Tag Archives: Lancaster

20th September 2016

Since the planned “Feature Game” (Cuba) was a long one and we didn’t want anyone to get stuck playing two-player games all evening, we decided to play a quick filler until everyone had arrived.  After a brief discussion, we decided to go for Between Two Cities.  This game is quite popular with our group as it is both competitive, and cooperative and, as such, is totally different to anything else we play.  The idea is that, instead of each player having a personal player board that they work on in isolation, each player sits between two boards which they share with their neighbours.  The game play is based on card drafting games like Sushi Go! and 7 Wonders with scoring taking elements from tile-laying games like Carcassonne and Alhambra.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over three rounds with players placing building tiles to construct cities consisting of sixteen tiles in a four by four array.  Each player starts the first round with six tiles, of which they secretly choose two and pass the rest to the left.  Once everyone has chosen their two, everyone reveals their choices and then negotiates with their neighbours to try to to ensure they get the tiles they want in the two cities they have a share in.  Play continues with each player picking up the hand they were passed and choosing another pair of tiles etc. until there are no tiles left.  In the second round players get three double tiles of which they choose two and discard the third.  These double tiles contain two buildings in a vertical or horizontal arrangement.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

This is where things can get difficult, as the final city must form a four by four square and the location of buildings can be critical to their scoring.  For example, a housing estate built in a city with lots of other different types of buildings is worth up to five points at the end of the game, unless it is next to a factory in which case it is only worth one point.  Similarly, an isolated shop is worth two points, but a row of four is worth sixteen points.  The third and final round is played the same way as the first, except that tiles are passed in the opposite direction.  The winner is the player with the highest scoring second city.  We had just begun getting the game out and revising the game play when Black and Purple arrived, the last two expected.  So, in a quick switch, four jumped ship to play the “Feature Game” leaving Black and Purple to join Red, Magenta and Pine in Between Two Cities.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

The five cities all had very different characteristics, for example, Pine shared two contrasting cities with Magenta and Red.  The city he shared with Magenta had a pleasing arrangement of houses around a large central park with a couple of shops, bars, offices and a factory.  On his other side he shared the top scoring industrial town with Red which comprised a small housing estate buffered from factories by a row of office blocks.  Red shared her second city with Purple. This was built round a large park with lots of offices some bars, but only the one housing estate which cost it points.  Purple also shared a city with Black comprised two small parks surrounded by houses and bars with a couple of shops thrown in for good measure.  The fifth and final city was another industrial conurbation shared by Magenta and Black with lots of factories, and offices interspersed with bars and restaurants giving it a high score.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

The key to the game is to build two cities with similar scoring, but ideally using different components.  The other important factor, however, is the layout of the buildings and keeping them flexible for as long as possible.  The most successful in this regard was Pine, who was sat between the first and third highest scoring cities shared with Magenta and Red, who took second and third place respectively.  Filling in the log book was quite a pantomime, accompanied by photos and complicated diagrams before the group moved on to their next game, Pi mal Pfloumen, also known in our group as “Oh my Plums!”.  We’ve played this a couple of times, most recently last time, but on both occasions we struggled with the clarity of the rules.  This time, we finally managed to play it right (we think) and unsurprisingly, the game worked much better played correctly.

Pi Mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is one of set collecting built on a framework of trick taking.  Each card has a value, a “fruit suit” and, in many cases, a special action as well.  Players take it in turns to play a card, then, starting with the player who played the card with the highest face value, players then take it in turns to choose a card.  These are added to their tableau in front of them.  In general, any special actions are carried out when the card is taken, which can include taking “π cards” (which can be added to cards when they are played to increase their face value), taking cards from other players or claiming the Watchdog card (which protects from card theft).

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Some cards depict a “fruit mix” which lead to scoring opportunities, and can be claimed at any point when a player is taking cards at the end of the trick.  It all made a lot more sense this time though Red still didn’t have a clue what was going on.  It was quite a close game, but was finally decided when Red took a critical plum spoiling Black and Pine’s plans and with it taking the game, just ahead of Purple in second place. With Red and Magenta heading home for an early night and the game on the next table still going, Black, Purple and Pine were looking for something interesting to play.  Blue suggested Oh My Goods!, which is a little card game, but as none of the others had played it (and Blue was engaged elsewhere), they settled down to decipher the rules.  Meanwhile, the neighbouring table were just over halfway through their game of Cuba.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Cuba is a fairly simple game mechanistically, but is deceptively complex thanks to the way actions interact and build on each other.  Each player has a player board featuring a four by four array of plantations and/or buildings and a lot for storage.  They also have a pack of five character cards each with an associated action.  In the first part of each round, players take it in turns to play a character card until they have each played four of them.  In the second part of the round, the remaining character provides the basis of each player’s votes in Parliament, with different characters providing different numbers of votes.  This part of the game is vaguely reminiscent of voting for Laws in Lancaster.  In Cuba, players can improve their position by buying more votes in a blind bidding phase with the winner choosing two which two bills Parliament will enact.  There are a number of little features that give the game teeth, for example, any money spent on buying votes goes to the bank, regardless of whether the player wins or loses.  Similarly, the start player (which decided based on the final character card played) can be critical as it is the tie breaker in the voting phase as well as giving priority in the next round.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Getting these wrong can mess up plans spectacularly, but far more critical are the character cards played, the order they are played in and how they are played.  For example, the Worker card allows a player to move their Worker to any plantation on their player board and then activate the plantation at its new location and all plantations orthogonal to it.  Plantations can generate resources (rock, wood or water) or produce (sugar, citrus fruit or tobacco), but as the game progresses may be replaced by buildings.  Buildings are placed over plantation spaces using the Architect card and exchanging them for resources.  Like plantations, they are activated by playing the Foreman card who activates all buildings orthogonal to the Worker, but does not move the worker as part of the action.  Thus, the relationship between playing the Worker card and playing Foreman card is very important.

 Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Furthermore, there is a significant distinction between resources (cubes), produce (octahedral blocks) and goods (rum and cigars created from sugar and tabacco):  while resources and goods can be stored in the lot, produce will rot if left out overnight and must be moved to the Warehouse before the end of the round if they are to be saved.  In order to move produce to the Warehouse, the Warehouse must be activated by the Foreman.  This could be because it is one of the buildings orthogonal to the Worker or because the player sacrifices his positional advantage and activates the warehouse as a single building anywhere on the board.  Thus, the position of the buildings is very important, not only because careful placement allows players to activate multiple buildings, but also because they are placed on top of plantations which are then no-longer usable.  Produce can also be saved from rotting by either using buildings to turn it into goods or by playing the Mayor to place items on a ship.  This last option can be difficult to rely on however as all merchandise must be placed on the same ship and spaces on each ship are limited.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, while Cuba relies on a good strategy, meticulous planning is also vital for success.  Although we could all see this up front, only Green had played it before (albeit some years ago), so he was the only with an idea of the possible strategies.  So, to give everyone else a few extra moments to familiarise themselves with their player board, Green was declared the start player and took the wooden blue sedan (pinched from the El Presidente expansion as a start player marker).  Green began by building the Dam to increase his board’s water supply, while everyone else started with what appeared to be a more flexible opening by using their Worker to collect resources and produce.  By the end of the first part of the first round, Burgundy had shipped a few goods, Green had collected a lot of water, and Ivory and Blue weren’t sure what they were doing, but had decided that collecting and storing produce seemed like a good base to start from.  Then came second part of the round:  bribing officials to decide which bills should be enacted.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Since Burgundy had been the only one to ship goods he was the only one with fewer than five votes.  Everyone secretly chose an additional amount, but as Green really, really, really wanted this one, he bid four of his ten pesos, while everyone else wasn’t certain how to value the bills and therefore didn’t bid.  So Green chose his expensive laws for the round and in particular the water subsidy which would give him three points straight away.  The second round mirrored the first with everyone choosing their “Worker” until Green played his “Architect”, building the Golf Course (which converts water into victory points).  While everyone else could see what Green was doing, nobody else had worked out what was a good combination of buildings and therefore what strategy to play for. Blue made a mistake thinking the Bank she was would give victory points, but when she activated it she realised it gave her money.  Still, it did give her an advantage during the bribing and in the second round was able to choose the laws.  This time she changed the goods tax from citrus to sugar, and brought in the Harbour Act (this makes any fully loaded ships leave the harbour immediately with all remaining ships moving along accordingly).

