Tag Archives: Las Vegas: The Slot Machine

1st May 2018

When we played Mini Park a couple of weeks ago, we had all found it a little underwhelming.  At the time we had felt it might be better with fewer people, so as it was a very short game, while we were waiting for food to arrive, we decided to give it another try. The game is a hexagonal tile-laying game where players choose one character which dictates the end game scoring.  We played the “advanced” game which has slight changes to the scoring and pairs each scoring character at random with a second character.  The latest version of the rules suggest that these subsidiary characters should be kept secret, but we felt that would make things a little bit too random.  We did adopt the simpler in-game scoring though.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

This time there were only three players, so everyone got two characters instead of one:  Burgundy took the people (Man and Child); Blue took the wildlife (Fish and Bird), and Magenta got everything else (Cyclist and Cat).  Unquestionably it was better this time round.  The Fish was still very powerful, but this time it was largely luck of the draw as Blue took it early and then managed to draw lots of pond tiles, netting her a massive forty-five points, with Magenta getting twenty-two.  The Cyclist was a lot less powerful this time though, and combinations of main character and subsidiary had a much stronger effect as well.  For example, while Blue had two of the strongest main characters, her subsidiaries were the weakest; on the other hand, Magenta and Burgundy had a much more even distribution of points across the board.  The end score was much closer this time, and despite the obvious high Fish score, it wasn’t the foregone conclusion of last time.  Nevertheless, wildlife won in the end with Blue finishing on eighty-six, ten ahead of Magenta in second place.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

With Mini Park and food over, it was time to play something more serious, and we moved on to the “Feature Game”, Lords of Xidit.  This is a reimplementation of the simultaneous programming game, Himalaya, which has a very unusual scoring mechanism.  The game is set in the fantasy land of Xidit, which is under attack.  The last hope for restoring peace lies with the Kingdom’s noble heirs, the Idrakys, who must travel the Kingdom recruiting brave soldiers and restoring the threatened cities.  The game board is a map of Xidit, depicting the cities, on which double-sided tiles are placed, showing either recruitment or threats.  The game is played over twelve years with each year consisting of players giving their Idrakys six secret orders using a special player board, and then executing them in order.  There are three possible orders for the Idrakys:  moving along one of the three road types; in a city, either recruit a Unit or eliminate a threat (depending which side the tile is showing); or wait.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The catch is that if the action is possible, it must be carried out, so if the order is move along a green road, that is what it must do.  Similarly, if a player’s Idrakys is in a city where the tile is recruitment face up, they must recruit a Unit.  The Units come in five different types, in order of increasing power: Peasant Militia; Archers; Infantry; Clerics, and Battle Mages which are orange, green, grey, white and purple respectively.  When the city tiles are Recruitment side up, they hold five Units, in predetermined colours, and when recruiting, players can only take one Unit and it must be the least powerful available.  These Units can then be used to defeat a Threats in exchange for Gold Sovereigns, placing their Bards or add Stories to the city’s Sorcerers’ Guild Tower if it is their own.  When a Threat or Recruitment tile is removed, another is drawn from the respective stack and placed on the appropriate city.  If there are insufficient tiles in the Treat stack, then the Titan tiles are turned over, to the Raging Titan’s side—these are super-aggressive Threats that are not associated with a city and can be eliminated in a similar way to other Threats.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of boargamephotos

At the end of the fourth, eighth and final (twelfth) year, there is a Military census where, beginning with the Peasant Militia (and continuing with the others in turn), players secretly hold a number of Units in their hands before a simultaneous reveal.  The player with the most of Units receive a reward; players are not obliged to reveal all their Units of that type, indeed, bluffing can be a good idea when trying to mislead players at the end of the game.  This is because the final census is followed by a series of assessments, where the weakest player in each one is eliminated until one player is left.  Each assessment ranks the players based on either their Wealth, their level of Influence with the magical community, or their Reputation across the Kingdom.  The last player remaining at the end of the assessment stage is the winner.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game looks complicated, but was actually surprisingly easy as long as the Threat/Recruitment piles are managed effectively.  Game play is also very quick, much to everyone’s surprise: it never took too long to work out what the six actions were going to be and even when someone took a bit longer than usual it was never excessive.  Carrying out the actions was very quick too—players barely had time after completing one action before it was time for the next.  As such this game does not suffer from “Analysis Paralysis” and there never seemed to be any down time, unusual for a game like this and a welcome change.  The other curiosity was that even though there is never anything hidden (although items are hidden behind a players screen, they are collected in the open, so it is entirely possible for players to keep track of how each other are doing) no-one had any real idea of who was actually winning.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There were the occasional blunders as someone miscalculated and carried out the wrong action (such as going to a city to recruit just after someone took the last unit), or as in the case of Pine towards the end, looking at the wrong Idrakys counter when working out route and actions for the turn.  On the whole though, everyone was were able to plan the sequence of commands each “year” without difficulty.  The key to this game, however, is probably keeping a close eye on which Threat/Recruitment tiles are due to come out in the next couple of turns to try to plan an efficient route and arrive at the right city at the right time.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The unique elimination based scoring system worked well, keeping everyone guessing who would win right to the end. By the end of the game, Green and Black had both managed to build all their towers (the final round of elimination scoring), while Pine had the least. The Bard tokens (the penultimate elimination round) seemed relatively close, but Burgundy and Pine had both been fighting over the hidden central citadel so that outcome was unknown.  Before these two assessments could be addressed, players have to survive the elimination round for gold coins, and these are hidden.  Green had got off to a good start and gained a lot of gold at the beginning of the game; given his strong position in with respect to towers and bard tokens on the board he looked like the front runner. Unfortunately, he had neglected to collect gold later in the game and ended up with the least, just one less than Black, so was out in the first elimination round.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

Then there was a discussion as to whether Green’s Bard tokens should be taken off the board and disregarded now he had been eliminated.  The answer didn’t seem to be in the rules, but it was at that point that we realised we should have scored everything first and then gone through the elimination checks so Green’s bard tokens remained.  Towards the end of the game, there had been a flurry players placing Bard tokens and, as a result Green again had the lowest Bard score, but since he had already been eliminated, Black was the next to go, leaving only Pine and Burgundy in the Sorcerers’ Guild Tower elimination round.  We knew that Black and Green had the most, but as they had both been eliminated it the best of the rest, and that was Burgundy. This was a surprise to everyone as he and Pine would have been knocked out much earlier, demonstrating that playing to win (i.e. concentrating on the final elimination) is not the way to play this game.

Lords of Xidit
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Overall everyone really enjoyed it:  it was fast, fun and there were a few surprises too. Nobody of us felt it was award-winning, but it was certainly one we would play again, and probably more than once.  Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, everyone else was playing Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a tile laying game where players are building an extravagant castle for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, one room at a time.  Rooms selected randomly are sold off in batches with one player, the Master Builder, setting the prices for each room in the batch.  Payment is made to the Master Builder (similar to the auctions in Goa), but as they are the last player to buy, there is a large element of “I divide, you choose” (similar to games like …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne).  Thus, the idea is that the Master Builder wants to arrange the tiles such that rooms desired by the other players are expensive, but generally not too expensive, and similar to Goa, having a lot of money is powerful, but when you spend it, you give that advantage to the active player.  The other interesting mechanism is controlling the room layout so that rooms that work well together are daisy-chained yielding the most points.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

When a room is placed, points are scored for that room, but also the room it is attached to.  Most of the points are dependent on the type of room they are connected to, so, a large purple living room with (say) six doors, will score every time a room is added to it.  If it scores two points for every “blue sleeping room” that is connected to it, it will score two points when it is first placed (next to a sleeping room, but four when the next is added to it, then six and so on.  However, the difficult part is trying to find six blue rooms that also score when they are placed next to a purple living room.  Balancing the synergistic effects are really what make the game interesting.  When a room is completed, there is a bonus, this can be extra points or some other advantage like an extra turn or money etc..

