Tag Archives: Las Vegas

23rd June 2020 (Online)

Maybe it was the really hot weather, or perhaps it was the prospect of playing something we all know and love, but people seemed in a slightly brighter mood this week.  Pine commented that every time Purple moved her head he could see the swastika on the box for Escape from Colditz behind her and he was finding it disconcerting.  After she had shuffled her seat, Purple commented that it was hers and Black’s fifteenth wedding anniversary, leading to a chorus of “Happy Anniversary” from everyone.

The Horse and Jockey
– Image by boardGOATS

From there the conversation inevitably moved on to the news that pubs will reopen on 4th July, and specifically the fantastic news that the Horse and Jockey will be one of them.  Clearly there is a long way to go before we can return to playing games there, but it has to be good news for our friends whose livelihoods depend on the place.  There was a lot of concern at the suggestion that people will have to leave their personal details in pubs and what other purposes these may be put to; this was followed by the suggestion that there might be an awful lot of visits to the pub by “Dominic Cummings”…  With that, it was 8pm and everyone had arrived, so we started with an explanation of the differences between Las Vegas Royale and our old favourite, Las Vegas.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The underlying game is much the same, in that people roll dice and choose which of six, numbered casinos to place them on.  As usual, the active player must place all the dice of one number on the casino of that number and when all dice have been placed, any ties are removed and the winnings are awarded to the owners of the remaining dice, with the largest money card going to the player with the most dice.  In the new Royale version, the casinos are arranged in a circle which is quite nice, but more importantly for us, there is no Slot Machine.  This is a shame, but in the event, we didn’t really miss it.  The new game is played with the “Biggun” from the Boulevard expansion, as standard, which suits us as we always include it when we play.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

Aside from the new artwork and layout, there is a subtle change to the setup for Las Vegas Royal.  In the original, the money cards, each with a value of $10,000 to $100,000 are distributed so that each casino has a minimum fund (dependant on the number of players).  This means some will have many winners and others only a single jackpot.  In the new version, each casino has just two cards, each with a value between $30,000 and $100,000.  We thought this might have a large impact on game play, and although it changed things, it wasn’t worse, just different.

– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

The biggest differences though, were the inclusion of “jetons” and the additional effects associated with some of the casinos.  The jetons are tokens that players can use to pass during the game, when their dice roll is unhelpful.  The additional actions are added to three of the casinos and usually take effect when a player places dice in that casino.  We chose to start with “Lucky Punch” on Miracle Casino (Casino 1), “Prime Time” on Kings Casino (Casino 2) and “High Five” on Marina Casino (Casino 3).

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

It is possible to add extra actions to all six casinos, but for our first play, we decided to stick to the rules and add them to three only.  One area which were we weren’t able to follow the rules in, however, was the player count:  the new version, specifies two to five players and there were ten of us.  This change is likely because the new features lengthen the game, so additionally, the number of rounds is reduced from four to three.  We usually play just three rounds, so we played with two teams of two and decided to make a decision as to how many rounds we would play at the end of the first round.  Blue and Pink had set the game up in advance and, like our first remote game back in March, Las Vegas, everyone else followed using Microsoft Teams.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime started, followed by Burgundy, who rolled five threes and placed them on the Marina Casino activating the “High Five”.  This has a token worth “$100,000” on it to be claimed when someone places their fifth die on that casino, and Burgundy duly claimed it.  Purple went for the Miracle Casino (1) and the “Lucky Punch” action at the first opportunity.  With this action, the active player takes one, two or three tokens into their hand and the next player (in this case Team Greeny-Lilac) have to guess how many tokens they have in their hand.  An incorrect guess would give Purple two jetons, $30,000 or $40,000 depending on how many tokens she was holding.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

So, Purple turned on her camera and held out her paw in such a way that nobody could see it until Black pointed out that the camera was over the other screen.  Maybe that was just enough information for Team Greeny-Lilac or maybe they were just lucky, but they successfully guessed Purple had two dice in her hand and, as a result, she won nothing.  Burgundy was the next to have a go at the “Lucky Punch”, and it was Purple’s turn to guess.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple guessed three and Burgundy’s simple reply of “Bugger” told the whole story—this was especially funny since he didn’t have a camera and we were all trusting him to be honest!  The “Lucky Punch” proved really popular: Pine was next to have a go and Pink (playing as a team with Blue) had to guess.  Although Pine was holding out his hand, Pink couldn’t see the screen from where he was sitting so just guessed three and Pine’s response was just as clear as Burgundy’s.  With three out of three failures, people began to wonder whether if we were all psychic.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy was the first to be successful at the “Lucky Punch”, adding $30,000 to his $100,000 from the “High Five”.  That wasn’t the opening of the flood-gates though and Ivory’s attempt was blocked by Black and then Black’s was blocked by Lime.  Purple was eventually successful, taking $30,000 and Ivory also managed to sneak a couple of jetons,  though Pine’s attempt at palming a tree-eeple and a duck-eeple (from Christmas crackers at previous unChristmas Dinners) were spotted by Team Bluey-Pink.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Team Bluey-Pink were the first to use a jeton, followed soon after by Lime.  Egged on by everyone else and much to Ivory’s disgust, Black engaged in a battle for Cleopatra Casino (5), eventually leaving Pine to take the $80,000 with just one die.  Lime won the Kings Casino, but his “Prime Time” bonus meant he could roll two dice and place them if he wished, though unfortunately they had no impact.  The clear winner of the round was Burgundy, however, largely thanks to his $130,000 of bonuses.  Time was marching on, so the group decided that there would only be one more round.

– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

Normally, all the additional actions are swapped, however, there were a lot to choose from and swapping them all would have been a significant task.  The group decided to swap out “High Five” though, and after rejecting “Bad Luck” as “very evil”, the group opted for “Block It!”.  This action enables players to mess with others by placing cubes on casinos where they would be scored in the usual way, but act as an inanimate player.  Pine went first in the second round but was immediately obstructed by Team Bluey-Pink who were the first to try the “Block It!” action.  First, they moved three neutral dice into the Kings Casino (2) pushing Pine into second place.  On their next turn they start moved more neutral dice onto the Sunset Casino, and with Team Greeny-Lilac’s help, made Ivory’s life more difficult and effectively scuppered Burgundy’s plans.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine eventually won $40,000 on the “Lucky Punch”, but Black was not so lucky when Lime correctly called him holding two tokens.  Team Greeny-Lilac took $30,000, Black took $40,000, and then Purple did too.  It looked like people had worked out how to escape the jinx until Team Greeny-Lilac tried again and Pine guessed correctly.  The odds were certainly moving towards the expected two out of three though, especially as Purple and Pine picked up $30,000 each towards the end of the game and Team Bluey-Pink picked up a couple of extra jetons.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

Those extra jetons that Blue and Pink had acquired nearly proved very useful when Green and Lilac placed their fifth dice on the Marina Casino (3) leading to a tie for first place.  Unfortunately for both, despite several re-rolls, the tie remained and both pairs missed out on both first and second place ($80,000 and $90,000).  Green got his just desserts when he ended up in another tie for Miracle Casino (1), this time with the unfortunate Pine who got caught in the cross-fire.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

In the final tally, the winner was Burgundy, largely thanks to that $100,000 bonus for the “High Five” at the start.  Team Greeny-Lilac weren’t far behind though and neither were Pine and Purple who tied for third place.  Though it could all have been so different, had Burgundy not picked up that obvious windfall so early, everyone else might not have worked so hard to spoil things in the second round and he may well have picked up more money by other means.

– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

As usual, we had a great time with this fantastic game.  The changes to the payout distribution were neither good nor bad, just different.  The group had mixed feelings about the new additional actions, though on balance, they were positive.  We had a load of fun with the “Lucky Punch” and online it was even more fun somehow.  In our game “Prime Time” had little effect and didn’t really influence players, but was very quick to implement and may have more impact at lower player counts.  “Block It!” affected the game more, and certainly influenced the game in the second round.  “High Five” was the huge game-changer though, certainly in this game.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

The rules are not completely clear on how this should be used, saying, “When you place your fifth die … in this casino, take the token”.  It is not entirely clear whether the $100,000 is available to everyone who places five dice in the casino, or if the first person is the only one who can claim it.  Before the game, we had decided to go with the latter and Burgundy’s freaky first roll of five threes effectively ended the competition for the Marina Casino (3) in the first turn.  Had the values for the payouts been different and if Burgundy hadn’t rolled all five in one go, this might have played very differently.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

On reflection, however, there is another way to play this which might have worked better increasing competition, and may have be the designer’s intention too.  If each subsequent player to reach five dice were to take the token from the current holder it would increase competition and add a nasty edge to the game.  This could also make it a target for using the jetons which otherwise got a bit of mixed reception.

– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

At the end of the game everyone seemed to have too many jetons left and decided to spend them adding a lot of time to the game, mostly for little reward.  Several suggestions about how to improve it were made, including forcing players to exchange them for cash at the end of the round, and/or topping people up to a maximum of two at the start of a new rounds, or maybe giving players one or even none at the start of each round thus making any gained from the “Lucky Fist” that bit more precious.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

The combination of the extra actions, the large number of players and the effect of playing online meant the game had taken a long time, so Lime, Ivory, Green and Lilac took their leave.  Although it was late in the UK, it wasn’t in California where Mulberry joined us from her balcony at 38 °C in the mid-afternoon for a game of our old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

6 Nimmt! is such a simple game which keeps everyone involved throughout and the Board Game Arena implementation is so good, that it is often a fall-back for when nobody can be bothered to think.  Players simply choose one card simultaneously, then, starting with the lowest value card, they add them to one of the four rows.  If the card is the sixth card to be added, the player takes the five cards and the new card becomes the new first card in the row.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

As always, people complained about the cards they had, though Blue felt she was particularly hard done by this time with one, two and three in consecutive hands and almost nothing above fifty for most of the game.  Given that, she didn’t do too badly in the end.  There was no beating Pine though.  After the game, Pine left and everyone else made it their business to investigate how many games Pine had played on Board Game Arena. There were over a thousand, of which nearly a hundred had been 6 Nimmt!, winning around 30% of games against all comers!  And with that, it was time for bed.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Learning Outcome:  If voting Donald for US President, many people would prefer the Duck!

14th April 2020 (Online)

Social contact is really important for mental health and board games are a great medium for that.  Unfortunately, physical proximity isn’t an option at the moment, so we’ve moved our games nights online.  Despite the limitations experienced last time, the overwhelming response from the group was that we should persist with online meetings.  With this in mind, and the recent special offer for Tabletop Simulator on the Steam platform, we’d had a couple of trial runs to see if that would work for the group.  Tabletop Simulator is a “sandbox” environment, which provides an electronic rendering of the game and tools to move things around.

Tabletop Simulator Splash Screen
– Image from steampowered.com

The strength of Tabletop Simulator, but also its weakness, is that people have to do everything themselves.  Everything.  This is good because it means the game can be played according to any rules people want, however, it also means there is a substantial overhead, which is just that bit too much for players not used to computer gaming.  Additional hurdles included installing software (a problem on some work laptops) and the intricacies of actually getting it running which required an hour or so tutorial to get going.  Unfortunately, these were just too large for us, especially for a group meeting only once a fortnight.