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

After taxes had been paid and subsidies received (Green had already converted his water and so did not receive the subsidy this time) the scores were evenly spaced with Green at the front, building a solid lead.   Over the next few rounds everyone stumbled on, still not really sure what to do as Green developed quite a strong lead.  Burgundy was the only one who was really doing any shipping while Ivory had managed to build a Rum Factory and was converting lots of sugar into Rum, which he was hoping to ship.  Unfortunately, he really struggled since only the first ships seemed to required rum and the later ones all seemed to need cigars.  By the time Ivory had given up and sold his rum, ships that did want it finally started appearing, but it was largely too late.  It was at the end of round four when the game took a sudden turn though.  Burgundy had worked hard on shipping, which the rest of us had mostly ignored.  With the Harbour Law still in force, the ships moved on when full and nobody had noticed that Ivory had every piece of merchandise required for the top scoring ship.  So when it was his turn he loaded it completely taking fifteen points, and with it, the lead.  Suddenly everyone knew how important shipping could be.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

With only two rounds to go, it was a bit late to change strategies and only Blue made any inroads using her stash of pesos to win the laws and ensuring she could gather the full five points for fulfilling the taxes while everyone else struggled to get two points. This together with the Rum Café she had built gave her a sudden flurry of points, but it was too, little too late.  In the final final scoring, Green was unable to catch Ivory who finished four points behind Ivory – not how anyone would have predicted from the early rounds where Green had been so dominant and everyone else had been learning.  We had all enjoyed it though, especially once we’d got to grips with the difference between resources, produce and goods.  The sudden change of fortunes as strategies clicked kept it interesting too, though in any future there may be more competition for shipping than there was in this one.  It’s highly likely we’ll play it again soon though.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

As Cuba was coming to an end, Black, Purple and Pine were still making a bit of a meal of Oh My Goods!, getting bogged down in the complexity of the theory of “chaining”.  Although this is the clever part of the game it is a complicated place to start in what is otherwise a simple game.  Players start with a hand of dual purpose cards which can act as resources or buildings.  They also start the  game with a single card face up in front of them, a charcoal burner stacked with face down cards:  charcoal.  The idea is that this charcoal can be used as money to spend on building, or as charcoal to use as an input to other processes.  At the start of each round players get an extra couple of cards before cards are turned over to make the morning market.  This can consist of as few as two cards or as many as eight or more.  The market provides input for buildings – there will be a second, evening market before the end of the round – but players have to use the morning market to provide a steer to decide which building they are going to activate and what they are going to build.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player has one worker and must be assigned to the building he is going to activate.  The worker can can work efficiently or lazily.  If he works efficiently, he will need the necessary resources in full and will provide two items of produce.  On the other hand, if he works lazily, he can manage with one less than the total necessary resources, but will only produce one item.  The resources can come from the market, but can also be topped up from the player’s hand.  Once each player has placed their worker, decided whether he will be efficient or lazy and chosen a card to build, the second market is revealed.  Once this evening market has been completed, players take it in turns to carryout their production and, if appropriate, build.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

A building only produces if the necessary resources (on the bottom left corner of the card) can be provided either through the market or from a players hand.  If the worker is efficient, then he produces twice and two cards are taken from the draw deck and placed face down on the top of the card as produce.  If the worker is lazy, only he only produces once.  This is where the game gets slightly nasty:  if the player cannot supply the required input, then the turn is wasted, though if they have sufficient money, they can still use it to build.  If a building is activated, it can additionally be used to “chain” i.e. produce goods using input from other buildings (rather than the market) and it was this that was confusing people.  The problem is that this is only possible once a player has several building and although it is a key part of the game, the ability to build good working chains is highly dependent on the cards drawn.  As such, it is not something to worry about too much when learning to play.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory and Green left, leaving Blue to try to explain to Pine, Black and Purple, and Burgundy to spectate.  Perhaps it was because it was late and people were tired, or perhaps it was because the players had confused themselves, but the game itself was still rather tortuous.  Pine’s concluding comment was that if Room 101 existed, he knew which game he would be sending there…  In this light the scores seemed rather irrelevant, though it was obvious that the player who understood best was going to win and that was Black who finished with twenty-two points.  He agreed that it was a clever game and he might be interested in giving it another go, though sadly it is probably beyond Blue’s powers of persuasion to encourage Purple or Pine to try again soon.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Sometimes, you don’t have to understand what’s going on, but it usually helps…!

9th August 2016

While they were waiting for people to finish their supper, Green, Grey, Red and Violet warmed up with a quick game of Love Letter.  One of the first of the “micro-games” this is a tiny gem, played with just sixteen cards.  Each card has a value (one to eight) and an action; players start with one card and add a second to their hand before playing one of them and enacting the action.  The round goes to the player with the highest value at the end and the player who wins the most rounds wins the game.  This time we were playing with a print-and-play Hobbit version, with players trying to finish with the Smaug card and winning a tiny gold ring if they do.  This time, although he was dealt cards, Grey didn’t really get the chance to play as he was out before his turn each time.  Red, on the other hand, took the game winning two rounds, one more than Violet.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone fed we moved onto our “Feature Game”, Orléans.  This is a “bag building” game set in medieval France.  The idea is that each player has a bag and, at the start of the round draws 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 most 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 used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

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.  Similarly, a trip to the Village to get a “Craftsman” will also yield a technology tile which can be placed in a location and stays there for the rest of the game, acting as a permanent worker.  On the other hand, players who go to the Farm House will get an extra “Farmer” but also an extra resource and an extra “Boatman” comes with money.  Both money and resources score points at the end of the game.  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; the bonus received on each step is marked just above the track, and in general they increase the further along the track players are.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

The biggest source of points, however, comes from a combination of travelling around France building Trading Stations, collecting “Citizens” and travelling along the development track.  Travelling can either be carried out along rivers or roads and, if there is no-one else has already built there, they are able to place one of their ten little wooden houses in the town (all using the appropriate actions of course).  Citizens can be acquired by being the first player to fulfil certain requirements (e.g. get the maximum number of Knights or Boatmen).  Along the bottom of the main player board, there is also a Development Track and at intervals Coins and Citizens are available (only the first player get the Citizens though every player gets money).  There are also Status Markers at intervals along the track – these are critical:  at the end of the game, players score points equal to the sum of the number of Trading Stations built and Citizens acquired multiplied by the total number of Status Markers.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

There are a range of ways to move along the Development Track, for example, choosing the University action comes with a Development Point bonus, and the Scriptorium and Town Hall can both also give Development Points, though perhaps less efficiently.  One thing is clear though, this aspect of the game is a bit like collecting Nobles in Lancaster in that players neglect the Development track at their peril.  This is particularly important as as the number of each type of worker is strictly limited, so when they are all gone, that action is no-longer available to any player.  Thus, players who neglect the University action in the early part of the game may find it is no longer available when they want to use it later.  One of the most important aspects of the game for players is controlling the contents of their bag as this dictates what actions they will be able to take.  Since the Development Track is so important, it might be thought that a good way to start is to make repeated visits to the University.  This will fill the player’s bag with Scholars, though, which might not be such a good thing unless players can find another way to use them effectively.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Scholars are not very useful for travelling or building Trading stations and can really only be used in the Scriptorium or Cloister (to get highly versatile “Monks”) in partnership with another worker, so are of limited use.  This means that players need to vary the actions they take so that their bag remains balanced.  Even so, probability can play tricks and players can end up with a very unrepresentative handful of workers.  It takes a very courageous player to then forfeit actions in the current turn in the knowledge that the workers they need will likely come out next time enabling the player to carry out twice as many actions later.  This approach will cause the player to delay their turn which can be a disadvantage though it can also give them a better chance to plan a larger more complex sequence of actions.