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

At the end of the game there are also bonus points for the player who best fulfils the requirements for the “King’s Favours” as well as points for personal bonuses.  The game uses a card-deck to determine which rooms are drawn and when it is exhausted it triggers the end-game.  One last round is played before all the bonuses are calculated and the winner is the player who finishes with the most points.  Although we played this quite a bit a couple of years ago, it has been neglected of late, and as a result, we had to recap the rules.  The problem with it is, the scoring when rooms are placed is a little counter intuitive, so a bit like Roll for the Galaxy, it is a game we often struggle with at first.  In fact, when it first came out, Blue and Magenta played it a few times, but only realised how the game “worked” when they played with a new player who just intuitively understood how to score heavily, and gave them a trouncing.  Although Blue had somehow forgotten again, it turned out that Magenta had not.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Blue started off buying a tile in error and thereafter was forced down a orange utility room strategy:  these tend to give fewer points when placed, but give bonus cards that score at the end of the game.  Clearly it was a game that wasn’t going to go well for Blue as, forced to which card to keep, the first card she discarded gave bonus points for money, and after a couple of rounds, it was clear this would have scored heavily for her if she had kept it. Purple had also played the game a few times before and also suffered the mental block associated with scoring.  She tried to build a lot of downstairs rooms and gardens, but again wasn’t able to get the room placement scoring to work for her.  Ivory was completely new to the game, and could be forgiven for not grasping the subtleties, but he was still in second place before the end game scoring and was clearly collecting blue sleeping rooms for an end-game bonus.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Early on, Magenta had managed to place a large purple Vestibule that scored four points for every adjoining yellow food room.  The key is, not only does each food room score four points, but they score every time another room is added.  With four doors and three of them leading to food rooms, this room alone scored her more than twenty-five points, which might have explained why Magenta was nearly twenty points clear before the end game scoring.  The final round was triggered when we ran out of room cards and that was followed by the Favour scoring.  Purple scored best here, picking up points in every category, but doing particularly well for her downstairs rooms.  The final scoring was the orange bonus cards.  Everyone thought that this was where Blue would make up ground as she had a fist full of them.  Unfortunately for her, none scored very well and some didn’t score at all.  Magenta had managed to pick up a few at the end of the game which scored well, meaning she finished some twenty-five points clear of everyone else who finished in a little group with a spread of just three points, with purple just beating the other two to take second place.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Both games finished at around the same time, and there was just enough time for something fun and not too long, so we opted for another game of one of our favourite, relaxing, light dice-chuckers, Las Vegas.  Despite the fact that we play this game a lot, Ivory had somehow missed out.  We thought it might be because he often leaves early and we often play it at the end of the evening.  Since he was sticking about this time, we all felt an introduction was essential.  The rules do not sound inspiring, and Ivory didn’t look terribly impressed.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money that comprises anything from one to eight notes; the player with the most dice in a casino takes first choice, then the second and so on.

– Image by boardGOATS

There are two little rules that make the game work: firstly, players must place all the dice of one number, and secondly, before any money is handed out, any dice involved in a draw are removed.  It is these rules that make the game interesting, raising the decisions above the trivial.  Although the base game only plays five, we add the Boulevard expansion, which adds more players, more high value notes, and big dice, which are “double weight” so increase the stress when bidding.  We also add the Slot Machine, where each number can be placed once, but only once, so it gives players another nice alternative to the conventional casinos.  The rules the player with the most money after four rounds is the winner, but the fourth round often drags, especially if you don’t feel you are in with a chance, so we generally house-rule it to three rounds. Despite his obvious misgivings, it wasn’t long before Ivory was chucking dice with everyone else and having great fun.  Unusually, Green, Blue and Burgundy scored quite well, but Pine thought he had it with his $370,000 until Ivory revealed is massive $440,000.  Definitely beginners luck…

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes experience pays, other times beginners benefit.

3rd April 2018

Blue and Pink arrived first and, as they were early, they decided to get in a quick game of NMBR 9, while they waited for food and more people.  This is a game which is rapidly becoming one of our go-to fillers primarily thanks to it’s almost non-existent setup time.  This time, Blue turned over the cards, and Pink scratched his head a lot as he tried to work out what to do with his tiles.  Once a few tiles have been placed to form a base layer, then tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile.  This is essential as the higher the tiles are placed the more they score.  Unfortunately, the rule Pink forgot about was that tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile on that level.  “Cheating” didn’t do him much good though, as Blue won by more than thirty finishing with a massive eighty-one thanks largely to placing a seven on the fourth tier.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although a few of our regulars were missing (Green, Red and Ivory), they were ably replaced by a couple of our irregulars in Pink and Turquoise.  So while we made sure there were no more stragglers and Burgundy finished his inch thick slice of ham, we played another quick filler game, this time of 6 Nimmt!.  This has long been a favourite in the group, thanks to the fact that it plays a lot of people coupled with the hilarious way that a tenuous control of the game can catastrophically turn into chaos.  It is one of those games that is more difficult to explain than to play, but essentially each player has a hand of cards and simultaneously everyone chooses one to play.  Simultaneously, everyone then reveals their card and each card is added in turn to the end of one of the four rows of cards on the table.  Beginning with the lowest each card is added to the row with the highest number that is still lower than the active card.  The snag is, if anyone’s card is the sixth to be placed in a row, the first five are “won” and and the card becomes a new starting card.

– Image by boardGOATS

As well as a face value (one to a hundred and four), each card also has a “nimmt” value: most are one, but there are some as high as seven.  The player with the fewest nimmts at the end is the winner.  It has been somewhat neglected of late though, and has only been played once this year by the group, and then only just (it was the early hours of New Year’s Day), so it was definitely time for another outing.  Normally we play two rounds, dealing out approximately half the deck each time, but with so many of us all wanting to play, we decided to go for a single round and deal ten cards each.  This time Black and Purple were fighting it out for the unofficial wooden spoon, but that honour was reserved for Turquoise with a quite fantastic thirty-one.  At the other end, both Burgundy and Blue thought they might have got it with just three and one respectively, but it was Pink with a nice round zero who pipped them to it.

– Image by boardGOATS

Once the food and the nimmts had been dealt with and it was clear that no-one else was coming, the inevitable squabble began over who wanted to play the “Feature Game”.  This week it was Fabled Fruit, a very light worker-placement and set collecting card game with a “Legacy” element to it.  As such, the game is very simple, but develops as you play.  The idea is that the game starts with six “Locations”, each of which is formed by a deck of four cards.  On their turn the active player moves their meeple to one of the locations and either carries out the action shown on the cards in the deck or buys one card for the amount shown.  The locations provide access to “fruit cards”, which are the currency in the game and are used to buy the location cards.  Each location has a different action, for example, the first location enables the active player to draw two cards from the top of the fruit deck.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

On the other hand, Location Five allows the active player to draw cards until they have a hand of three—useful if they started with no cards, but not so helpful if they had a handful. At Location Six, the active player can turn over as many cards as they like, keeping all the unique cards they turn over, but go bust in a Port Royal sort of way if they turn over a duplicate card.  Since there are five different fruits, this action quickly becomes increasingly risky.  There are other actions, some of which add a bit more interaction, like giving a player a banana card and getting two cards in return or drawing one card from the fruit deck and then exchanging three fruit cards with another player.  A little more interaction comes from the fact that visiting an occupied location costs a fruit card: since location cards typically cost four or five fruit cards, this is expensive, especially with low player counts, but playing with the full complement makes this almost unavoidable from time to time.  Aside from this though, there is very little interaction and the actions for the starting locations are quite mild.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

The interesting part is how the game develops, since a new card is added to the game every time a location card is bought.  Each location holds just four cards, so for every cards that are bought, a new location is introduced, and once all the cards for one location have been bought, that location and therefore that action is no longer available.  The really clever part of the game is the “Legacy” element:  the end game condition, becomes the start condition for the next game.  For this reason, we decided to play the game three times so we could see and appreciate how it evolves.  The rules were easy enough to explain and Turquoise, Magenta and Burgundy were keen to give it a go, so they joined Blue and Pink leaving Black, Purple and Pine to find something else to play.  It wasn’t long before the Fabled Fruit players were happily collecting fruit cards and occasionally turning them into juice by buying location cards.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

