyone else sorted themselves out.  Keyflower itself is not a complicated game mechanistically, though it has an awful lot of depth.  Over four seasons, players are simply taking it in turns to bid for tiles to add to their village or use tiles available in the villages or the central display.  The clever part is that bidding and using tiles are both done with meeples as currency and players must “follow suite”, that is to say, use the same colour if the tile has already been activated.

Keyflower: The Farmers
– Image by boardGOATS

In Keyflower, the depth is generated by the actions available on from the tiles and their interaction, added to the fact that except when playing with a full compliment of six, only a subset are used, and these are drawn at random.  This means that one of the most important aspects of game play is to keep as many options open as possible since everything is likely to change in the final round.  This is not only because some tiles don’t appear, but also the fact that there is always someone who will make it their business obstruct even the best laid plans.  Thus it is vital to have at least two ways ways out.  Adding The Farmers expansion exacerbates this as it introduces lots more tiles so each one is less likely to be revealed.  This is a potential problem when trying to “play with the expansion” as it is perfectly possible that none of the Farmer tiles are introduced into the game.  To prevent this, some tiles were drawn explicitly from the Farmers set.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

The Farmers expansion doesn’t change game play much, it just adds depth by the addition of farm animals as another means to score points.  The idea is that animals are kept in the fields that are formed by the roads in a village.  Each field that is occupied scores points depending on the type of animal or animals in it.  Thus each field with sheep in it scores one point, each field with pigs scores two and each with with cows scores three points.  These scores are increased for villages with special tiles, like the Weaver, which increases the sheep score to three per field.  Animals in a field another of the same type breed at the end of each season and can be moved in a similar way to resources.  The expansion also introduces Corn to the game, which allows players to enhance their movement actions.  Otherwise, the game with the expansion plays in much the same way as the basic Keyflower game, takes a similar amount of time and requires a similar blend of tactical decision making and strategic planning.

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

Meanwhile, everyone else had divided themselves into two groups of three and had begun to play.  Pine joined Red and Mulberry in a game of Finca.  Pine had played it before, but a long time ago so Blue took time out from setting up Keyflower to explain how to it worked.  It’s a very simple game of set collection with beautiful wooden fruit that’s now nearly ten years old.  At its heart is an interesting rondel mechanism.  On their turn, players choose one of three possible actions:  move around the rondel and collect fruit; use a donkey cart to deliver fruit; or carry out an action with one of the special, single use tokens that each player starts the game with.  There are some lovely features about the game.  For example, players move as many spaces round the rondel as there are workers on the space they started on and the number of fruit they get depends on the number of workers on the space they finish on.  As players have four workers each, there are lots of factors to consider when choosing which worker to move.

Finca
– Image by BGG contributor kneumann

Investing wisely is the key to the game, and Pine went for variety while Mulberry specialised more, particularly in figs and oranges.  It was the figs and oranges that won the day with Mulberry finishing with fifty-one points, just four ahead of Red who’d had lots of fruity fun with Finca.  With that finished, Red spotted Yardmaster in a bag, one of her favourite games, and decided to introduce Mulberry to it.  It is quite a simple game and was described by Mulberry as “UNO with trains”.  Players are building a locomotive by drawing cargo cards and using them to buy railcar cards from the four face up cards in the middle.  The game was very close, but it was Red’s experience that was key, giving her a two-point winning margin over Mulberry in second place.  With that done, they moved onto another old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor moonblogger

6 Nimmt! gets played a lot, but it’s unusual that we play it with so few players.  The idea is that everyone chooses a card and then players add them to one of the rows, in ascending order adding them to the row ending in the highest card that is below the card they are playing.  The catch is that when a sixth card is added to a row, that player picks up the first five cards.  The game really is at its best with more players where the simultaneous card selection adds mayhem.  They just played the one round; perhaps Mulberry misunderstood and thought the idea was to collect “nimmts”, but either way, she top scored with twenty-one – quite an achievement with only three players and only one round!  Red did rather better and finished the winner with just two “nimmts”.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