Orléans
– Image by BGG contributor styren

Another way a player can control what they draw from their bag is for a player to ensure their bag stays small.  Players cannot just throw workers away, so once a player has a worker in their bag a player they have only two practical ways of getting rid of them.  The first is to park them on an action they don’t intend to use.  This works well if there is a suitable action available, but is not always possible and each action can only be occupied by one worker at a time, though it does allow players to recover them if necessary.  The other option is the Town Hall action.  Each player has two of these on their player board and, workers placed here are moved to the Beneficial Deeds board where they earn a one-off reward (either money or Development Points) and then remain there for the rest of the game.  There are two  problems with this:  firstly, there are a finite number of spaces on the Beneficial Deeds board, so if they are filled up that is that and secondly, they can never be recovered.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

This last point is significant as players can change their strategy during the game and find that they need more of a particular type of worker.  For example, the Village action allows players to collect a black Trader and the bonus is a free choice of a Place Tile.  These are essentially extensions to player’s individual board providing them with extra possible actions, however, they also require workers of a given type.  Thus, adding one of these may provide a use, for example, for all the Scholars that they had previously disposed of.  As the number of workers available is strictly limited, the desired Scholars may also no longer be available rendering the additional Place Tile much less useful than initially thought.  There is a get-out as the Cloister action gives “Monks” which are effectively “wild and can generally be used as a substitute for any other worker.  However, these are also limited in number of course and tend to disappear early so the wise player will try to grab a few of these early to help keep their options open.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

This is all very well, but it is almost certain that a well balanced bag will suffer the full consequences of the Plague.  At the start of each of the eighteen rounds, an event tile is drawn at random which takes effect at the end of the round.  There are six different events each of which occurs three times and they variously have good or bad consequences, including additional income, a visit from the tax man and harvest.  Probably the worst of these, however, is the Plague, though the most serious effects of this can be mitigated to some degree with a bit of care and a little sacrifice.  When the Plague comes, it kills one worker drawn at random from each player’s bag, but if they draw one of their key starting workers it survives.  Thus the smart player will try to ensure their most precious pieces don’t go back into their bag during a Plague round, while stuffing it full of their starting workers and hoping probability does the right thing.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

With seven players, we had to play two games, and they could both be the same since we had two copies of Orléans available (one the original Anglo-German version enhanced with fancy pieces and the other the Deluxe US version with different fancy pieces).  Green was the least keen to play Orléans as he had played it several times recently, but as everyone else seemed keen he graciously joined in with Grey, Red and Blue to make up the first group.  Blue had only played the game as a two player game and Grey and Red were completely new, so the game started fairly slowly, but Green showed the way by getting himself an early Knight and using it to go travelling, building Trading Stations as he went.  In contrast, Blue and Red began by taking Craftsmen and using the associated Technologies.  These are effectively permanent workers once placed on the board, which can make them very powerful if gained early enough.  Grey began by taking the University action and progressing along the Development Track and being the first he managed to pick up a few early Citizens.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Red then moved onto collecting Farmers – not only do these give resources (worth points at the end of the game), but the person who gets ahead in this gets an extra coin at the start of the round (and if someone gets left behind, they lose a coin).  It was about this point that we suddenly ran out of Scholars leaving everyone a long way from where they wanted to be on the Development Track and starting a rules debate as to whether players could continue to take the action for the bonus without getting a worker.  This was a situation that hadn’t arisen in Blue’s two-player games and wasn’t helped by the fact that Burgundy (on the next table) had the first edition of the rules and Blue had the second.  It turned out that Blue had got confused by a rules clarification by the author which explains that although players can’t perform actions that give a worker if they have reached the end of the track or there are no workers left; resources and Technologies on the other hand are a bonus and the actions are still possible if they run out.  This left everyone a little bit stuck, but since Green was the only one who could have really seen it coming and was the most affected having neglected the Development Track for travelling and building Trading Stations, everyone carried on.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue tried to mitigate the problem by taking the Library extension tile which she could use to get two Development Points each time she used it.  Similarly, Grey took the Apothecary extension which enabled him to buy Development Points up to a maximum of three per turn.  By this time we had also run out of Craftsmen, so Blue picked up the Library extension which gave her extra access to the Technologies, though unfortunately for her this was a bit of a waste as it was too late in the game to really make use of it and she ended up only getting the one Technology from it.  As the game progressed into the final stages, everyone suddenly seemed to discover the advantage of the extensions, so Red took the School (so that she could use Scholars as other workers); Grey took the Sacristy (to protect him from the negative effects of events), and Green took the Gunpowder Tower (which expands the market by two and can also be used to place extra workers on the Beneficial Deeds board).  Green was probably the most effective as he was able to use it to pick up extra Development Points and make up for a lot of his shortfall.  In the last turn Blue managed to get her final Sailor and with it an extra Citizen; this proved very effective as it gave her lots of extra points as well as a lot of money and made the game much closer than it would otherwise have been.  It wasn’t quite enough however, and Green won by just four points.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Burgundy, Pine and Violet were engaged in a three player game of Orléans.  Only Burgundy had played it before and he took great pains to explain it very carefully and try to help everyone avoid some of the most gruesome pit-falls early on.  Pine started off like Green, by travelling and building Trading Stations until Burgundy pointed out that he had been neglecting the Development Track.  Meanwhile, Violet shot up the farming track, picking up lots of resources and the extra coin at the start of each round as an added bonus.  Once she had got the maximum number of Farmers, Violet moved onto travelling and collected even more resources, and building the occasional Trading Station when she could.  While all this was going on, Burgundy concentrated on collecting Citizens and building a quality bag. Pine tried stuffing his bag with monks, but they seemed very shy and didn’t seem to want to come out to play when he needed them.  Everyone took an expansion tile:  Burgundy took the Wool Manufacturer early in the game and, as a result and ended up with piles of the stuff, while Violet (like Red on the next table) took the School which enabled her to use Scholars in place of other workers, something she used a lot.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine took the controversial Bathhouse expansion tile which has been the subject of two rules re-writes.  In the first edition of the rules, the player had to place one Farmer on the tile to activate it and then, when it was chosen as an action, the player draws three workers from the bag and chooses two of them to place on appropriate actions which can be used straight away if appropriate.  When the game was first released some players seemed to find this overly powerful, so the designer suggested a modification to the rules such that only two tiles are drawn and only one is kept.  When TMG brought out their edition, they altered the rules again.  In this third version, it is not necessary to place a Farmer to activate the tile, but the additional two workers are drawn from the bag after the others and one is returned, but for this to be useful, there must be sufficient space in the player’s market to hold the extra worker. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages with the requirement for a Farmer to activate it being used to give an extra worker during the round allowing players to leave planning till later in the game and potentially enabling them to use an action twice.  In this game, however, we played by the rules as originally written.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game progressed, everyone struggled a bit on the Development Track and everyone was pretty much dead level.  Burgundy (like Blue on the next table) decided to make a move on the oft-neglected Sailors.  Since the bonus isn’t immediately useful, players tend not to bother about them, however, they provide a lot of money (a total of fourteen for a player who gets everything available) and money equals points at the end of the game.  There is also a Citizen for the player who gets the maximum first, so getting ahead can be quite lucrative, especially as there is often no real competition for it.  Meanwhile, Burgundy was struggling with the Beneficial Deeds board.  He was after the citizens, but as the only one using it, he was struggling and ended up with fewer of some workers than he really wanted.  Eventually Pine and Red gave him a hand, but it was all a bit late in the game for Burgundy.  That said, he had a huge pile of money and finished nearly thirty points ahead of Pine who just sneaked into second place.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Despite the fact that the two games had different numbers of player, they finished at much the same time, with the four-player game actually beginning scoring first.  Even though the number of resources and workers are adjusted the game plays very differently with different numbers:  with fewer players there is more space to move around France and there is a lot less to take on-board.  Red in particular found it very difficult to absorb all the information and options available in the four-player game so perhaps it is easier to grasp what is going on as a two or three player game the first time.  We all struggled to get the workers we wanted at key times.  Monks (especially Pines) appeared to hide in a closet reading their scriptures for most of the game.  Until there was a plague that is, at which time they all came out to find out what all the screaming was for, at which point they were immediately struck down.  That said, Orléans is a great game with a good balance of frustration and a remarkable amount of depth for what are otherwise very simple rules.  Perhaps the biggest issue is the number of tiny rules exceptions (e.g. the first Technology must replace a Farmer), which complicate teaching a bit, but that’s a small criticism in what is otherwise an unusual worker placement game.