It is a game of very fine margins, though and it wasn’t long before almost everyone had two Location cards tucked away and were fighting for one more to win.  In truth it wasn’t a long fight as Pink made his experience with the game tell and took the first round.  Then instead of resetting the game, we checked we still had the right number of cards out, and started again with the new set up.  So this time, we started with the market which had been introduced during the first round.  This is a face up display of five cards that players can interact with.  The Locations that were available allowed players to trade cards with the market, but also trade one strawberry, for any three non-strawberry fruit cards in the market.  This hugely increased the value of strawberries and, with the high value of pineapples (which could be traded for five from the deck) and bananas (which could be used to take cards off another player), it meant that players were holding more and more cards.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

This all changed in the third round, however, when Location Ten appeared which allowed the active player to take two fruits from the player with the most cards.  Nobody liked falling victim to that one very much, but everyone took advantage where they could.  With just Pink taking the second round as well as the first, it was all about trying to stop him taking a clean sweep.  In the end it was really tight.  Everyone gets the same number of turns, so when it was clear that Pink was once again in a position to trigger the end by purchasing his third card, it was a question of whether anyone could stop him.  Although Turquoise who started the round had been steadily improving, there was nothing she could do, nor Burgundy who went next.  As Pink then played his master-move and picked up third Location card, the question changed to whether Blue and Magenta would be able to join him.  Both had enough cards, but but Magenta, was unfortunately standing on the only card she could buy, so in the end, the final round was shared by Blue and Pink.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Black, Purple and Pine had started off with Azul.  This, like NMBR 9, has been an immensely popular game since it first appeared on the group’s radar at Essen last year.  The game is almost entirely abstract, with a very loose “artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora” theme, but somehow, that doesn’t seem to matter as the game play is good and the production values very high.  In summary, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory displays (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles they took in one of the five rows on their player board.  The catch is that although they can add more tiles to a row later in the round, once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row. The round ends when all the tiles have been picked up, and one tile from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Tiles placed singly score just one point, but if they become part of a row or column, they pick up points for each tile in the row or column, so clever players can make tiles score over and over again.  The game ends when one player gets a complete row, so it takes at least five rounds, and then bonus points are awarded for completed columns or rows and full sets of five of a colour.  Purple wasn’t concentrating, so failed to get any bonus points, while Black and Pine picked up a few negative points.  Pin had a disastrous final round when he was forced to pick up six red tiles but could only place two of them meaning the rest all scored negative points, a total of minus thirteen for that round.  It didn’t do him too much damage though as he finished with thirty-eight, ten points clear of the others who were in a battle for second that Black won by a single point.

Azul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Next the trio moved on to Sagrada.  This is another popular “game of the moment”, with very similar feel to Azul, but this time using dice and players are building a stained glass window by placing dice on a grid of dice on their player board.  Each board has some restrictions on where certain coloured or numbered dice can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to manipulate some of the dice, either during the “drafting” phase, or sometimes those already in their “window”.  Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window. There are also three public objectives which everyone can use to score points; this time these gave points for complete sets of all five different colours, complete sets of all six numbers, and for columns that contained different numbers.  The game starts with each player choosing a window from two double-sided cards dealt at random.  The hard ones come with a lot of favour tokens and these can be critical as they can be used to move and re-roll dice or other special actions depending on what special tools are available.  This time they were particularly important, as everyone kept rolling sixes which wasn’t what they really needed.  Purple in particular made full use of all her favour tokens which helped keep her in the game.  When it came to scoring, it was quite close, with players taking similar scores on the separate public objectives. The small differences added up, however, and Pine finished in front with a nice round fifty, a handful of points ahead of Black in second place.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Fabled Fruit still hadn’t finished, but was well into its third round, so Purple, Black and Pine, looked round for something familiar and quick to play, and their collective eye fell on Kingdomino.  The rules didn’t need much recap: take a domino and add to the kingdom and then place a meeple on one of the dominoes on display for the next round.  When placing the dominoes, one of the two ends must connect to terrain of the same type already in the kingdom, or connect directly to the start tile.  Points are awarded at the end of the game by multiplying the number of tiles in an area of terrain by the number of crowns in the area.  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space (or be discarded) and bonus points are awarded for successfully placing all tile and finishing with the start tile in the centre.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It is a very clever little game, and tile placement is clearly critical, but one of the most important aspects is the trade off between turn order and tile value.  Each domino has a numerical value and they are set out and taken, from low to high, so players going for the more valuable tiles are trading this value against their position in the turn order.  This was key for Pine who failed to get the crowns he needed and when he did couldn’t add them to the terrain he wanted.  This was exacerbated by the fact that with only three players, some tiles never appear which can upset the balance of the game.  All in all, Pine had a complete “mare” of a game, crowned by the fact that he failed to place all his tiles and didn’t get his castle in the centre of the kingdom either.  It was a game he wanted to forget, but was close between Black and Purple.  Black had the edge though and finished with a grand total of seventy.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Nobody wanted a late night, but everyone fancied finishing with something light, and with so many people Las Vegas is always a good option.  This light dice game is really easy to play and doesn’t require much in the way of concentration, so is great to wind down with.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  the catch is that to place a “bet”, the player must use all the dice of one number that number.  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 barracking.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

We also always add the Slot Machine from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar, which is like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  We also add some elements from the Boulevard expansion, including extra high value money cards, the “biggun” (which replaces one die per person with a larger, double weight die worth two of the little ones) and extra dice so more people can play.  Finally, we always house rule the game so we only play three rounds instead of four—although we love it, with four rounds it can outstay it’s welcome for those who feel they can’t catch up.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

It’s never easy to tell how people are doing as the money is stored face down and the denominations vary from $10,000 to $100,000, so someone with a large pile may be very rich or just have a lot of “notes”.  And Purple certainly had a lot of notes as she popped out to the conveniences and came back to find a massive money pile.  Everyone was so impressed that several others optimistically tried the same trick, but unfortunately they didn’t quite have the knack.  It was an exciting game though; with so many people playing there were a lot of draws and lots of bids ended up cancelling out others, often with three people involved and a fourth very lucky “loser” picking up the spoils.  In the final counting, Pink proved that while he was good at collecting fruit, he was rubbish at collecting money.  At the other end of the scale meanwhile, Black and Purple were again fighting it out for first place, but a tie on $340,000 each was eventually resolved in Purple’s favour.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Learning Outcome:  Aesop doesn’t have a monopoly on Fables.

28th December 2017 – boardGOATS do the Quiz

As we meet at The Jockey every week, last year at Christmas we decided to enter a team for their Quiz night between Christmas and New Year.  We didn’t have a large team, but Blue, Pink, Pine, Violet and Violet’s mum were in attendance and had managed to win for the GOATS at the first attempt.  Flushed with that success, we decided to give it a go this year too. This time there were seven of us with Pine bringing along his mate, Azure.  As before, we booked a table for 8pm and, as usual, pizza was largely the order of the day with a burger, tagliatelle and scampi for those who decided not to follow the tradition.  While we were waiting for food to arrive, Green asked whether Red was going to be about over Christmas as he had some Gruyère for her. Unfortunately Azure misheard and asked who Trevor was.  Much hilarity ensued as Pine got himself in a terrible mess explaining who Red was and why he thought she wouldn’t be interested in someone called Trevor, but would love a block of cave-aged cheese!  To spare his further blushes, someone quickly suggested we played a game, which seemed like a good idea.  With so many people and so little time, the choice was limited, so we went with Tsuro.