On the neighbouring table, Green had joined Black and Purple and they started out with this year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul.  This is a really an abstract game with only a loose theme of tiling a palace, but unusually, nobody seems to mind and we’ve played the game a lot with multiple copies in the group.  The game is really just a set collection game, similar to Finca and Yardmaster, but with an added spacial factor as tiles have to be placed to score points.  Tiles are chosen from “factories” with those that aren’t taken going into a central pool.  Since players can only take one colour at a time and must always take all the tiles of that colour in that location, they can easily end up with not quite enough, or even too many scoring negative points. Although it is not really an aggressive game, it is remarkable how much damage players can do to each other.  Landing too many tiles is bad, but it is arguably worse to get “not quite enough” as it inhibits options in the next round too and therefore can affect the whole game.  As we’ve played it a lot, we all have a good understanding of how to play, so unless someone gets things very wrong, games are often close, making them quite tense affairs.  This was no exception, with Purple just taking the honours with sixty-three points.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

To alleviate the stress of Azul, the trio moved on to play Om Nom Nom, a light “dice-chucker”  This needs a similar sort of double think to 6 Nimmt!.  The idea is that the board is seeded with dice populating the lower levels of three separate food chains.  Then players simultaneously select an animal card to play, populating the higher levels of the food chains.  The idea is that cards played at the top of a food chain will eat those immediately beneath it.  So if there is a juicy bunch of carrots rolled, is it best to play the rabbit and risk getting eaten by a fox, or is it better to play a fox and gamble on everyone else being tempted to play rabbit cards?  Often the wisest move is not to get involved, but if everyone adopts that approach, the carrots get left and everyone is now playing in the more confined space of two food chains.  Sometimes the game is very tight, but this was not one of those times.  Black took five cheeses in one round and finished some twenty points ahead of everyone else.

Om Nom Nom
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

The other games were still going and nobody fancied anything particularly taxing, so after a brief hiatus, Splendor got the nod.  Yet another set collecting game, it is also very simple and surprisingly popular in our group.  There is a remarkable amount of thought necessary for the apparently simple choose three different tokens or buy a card.  Many people seem to think it is a trivial game, but for us, it has the right balance of strategy and tactical thinking to make it the perfect game when people are tired but still want something that provides a little bit of interest.  We’ve played it a lot, and almost inevitably, Burgundy wins.  One of the factors in choosing the game was the guarantee that he wouldn’t win this time as he was engaged elsewhere.  In the event, it was another close game, with Green and Black very close to finishing, but Purple just getting to fifteen points first and ending the game before they could catch her – her second win of the night.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

We were about an hour into our respective games and Blue was concentrating deeply on her next turn in Keyflower, when her village was suddenly and unexpectedly improved by the addition of a very fine chocolate cake complete with candles.  Much to her embarrassment, it was also accompanied by singing.  There was a brief interlude while Blue blew out her candles and cut up the cake, admired her quite a-llama-ing card, everyone consumed the really rather delicious cake (Waitrose finest no less), and Burgundy made sure there wasn’t even a pattern left on his plate.  And with all that done, the games continued.