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

Red, Green, Grey and Violet all headed off, leaving Burgundy, Blue and Pine with some three-quarters of an hour to play something.  After a short chat about the future of the “Feature Game”, and how we choose what to play, the group settled down to a quick game of Splendor.  We’ve played this little chip-collecting and card development “engine building” game quite a bit, but we all still seem to quite like it when we are looking for a light filler game.  The idea is that players collect chips to buy gem cards which can, in turn, be used in lieu of chips.  More expensive cards are also worth points and the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points (and the round is completed to give everyone the same number of turns).  Points are also awarded for “nobles” which go to the first player to get a specific combination of gem cards and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.

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

This time, Blue started really well, and before long was eight points clear of everyone else.  Burgundy couldn’t get what he wanted at the start, so just picked up lots of ruby cards while Pine found that everyone else nicked the cards he was after just before he could get to them.  Maybe it was because Blue relaxed, or maybe it was because she and Pine took their eye off the ball, but suddenly, the cards seemed to fall right for Burgundy and Blue and Pine let him take what he wanted.  Before long, Burgundy had picked up two nobles in very quick succession and needed only one point to end the game (as the last player in the round).  Blue managed to pick up two points but it wasn’t enough and Burgundy pipped her to the final win of the evening by just one point.

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

Learning Outcome:  Tight games are some of the most interesting.

23rd February 2016

After another quick game of Love Letter (a resounding win for Magenta), we moved on to our “Feature Game”, Kobayakawa.   This is a simple little Japanese micro-filler game with elements of betting and push-your-luck.  The rules sounded unpromising, but it was much more fun on the table.  The idea is very simple:  from a deck numbered one to fifteen, each player is dealt a single card with one extra one face up in the middle.  Like Love Letter, players draw a card and chose which to keep, but the aim is different as players are trying to set themselves up for the second phase of the game.  In the second phase, players take it in turns in player order choosing whether to pay a token to join the bidding or not. The player with the highest card in hand wins the pot and the winner over all is the player with the most tokens after seven rounds.  There is a catch, however, as the player with the lowest card gets to add the face up card to their total.

Kobayakawa
– Image by boardGOATS

It is at this point that the little bit of strategy comes in:  in the first phase, players can choose to replace the face up card instead of drawing a card into their hand.  It is only a very little bit of strategy though, since play is strictly in player order and at the start of the round you have almost no information.  Thus, a player who has chosen to keep a low card can find their round is trashed when the last player in the round changes the face-up card from a high value to a low one.  That said, the game is not meant to be an intensely deep strategy game, and it was much more fun than it sounded on reading through the rules.  Pine took an early lead with Green crashing out as he ran out of tokens.  Although we enjoyed it, we felt the end-game could do with a little work as the rules say that everyone who has enough tokens must pay two to join in the last round of bidding (instead of one as previously).  This increases the value of winning the final round and means the preceding rounds can be essentially meaningless unless a player has managed to accrue more than half the number of tokens available (and in that case the final round is pointless instead).  We felt that maybe the game would be better with an early target, with the winner being the player to collect, say, three times the number of tokens as players, and if that hadn’t happened by round seven, then play the final round.

Kobayakawa
– Image by boardGOATS

This was followed by a short break during which we discussed what to play next and got side-tracked by an (unusually serious) conversation regarding the upcoming EU referendum.  As the debate disintegrated into general moaning along the lines of European stereotypes Green felt a game of Lancaster was in order, as it is a game where players are directing noble families from the time of Henry V, vying for power and favour amongst themselves, with a side order of fighting the French.  This is a game that has had a couple of outings recently since we first played it just after Christmas, but this time we decided to add the Reward Tiles mini-expansion.  Pine was the only one not to have played it before, so we had a quick run-through of the rules.  Players take it in turns to place their knights in one of three places:  in the shires; in their castle, or in the wars in France.  Once the knights have been placed, players then vote on and evaluate “the Laws” which give players a benefit just before they get their their rewards for knight placement.  After five rounds, the player with the most points wins.

Lancaster: Reward Tiles
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Baartoszz

The mini-expansion added reward tiles which are drawn at the start of each round and placed next to a county on the game board.  During the rewards phase, the player who takes control of the county may collect the reward tile instead of the imprinted basic reward (collecting both the nobleman tile and the reward tile if they pay the extras).  Clearly these weren’t going to have a huge impact on the game, though they would make some of the benefits slightly more available during the game, something that had the potential to help out Purple who insisted that she never did very well as Green and Black always knocked her out of the castle improvement counties (something that was not denied).  The first round of knight placement was a benign affair as no-one seemed up for a fight. Black concentrated on beating the French, Purple inevitably went for castle improvements, Green wanted the starting token and Pine thought building up his knights would be a good start.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor kopernikus

Then came the first phase of voting for the Laws. Confusion abounded concerning quite how it worked, and having been fairly unanimous in our votes we prepared to discard two laws and replace them with two more. A quick check of the rules about how we do this indicated that we’d done it all wrong:  we should have voted for the new laws we wanted not the old laws we wanted to keep.  There was a little more discord at the ballot box when we tried again, but we still got two new Laws.  With that, the most complicated part of the game, out of the way for the first time, we went into the rewards round with players counties collecting knights, castle improvements, voting cubes and squires, and awarding points for the victory in France.  It was when we came to the rewards from the Laws that Green realised that all his calculations as to what he would get were wrong since number of squires and money had suddenly changed.  It was only when placing the knights in the second round that Green realised that the rewards from the Laws should be awarded immediately after the vote and before the rewards from the rest of the board.  We changed to follow the rules for the rest of the game, but did think that it could make an interesting variant as it provides an extra level of uncertainty into the game.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Over the next couple of rounds, Black continued his grudge against France, Purple tried to build her castle (largely unsuccessfully), Green gathered voting nobleman around his table and Pine built up his fighting strength.  By round three Purple and Black had both accumulated a lot of squires and Pine and Green found themselves being kicked out of a few counties and having to replace somewhere else and by the fourth round, the knives were really out and the counties were changing hands like “pass the parcel” at a birthday party.  Pine and Green had superior knight strength, but Black and Purple had the upper hand with squires; battles raged across the land and the rivers ran red with the blood of so many faithful soldiers.