Tsuro
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Tsuro is a very simple game to teach and play, and, although it has nasties such as player elimination, it is so quick to play that these things don’t really matter.  The idea is that each player has a “Stone” which starts on a marker at the edge of the board and a hand of three tiles.  On their turn, the active player then places a tile on the next square in such a way as to create a path in front of the stone.  They then move their stone (and any others affected) along the path to the new end.  The game continues with players taking turns to place tiles and move stones trying to keep their stone on the board and avoid colliding with any other stone; the last stone left is the winner.  This time, it was a cagey start as everyone was very careful.  It wasn’t until the draw deck had been depleted, that the first players were eliminated, with Pine  forced to play a tile that caused him to collide with Blue removing both from the game.  Purple and Azure were next leaving three players until Black was forced to take himself off the board and Green with him, leaving Pink the sole survivor.

Tsuro
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

While we were eating Green asked about the “Monster Games” session the night before.  The evening had started with Kingdomino, and included NMBR 9, Azul and 6 Nimmt!.  The highlight had been El Grande, however, a game that we enjoyed on a previous “Monster Games” session.  This time, however, we decided to add the Grand Inquisitor & the Colonies expansion.  This adds an extra couple of elements to the game (but still no Portugal, much to Pink’s disgust).  Both Blue and Black quite liked the Grand Inquisitor component and would happily play with it again, but neither were very keen on the Colonies aspect, despite the fact that Blue had been able to use it to great effect towards the end of the game.  Pine had the last word on the subject though when he commented that he’d found it amusing that everyone had known before the start that Black and Blue were competing for first place, while everyone else was trying to avoid coming last.  It was perhaps just as well that the landlord chose that moment to hand out the paperwork for the picture round…

El Grande
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

We started off badly, but quickly improved with a perfect score in the second round.  We maintained steady progress, but the team that beat the “Eggheads” would take some catching.  As the Quiz progressed it was clear that we would need a really good score in the “Who Am I?”, anagram and picture rounds to be in with a chance.  We got all three anagrams, but the “Who Am I?” was a bit of a disaster as we worked out who it was (“the big bloke from The Chase“), but couldn’t remember his name.  It turned out that that was actually enough information, but we only found that at the very end, so only got one point (his name is Mark Labbett).  Although we put in a reasonable picture round, it wasn’t good enough to make up the difference and we finished in a respectable second place.

Quiz December 2017
– Image by boardGOATS

With the Quiz over, we reverted to what we do best and went back to playing board games, or in this case, a dice game, as we finished the evening with Las Vegas.  The game itself is a very simple betting game.  Players begin their turn by rolling their dice and then assign some of them to one of six casinos (one for each dice face) each of which has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  Players must place all the dice displaying one number to bet on the casino of that number, and when done, play passes to the next player.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card, with the person in second place taking the next and so on. The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed.  This leads to a lot of barracking when dice are played as opponents try to encourage the active player to choose their favoured option.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

As usual, we included the Big Dice from the Boulevard expansion and the Slot Machine mini-expansion from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar.  The large dice are double weight and count as two in the final  reckoning.  The Slot Machine acts like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but dice of each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  Since we play the game unusually slowly, we generally stop after just three rounds rather than the four recommended in the rules, and today was no exception.  Reducing the number of rounds meant that everyone had to make each round count to stay in the running, especially in such a close game.  Three players took over $300,000, with Green just $10,000 ahead of Black.  It was Blue who finished first, however, thanks largely to her judicious use of the slot machine which ensured a healthy return in the first two rounds.  And with that, it was home time for everyone, including Trevor the Cheese.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Shy bairns get nowt.

11th July 2017

It was another quiet night, with Ivory attending a course, Red recovering from partying too hard, Green and Violet learning about rocks ‘n’ stuff, and Pine delayed by work (swearing blind that his absence had nothing at all to do with how much he had hated 20th Century last time).  We had enough people though, with Turquoise putting in an appearance for the last time before travelling over-seas to visit family for the summer.  While Blue, Burgundy, Turquoise and Magenta waited for pizza, they decided to get in a quick game of one our current favourites, the Spiel des Jahres nominated Kingdomino.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Kingdomino first really hit the group radar after UK Games Expo when both Black and Purple, and Blue and Pink came back with copies.  Both couples enjoyed playing it when they got home and immediately introduced it to the rest of the group who have also taken quite a shine to it.  Despite this, neither Turquoise nor Magenta had managed to play Kingdomino, so Blue quickly explained the rules.  The game consists of dominoes featuring two terrain “tiles” with some tiles also depicting one or more crowns.  When the dominoes are placed, one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or connect to their starting tile (which can be considered to be “wild”).  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space and if one or more dominoes cannot be placed according to these rules, then they are discarded. At the end of the game, each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region and adds them up together with any bonuses to give their score.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

It’s not a difficult game, but it is one where players can get themselves in trouble if they don’t play the early stages well.  So everyone helped out Turquoise, especially Burgundy.  In truth though, she didn’t really need it, instead, it was Blue who struggled with a complete inability to get any tiles with crowns on them.  Burgundy had mixed results with a mixed kingdom and Magenta made good use of what she got building a massive lake which with a few smaller features gave her a total of seventy-four, enough for second place.  With Burgundy taking Turquoise under his wing, the rest of us should have seen the writing on the wall, especially given how large the writing was!  Her massive, high scoring woodland gave Turquoise eighty-five points and clear victory.  Black, who had arrived with Purple in the closing stages commented that he could see how forests were potentially a game-breaking strategy, but that just meant we all now know what he will be trying to do next time we play.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

With what was likely to be our full quota of players we then moved onto our “Feature Game”, Santo Domingo.  This is a light card game of tactics and bluffing with a pirate theme set in the world of one of our more popular games, Port Royal.  The game is a re-implementation of the slightly older game, Visby, which was only given a limited release.  The idea is that in each round player one character card from their hand which are activated in character order and then are placed on a personal discard pile.  The characters are designed to maximise player interaction, with their result dependent on cards that other players have chosen, similar to games like Citadels and Witch’s Brew.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, the first card is the Captain who can take a victory point (from a track on a central game board) up to a maximum of twice.  If more than one player has chosen to play the Captain, then players take it in turns.  The second character is the Admiral:  he can also take one victory point, but this time up to five times, giving him a maximum of five points, but this is only possible if there are enough points available.  Since points added to the track at the start of each round, players want to try to play their Admiral card in a different round to everyone else so that they can ensure they get the maximum number of points.  Alternatively, it could be looked at from the other perspective with players wanting to play their Captain at the same time as everyone else plays their Admiral so that they minimise the income other players can get.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

The third card is the Governor.  This card is different to the first two as it gives players goods (rather than points) for every other player who played either a Captain or an Admiral card.  So, for the Governor, players are trying to maximise their return by reading everyone else’s minds and saving their Governor for the round when everyone else is playing the Captain and the Admiral.  The fourth, fifth and sixth characters (Frigate, Galleon and Customs) are roughly analogous to the first three characters, except the Frigate and Galleon yield goods (instead of points) and the Customs card gives points (instead of goods).  Goods are very useful as they can be turned into victory points using the Trader (the seventh character card).  Timing is key here too though as the potential return increases for every round that nobody uses the Trader; the return also depends on the number of people to play the card though, so even if everyone waits and then plays the Trader at the same time, players may get less than if they had played a round earlier.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

The final card is the Beggar which allows players to pick up their discard pile so that they can re-use them in the following rounds.  Even this character has a timing element as player playing the Beggar are rewarded with extra goods for every Trader played in the same round and for minimising the number of cards they have left when they play it.  At the end of each round, players check to see if anyone has passed thirty points and if so, that triggers the end of the game where any residual goods are converted to points at the minimum rate and the player left with the most points is the winner.  Santo Domingo is one of those games that takes a little while to get the hang of, so the game started slowly with everyone feeling their way.  Blue and Magenta had played before and led the way, but Black and Burgundy were quick to follow.  It was a tight game with players taking it in turns to take the lead.  It is a quick little game and it wasn’t a long game though before Black triggered the end of the game by reaching thirty points.  Magenta just had the edge though and pipped him to the post finishing with thirty-three points, one more than Black.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