Chess on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Last time, we had played a simple physical game that we knew well, Las Vegas using cameras.  Seeing the “table” had been difficult though, limited by the resolution of the cameras and lighting.  So to improve things and get others involved, we decided to go with a compromise:  some people would run the game on Tabletop Simulator (providing a better visual experience), but the game would then be “streamed” to the group through Microsoft Teams, using the technology everyone was already familiar with.  This time, we were more ambitious: the “Feature Game“, Camel Up has more moving parts and lots of people hadn’t played it before.  It still fits the two key requirements, however, lots of people can play (especially with the Supercup expansion), and it has minimal “hidden information”, so it would still work with a couple of minor tweaks.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Camel Up is a simple enough family game, so teaching, even online, wasn’t too difficult.  It is a race game, where people are betting on racing camels and the player with the most money at the end of the race is the winner.  On their turn players have four options.  Firstly, they can roll dice to move a camel.  In the physical game, this is done with a special pyramid dice shaker that holds a die for each of the five camels and spits them out one at a time.  We found using the online rendering of this very difficult, and wanted to involve the players more, so we used the real shaker to deliver dictate the number and players rolled their own dice at home to see how far they moved.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Alternatively, players could place a tile on the track which would earn them money whenever anything landed on it and move those camels forwards or backwards one space (depending which way up the tile had been placed).  The other two options involved betting:  players could bet on the winner of the leg (i.e. after all the dice had been rolled once) or the eventual winner or loser of the overall race.  A simple roll and move would not make betting very interesting, but in Camel Up, when a camel lands on the same space as another camel, it is placed on top of the other piece.  Then, if the lower camel moves before the top one does, it gets a free ride.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Betting on the winner of a leg was easy to implement—each player had a space on the simulator and betting tiles (and pyramid tiles showing players had rolled dice) were moved to that area.  Betting on the eventual winner/loser was more difficult.  In the physical game, players have five cards which they play onto the winner or loser pile.  At the end of the game, these are evaluated with the first player to bet correctly getting the most money, continuing on a sliding scale, with those who bet incorrectly losing their stake.  Obviously, this wasn’t going to work for us, so instead, one person made a note of who placed bets and people kept track of their own choices (as well as their money), and we just tallied up at the end.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue, Pink, and Mulberry started setting up from around 7pm.  We used the expanded board from the expansion to make the race a little longer, but decided that any of the other modules would just make it too complicated this time.  This was a very hard decision, because the game can become very random with lots of players and the expansions do a lot to mitigate that.  We had already increased the complexity considerably compared with last time, and that would have been a step too far this time.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

As people joined the “meeting”, people chatted, mostly about nothing, largely because not a lot had happened for most people.  Blue commented on the lovely large rainbow image in the window at Lime’s house (drawn by Little Lime), and Pine commented on how nice it was to be home now his caring duties were over.  Green was the last to join the party, and he immediately asked when Pine was going to get back which led to much hilarity as the previous conversation was reprised.  The procession of soft toys reappeared:  Mulberry showed off her Pony, apparently called Macaroni (after Yankee Doodle), and Pine introduced us to his Gremlin, who apparently wants to join us at The Jockey when it re-opens and would like to be known as “Beige”.

Beige
– Image by Beige’s “Wrangler”

Having already set the game up for eight, Green and Lilac decided to play as a team, especially as they were still to eat their supper.  Blue was about half way through the rules explanation, when, much to everyone’s delight, Burgundy arrived.  He didn’t have a microphone, though he could hear everything people said.  This created a weird juxtaposition of speaking and reading replies, which occasionally became typing (especially for Blue) when confusion set in.  Playing would have been quite difficult as well as needing more set up, but it was lovely to have Burgundy back as we’d all missed him last time, and people couldn’t resist chatting on the text channel in the background.  We will definitely sort out a microphone for him for next time though.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

From there on, it was disorganised chaos mediated by camels.  Pine decided to share his packet of Tangy Cheese Doritos with everyone, and the disembodied crunching and rustling was quite something.  He blamed it on Beige, but no-one was fooled.  This was followed by someone (possibly Black) making a strange bonging noise that to Pink sounded like a bell from a traditional, mechanical signal box.  He does have a bit of a thing about trains though.  Meanwhile, on the chat, there were discussions about shopping and Pine’s burping camel impersonations.  Clearly the Doritos were working their magic.

– From Peter Jordan on youtube.com

The game was something of a side-show to all this “excitement”.  In the first round, aside from a couple of people placing oasis/mirage tiles, everyone just moved camels.  Having seen how the race worked though, the betting really got going on the second round.  The tech, though not perfect, worked well enough, thanks largely to Mulberry’s efficiency.  And although the game wasn’t a “meaty”, “manly” game, being together doing something a little different was the most important thing.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

The betting on the end game really told the story of the race.  Mulberry was the first to bet on a win, quickly followed by Pine, Black, Purple, Pink and Blue, with everyone gambling on the green or white camel making it over the line first.  Pine was the first to have another shot, but still didn’t get it right.  Betting on the loser, on the other hand, was started early by Lime and quickly followed by Pink, Black, Blue and Mulberry all of whom bet on the yellow camel to stay at the back of the pack.  That camel seemed to have three legs, or maybe a pulling rider, or perhaps it had eaten too many of Green’s sausages.  Whatever, it was definitely not a contender, and everyone agreed with Purple who commented that it should retire to a camel sanctuary.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

The front of the race was much tighter, and as the probability field gradually whittled down the likely order of finishers as it became clear that the game was coming to an end.  The order of movement was all important and players jumped in with their final bets on who would win the race, but the final leg.  Lime was the first to bet on the eventual winner, giving him eight Egyptian pounds, followed by Blue, and Pine with diminishing returns.  Green realised that betting on the winner of the leg was more lucrative by this point than betting on the end of the race, and Pink followed suit, leaving Mulberry to finish the race.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

A quick run-down of the final finances showed that Pink was a single pound ahead of Green who who posted an initial, competitive total winnings of twenty Egyptian pounds.  Lime, the first to successfully predict both the overall winner and loser finished some way ahead though, with takings of twenty-eight pounds.  Pine excused his particularly poor showing by saying he thought camel racing was cruel.  From there, the evening mostly descended into verbal and text chatter as people discovered and shared emojis (Pine was the first to find camels, but only in camel colour) and stickers, and then soft toys… again.

