Tag Archives: Las Vegas

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, they 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 which 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, 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, and 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 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 absolutely nothing wrong with using “House Rules” as long as everyone knows they are doing it.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

8th January 2019

The evening began with everyone comparing lurgies:  Blue and Burgundy were blaming Purple for theirs (contracted in Didcot last week), while Purple and Pine blamed Lilac (contracted at New Year).  With food delayed we decided to play a quick game of one of our old favourites while we waited, 6 Nimmt!.  Unbelievably, this fun little card game is celebrating its twenty-fifth birthday this year, yet its still just as popular as ever with our group.  That said it was a little while since we last played it, and with our guest, Maroon (Mulberry’s Daughter), new to the game we had a quick rules summary first.  It’s very simple, with players simultaneously choosing a card to play which are then simultaneously revealed.  Starting with the lowest number played, players add their cards to one of the four rows in the central display.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Each card is added to the row that ends with the highest number that is lower than the card they played.  If the card should be the sixth card, then instead of adding the card to the row, the active player takes the row into their scoring pile and their card replaces the row, becoming the first card.  The aim of the game is to end with the lowest score, but that is much easier said than done.  With so many people involved it was guaranteed to be mayhem and there were only enough cards in the deck for one round instead of the two that we usually play.  The game is all about timing.  Usually there is one player who gets their timing wrong, and once it starts to go wrong, it tends to go very, very wrong.  With so many people we were expecting absolute carnage, but perhaps because there were so many of us, the damage was spread out and the highest score was Red with a reasonably respectable twenty-nine.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

It was close at the front though with five players within six points.  Unusually for 6 Nimmt!, Burgundy managed to avoid picking up piles of cards, and he finished in first place with eight nimmts, just two ahead of Black with ten.  Food hadn’t quite arrived, and largely out of inertia, we decided to give it another go.  Something went a bit wrong with the first deal as there weren’t enough for everyone to get the eleven cards they’d got the first time round.  To begin with, Pine got the blame for misdealing, but it quickly became clear it was not his fault and some cards were missing.  There was a lot of confusion for a moment, until Blue revealed that she had a stash of cards that she’d forgotten to return.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the game followed the more usual pattern, with Purple managing to collect a massive pile of cards some with lots of high-scoring, pretty colours, totalling a massive forty-seven points.  Lots of players thought they were in with a chance of winning though, Blue and Mulberry both finished with eight, but they were beaten by Green with two.  It was then that Burgundy revealed that he’d managed to avoid picking up any cards at all this time, giving him victory in the second game too.  It was time to decide who would play what, in particular, who was going to play the “Feature Game”, Hare & Tortoise.  Although Blue had finished eating by this time, and Burgundy was coming to the end of his enormous pile of ham, egg and chips as well, they had played the game at the recent Didcot meeting so they left everyone else to play it.  After lots of discussion, they were eventually joined by Pine and had to decide what they were going to play.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Hare & Tortoise was much quicker to get started though.  This is a relatively old game which won the inaugural Spiel des Jahres award in 1979 and was first released in 1973, making it over forty-five years old.  The game is a very clever racing game where players pay for their move with Carrots, but the further they move the more it costs.  Thus, to move one space it costs one Carrot, but to move five spaces it costs fifteen and to move ten it costs fifty-five.  On their turn the active player pays Carrots to move their token along the track; each space has a different effect, but will only hold one player’s token at a time.  It is this that makes the game something of a knife-fight in a phone box, as players obstruct each other (often unintentionally) causing other players to move more or less than they would wish.  The icing on the cake are the Lettuces though:  each player starts with a bunch of Carrots and three Lettuces—players cannot finish until they have got rid of all their Lettuces and nearly all of their Carrots.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

To get rid of a Lettuce, a player must land on one of the “Lettuce Spaces”,  and then spend the next turn eating the Lettuce before they can move on again.  With only four of these spaces available and players needing to land on three of them and spend two turns there on each visit, they are always in high demand, but especially with high player counts.  As well as enabling players to get rid of Lettuces, these spaces also help them replenish their Carrot supply.  And this is another clever trick this “simple little race game” uses that makes it special:  the number of Carrots a player gets is dependent on their position in the race.  This means a player who is in the lead benefits from having an unobstructed path in front of them, but they only get ten Carrots on leaving a Lettuce Space.  In contrast, the player in last place in a six-player game gets sixty Carrots, and Carrots are scarce so this difference is not to be snuffled at.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Lettuce Spaces are not the only opportunity to get Carrots though.  A player on a “Carrot Space”, for example, will earn ten Carrots for every turn they wait on that space.  Another way of getting Carrots are though the number spaces—a player who is on one of these at the start of their turn will get Carrots if the number matches their position in the race.  Of course, the game would not be complete without “Hare Spaces” and “Tortoise Spaces”.  The latter are the only way a player can move back along the track, and this can be invaluable when trying to get rid of Lettuces.  Moving backwards also gives Carrots, with players getting  ten Carrots for every space regressed.  Hare Spaces are completely different, with players landing on these drawing a “Hare Card”.  These are “Chance Cards”, some good, some not-so-good and some really, really bad.  The aim of the game is to be the first to cross the finishing line, but even this is unconventional, with players having to have eaten all their Lettuces, consumed almost all their Carrots, and make the exact number of moves.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

