Tag Archives: Love Letter

3rd October 2017

The evening started with a quick hand of Love Letter between Blue and Burgundy while they waited for their “Fave” pizzas to arrive.  The game only lasted a handful of turns and Blue took it with the Princess when she played a Baron to force a comparison.  As Burgundy said, with that combination of cards lined up against him, his poor Baron didn’t stand a chance.  There wasn’t time for him to get his revenge, however, as food arrived, along with a Happy Birthday text from Pink (who wasn’t able to come).  With the arrival of Red and Magenta, Blue and Red talked about work for a few minutes before Ivory and Pine joined the party and everyone settled down to a quick game of 6 Nimmt!—a quick game that could be played while eating pizza.

Happy 5th Birthday!
– Image by boardGOATS

Bizarrely, Ivory had somehow managed to avoid playing 6 Nimmt! despite it being one of our most frequently played games.  So, there was a quick run-down of the rules before we could start.  The game starts with four cards face up on the table, the beginning of four rows.  Each player starts with a hand of cards and players simultaneously choose one and place it face-down before a simultaneous reveal.  Cards are then played in ascending order, with players placing their card on the highest card that is lower than the card being played.  When the sixth card is added to a row, the first five are taken by the active player and the number of heads contribute to that player’s score; lowest score wins.  We tend to play two rounds, each using half of the deck of one-hundred and four cards.  The thing that makes the game so compelling is that players begin to feel they have control over their destiny, but any grip they may have is incredibly tenuous and once things start to go wrong the problems tend to escalate horribly.

– Image by boardGOATS

This time, things started to go wrong early for Red and Blue, but Pine outstripped them by miles and finished the first round with twenty three “nimmts”—as he commented, enough for a whole dairy heard.  Burgundy and Magenta were doing much better with one nimmt and none respectively.  Given his excellent performance in the first round, everyone expected Burgundy to start collecting cards with enthusiasm in the second round, and so it proved.  His efforts paled into insignificance compared with some of the others though, in particular Ivory and especially Blue, who finished with a massive top score of forty-four.  The winner was unambiguously Magenta, however, who added a second clear round to her first and managed to end the game without picking up a single bull’s head, a real achievement.

Happy 5th Birthday!
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone now arrived and pizzas all consumed it was time for the party to really start, with the “Feature Game”, Crappy Birthday accompanied by a marvellous blue Meeple Cake supplied by Georgie from The Jockey.  Everyone sang Happy Birthday and Blue and Green as the originators of the group blew out the candles then Red took the knife and started to carve while Magenta began dealing cards for the game.  With everyone eating cake (including the people at the pub who couldn’t believe we’d been going for five years), attention turned to Crappy Birthday.  This is funny little party game which we played for the first time last year to celebrate our fourth anniversary.  The premise of the game is that it is one player’s birthday and every one gives them a “present” chosen from the cards in their hand.  The birthday boy or girl then has to choose the best present and worst present and then returns these cards to the person who gave them.  At the end of the game players count up the number of pressies they have had returned and the one with the most (i.e. the one who gave the fewest mediocre presents) is the winner.  The game has a lot in common with Dixit, but is a lot simpler.  In the same way though, the production quality of the cards is really key to making the game work, though the emotions are very different:  in Dixit everyone marvels at the beauty of the art, in Crappy Birthday everyone laughs at the stupidity or brilliance of the gifts.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

This time we discovered that Black wanted a Viking helmet for his birthday, Red wanted to go on the first trip to Mars, Burgunday fancied a course in Sumo wrestling and a drive across the Sahara was on Ivory’s “Bucket List”.  There were many amusing gifts that didn’t actually score points including the Gnome ABBA Tribute Band (singing, “Gnoming me, Gnoming you” perhaps?) and a dead rat to hang on the front door at New Year.  We also discovered that Pine hates heights and horses (especially those that are trying to throw you off), so the session of rodeo riding was thrown straight back in disgust.  Red returned a Porta-Potty (she’s seen plenty in the last year apparently); Blue threw back comedy lessons (she hates being on stage); Black sent back a chair because it was boring and Red decided she couldn’t cope with a 150lb burger and claimed it would make her sick.  Everyone clearly thought that physical exertion was not Burgundy’s thing, but it was the tight rope walking that he was least keen on while Ivory had a fit of shyness and turned down the kind offer of a session skinny-dipping.  Purple rejected the idea of her very own personal roller-coaster, though it was close between that and snake charming lessons.  Pine commented that he would have combined the snake charming with the five chihuahua puppies as the latter would have provided an excellent food supply for the snakes.  This did not go down well with Purple who had chosen the chihuahua’s as her favourite gift and didn’t want them eaten…

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

It didn’t really matter who was the winner because everyone had fun and everyone got their moment in the spotlight as they had to explain their decisions.  And while they listened everyone else got sticky eating the meeple cake which was soon nibbled away to leave just a bit of head and a foot.  After one round we counted up who had the most returned cards and Ivory who had five cards was the winner by miles with Green and Burgundy in a distant, joint second place.  Party games aren’t really the Group’s “thing”, but everyone enjoyed this one (particularly accompanied by cake) and the consensus seemed to be that once a year was about probably right, especially as it gave everyone time to forget the silly things on the cards.  With the birthday cards collected in and the cake mostly gone it was time to decide what to play.  Nobody was quick to decide and things were complicated by those planning to leave early.  In the end we decided to stick together as a group (it was a party after all) and play a round of Saboteur.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

The idea of Saboteur is that each player is either a Dwarf or a Saboteur and players take it in turns to play a card from their hand.  The Dwarves aim is to extend the tunnel to the treasure, while the Saboteurs try to stop them.  There are two types of cards that can be played:  tunnels and special cards.  The cards with tunnel fragments shown must be played in the correct orientation, though the tunnel depicted can include junctions, bends, and even dead-ends. While the Dwarves try to push the path towards the gold, Saboteurs try to play disruptive cards while trying not to look like it.  Meanwhile, special cards include “rockfall” cards which can be played to remove a tunnel card already played, and maps which can be used to see where the gold is hidden.  Most importantly, however are “broken tool” cards which can be played on another player to prevent them building tunnel cards until they (or another kind-hearted soul) plays a matching “fixed tool” card to remove it.  The game is supposed to be played over several round with the winning team sharing out a pile of gold cards, but we tend to play it as a team game and stick to one round at a time.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The game began quite carefully with everyone doing their best to look like dwarves, that didn’t stop the accusations though and it wasn’t long before someone decided that Black and Green were looking shifty.  Green had almost all the map cards and unsportingly decided to stick to the rules and refused to share them.  Then Pine roused suspicions when his use of a map card led to a disagreement with Green clearly identifying one of them as a Saboteur.  Before long Ivory had joined the fray and nobody knew what was going on, except that the tunnels kept moving forward.  Eventually, Blue left nobody in any doubt when she gleefully diverted the tunnel away from the only possible remaining gold.  With the last card in the draw deck gone, it went down to the wire, but all the sabotage from Blue, Pine and Ivory was to no avail.  Cards continued to be played and it took a whole extra round, but the Dwarves just managed to make it to the treasure.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

