Tag Archives: Las Vegas

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…

31st December 2018

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

PitchCar Track 31/12/17
– Image by boardGOATS

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

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

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

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

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

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

10th July 2018

While those eating finished, we welcomed an old friend from the Didcot Games Club on his first visit, and began the evening began with a quick game of an old classic, High Society.  Designed by Reiner Knizia, this is a light bidding game with a catch, in the mold of games like For Sale, No Thanks!, Modern Art, and perhaps our old favourite, Las Vegas.  First released over twenty years ago in the designer’s heyday, a beautiful new edition has recently been published by the Cumnor Hill-based company, Osprey Games.  In High Society, everyone starts with the same set of money cards, each numbering from 1,000 up to 25,000 Francs.  The game is all about correct valuations. Players take it in turns to bid for the luxury objets d’art for sale, however, when they increase their bid, they add money cards to their personal bidding pile, and there is no concept of change.  Thus, as the game progresses, players have fewer and fewer bidding options  as they spend their money cards, and are increasingly forced to big large amounts potentially for relatively low value items.  Some of the objects for sale are not so much art, as artless, and can halve a player’s score, lose them points, or even cause them to discard something they purchased previously and the first person to withdraw, “wins”, while everyone else pays whatever they wagered.

High Society
– Image by boardGOATS

The other twist is at the game end which occurs abruptly when the fourth “end game” card comes out.  At this point, the player with the least money at the end is eliminated regardless of the value of their luxurious objects.  Despite the age of the game, a lot of people were new to it, and as the valuation of the luxuries is the key, some people found knowing how much to bid challenging.  As is the case with this sort of game though though, until the scores were actually calculated nobody knew who was winning, especially as the money was tight at the bottom.  Purple and Black (or “The Dark Destroyer as Ivory called him”) had pots of cash, but Red was just eliminated ahead of Yellow.  That left the final count:  Black was by far the most efficient, with a score of fourteen, two more than ivory – quite remarkable given the amount of cash he had left at the end.  It was Yellow though, who having just escaped elimination, finished some way in front with nineteen points.

High Society
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone fed and High Society over, we split into two groups: one to play the “Feature Game” (which was to be Keyflower) and the rest to play something else.  As always, the issue was what the other game was to be and almost everyone was happy to play Keyflower, but for some, the final decision depended what the other game was to be.  The problem was that the choice of the second game depended on who was going to play it.  Eventually, Purple broke the deadlock when she said she would be happy not to play Keyflower.  With Red having requested it in the first place, and it being Blue’s favourite game, it was just a matter of who would fill the remaining seats.  In the end, Pine, Burgundy and Ivory joined Red and Blue, leaving Yellow, Black and Purple to play Calimala, an area-influence driven, worker-placement game set in the Republic of Florence during the Late Middle Ages.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

This is an unusual game with variable setup to keep it fresh.  The idea is that on their turn, players place one of their workers on one of the twelve worker spaces.  Each one of these is adjacent to two of the nine action spaces. If there is already a worker disk present on the space, once the active player has carried out their actions, then the other player gets another turn.  This continues until a player places the fourth disk on a stack: actions are carried out for the top three disks and the fourth is placed on the first available scoring tile which is then triggered.  Each player has some worker disks in their own colour and a small number in white.  Coloured disks give players a maximum of two actions on three occasions (i.e. a total of six), while white disks give four actions when played, but none later in the game.  The actions include acquiring resources (brick, wood or marble), building (ships, trading houses or workshops), create artwork, produce cloth, transport cloth, and contribute to the building of the churches.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

The fifteen scoring phases are built on the actions, rewarding players for the amount of cloth they have shipped to a given city or combination of cities for example, or for their contribution to a specific building, or their contribution to the building effort of a given resource.  In each case, the player with the most scores three points, the player in second place scores two and the player in third gets just one point.  In case of a tie there is a complicated series of tie-breakers.  The game ends when either all fifteen tiles have been scored, or everyone has placed all their workers (in which case any remain tiles are scored).  It was another close game:  “The Dark Destroyer” scored heavily for the cloth in the Port Cities (Barcelona, Lisbon and London), while Purple scored for the trading cities (Troyes, Bruges and Hamburg).  Calimala is one of those games that rewards players who score “little and often”, and it was Yellow who managed to score most frequently.  There were a lot of tie-breaks however, particularly between Yellow and Black and it was probably the fact that Yellow did better in these that tipped the balance, as he finished just ahead of Black with a winning score of forty-five points.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

Keyflower was still under way, so the players looked around for something quick to play and picked one of Yellow’s favourite games, Red7.  On the surface, this is a fairly simple game, but underneath it is much more complex.  The game is played with a deck of forty-nine cards, numbered one to seven and in seven different colour suits.  Each player starts with seven cards in hand and one face up on the table.  The player with the highest value card is “winning” because the rule at the start is that the highest card wins.  On their turn, each player can play one card from their hand into their tableau in front of them, or play a card into the centre which changes the rules of the game (a little like Fluxx), or they can do both.  If they cannot play a card or choose not to, they are out of the round.    In the event that there is a tie and the highest face value is displayed by more than one player, the tie is broken by the colours with red higher than orange and so on through the spectrum to violet.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The colours also dictate the rules, so any red card played in the centre will change the rules to “the highest” wins.  Similarly, any orange card played in the centre changes the rules so that the winner is the person with the most cards of the same number.  In each case, if more than one player satisfies the rules, the tie is broken by the card that is highest (taking into account both number and colour).  Thus, if the rule is “the most even cards” and there are two players with the same number of even cards in front of them, the player with the highest even card is the winner.  At the end of their turn, the active player must be in a winning position, or they are out of the round. The round continues until there is only one player left.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

