Tag Archives: Love Letter

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.

29th May 2018

Two of our more sporadic members arrived early and were keen to get as many games played as possible, so the first game was squeezed in between ordering food and its arrival.  As something quick was required and Turquoise hadn’t played it before, NMBR 9 was the perfect choice.  A quick rules explanation was necessary, but there isn’t much to explain so it didn’t take long:  one player turns over the card deck, one at a time and everyone takes the indicated card and adds it to their tableau, ensuring that the edge touches one of the other tiles.  Once a few tiles have been placed to form a base layer, then tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile; the higher the tiles are placed the more they score.  It was a  tight game, well, tight between three players, but Pink romped away with it, twenty points clear, thanks to building one more level than everyone else.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Food was a little delayed, so there was time for another short game, this time an old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.   This is a game that gives players the illusion of control while everything is going well, and then shatters that illusion when it all goes wrong.  It is one of those games that is more difficult to explain than to play, but essentially players simultaneously choose a card from their hand, then simultaneously, everyone reveals their card.  Beginning with the lowest, each card is added in turn to the end of one of the four rows of cards on the table.  If a card is the sixth to be placed in a row, the first five are “won” and the card becomes a new starting card.  The player with the fewest “nimmts” is the winner, though almost as much kudos goes to the person for whom the game goes most wrong  and ends up with the most “nimmts”.  As usual, we played two rounds, and Magenta won the first with a duck, while Purple top-scored with twenty-six.  Purple picked up more “nimmts” than anyone else in the second round too and bravely took the wooden spoon, but the winner is the lowest over two rounds, and when Magenta picked up thirteen in the second round, she left the door open for Turquoise who finished with a very creditable total of six.

– Image by boardGOATS

While Pink, Blue, Magenta and Turquoise munched their pizzas, and Burgundy was attacked his ham, egg and chips, there was just time for those not eating to play a quick game of Love Letter. This game is very, very simple and can be as long or as short as necessary, in fact we hardly ever actually play it to the bitter end (three wins for one person).  Players start with a one card in hand and, on their turn draw a second, then choose which to play.  Each card has a special action and the aim of the game is to be the last player remaining or, in the case of more than one player left standing, to finish with the highest value card.  The first round went to Ivory came out on top, but in the second, Green made a lucky guess and knocked out Ivory in the first turn.  Then Green lost on a comparison, leaving Black and Purple to battle it out to the last card, with Purple the victor.  The third (and as it turned out, final) round ended up in a very unusual situation of being a tie between Green and Purple who both had the same high card.  While checking the rules, Blue shouted across that the winner was the one who had the highest total in front of them, which gave victory to Green.  With one-a-piece (except for Black) it was declared a three-way tie, though Purple was able to claim a moral victory with one win and a lost tie-break.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy was still wading through his ham, egg and chips, but everyone else was finished, so it was time to negotiate who was going to play the “Feature Game”.  This was to be Taluva, a game we’ve played before, but this time it was to include the Extension.  The base game is a fairly simple tile laying game with a surprising amount of depth.  The idea is that on their turn, players place their tile, then place a building then replenish their hand.  This procedure is to that of Carcassonne, but that is where the comparison ends.  The tiles are a strange dodecagon made of three hexagonal regions or fields, one of which is always a volcano.  When placing tiles, they can be adjacent or on top of other tiles so long as the volcano sits on top of another volcano (the tile must also cover more than one tile and there cannot be an overhang).  Buildings can be placed anywhere, provided that they obeys certain rules. Unfortunately, although the game is beautiful, the theme is a bit sparse making these rules appear very arbitrary which has the consequence that they are quite difficult to remember.