With time ticking on, Red and Magenta left for an early night and the residue of the group split into two parts, the first of which played Sheep & Thief.  This game has had a couple of outings recently, in particular on a Tuesday two weeks ago.  Sheep & Thief is a curious little tile/card drafting and laying game with elements of pick up and deliver mechanisms added for good measure.  Each player has a board divided into a four by four grid, and starts with their home card and two sheep in the top left hand corner.  Each round is played in two halves: first players draft cards then they play them, taking it turns to place one card per turn.  Players are trying to connect their home card to the other three corners while trying to keep their sheep safe and trying to catch other players sheep with their fox, meanwhile, they are also attempting to navigate their black sheep to the bottom left right corner of their board.  With points for all sorts of things including sheep captured, sheep retained, long rivers, connecting the home card to the other corners of the board as well as for moving their black sheep as far from home as possible, it is a veritable “point salad”, but one where it is actually very difficult to do well.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, with his love of sheep was always going to do do well, despite this being his first try at the game.  Everyone else had played it several times before and therefore knew what they were letting themselves in for.  The strategies were very varied though, for example, Purple prioritised getting her road from her home card to the opposite corner of her board and picked up fifteen points for doing so.  Green prioritised getting his black sheep as far as he could in the hope that he might get points for his road in the process.  Unfortunately, although Green’s sheep netted him fifteen points, he was not able to connect his home card to any other corner and therefore failed to get any extra points as a result.  In contrast, Black tried to do a bit of everything which really isn’t a strategy that works for this game.  As a result he really struggled.  It was a very close game, and on the re-count finished in a tie between Green and Pine who both scored thirty-one points with Purple just behind.  Since the tie-breaker is the number of sheep and and both Green and Pine finished with the same number of sheep the victory was shared.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Ivory, Burgundy and Blue were being indecisive.  In the end after looking longingly at the “Deluxified” Yokohama, they reluctantly decided that it would probably take too long and decided to give Dice Forge a go instead.  This game was new to everyone except Ivory who gave his assurance that it would not be a long and complicated game.  And he was right – the whole thing took less than an hour and a half including teaching.  The game is a dice building game, with a lot in common with the deck building games like Dominion and bag building games like Orléans, or cup building games like Roll for the Galaxy, where the aim is to try to mitigate the effects of luck by stacking the deck, bag, cup or in this case dice, 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.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

Beyond this, the game is actually quite simple.  On the active player’s turn, everyone rolls both their dice and adds the result to their accounting tracks.  On their turn, the active play can then also spend some of their gains 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.  Each upgrade has a cost, with the best upgrades having the highest costs.  The cards also have costs and the most powerful cards are the most expensive.  When upgrading, players can choose which faces to replace and what to replace them with.  In contrast, most of the cards have a single use special action or bonus, but some also have a perpetual action.  With the game restricted to only ten rounds, however, these have to be bought early if they are to prove game winners.  Once everyone had had the full ten rounds, each player adds up their points and the player with the most is the winner

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

There are several sources of points:  firstly, some dice faces give points, but this is not a particularly efficient way of scoring unless there are some cards that can be used to increase the acquisition speed. Cards can be more effective, but only if the means to buy them can be accumulated quickly and efficiently.  Blue started off trying to get some nice dice faces to improve the probability of a good roll.  She quickly realised the really clever part of the game:  what is the best way to upgrade the dice and how should the faces be distributed?  For example, is it better to put all the good faces on one die and guarantee one good roll, or is it better to spread them across both and hope to roll more good rolls than bad ones?  She opted for the latter, but wasn’t sure whether that was the right choice or not.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

While Blue was faffing about with where to put her dice, Burgundy had a much bigger problem as he was struggling to roll what he wanted in order to upgrade his.  This had the knock-on consequence that by the time he got what he wanted, invariably, Blue or Ivory had pinched what he wanted.  Ivory, having played the game before clearly had a much better idea of what he was trying to do, but although he managed some exceptional rolls, he struggled from time to time too.  In the end, Burgundy more or less gave up on dice and started to collect cards.  Somehow he managed to accrue a seventy-two cards—a massive number compared with compared with the forty-two/forty-six that Ivory and Blue had gathered together.  It almost worked as well, since he netted a fantastic ninety-eight points, remarkable considering his very slow start.  In the end Burgundy finished just two points behind Blue who top-scored with a nice round hundred.  Everyone had enjoyed it though, despite the frustrations, and everyone was quite keen to give it another go, though not straight away as it was definitely home time.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Time flies when you are playing boardgames!

5th September 2017

As people arrived slowly, the evening started out with a few rounds of Love Letter.  The archetypal “micro game”, Love Letter is a simple filler game that we’ve played a lot in the past, but less so recently.  The idea is that players have a single card in hand and, on their turn, draw a second and choose which one to play.  There are only sixteen cards in the deck and each has a value and an action.  The action is carried out when the card is played and the player with the highest value card at the end of the game is the winner.  The game is not high on strategy, but is ideally suited to playing while doing other things (like eating pizza), so it is very light hearted and can often generate lots of silly moments with this time being no exception.  When Blue drew the second highest card, the Countess, she got carried away and chose to play the Prince she already held.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, the special action for the Countess is that if a player has a Prince or the King as well as the Countess she must discard the Countess (thus revealing information).  Without thinking properly, she played used Prince’s action on Green who was forced to discard the Princess, putting him out of the game.  Too late Blue realised her error and she apologised profusely as Green grabbed his card back and she played her Countess instead.  When the next player, Burgundy, then draw a Guard card giving him the chance to assassinate any card he could name, everyone knew that Green’s days were numbered, though they were reckoning without Burgundy’s bad memory!  Completely unable unable to recall the card Green had been forced in error to reveal, he incorrectly named the King and Green lived on.  In the long run, nobody really benefited from the confusion though, with almost everyone taking one round, we played sudden death and it was Pine who ultimately emerged victorious.