There was still plenty of time before Magenta and Turquoise had to leave, so we decided to give Las Vegas a go.  This was another one that was new to Turquoise, but we’ve played it a lot as a group and all enjoy it as there is plenty of time to relax and offer unhelpful advice to everyone else between brief bouts of activity.  The game itself is a very simple betting game.  Players begin their turn by rolling all their dice and then assign some of them to one of six casinos (one for each dice face) each of which has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  Players must place all the dice displaying one number to bet on the casino of that number, and when done, play passes to the next player.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card, with the person in second place taking the next and so on.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The really clever part of this game is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed.  This leads to a lot of barracking when dice are played as opponents try to encourage the active player to choose their favoured option.  As usual, we included the Big Dice from the Boulevard expansion which are double weight and count as two dice in the final reckoning.  We also included the Slot Machine mini-expansion from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar which acts a bit like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but dice of each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  Since we tend to play the game unusually slowly which can make it out-stay it’s welcome, we also house-rule the game to just three rounds rather than the four given in the rules.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The first round had all the large value cards with every casino having jackpot of $90,000 or $100,000.  This really put the pressure on early as with six casinos (and the the Slot Machine) and six players, everyone was under pressure to win at least one to stay in the game.  Inevitably, someone didn’t and that someone was Magenta.  Someone else was obviously the beneficiary, and that was Turquoise.  There were plenty of slightly smaller amounts available as well, so things wouldn’t have been so bad if Magenta had picked up some of these.  Sadly she didn’t though and got her revenge by knocking over a glass of water and drowning the lot. Reactions were quick and the game is hardy, so a quick mop and dry followed by a firm press and everything was fine.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The second and third rounds were much more evenly spread out, but the jackpots were also smaller, which made playing catch up more difficult.  Much hilarity ensued when Magenta kept rolling “lucky” sixes, but couldn’t do much with them.  Despite such “good luck” without the fourth round, Magenta felt she was pretty much out of the game, but everyone else was in with a good chance.  There is a reason why winnings are kept secret though and as everyone counted out their totals, it was clear it was really close, with everyone within a few thousand dollars of each other.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

It was only when Turquoise gave her winnings though that everyone else realised they were actually competing for second place, some four hundred thousand dollars behind her.  It was just before Magenta and Turquoise headed off that Blue touted for interest in a weekend gaming session.  Together with Pink, she had been asked to play-test a new game, Keyper, and was looking for one or two more to make up the numbers.  Magenta and Turquoise were unavailable, but Black and Purple were keen to give it a go.  So, with that matter of business out of the way, Magenta and Turquoise left and everyone else settled down to one last game, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Lanterns is a straight-forward, light tile laying game, where players are decorating the palace lake with floating lanterns and competing to become the most honored artisan when the festival begins.  Each tile is divided into four quarters, each of which has a colour, red, orange, blue, green, purple, black and white.  On their turn, players choose a tile from their hand of three and add it to the central palace lake.  Every player then receives a lantern card corresponding to the color on the side of the tile facing them, with the active player receiving bonus cards for any edges where the colours of the new tile match those of the lake.  At the start of their next turn, players can gain honour tiles by dedicating sets of lantern cards, three pairs, four of a kind or seven different colours.  Each tile is worth honour points and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This was another close game, made difficult by the lack of orange cards in the early part of the game.  Ordinarily, players can use favour tokens to make up a deficit like this.  Favours are rewards for placing special tiles that feature a “platform”, and pairs can be spent to enable players to exchange one coloured card for another.  It takes a while to collect favour tokens, however, so it is difficult to obtain and use pairs early in the game.  Spotting how the lack of orange cards was making life difficult for people, Blue began hoarding blue lantern cards, quickly followed by Purple who hoarded purple lantern cards.  It was another close game, though, with everyone finishing within five points of the winner.  In fact, Black and Blue finished level with around fifty honour points, but Blue took first place with the tie-breaker thanks to her two left-over favours.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Light games are best when they are as close as possible.

7th March 2017

This week we had a very late start, largely thanks to Blue falling asleep, Green debating whether he was coming alone or not, and a wine tasting evening at The Jockey which resulted in an unexpectedly long queue for food.  Then there was the inevitably long discussion about what to play.  Eventually, we split into two with the first group playing the “Feature Game”, Citrus.  This is a fairly simple tile laying game with a surprising amount of depth.  The game is played on a  fifteen by ten board, sprinkled with a small number of rocks spaces, a similar number of special landscape tiles, four Fincas and ten Finca sites with three of them prepared for building.  On their turn, the active player has two options, build or harvest.  If they decide to build, they take tiles from the market, paying for them with Pesetas and adding them to the board either expanding an existing area occupied by one of the active player’s workers or beginning a new area. If a new area is established, the active player claims it for their own by placing a worker on it.  Instead of building, the active player may harvest one or more of their areas, which awards them with points and income.

Citrus
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

There are a number of clever features which make the game interesting.  Firstly, each player has a maximum of five workers who live in their hacienda until they have been placed.  Income received from harvesting depends how many workers are in their hacienda after they complete their harvest.  For example, if a player has no workers in their hacienda, and on their turn harvests one plantation, they receive two Pesetas. If they chose to harvest another plantation on their next turn, this would then give them a second worker in their hacienda giving them an extra four Pesetas – a total of six Pesetas over the two turn.  Alternatively, they could have harvested both plantations in the first turn, but this would only yield a total of four Pesetas.  Each player has a limited maximum amount of twelve Pesetas, followed using a money track on the bottom of their hacienda player board.

Citrus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

One of the most novel parts of the game is the market.  At the start of the game, twelve tiles are placed on an asymmetric grid consisting of rows of two, three and four tiles.  On their turn the active player chooses a row and and takes the tiles paying one Peseta for each one.  If, after take plantations from the market, there are three or fewer plantations remaining there, the active player must immediately build a new Finca before restocking the market.  They draw the top Finca tile from the stack, choose one of the three building site tiles on the game board, replacing the tile with the new Finca.  This building site tile is removed from the game and a new one drawn from the stack, and placed on the matching space on the game board ensuring that there are always three building sites.  Since the Finca tile is placed on a building site of the active payer’s choice before they place their plantation tiles, timing a purchase to take this opportunity is a key part of the strategy of the game.

Citrus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There are also a small number of tile placement rules:  new plantations can be created by placing the tile orthogonal to a Finca, on a road, or tiles can be added to the active player’s preexisting plantations.  Each plantation started next to a Finca must be of a different colour.  Tiles cannot be placed over rock spaces, nor can they be placed so they force a merger with another players plantation of the same colour.  Merging with a vacant plantation is not allowed if it is larger than the one belonging to the active player.  When a Finca is completely surrounded (all 8 spaces around it are  occupied), it is scored and the Finca tile is flipped over.  Each Finca depicts two scores: the number of tiles from all plantations adjacent to the Finca are counted and the player who owns most gets the higher score with the second placed player getting the lower number.  Players can also place tiles on spaces occupied by landscape tiles taking the tile which can give special actions or extra points.

Citrus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor William Hunt

Importantly, all players involved retain their plantations and their workers remain on the board.  This means that large plantations that spread to several Finca’s can be highly effective scoring multiple times and when their reach has been exhausted, the they can be harvested yielding large amounts of points.  Thus, one of the cleverest parts of the game is the aspect of timing: understanding when a plantation has exceeded its usefulness and is ready for harvest, making sure that all large plantations are harvested before the end of the game is key., and our game was no  exception.  It was very cagey at the start with everyone playing for position, but nobody keen to start finishing off Fincas as it was guaranteed to give someone else points.  Eventually, players were forced to complete Fincas as they needed to be able to get cash and to do that, they had to harvest.  Pine took a substantial lead and soon Blue and then Purple left Burgundy far behind with nothing.