For those who were new the game it only took a round or so to realise the subtle cleverness of it, the ability to choose one’s own position on the track is vastly tempered by the usefulness of the available squares with so many other players taking up the first few spaces.  Red started the game and immediately went for a Hare card. That didn’t do a lot except tell everyone exactly how many Carrots she had, which was not difficult to work out after just one turn.  Green also decided that the Hare cards were also worth a go, but his was a bad one, and he lost half his Carrots!  For his second turn he decided he had not taken enough punishment and went for the next Hare as well and also got the “Show your carrots” card.  As the first three had all been bad, the odds had to right themselves, so when Maroon went for the fourth Hare card it was much nicer to her.  Purple, who knew the game, understood the importance of having eaten all her Lettuces and started munching on the very first available Lettuce space.  Green and Red hadn’t fully understood the rules, so did not realise until they were a long way round the board; Red thought she only had to get rid of one Lettuce and Green had missed it completely.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

By that time Green only had three lettuce squares available and Red had only two, so was going to have to use the Tortoise spaces to move backwards.  Meanwhile, Purple’s early pit stop for Lettuce put her near the back at the start of the game, but slow and steady she moved through the pack and then began to charge ahead as everyone else had to manoeuvre for that penultimate Lettuce Space.  So in the early part of the game, Green and Purple were languishing at the back, but that meant they soon had Carrots a-plenty (from the multiplication factors) and were soon racing to join the pack.  Mulberry found herself in a pickle with a Hare card when she had to give ten Carrots to each other player.  Suddenly she had very few Carrots left and really needed to get something from the next Carrot space, but Green had his eye on it too.  Green was just about to make the leap, but, much to Mulberry’s relief, found something better to do.  Although she got her Carrots, they weren’t coming in very quickly at just ten a turn, until someone pointed out that she could go backwards to a Tortoise space and collect several more in one go.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, luck changed for Green who had ended up with a fistful of Carrots and he joined Purple near the finishing line and the last Lettuce space.  But who was going to be able to rid of their excess Carrots first and get across the line?  Both Green and Purple had rather too many Carrots and were left pootling about at the front of the race, while Red and Black were languishing at the back still trying to get rid of their Lettuces.  Maroon was steadily moving along, but it was Mulberry, who charged back through the pack and, without any lettuces left, hared past the Purple and Green tortoises to snatch the victory.  Nobody could really be bothered playing for the minor places, but a quick check suggested that that Purple would have been next in what is still showing a worthy game, and might still be in the running for a Spiel des Jahres even now were it a new publication.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Pine, Burgundy and Blue had eventually decided what to play, opting for one of the 2018 Spiel des Jahres nominees, Luxor.  This is a clever hand management and set collecting race game from Rüdiger Dorn, designer of a wide variety of games including The Traders of Genoa, Goa, Istanbul, Karuba and one of our all time favourites, Las Vegas.  These games have very little in common with each other and Luxor is different again. In this game, players exploring the temple of Luxor collecting treasure as they go.  Players start with two “Indiana-Jones-eeples” and move them round the board by playing cards from their hand.  The clever part of this is that players have a hand of five cards, but like Bohnanza, must not rearrange the order.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, the active player can play one of the cards at either end of their hand, i.e. the first or last card.  They use this to move one of their meeples, along the twisting corridor towards the tomb at the centre of the temple.  If they can, they carry out an action based on the space they land on, then replenish their hand from the draw deck, adding the card to the middle of their hand.  This hand-management mechanism is one of several clever little touches that elevate this game beyond the routine.  Another is the movement mechanism:  players move, not from space to space but from tile to tile.  Some of the tiles are in place throughout the game, but when a player claims a treasure tile, these are taken from the board into the player’s stash.  This therefore provides a catch-up mechanism as the path to the tomb effectively gets shorter as the game progresses.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can claim treasure tiles when they have enough of their “Indiana-Jones-eeples” on the tile.  Each tile gives points individually, but there are three different types of treasure and players score points for sets; the larger the set, the more points they score at the end of the game.  Treasures aren’t the only tiles players can land on though.  There are also “Horus” tiles (which allow players to add more interesting cards to their hands or take key tokens), Osiris tiles (which move players forward) and Temple tiles (which give players a special bonus).  These non-treasure tiles are never removed providing stepping stones as the treasure tiles disappear.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players strive to be the first to enter the temple chamber which will win them one of the two sarcophagi.  When the second player enters the temple chamber, they win the second of the sarcophagi and trigger the end of the game with play continuing to the end of the round before scoring.  There is a smorgasbord of points available with players scoring for how far their meeples have made it towards the temple, for scarabs they may have collected en route, and any left over keys or sarcophagi they have, as well as for the sets of treasure they collected.  The balance of these points change dramatically with player count – with two, treasure is everything, but with more, there is increased competition.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy shot out of the blocks like a hare, with Blue and Pine doing their best to try and follow.  Burgundy had got a set of three necklaces before Pine had managed a single treasure and despite the fact that the game was hardly started, he was already hoping that “slow and steady” might win the race.  It wasn’t long before Blue collected a few jewelled statues and Pin had a couple of fine vases, and finally the treasure hunt was on its way.  Burgundy’s “Indiana-Jones-eeples” were stealing a march  and making rapid progress, while Blue had managed to get one left one behind.  Despite the built-in catch-up mechanisms, it seemed there was little Blue or Pine could do to arrest the inexorable march of Burgundy.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Blue sent a scout in ahead, and she was the first to enter the temple chamber, picking up the first sarcophagus.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy followed though taking the second and triggering the end game.  Blue and Pine tried to make as much as they could out of their last turns, but it was too little too late.  Each treasure token comes with a small number of points which are supposed to be scored when the treasure is collected.  Previous experience suggests players are so excited at finding treasure that they forget to collect these points, so we added a house-rule, and saved collecting these until the end of the game.  Since the points are similar in value, they give a rough idea of how players stand.  It was only when these were counted that Blue and Pine realised just how far behind they really were, with Burgundy taking forty-one compared with Pine’s twenty-eight and Blue’s twenty-two.