Love Letter
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thatmadgirl

With everyone present it was time for the “Feature Game”, Chariot Race, which is a fairly quick-playing Yahtzee style dice game with a horse racing theme, but actually has more of a feel of King of Tokyo (that we played last time) than anything else.  Players take on the role of charioteers participating in a great race in ancient Rome with the aim being to use dice to complete two laps of the dusty arena and be the first to steer their chariot over the finish line.  On their turn, the active player rolls a number of dice dependent on their speed on the previous turn, with faster chariots rolling fewer dice.  Each face of the six-sided dice allows a different action: Gain new Favors; increase or decrease speed; change lanes, or attack opponents (either directly by hurling javelins or indirectly by dropping caltrops in their path).  If the first roll is not satisfactory, the player can re-roll any or all of the dice.  They can re-roll a second time or turn one die to their chosen face, but to do that they must cash in some of the favour of the goddess Fortuna.  Favours of Fortuna are useful for repairing chariots too, and as there is a large kamikaze element to the game, Favours prove very useful indeed.  Once the dice roll is set, the active player moves their chariot forward according to the final speed they achieved, swerving to avoid rivals, caltrops and potentially devastating piles of rocks and the first player to drag their wreck of a chariot across the line for the second time is the winner.

Chariot Race
– Image modified from original by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

The game is supposed to be a quick little fun racing game, but it turned out to be everything but quick. This was probably the fault of the players as much as anything else as everyone seemed to get bogged down in analysing all the options.  With seven people present and Chariot Race, playing a maximum of six, Ivory kindly offered to team up with Green who was feeling a little out of sorts, but they were in complete agreement that they should start at the front of the grid.  In contrast, Black decided to start at the back, hoping that others would see him as less of a threat and maybe take each other out leaving him an easy run in.  In practice, it turned out that the back was a particularly bad place to be as Black struggled to avoid everyone in front of him and consequently picked up a lot of damage, soon wrecking his chariot and joining the rows of spectators cheering on their heroes.  Burgundy was quick to follow when the wonky donkey pulling his chariot sped up suddenly and accidentally invented a new Roman form of skittles when he crashed into everyone else in turn.  The problem with that was that although everyone took damage, each collision caused damage to Burgundy’s chariot eventually turning it in to match-wood.

Chariot Race
– Image modified from original by BGG
contributor JackyTheRipper

Starting at the front, the Green/Ivory chariot made a very quick start and took an early lead.  Blue gave chase starting with a recklessly high speed and a “go down in a blaze of glory” attitude.  Pine was a little more circumspect, but made good ground early on.  Purple on the other hand, started towards the back of the grid, made a slow start and was obstructed by the wreckage of Black’s and Burgundy’s chariots at the start of her second lap.  Blue and Green/Ivory tried to impede each other with Blue chucking spears and Green/Ivory dropping caltrops.  As Green/Ivory approached the end of their second lap, Blue was just behind.  So as Green/Ivory crossed the line running on empty they were speared by Blue on the next turn and their wheels fell off their chariot.  Blue crossed the line with a bit to spare and was quickly followed by Pine who couldn’t quite pass Blue so chucked a spear at her to make up for it.

Chariot Race
– Image by boardGOATS

That just left Purple.  With a lot of ground to make up, the odds were always against her and everyone joined helping her to try to cross the line or take out Pine or Blue.  Sadly it was not to be and she decided that if she couldn’t influence the race, she would go out with a bang and smashed her chariot to smithereens on a rock.  So, a game that was listed as taking less than an hour had taken over two and only a third of the chariots playing had made it to the finish line.  It didn’t matter who won though, it had been a lot of fun.

Chariot Race
– Image modified from original by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

With Chariot Race taking so much time though, we were limited by what else we could play.  Before long there was a debate about the options, including all out old favourites like Saboteur and 6 Nimmt!.  In the end Bohnanza won as a game we could all play without thinking, and Burgundy was reaching for the familiar yellow box from his bag.  The game is one of our old staples, is quick to learn and keeps everyone involved throughout.  Often the simplest of mechanisms are the most effective an that is the case of Bohnanza:  players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand and must play them in the order they arrive.  Thus, on their turn, the active player first plays the first card in their hand with the option of playing the second if they desire.  Once they’ve been planted, two cards are drawn which can be traded, but must be planted by someone.  This can lead to free gifts, but also players being nasty and refusing to take even the apparently most lucrative trades

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

This time, Burgundy started strongly, as did Pine and Ivory.  Black struggled consistently to get the cards he wanted, and with so many people playing, everyone had to be quick or they would miss out.  It was a very tight game with players mostly being nice to each other though everyone was typically reluctant to give Burgundy any easy trades, he got plenty anyhow.  As everyone totaled up the scores, it was clear there wasn’t much in it.  Five of the seven players ended the game with either nine or ten coins, but it was Purple who just sneaked in front finishing with eleven to win by a nose.  And with that, it was time to go home.

– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Games sometimes take a lot longer than it says on the box.

24th January 2017

Food was a little delayed, so as it was a relatively quick game (and one that we felt we could play while eating if necessary), we decided to begin with the “Feature Game”, Bohemian Villages.  This is a fairly simple tactical dice-rolling game.  The idea is that on their turn, the active player rolls four dice and uses them to assign their meeples to buildings in the villages of Bohemia.  The dice can be used as two sets of two, a group of three (with one forfeit) or in their entirety as a group of four.  These values correspond to the different types of buildings which appear with different frequency and give different rewards.  For example, if a player rolls a six, they can place their meeple on a Flour Mill.  When the last of the Flour Mills is occupied, everyone gets their meeples back, together with two coins for each one.  Similarly, rolling a seven allows the active player to place their meeple on a Glass Factory, however, when they get them back they get three coins instead of two.

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

Other buildings work differently though, for example rolling a two, three, four or five allows players to put their meeple on a Shop.  There are four different types of Shops and players are rewarded increasingly large amounts of money for the more different Shops they occupy at the end of the game.  A set of four is very valuable, but the snag is that the number of Shops available is very small.  So, once they are all occupied, if another player rolls the right number they can bump someone else off costing them a lot of money in the process.  Players rolling a twelve, place their meeples on Manor Houses which give an immediate reward whereas inns (nine) give a regular income at the start of the active players turn, so long as they remember to claim it!  Farms also provide income during the game with the active player collecting one coin for each farm owned when they add a new one (i.e. roll another eight).  Churches and Town Halls (ten and eleven) provide money at the end of the game with players rewarded for occupying the most Churches or for occupying a Town Hall in a fully occupied village.

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends when a player runs out of meeples and the winner is the player with the most money.  We were just about to start a five-player game when Green and Ivory pitched up, so Red joined them, leaving Blue, Pine, Magenta and Burgundy to start.  With food arriving just as we started, Blue began by claiming the most lucrative Manor House with all four of her dice before turning her attention to her pizza.  Magenta started collecting Shops, but soon faced competition from Pine.  Meanwhile, Burgundy was sidetracked by his supper, Blue tried to get a regular income stream from a chain of Inns and Pine went into the church.  Somewhere along the line during her rules explanation, Blue had commented that Farms could be quite lucrative, so Magenta took the hint and before long she was engaged in a massive land-grab.  It took everyone else a while to notice, so it was very late before they attempted to reduce her income.   In what was a very close game it just played into Pine’s hands and he finished two coins ahead of Magenta when Burgundy brought the game to a slightly unexpected end.