Cake!
– Image by boardGOATS

Keyflower continued after cake and the strategies were beginning to become clear.  Ivory, Blue and Pink were going for animals, while Burgundy’s plans had been undermined by both Blue and Ivory and was trying to make something from his very, very small village.  With the arrival of Winter, players had to put in their choice of the tiles they’d been given at the start.  Much to Ivory’s disgust, someone had put in the Dairy which increases the score for fields with cows in them.  Since neither the Cow Shed tile nor the Ranch tile had been drawn in Autumn, nobody had any cows so the Dairy was a waste of a Winter tile.  This meant there was even more competition for the other tiles, and there weren’t many of those as players can put only one tile into the mix.  Burgundy got his Key Market which nobody else had any real interest in, Blue took the Hillside, but lost out on the lucrative Truffle Orchard to Pink.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory took the Mercer’s Guild and the Scribes after a brief tussle with Blue.  It was quite tight with everyone getting points from different places and it was clear the tiles everyone picked up in the final round made all the difference.  Ivory, Blue and Burgundy had spread their points about, while Pink put all his eggs (or rather pigs) in one basket, but it paid off, giving him a massive forty points and seventy-three points overall, four more than Blue in second place.  Everyone had enjoyed playing with the expansion, particularly Ivory who felt it had added more depth.  Although Ivory had to go, there was just time for a quick game of 6 Nimmt!, so Pine took his place and the foursome played a couple of hands.  In the first round Burgundy and Pine competed for the highest score with twenty-five and twenty-seven points respectively.  In the second round, Pine picked up what might be a record score of forty-five.  At the other extreme, Blue managed to keep her score down to eleven, and added to the three in the first round that gave her a clear victory—just in time for her birthday at the end of the week.

An Empty Plate!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes a pig strategy brings home the bacon!

10th July 2018

While those eating finished, we welcomed an old friend from the Didcot Games Club on his first visit, and began the evening began with a quick game of an old classic, High Society.  Designed by Reiner Knizia, this is a light bidding game with a catch, in the mold of games like For Sale, No Thanks!, Modern Art, and perhaps our old favourite, Las Vegas.  First released over twenty years ago in the designer’s heyday, a beautiful new edition has recently been published by the Cumnor Hill-based company, Osprey Games.  In High Society, everyone starts with the same set of money cards, each numbering from 1,000 up to 25,000 Francs.  The game is all about correct valuations. Players take it in turns to bid for the luxury objets d’art for sale, however, when they increase their bid, they add money cards to their personal bidding pile, and there is no concept of change.  Thus, as the game progresses, players have fewer and fewer bidding options  as they spend their money cards, and are increasingly forced to big large amounts potentially for relatively low value items.  Some of the objects for sale are not so much art, as artless, and can halve a player’s score, lose them points, or even cause them to discard something they purchased previously and the first person to withdraw, “wins”, while everyone else pays whatever they wagered.

High Society
– Image by boardGOATS

The other twist is at the game end which occurs abruptly when the fourth “end game” card comes out.  At this point, the player with the least money at the end is eliminated regardless of the value of their luxurious objects.  Despite the age of the game, a lot of people were new to it, and as the valuation of the luxuries is the key, some people found knowing how much to bid challenging.  As is the case with this sort of game though though, until the scores were actually calculated nobody knew who was winning, especially as the money was tight at the bottom.  Purple and Black (or “The Dark Destroyer as Ivory called him”) had pots of cash, but Red was just eliminated ahead of Yellow.  That left the final count:  Black was by far the most efficient, with a score of fourteen, two more than ivory – quite remarkable given the amount of cash he had left at the end.  It was Yellow though, who having just escaped elimination, finished some way in front with nineteen points.

High Society
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone fed and High Society over, we split into two groups: one to play the “Feature Game” (which was to be Keyflower) and the rest to play something else.  As always, the issue was what the other game was to be and almost everyone was happy to play Keyflower, but for some, the final decision depended what the other game was to be.  The problem was that the choice of the second game depended on who was going to play it.  Eventually, Purple broke the deadlock when she said she would be happy not to play Keyflower.  With Red having requested it in the first place, and it being Blue’s favourite game, it was just a matter of who would fill the remaining seats.  In the end, Pine, Burgundy and Ivory joined Red and Blue, leaving Yellow, Black and Purple to play Calimala, an area-influence driven, worker-placement game set in the Republic of Florence during the Late Middle Ages.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

This is an unusual game with variable setup to keep it fresh.  The idea is that on their turn, players place one of their workers on one of the twelve worker spaces.  Each one of these is adjacent to two of the nine action spaces. If there is already a worker disk present on the space, once the active player has carried out their actions, then the other player gets another turn.  This continues until a player places the fourth disk on a stack: actions are carried out for the top three disks and the fourth is placed on the first available scoring tile which is then triggered.  Each player has some worker disks in their own colour and a small number in white.  Coloured disks give players a maximum of two actions on three occasions (i.e. a total of six), while white disks give four actions when played, but none later in the game.  The actions include acquiring resources (brick, wood or marble), building (ships, trading houses or workshops), create artwork, produce cloth, transport cloth, and contribute to the building of the churches.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