Pikachu
– Image by Mulberry

Mulberry suggested that when The Jockey re-opens we should have a “BYOB” party and “Bring Your Own Buddy”.  Burgundy apparently misheard and there was more hilarity when the sad message appeared on the chat, “no bunny”.  Green saw Mulberry’s Pikachu and said Pokemon Go was a problem in the current climate.  That’s not the case for Mulberry apparently, who commented that she has a “Pokey-stop” outside her house.  For those who were not familiar with the game Pokemon Go, that just sounded very smutty.  Mulberry shared a “Let Me Google That For You” link, but it didn’t seem to help, and things only got worse when she tried to explained what she did with her “Pokey-balls”…

Yucata.de
– Image from yucata.de

Time was getting on, and meeting on line is surprisingly tiring so eventually, people sadly departed, leaving Pink, Blue, Black and Purple to continue the seemingly eternal game of Snowdonia they had started two weeks earlier, on Yucata.de.  Snowdonia is a worker placement game that we’ve played quite a bit as a group, where players are building the rack-railway up the famous mountain.  The basic idea is that each player has two workers and they take it in turns to place these on one of the seven options:  gather resources; remove rubble; convert resources; lay track; build part of a station; pick up a contract card, and move their surveyor.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Each of these actions have a different number of available spaces, so for example, only three workers can lay track in any given round.  During the game, the weather changes, increasing and decreasing the work-rate so that players can build that track faster, or slower, or if it is foggy, not at all.  Contract cards give players points for successfully completing certain tasks, but can also be used to give an enhanced action instead.  The game ends when all the track has been built to the summit, Yr Wyddfa.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

This game was started after the last games night, so it was only fitting that is should be finished on a games night too.  It had started quite slowly – Yucata is quite different to Tabletop Simulator because it is much less flexible, but does ensure players follow the rules and can play turns for them when they have no decision to make.  This can help speed things along, but can also be confusing at times when the game state changes more than expected between turns.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Playing a strategy game over such a long time period proved difficult for those not used to it.  This is mainly because players lost the thread of the “narrative”, and ended up playing tactically for the short term rather than following a long-term plan.  Unsurprisingly, Black, who plays quite a lot of games asynchronously on Yucata, struggled least with this.  He was also must familiar with the environment and got off to a flying start.  Blue prioritised getting a train, but discovered that it didn’t do quite what she had in mind when she tried to use it a day or two later.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Pink was the first to move his surveyor, but then completely forgot about it.  He only realised it had been passed by everyone else’s about half-way up the mountain in the final round, by which time it was too late to do anything about it and the others were all at the summit.  Blue had been horribly inefficient in places due to losing the thread of the game and additionally couldn’t quite build the track she needed to fulfil her most lucrative contract.  According to Black, Purple was “playing online like she plays in real life”, but she was definitely doing something right as she put a spurt on at the end laying track.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Black started fastest, took the lead and then stayed there, but contracts can be a big game changer in Snowdonia.  This time though, Black completed two contracts adding a total of forty-six points to his twenty-one for getting his surveyor to the top of the mountain and forty-five points collected for building during the game.  The total made him a run-away winner with a total of a hundred and twenty-one, miles ahead of Purple who sneaked into second place a couple of points in front of Blue.  And with that it was time for the long walk to bed.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Learning Outcome:  A simulator can still be used even when most people don’t have access.

31st March 2020 (Online)

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

Setting up for online gaming
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

– From Eurovision Song Contest on youtube.com

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

– From Corgi Adventures on youtube.com

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

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

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

Port Royal
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

Yucata.de
– Image from yucata.de

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

26th Movember 2019

There were lots of people feeding and with a bit of a queue, so the non-eaters, Ivory, Mulberry and Lime, decided to play something while they waited.  There were lots of options, but it was a long time since we’d played The Game and it ticked all the boxes, so unusually, a decision was made really quickly.  This is a simple cooperative card game (in our case, played with a copy of The Game: Extreme, but ignoring the special symbols), but new to Mulberry and Lime.  The team have a deck of cards from two to ninety-nine and they must play each card on one of four piles, two where the card played must be higher than the top card, and two where it must be lower.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

There are just three rules:  on their turn, the active player can play as many cards as they like (obeying the rules of the four piles), but must play at least two cards before replenishing their hand, and players can say anything they like but must not share “specific number information”.  Finally, there is the so-called “Backwards Rule” where players can reverse a deck as long as the card they play is exactly ten above or below the previous card played on that pile.  This time, it went a bit wrong early on, but the trio managed to pull it back.  Lime got stuck with fifty-six and sixty-four that he couldn’t play, and eventually the game came to a halt with six cards still to play.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

By the time The Game was over, the eaters had just about finished as well and the group split into two, one five to play the “Feature Game”, Mississippi Queen.  This is an older game that won the Spiel des Jahres award in 1997, but has recently been re-released in a new edition having been out of print for many years.  In this game, players race their paddle steamers down the Mississippi, picking up passengers along the way.  Onboard, coal supplies are limited, so each ship’s acceleration and manoeuvrers must be carefully planned.  The key to the game are the cool little plastic paddle steamers which have two numbered paddle wheels – one to track coal and the other to record the speed.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