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, the absence of Burgundy meant that Red, Ivory and Green fancied their chances at a game of Splendor.  This engine building game is built on a simple set-collection mechanism.  Players collect gem tokens then use them to buy gem cards.  Gem cards can then be used to buy more cards.  Some gem cards are also worth points, and they also enable players to collect Nobles which are awarded to the first player collect certain combinations of gem cards.  Splendor is one of our group’s “go-to” light filler games and in recent months Burgundy has made the game his own.  With Burgundy otherwise engaged though, he was guaranteed not to win.  With Ivory and Red fighting for the same colours, Green made the fastest progress collecting opals and diamonds and building a valuable collection quickly.  Ivory came off best in the tussle between him and Red, and he was able to pick up two Nobles with his pickings.  It was Green that took the honours, however, taking a Noble himself to bring the game to a close.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Bohemian Villages finished first, so after a trip to the bar, Blue, Magenta, Burgundy and Pine played a few hands of Love Letter to kill time.  We play this quite a bit, because with just sixteen cards, this is a great little game to play while chatting or doing other things (like eating).  Each player starts with a card and, on on their turn, draws a second and chooses one of them to play.  Each card has a number (one to eight) and an action; players use the actions to try to eliminated each other and the player with the highest card at the end, or the last player remaining is the winner.  This time, we managed five hands before Splendor finished and it ended in a tie between Blue and Magenta who won two each.  With nobody wanting a late night we fancied something we could play as a group that wasn’t going to run on.

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

After a bit of a discussion, we settled on a big game of Between Two Cities, involving everyone.  This is quite popular with our group as it is both competitive, and cooperative and, as such, is totally different to anything else we play.  The idea is that, instead of each player having a personal player board that they work on in isolation, each player sits between two boards which they share with their neighbours.  The game play is based on card drafting games like Sushi Go! and 7 Wonders with scoring taking elements from tile-laying games like Carcassonne and Alhambra.  The game is played over three rounds with players placing building tiles to construct cities consisting of sixteen tiles in a four by four array.  Each player starts the first round with six tiles, of which they secretly choose two and pass the rest to the left.  Once everyone has chosen their two, everyone reveals their choices and then negotiates with their neighbours to try to to ensure they get the tiles they want in the two cities they have a share in.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

Play continues with each player picking up the hand they were passed and choosing another pair of tiles etc. until there are no tiles left.  In the second round players get three double tiles of which they choose two and discard the third.  These double tiles contain two buildings in a vertical or horizontal arrangement.  This is where things can get difficult, as the final city must form a four by four square and the location of buildings can be critical to their scoring.  For example, a housing estate built in a city with lots of other different types of buildings is worth up to five points at the end of the game, unless it is next to a factory in which case it is only worth one point.  The third and final round is played the same way as the first, except that tiles are passed in the opposite direction.  The winner is the player with the highest scoring second city.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

As well as being a nice balance of cooperative and competitive, it also plays well at a wide range of player counts with little change to the overall game time.  With so many people involved, however, one of the down-sides is the fact that it is very difficult to see what players at the other end of the table are doing and near-impossible to influence their game-play.  Despite this, for the most part every city had it’s own distinct character, for example, Red and Magenta reproduced central London with offices surrounded by lots of pubs and entertainment venues while Blue and Burgundy built a flourishing industrial town and Pine and Ivory managed their own little recreation of Thatcher’s Britain.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

In Between Two Cities, the winner is the player who’s lowest scoring city is the scores most, with their other city used as a tie-breaker.  For this reason, it is usual that the player who finishes with two most closely matched cities that wins.  By rights then, the game should have gone to Green or Red who both finished with both their cities scoring exactly fifty-four points.  This was an unusually close game though, with all cities except one finishing within four points of each other.  In the end, Blue who took second place from Burgundy on the tie-break, but it was Pine, sharing cities with Burgundy and Ivory who finished two points clear giving him his second victory of the night.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

With that, Red, Magenta, Ivory and Green headed off for an early night, but Blue, Burgundy and Pine felt it wasn’t yet late and that there was time for something light before bed.  Since Splendor was still out Pine and Blue decided to have another go at Burgundy and see if together, they could finally dethrone him.  It all started well with Pine and Blue successfully inconveniencing Burgundy grabbing gem cards he wanted just before he could get them.  It wasn’t long, however, before Burgundy managed to collect a large number of diamonds which allowed him to just beat Blue to a couple of nobles.  She was still in the fight though, right until she miscounted how many sapphires Burgundy had, and with it handed him the game. Still, we are definitely getting closer to beating him…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning outcome:  Competition is essential in games, but working together is fun too.

10th January 2017

A new year, a new log book, and a shortage of people thanks to sickness, work and problematic cars.  Pine, Magenta and Blue were the first to arrive, so while they were waiting for food they decided to get in a quick game of No Thanks!.  This used to be one of those games that got played a lot, but for some reason it fell out of favour and was replaced by games like Love Letter, 6 Nimmt! and Om Nom Nom.  No Thanks! is a very simple little game where players have to make the binary decision to take a card or pay a chip and pass the problem on to the next player.  At the end of the round, players add the face values of the cards together and offset this with any remaining chips to give their total – the smallest value is the winner.  The really clever part is that if a player has a run of consecutive cards, then only the lowest counts.  Spice is added by the removal of nine cards from the original thirty-two consecutive cards in the deck.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