The fifteen scoring phases are built on the actions, rewarding players for the amount of cloth they have shipped to a given city or combination of cities for example, or for their contribution to a specific building, or their contribution to the building effort of a given resource.  In each case, the player with the most scores three points, the player in second place scores two and the player in third gets just one point.  In case of a tie there is a complicated series of tie-breakers.  The game ends when either all fifteen tiles have been scored, or everyone has placed all their workers (in which case any remain tiles are scored).  It was another close game:  “The Dark Destroyer” scored heavily for the cloth in the Port Cities (Barcelona, Lisbon and London), while Purple scored for the trading cities (Troyes, Bruges and Hamburg).  Calimala is one of those games that rewards players who score “little and often”, and it was Yellow who managed to score most frequently.  There were a lot of tie-breaks however, particularly between Yellow and Black and it was probably the fact that Yellow did better in these that tipped the balance, as he finished just ahead of Black with a winning score of forty-five points.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

Keyflower was still under way, so the players looked around for something quick to play and picked one of Yellow’s favourite games, Red7.  On the surface, this is a fairly simple game, but underneath it is much more complex.  The game is played with a deck of forty-nine cards, numbered one to seven and in seven different colour suits.  Each player starts with seven cards in hand and one face up on the table.  The player with the highest value card is “winning” because the rule at the start is that the highest card wins.  On their turn, each player can play one card from their hand into their tableau in front of them, or play a card into the centre which changes the rules of the game (a little like Fluxx), or they can do both.  If they cannot play a card or choose not to, they are out of the round.    In the event that there is a tie and the highest face value is displayed by more than one player, the tie is broken by the colours with red higher than orange and so on through the spectrum to violet.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The colours also dictate the rules, so any red card played in the centre will change the rules to “the highest” wins.  Similarly, any orange card played in the centre changes the rules so that the winner is the person with the most cards of the same number.  In each case, if more than one player satisfies the rules, the tie is broken by the card that is highest (taking into account both number and colour).  Thus, if the rule is “the most even cards” and there are two players with the same number of even cards in front of them, the player with the highest even card is the winner.  At the end of their turn, the active player must be in a winning position, or they are out of the round. The round continues until there is only one player left.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

We last played this a few years back when we made rather heavy weather of it.  Part of the problem was that there were several of us and we were all new to it.  This meant we struggled without someone to lead the way.  With Yellow very familiar he was able to show everyone else how to play.  Inevitably, this meant he won (giving him a hat-trick).  The game was played over five rounds and at the end of each round the player who was left at the end kept their highest cards.  With Yellow so much more familiar with the game than anyone else, it was inevitable that he would be able to build on this, and he made the most of it.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

By this time, the next table were just coming to the end of their game of Keyflower, and we had all found it unusually hard going, that is to say we all struggled to find anywhere to score points.  The premise of the game is quite simple:  over four rounds (or seasons) tiles are auctioned using meeples (or Keyples) as currency.  The clever part is that to increase a bid, players must follow with the same colour.  Keyples can also be used to perform the action associated with a tile, any tile, it doesn’t have to be their own, but each tile can only be used three times in each round and, again, players must follow the colour.  The aim of the game is to obtain the maximum number of victory points at the end.  However, the highest scoring tiles aren’t auctioned until the last round (Winter), so players have to keep their options open.  On the other hand, the tiles that are auctioned in Winter are chosen by the players from a hand of tiles dealt out at the start, so players can choose to take a steer from that, or, if things go badly wrong, decide not to include certainly tiles.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