The five riverboats start at jetties and then set sail along the river, which is made up of a hexagonal grid.  At the start of their turn, the active player can adjust their speed by one and then move that number of hexagonal spaces, turning a maximum of once before, during or after the move.  The player can increase or decrease their speed by more or make extra turns by burning coal.  Everyone starts with just six coal though and there is no source of coal during the game, so when it’s gone it’s gone.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

The game has a lot in common with Powerships, a mad spaceship racing game we played about six months ago, but there are a couple of key differences.  Firstly, each player has to pick up two passengers from the islands during the race, which means they must arrive at a jetty at a speed of one.  There is a more subtle difference which is nevertheless important to the way the game plays.  In Powerships, the map is modular, but is set out before the start of the game, where it is built as play progresses in Mississippi Queen.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

In Mississippi Queen, after the first turn, play proceeds according to position in the race (like PitchCar).  The advantage of this is that players at the front don’t obstruct players moving up from behind, however, it can lead to a run-away leader problem instead.  In Mississippi Queen though, the river is “built” as the game progresses; when the leader moves onto the final space, they draw a new river tile and roll the die to determine placement (left, right or straight ahead).  The fact that the player in the lead has less time to plan has the additional effect of off-setting the advantage of less obstruction, helping to prevent the leader running away with the game.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Lime stormed into the lead, but overshot the first island allowing Blue to sneak in behind him and grab a passenger.  There are plenty of islands though, so Lime had plenty of other opportunities.  Unfortunately, he overshot the second island as well as he was going too fast.  By the third island, Lime was starting to get desperate, but hadn’t got his speed and position right and ended up burning almost all his coal and doing a full circuit of the island to rectify things.  This, and almost sinking gave everyone else a chance to catch up and Blue managed to snatch another passenger putting her in a position to make a run for the finish.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

Although she was able to move into the lead, Blue was hampered by an inability to plan and was forced to burn some of her carefully hoarded pile of coal.  Mulberry wasn’t far behind, and had the advantage of being able to see slightly further down the river so was better able to plan and could therefore carry more speed.  Purple and Pine got into a tangle over picking up a beautiful lady, delaying them both as Blue and Mulberry puffed off into the distance.  Lime bravely fought his way back, but it was between Blue and Mulberry with Mulberry rapidly eating into Blue’s lead.  Blue just managed to make it to the jetty burning the last of her coal to drift in gently, just ahead of Mulberry.  Lime limped in next, leading the others in.  Meanwhile, on the next table, everyone else was playing one of the archetypal card-drafting games 7 Wonders.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Players start each round with a hand of cards, and everyone simultaneously chooses one and plays it.  The remains of the hands are then passed on to the next player who chooses a card and plays it.  Play continues like this until each player has two cards at which point one is discarded.  The game is distinguished from simpler card-drafting games like Sushi Go! by the civilisation and engine building aspects.  In 7 Wonders, the players are the leader of one of the seven great cities of the Ancient World. They use the cards to gather resources, develop commercial routes, and affirm their military supremacy.  Some cards have immediate effects, while others provide bonuses or upgrades later in the game. Some cards provide discounts on future purchases, some provide military strength to overpower your neighbors and others give nothing but victory points.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor  punkin312

After three rounds (or Ages), the player with the most points has the most advanced city and is the winner.  The player boards are chosen at random at the start of the game.  In this case, Green got Halicarnassus, and chose Side B so would be looking to build extra cards from the discard deck in the second and third rounds. Black got Ephesus and also went with Side B and so was only going for victory points and extra money.  Ivory got Babylon and again Side B was favoured, giving him the second tier bonus of being able to build both his final two cards.  Red received Alexandria and was also going to use Side B which would provide her extra resources and victory points.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Green’s game was one of building resources in order to build the pyramid enabling him to  build the extra cards.  He started building up his military, and although he was joined at the same level by both his neighbours (Ivory and Black), he began to pull ahead of Ivory after the second round and by the end of the third round had amassed an unassailable army. In the process though, he had neglected green science cards and purple guilds.  Building extra cards from the discard pile is perhaps not as helpful as it might seem as the cards in the discard pile are there because they are the least useful cards. Maybe with more players there would be more to choose from and this bonus would work more favourably, on thee other hand, it might just end up with more duplicates.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

On the opposite side of the table was Red.  She, in contrast (and not under threat from the growing armies of Green) mostly ignore the fighting, but still managed to win one battle. With the extra resources available from her pyramid she did not need as many resource cards and decided to concentrate on the other cards.  She invested heavily in the yellow bonus cards and also managed to get a full complete set of science cards.  These she managed to combine with the purple guild which gave her an extra science symbol of her choice.  She also managed to build a second purple guild, which gave her extra points for all brown, grey and purple cards. She also managed to acquire a very large pile of money which netted a fair few points too.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Ivory’s game was built around trying to get to the second pyramid level quickly, so initially he took a lot of resource cards. Unfortunately he didn’t get to the second level until the end of the second round, but having looked at the card he then decided the extra money would be more useful. He managed to build both his last cards in the final round, but like Green found, that extra card is not always that useful. He did manage to collect some high scoring blue cards, but  although he tried, he failed to get a full set of science cards. He did get a couple of purple guilds though with one scoring the yellow cards belonging to neighbours, Red and Green who had both gone quite heavily into those. The other gave him points for every battle lost by his neighbours. He got nothing from Green for this, but scored quite nicely from Red.  His resource heavy early game meant that he was left trying to catch up on the other later cards and abandoned his attempts to build a strong army and just took the beating.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Black’s game was concentrated on the blue victory point cards and his pyramid build.  A smattering of yellow bonus cards aided his end game score because he scored for all the brown cards built by both himself and his neighbours (Green and Red). He collected some science, but not a complete set.  Although beaten by Green in the final battle, he avoided defeat in the first two and took a clean sweep of victories over Red.  So although everyone had had a strong game in one area, these were more than offset by less strong elements elsewhere.  It turned out that the strongest games were had by Black and Ivory who finished level on fifty-one, some way ahead of Red in third.  The tie break was won by Black who had the more money at the end of the game.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Mississippi Queen was still going, but coming to an end so something quick was needed and Ticket to Ride: London hit the spot.  This is one of the new, smaller versions of the popular route-building game, Ticket to Ride.  These are reduced in size and designed be quicker to play although the game play is very similar.  Players take it turns to draw coloured cards or use them to place pieces, but in this version the Train pieces are replaced by Routemaster Buses.  As usual, players also start with a selection of ticket cards and successfully fulfilling these give more points, but woe betide any player who fails to complete a ticket as the points become negative, which can be very costly indeed.  In addition to these features, this new light version of the game also gives bonus points to players who manage to connect all the locations in an area.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