We first introduced Pine to No Thanks! over Christmas, when he had done rather well at it, this time was a bit different, however, with Blue coming in first with twenty-five in a generally high scoring game.  As food arrived, so did the other gamers, with Ivory first and, just as we were explaining the rules to him, Green rolled up as well.  The second hand began with Ivory picking up cards.  As it went on, he picked up more cards, and more and more.  This was excellent for everyone else until it started to look like he might be able to make them into one very long run.  In the end, Ivory’s massive gamble didn’t pay off and he finished with ninety points, a massive  eighty more than anyone else.  It was Magenta who took the round though, her enormous pile of chips offsetting all her cards leaving her with minus one.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With food over and everyone who was expected present, we decided to move onto our “Feature Game” will be Jórvík.  This is a Viking retheme of a game we have played a few times and enjoyed called The Speicherstadt.  The game is card based and driven by a novel auction mechanism that somehow doesn’t really feel like an auction.  The idea is there is a row of cards and players use their meeples to bid with.  They take it in turns to choose which cards they would like to have the option of buying, by placing their meeples in rows below the cards they want.  The cards are then “auctioned” in turn with person who who placed their meeple below a card first getting first refusal.  The clever bit is that the cost of the card is the same number of coins as there are meeples below the card.  When it is their turn, the active player can choose not to to buy the card, but then they must remove their meeple which makes it cheaper for the next player in line.   Thus, placing first can be a good thing if you have enough money to back it up, but money is scarce, very scarce.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards could be contracts (that give points at the end if fulfilled), ships containing goods (that enable players to fulfill contracts), defenders (which help score points if there is an attack of the Picts), craftsmen (which enable players to sell goods for a better price), feasts (which give points the more you have), journey cards (which just give points) or, towards the end of the game, skald cards (which yield points for some other condition).  The deck of cards is broken into several batches which ensures that while cards don’t come out in a  fixed order, early cards are less powerful than cards that appear later in the game.  The basic Jórvík game is quite light, but the new rendition includes the original Kaispeicher expansion.  This provides extra cards, though more importantly, it also adds a whole new mechanism that still has the same flavour, but turned on its head.

Jórvík

The new expansion adds a second method for players to get cards:  at the start of each round a second row of cards are displayed and, instead of using their turn to place a meeple in the auction, they can use it to reserve a card.  This card (and its meeple marker) are then moved to a new row.  At the end of the round, after the cards in the usual “auction” have been dealt with, the reserved cards are paid for in the order that they were reserved.  The snag is that the cost depends on how many cards were reserved after it.  Thus, players who reserve early have the best selection of cards to choose from, but will end up paying if they choose to buy it.  This means that players often end up reserving a card, as much as anything else, to stop the other players from getting it.  This led to Pine commenting that the game was a bit like window shopping with players standing hopefully next to items they had no hope being able to afford!

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

Only two of us had played the game before (mostly in its original form as The Speicherstadt), and nobody had played with the expansion at all.  Everyone tried different strategies, with Magenta trying to collect feasting cards (largely unsuccessfully) and Green beginning by trying to collect defender cards in the hope of being able to scoop up all the points for repelling the Picts.  Ivory, Blue and Pine were slower to settle on a strategy, though Ivory was ominously collecting what looked like some very powerful cards.  Then, Pine began collecting pink resource cubes, the valuable cloth and successfully used them to fulfill a couple of lucrative contracts.  For a long time this looked like it was going to be a winning strategy, until Blue changed tack.  She had started by trying to pick up contracts and fighting with everyone else for resources, but it was gradually becoming clear to her that this wasn’t working.  Although Blue had fallen foul of the Picts in the first round, since then she had been trying to avoid losing points.  This strategy had kept her in the running, and she decided to to actively pursue the points.  In the end she finished with thirty-six points, just three ahead of Pine in second place.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

Despite winning, Blue wasn’t sure about the expansion.  She felt it added a largely random element that players had no control over.  She felt the that the fact players were reserving cards that only they could buy meant that once someone had selected a card nobody else had a chance to contest it.  The only thing they could do was force the price up.  Green, on the other hand, said he really liked it and thought it was really clever, though he agreed that with five players it probably wasn’t at its best.  In the end, we concluded that it would likely add a lot to two and three player games, which encouraged Blue to get out her copy of The Speicherstadt with Pink to try it with KaispeicherJórvík had taken longer than expected and for Ivory and Magenta it was home time.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

Living more locally, Green, Pine and Blue had time for a quick game and chose Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.  This pretty little tile-laying game was a Christmas present chosen with the group in mind, so this seemed like a good opportunity to give it a go.  The game is very simple:  players have a hand of tiles and take it in turns to add one to the central “lake”.  Each tile has up to four coloured sections and if the tile is placed in such a way that some of these match the tiles they are next to, the active player gets a lantern card of that colour.  In addition, every turn, each player gets a card that corresponds to the colour on their side of the tile placed.  At the start of their turn, players can make a devotion and trade sets of lantern cards for points tiles.  There are three stacks of points tiles, with values decreasing from top to bottom.  Each stack corresponds to different sets, with one each for three pairs, a set of seven different and four of a kind.  There are also special platform tiles that give players favour tokens.  These grease the wheels a little as pairs can be spent to allow players to swap a card for one of a different colour.

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

The winner is the player with the most points once all the tiles have been played.  This means that there are two competing factors, players want to make as many dedications as they can, but higher value dedications are better.  Tile placement was cagey at the start, but before long Green and Blue began making dedications, quickly followed by Pine.  It was Green who managed to maintain the highest frequency of dedications though Blue’s early tiles were generally slightly higher in value.  Frequency was important and his later tiles were also higher value which meant Green finished ten points clear with fifty one.  With bed calling, there was just time to discuss a new idea:  “Monster Games” sessions.  The idea is that as a group we have quite a lot of games that are too long to play on games nights, so the plan is to arrange ad hoc games afternoons in private residences, with the first one planned for 14th January.

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

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is better to stop others than make a purchase yourself.

29th December 2016 – boardGOATS do the Quiz

Our local is the The Horse and Jockey pub in Stanford-in-the-Vale, and we meet there every fortnight on a Tuesday.  Every Thursday, they also hold a pub quiz, so as it was Christmas, we decided to get a special GOATS team together.  Blue, Pink, Pine, Violet and Violet’s mum were all up for it, so we booked a table for 8pm to have dinner first.  Unfortunately, Blue had over-indulged on turkey at lunch so had fallen asleep in the afternoon.  Although Pink had woken her, he failed to do so very effectively, so they were a bit late and by the time they arrived, there was a bit of a queue for food.  Not to worry though, we were nearly finished by the time the quiz started and were quite able to answer the first few questions and eat at the same time.

Quiz
– Image by boardGOATS

The quiz typically consists of five rounds of ten general knowledge questions, a picture round, a “Who am I” round, and two anagrams.  The “Who am I” round consists of five clues with players giving answers after each clue and teams scoring progressively less as the clues progress.  This and the anagrams (which score three points each) can be quite critical and often sort the sheep from the goats.   Only Pine and Blue had been before, and both had been part of teams that had not really troubled the scorers, so we were more than a little pleased when we got four points for the “Who am I” (Claire Balding, who apparently went to the same school as Miranda Hart) and, mostly thanks to Pine, the full six points for both anagrams!  Correctly identifying Kim Jong Un (obscured by a Santa hat, beard and glasses) as well as most of the others in the picture round meant that we finished strongly.  With a grand total of fifty-four points, we took first place, three points clear of “Something Simple” who finished second.  After a quick chat with a nice couple from Faringdon who had been marking our answers and had played Karuba and Ticket to Ride with their family over the holidays, we took care of the complicated matter of the bill (taking into account our winnings) and Violet and her mum went home.