Citrus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Eventually Burgundy got off the mark, but it became something of a running joke how Burgundy was at the back and we were all waiting for some incredible move.  In the end it didn’t really happen like that, but he did gradually bring himself back into contention.  Blue was convinced Pine had it as he had a very large lime plantation that gave him a lot of points as covered a lot of ground connecting several Fincas together, and would give even more when he harvested it.  Everyone made lots of mistakes, taking workers off when they shouldn’t have etc., but some were more costly than others. The game ends when the last plantation tile is bought and placed, so the end of the game, like the beginning was quite cagey with everyone trying to maximise the number of points they could get, and make sure they could harvest as many of their remaining plantations as possible.  In the end it was a very close game, but Pine had not picked up any “Wild Horse” tokens, which proved costly with Blue pushing him into second place in the final scoring.  It was the tussle for third that was tightest though, with Purple just managing to fend off Burgundy.

Citrus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the next table, Black had joined Green and Ivory in a game of Fresco.  This is a game where players are master painters working to restore a fresco in a Renaissance church.  Each round begins with players deciding what time they would like to wake up for the day. The earlier they wake up, the earlier they are in turn order, and the better options they get.  However, if they waking up early too often, the apprentices become unhappy and stop working as efficiently. Players then decide their actions for the turn, deploying their apprentice work force to the various tasks:  buying paint, mixing paint, working on the fresco, raising money to buy paint by painting portraits, and even going to to the opera to increase the apprentices’ happiness and inspire them. Points are scored mostly by painting the fresco, which requires specific combinations of paints.  For this reason, players must purchase and mix their paints carefully and beat the other players to the store to buy the pigments and fresco segments they would like to paint.

Fresco
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

Green was keen to play with the third and final expansion module (that comes with the base game), and Ivory and Black were happy to give it a go.  This expansion uses the additional paint splodges on the back of the completed paint tiles of the fresco.  If a player gets thee identical splodges (or any three random colours, or indeed even no colours), he can “exchange” them for a Bishops Favour bonus tile.  This reduced his income, but does give an additional paint cube as well as bonus points.  Although Green went first (after a random selection from the bag), he chose to get up later, with both Black and Ivory getting up earlier. Therefore Ivory got first pick in the first round. He hadn’t played it before, but quickly realised that a key aspect of the game is getting the good paint from the market before anyone else can take them.  He combined this strategy with regular trips to the theatre (to make up for his early rising) and portrait painting (to fund his market purchases).

Fresco
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Unfortunately this strategy left Ivory with fewer apprentices to mix paints and paint the fresco, so he spent most of the game behind Black and Green on the score track. This meant he regularly had first dibs on the alarm clock and could have changed strategy whenever he chose.  He eschewed the Bishops favours for most of the game, favouring the income over the bonus points and “free” paint.  Green used his late rising to grab whatever he could from the market cheaply and paint whatever he could of the fresco, using his spare cash to move the bishop to more favourable locations.  The tiles he accumulated he was able to gain income from , meaning he was never short of cash to buy what he could. The regular painting in the church meant he gained tiles early on and was able to be the first to exchange them for the Bishops Favour, and he maintained a modest lead through most of the game.  Towards the end of the game, Green was able to grab that early morning slot, buy the expensive quality paints he really needed and paint three high value tiles in one turn. This brought about the last round, but he had few resources left to do much in it.

Fresco
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Black played a canny game of “piggy in the middle” most of the time, and was able to get a good turn over in paint, mixing and fresco painting.  He kept pace with Green on the Bishops Favours, gaining the valuable three purple one for ten points and free purple every round (purple being the hardest colour to get as normally it can only be mixed from red and blue).  In the final round, Ivory went first, choosing to mix for some final alter painting.  This left two tiles in the church (either side of the bishop), which left them available to Black along with a three big colour alter job which pushed him ahead of Green.  Green, going last, had little paint and only managed a big alter painting, but it wasn’t enough and he was still four points behind Black.  Converting the remaining money into points, Ivory added a massive ten points to his tally, but with twelve and thirteen coins respectively, Black and Green were equal, picking up an additional six points each giving Black a well deserved victory.  In the final game analysis we decided we enjoyed the Bishops Favour and Black felt it was better than the extra colours expansion.  Green still felt the portrait cards were best, but combining both could make for a very interesting game, one for next time perhaps.

Fresco
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

With both Fresco and Citrus finishing at much the same time, Ivory and Green went home leaving everyone else to shuffle chairs and decide what to play next.  There wasn’t a huge amount of time and nobody was terribly keen to play anything too “thinky”, so it wasn’t long before Las Vegas came out.  This is a strange game which has masses of downtime, yet seems to get played every time it is brought.  Part of this is probably because it falls into that category of being a game nobody minds playing although, few would say it was a game they actively want to play.  In truth, it is almost more of an activity than a game really, but we find it quite relaxing towards the end of the evening.  The game itself is a very simple betting game.  Players begin their turn by rolling their dice and then assign some of them to one of six casinos (one for each dice face) each of which has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  Players must place all the dice displaying one number to bet on the casino of that number, and when done, play passes to the next player.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card, with the person in second place taking the next and so on. The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed.  This leads to a lot of barracking when dice are played as opponents try to encourage the active player to choose their favoured option.  As usual, we included the Big Dice from the Boulevard expansion and the Slot Machine mini-expansion from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar.  The large dice are double weight and count as two in the final  reckoning.  The Slot Machine acts like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but dice of each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  Since we play the game unusually slowly, we generally stop after just three rounds rather than the four recommended in the rules.  This time, the game was tight between first and second, but Purple just pipped Pine to the post, winning by $10,000.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We were almost out of time, but there was perhaps time for something quick.  Since Pine had expressed dismay at missing the “Feature Gamelast time, we decided to give Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen or Cliff Hanger) a quick go, as “it really does only take ten minutes to play”.  It turned out that Black and Purple had also missed out last time, but that didn’t slow things down too much as it is not a complex game.  The idea is that players choose a card from their hand and play it face up in front of them – the person who plays the highest card takes the trick and with it all the cards played in the round.  The player who plays the lowest card plays draws a Goat Island card and places the goat-meeple on one end, choosing which end will become start Goat Island.  The game continues with players playing cards and winning tricks, and the player who plays the lowest numbered card adding to Goat Island, choosing whether to add a large or small amount to the total.  At the end of the game players count the number of goat heads on their cards and the winner is the player with the highest total that does not exceed the sum of the numbers on Goat Island.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

There were lots of appreciative remarks about the fabulous “goaty” artwork, which features “zen-goat”; “artist-goat”, and even a “bored-goat” (or should it be a “boardGOAT”?).  We started out a little tentatively, but the game as taken by Black who managed to successfully exactly hit the Goat Island target.  Since it really had taken less than fifteen minutes (ten to play and five to explain), since everyone now understood how to play, we decided to give it another go.  As in the first round, Burgundy continued to apply his “winning” 6 Nimmt! strategy, picking up a massive forty-two goat heads.   With a limit of just eleven, however, it was Blue who took the game, with just one head more than Pine.  Much hilarity ensued when Pine, trying to work out how to pronounce Bokken Schieten idly mused wither “kk” in Dutch was actually pronounced like “tt” in English…  On a bit of a roll, with the cards out, we ended up playing a third round.  This one went to Purple, giving her a second victory which made her evening, especially given how thrilled she had been at beating Burgundy in Citrus.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  A game may take ten minutes, but only if it is played just once…

28th December 2016

Being a Wednesday, and with lots of people away for Christmas, we weren’t sure how many to expect. In the event we had a reasonable turn out, and enough for a six player game of Chicago Express (aka Wabash Cannonball), the evening’s “Feature Game“.  This is a fairly simple game, with just three possible actions per turn, but the consequences can be far-reaching.  At the start of the game there are four rail companies B&O (blue), Pennsylvania Railroad (red), C&O (yellow) and New York Central (Green), trying to build routes from the east coat to Chicago.  Unlike most train games, players don’t play the part of the railroads, instead they are investors, speculating in order to accumulate as much cash as possible.   To that end, on their turn players can auction a share of one of the companies, extend a network of a company they hold shares in or “improve” one of the hexes that a rail-line goes through.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