These games are nearly always memorably epic and this was definitely no exception.  The game started of with Ivory declaring that while he loved it, he thought it was maybe “a bit broken” because in his experience, there was one winter tile that would guarantee a win to the player that got it.  Blue and Burgundy thought they knew he was referring to “The Skill Tile Strategy” and agreed it was powerful, but felt it wasn’t over-powerful.  Blue said she thought it was only a guaranteed win if everyone else allowed it.  Pine suggested that playing the game would give Ivory another opportunity to gather evidence to see if this was the case.  As soon as the winter tiles were dealt out, it was clear that Ivory had one of the tiles that rewarded players with lots of Skill Tiles, and everyone knew what his strategy was going to be.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Spring started and it quickly became clear that it was going to be a fight.  Initially, Blue went for the Peddler which converts yellow Keyples into Green ones, but Pine thought that sounded good, and outbid her.  Next she went for the Miner which gives two coal, upgradable to three, but Red outbid her on that.  Somewhat in error she tried to get the Woodcutter which gives two wood (upgrading to a wood and a gold), but Burgundy outbid her.  Ivory also got in on the act, beating her to the Keystone Quarry, which meant Blue finished spring with no Village tiles at all.  At least she didn’t over-pay for anything though, and it meant she had plenty of Keyples to bid with for Summer, at least in theory.  The lack of tiles meant she didn’t have a strategy though, while everyone else was beginning to build theirs.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

With summer came a whole new set of interesting tiles, for Ivory, that included the Hiring Fair which gives two tiles in exchange for one (upgradable to three tiles for one).  Given that Ivory had telegraphed his plans, and that Burgundy took one for the team during Concordia last time (when he took the Weaver and gave everyone else a chance), Blue felt it was her turn and she made it her business to outbid him, even though this gave her a tile she had very little use for.  As the only one with any meeples to speak of, Blue managed to pick up three boats relatively cheaply too.  She didn’t have it all her own way though, as Pine took the Farrier (extra transport and upgrade ability) and Ivory took the Brewer who turns skill tiles into Keyples.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Unusually, there had been a lot of bidding for the end of season tiles and it came to a peak in autumn with everyone jostling for position for the final round.  The other tiles were generally less popular, however, and most people were trying to keep their Keyples to themselves where possible, hoarding them for the final round.  And it was in the final round that it all came to a head.  Everyone had to put in at least one tile, but nobody seemed terribly keen to put any in.  Blue had contrived to win the start Keyple at the end of autumn, and started by bidding for the Key Guild tile which had been put in by Ivory.  Inevitably this descended into a bidding war, which Blue won.  The Key Guild tile gives ten points for any five skill tiles, so Blue was finally able to use her Hiring Fair to get points. Having had his plans scuppered, Ivory moved on to messing with Pine’s plans, while Red engaged Burgundy in a bidding war for the Jeweller tile (which increases the value of gold from one point to two), and lost.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

It had been a  really tough game with points really hard to get hold of, and that was visible in the scores.  It was very tight with just six points covering Red, Burgundy, Ivory and Pine and all of them in the low to mid forties.  Blue finished with sixty-one however, thanks largely to her twenty points for her skill tiles and sixteen for her boats.  It had been a very stressful game, that led to a considerable amount of discussion.  Ivory felt the fact that Blue had won using skill tiles confirmed that they were over-powered, but Pine and Burgundy were less certain, so the jury is still out.  Blue said that every game was different and the point was that it was up to other players to stop the person who is making a beeline for skill tiles, in fact, that was exactly what she had done to Ivory, as he put that tile out in winter.  The discussion would have continued, however, it was getting late and people began to leave.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, Burgundy and Blue felt there was just time for a quick game of NMBR 9.  This little game has been a real success within the group, mostly at the start as a warm-up game, but occasionally as filler too.  Pine took the deck of cards and began turning them over, with everyone else taking the number shaped tiles and adding them to their tableau.  It was another tough, tight game, but Blue managed to squeeze one of her eights on to the fourth level giving her twenty-four points for that tile alone.  Aside from that, the levels and therefore the scores were very similar, so Blue took victory by twenty-one points from Pine in second place.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is better to keep your plans to yourself.