Quiz
– Image by boardGOATS

Since Pine had his drink to finish and Blue and Pink had taken the precaution of bringing along a couple of small games, we decided to do what gamers do best and play games.  First up was No Thanks!.  This is a great little “push your luck” game where a card is turned over and players have to take the card or pay a mini poker chip to pass the problem on to the next player.  At the end of the round, players add the face values of the cards together and offset this with any remaining points to give their total – the smallest value is the winner.  The really clever part is that if a player has a run of consecutive cards, then only the lowest counts.  Spice is added by the removal of nine cards from the original thirty-two consecutive cards in the deck.  Blue did appallingly badly throughout, and while Pine won both the first two rounds, Pink won the final one by such a large margin that his aggregate total was the lowest overall, making him the winner.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

After that we played a few quick rounds of Love Letter.  This simple game played with just sixteen cards is almost the ubiquitous filler game.  Starting with one card, on their turn players draw a second and choose one to play.  Each card has a number and an action and the player left with the highest card at the end is the winner.   Pink tried to insist that Blue was always the Baron, only to get caught out as the Baron himself.  Blue started the next round as the Princess, so swapped cards with Pink and promptly caught him on the next turn.  In contrast, Pine managed to go nearly an entire round as the Princess only to be caught just before the end.  It was close and it all came down the the last game, but in a move that would have drawn allegations of match-fixing in football, Pink drew his second card face up by mistake, and then chose not to play it.  Pine gleefully assassinated Pink’s Baron once again, only to succumb himself a couple of rounds later leaving Blue to finish with three wins (to Pink’s two) and claimed victory.

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Gamers can be good at quizzes too.

 

9th August 2016

While they were waiting for people to finish their supper, Green, Grey, Red and Violet warmed up with a quick game of Love Letter.  One of the first of the “micro-games” this is a tiny gem, played with just sixteen cards.  Each card has a value (one to eight) and an action; players start with one card and add a second to their hand before playing one of them and enacting the action.  The round goes to the player with the highest value at the end and the player who wins the most rounds wins the game.  This time we were playing with a print-and-play Hobbit version, with players trying to finish with the Smaug card and winning a tiny gold ring if they do.  This time, although he was dealt cards, Grey didn’t really get the chance to play as he was out before his turn each time.  Red, on the other hand, took the game winning two rounds, one more than Violet.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone fed we moved onto our “Feature Game”, Orléans.  This is a “bag building” game set in medieval France.  The idea is that each player has a bag and, at the start of the round draws workers from it.  Players then place their workers on it their market which has a maximum of eight spaces, before moving as many as they want onto their personal player board which dictate the actions they can carry out.  Once everyone has placed their pieces, players take it in turns to carry out their actions.  There are a variety actions, but most of them involve taking another worker that is added to the bag along with any workers that have been used.  Thus, the game is mechanically very simple: draw workers from a bag, plan which actions to do and then do them with points awarded at the end of the game.  This simplicity belies the depth of the game and the complexity that comes as a result of combining the different actions though.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

In addition to taking a worker, the most actions come with a bonus; some of these help players manage their game, while others give players scoring opportunities.  For example, going to the Castle will give a player an extra “Knight”, but will also enable them to take an extra worker out of the bag on subsequent turns.  Similarly, a trip to the Village to get a “Craftsman” will also yield a technology tile which can be placed in a location and stays there for the rest of the game, acting as a permanent worker.  On the other hand, players who go to the Farm House will get an extra “Farmer” but also an extra resource and an extra “Boatman” comes with money.  Both money and resources score points at the end of the game.  Each of the Character actions has an associated track on the communal player board and the players move one step along these tracks each time they carry out an action; the bonus received on each step is marked just above the track, and in general they increase the further along the track players are.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

The biggest source of points, however, comes from a combination of travelling around France building Trading Stations, collecting “Citizens” and travelling along the development track.  Travelling can either be carried out along rivers or roads and, if there is no-one else has already built there, they are able to place one of their ten little wooden houses in the town (all using the appropriate actions of course).  Citizens can be acquired by being the first player to fulfil certain requirements (e.g. get the maximum number of Knights or Boatmen).  Along the bottom of the main player board, there is also a Development Track and at intervals Coins and Citizens are available (only the first player get the Citizens though every player gets money).  There are also Status Markers at intervals along the track – these are critical:  at the end of the game, players score points equal to the sum of the number of Trading Stations built and Citizens acquired multiplied by the total number of Status Markers.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

There are a range of ways to move along the Development Track, for example, choosing the University action comes with a Development Point bonus, and the Scriptorium and Town Hall can both also give Development Points, though perhaps less efficiently.  One thing is clear though, this aspect of the game is a bit like collecting Nobles in Lancaster in that players neglect the Development track at their peril.  This is particularly important as as the number of each type of worker is strictly limited, so when they are all gone, that action is no-longer available to any player.  Thus, players who neglect the University action in the early part of the game may find it is no longer available when they want to use it later.  One of the most important aspects of the game for players is controlling the contents of their bag as this dictates what actions they will be able to take.  Since the Development Track is so important, it might be thought that a good way to start is to make repeated visits to the University.  This will fill the player’s bag with Scholars, though, which might not be such a good thing unless players can find another way to use them effectively.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Scholars are not very useful for travelling or building Trading stations and can really only be used in the Scriptorium or Cloister (to get highly versatile “Monks”) in partnership with another worker, so are of limited use.  This means that players need to vary the actions they take so that their bag remains balanced.  Even so, probability can play tricks and players can end up with a very unrepresentative handful of workers.  It takes a very courageous player to then forfeit actions in the current turn in the knowledge that the workers they need will likely come out next time enabling the player to carry out twice as many actions later.  This approach will cause the player to delay their turn which can be a disadvantage though it can also give them a better chance to plan a larger more complex sequence of actions.