The action started around central London, (Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar square) as Red, then Black and Ivory laid buses around the area, all concerned that the other may block their paths. Green went further out to Kings Cross and Regents Park.  As the game progressed, Ivory, Red and Black continued to challenge each other around central, East and Southern London. Green happily laid his buses round to the East unopposed.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Black, who had only kept one ticket, was the first to complete his ticket and go for more.  He was closely followed by Red (who had also only kept the one), and then Ivory (who had kept two).  Green never took new tickets, concentrating on his two and connecting all the stations in the five point district. Black, Red and Ivory continued to take new tickets, but it looked like Green might end the game as he was soon down to only three buses.  Ivory checked around the table to see who had buses and how many cards they had left and decided that he had time.  Even though he had missed the fact that Green had only a single card in hand, he still managed to lay his last buses first; one turn too early for Green who had to settle for a two length route instead of the three he was aiming for (and close to getting).

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Black placed one last bus, but Red decided to gamble on new tickets as she had nothing she could claim.  Ivory still had one final turn, but with no more buses to lay, he decided against the ticket gamble.  In the final scoring, Ivory was way ahead of everyone else, due to claiming four “long” routes (threes and fours) and completing some high scoring tickets.  Red, Black and Green were all within two points of each other. Red’s final ticket gamble failed and cost her a clear second place, and Green’s gamble on connecting all the stations in the five point district (and the stations in the two point district as well) did not pay off either.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Some left for an early night and those that were left decided to play one last quick game.  Pine was adamant that Bohnanza and Las Vegas weren’t “quick” so in the end, 6 Nimmt! got the nod.  This is one of our most popular games, and frequently gets played in circumstances like this.  It is very simple and there is something almost magical about playing well:  simultaneously everyone chooses a card from their hand and places it face down in front of them.  Once everyone has picked a card, they are all revealed and, starting with the lowest card, the cards are added to one of the four row, the row where the end card has the highest value that is lower than their card.  The point is that the row a card is played on changes as players place cards.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The player who places the sixth card, takes the five cards and scores the number of bulls’ heads shown.  The winner is the player with the fewest bulls’ heads.  We play the game in two rounds, and this time the first round was mostly pretty even with everyone taking twelve to fifteen Nimmts except Blue who somehow scraped a clear round.  This meant it was all to play for in the second round, especially with the tendency for a good round to be followed by a bad one.  Unusually, nobody had a terrible game:  Pine top scored with forty, followed by Purple with thirty-one, and everyone else was quite closely grouped. Blue’s clear first round gave her a head-start and she finished with fourteen, just two ahead of Ivory and three ahead of Black in what was an unusually close game.  And with that, it was home-time.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning  Outcome:  Neglect end game bonuses at your peril.

1st October 2019

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

Pizza
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

3rd September 2019

There were a lot of people feeding and food was a little delayed, so we didn’t start until gone 8pm.  At this point, people were keen to chat and almost everyone seemed interested in giving the “Feature Game”, Lords of Vegas, a go.  Although it involves dice, it is totally different to our old favourite, Las Vegas, and in fact, very different to pretty much anything else we have played too.  Although the game is very “rules-light”, it is still a bit of a “brain-burner” with the potential for inducing “analysis paralysis”.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea of the game is that players are developers in Las Vegas in 1941.  The board depicts Highway 91, what will become known as “The Strip”, and the blocks either side, each divided into plots.  Players acquire these plots, build casinos, improve their casinos, take-over other casinos, and when desperate, gamble.  At the start of their turn, the active player turns over a card which indicates one plot and one of the five casinos.  The active player claims the plot by placing a clear plastic counter in their colour on it and then everyone receives income:  every plot owner gets $1,000,000 per plot, and then every casino that matches the card pays out cash (in our case, in poker chips) and points.