15th May 2018

As Blue and Burgundy finished their dinner, everyone else arrived and we began the “Who wants to Play What” debate, and particularly, the “Who wants to play the “Feature Game” tonight” discussion.  The “Feature Game” was to be Caverna: The Cave Farmers, a game that is so similar to Agricola, that it is often referred to as “Agricola 2.0”.  In Agricola, the idea of the game is that players start with two farmers, a large field and a wooden hut and try to build a farm, by planting wheat and vegetables, buying and breeding animals, extending and upgrading their hut, and expanding their family.  It is a worker placement game which takes place over a set number of rounds and in each one, each family member takes one action.  The actions that are available are very limited at first, but more are added as the game progresses.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor MisterC

There are three main differences between the Caverna and Agricola, and the first (and most obvious) is the theme.  Instead for medieval farmers, players are dwarves living in the mountains, building a dwarfish community with dogs and donkeys.  This means players are developing their cave system (rather than their hut) and cultivating forest land rather than pasture.  The game play is very similar though with players taking it in turns to place one of the dwarves from their community on one of the action spaces and then carrying out that action.  Again during the game, the number of actions available increases.  Many of the actions are different though as players cultivate the forest in front of their cave and dig into the mountain, furnishing caves for their clan as well as mining for ore or ruby.  This leads to another obvious differences:  Expeditions.  In order to go on expeditions dwarves need ore to forge weapons, and the better armed the dwarf, the more exciting the adventures they can go on and the better the rewards.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

These features are largely cosmetic though, and the real differences are in the game play.  In the advanced game of Agricola, each player is dealt a hand of fourteen cards at the start, which are used to add variety and interest to the game.  There are hundreds of possible cards available and players can either choose from their starting hand, or to make the game fairer, they can be drafted.  The problem with this is that for players who are unfamiliar with the game, choosing which cards might be useful or will work together is a very painful process.  In Caverna, the depth is introduced by the addition of forty-eight different buildings tiles which laid out so players can see what the options are throughout the game.  Critically, there is one set of tiles and they are all used in the advanced game.  This means Caverna doesn’t have the infinite variety of Agricola, but the buildings deliver a more balanced game with a lot of options that are available every time.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

The games also feel very different:  with Agricola the game is always a struggle, with players fighting to balance feeding the family and developing the farm.  At the end of the game, a large proportion of players scores come from fulfilling a checklist of animals and vegetables.  This means that there are one or two main strategies and successful players are generally those who are most efficient in these. In Caverna, there is more variety in the strategies available, but without the feeding mechanism and associated peril of starvation, there is a lot less stress in the game.  All in all, it is generally a lot easier to build a productive engine and more difficult to make a total mess of it in Caverna, while still providing a lot of the same sort of challenges.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Both Agricola and Caverna take up a lot of table space and a while to set up. As Ivory had never played it before, and even Burgundy, Magenta and Green had not played it in nearly four years, we decided to play the introductory game.  It turned out that this was just as well, as it still took the best part of three hours to play.  By random selection Burgundy got to go first and effectively choose his own strategy, while Green went last and was more or less forced to let his strategy be dictated by what was left over.  The first few turns were the inevitable resource grab—anything and everything that players could get hold of.  Being a cave based game, stone and ore were particularly popular to such an extent that Green found he was struggling to get any by the time his turn came round, which pushed him towards a more Agricola-style farming strategy.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Although Magenta had played Caverna once before she had little recollection of it as it had been at 3am one Christmas Holiday.  As a result, the game was all a bit of a mystery at the start.  Nevertheless, she got into sheep farming early, but did not neglect her mountain either, regularly chipping away giving her ample opportunities for rooms and mines.  She was struggling outside though:  she managed to get some more animals, but couldn’t get the pastures to keep them in, and without crops she was constantly struggling for food.  She was able to build an oven, but this meant that as fast as her flock grew she had to slaughter them to keep her hungry dwarves fed.  With her lack of outdoor enclosures though, this might actually have been a help.  In the end, it was her mining and interiors that helped give her the best scores and she did eventually manage to cover her whole player board by the end of the game to avoid negative points.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Ivory and Green were the first to grow their families and, fed up with being last in the turn order, Green used his larger family to good effect and nabbed the start player marker. So the very next turn he was able to grab a wheat and veg while planting a field and pasture at the same time.  Then, with his second dwarf he immediately planted another field and pasture to plant that self same wheat and veg, and thus started his crops growing. He then supplemented this with an improvement tile which enabled him to convert a wheat and a veg into five food which meant he was never short of food to feed his family and was free to expand whenever he was able to mine the mountain and build extra rooms. With crops aplenty, he then set about acquiring animals and fencing in fields, leaving his mining for the last few turns in a frantic dash to increase his final score.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