Orléans
– Image by BGG contributor styren

Another way a player can control what they draw from their bag is for a player to ensure their bag stays small.  Players cannot just throw workers away, so once a player has a worker in their bag a player they have only two practical ways of getting rid of them.  The first is to park them on an action they don’t intend to use.  This works well if there is a suitable action available, but is not always possible and each action can only be occupied by one worker at a time, though it does allow players to recover them if necessary.  The other option is the Town Hall action.  Each player has two of these on their player board and, workers placed here are moved to the Beneficial Deeds board where they earn a one-off reward (either money or Development Points) and then remain there for the rest of the game.  There are two  problems with this:  firstly, there are a finite number of spaces on the Beneficial Deeds board, so if they are filled up that is that and secondly, they can never be recovered.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

This last point is significant as players can change their strategy during the game and find that they need more of a particular type of worker.  For example, the Village action allows players to collect a black Trader and the bonus is a free choice of a Place Tile.  These are essentially extensions to player’s individual board providing them with extra possible actions, however, they also require workers of a given type.  Thus, adding one of these may provide a use, for example, for all the Scholars that they had previously disposed of.  As the number of workers available is strictly limited, the desired Scholars may also no longer be available rendering the additional Place Tile much less useful than initially thought.  There is a get-out as the Cloister action gives “Monks” which are effectively “wild and can generally be used as a substitute for any other worker.  However, these are also limited in number of course and tend to disappear early so the wise player will try to grab a few of these early to help keep their options open.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

This is all very well, but it is almost certain that a well balanced bag will suffer the full consequences of the Plague.  At the start of each of the eighteen rounds, an event tile is drawn at random which takes effect at the end of the round.  There are six different events each of which occurs three times and they variously have good or bad consequences, including additional income, a visit from the tax man and harvest.  Probably the worst of these, however, is the Plague, though the most serious effects of this can be mitigated to some degree with a bit of care and a little sacrifice.  When the Plague comes, it kills one worker drawn at random from each player’s bag, but if they draw one of their key starting workers it survives.  Thus the smart player will try to ensure their most precious pieces don’t go back into their bag during a Plague round, while stuffing it full of their starting workers and hoping probability does the right thing.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

With seven players, we had to play two games, and they could both be the same since we had two copies of Orléans available (one the original Anglo-German version enhanced with fancy pieces and the other the Deluxe US version with different fancy pieces).  Green was the least keen to play Orléans as he had played it several times recently, but as everyone else seemed keen he graciously joined in with Grey, Red and Blue to make up the first group.  Blue had only played the game as a two player game and Grey and Red were completely new, so the game started fairly slowly, but Green showed the way by getting himself an early Knight and using it to go travelling, building Trading Stations as he went.  In contrast, Blue and Red began by taking Craftsmen and using the associated Technologies.  These are effectively permanent workers once placed on the board, which can make them very powerful if gained early enough.  Grey began by taking the University action and progressing along the Development Track and being the first he managed to pick up a few early Citizens.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Red then moved onto collecting Farmers – not only do these give resources (worth points at the end of the game), but the person who gets ahead in this gets an extra coin at the start of the round (and if someone gets left behind, they lose a coin).  It was about this point that we suddenly ran out of Scholars leaving everyone a long way from where they wanted to be on the Development Track and starting a rules debate as to whether players could continue to take the action for the bonus without getting a worker.  This was a situation that hadn’t arisen in Blue’s two-player games and wasn’t helped by the fact that Burgundy (on the next table) had the first edition of the rules and Blue had the second.  It turned out that Blue had got confused by a rules clarification by the author which explains that although players can’t perform actions that give a worker if they have reached the end of the track or there are no workers left; resources and Technologies on the other hand are a bonus and the actions are still possible if they run out.  This left everyone a little bit stuck, but since Green was the only one who could have really seen it coming and was the most affected having neglected the Development Track for travelling and building Trading Stations, everyone carried on.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue tried to mitigate the problem by taking the Library extension tile which she could use to get two Development Points each time she used it.  Similarly, Grey took the Apothecary extension which enabled him to buy Development Points up to a maximum of three per turn.  By this time we had also run out of Craftsmen, so Blue picked up the Library extension which gave her extra access to the Technologies, though unfortunately for her this was a bit of a waste as it was too late in the game to really make use of it and she ended up only getting the one Technology from it.  As the game progressed into the final stages, everyone suddenly seemed to discover the advantage of the extensions, so Red took the School (so that she could use Scholars as other workers); Grey took the Sacristy (to protect him from the negative effects of events), and Green took the Gunpowder Tower (which expands the market by two and can also be used to place extra workers on the Beneficial Deeds board).  Green was probably the most effective as he was able to use it to pick up extra Development Points and make up for a lot of his shortfall.  In the last turn Blue managed to get her final Sailor and with it an extra Citizen; this proved very effective as it gave her lots of extra points as well as a lot of money and made the game much closer than it would otherwise have been.  It wasn’t quite enough however, and Green won by just four points.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Burgundy, Pine and Violet were engaged in a three player game of Orléans.  Only Burgundy had played it before and he took great pains to explain it very carefully and try to help everyone avoid some of the most gruesome pit-falls early on.  Pine started off like Green, by travelling and building Trading Stations until Burgundy pointed out that he had been neglecting the Development Track.  Meanwhile, Violet shot up the farming track, picking up lots of resources and the extra coin at the start of each round as an added bonus.  Once she had got the maximum number of Farmers, Violet moved onto travelling and collected even more resources, and building the occasional Trading Station when she could.  While all this was going on, Burgundy concentrated on collecting Citizens and building a quality bag. Pine tried stuffing his bag with monks, but they seemed very shy and didn’t seem to want to come out to play when he needed them.  Everyone took an expansion tile:  Burgundy took the Wool Manufacturer early in the game and, as a result and ended up with piles of the stuff, while Violet (like Red on the next table) took the School which enabled her to use Scholars in place of other workers, something she used a lot.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine took the controversial Bathhouse expansion tile which has been the subject of two rules re-writes.  In the first edition of the rules, the player had to place one Farmer on the tile to activate it and then, when it was chosen as an action, the player draws three workers from the bag and chooses two of them to place on appropriate actions which can be used straight away if appropriate.  When the game was first released some players seemed to find this overly powerful, so the designer suggested a modification to the rules such that only two tiles are drawn and only one is kept.  When TMG brought out their edition, they altered the rules again.  In this third version, it is not necessary to place a Farmer to activate the tile, but the additional two workers are drawn from the bag after the others and one is returned, but for this to be useful, there must be sufficient space in the player’s market to hold the extra worker. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages with the requirement for a Farmer to activate it being used to give an extra worker during the round allowing players to leave planning till later in the game and potentially enabling them to use an action twice.  In this game, however, we played by the rules as originally written.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game progressed, everyone struggled a bit on the Development Track and everyone was pretty much dead level.  Burgundy (like Blue on the next table) decided to make a move on the oft-neglected Sailors.  Since the bonus isn’t immediately useful, players tend not to bother about them, however, they provide a lot of money (a total of fourteen for a player who gets everything available) and money equals points at the end of the game.  There is also a Citizen for the player who gets the maximum first, so getting ahead can be quite lucrative, especially as there is often no real competition for it.  Meanwhile, Burgundy was struggling with the Beneficial Deeds board.  He was after the citizens, but as the only one using it, he was struggling and ended up with fewer of some workers than he really wanted.  Eventually Pine and Red gave him a hand, but it was all a bit late in the game for Burgundy.  That said, he had a huge pile of money and finished nearly thirty points ahead of Pine who just sneaked into second place.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Despite the fact that the two games had different numbers of player, they finished at much the same time, with the four-player game actually beginning scoring first.  Even though the number of resources and workers are adjusted the game plays very differently with different numbers:  with fewer players there is more space to move around France and there is a lot less to take on-board.  Red in particular found it very difficult to absorb all the information and options available in the four-player game so perhaps it is easier to grasp what is going on as a two or three player game the first time.  We all struggled to get the workers we wanted at key times.  Monks (especially Pines) appeared to hide in a closet reading their scriptures for most of the game.  Until there was a plague that is, at which time they all came out to find out what all the screaming was for, at which point they were immediately struck down.  That said, Orléans is a great game with a good balance of frustration and a remarkable amount of depth for what are otherwise very simple rules.  Perhaps the biggest issue is the number of tiny rules exceptions (e.g. the first Technology must replace a Farmer), which complicate teaching a bit, but that’s a small criticism in what is otherwise an unusual worker placement game.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Red, Green, Grey and Violet all headed off, leaving Burgundy, Blue and Pine with some three-quarters of an hour to play something.  After a short chat about the future of the “Feature Game”, and how we choose what to play, the group settled down to a quick game of Splendor.  We’ve played this little chip-collecting and card development “engine building” game quite a bit, but we all still seem to quite like it when we are looking for a light filler game.  The idea is that players collect chips to buy gem cards which can, in turn, be used in lieu of chips.  More expensive cards are also worth points and the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points (and the round is completed to give everyone the same number of turns).  Points are also awarded for “nobles” which go to the first player to get a specific combination of gem cards and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