Poker Chips
– Image by boardGOATS

After everyone has received their income, the active player can do as many actions as they like, the only limit is what they can afford.  The first action is build on a plot they own:  they pay the amount of money listed on the board, chose a coloured casino tile and place it on the board together with a die of their colour showing the face depicted on the board.  The number shown is important for many reasons, but initially it indicates the income that the player will get when that casino pays out: one million dollars per pip shown.  The casino colour chosen can be the same as casino adjacent casinos, or different, which is a critical decision.  If it is the same, the two (or more) casinos merge and the owner of the die with the highest face value becomes The Boss of that casino.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The Boss gets victory points when that casino colour pays out, receiving points equal to the total number of plots the casino occupies.  Since The Boss controls the casino, their are things they can do that others cannot.  For example, they can choose to “remodel” the casino, changing the colour of all the tiles.  There is a cost, of course, five million dollars per space, but it can be worth it to force mergers giving more points.  The Boss can also “sprawl” their casino which means expand into neighbouring, unoccupied plots.  This is both costly and risky, but can be worth it to give a short term benefit or to merge casinos.  It is costly because the cost to build is twice the usual fee, and it is risky, because if the card that shows that plot is drawn later in the game, the player who draws the card replaces the die with one of their own.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Merging casinos are a vital part of the game because unusually, increments in the score track progressively increase.  So, at the bottom, the steps increase by a single point, but after eight, each step is two points, and after twenty the steps increase to three.  Since the points are added casino by casino (rather than summing them and adding them all at the same time), it is critical to match casino size to the current increment.  For example, two casinos of size “three” would add six points if the player were below eight points or above twenty.  However, if they were between eight and twenty, the same casinos would only be worth two each as the remainder would be lost as each casino is added.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, with the merging and taking over, the game is highly strategic with a sprinkle of luck from the card draw.  Perhaps the most important part of Lords of Vegas though are the gambling aspects. There are two:  firstly, once per turn, the active player can gamble at any casino by rolling two dice.  The odds are slightly in favour of The House, but it can be a good source of cash, as well as providing the opportunity to damage an opponent, as The Boss of that casino provides the pay out (though they can lay this off with the bank).  More importantly, any player can choose to “Reorganise” any casino they have a stake in, by paying a million dollars per pip to re-roll all the dice in that casino with the chance of control changing hands.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

So the game is not especially difficult to understand, but small changes can have a large impact.  As well as the mix of strategy, luck and gambling, there are a number of little things that really make the game sing.  For example, almost anything can be traded for almost anything else at any time, which enables players at the back to gang up on a run-away leader and neutralise the effect of overtly bad (or good) draws and dice rolls.  The quick description had most people interested in playing it, but Burgundy (who had played before) felt that it would be very chaotic with five, so in the end, Pine, Black, Red, Lime and Ivory left Blue, Burgundy, Mulberry and Purple to their visit to Nevada.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The game started very slowly, with incomes small and investment correspondingly small.  Blue tried to increase her income by building her number of plots.  That probably wasn’t a good move, though she was able to build some cash and then invest heavily a couple of turns later.  Despite the lack of rules complexity, the groups still managed to make a mess of it:  when Reorganising, each die can only be rolled once per turn.  It was perhaps a good thing the messed this up though as otherwise Purple, Blue and Mulberry would have been deprived the chance of seeing Burgundy attempt to Reorganise a single two and re-roll a two three times.  Hilarity ensued when, a few turns later the casino had merged to form two-plot casino now with a two and a three and Burgundy chose to try Reorganising again, this time getting a two and a three and then a double three before finally settling for a one and a four!

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game progressed, the casinos merged and grew, with one particularly large “Sphynx Casino”, occupying five plots.  Blue, Burgundy and Mulberry all had an interest and re-rolled the five dice many, many times during the game, but despite his lack of success elsewhere, Burgundy mostly retained control.  The other side of Flamingo Road, Mulberry built a lovely casino, mostly uncontested.  The “Vega Casino” cards came out a lot at the start and since some cards are removed at random, it didn’t look a good gamble.  As a result, only Purple took the risk of investing and made a killing with her “Big Purple Casino” when the group kept drawing the Vega cards ending up with all nine putting in an appearance.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry and Burgundy stole a slight early march, but when the steps in the scoring track increased it became clear that this was an illusion and it was in fact a very close game as the leader’s jersey kept changing hands.  The balance of power was held by whoever was in charge of the Big Sphinx Casino, and Blue and Mulberry ganged up on Burgundy to try to break his hold on it.  First Blue rolled the dice and gave control to Mulberry only for Burgundy to wrest if from her and Mulberry to then give control to Blue.  In what turned out to be the final turn of the game, Blue gambled in Purple’s Big Green Vega Casino, won $10,000,000 and used it to remodel her small Sphinx Casinos and sprawl the Big Sphinx Casino into one extra space.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

This turned out to be critical, because the game ends when the “End of Game” card is drawn and all the casinos on the strip score for one final time.  That final sprawl gave an extra three points for the Big Sphinx which was just enough to cross the boundary from twenty-nine to thirty-two, breaking what would otherwise have been a three way tie.  Money is the tie-breaker, which meant that Burgundy just sneaked into second place $7,000,000 ahead of Purple, who would have been $20,000,000 better off if Blue had not won when she bet in her casino.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

All in all, it had been a lot of fun and everyone was agreed that they’d like to play it again, and that they’d play it differently next time.  It had been a really slow burner though and while the foursome had been gambling property in Vegas, the others had had time to play two games and get up to date with the Brexit riots and discuss all the possible outcomes—some  people even had time to check out the proxy voting and postal vote options and evaluate both options!