Taluva
– Image by boardGOATS

A hut can be built on any unoccupied level one terrain that isn’t a volcano. On the other hand, an existing settlement can be expanded by placing huts on all adjacent terrains of one type, with more huts placed on the higher levels (two on the level two etc.). There are also three temples and two towers to place which can only be added to existing settlements: temples must be added to settlements covering at least three fields, while towers must be placed on a level three field adjacent to a settlement of any size.  The game ends when there are no tiles left and the winner is the player to have placed the most temples at the end of the game. In case of a tie, the number of towers built counts and then the number of huts. However, if a player succeeds in building all buildings from two out of the three different types before the game end, then he immediately wins the game. On the other hand, any player who squanders his building pieces and is unable to build any more is immediately eliminated.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

Adding the Extension adds four optional modules:  pieces for a fifth player; two ships per player; a small number of double-hex tiles (rather than triple-hex tiles), and a board that provides a boundary for the building area.  We added all four modules, though we used the largest boundary area so it had only a small impact on the game.  The double-hex tiles are laid out face up and each player can only use one during the game, but as all tiles must be used unless a player checks-out early, the decision when to take play one can be quite important as nobody wants to be left with a tile they can’t use effectively.  Perhaps the most interesting module, though, is the ships.  These are played on “lagoons”, but critically, there is  a limit of one ship per lagoon, and the ships do not connect other areas.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

From the very start, everyone seemed to get carried away with the idea of trying to build lagoons and place their ships.  Everyone that is except Burgundy, who got his first settlement illegally removed by Blue and spent most of the rest of the game trying to catch up.  Meanwhile, Pink stalled as his computer overheated, trying to come up with a strategy to compete with Ivory’s ever-growing empire.  It quickly became apparent that it would require everyone else cooperating to bring it down.  Burgundy and Blue tried to hatch a plan, but Black couldn’t see a way to prevent Ivory placing his last ship, and wasn’t prepared to spend as long thinking about things as Pink.  And with that, Ivory brought the game to an end; definitely far more “thinky” than such a simple little game really had a right to be.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, those who did not want to play long or heavy games chose a light game of Best Tree House, an easy game to learn (or so we thought).  This is a fairly simple little card drafting game, but with the rules in German, it was down to Purple to try and remember how to play it and Magenta to attempt some translation.  Players start with a hand of six room cards, and simultaneously choose one to add to their tree, passing the rest of their hand on to their neighbour.  There are some rules about building: firstly, treehouses must be built in such a way that each new level has one more card than the last (giving the tree its shape).  Each card represents a type of room and these are colour-coded to one of six colours. When a player is adding a card of a colour they don’t have in their treehouse yet, it can go anywhere, but if a player is placing a colour that already exists in their treehouse, it must connect to at least one card of matching colour. In this way players have to consider their card placements over the course of the game and try to avoid locking themselves out of options as play develops.  The clever part is the Balance Marker which limits the placement options.  It has three positions and when it is not central, the player cannot build on that side of their treehouse, indeed, they have to build to the other side of center in order to move their Balance Marker back to open up their placement options again.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of
nonsensicalgamers.com

At the end of each round, players score their treehouse based on the trophies on display.  We stumbled through the first game not entirely sure who should chose the scoring alteration cards after each round.  It wasn’t till the end of the game, when Black had found a copy of the English rules online for us that we realised we had made a few mistakes in the way we played. Some of us had also re-used a colour that should not have been used as it had already been blocked by other rooms.  Although the game was a tie between Purple and Turquoise on thirty-four each, we felt we had made such a mess of it that we needed to try again, but properly this time—it was only a short game after all.  The second time round, the game made more sense and everyone made better choices. The choosing of the score alteration cards was certainly trickier this time, but that felt more like a game challenge.  This time the victory went to Magenta, but everyone felt better after the second try and the game seemed a lot fairer too.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

Although time was getting on, it still wasn’t that late, and the “Feature Game” looked like it might be drawing to a close soon, therefore we picked another short one, Dodekka.  This is a simple little push-your-luck card game, with five different suits, Fire, Earth, Air, Water or Ether each with cards numbered 0-4. The game starts with three random cards placed in a line from the draw deck.  On a player’s turn they can either take a card from the deck and add it to the end of the row of cards, or take the card nearest the deck.  If the total of the face values of the cards in the row exceeds twelve, then the player has to take the whole row.  At the end of the game, players choose a scoring suit and add up the face value for that colour, then they subtract the penalty points – one for every card not in their scoring suit.  Purple and Green are old hands at this one, but Turquoise and Magenta had not played it before. Green made a good show of demonstrating how not to play this game as he managed to collect a vast array of cards of all colours.  His positive score was not bad, but he had a shockingly high negative score giving an overall minus one.