This time, Blue started really well, and before long was eight points clear of everyone else.  Burgundy couldn’t get what he wanted at the start, so just picked up lots of ruby cards while Pine found that everyone else nicked the cards he was after just before he could get to them.  Maybe it was because Blue relaxed, or maybe it was because she and Pine took their eye off the ball, but suddenly, the cards seemed to fall right for Burgundy and Blue and Pine let him take what he wanted.  Before long, Burgundy had picked up two nobles in very quick succession and needed only one point to end the game (as the last player in the round).  Blue managed to pick up two points but it wasn’t enough and Burgundy pipped her to the final win of the evening by just one point.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Learning Outcome:  Tight games are some of the most interesting.

14th June 2016

It was a quiet night and Blue was late, so everyone else got on with a quick game of Love Letter.  Played with just sixteen cards, this is a great little game to play while chatting and doing other things (like eating).  The idea is that each player starts with a card on on their turn, draws a second and chooses one of them to play.  Each card has a number (one to eight) and an action; players use the actions to try to eliminated each other and the player with the highest card at the end, or the last player remaining is the winner.  This time, we played Green’s Lord of the Rings themed version which comes with a pile of tiny magical rings, which certainly had an effect on Pine.  Almost every round he had the highest value card, Smaug.  While this can be an advantage, it can also be a curse as it can make you a target, but only Magenta managed to profit at all.  Pine ran out the winner taking three rounds with Magenta taking the other two and everyone else failing to win any at all.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone fed, we moved onto our “Feature Game” which was Pi mal Pflaumen.  This is a German game where the name is a play on the expression “Pi mal Daumen”, which roughly translates as “rule of thumb” or “roughly”.  In this game, players are not interested in thumbs, but plumbs and other fruit. The game is a trick taking game with elements of set collecting and lovely artwork.  The idea is that each card features a fruit, a number and most also have some sort of special action.  Each player begins with a hand of cards and, starting with the start player, everyone takes it in turns to play one card.  Then, the player who played the highest value card chooses one of the cards which they place face up in front of them, before they carry out the action associated with the card.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

The action could be steal a card from another player; take the “watchdog” card (which guards against other players stealing cards), or take three “pi” cards.  Instead of an action, some cards indicate a scoring condition and the points awarded for achieving it.  These are of the form of, for example, ABC or AAA, indicating three different fruit or three identical fruit respectively.  The more fruit involved and the more similar the fruit, the more points they are worth.  When a player owns both the scoring card and the matching Fruit cards, they are all removed from their display and put to one side to score at the end of the game.  The game is played over three rounds and winner is the player with the most points at the end.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

We started off a bit tentatively, but by the end of the first round we were getting the hang of it and some people were just starting to get an appreciation of how clever the game is.  Burgundy collected a huge pile of cards and Pine starting the stealing and then getting a lot stolen from him.  In the end, it was a very close game with almost everyone finishing with thirty-one points, except Green, who much to his surprise was two points clear.  The game, on the other hand, received a mixed response:  Pine and Magenta really liked it, while Green, despite his win was largely unimpressed.  No doubt it will get another outing and we’ll see if opinions change.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Pi mal Pflaumen had taken much longer than expected, and Magenta fancied an early night, but felt she’d be able to squeeze another game in so long as it wasn’t too long.  After a quick debate, Green’s eye fell on Port Royal, which we’ve played a few times now and were all convinced we’ve played several times in less than half an hour, certainly way less then the fifty minutes maximum the box claimed.  In the end, the fifty minutes proved quite accurate and we decided that the time was probably dependent on the number of players…

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

The game is a fairly simple combination of “push your luck” and strategy, the idea being that players reveal cards until there is something they want, or they go bust.  The active player can keep turning over cards until either they choose to stop or they draw a second ship card that they cannot repel.  Assuming they choose to stop, they can then take a ship card or buy a character card before the remaining cards are offered round the table with players paying the active player one doubloon if they choose to buy/take a card.  The clever part is the dual use of the cards as money and ships/characters, which means the distribution of cards changes for each game giving variety.  The key to the game is the character cards though, as they are what enable players to build an engine and get an advantage over the opposition.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bovbossi

This time we included the Gambler promotional cards that were being given away by the manufacturer at the UK Games Expo at the start of June.  This card allows the active player to take a gamble by turning over four cards at the same time and, if they don’t go bust, they can choose to take an extra  card.  Unfortunately, the Gambler didn’t seem worth the gamble, so nobody gave it a  try which was a shame as the cards kept coming up.  Despite this, the game was a tight one, with several layers in the running in the going into the final round.  Burgundy had started the game and it was he who triggered the final round.  Green went next, but couldn’t quite make the cards work for him.  Pine and Blue followed, but had too much ground to make up.  Magenta went last and drew level, but Burgundy had plenty of money left and was able to take the lead back finishing with fourteen points, one ahead of Magenta.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Little card games can be just as much fun as big boardgames.