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

The group had started the evening with Ticket to Ride, the original USA version, rather than the more usual Europe version or the relatively new, New York edition, which had also been also an option.  It is relatively rare that the USA edition gets played because it can be quite unforgiving, this time though, everyone was quite experienced, and knew what they were letting themselves in for.  The game rules are much the same as for every other version of Ticket to Ride: on their turn players can take any two two cards from the face up market or blind from the draw deck; place some of their plastic trains to score points paying for them with appropriately coloured cards, or draw more ticket cards which score points at the end of the game if completed.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

There are no tunnels, ferries or stations in the original USA version, and Locomotive cards can be used as wild under any circumstances, but only one face up Locomotive card can be drawn per turn.  It was a very tight game with everyone obstructing each other a bit, though Red got the worst of it.  Green prioritised trying to get the ten point bonus for the longest continuous set of trains, while Black was concentrated on completing his tickets from Los Angeles to Miami and Winnipeg to Boston.  It was very clear it was going to be a close, high scoring game where completed tickets were going to be essential to the final scores.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine completed his first two tickets and started on his third route, from Montreal to Vancouver.  As the game came to a finish, everyone put the finishing touches to their plans: Green added a couple of trains to his longest route, and Pine just managed to complete his third route before the game ended.  As players totalled up their extras, it turned out that Green had just managed to take the longest route bonus by a single carriage, and red had been Red totally stymied—someone was always likely get stuffed in a five player game that was so very, very close.  In fact, in the final accounting there was just nine points between first and fourth place.  Black topped the podium with a hundred and four points, a single point ahead of Green with Pine a few points behind him.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

There was a bit of debate as to what to play next, but as Ivory had never played it before, the group eventually settled on Carcassonne, with the River expansion.  This is one of the most popular “gateway” game so it was quite remarkable that Ivory had managed to avoid it for so long.  The rules of the game are really simple, though they generate a surprising amount of depth, especially when played with two.  With five, there is less control, but it can still be a lot of fun.  On their turn, the active player draws a tile from one of the available stacks and adds it to the central map, making sure that any features on the edge of the map are preserved.  The active player may then place one of their Meeples on the tile they’ve just added to the tableau.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

The Meeple is placed on a feature – a Road, a City, a Monastery or Farm.  The key rule, however, is that a Meeple cannot be placed on a feature that already has a Meeple on it.  So if the tile is added in a way that means it extends an occupied pre-existing City for example, the player cannot place his Meeple on that City, though if it were unoccupied it would be fair game.  Once the player has finished placing their tile and Meeple, any features that were completed are scored and the associated Meeples returned to their owner.  When complete, Cities score one point per tile they occupy, double for every tile with a blue and white shield on it; Roads also score one point for every tile that contributes to them.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

Monasteries are rather different and when completely surrounded by eight tiles, score nine points.  Farms are a little different, only scoring at the end of the game, giving three points for every city it supplies.  These are usually a crucial source of points and the player who controls the biggest Farm usually wins.  Again, a Meeple cannot be added to a farm if there is already a Meeple occupying it, so this aspect of the game is all about joining Farms together and sharing or ideally, taking control of other people’s Farms.  Adding the River expansion helps to reduce the dominance of Farming by helping to prevent one single super-Farm forming, though Farms are still a very important part of the game and timing is crucial.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the game was played very quickly, especially given who was playing.  As a result, poor Ivory, on his first experience, had no idea what was going and really struggled to follow some of the more subtle parts of the game.  The game began as the Battle of the Cities, with Red and Ivory merging their Cities to increase their points haul,, and Black and Green sharing another City to do the same.  At the end, however, it all came down to eating and praying, i.e. Farms and Monasteries, in what was also a very close game.  Again, there was just one point between first and second and again the top two places were held by Black and Green, with Black once again pipping Green to the win.  This time it was Red who took a very close third, just three points behind.  Black’s comment as Ivory left, was that the game had been “Quite vicious,” and as the group waited for Lords of Vegas to finish and caught up on the votes in the House of Commons, that would be an appropriate description for the happenings in Parliament too.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It doesn’t take many rules to make a really good game, just the right rules.

6th August 2019

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

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bosk
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bosk
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

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

2nd April 2019

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

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Boardgames in the News: 20 Years of Alea

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

Alea Big Box Games
– Portmanteau image created by boardGOATS

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

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

 

Boardgames in the News: What are “House Rules” and are they a Good Thing?

Occasionally, our game reports refer to “House Rules”.  These are slight alterations to the game rules which our group introduce when we play.  For example, the GOATS are quite slow players and, although we love Las Vegas, we find that it drags a little if the full four rounds are played, so we have a “House Rule” which means we stop after three.  Similarly, for us Saboteur sometimes drags and we find the scoring element a bit pointless.  For this reason, we usually skip the scoring and play each round as a short, independent game, which means we can play for as long as we want and just stop when we’ve had enough without worrying about overall winners.  The group also recently discussed allowing two players to make a pact with the Devil in Auf Teufel komm raus when playing with six, to help those players bringing up the rear catch-up, and perhaps make the decisions a little more interesting for the other players too.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

“House Rules” are frequently quite controversial though, and the reason is largely philosophical:  the game designer’s vision is based on “The Rules as Written”.  Tampering with the rules can be seen as showing anything from a lack of respect for the designer, to ignorance.  This is because the designer, publisher and development team will have the best understanding of the game through extensive play-testing, and that will be reflected in the rules. There is a point here, famously, many people play Monopoly “wrong”, for example, which changes the character of the game significantly making it overly long and often extremely tedious (especially for players at the back).

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

When asked, most games designers will encourage experimentation though. This is for two main reasons.  Firstly, most game designers enjoy experimenting themselves: to them there is no “one true rule set”, only the “current rule set”.  This is true for the rest of us too, as some games change when new editions are published—for example, Carcassonne, where the first, second and third editions all have different scoring, or Orléans, where the rules for the Bathhouse changed between the first and second edition.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Secondly, most designers understand that different groups have different characteristics and dynamics, and therefore enjoy different aspects of playing games.  Designers also want people to get the maximum enjoyment out of their game and sometimes that means tweaking the rules slightly.  So ultimately, they want people to play the way that makes them happiest.  For the avoidance of arguments, it is clearly important to make any “House Rules” very clear to everyone playing, as there is an expectation that games will be played with “The Rules as Written” except by prior arrangement.  However, if playing a game in a particular way is enjoyable, there is clearly absolutely nothing wrong with using “House Rules” as long as everyone knows they are doing it.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS