Tag Archives: Las Vegas Boulevard

31st March 2020 (Online)

It is at times like this that we need social contact more than ever, and board games are a great medium for that, a fact recognised by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the British government.  With everyone confined to barracks for the foreseeable, we felt it was important to give online meetings a go.  There are several online gaming alternatives, but they all either cost or are horribly slow thanks to the fact that everyone else is trying to do the same.  For this reason, we decided to try to play a real game using the medium of Microsoft Teams with a camera pointed at the board and everyone else giving instructions.

Setting up for online gaming
– Image by boardGOATS

Our game of choice, and therefore our “Feature Game” for the day, was Las  Vegas. This was because everyone knows it (minimising explanations), lots of people can play (this was intended to be a social event, so that meant lots of people could be involved); it has no hidden information (a necessity for this sort of thing).  Blue and Pink began setting up at about 6pm, after the long walk home from work. They used two laptops: one was perched on some place mats and a pile of sturdy game boxes (specifically Tapestry, In the Hall of the Mountain King and Teotihuacan) with the reverse camera pointing at the table and the game, the second laptop was then used to see what everyone else could see.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Black and Purple (in Abingdon), were the first guinea pigs and struggled to get the link to work. Eventually, with some discussion over the phone and the inevitable microphones and speakers on/off issues, they were successful. While Pink popped out to fetch fish and chips from Darren Pryde and his itinerant chip van (which were truly excellent), Mullberry (in Wantage) became the next guinea pig and signed in with little difficulty.  After Blue sent out the link to everyone else at 7.30pm, there was a steady precession of gamers joining the party.  There were a few things we learnt from this first experience:

  • As the sun set, the natural light from the window faded and the camera really struggled – lighting really is critical.
  • MS Teams worked OK with people joining through a link via a web browser, but it is important that the “game camera” has an active microphone. If it does not, Teams decides it is not active and it disappears for anyone viewing on a browser.
  • MS Teams thinks that feeds where the image changes a lot are the most active and therefore the most important to show to people using a browser; turning off cameras when not active can help.
  • During setup, it helps to have something really obvious for people to focus on.
  • Maybe it’s the stress of the current climate, but there are an alarming number of soft toys in close proximity of people’s web cameras, most of which seemed to be pandas.

By about ten minutes to eight, most people had “arrived” and everyone was chatting about their new normal and sharing what they were drinking and stories of shopping—for a moment, it was almost like we were at The Jockey. A couple of minutes before the scheduled start, Green the last to join, signed in.  As Blue began dealing out the cards, Green’s opening comment was that it didn’t feel like a games night because we hadn’t spent half an hour chatting! That produced much hilarity, and more chit-chat, before we eventually started.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Las Vegas is a very simple game, which is, of course, why we picked it.  Players have a handful of dice and take it in turns to roll them and then place all the dice of one number on the casino of their choice. When nobody has any dice left, the player with the most dice in each cassino wins the jackpot.  There are a couple of clever twists that make this a really great game though. Firstly, the prize fund for each casino is dealt out in money cards.  Some cards are as high as $100,000, while others are only $10,000—the winner takes the largest denomination for that casino, the jackpot, leaving the player in second place to take the second largest, and so on.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Secondly, and perhaps most cleverly, all ties, cancel each other out.  This is absolutely key to the game: the vagaries of dice mean that a well-positioned player could roll one die and end up with nothing, and much hilarity follows. We also add the Slot Machine from the Boulevard expansion, which works in a slightly different way with dice of each number being added a maximum of once.  We also use the “Biggun” from the expansion, so each player has on large die that counts as two.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry began. One of the reasons we picked this game was that we thought most people might have dice of their own at home and could roll them themselves. Mulberry was the only one who didn’t, so being a true Millennial to the core, she opted for an electronic solution using an online dice roller.  Otherwise, it was very satisfying to hear the rattle of dice as people took their turns.  Although chatting was quite difficult over the network, that didn’t prevent a lot of smutty comments and requests for him to stop bragging when Green announced that he had “got a big one”.  Even more entertaining was when the conversation moved onto Iceland’s entry for Eurovision and links were shared through the chat feature which resulted in Pink pressing play by mistake and drowning out everything else.

– From Eurovision Song Contest on youtube.com

It was not an ideal way to play any game and with our group Las Vegas is not quick at the best of times, but the combination of people reading out their dice roll so that Blue and Pink could display them, dodgy internet connections, people sounding like Miss Othmar (the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons), and trying to keep eight people on-message, definitely slowed things down. At the moment though, these things are unavoidable and we managed. It was nearly 9pm before the first round finished and people were happy enough with the result to play a second, if not our usual third.

– From Corgi Adventures on youtube.com

Black made hay with his singleton on Casino Three, when Mulberry’s and Lime’s piles of dice cancelled each other out. Green just pipped Blue to take $100,000 on the Slot Machine, leaving her with just $20,000 for the round, and poor Lime with nothing at all.  Purple, Black, Pink, Green and Pine all had good totals in the range of $100,000-$150,000, so it was all to play for going into the second round.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

This time it was Casino Two that was a knife-fight in a phone box.  Pink, Blue and Pine all had four dice in the mix with Green in second place (and therefore winning the jackpot) with two.  The final roll of the game was Green’s “Biggun”, so when he rolled a two, nobody could believe his misfortune.  Just before he placed it though, he realised he had another option—the oft-forgotten Slot Machine. At which point Pink realised the jackpot could have been his if he had done the same on his previous turn.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Nobody really cared about the scores, but Mulberry, Lime and Blue all did better in the second round, though it was too little, too late. The winner was Green with total winnings of $280,000 with Purple in second with $230,000 and Pink and Black just behind.  The real loser of the evening was Covid though: it wasn’t a great game, but for a couple of hours, we’d all had a bit of fun chucking dice about, forgetting reality for a while.  And with that, Green, Lime, and Pine (signing in from Stoke of all places), left the meeting.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Those remaining, decided to give yukata.de a go, and after a bit of discussion, decided to opt for Port Royal. It took a while to get going with Blue and Black trying to remember how to play and explain it to Mulberry. The game itself is simple enough though, and yukata.de, though old-school, keeps everyone honest.

Yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Port Royal is a fairly simple, push-your-luck game.  On their turn the active player turns over cards until they either find one they want (and can afford) or go bust. There are four different types of card: Characters, Ships, Expedition and Taxes.  Ships are free and give money, Characters give victory points and special powers, while Expeditions give opportunities to trade Characters for more points, and Taxes give people behind in the game a little windfall.  Once the active player has taken their card, everyone else gets the chance to take/buy a card in turn order, paying the active player for the privilege.

Port Royal
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink started well, but Blue eventually got her act together and initially made inroads into his lead before taking it from him. When there was a succession of people going bust, her Jester gave Blue lots of cash enabling her to cement her position at the front.  It wasn’t long before her advantage was eroded though, first by Black, adding a Jester to his Admirals, and then by Purple, claiming an expedition.

Port Royal on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

It was all very tight towards the end, but Purple was the first to our chosen end of twelve points, with a score of thirteen points. Unfortunately, due to a rules misunderstanding, everyone was expecting one final round, but sadly, it was not to be.  Purple was the last player in the round, and once everyone had taken cards from her leavings, yukata decided that was it, Game Over. In truth, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference, and Purple deserved her victory though the other platings might have been different if there had been another round.

Port Royal on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

It had been a slow and trying game, though not quite as bad as attempts to play synchronously at the end of last week when the website had repeatedly failed to record moves.  Mulberry was looking very tired and it was getting very late, so she signed off, leaving Blue, Pink, Black and Purple to start what will probably be a long, asynchronous game of Snowdonia. That’s another story though, especially as it could take a fortnight or longer to play!

Yucata.de
– Image from yucata.de

Learning Outcome: Playing remotely is not as good as playing round a table together, but it is definitely better than nothing at the moment.

1st October 2019

It was a bitty start with lots of chit-chat and eating, including Blue’s fantastic pizza with mushrooms growing out of it. A little bit of singing to celebrate the fact it was the eve of our seventh birthday was immediately followed by special meeple cakes. Eventually, when everyone had finally finished sucking the icing off their wooden meeples, we finally settled down to the now traditional birthday “Feature Game”, Crappy Birthday.

Pizza
– Image by boardGOATS

Crappy Birthday is a very silly party game that most of the group would normally turn their noses up at, but love to play once a year. The idea is that each person has a hand of cards featuring silly things and chooses one to give to the active player as a birthday present. The Birthday Boy/Girl then chooses the best and worst gifts which score the giver a point. Players take it in turns to receive gifts and after everyone has had one go, the player with the most points is the winner. It is very simple, but the best part is really when the recipient has to sit and sort through all their gifts and justify their choices. It seems a really silly game, and indeed it is, but it encourages people to get to know each other a little better and in a different way too.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

This year, we discovered that Black would like a trip to the North Pole, Pine fancied two weeks in a swamp and Purple fancied a course on Mime Art.  In contrast, Burgundy was not keen on getting his earlobes stretched, Blue wasn’t keen on a GPS (with or without an annoying voice) and Lime eschewed some “garden manikins”.  Perhaps the most surprising thing we discovered was just how great Ivory would be as a day-time quiz host.  Amongst the fun, the scores were largely incidental, but everyone picked up just one or two points except for Purple who scored three points and Black who just pipped her to the post, with four points.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

Since Blue and Ivory had both brought Roll for the Galaxy, it was clear that they were keen to give it a go and when Green said he’d play it, the only real question was which copy would get played. Since it can be quite a long game, Blue and Ivory got going quickly and left the others to sort themselves out. Although Ivory was keen to give the new Rivalry expansion a go, as it has been a while since we last played (and Green wasn’t totally familiar with it either), the trio decided to leave that for another day.  Although a lot of the group seem to get in a bit of a mess with Roll for the Galaxy, it is not actually a complicated game. It is a “pool building” game, similar to deck builders like Dominion or bag builders like Orléans or Altiplano, except with dice.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that at the start of the round, everyone simultaneously rolls all their dice in their cup and, depending on what faces are shown, secretly allocate the dice to the five possible phases of the game: Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce & Ship. One of the dice can be used to select which phase that player wants to “nominate”, i.e. guarantee will happen. Any die can be used for this, it does not have to match the chosen phase. Once everyone has assigned all their dice and chosen their phase to nominate, all dice are revealed and the active phases are revealed. The clever part is the element of double think that players have to use: a player can only nominate a single phase, so if they want to Produce and Ship they have to rely on someone else to nominate the other one. Guess right and both phases will happen, guess wrong and they will only get one of them, and if that relies on something else happening, they may find they end up doing neither.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, while there are a lot of other moving parts, fundamentally, a successful player must piggy-back on other players because it will give them more actions.  Dice that are used then go into the players’ Citizenries, and unused dice go back into the players’ cups. Dice are extracted from the Citizenries and returned to the cups on payment of $1 per die, once all the actions have been carried out. Thus, the player with the most appropriate dice can turn the handle on their engine most efficiently. The aim of the game is to finish with the most points, which are obtained from settling and developing worlds and shipping goods to give points.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

So, the first action is Explore, which is taking world tiles from a bag. These are double-sided with a development on one side and a production or settlement world on the other. They go into either the Development or Settlement piles so that dice are placed on top of these during the Develop and Settle phases: when the cost has been matched by the number of dice, the world is added to the player’s tableau and they can use whatever special power it provides. Some of the worlds are production worlds which typically provide more, exciting dice to add to the system.  In addition to extra, coloured dice, Production worlds also house dice played during the Produce phase. These can then be consumed for victory points or traded for cash, enabling more dice to be transferred from the player’s citizenry to their cup.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends at the end of the round when either, a player Settles/Develops their twelfth world or when the stock of victory point chips run out. The winner is the player with the highest score from their combined victory points and worlds. There are a couple of other minor rules (for example players can pay one die to effectively change the face of one other die), but essentially, that is all there is to it.  Players start with a double tile comprising a complimentary pair of settlement and development worlds and a start world, together with a couple of tiles to add to their Development/Settlement piles.  For the first game it is recommended that players choose the Development and World with the lowest cost to add to their piles, because that is easier to play.  For later games, however, players can choose, which gave Blue a really tough decision.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end she decided to go for it, and chose to start with the “Galactic Federation”, “6+” development world in her building pile.  This would give her an extra one third of her development points at the end of the game, but more importantly two of the dice used for every development would bypass her citizenry, going straight into her cup.  Green started with no fewer than three of the red, “Military” dice, which coupled with his “Space Piracy” starting development, gave him really a good source of finance. He looked very unimpressed with this combination, but Ivory and Blue felt it was a really nice combination of starting tiles. Ivory’s start tiles were also nice, but didn’t have quite the same degree of complimentarity, but he did get a nice  purple, “Consumption” die.  The starting tiles are only the beginning though; the game is all about building an engine made up of dice, Production Worlds, and Developments and then using it efficiently.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

In the case of Blue, her starting tiles led her towards a Development strategy, so she spent a lot of the early part of the game Exploring to try to find nice Development tiles to enhance that approach.  Green and Ivory had a more conventional, “build the finances and the dice pool then Produce and Consume” strategy.  The problem with this was they both frequently wanted the same phases, but ended up with either both of them choosing to, say, Produce, or both choosing Ship, when what they both really wanted was to maximise their dice by Producing and then Shipping.  Blue, on the other hand, could mostly be fairly sure that neither Ivory or Green were going to what she wanted, so was able to focus on her own plan, and just piggy-back the actions of the others.  Although the game has a reputation of being slow (with our group at least), this time, the game got going quite quickly and it wasn’t long before Ivory started his Production engine, Shipping his produce for victory points.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