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

The battles continued into the final round, however, Black had often swiped the nobleman from under the noses of the other players by judicious use the free nobleman king’s favour and the free nobleman alternative reward from the expansion (the only person to actually take advantage of it in the whole game). Eventually, everyone settled with several sending their knights home to treat their wounds, and the game ended except final scoring.  Black began the scoring several points ahead of the others and it looked like his fighting in France may have paid off, especially as he had managed to gain quite a table of nobleman as well. The superior knights of Green and Pine and the better castles of Pine and Purple brought them a little closer to Black prior to the nobleman scoring.  Black and Purple finished with the same number of nobles giving them fifteen points, but Green finished with two more which he had snuck in right at the end and took him to a near full compliment giving him an extra thirteen points and with it the win, leapfrogging Black in second place with Pine finishing just one point behind in third.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In discussing the game after, Pine said he quite enjoyed it and we ruminated on how weak the castle improvements seemed to be, more because they were so hard to get early on, when they would provide the most benefit whereas later on they were of less use.  This brought in the idea of using the expansion extra reward tokens all at the beginning of the game rather than only one new one out each round.  We also wondered if placing them randomly rather than on specific counties could work, though that might need some thought.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, Blue, mindful that Green and Burgundy had been keen to play Endeavour again, had produced that as a her offering for a game about international treaties.  With Green engaged elsewhere, Blue and Burgundy recruited Magenta to the cause and gave her a rules run-down as she had not played it before.  The game felt much less confusing than last time as it was fresh in Blue’s and Burgundy’s minds having played it within a month.  So, despite all the little bits that need to be set out, the perceived complexity of the game and the relative inexperience of the players, Endeavour was actually under way first.  The game is played over seven rounds, each of which consists of four phases:  Building, Population, Income and Action.  The idea is that players have four status tracks which correspond to Industry, Culture, Finance and Politics, which roughly correspond to the four phases and dictate what players are allowed to do at each stage.  The game is actually much less confusing than we made it last time, though there are a number of apparently little rules that have the potential to make a large difference.  For example, last time at least one player had multiple copies of one building which can significantly change the balance of the game as well as potentially making that building unavailable to other players.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players start by choosing a building:  although the choice is very limited at the beginning so everyone begins with only a slight variation in direction, we have a feeling that the choices made very early on in the game are critical.  Similarly, getting the first round of settling and shipping right is vital as this gives both position and a crucial fast start on the status tracks allowing players an early toe-hold in the game.  As such, Magenta was at something of a disadvantage not having seen the game play out before, though with just three players (compared to four last time) there was just a little more wriggle room.  Burgundy and Magenta began by building Shipyards, so Blue decided to do something different (largely just for the sake of it) and built a Market instead.  Although she didn’t plan it that way, it meant that she was first to start picking up cards from the Asset Deck in Europe, giving her an alternative method of building her status tracks.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Magenta and Burgundy were both engaging in shipping though Magenta was having the better of it managed use to build up her Population and Income tracks and quickly took the Governorship of South America.  Somehow, Burgundy had got things very slightly out of kilter and was unable to put them right.  Before long his Income status track had fallen behind which restricted his available population as well as blocking up his action spaces.  Magenta was on roll judiciously shipping, settling and picking up Asset cards, and generally playing a very canny game.  In the previous game, with four players, almost all the board had been opened up in what had been a very tight game.  This time, with only three players, large sections of the board didn’t get explored much at all.  This was exacerbated by Blue only starting her shipping slowly, so Burgundy had to make almost all the running in India, which was hard work, but necessary for him to build a network of settlements.  Matters were made worse for him with Blue pouncing on one of his key targets.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Although everyone finished in much the same place, as before, with nearly complete status tracks and a near full set of cards, it was clear that Burgundy had struggled and Magenta had really done very well.  Blue’s position was less clear as she hadn’t done quite as well as Magenta on the status tracks (especially as she had to discard one of her cards at the end of the final round), but had picked up points elsewhere, in particular on her Asset cards.  In the final count, Burgundy was nowhere near as far back as we had thought and it was clear that if he had been able to increase his income just slightly, earlier in the game, he would have been way out in front.  As it was, Blue finished some twelve points clear thanks to her Asset card victory points and more cities than anyone else.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Lancaster was still under way, so Burgundy, Magenta and Blue decided to play something small and quick that they all knew.  The minimal set-up time and its more relaxed feel commended The Game, and since the decision had to be made quickly, no-one really looked any further.  We’ve played this simple little card-laying co-operative game a lot, so the only thing we needed to check was the number of cards in the starting hand.  Unfortunately, an appalling deal quickly put paid to our “R&R” and the stress levels quickly rose as it looked highly likely that we weren’t going to even get through the deck.  In the event, we just about managed to get to a point where the draw deck was depleted, but that was it and we finished with seventeen unplayed cards.  Lancaster was drawing to a close, but scores still had to be tallied and there were a lot of bits to put away, so we decided to give it another go, with speed.  Not thinking seemed to help (or maybe it was the practice from the previous try), because we made a much better fist of it, finishing with just four unplayed cards.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

With Magenta heading home for an early night, there was just enough time (and people) for a quick game of one of our most popular fillers, Om Nom Nom.  The game is quite simple with players simultaneously choosing animal cards to try to eat as much possible:  for example, a cat will eat mice.  Similarly a mouse can eat cheese, but only if it is not eaten by a cat first.  The board is seeded with dice, after which there is a large dose of double-think as players try to guess whether everyone/anyone else is going to go for the largest tastiest helpings or not.  As usual, Green moaned about how badly he does in the game, and tried his usual array of randomly choosing cards and going for his second choice rather than his first, but for all that, he didn’t do so badly in the end, though he was some way behind Blue who just pipped Pine thanks to a large helping of carrots (which, it turns out score double) in the final round.

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

Learning Outcome: Games can be very different when you change even the smallest of rules…

Boardgames in the News: The Best Games Featuring Maps

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

Twilight Struggle
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor killy9999

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

Terra Mystica
– Image by BGG contributor Verkisto

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

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

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

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Carcassonne
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Topdecker

Boardgames in the News: What is the Influence of KickStarter?

The rise of the internet has changed everything.  When UK designers like Alan R. Moon and Richard Breese first started publishing their small numbers of “designer games”, these were often mostly advertised through magazines and by word of mouth.  Now we have  boardgamegeek.com (or BGG for short), which provides an extensive database of boardgames as well as an active community of users who discuss, argue about, buy, sell, trade and play board games. Their database contains over 76,000 board games each with its own entry that includes general information about the game, user ratings, forums for discussion and user reviews amongst other things. There are also websites devoted to online versions of boardgames, where players can try new games to see if they like them (before spending money) and hone skills by playing against other people from all over the world.

BGG
– Image from boardgamegeek.com

The UK boardgamer also now has a wealth of possible vendors:  they might start with Amazon to get a baseline price, then perhaps try one of the excellent specialist online sellers like BoardGameGuru, Games Lore, or Infinity Games.  Importing games is also an option:  many international editions are cheaper in continental Europe than here, even when shipping is factored in.  Alternatively, there are a number of excellent UK shops which also have an online presence like Shire Games and Spirit Games.  People in the Oxford area also have a couple of local choices that they can visit too, including Thirsty Meeples and The Gameskeeper.  And this is before you include the fact that high street stores like Waterstones and WHSmith often stock a small selection and even The Works has has some Rio Grande Games available recently.

Indiegogo
– Image from indiegogo.com

In the last few years though, there has also been the internet phenomenon of crowd funding.  There are several crowd funding websites that enable designers of all sorts of things to propose projects, however, the two main sites used by boardgamers are Indiegogo and KickStarter.  These provide an entirely new model where a designer advertises their design and anyone can pledge to support them financially.  Typically this works through a system of pledges and associated rewards.  For example, if a supporter pledges $5 they may be rewarded with a novelty meeple, whereas if they pledge $50 they are rewarded with the whole game and for $500 they might get the signed first copy.  This is distinct from a pre-order as there is no contract between the designer and supporter.  Also, each project is usually advertised for a set period time with a given financial target, if this is not reached, then the project is cancelled.  If it exceeds its goal, then additional “stretch goals” may be set out which can lead to improvements in the game when it is produced.

KickStarter
– Image from iconfinder.com

So, the advantage of this approach is that the risk is spread out amongst all the supporters enabling many people to produce games in a way that would not otherwise be possible.  There are also a number of disadvantages of crowd funding, however.  There are very long delays involved, with some games taking eighteen months to two years or more longer than projected.  There are also a lot of gamers who admit that they have become addicted to supporting projects which has led to a lot of people paying over the odds for rubbish.  Primarily though, the biggest problem is that supporters feel a sense of entitlement:  they are used to buying a game and if their reward does not materialise, they feel aggrieved.  Most projects end with supporters getting a reward of some kind even if it is not as originally envisaged.

Zombicide Season 3: Rue Morgue
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor The Carmen

Some games have been hugely successful, raising eye-watering sums of money.  For example, Zombicide Season 3: Rue Morgue yielded nearly $3 million with over 12,000 backers.  However, there have been a number of high profile “problem projects”.  For example, when costs spiraled for the production of Glory to Rome, most backers got their game, but the project leader, Ed Carter lost his house. In the case of Up Front, the boot was on the other foot, though.  This was a remake of an old card-based WWII war game and 2,407 backers pledged a total of $339,848 to get it made, more than ten times its modest $30,000 funding goal.  Unfortunately, the companies involved in its production, Valley Games and Radiant Gaming, became mired in a legal dispute with their financier, so their assets were frozen and all other sources of funds were used to line the lawyers’ pockets.  Although the case is still making its weary way through the courts, it seems unlikely that there will be enough money or inclination to actually make the game once everything has been resolved.  There have also been cases that appear to be blatant theft, for example Seth Nemec allegedly took over $20,000 to produce a reprint of the Kosmos game, Odin’s Ravens, and then disappeared.  Fraudulent cases have become such a concern that in the case of Asylum, the Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson stepped in, filing a law suit against the producer.

Up Front
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Lord_Prussian

These are not the only crowd funded projects that have had problems by any stretch of the imagination, however, the vast majority end happily, with happy supporters happily playing their rewards (if a little late).  But is the boom in crowd funding here to stay or just a flash in the pan?  Well, to date, there have been over 16,000 projects listed in the “games” category on KickStarter alone, with a success rate of about 1/3, raising over $334 million.  “Games” is one of the largest categories on the site and is the most lucrative, however, it includes much more than just boardgames.  In 2014, there were 454 successful board and card games on KickStarter raising a total of $26.1million dollars.  This is a 40% increase in the number of games, but is accompanied by a 10% drop in the total spent from the previous year.  It is hard to draw any meaningful statistics from something that has been going for such a short amount of time and is highly cyclical, but it would seem that these statistics reflect a change that many backers have been feeling.

Tiny Epic Galaxies
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor mgcoe

With prices increasing, gamers are getting more cautious about spending over $100 on a game that they won’t see for months and may never see at all.  So the number of the really expensive (mostly miniatures) games is decreasing, and even the medium sized games are becoming less  abundant.  Postage is also undoubtedly a factor and the games that are most successful now tend to be the mini and micro games where costs are much lower.  For example, Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Tiny Epic Defenders raised $440,000 between them last year and Tiny Epic Galaxies (their sequel) raised over $400,000 alone when it funded last month.  Thus, although the total amount raised is falling, the number of backers and games produced is increasing.

Queen Games
– Image from
queen-games.de

There is much more to this however.  There are a number of companies that are using KickStarter as glorified pre-order system that allows the backers to shoulder the burden of risk.  These proven companies are not seen as risky by gamers and are still proving highly productive.  For example, Queen Games (who are also part of the ever growing Asmodée group) raised over $100,000 earlier this year on their Lancaster: Big Box project and most of their smaller projects fund successfully at around $30,000.  It is clear why the KickStarter model is appealing to such companies as it allows them to sell directly to their consumers enabling them to pass some of the savings on.  However, these are quite controversial as most of these projects have very little in the way of stretch goals and are often seen simply as a way to sideline distributors and game stores.

Lancaster: Big Box
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dukelander

It is undeniable that KickStarter has had an impact on the way people purchase games, but hitherto it has only affected a small part of the market.  However, if the “Queen model” continues to grow and is taken up by other companies, then KickStarter will begin to have a much more significant impact on gamers as it could start to put games vendors out of business and that is bad news  for everyone.

10th February 2015

Getting into the mood for Saturday (St. Valentine’s Day), we started out with just a couple of quick hands of the old favourite, Love Letter.  Blue took the first hand and Grey the second, however, we were still expecting a few more, so we decided to play another quick game and after a little discussion, we went for Coup.

Love Letter
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

This is a light little card game with a lot of similarities to Mascarade, which we played last time:  on their turn, players declare they are going to take an action and other players can either claim they are a specific character and counter or challenge the active player to prove that they are who they say they are.  Basically, the actions are either: take money in various different amounts (with different risks); spend money to assassinate or perform a coup, or trade a card with the deck.  Players have two character cards face down in front of them, and when challenged correctly or assassinated/subjected to a coup, they turn one face up.  When both of a player’s cards are face up, they are out;  the winner is the last man standing.

Coup
– Image by BGG contributor jerome75

Unfortunately, Blue, who had played it quite a bit in the past got horribly muddled with the rules, largely due to the similarity between this and Mascarade, so consequently, forgot a small but quite critical rule:  when a challenge is made and the challenge is unsuccessful, the player should exchange their card with one from the deck.  Although this obviously had an impact, since everyone was playing by the same rules, it wasn’t too drastic.

Coup
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Before long, Cerise and Grey were outed as Dukes and Indigo was claiming to be a Captain and was stealing from Cerise.  “Burgundy the Brave” kept challenging, but unfortunately was wrong more than right and was soon out of the game.  When Cerise claimed to be the yet another Duke nobody believed her.  Meanwhile, Indigo was building up quite a store of cash, so Green decided it was imperative that her money supply should be cut off and assassinated Cerise proving that she had been holding two Dukes at the start.  Green’s unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Blue (who was the Contessa) left just Indigo, Grey and Blue in the game.  Indigo’s successful coup was rewarded by a prompt assassination of her final character by Blue, leaving just Blue and Grey.  Grey, as a captain was trying to collect enough money for a coup, while Blue needed just one more coin for the assassination.  So, Blue kept taking two coins in Foreign Aid and Grey immediately stole them.   It looked like Grey had it, but since Blue still had two character cards, that gave her an extra chance to collect money the game ended when she mercilessly stabbed Grey’s captain in the back.

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor nad24
and nonsensicalgamers.com

We then split into two groups with the first playing the “Feature Game”, Takenoko.  The back-story for this game is that a long time ago, the Chinese Emperor offered a giant panda bear as a symbol of peace to the Japanese Emperor.  Since then, the Japanese Emperor has entrusted the members of his court (the players) with the difficult task of caring for the animal by tending to his bamboo garden.  So the players have to cultivate the different plots of land, irrigate them and grow one of the three species of bamboo (Green, Yellow and Pink) with the help of the Imperial Gardener.  The winner is the player who grows the most bamboo, managing his land plots best while feeding the Panda.

Takenoko
– Image by BGG contributor woodenbricks

The play area starts with one single hexagonal “pond” tile with two characters on top:  the Imperial Gardener and the Panda.  On their turns players first determine the weather, then perform their actions.  The weather is determined by a roll of the weather die, which give the active player some sort of bonus.  For example, when the sun shines, the payer gets an extra action, and rain stimulates the bamboo of their choice to grow.

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

Once the weather has been determined, the player can perform two actions.  These must be different and the player can choose freely from the five available.  Firstly, the player can add a new bamboo plot, by drawing three hexagonal tiles from the face down stack and choosing one to place.  This tile must be placed next to the starting “pond” tile or adjacent to two plots already in play.  There are also “improvements” which are sometimes built into the plot, but can also be obtained by rolling the weather die and can be played at any time.  The second option is to take an irrigation channel.  These can be played straight away or stored for later use, but bamboo only grows on irrigated plots.  The main way to irrigate a plot is by connecting them to the pond via channels.

Takenoko
– Image by BGG contributor woodenbricks

Alternatively, a player can move one of the characters, either the Imperial Gardener or the Panda.  Both move over any number of plots, in a straight line, but when they reach their destination, their action is different.  The Panda cannot resist bamboo, so will eat one segment of bamboo from the plot he lands on (the pieces are stored on the player’s individual board); the Imperial Gardener encourages the bamboo to grow, and the bamboo on the plot he lands on grows by one segment as does every adjacent tile growing bamboo of the same colour (as long as they are irrigated).

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor lacxox

Finally, the active player can draw an objective card and add it to their hand;  there is a hand-limit of five and these are the only way to score points.  There are three types of objectives, those related to Plots, the Gardener and the Panda.  Plot objective cards yield points to players when certain plot configurations are irrigated; Gardener cards are achieved when bamboo of given height are grown in the right spaces and points for Panda cards are awarded when a player has managed to encourage the Panda to eat the requisite number of coloured bamboo segments.

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ObeyMyBrain

When a player completes one of their objectives, they show everyone and the card is placed face up in front of them.  They can complete as many objectives as they like on their turn and end of the game is triggered when one player full-fills a set number of objectives, after which, everyone gets one last turn.  The game was really tight from start to finish and every time one player got a nose in front, the others seemed to catch up and over-take, only to be leap-frogged themselves.  The game finished with just three points separating first and last place, with Burgundy just pipping Indigo.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

While half the group were Playing with Pandas, Green persuaded everyone else to give Lancaster another go.  This is a longer game which embodies a few very clever ideas and that we played for the first time a few weeks ago.  The basics of the game are that players take it in turns to place their knights in the shires, in their castle or send them off to war.  They then vote on and evaluate “the Laws” which give players a benefit.  They then get their their rewards for knight placement.  After five rounds, the player with the most points wins.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

One of the clever things about the knight placement is the way that players can usurp a knight that has already been placed, by supplementing him with a number of squires.  So, a knight of level two can be replaced by a night of level one with two squires.  However, squires are “single use”, so should the original player decide to respond with a level four knight, the other player’s squires are lost.  This is a very clever way of speeding up the bidding.  For example, in Keyflower, two players can keep bidding in increments of one which means it may take several turns for the outcome to be resolved.  In Lancaster, a failed bid that is repeated at a higher level may turn out to be considerably more costly than bidding higher the first time round.  This encourages players to be a smarter about their bidding and changes the dynamics a little too.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

One of the key parts of Lancaster is “the Laws” and managing them.  On our previous play, we didn’t really get to grips with them at all.  Although it is now clear to us how important they are, we are still only just getting to grips with them.  The game starts with a set of three Laws, with three to be voted on during the round.  Since there is a conveyor-belt system, it is possible that some Laws will remain in place for several rounds.  This means even if a particular Law does not reward a player during the round it becomes active, they may benefit in subsequent rounds.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

This game was quite different to the last:  firstly, as a group, we had a better idea of rules, and secondly, there were only three of us compared with five before.  Blue was too busy worrying about the game on the next table to concentrate on the rule-reminder, and paid for it in the first round when her plan relied on the rewards coming before the Laws.  Green tried to increase his force and then generate benefits by fighting the French, however, with fewer players, it is much more difficult to win the battles which means your knights are tied up for a lot longer.  Having screwed up the first round, Blue didn’t bother trying to increase all her knights to full force and tried to be a bit more canny about how she used them instead and pick up upgrades by other means.  Meanwhile, Grey, who had not played the game before, tried to build up his stack of noblemen and played the laws.  Blue and Green were far too bothered with their own games to notice, but Grey managed to get the eight point Law for having three knights in the shires voted in.  More importantly, he managed to keep it there, and this combined with a respectable number of nobles and a few uncontested visits to Somerset (giving him six victory points each time) eventually gave him the game by a sizeable margin from Blue.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, the Panda Players had finished so Burgundy and Cerise squeezed in a quick two player game of Coloretto.  Cerise and Burgundy had played this last month with Blue and Indigo, but it is not generally thought of as a good two player game.  Nevertheless, they gave it a go and found it much more enjoyable than expected.

Taluva
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Bizowikc

With Grey and Cerise’s departure, that left just time for one last, shortish game, Taluva. This is a fairly simple tile laying game with a surprising amount of depth.  The idea is that on their turn, players place their tile, then place a building then replenish their hand.  This procedure is to that of Carcassonne, but that is where the comparison ends.  The tiles are a strange dodecagon made of three hexagonal regions or fields, one of which is always a volcano.  When placing tiles, they can be adjacent or on top of other tiles so long as the volcano sits on top of another volcano (the tile must also cover more than one tile and there cannot be an overhang).

Taluva
– Image by BGG contributor Purple

Buildings can be placed anywhere, provided that they obeys certain rules.  Unfortunately, although the game is beautiful, the theme is a bit sparse making these rules appear very arbitrary which has the consequence that they are quite difficult to remember.  A hut can be built on any unoccupied level one terrain that isn’t a volcano.  On the other hand, an existing settlement can be expanded by placing huts on all adjacent terrains of one type, with more huts placed on the higher levels (two on the level two etc.).  There are also three temples and two towers to place which can only be added to existing settlements:  temples must be added to settlements covering at least three fields, while towers must be placed on a level three field adjacent to a settlement of any size.

Taluva
– Image by BGG contributor Moviebuffs

The game ends when there are no tiles left and the winner is the player to have placed the most temples at the end of the game.  In case of a tie, the number of towers built counts and then the number of huts.  However, if a player succeeds in building all buildings from
two out of the three different types before the game end, then he immediately wins the game.  On the other hand, any player who squanders his building pieces and is unable to build any more is immediately eliminated.

Taluva
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We played this a while ago as a two player game, so it was interesting to see how it played with more.  As last time, we had a thorough going through of the rules with all the weird exceptions and special cases (e.g. players cannot build a temple in a settlement that already has one, however, it is OK to join two settlements with temples together; you can place a tile on top of huts, but not towers or temples etc.).  The game was very close and it looked like Blue was going to make it, however, Green and Burgundy ganged up on her and Green managed to sneak the win with the last tile.

Taluva
– Image by BGG contributor Moviebuffs

Learning Outcome:  Two three-player games are sometimes better than one six-player game.

13th January 2015

With several new people, we started with two sets of parallel games.  The first group began with Zombie Dice, a very quick dice game where players are zombies and the dice are their victims.  On each turn, players first roll three dice:  a brain symbol is worth one point at the end of the round, while footsteps allow that die to be re-rolled.  On the other hand, shotgun blasts are bad, and collecting three ends the players turn and they forfeit any points they’ve collected. After rolling their first three dice, players can then decide if they want to score their current set of brains or whether they fancy pushing their luck by grabbing a new set of three dice and rolling again.

Zombie Dice
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor zombiegod

With Grey taking his first win, Red convinced the group to play one of her favourite games, Walk the Plank!.  This is a very silly game that we’ve played a lot over the last year and everyone seems to enjoy.  There were the usual hoots of delight as kamikaze pirates committed mass suicide and everyone enjoyed it so much, that after Grey had taken his second win, they played it again.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

While Cerise was chalking up her first victory, the second group were finishing their game of King of Tokyo, the “Feature Game”.  This was a “Black Friday Special” and is another fun dice rolling game.  The idea is that players are mutant monsters, gigantic robots, and strange aliens – all of whom are destroying Tokyo and attacking each other in order to become the one and only King of Tokyo.  Each player has a stand-up monster, a counter and everyone sits round a board depicting Tokyo.  On their turn, players roll the six oversized dice with four possible outcomes: numbers (potentially leading to points), attack (a paw print), healing (a heart) and energy (lightening bolts).  In order to score victory points, the active player must roll at least three of the same number.  Thus, three “twos” will score two points, but each additional “two” will deliver an extra point (so four “twos” would score three points etc.).

King of Tokyo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Any attacks rolled are delivered to the monster who is currently in Tokyo unless that is the active player, in which case, everyone else receives the damage.  Each player starts with ten lives and each attack die costs one.  Whenever the player in the middle is attacked, they have to take the damage, but can then chose to leave the middle, to be replaced by the player who attacked them.  Moving into Tokyo has its advantages and disadvantages:  players score a point on going in (with two more if they are still there at the start of their next turn) and they can cause everyone else a lot of damage, however, they cannot using healing dice while in Tokyo which makes it risky to stay.

King of Tokyo
– Image by BGG contributor rothkorperation

Finally players can also collect energy tokens which are a sort of currency and allow players to buy cards which give their monster special powers.  The winner must either destroy Tokyo (by collecting twenty victory points), or be the only surviving monster once all the fighting has ended and all the others have died.  Green started off well, with Burgundy and Indigo in hot pursuit.  Blue seemed unable to get anything she wanted, so took great delight in seeing everyone else reduced to a very small number of lives.  Burgundy was two points ahead of Green, but it was Green’s turn and he ended the game with a gambol rolling five “threes” and finish as the King of Tokyo.

King of Tokyo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dekedagger

With the end of both games and the arrival of Purple and Black, we had a quick shuffle of seats and Cerise replaced Green to play another game that has been popular recently, Splendor.  This is a simple set collecting game where players collect gems that they can then use to buy cards which in turn allow them to buy more cards which are worth points and help them to collect “nobles” which give even more points.  The game started slowly with all the basic cards gone and nobody looked close to winning.  However, Blue knew she’d done something right when there was a chorus of disappointment from Cerise and Burgundy when she reserved a high scoring opal card, a trick she repeated the following round.  Buying one of the opal cards enabled her to win two nobles giving her nine points in one turn and putting her over the finishing line, with Indigo finishing just one point behind after a last minute surge.