Burgundy and Ivory, both decided to bet heavily on arming their dwarves and sending them on expeditions to bring back lots of exciting goodies. Several times, Ivory exchanged a precious ruby to play his fighting dwarf out of turn and grab the four-goods expedition before Burgundy could. This strategy served them both well, especially as they were able to keep mining in order to locate more and more ore to help weaponise more dwarves.   Burgundy held on to his gems and managed to build a special room to help them score him more points. He also managed to also cover his whole area and “discovered” two ruby mines.  Ivory neglected his farming and failed to plant anything till right at the end of the game.  Ultimately, that counted against him as he was left him with empty spaces that lost him six points.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

The last two harvests were both interrupted by the special tiles which caused everyone a few problems and in the end it was really quite close. It was Burgundy who took the glory though, a handful of points ahead of Green who was a single point ahead of Ivory.  It was a good game though and everyone enjoyed it—Burgundy professed to prefer it over Agricola too, a game where he reckons he always struggles to do well in.  Meanwhile, the next table started with a big debate about what to play.  Several games were considered, but Black made the mistake of mentioning Keyflower, which is one of Blue’s favourites and thereafter, there was only one game she wanted to play.  Other games were suggested, but for the most part, there was a good reason why these were not ideal, and, in the end, Black pointed out Blue’s interest in Keyflower, and everyone else agreed to play it.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone had played the game before, but it was a while ago and Pine had little recollection, so a rules run-through was necessary first.  The rules of the game are not terribly difficult to understand, but combine to make a complex game.  Played over four rounds (or Seasons), players bid on hexagonal tiles which are added to the winners’ village at the end of the round.  Bidding is carried out with coloured meeples (or Keyples as they are known in this game), and counter-bids must follow colour, usually red, blue or yellow.  Most tiles are action spaces, so as well as currency for bidding, Keyples can also be used to activate spaces.  Any space can be activated at any time by any player when they place one of their Keyples on a tile, any tile, one in their own village, one in someone else’s, one still being auctioned.  At the end of the round, Keyples used in winning bids are lost, while those involved in losing bids return to their owners and any used to activate tiles are adopted by the tile owners.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Essentially, that is really all there is to the game, but there are lots of consequences of this simple mechanism and a lot of complexity underlies what players can do with the actions on the tiles.  In Spring, most of the tiles available provide resources of some description, in Summer there are more advanced resource and related tiles, while in Autumn the first of the scoring tiles arrive.  The majority of the scoring comes from the Winter tiles though, and these are selected by the players, who are dealt a small number at the start of the game and choose which to introduce at the start of the final round.  This is particularly clever as it provides players with possible strategies if they choose to follow them.  Invariably, though, the best laid plans go completely awry and players are left choosing which of their tiles will be the least useful to their opponents and hope that others will be forced to play something more helpful.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Once we’d run through the rules, we laid out the Spring tiles and began.  Keyflower plays two to six players and unusually, it plays well acrioss the whole range, but is different at each number due to the fact that different numbers of tiles are used during the game.  With two players nearly half the possible tiles are removed from play, so the game becomes very tactical rewarding players who can keep their options open and change their plans like a politician changes policy, when they find the tiles they need are not available.  With six players, all the tiles are available, however, with so many opponents lots of competition is guaranteed.  Black pointed out that Keyflower is particurly good with four though as almost all tiles are in play, and there is lots of competition as well.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There are other consequences of changes in player number.  For example, at the start of each Season, ships arrive delivering Keyples and Skill tiles; players bid to have first choice of these.  