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

From there matters only got worse.  Burgundy’s “Indiana-Jones-eeples had made it further into the temple than anyone else’s and he had larger treasure sets too.  His final score was a massive one hundred and eighty-three, nearly fifty more than Blue and seventy-five more than Pine.  It’s all about getting the right cards Burgundy explained as the group tidied up.  “Mmmm, I had the right cards, just not in the right order,” muttered Pine in response, a comment that pretty much summed up the entire game.  It was much, much later however, that we realised we’d got the scoring very wrong.  Players are supposed to score for the number of complete sets of three treasures, rather than for the the magnitude of each set.  While this would have made a huge difference to the game of course, it probably would not have changed the overall outcome as Burgundy was in total control throughout.  Nevertheless, we should give it another try soon, this time with the correct rules…

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finishing pretty much simultaneously,the question was what to play next.  Mulberry and Maroon went home to nurse their jet-lag taking Red with them, leaving six.  Pine said he would stay for something short (and short didn’t include Bohnanza), but would be happy to watch if others wanted to play something longer; Green said he could also do with an early night and didn’t mind watching either.  Inevitably, that created indecision and it was only when Green decided to go and Pine started a two minute countdown that Blue eventually made a decision and got out No Thanks!.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

No Thanks! is one of our oldest, “most favourite-est” games that we’ve sort -of rediscovered, giving it a few outings recently; as Blue shuffled she considered how clear and simple the cards were, and how well they were holding up given their age.  The game is very simple too:  the first player turns over the top card and chooses to either take it or pay a red chip and pass the problem on to the next person.  The player with the lowest total face value of cards is the winner.  There are two catches, the first is that when there is a run, only the lowest card counts, and the second is that nine cards are removed from the deck of thirty-four before the game starts.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy, Purple, Pine and Blue were in the business of collecting cards hoping to build substantial runs.  It was just as the game was coming to a close that Pine collected a card and a handful of chips fumbling as he did so and thought he’d dropped one.  He was sat on a bench between Black and Burgundy, so rather than disturbing everyone immediately, there were only a couple of cards left so he decided to leave finding it until the end of the game.  Blue and Pine fared better in their card-collecting than Burgundy and Purple, but Black had kept his head down and finished with just one run and with it the lowest score,  We recounted all the chips a couple of times and there was definitely one missing, sop as Blue packed away everyone else started playing Hunt the Game Piece.  It’s not often that we play this, but, we have had a couple of epic games, including one where a token ended up some thirty feet from where we were playing and the other side of a pillar.  This edition, the “No Thanks! Red Chip Version”, was particularly special.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

After about five minutes hunting, one of the bar-staff asked, “Oh, what are you looking for?” and then added, “I love it when you play this!” and joined in.  Fifteen minutes later, there was still no sign despite looking in lots of nooks and crannies, checking trouser turn-ups and shoes, and emptying all the bags in close proximity.  Then Purple said, “I can see something red down here…” as she shone the light from her mobile phone between the cracks in the floor-boards.  And there indeed, nestling about half an inch below the suspended floor, only visible when the light was exactly right, was the small red chip.  It was exactly where Pine had been sitting and must have dropped straight through the gap between the floorboards and fallen over so it was lying flat, nestling in the fluff and totally inaccessible.  So Purple won, but it was Game Over for the time being.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes Bohnanza is quicker than that other “short” game…