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

Meanwhile, the other group were playing Stimmt So!.  Although we’ve not played this for a while, we have played the closely related game, Alhambra which uses the same mechanic.  The idea is that players have a choice of actions:  they can buy commodities, or they can go to the bank for money.  There are four different legal tenders and the cost of each commodity must be paid in the specified currency.  When making purchases (of shares in Stimmt So! or of buildings in Alhambra), players can always over-spend, but if they pay the exact amount they can have an extra turn.  Thie extra turn can be used to either buy another item or to take money from the bank.  If they chose to make a second purchase, they can again pay the exact amount and get another turn.  Play continues in this way until the player no-longer qualifies for another turn or all the available stock has been purchased after which, the stock is refilled for the next player.  Thus, the game is a balance between collecting small denominations of the different currencies (which are more versatile) and collecting larger denominations (that are worth more).  The points are awarded at stages during the game to players with the most of each commodity.

Stimmt So!
– Image by boardGOATS

It was a slow start as people built a stock and cash and very few shares were bought. Then, as each person built up a usable amount of money the game took off.  Black quickly took control of the Petrol market with three shares and everyone else built a small portfolio. Grey followed Black’s lead and went for an early lead in Banking.  The first scoring round came along quite quickly and with almost nothing in it and then the game was really afoot.  Purple decided to challenge Black’s dominance in Petrol and Grey added to his Banking stocks.  Airlines, Computing and Entertainment were all hotly contested, but Automobiles remained obstinately absent despite an interim shuffle!  The second scoring came with a range of winners and losers and Black, Grey and Red stretched a small, but significant lead over Yellow and Purple with Green at the back who had been refusing to overpay for anything, plenty of cash, but few shares!  Going into the last round, there were several cards that nobody wanted as they could no longer even share the lead, but eventually people started buying and Automobiles finally made an appearance.  This got the game moving and the final shares came and went in short order.  Black managed to shrug off falling oil prices and finish just ahead of Red, a canny second, demonstrating that not putting all your eggs in one basket can be a good idea.  Grey was not far behind demonstrating that putting all your eggs in one basket is still a not a bad strategy though!

Stimmt So!
– Image by boardGOATS

Splendor finished first, and Indigo was persuaded to play one more game before she had to leave.  As we wanted something fairly quick, we opted for a card game and chose Coloretto.  This is a cute little set-collecting game that inspired, the perhaps better known, Zooloretto.  The aim of the game is to collect sets of cards with the largest three sets scoring positively, and the reset all giving negative scores.  Thus, on their turn, the active player can either draw a coloured chameleon card, or take a “truck” and all the chameleons on it.  If they draw a card, they have to choose which truck to put the chameleon on, trying to make the trucks contain a combination of colours that suit them, but not everyone else.  Alternatively, they can choose take a truck, trying to match the colours on the truck with the sets they already have and  minimise their losses.  This was quite a close game until suddenly, in the final round Indigo drew an orange chameleon which we hadn’t realised had been hitherto missing from the game.  We inevitably blamed the shuffler as all the orange cards turned up together.  Blue managed to avoid picking any up however, and finished just two points ahead of Burgundy.

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

In the meantime, Green, Grey, Black and Purple started a game of Click & Crack.  This is one of last year’s “Essen Specials” and has proven to be a fantastic little filler game.  Each player has two penguin counters.  They take in turns to place them on an ice floe made from twenty-five tiles arranged to form a five by five array.  Each player also has two tiles depicting an arrow.  Once the penguins have been placed, players choose a direction for their arrow tiles and reveal them simultaneously. Then, starting with the first player, each player picks a penguin and applies one of their direction tiles.  They can either move the chosen penguin in the specified direction, or the penguin stamps on the ice and causes the floe to crack in the specified direction.  When a crack has been completed so that it divides the floe into two, the player who played the final crack wins the smaller piece of ice and takes the tiles and any penguins caught on it.  Each floe tile is worth one point at the end of the game and each trapped penguin is worth minus one point.

Click & Crack
– Image by BGG contributor thir_teen_

The game ends when one player has at least seven points, or when the main floe is less than seven tiles in size or if there are three penguins left on the floe.  The game went all Purple’s way.  First she broke off a massive piece of ice and trapped a few penguins in the process.  Then before anyone else could do very much, she broke off another large piece capturing a few more penguins and finished the game with eight points and only Black scoring: a paltry two.

Click & Crack
– Image by BGG contributor smn1337

While the penguins were busy finishing up, Cerise (aided by Burgundy), gave Blue a sound thrashing at Dobble (an old favourite that we’ve not played for ages) before the late night brigade started the last game of the evening, Lancaster.  As it was his new game, Green had been absolutely desperate to play it, so despite the lateness of the hour, we gave it a go.  The game is a worker placement game themed around the House of Lancaster, played over five rounds, each consisting of several phases.  First, players take it in turns to place their knights.  Knights can be placed in the counties, or in the a player’s private castle or they can be sent off to fight against the French.  Knights have a rank (one to four).

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

When knights are placed in the counties, this rank can be augmented by the addition of squires, but once a knight has been placed, it can be usurped by a higher ranking knights (or a knight with sufficient squires to give it a higher rank).  In this case, the knight is returned to the player, but any squires are returned to the supply.  This means that players might be quite cavalier about knights, but tend to be much more parsimonious when assigning squires.  Winning a county enables players to choose either to recruit a noble, or to perform a one off action associated the county, or, alternatively, on payment of three coins, they can do both.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

If they win a war, the knights sent off to fight the French win points, with the largest contributors (highest combined rank) scoring most heavily.  However, they also receive an immediate benefit which can be monetary or in the form squires or nobles etc..  Knights placed within the castle also give a one off benefit, although it is received later.  The knight’s rank is immaterial for castle placements (as they cannot be usurped) and there is no possibility of victory points.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor kopernikus

Once all the knights have been placed, it is time for Parliament to vote on changes to the laws.  The laws basically provide scoring bonuses and other benefits.  At the start of the game there are three laws in place and three new laws that players will vote on.  These three new laws are considered one at a time and the group votes on whether they should be kept (pushing out one of the old ones) or rejected.  Players get one vote each for each law, but can reinforce their vote with votes provided by nobles (and via other means).  After the voting, the other rewards are handed out:  for occupying the counties, for knights placed in castles and for winning wars.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although everyone broadly understood what they could do, nobody really fathomed how everything fitted together.  So, different players tried different strategies.  Blue decided that the she couldn’t turn down the thirty-six points awarded at the end of the game for a complete set of nobles, so went for that.  Burgundy was more canny, however, he also went for the nobles, but picked up a lot of them through the one off reward provided by going to war with the French.  This way he also got victory points as he went along.  Green also tried to pick up points in the battles, but focused on trying to build up the strength of his knights and manipulate parliament. Black tried to reinforce his castle to deliver regular rewards with little input, while Purple tried a little bit of everything, just doing as much as she could on each turn.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Burgundy led the charge with Green, Black and Purple close behind.  Since Blue was focusing on collecting her set of nobles, she hardly shifted from zero for the first four rounds.  Going into the final round however, it was suddenly everything to play for.  Everyone had got the hang of how to use their knights and how the laws worked and knew what they wanted in the final round, but that did not mean they were going to get it!  Knights were placed and then unceremoniously stomped on by more powerful knights with several high ranking knights being placed with four or five squires in reinforcement. Blue and Burgundy both picked up their full compliment of nobles (just) and Green was outvoted when he tried to get his preferred law through.  Black scored for his castle and Purple managed to change the law to convert her mass of coins into points so that she scored heavily.  With her full set of nobles, Blue surged forward into second place, just ahead of Purple, but it was all way too little too late; nothing could match Burgundy’s commanding lead and he finished nearly sixteen points clear of the field.  Although there were a number of rules that we played incorrectly and a number of points that need clarifying, it was Burgundy’s superior strategy, played out to perfection that won the game.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Learning Outcome:  We really need to learn how to shuffle.