The number of arrivals is dependent on the number of players, however, no matter how many arrive it is never enough, worse, as the game year progresses the number of Keyples arriving steadily decreases.  This is because players are spending less on buying tiles and instead are reusing workers that have been activating tiles.  Regardless, having a means to get extra Keyples is invaluable and it was with this in mind that Black began bidding for the Ale House.  This tile generates another Keyple, each time it is activated, two once it has been upgraded.  Largely on the principle that if someone else wants something, they should not be allowed to have it, Blue started a bidding war.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Unfortunately for her, Blue won, but at a cost.  This was very much counter to her usual strategy, as she usually avoids overpaying at all costs, often leaving her with the fewest tiles at the end of Spring, sometimes none at all.  Pine on the other hand, fancied the Pedlar, a tile that turned yellow Keyples into green ones, and green ones are Special.  Green Keyples behave in exactly the same way as red, yellow and blue Keyples, except there are none in the game at the start so their extreme scarcity means they are very powerful, especially when bidding. Pine also went for gold and Purple took the Keywood, which gave her substantial wood producing capability and the Workshop which allowed her to produce any resources she wanted.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Summer and Autumn proceeded in a similar fashion, except that everyone started out much more careful with their Keyples, which meant everyone ended Summer with lots of stuff they didn’t want.  Black finally got his Keyple generating tile when he took the Brewer, however, that needed Skill Tiles and he didn’t have a source of them.  Blue was worse off finishing Summer with a random assortment of boat tiles she didn’t really need.  Pine and Purple did slightly better, taking tiles that convert Skills into resources and transport/upgrade tiles and adding to their gold producing ability.  Autumn saw the advent of round two of the bidding war when Blue started bidding for the Sculptor and Sawmill and Black decided to join in.  It ended with honours even, but there was more to follow.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the final round, some of the strategies became clearer, when the Jeweler, Craftsman’s Guild and the Windmill appeared.  Everyone was hustling for the tiles they wanted, trying to maximise their points for the end of the game.  It was then that Black finally finished the bidding war, taking the Sea Breese boat tile, which gave him only one point, but cost Blue nearly twenty points.  Pine who had struggled throughout the game suddenly found he had lots of points, sixty in total, just two behind Black who finished in first place, thanks largely to the vast number of Keyples he finished with.  On the next table, Caverna still had some way to go and there was still time for one more game, so Pine dipped into Burgundy’s back and brought out Splendor—at least with Burgundy occupied elsewhere, everyone else had a chance of winning for a change…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

We’ve played Splendor a lot within the group, an awful lot, and have just begun exploring the Cities of Splendor expansion, but after the last game, everyone wanted something they were very familiar with, so we stuck to the base game.  And it is a simple game of chip collecting and engine-building with a very loose gemstone theme. Basically, on their turn, players can take gemstone poker chips, or use chips to buy a card. Some cards have points on them and all can be used like the poker chips to buy cards (but without having to return them). The cards also give players access to “Noble tiles” which also give points. The winner is the player with the most points after someone reaches fifteen points.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The game play was very unusual this time, because the black Opals came out very late, and on the odd occasion that they did appear Blue pounced on them and immediately reserved them.  This had two effects as it both prevented anyone else from getting them and also ensured that she had a plan each time she had to pick up gemstone poker chips.  The problem was made worse by the fact that three of the Nobles required Opals.  With the strangle-hold she had on the game, it was not surprising that she was the only one to get any Nobles and quickly brought the game to an end finishing with eighteen points, well clear of Pine in second place.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes winning a bid can be worse than losing.

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 clever 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.