At the end of each round, there is a dividend where owners of shares get a pay-out.  The game is played over a maximum of eight rounds and the player with the most money at the end of the game wins.  There are a couple of clever parts of the game. Firstly, there are the three action wheels.  Each time a player takes an action, the associated dial is moved on one step. Each dial has a maximum number of steps per round and once this limit has been reached, that action is unavailable for the rest of the round.  Once two action dials have reached their maximum, the the round is over and dividends are handed out.  The dividend depends on the length of the railroad, where it goes, any upgrades along the route and the number of shares held.  The second clever aspect of the game is the economic merry-go-round. When players buy shares, the money is paid to the company and it is this money that is then used to build rail routes.  Money is gradually fed into the game via the dividend which is taken from the bank.  Since the winning condition is solely based on money at the end of the game, there is a strong incentive to minimise the amount paid for shares.  However, this can be a false economy as it can leave the company that short of funds for development.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor da pyrate

So, the balance is hard to strike, and as the game progresses, demand increases for the companies with the largest dividends.  In general, there are eight rounds, but if three companies run out of trains or three companies run out of shares, then the game ends early, so players have to watch what they spend to make sure they don’t get caught out. Only money counts at the end of the game, shares are worthless, so players can’t afford to overspend.  Chicago Express was a Christmas gift for Pink, and only Blue and Pink had played it before, and then only with two players. They explained what had happened and, as the game starts with an initial share auction they offered as much of their (albeit limited) experience as they could to help players value the shares, but the suspicion was that the game would play very differently with six.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Blue took the first share in the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR, red), Burgundy placed a stake in the B&O (blue), Pine invested in C&O (yellow), and Purple took the last initial offering, snapping up the New York Central share (green). That left Black and Pink with nothing at the beginning, but with their starting funds untouched.  Because funds are replenished (at least in part) by the dividend at the end of the round, it is very important for players who lose out in the initial auction to ensure they get a stake before the end of the round or they risk having to fight a rear-guard action for the whole game. To this end, Pink started out on a concerted campaign to auction off shares. By the end of the first round, Pink had joined Pine in the yellow C&O and Black had gone into partnership with Blue in the PRR. Blue on the other hand had bankrupted herself by dividing her loyalties and joined Burgundy investing in the B&O.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Mouseketeer

After the first round, everyone could see how things we playing out and it about then that another share in the New York Central was put up for auction. The dividend had been one of the highest; hitherto, Purple had held the only share and she was very keen to keep it that way.  As the price crept up, players gradually dropped out of the bidding, eventually leaving just Burgundy and Purple.  Burgundy pushed her to the limit, but thanks to her slightly higher dividend in the first round, Purple was able to hang on to her monopoly.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

As the game progressed, more shares were auctioned and railroads gradually progressed westward, though the routes they took varied considerably.  Black and Blue took the PRR by the most direct route as did Burgundy (with little help from Blue, his silent partner), while Green went to the north.  In contrast, Pink and Pine took the C&O along the south coast, where there were lots of cities making it increasingly valuable and consequently, a target for takeover.  There were lots of shares available though, which simply had the effect of diluting the holding and eroding its value.  Nevertheless, Pine and Pink managed to hang on to the majority between them, so all their efforts weren’t totally wasted.  Meanwhile, Purple managed to fight off another unwanted takeover bid, with Blue forcing up the bids this time.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

It was about this time, at the start of the fifth round that train stocks and share certificates began to run out, and suddenly everyone realised that the game could be close to the end.  Purely by chance, Blue hadn’t spent any money in the previous round having been repeatedly outbid, which meant she had more than anyone else. However, as she only had two shares she had one of the smaller shares of the dividend due, so she needed the game to end before the start of the next round. With this in mind, she began aggressively selling C&O shares, which not only brought the game to an abrupt end, but also led to a dilution of their value as others could see the writing on the wall. The tactic worked though, and after the last dividend had been handed out, everyone added up their profits and the game finished with Blue out in front with forty-two dollars, eleven dollars clear of Purple in second place.

Chicago Express
– Image by BGG contributor damnpixel

As the dust settled, players considered what had happened with the benefit of hindsight.  It was clear that although the game is unquestionably very clever, not everyone appreciated the combination of simplicity and difficulty.  In truth, it really isn’t a “train game”, more an economics game with a train theme, which could be responsible for making it less popular than, say, Ticket to Ride.  It can also be quite unforgiving, especially for players who fail to get shares in the early part of the game.  Since only four shares are auctioned before the game starts properly, the higher player counts pretty much guarantee that someone will have to fight to stay in the game.  On the other hand, if they are lucky, they may be able to get potentially valuable shares relatively cheaply by capitalising on the fact that others might have overpaid to ensure they don’t get left out.  All in all, it definitely left some players with mixed feelings.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor da pyrate

With the post-mortem out of the way, we started a game of Las Vegas.  We’ve played this simple game quite a bit, in fact, most times that it comes to games night it gets played, probably because it is an easy option.  The idea is that players begin their turn by rolling their dice and then assign some of them to one of six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  Players must use all the dice displaying one number to bet on the casino of that number.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card with the person in second place taking the next and so on. The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of barracking.  As usual, we included the Big Dice from the Boulevard expansion and the Slot Machine mini-expansion from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar.  The Slot Machine acts like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but dice of each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

For some reason, this game always seems to take our group ages. Black commented that it was because we all play the same way, hedging our bets at the start of the round, hoping to be the last player with dice and to be able to use them to greatest effect.  As Black pointed out though, in practice, most of the time, even when the dice roll to leave a player with the most dice at the end, it is rare they can actually use them to great influence.  With that in mind, we tried to play slightly more aggressively, and also decided to play just three rounds instead of the usual four.  In the event, game play was slightly quicker than in previous games, but not much, and in truth nobody really minded.  The thing is, Las Vegas is very relaxing to play because there is are short spells of intense thought interspersed within longish periods while others play. Although this would normally be tedious, somehow watching others roll and the anticipation while they choose what to do is strangely compelling.  This time, the first round was fairly even, but it was the second round where things got interesting. Normal service was resumed for Burgundy who got nothing and Blue didn’t do much better. Black was the real winner though, taking money from several of the casinos, many of which were quite substantial. He was less lucky during the final round, however, and it was Purple, who had been consistent throughout who finished in front with $370,000 just $20,000 ahead of Black in second.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

With the fog, and an early start the next day for some, Black, Purple an Burgundy headed off, leaving Blue, Pine and Pink to a game of Finca.  This is a fairly light set collecting game centered around a rondel.  The idea is that players have two options on their turn, the can move a meeple round the rondel to pick up fruit, or deliver sets of fruit to the Mallorcan villages. The rondel movement is the interesting bit: the number of meeples on its start space dictate how far the meeple moves and the number of meeples on the space at the end of its move indicates how many fruit the active player gets.  If the meeple passes one of two markers during its move, the player gets a donkey cart token which can be traded in for the opportunity to make a delivery.

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The game has a couple of other features. Firstly, in order to stop players hoarding fruit and starving others, if there are insufficient fruit available when needed, everyone returns everything of that type that they have, before the active player gets their due. This also applies to donkey cart tokens an it forces players to deliver frequently. In any case, donkey carts are generally small and hold a maximum of six fruit, so there is rarely good reason for hoarding.  Secondly, the villages each have a pile of demand tokens, face down except for the top one. Each of these depict some number of fruit from one to six.  When a player delivers to a village, they take the demand token and the number of fruit on the token is equivalent to the number of points awarded to the player at the end of the game. Thus, a player could collect one token featuring six fruit, alternatively, they could claim two or more tokens that sum to six (or fewer – donkey carts don’t have to be full).

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Finally, bonuses are available for players who collect sets of demand tiles numbering from one to six, and when all the demand tiles are taken for a village, the finca tile is evaluated which gives more points. The game ends when demand tiles have been taken for a set number of villages and points are added up. Pine was new to the game, though Blue and Pink had played it a few times before. So it was that Pink, slightly needled by his poor results in the first two games, showed the way, initially by delivering the first fruit and collecting the corresponding demand tiles, then by collecting a set of six tiles, and with it, seven bonus points.  Blue collected plenty of fruit and turned them into demand tiles, but Pine and Pink between them took all the available “three value” demand tiles preventing her from getting a bonus. Pine quickly got to grips with the game, but his problems were compounded by the fact that he kept drawing with Blue when the finca bonus tiles were evaluated.  So it was Pink led from the start, picking up both finca bonuses and set bonuses as he went and snatching tiles just before the others could take them, and he ran out the worthy winner with fifty-two points to finish the evening on a landslide.