Dodekka
– Image by boardGOATS

It was much closer between the other three.  Turquoise got to grips with the idea quite quickly and managed to amass a high positive score of 16, but ended up with a few too many other colours.  In a game that is often won with a score of two or three, her score of nine was excellent and remarkably tied with Purple who scored.  Eclipsing them both, however, was Magenta, who scored positive thirteen like Purple, but amazingly had avoided the traps and ended up with only two other cards to give an unheard-of total score of eleven.  By this time, Taluva had finished, and that group had moved onto another quick game that we’ve not played for a while, The Game.  This was played with the blue cards from The Game: Extreme, but we just ignored the additional extra icons.  In this game, players must try to cooperatively play every card from the deck (numbered two to ninety-nine) onto four piles.  On their turn, the active player must play two cards from their hand on any of the four piles:  for two of the card must be of higher value than the current top card, while for the other two it must must be of lower value.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can discuss anything they like so long as nobody discloses any specific number information and they can play as many cards as they like on their turn so long as they play at least two (until the deck has been depleted, after which they must play one).  To help eveyone out, there is also the so called “Backwards Rule” which allows players to push a pile back so long as the difference between the card they are playing and the card they are covering is exactly ten.  Once the active player has played their cards, they replenish the missing cards.  The game ends when all cards have been played or the active player is unable to play a card.  This time, a lot of players started with mid-range cards, but once those had been cleared, things progressed quite satisfactorily.  Inevitably, when Burgundy was forced to trash a pile, things began to go wrong, but once he’d played all his cards, with a bit of careful organisation all of a sudden it looked possible, and indeed, as Ivory played his last cards, a four and a three, we beat The Game for the first time in a very long while.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

While all this excitement was going on, Green had left for an early night and the last three decided to give NMBR 9 another go.  This time, all three players only managed two scoring layers, and, as a result, there was just one point between second and third.  It was Turquoise, however, who had really got a handle on the game this time though, and finished more than ten points ahead of the others with a creditable score of sixty-four.  There was still time left for something shortish, and with six people there wasn’t an awful lot to choose from, so in the end, we went for an old favourite, Bohnanza, also known as “The Bean Game”.  Because most people have played this a lot, in general, it was only a few minor points that really needed clarifying though reminders are always helpful:  hands must NOT be rearranged; active players MUST play the first card from hand and may play the second; the two cards turned over from the deck must be planted before any other trading can be done; fields with only one bean in them cannot be harvested unless all fields only have one bean in them; draw FOUR cards at the end of players turns, and third bean fields cost only TWO coins…

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was very close.  Purple was clearly doing well with lots of lucrative Soy beans, while Black-eye beans were unusually popular.  Black was stuck with a precession of coffee and wax beans, while Blue kept digging up stuff just before she acquired more of them. Burgundy kept complaining that he had a very small pile, but by the end it looked just as healthy as anyone else’s.  Blue bought herself a third bean field at her first opportunity, and, controversially, Ivory followed about two thirds of the way through the second round.  This drew lots of surprised gasps and sucking of teeth, as the received wisdom is that with large numbers of players, the extra field is rarely worth it.  It was impossible to tell whether Ivory would have done better without it, but it was a game of small margins.  In the end, it was a tie, with Blue and Purple both finishing with thirteen points, largely thanks to a very dodgy trade on the final turn.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Learning Outcome:  Great games can come from a simple rule set.

Boardgames in the News: Asmodee For Sale‽

Over the last few years Eurazeo have developed Asmodee from a small French games company primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble, into an industrial conglomerate swallowing up the likes of Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, and Lookout Spiele.  In the process, Asmodee added some of the most high profile modern boardgames to their portfolio, including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, SplendorDead of Winter, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and as of this weekLove Letter.  Speculation as to the end result has been rife, here and elsewhere.  Indeed, three months ago we raised the question:

…it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Eurazeo going to make their “controlled exit”?