We last played this a few years back when we made rather heavy weather of it.  Part of the problem was that there were several of us and we were all new to it.  This meant we struggled without someone to lead the way.  With Yellow very familiar he was able to show everyone else how to play.  Inevitably, this meant he won (giving him a hat-trick).  The game was played over five rounds and at the end of each round the player who was left at the end kept their highest cards.  With Yellow so much more familiar with the game than anyone else, it was inevitable that he would be able to build on this, and he made the most of it.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

By this time, the next table were just coming to the end of their game of Keyflower, and we had all found it unusually hard going, that is to say we all struggled to find anywhere to score points.  The premise of the game is quite simple:  over four rounds (or seasons) tiles are auctioned using meeples (or Keyples) as currency.  The clever part is that to increase a bid, players must follow with the same colour.  Keyples can also be used to perform the action associated with a tile, any tile, it doesn’t have to be their own, but each tile can only be used three times in each round and, again, players must follow the colour.  The aim of the game is to obtain the maximum number of victory points at the end.  However, the highest scoring tiles aren’t auctioned until the last round (Winter), so players have to keep their options open.  On the other hand, the tiles that are auctioned in Winter are chosen by the players from a hand of tiles dealt out at the start, so players can choose to take a steer from that, or, if things go badly wrong, decide not to include certainly tiles.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

These games are nearly always memorably epic and this was definitely no exception.  The game started of with Ivory declaring that while he loved it, he thought it was maybe “a bit broken” because in his experience, there was one winter tile that would guarantee a win to the player that got it.  Blue and Burgundy thought they knew he was referring to “The Skill Tile Strategy” and agreed it was powerful, but felt it wasn’t over-powerful.  Blue said she thought it was only a guaranteed win if everyone else allowed it.  Pine suggested that playing the game would give Ivory another opportunity to gather evidence to see if this was the case.  As soon as the winter tiles were dealt out, it was clear that Ivory had one of the tiles that rewarded players with lots of Skill Tiles, and everyone knew what his strategy was going to be.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Spring started and it quickly became clear that it was going to be a fight.  Initially, Blue went for the Peddler which converts yellow Keyples into Green ones, but Pine thought that sounded good, and outbid her.  Next she went for the Miner which gives two coal, upgradable to three, but Red outbid her on that.  Somewhat in error she tried to get the Woodcutter which gives two wood (upgrading to a wood and a gold), but Burgundy outbid her.  Ivory also got in on the act, beating her to the Keystone Quarry, which meant Blue finished spring with no Village tiles at all.  At least she didn’t over-pay for anything though, and it meant she had plenty of Keyples to bid with for Summer, at least in theory.  The lack of tiles meant she didn’t have a strategy though, while everyone else was beginning to build theirs.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

With summer came a whole new set of interesting tiles, for Ivory, that included the Hiring Fair which gives two tiles in exchange for one (upgradable to three tiles for one).  Given that Ivory had telegraphed his plans, and that Burgundy took one for the team during Concordia last time (when he took the Weaver and gave everyone else a chance), Blue felt it was her turn and she made it her business to outbid him, even though this gave her a tile she had very little use for.  As the only one with any meeples to speak of, Blue managed to pick up three boats relatively cheaply too.  She didn’t have it all her own way though, as Pine took the Farrier (extra transport and upgrade ability) and Ivory took the Brewer who turns skill tiles into Keyples.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Unusually, there had been a lot of bidding for the end of season tiles and it came to a peak in autumn with everyone jostling for position for the final round.  The other tiles were generally less popular, however, and most people were trying to keep their Keyples to themselves where possible, hoarding them for the final round.  And it was in the final round that it all came to a head.  Everyone had to put in at least one tile, but nobody seemed terribly keen to put any in.  Blue had contrived to win the start Keyple at the end of autumn, and started by bidding for the Key Guild tile which had been put in by Ivory.  Inevitably this descended into a bidding war, which Blue won.  The Key Guild tile gives ten points for any five skill tiles, so Blue was finally able to use her Hiring Fair to get points. Having had his plans scuppered, Ivory moved on to messing with Pine’s plans, while Red engaged Burgundy in a bidding war for the Jeweller tile (which increases the value of gold from one point to two), and lost.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

It had been a  really tough game with points really hard to get hold of, and that was visible in the scores.  It was very tight with just six points covering Red, Burgundy, Ivory and Pine and all of them in the low to mid forties.  Blue finished with sixty-one however, thanks largely to her twenty points for her skill tiles and sixteen for her boats.  It had been a very stressful game, that led to a considerable amount of discussion.  Ivory felt the fact that Blue had won using skill tiles confirmed that they were over-powered, but Pine and Burgundy were less certain, so the jury is still out.  Blue said that every game was different and the point was that it was up to other players to stop the person who is making a beeline for skill tiles, in fact, that was exactly what she had done to Ivory, as he put that tile out in winter.  The discussion would have continued, however, it was getting late and people began to leave.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, Burgundy and Blue felt there was just time for a quick game of NMBR 9.  This little game has been a real success within the group, mostly at the start as a warm-up game, but occasionally as filler too.  Pine took the deck of cards and began turning them over, with everyone else taking the number shaped tiles and adding them to their tableau.  It was another tough, tight game, but Blue managed to squeeze one of her eights on to the fourth level giving her twenty-four points for that tile alone.  Aside from that, the levels and therefore the scores were very similar, so Blue took victory by twenty-one points from Pine in second place.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is better to keep your plans to yourself.

12th June 2018

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

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

1st May 2018

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

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of boargamephotos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lords of Xidit
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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