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning outcome:  A game needs more than trains for it to be a “train game”.

29th Movember 2016

Different week, different people, different sickness, same late start…  After Burgundy had finished worrying the pub staff by changing his supper order (given how fast Blue can polish off a pizza he thought he might be able to eat a Hawaiian quicker than his usual ham, eggs & chips – he was wrong), we split into two groups, with the first playing the “Feature Game”, The Climbers.  This is a great three dimensional strategy game that looks like it is designed round a set of children’s building blocks. It’s appearance belies its true nature however, and, although it looks like a kiddie’s dexterity game, it is really a strategy game with almost no dexterity component at all.  Red and Magenta thought it looked cool and Burgundy had read the rules on line so was also keen to give it a go, so the group was pretty much self-selecting with Blue making up the foursome.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

We began by placing the two Triple-height blocks in the centre and randomly piling the rest of the bricks round it, covering all the visible surfaces, then Blue started explaining the rules.  It was at about this point that we realised that Burgundy had read a very different set.  The game was originally released in German as Die Aufsteiger.  Since it is very language independent, when they were  translated into English, a few changes were made to the rules and when the second edition was brought out the rules were revised again with some of the additions listed as optional variants.  This means that there are effectively three different sets of rules and to make things worse, lots of people have their own “House Rules” as well.  Since nobody had played it very much we decided to stick to the rules as written in the copy we had, without the addition variants.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played in turn order with each turn comprising three steps.  Firstly, the active player can move a block, any block so long as there isn’t anything on it, and they can place it anywhere, in any orientation as long as there is sufficient space.  Next the active player can move their Climber as far as they like within the rules.  Climbers can climb up any step below their head height unaided as long as the face they are climbing onto is grey or their own colour.  They can also use their long and/or short ladders to climb larger distances, but they are fragile and therefore single use (though that’s not very green as Red pointed out).  Finally, the active player may place a blocking stone which prevents a brick being moved or used until that player’s next turn.  Probably the most difficult part of the game is the concept of “space”.  There are three different sized coloured blocks:  Cubes (2a x 2a x 2a), Half-height (2a x 2a x a) and Double-height (2a x 2a x 4a).  These blocks have each face painted a different colour, the five that correspond to the player colours and one side that is grey.  There are also two Triple-height blocks that are plain grey and are the base of the setup.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

The square faces of the blocks can be considered to consist of four smaller squares – this is the basic unit (a x a).  This basic “a2” unit is sufficient space for one Climber.  Blocks can be placed offset, like bricks in a wall sitting on two or more other bricks, so long as these basic “a2” units are observed and remain whole.  The undersurface of each block must also have full contact with the blocks underneath – there cannot be any holes or overhangs.  If a Climber is sat in an inconvenient place, he can be “nudged” out of the way using a block, provided that he isn’t knocked off or moved onto a different block.  This can make space for placing a block, or for a Climber:  Climbers can only sit on their own colour or grey and need an “a2” unit each.  Thus, several Climbers can sit on a large grey face.  The winner is the player who’s Climber is highest at the end of the game.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

Red and Magenta started climbing one side, with Blue and Burgundy progressing up the other.  Red stole a bit of a march as everyone else got in each others’ way leaving Magenta to fight a rear-guard action on her side.  Meanwhile, Blue and Burgundy fought for supremacy, until Blue managed to extricate one of the large grey blocks and use it to simultaneously screw up Burgundy and create a second summit at a similar height to the one Red was occupying.  With this second peak to fight over, there were effectively two races competing against each other, but it wasn’t long before first Burgundy, then Blue and Magenta were forced to take a pause in climbing.  It was at this point that we realised the mistake we’d all made.  Players can choose whether to climb or not, but the game ends when all players successively don’t (or can’t) finish their turn on a higher level.  With all three of us failing to climb, that left Red with potentially the final turn.  Although she was highest, Blue and Magenta were blocks at the same height, so we had to invoke the tie-breaker which meant the first player to reach that level would win.  Since Red had got there first, she had no incentive to move and, in was thrilled to finish in first place in what had been a hard-fought game.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

Green, Black and Purple joined the others playing with children’s building blocks, with a game of Totemo, an early Tony Boydell gem (he of Snowdonia and Guilds of London).  This game consists of of colored wooden blocks that have a small dowel attached on one end and a hole in the other. This allows them to be placed in the wooden peg-board.  The game starts with one of the multi-colored wild pieces placed in the center of the board.  Each player starts their turn with three wooden totem pieces.  To place a piece, all totem pieces it touches must abide by the color wheel.  So, for example, a purple block may be placed on its own or adjacent to purple, red or blue blocks; the more blocks it touches, the higher its score.  There are also several blocks with two feathers on top which are totem toppers and cannot be placed on the bottom level. In addition, no other totem piece can be placed on top of them.  Players can only place one totem piece per turn unless they land on a space seeded with a bonus marker.  At the start of the game, several bonus markers are placed round the board – landing on these enables the active player to place another block, up to a maximum of three.

Totemo
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of their turn, the active player replenished their set of totem blocks.  Each round, the start player moves the round marker until it gets closer to the tee-pee indicating the last round. Alternatively, the game can also end if there are no more totem blocks in the bag.  With apologies for not ironing the playing cloth and quick recap of the rules, the game was under way.  The first rounds were, typically, feeler rounds with players just trying to do the best they could.  Black and Purple had played the game many times before while Green, had played it only once and that was a few years ago.  Black and Purple managed to make use of the bonus markers by landing on the correct space on the scoring track and began to pull away from Green who was stuck with red bricks he could only place on their own since there was a predominance of blue bricks on the board.

Totemo
– Image by boardGOATS

This forced Green to change his strategy from simply trying to get the highest score possible to getting the exact score to land on a bonus tile and go again each time.  He started this new approach with a bang, placing all three of his blocks in one go and shot into a healthy lead.  Throughout the game players were each left with one or two blocks they couldn’t easily place, either because they were the wrong colour or were “toppers”.  The game took longer than it should have as everyone was guilty of over analysis at different times, but Black and Purple slowly caught up with Green, and going into the final round were both in the lead once again. Unfortunately neither could quite reach their respective bonus spaces and just added a modest amount to the final score. Green however, placed all three of his blocks and took the lead by more than ten points, with it winning the game.

Totemo
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finishing together and nobody up for a late night we decided to opt for a large group game, and prompted by Magenta, we quickly settled on Las Vegas.  This is a very simple game where players begin their turn by rolling their dice, then they assign some of them to one of six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  Players must use all the dice of one number to bet on the casino of that number.  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 barracking.  This time we included the Slot Machine from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar.  This is like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We also added the extra dice for more players from the Boulevard expansion, as well as “bigguns”, large dice which count as two in the final reckoning.  Green kicked off the first round, which turned out to be very unproductive for both Blue and Burgundy who struggled to get anything of any value.  Burgundy struggled in the second round as well, as did Black and their problems were compounded by the small number of high value notes that were repeatedly drawn.  Meanwhile, Red was struggling to keep her eyes open, so while everyone else was playing the long game, she was played her dice as quickly as she could then dozing while everyone else finished the round without her.  The problem with everyone playing small numbers of dice in the early part of the game and hanging on to dice for as long as possible was that it slowed the game down considerably, not that anyone really minded on this occasion.  It wasn’t until the last round that we began to realise that this strategy didn’t really work, a conclusion that was reinforced by the fact that a slightly embarrassed Red won the game, some $50,000 ahead of Magenta and Blue in second and third.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Sometimes sleeping through a game isn’t a disadvantage.