Green soon followed, while Blue kept building her Developments and occasionally taking advantage of the “Produce/Consume” strategies of the others to provide enough finance to move her dice out of her Citizenry.  Blue felt her game was really boring since all she did was Develop, but in the end, it was probably the fact that Blue was doing something different that was key.  Blue triggered the end of the game placing her twelfth Development/World tile, which gave her the most points from building, slightly more than Green.  Ivory Consumed the most victory points, with Green not far behind, and Blue not really troubling the scorer in that department.  It therefore all came down to bonuses from the “6+” Developments, which is where Blue made up for other deficiencies taking fifteen points giving her a total of fifty-seven points, five more than Green who was just a couple ahead of Ivory.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

It had been a lot of fun, and next time we’ll have to give one of the modules form the Rivalry expansion a try.  On the next table, their game was coming to an end too.  Having been abandoned to sort themselves out, someone mentioned Ticket to Ride, and with everyone having a good idea how to play, that turned out to be most popular. The game is very simple and everyone has played it, in most cases, quite a lot, so we often play with expansion maps.  This time, the Team Asia/Legendary Asia expansion was an option, but as we usually play with the Europe version of the game, the group decided to play with original USA map with the addition of the USA 1910 additional route cards.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

The basics of the game is that players start with a handful of train pieces and place them on the board to connect cities, paying with cards.  Thus, on their turn a player can take two coloured train cards from the market (either the face up cards or blind from the deck) or play sets of cards of a single colour that matches both the number and colour of one of the tracks on the board.  Players score points for the number of trains they place, but also for tickets.  Players choose from a handful of these at the start of the game and can take more tickets on their turn instead of placing trains or taking train cards.  These are risky though, because although they are a source of points, any tickets that are not completed at the end of the game give negative points.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

The original version of Ticket to Ride (with the USA map) is much less forgiving than the Europe edition that we more usually play.  This is partly thanks to the layout of the tracks, but also due to the absence of Stations which can help alleviate some of the stress associated with failure to complete tickets.  With five, it was always going to be a really hard game and likely to end up with a bit of a train-wreck for someone, and so it turned out.  The eastern states were rough, really, really rough with Burgundy, Lime, Pine and Purple all fighting for routes in the same space.  As a result, Black benefited from mostly staying out of the scrap.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, Lime and Purple managed to complete the most tickets, five each, but remarkable, all three were a long way behind Burgundy and Black who only completed three and four tickets respectively.  This was partly due to negative points, but was mostly caused by the fact that the longer tracks give disproportionately more points and Black for example was able to pick up two of the long tracks around Salt Lake City relatively unopposed as he was mostly alone working in the west.  Similarly, Burgundy did well in the north.  As a result, it all came down to the longest route bonus, ten points, but with Black and Burgundy both in the running it gave a twenty point swing to Burgundy giving him a total of one hundred and thirty-five points, nearly twenty more than Black in second place.

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

Ticket to Ride and Roll for the Galaxy finished simultaneously and only Green decided he needed an early night, leaving everyone else to play one of the group’s favourite game, Las Vegas.  This is a simple game of dice rolling and gambling, where players use their dice to bet in one of the six numbered casinos.  Each casino has one or more money cards and at the end of the round, the player with the most dice in that casino takes the highest value money card.  The player who comes second takes the next highest value card and so on.  When betting, players must place dice in one of the numbered casinos.  The first catch is that they must place all the dice they roll that depict that number in the matching casino.  The second catch is that any dice involved in a tie at the end of the round are removed, and it is this that makes it a great game.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We have the original version of the game rather than the new edition, Las Vegas Royale, though we added elements from the Las Vegas Boulevard expansion, including the double weight “Big” dice and the Slot Machine.  We also house-rule to only play three rounds instead of the four in the rules as written.  This time, Ivory stole a march in the first round, when he was forced to place his last die as a losing singleton in “Casino Five”, only for Purple to roll a five with her final roll and take out both herself and the hitherto winner, Pine.  As a result Ivory took the jackpot of $90,000 to go with his other winnings.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

It is not a game to give up on though, as anything can happen.  The second round was relatively uneventful, but the deal for the final round left the last three casinos each with a single card of $100,000.  This is highly unusual, but we decided to play on and see what happened.  In the end, it had a bit of an “all or nothing” feel about it, with players going in early and in big.  It was probably no coincidence that the three big jackpots were taken by the three highest scoring players.  Pine thought he had come off worst, Black, who had done so well in the other two games took the wooden spoon.  It was Ivory’s flying start that was key though, and together with his strong finish, his total takings were a massive $430,000, $40,000 more than Blue in second.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Party games can be great when everyone is in a party mood.

6th August 2019

With a party just arriving, Blue and Khaki took a gamble on Burgundy being on his way, and ordered his ham, egg, ‘n’ chips for him on the understanding that they’d have a second course if he failed to turn up in time.  Blue, then eschewed her usual pizza in favour of fajitas which she then proceeded to throw down her front.  Pine, meanwhile, arrived fractionally too late to order food at all.  Burgundy arrived just in time to avoid everyone playing musical food and eating his dinner, so Pine ended up eating everyone else’s chips instead.  With the substantial matter of food dealt with and the arrival of Purple and Black, the group moved on to games.  There was some discussion about playing one large game or two smaller, three-player games, but the latter won out, with the “Feature Game”, Century: Spice Road, the first game on the table.

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

This being a similar engine builder type game to Splendor and Burgundy keen to play, Pine could see the writing on the wall and decided to leave Blue and Khaki to it.  The game itself is actually quite different to Splendor.  In Splendor, players take gems and use them to buy cards which then deliver permanent gems enabling them to buy other cards, and eventually get cards that also give points.  In Century: Spice Road, players are spice traders and take cards from a conveyor belt and then use these cards to get spices and then use the spices to buy scoring cards.

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part is the fact that there are four spices available, turmeric, saffron, cardamom and cinnamon, with cinnamon worth the most, and turmeric the least.  Thus, the activity cards, variously enable players to take spices, upgrade them, or convert them into other spices.  Players place their spices in their caravan, which holds a maximum of ten spices.  Like Splendor, the game is all about building an efficient engine, though in this case, it uses deck building, so a key part is making sure that as many cards as possible are used before the deck is picked up, which costs a turn.  Similarly, any conversions can be carried out as many times as desired when the card is played, so timing is everything.

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy went first and it wasn’t long before he took his first points, leading Pine to comment from the next table, comparing Burgundy taking the lead to Bayern Munich taking a five-nil lead ten minutes in.  Burgundy replied that he wasn’t winning… yet.  It wasn’t long before Blue and Khaki scored themselves, though rather than equalising, it was more a case of reducing the deficit.  It was around this point that Blue made a big play, going for a card that allowed her to upgrade three spices (compared to the initial two in the cards everyone started with), but she immediately regretted it as she paid through the nose to take it (the card at the end of the conveyor belt is free, but taking newer arrivals costs one spice per card space nearer to the deck).

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

This mistake was compounded by the fact that Blue didn’t really use the card as she had more efficient ways upgrading her spices.  Meanwhile, Burgundy and Khaki were building up their pile of scoring cards, with Khaki ominously taking a lot of the oldest scoring cards, and with it a large number of the rather pretty bonus metal coins.  The game moved really quickly – it’s not really multi-player solitaire, but everyone had plans, so play moved on very quickly with only sporadic breaks when people had to make decisions, so it wasn’t long before everyone was getting close to taking the critical sixth scoring card which triggers the end of the game.

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

It turned out that all the high scoring cards had come out at the beginning and towards the end, everyone was waiting and hoping someone else would take a low scoring card and leave them with something more exciting.  Blue had the chance to kill the game early and prevent Burgundy and Khaki taking a sixth card, but she thought Burgundy was setting his sights higher than he was.  So in the end it was Burgundy who took his sixth card to trigger the final round and everyone finished with the same number scoring cards, though Burgundy’s were generally of much higher value.

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

It was really close for second place, with Blue taking it by just one point, but Burgundy finished eleven points clear with eighty-six, fulfilling Pine’s prophecy (based on his unbeatable prowess at Splendor) that he would win.  Blue was left ruing the fact she hadn’t ended the game when she had the chance, but in reality Burgundy would probably have won anyhow as he’d only taken a low scoring card end, giving him fewer points than his margin of victory.  However, we’d all enjoyed the game, as it plays quickly and doesn’t out-stay it’s welcome as well as being quite nicely produced.  It does look like it is going to be one of those games that nobody else will want to play with Burgundy though.

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Pine had joined Black and Purple to play the rather beautiful Bosk.  This is a fairly simple little game that has had a couple of outings recently and has proven quite popular.  The game plays over two seasons, spring, where players grow their saplings, and autumn, where the trees then drop their leaves.  Summer and winter are scoring phases.  In summer, players score points for each row or column where they have the largest total and in winter, players score for having the most leaves in each area.

Bosk
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, with players becoming more familiar with how the game works, it was really tight.  Although the scoring in the first half always seems important, it isn’t really, and is usually quite close.  It is a game where small margins are always important though.  So while the wooden squirrels were doing acrobatics in the middle of the table, players’ trees were shedding leaves all all over the forest.  When it came to scoring, it was very “tit-for-tat” with one player scoring best in one area and then another playing scoring best in the next area.  In the end, it was Black who just managed to sneak the win, two points ahead of Pine.

Bosk
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finishing simultaneously, and everyone being keen to play together, we decided to introduce Khaki to one of our favorite games, Las Vegas.  This is a great betting game which is quite unlike anything else.  The idea is that there are six casinos, each with a pot of money in one or more notes.   On their turn, each player rolls a handful of D6 dice and place some on one of the casinos.  The player with the most dice on a casino once all dice have been played takes the highest denomination note in the pot.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

As with all the best games, it is the little rules that make the difference.  In this case, there are two “catches”.  Firstly, the player must place all of one number on one of the six casinos, so if they rolled a two and six fives, the must place the two on the “Two” casino, or all six fives on the “Five” casino.  Secondly, when everyone has run out of dice, any dice that tie are eliminated, which means there could be three players with four dice each, and one player with a singleton and the singleton wins.  A new edition of the game has just been announced, Las Vegas Royale, but rather than implement the changes to the rules released with the new edition, we played in our usual, highly enjoyable way.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is supposed to be played over four rounds, but we find it can outstay it’s welcome a little for players who are out of the running, so we house-rule it to three rounds instead.  We also add “The Biggun” dice and the Slot Machine from the Boulevard expansion.  The big dice count for two in the final reckoning, which adds a little bit of variety to the game, while the Slot Machine gives players an alternative to placing dice in the casinos.  Each number can only be placed once in the slot machine, but the player must place all their dice of that number (as usual).  In the event of a tie, the total number of pips, and then the highest value dice are the deciding factors.  This a relatively relaxing game to play with friends with short burst of thought interspersed with a lot of table chat and general encouragement and exhortation to make a mess of things for someone else.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

In the first round, Khaki rolled a handful of fours, so made a play for the “4” casino.  Following it with more fours secured his position, so when he rolled more fours in the second round he was encouraged to go for it again.  By the final third round, everyone was placing subconscious bets on whether he would try again, which of course he did, ultimately winning the “4” casino in all three rounds.  In fact the last round was the deciding factor, ultimately coming down to the last couple of dice, which lost Pine and Burgundy a lot of cash.  It was Blue and Purple, mostly flying under the radar that took the honours with $330,000 each, finishing joint first, and opting to share victory rather than invoking the tie-breaker.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

There was still plenty of time, but clearly everyone was in a holiday mood and fancied playing light fare, so we decided to finish with an old favourite, Bohnanza.  Kahki had not played it before, so was given a quick run-down of the rules.  The important thing, is that players must not re-order their hand – this is so automatic in card games that new or not, everyone always reminds everyone else immediately after the cards are dealt.  On their turn, players then play the first card from their hand into one of the two “bean fields” in front of them.  They may optionally play a second, but then the top two cards from the deck are turned over.  These must be “planted” before anything else can happen, but they can be planted in the active player’s field or can be traded for something and planted in a field belonging to another player.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the trades have been dealt with, the active player can trade with other players, swapping cards in hand, and then finally tops up their hand by drawing a set number from the deck (dependent on the number of players). There are many clever things about this game, but one of the most important is that when fields are harvested, some of the beans are turned over and become coins which are kept by the player, with the rest moving to the discard pile.  The reason this is important is because some beans are rarer than others and rare beans give a better yield.  This means the balance of the deck changes during the game with rare beans becoming rarer, while there is a glut of common beans.  The winner is the player with the most coins at the end, which is usually the player who best surfed this changing balance.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is very sociable and always played in good nature, with players generally offering and accepting reasonable trades, and not being obnoxiously obsessed with winning.  This time was no exception, although Burgundy did refuse Pine’s totally reasonable offer to take a pint for a Red Bean.  Purple made good progress early on, with a large number of Black-eyed Beans while others struggled to make much progress at all.  As a result, when the deck was depleted for the first time round, there were very few cards in the discard pile making the second round extremely short.  The third was even shorter, made worse by the fact that Blue lost the plot and shuffled the last few cards in with the discard pile

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

When, in the last turn of the game, Purple turned over two Green Beans which Blue wanted, she offered her whole hand, sizeable hand to purple in exchange.  Purple being a kind-hearted, generous sort, graciously accepted, much to Black’s disgust.  The offer was partly to make up for the screw-up with the deck in the hope that Purple would be able to score some points, but of course did Blue no harm either.  In the end it nearly cost Purple the game.  Often the game ends in a multi-way tie, sometimes for first, but more commonly for second place.  The pair of Green Beans that Blue received gave her one extra point, breaking what would have been a three way tie for second with Black and Khaki, putting her one coin behind Purple, the winner with fourteen.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Don’t play Splendor OR Century with Burgundy unless you fancy a pasting.

2nd April 2019

The evening began with a lot of people eating, the return of Mulberry’s daughter, Maroon, and the arrival of someone new, Lime.  So while the usual suspects finished their supper, everyone else played a game of Incan Gold (aka Diamant).  This is a light, “push-your-luck” type game, where players are exploring a mine by turning over cards, sharing any Gems these reveal.  After each card has been revealed, players simultaneously choose whether to leave the mine or stay and see another card revealed.

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, as well as gem cards, the deck also includes Hazards like scorpions, snakes, poison gas, explosions and rockfalls.  When a particular Hazard is revealed for a second time, the mine collapses.  Anyone still inside the mine at this point loses all the gems they’ve collected during the round, while those that left early keep their winnings and stash them in their tent.  So, the trick is that as players leave, the share of the gems grows larger, but so does the risk of collapse. Additionally, there are also Artifact cards.  When one of these is revealed nobody gets any gems until they leave, but if they leave alone, they not only get the Artifact, but also any remainders from the division of spoils associated with the Gem cards revealed earlier in the round.

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over five rounds, and like all push-your-like games like this, players who are unlucky in the first round often feel they are out of the game.  This is particularly true where one player does really well in the first round as they have can play safe and can afford to leave the mine early to consolidate their position.  However, this time there were a lot of players and everyone was somehow encouraged to stay in the mind keeping things close.  As the game progressed however, the pack began to split and a small group of leaders began to emerge.  In the end, Mulberry’s wind-ups failed to put Pine off his game and he finished with more than twice her total, winning the game with twenty-five Gems.  Purple was a close second though, with Maroon not far behind in third.

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

With food and the first game finished, it was time to decide who was going to play the week’s “Feature Game”, Dinosaur Island.  This is a worker placement game set in a dinosaur theme park.  Although it’s not named specifically, the colour, theme, artwork and feel is clearly intended to evoke an impression of the most famous dinosaur theme park, Jurassic Park,  despite having ten people and the Totally Liquid expansion available (which provides the pieces for a fifth player), we decided it was likely to be a long game and that sticking to four or fewer might be wise, and so it proved.  The rest of the group were half-way through their chosen game, Las Vegas, before the dino-group had even finished setting up, never mind the rules run-through.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Las Vegas is one of our most popular games, and the idea is very simple, on their turn, the active player rolls their dice and uses them to “bet” in one of the casinos.  “Betting” is done by placing all the dice of one value on the corresponding casino.  On their next turn, the player re-rolls their dice and does the same again.  Each casino has a pot of cash and after the last dice has been placed, the player with the highest “bid” at each casino (i.e. the player who placed the most dice), wins the largest denomination note.  Similarly, the player who placed the second largest bid taking the second highest denomination and so on.  The catch is that before the order is determined, any dice involved in a tie are completely removed, so a bet of a single die can win, even though there could be several higher bets, which makes the game great fun.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We usually play with the extra high denomination notes and the “Big Dice” from the Boulevard expansion, as well as the Slot Machine mini-expansion.  The “Big Dice” add to interest in the decision making when pacing bets, as they are double-weight, and count for two dice.  The Slot Machine, on the other hand, gives another place for players to bet, but instead of having a specific number, players can place all their dice of one number as long as each number is only placed once.  At the end of the round, the player with the most dice in the Slot Machine takes the highest denomination note from the pot, but in the case of a tie, the total number of pips on the dice are taken into account, then the highest value dice.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

Once again, Pine was caught in a tussle, this time with Purple, which culminated in him placing four sixes to beat her “three-of-a-kind”, just to annoy her.  Green almost always does badly at this sort of game and this was no exception, although the game was reasonably close this time.  Mulberry and Maroon, mother and daughter tied for third place, but it turned out that the squabble between Purple and Pine might actually have had a real impact on the final result as they toughed it out for first place.  In the end, those four dice might have been critical as Pine beat Purple by a measly $30,000 – a substantial amount to most of us, but a relatively small sum in this game where most players win quarter of a million dollars or more.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Dinosaur Island was still going on and was looking like it still had some way to go (though they had finally started).  Mulberry, Maroon and Pine all wanted an early night, but Green and Lime decided to keep Purple company for another game, which eventually turned out to be Walk the Plank!  This is another popular game and Green and Purple felt it was essential to introduce Lime to it.  The game is a programming game with a pirate theme.  The idea is that each player has a hand of cards and at the start of the round “programs” their turn by deciding which cards they are going to play, then they take it in turns to action one card per turn.  The point is, although players have to choose three cards at the start of the round, by the time the final cards are played the game has changed so much that any plans made at the start will have gone completely to wrack and ruin.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

So, players start with three pirate meeples each and the aim is to push everyone else off the ship, along the plank and off the end thus sending them to visit Davey Jones’ Locker.  Once again, Green was picked on by the others and was the first to lose all three of his pirateeples to the kraken, and therefore took on the role of the Ghost Meeple.  The Ghost is confined to the ship, has a restricted set of actions and only gets to carry out one per round.  Unfortunately, the game doesn’t play so well with two, and as a result when it got down to a couple of meeples each for Purple and Lime they got bogged down in a bit of a stale-mate.  This didn’t make it any less fun though.  In the end it was a Ghostly Green who helped push Purple’s final meeple off the boat and Lime did the rest giving him his first win; hopefully we can look forward to many more in the coming weeks.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table the other four were playing the week’s “Feature Game”, Dinosaur Island.  Although it took a long time to set up and explain, Dinosaur Island is not actually that complex a game.  The game is played over four phases.  In the first phase, a set of beautiful bespoke dice are rolled and players play their scientist meeples to choose dinosaur “designs” or DNA resources associated with the available dice, or increase their DNA storage.  In the second phase, players can use their funds to buy upgrades to their technologies from the market place, which basically improves the quality of the actions players can take in the next phase.   The third phase is the core, “worker-placement” round.  This is when players can “build” dinosaurs, reinforce their security, convert DNA into other types of DNA etc.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

In the final, fourth round, players open their park to the public, drawing visitor-meeples blind, out of a bag.  The visitors come in two types, yellow, paying visitors and pink “hoodlums” who don’t pay and are very good at avoiding getting eaten.  The total number of visitors is dependent on the total excitement rating of the dinosaurs each player has in their park; the more dinosaurs a player has and the more exciting they are, the more visitors a player has and therefore the more money they receive in gate receipts.  However, the more exciting dinosaurs also need better security which is expensive.  If a park’s security is insufficient, the dinosaurs get out and start eating the visitors – each surviving visitor scores the park owner a victory point while visitors that are eaten cost victory points.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

There are a couple of little tweaks that give the game a lot of replay-ability.  For example, there are eleven “plot twist” cards which introduce slight variations to the rules keeping things fresh.  For example, turn order is normally dictated by the number of points each player has, but the group played with a “plot twist” that meant the player order was always the same, with the first player progressing clockwise one place each round.  There are also thirty-nine end-game goal cards of which a small number of cards are selected for each game, when a set number of these have been completed by at least one player, this triggers the end of the game.  Any number of players can complete these objectives and receive the points associated with them, but once one player has completed an objective, it will become unavailable at the end of the round.  Thus all players who achieve an objective will do so in the same round.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the group, played with the aquatic dinosaurs from the Totally Liquid expansion, partly because they alleviate the incessant “neon pink-ness” of game, but mostly just because they are cool.  Blue began by getting a bit carried away with the coolness of swimming dinos and started out taking a plan for a very exciting Megalodon largely simply because she had heard of it, and without thinking through the consequences. Having read the rules in advance, Burgundy had a much better handle on the challenges associated with the game and made a beeline for the special Dino Security upgrade which enabled him to increase the security in his park a second time per round at no extra cost.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Black also understood the importance of threat and security and decided to try to deal with the problem by keeping his threat level down.  One unfortunate side-effect of this is that most low threat dinosaurs are un-exciting and attract fewer visitors.  It all became a bit academic though as his threat level spiraled out of control.  Blue, realised she had made a bit of bish and needed to do something to enable her to start producing Megalodons without getting all her visitors eaten and hemorrhaging points.  So she decided to concentrate on upgrading her technologies hoping to net the bonus seven points from the end-game objective rewarding players for having four upgraded technologies.  Black quickly realised he couldn’t keep up with Blue’s developments and as it wasn’t going to happen for him focused his efforts elsewhere.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Ivory had bagged the popular T-Rex dinosaur plan and was producing them in large numbers.  He, like Black also got heartily sick of pulling “hoodlums” out of the bag instead of paying visitors.  Black bought himself a technology to deal with the problem, but Ivory chose a different route, employing an expert who arrested any hoodlums in his park with the net effect that they became less prevalent for everyone else as well.  Experts are expensive though and not everyone could afford one, or felt they were worth the money.  Certainly they are more valuable if they are employed early in the game so players get their money’s worth

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone got points from the end-game objectives, but as the game came to a close it was clear who was in pole position.  Although his security wasn’t quite sufficient the huge number of visitors turning up every round put Ivory in front by some twenty-plus points.  In contrast, it was very close for second place however, with just five points between second place and the wooden spoon.  The nature of the game means keeping tabs on points, security, threat and excitement levels is quite a fiddly business. Since it was possible to throw a very small blanket over the three competing for second place, it is quite possible that the scores weren’t accurate, nevertheless, the Black finished in second place in what had been a very enjoyable game.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Security is very important and should not be neglected.

Boardgames in the News: 20 Years of Alea

Latin for “dice”, Alea is a brand of Euro games that celebrates their twentieth anniversary this year.  Alea is owned by Ravensburger, a company that has been around for nearly a hundred and fifty years producing everything from instruction manuals to children’s books under their familiar Blue Triangle trademark.  Alea is a more recent development intended to develop a range of strategy games distinct from their more family-friendly range.  Dating from 1999, the Alea range is credited with bringing a lot of “modern classics” to our tables, including Puerto Rico, Ra, Taj Mahal, San Juan, The Castles of Burgundy, Broom Service and one of our groups all time favourites, Las Vegas.  There are four series in the range, the “Big”, “Medium”, “Small” and “very Small” box games, each game in the series is numbered with the artwork on the covers designed to have a “book-shelf” look.

Alea Big Box Games
– Portmanteau image created by boardGOATS

It looked like the end was nigh when Asmodee bought Heidelberger Spieleverlag in 2017, and with it the distribution rights to the Alea brand.  However, Ravensburger reclaimed the rights last year, so to celebrate that and Alea’s twentieth anniversary, they are relaunching the line with new graphics.  They are starting with a new version of The Castles of Burgundy, a boxed set including all the current expansions, and Las Vegas Royale, a big-box version of Las Vegas, including selected elements from the Boulevard Expansion and some new action tiles.  It remains to be seen how many of the old familiar titles will also get a face-lift and make an appearance in the new line and how many new exciting titles will be introduced.

The Complete Original Alea Range
No. Big Box Medium Box Small Box
1 Ra (1999) Louis XIV (2005) Wyatt Earp (2001)
2 Chinatown (1999) Palazzo (2005) Royal Turf (2001)
3 Taj Mahal (2000) Augsburg 1520 (2006) Die Sieben Weisen (2002)
4 The Princes of Florence (2000) Witch’s Brew (2008) Edel, Stein & Reich (2003)
5 Hoity Toity (2000) Alea Iacta Est (2009) San Juan (2004)
6 The Traders of Genoa (2001) Glen More (2010)
7 Puerto Rico (2002) Artus (2011)
8 Mammoth Hunters (2003) Las Vegas (2012) &
Las Vegas Boulevard (2014)
9 Fifth Avenue (2004) Saint Malo (2012)
10 Rum & Pirates (2006) La Isla (2014) V. Small Box
11 Notre Dame (2007) San Juan (2014) The Castles of Burgundy:
The Card Game
(2016)
12 In the Year of the Dragon (2007) Broom Service:
The Card Game
(2016)
13 Macao (2009) Las Vegas:
The Card Game
(2016)
14 The Castles of Burgundy (2011) The Castles of Burgundy:
The Dice Game
(2017)
15 Bora Bora (2013) Puerto Rico:
Das Kartenspiel
(2018)
16 Puerto Rico with Expansions (2014)
17 Broom Service (2015)
18 Carpe Diem (2018)

 

31st December 2018

The evening began with Pine’s arrival, and he helped Pink rearrange the furniture for PitchCar while Blue added the finishing touches to supper.  PitchCar is a brilliantly simple, dexterity car racing game—players take it in turns to flick their wooden cars, and the first one to get round the track three times is the winner.  Before long Burgundy, Purple and Black had arrived and pieces from the base game and five of the first six expansions were all over the place and everyone was diving in trying to make an interesting looking track.  There was a problem though, the problem we always have, which is a shortage of straight sections.  It was then that Blue produced another expansion from under the sofa:  the “Long Straights“.  These are exactly what they sound like, two, very long, plank-like, straight sections that are a pain to store and difficult to transport, so rarely get used.  They have the potential to add a very fast section to the track though, so this time we used both with a tight hairpin in between them to add interest.

PitchCar Track 31/12/17
– Image by boardGOATS

Like last year, instead of making a circuit, we made a single long race track weaving around plates of crudites, mugs of tea, and trays of “pigs in blankets”.  There was a big debate whether to use The Cross as a cross-roads or back-to-back corners.  In the end, the double corners won, the track was complete and we had a push off to see who would start at the front of the grid.  Black won with a magnificent flick, followed closely by Purple.  Blue stalled on the grid and the only one to come off worst was Burgundy who came off the track and defaulted to the back of the grid.  The race began:  Black and Purple continued strongly and everyone else shuffled about in the middle order with Burgundy bringing up the rear.  Then Burgundy adjusted is driving style slightly and gradually began to work his way through the field.  Meanwhile the wheels dropped off for Purple who had briefly taken the lead, but suddenly seemed to lose the knack of flicking, and gradually, the rest of the pack overtook her one by one.

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

Almost everyone had trouble going over the bridge, but particularly Blue, Pink and Purple.  Eventually they made it over though and shot down the rail to the hairpin some failed to make the corner, but the long straights added a bit of speed and excitement.  The tunnel ended up being a relay race with Black getting stuck under the bridge, only to be pushed out by Blue, who in turn also got stuck and was freed by Pink.  Similarly, he was freed by Burgundy and Burgundy was liberated by Pine.  And that order was maintained all the way to the finishing line, despite Blue needing several shots at crossing it without overshooting.  Green and his lady-friend, Lilac, had been held up though were expected any second; food wasn’t quite ready either so we ran the race in reverse starting with Purple, the last player to cross the line in  the first race.

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

Inevitably, we’d only just started when Green and Lilac arrived, so they just joined in.  In fact by this time, Blue had actually managed to go backwards and was further behind the line than others were in front of it.  With the larger pack, this time round the race was even more eventful with Black managing to park his car in a plate of crudites just missing a bowl of salsa and Pink repeatedly bouncing off the edge of the mouth of the tunnel obstructing everyone else behind him.  Bizarrely, although the tunnel caused mayhem, the bridge was much less of a problem this time though with Pine leading the way by deftly bunny-hopping over it and almost everyone else just following his example.  Leading over the bridge was a huge advantage, and though Blue threatened to catch him, he maintained his position to the finish.  With food ready and waiting, the track was progressively dismantled as those bringing up the rear made their way to the finish line.  Although it only gets an outing two or three times a year, PitchCar is always great fun and the seventh expansion, “The Loop” which is due in the new year, looks like it will add even more madness to the game.

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

With PitchCar over and the track in a heap in the corner, food swiftly appeared in the guise of enchiladas with corn on the cob, nachos and some strange yellow, habanero salsa that reminded Pine of wallpaper paste.  Supper was accompanied by more special crackers, little parcels, Herb Alpert and the Tujuana Brass, and finished with ice cream, and then it was on with the games; after a little debate first up was Ca$h ‘n Guns.  This is push your luck game with a gangster theme played over a series of eight multi-player duels over their ill-gotten spoils.  The player with the largest haul after eight rounds is the winner, as long as they are still alive of course.  Each player has a character standee, a foam gun, and a clip of three bullet cards and eight blank cards.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of each round, everyone simultaneously chooses a whether to “load” their gun with a bullet or a blank, and on the count of three, points it at one of the other players.  On a second count of three, they choose whether to remain in, or withdraw taking their shot with them.  Anyone whose target is still standing reveals whether their gun was loaded with a live bullet or a blank.  Anyone who received a shot takes a plaster signifying their wound and is out of the rest of the round; three wounds and they are eliminated from the game.  All players remaining then take it in turns to take a loot card from the centre of the table—there are eight cards, so the number of cards each player gets depends on how many players have survived the “duel”.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

The game can be quite brutal, and this was no exception, indeed, Black was out in the second round and Green quickly followed.  Pine pointed out that everyone on his side of the table had been injured while Blue, Pink and Burgundy were all uninjured.  Purple decided to fix that and faced off with Burgundy, both ending up injured as a result.  Lilac proved a dangerous adversary as she collected extra bullets from the loot and ended up with a full set going into the final rounds.  Blue injured Burgundy and coped a bullet in return.  After Black’s and Green’s dismissal, everyone was more circumspect and didn’t gamble as readily with their lives, so all the other players survived to the end of the game.  That just left the small matter of the scores.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine and Purple had both been collecting gems, but had finished up with the same number so neither picked up the $60,000 bonus for having the most.  Blue had started out collecting artwork, but there wasn’t much available.  It became clear why, when the loot for the final round was revealed:  almost all of it was art.  It was tough in the final round; Blue was taken out by Burgundy, which effectively removed her from the running.  Pink had been doing well as the Godfather, but had taken a couple of hits in the latter stages and was also taken out of the final round.  Pink finished with $110,000 and second place.  The final round was attritional and there were few people left to share the swag.  Most of the artwork ended up going to Pine and with it first place overall thanks to a final total of $123,000 worth of loot.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

There was still time till midnight, and it was a toss-up between two of our favourite light games, 6 Nimmt! and Las Vegas, in the end we went for dice over cards and played Las Vegas.  This is a very simple game, but a lot of fun. The play area is made up of six casinos, each numbered one to six with a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money cards.  With eight players, each jackpot totals at least $90,000 and comprises one or more notes.  On their turn, players must use all the dice of one number to bet on the casino of that number by placing them on that casino tile.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card. The player with the most money after four rounds is the winner.  The snag is that before any money is handed out, any dice leading to a draw are removed. It is this rule that makes the game interesting, raising the decisions above the trivial.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We usually play with a few “House Rules”:  we replace one of each player’s dice with a big, “double weight” die from the Las Vegas Boulevard expansion; we include the Slot Machine, and only play three rounds.  The Slot Machine is a little different to the Casinos as players place all their dice of one number on the tile, but each number can only be placed once.  Unlike the Casinos, if there is a draw, then the player with the total number of pips wins, and if it’s still a tie, then the player with the highest value die wins.  The game is very robust to interruptions which is just as well as we took a break at midnight for toasts to the new year and to Ivory’s new arrival (we are looking forward to his return in March).  Prosecco and sparkling apple juice were accompanied by the village fireworks, an exceptional panettone and mince pies and eventually everyone made it back to the table and the game resumed.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

Perhaps it was the interruptions, but Black’s game went almost as badly as it had in Ca$h ‘n Guns, and he won nothing at all in the first two rounds and not much in the third.  It turned out that Purple and Burgundy didn’t do any better as all three finished with just $100,000.  That was better than Green however, who made a paltry $20,000.  Pink started off really well, but at the start of the second round we realised he was using one more die than anyone else.  After paying a $10,000 penalty, he finished with $240,000, $10,000 more than Blue.  Lilac, on the other hand, took more in the first round than Blue or Pink took in the whole game and finished with $410,000.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Normally $410,000 would be more than enough to guarantee a win, but Pine, who took three $70,000 notes in the final round alone finished with a massive $510,000, a personal and probably group record.  With the game over, Green took Lilac home to nurse her sore throat and everyone else finished their drinks and chatted for a while.  Everyone who had been there commented how much they had enjoyed The Gallerist at the ninth “Monster Game” session a few days earlier.  Although it had taken ages and was very complex, it wasn’t a real brain-burner and everything had been done well.  The rule book was good, the board was clearly laid out, the player-aids were helpful, the pieces were great and the box was really top quality—in fact, it was almost the complete opposite of Agra, which struggled through at the previous “Monster Games” event.  The second game, Reef, had also gone down well, but everyone was particularly keen to give The Gallerist another go.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  GOATS enjoy a good party just as much as the next ruminant.

12th June 2018

The evening started with a couple of quick rounds of Love Letter, while Pine and Burgundy finished off their dinner.  This is the a quick “micro game” played from a deck with only sixteen cards.  Each player starts with just one card in hand drawing a second on their turn, choosing one to play.  The aim is to try to eliminate the other players from the game, with the last player the winner.  Red started the first round and immediately knocked out Burgundy by guessing his hand.  When Pine swapped his Countess card for the Princess though, he took the first round.  The second was also won by the Princess, but this time Red was the beneficiary, despite being side-tracked discussing work with Blue.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With food essentially dealt with, it was time to discuss who was going to play the “Feature Game”.  This time it was Echidna Shuffle, a very simple pick-up and deliver game with a couple of clever little quirks and fantastic over-produced pieces.  This was a game Black and Purple played with Blue and Pink at UK Games Expo last week; they liked it so much they nearly came to blows over who was going to get a copy, and it sold out on Friday afternoon as well.  Everyone else had heard about it, and despite the fact that it played six, it was hugely over-subscribed, so Blue, Burgundy and Ivory took themselves off to choose something else to play.  For many, Echidna Shuffle looked like a game with hedgehogs—the wonderfully chunky and gorgeously styled models could be either.  As there are more hedgehogs than echidnas in the UK, that’s what everyone associated them with, so every time someone said “Hedgehogs” there was a chorus of “Echidnas!” in response.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea of the game is that each player has three tree-stumps on board, and three insects in-hand; players have to get all three of their insects to their tree-stumps by riding them on the backs of echidnas. Each echidna and each stump can carry just one insect, with stumps removed from the game once they are occupied.  The active player first rolls the dice, and then moves the echidnas.  There are a lot of echidnas and not a lot of free spaces, so players have to shuffle the echidnas round the board, first passing their insect pick-up point, then trying to move that echidna to a tree-stump. Someone commented that “Echidna Skiffle” might have been a better name, but Pine pointed out that while they might look like hedgehogs, none of them looked like Lonnie Donegan

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The total number of spaces moved is dictated by roll of a die, and this is perhaps one of the cleverest parts of the game: players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This clever trick means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.  There are two sides to the board, the normal “Summer Leaf” side, and the manic “Winter Snowball Fight” side.  On this occasion, we played the “simple” board with a full complement of six players.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Red got one of her bugs home first and it remained that way for several turns, before everyone else caught up quickly, leaving only Green bugless.  Red and Magenta then led the way with their second insect before Green finally got one of his home.  There followed a steady levelling-up with each player getting their second insect home, while everyone took care to make sure that Red and Magenta were prevented from getting their third critter to it’s stump.  Meanwhile Green and Pine were really struggling a second bug home, eventually leaving Pine the only one with only a single safe insect.  By this time, the game had turned into a group calculated effort to stop each other from getting their third insect home.  Consequently, Pine was feeling very left out as his echidnas kept falling victim to everyone else’s attempts to stop the others.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Pine joined the party, and everyone was struggling to get one final insect home and put everyone out of their pain.  A move by Purple appeared to leave the door open for Black to trundle his final echidna to his last stump in two moves, but for some reason he moved his echidna in the wrong direction on the first move, leaving it to do another loop before he could get it back, and that was the end of his chance.  The game continued for a while longer, like a never-ending six-player game of chess;  everyone circling each other, with their insects stuck in eternal echidna traffic jams until finally Pine broke through to an open leaf road, and an unstoppable position.  At least three other players were unable to get their insect to their own stump without playing “King Maker” for someone else, so Pine emerged the victor having spent so long stuck at the back of the field early on.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Discussing the game afterwards, we realised that with the “simple” board and six experienced gamers who thought perhaps a little too much about the game, it had ended up in an almost “Tic-Tac-Toe” impasse.  This had lengthened the game, making it take much, much longer than it should have done.  As a result, players vowed to use the more complex board “Snowball Fight” board and maybe look for other ways to prevent the stalemate, like using the “extra moves” variant, especially when playing with lots of people.  It would be well worth finding a way to make it play a little quicker as we all had fun with the game which had very nice pieces. A game we can all share with our non-gaming friends and families too, which gave it a big thumbs up from the group, most of whom don’t really care whether they are hedgehogs, echidnas, or even porcupines

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Blue, Burgundy and Ivory, had eventually chosen to play Dice Forge, a game they had enjoyed once before but felt they had unfinished business with.  The game is a dice building game, with a similar feeling to deck building games like Dominion and bag building games like Orléans, or cup building games like Roll for the Galaxy.  In these games, the aim is to try to mitigate the effects of luck by stacking the deck, bag, cup to improve the odds; in the case of Dice Forge, it is the dice themselves that players are modifying.  Each player starts with two dice, similar to those in some of the Lego games, where the faces can be removed and changed.  Beyond this, the game is actually quite simple.  On the active player’s turn, everyone rolls both their dice and accumulates resources accordingly.  On their turn, the active player can then also spend their resources to either upgrade dice, or to move their pawn from their central “Starting Portals” to one of the “Islands” on the board and take a “Heroic Feat” card.  Dice upgrades and cards all have a cost, with the best having the highest costs.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the key strategy elements is where to put dice upgrades, and how to improve the dice.  For example is it best to save up for the most expensive upgrades, or given the fact that the game only lasts ten rounds, is it better to upgrade dice at every possible opportunity?  Similarly, is it best to upgrade one dice preferentially, to try to ensure that something good will come out every time, or is it best to sprinkle good stuff on both dice and hope that the dice Gods will smile…  On the other hand, cards can be more effective, so it can be better to concentrate on getting them, but only if the means to buy them can be accumulated quickly and efficiently.  This time Blue decided to concentrate on building up one die and try to keep her points tally ticking over.  Burgundy tried a different approach and went for cards, but struggled to get the “Sun Shards” he needed to execute his plan.  Meanwhile, Ivory serenely surfed the resource roller-coaster, buying cards and upgrading his dice seemingly at will.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

The game came to a close with the tenth round, finishing just as the echidnas were finishing their elegant waltz.  Blue, who had been working up to a twenty-six point card had he plans quashed when Burgundy caused her to roll one of her dice and she ended up loosing six of her valuable Moon Shards.  This was all the more damaging as she had been waiting patiently for her turn with a full quota wasting any dice rolls that gave her more.  That meant that Ivory could take the last card on his turn, leaving Blue to try to find other ways of making points with her final turn.  And then it was just a case of quickly adding up the scores:  Blue had accrued more than twice as many points with her dice than Burgundy, who had in turn amassed a large pile of cards giving him more than twice as many points as Blue via that route.  It was Ivory though who was the clear winner, the same number of points from his dice as Blue, and almost the same number of points from his cards as Burgundy.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

It wasn’t late, but with Green, Red and Magenta heading off for an early night, that left six to play something else.  Ivory had enjoyed his first and only game of Las Vegas so much that he was keen to give it another go and everyone else was happy to join him. It is a very simple game with players rolling their dice and assigning some of them to one of the six numbered casinos.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card.  The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of table talk and “helpful suggestions”.  As usual, we added the Slot Machine (which is like a special seventh casino); some elements from the Boulevard expansion, including extra high value money cards and the large, double weight dice, and house ruled the game to three rounds.  Some people did well on the first round, some well on the second, some on the third, but once, again, it was Ivory who finished with $400,000, just a head of Blue and Purple, proving that last time wasn’t just beginner’s luck…

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Some dice games aren’t all about luck.