Reuters now reports that according to un-named sources, the answer is, “Sell Asmodee”.  Apparently, investment bankers have been hired to run a sale process which they claim could value the company at over €1.5 billion (quite a return for Eurazeo who originally paid €143 million for Asmodee in November 2013).  As yet, there is no credible information as to who the potential buyers may be, but if the news that Asmodee is to be sold is true, there will no doubt be plenty of speculation over the coming weeks and months.  Possibilities range from a major toy manufacturer like Hasbro or Mattel wanting to add expand their range of boardgames, to venture capitalists companies going for maximum short term profits, leading to reduced quality and increased prices.  No doubt, time will tell…

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

6th March 2018

Food had been ordered by those who intended to eat, but there seemed to be a bit of wait so we decided to play our “Feature Game”, Plague & Pestilence.  This game had been chosen as it was Purple’s birthday and she had enjoyed playing it in the past.  A fairly simple card game, everyone felt it wouldn’t be too difficult to play around when food arrived, added to which, there weren’t many other options available that would play six in a short time.  The game is played in two phases, the first is the “Prosperity Phase” and the second is the “Plague Phase”, but both are played the same way.  During their turn, the active player rolls a pair of purple six-sided dice which indicate how much their population increases by, and takes population cards accordingly.  The active player then draws Prosperity cards to refill their hand and plays one, which allow players to attack others and build their own protections for later in the game.

– Image by boardGOATS

A special Death Ship card is shuffled into the Prosperity deck and when it appears, it triggers the start of the second phase, the “Plague Phase”.  This is played exactly the same as the first phase, but now the dice rolls indicate how much the active player’s population decreases by.  As the game progresses, the plague ravages the populations and players are eliminated; the last player standing is the winner.  The game started fairly benignly as most players either built improvements or had bumper harvests. There was the odd pestilence played and a Mongol raid, however, Green upped the ante when he played the mass migration card and gained five citizens off every other player.  This released the inevitable retribution when he then found himself beset with wars, famines and pestilence.  With two Pied Pipers up his sleeve (metaphorically of course) he was then able to pick on Ivory, and did so twice since Ivory had twice hit Green hard with a major war, and had also caught Pine with Viking raids. Meanwhile, Burgundy tried to build defences, and but they fell to earthquakes and other attacks before he could actually make use of their benefits.

– Image by boardGOATS

The game had not seemed to be going on long when Green drew the Death Ship and the game  entered the Plague Phase. A quick run round the table while everyone tried to bolster their dwindling populations and then food started to arrive.  After a brief interlude, play resumed with Black and his seemingly never-ending stream of Trade Centres.  Before long, a fatal blow was dealt to Burgundy when Purple started a war between him and Green. With three ties in a row, both suffered heavy losses. Although Burgundy did eventually win the war, he suffered some poor dice rolls and soon found himself to be the first without citizens. By now, Green was struggling and Black’s own mass migration had put both him and Pine on the edge as well. The inevitable backlash against Black gave Green and Pine a reprieve, but it was short lived and both toppled very quickly.

– Image by boardGOATS

It was looking like a fight between Ivory and Black as Purple’s pile of people was also looking decidedly dodgy, but then Black tried to start a war between the other two.  Ivory brought out his “Negotiated Peace” card though and all was well. It was a race of attrition that Purple couldn’t win and she was the next to drop out with an empty city.  In the end there was still little Ivory could do and he finally bowed out leaving Black the winner. It was then that Black revealed his hand to have several military advantages that he never used as he was the only one who had not been at war; everyone else had been wondering where those tactical advantages had disappeared to as they really needed them!  With the death and destruction over, we quickly decided to split into two threes.  As it was Purple’s birthday and she wanted to play Cat Lady, Pine and Black joined her.

– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

Cat Lady is a card drafting game, similar in feel to Sushi Go!, though the drafting mechanism is very different.  At the start of the game nine cards from the cat deck are laid out in a three by three array.  On their turn, the active player takes all thee cards in one row or one column and then replaces the cards from the draw deck marking the row they took with a kitty meeple so the next player knows they can’t take that row.  Any cat cards go in front of the owner (or should that be staff?) and these must be fed by the end of the game or they score minus two.  Any food cards give cubes which can then be placed on the face-up cat cards to show they are being fed.  Similar to Sushi Go!, there are also cards that score for the player with the most cards (cat “costumes”) and give players with the fewest negative points and sets that players can collect (toys).  Players can also collect catnip cards which score minus two if the player only has one at the end of the game, or one or two points per cat if they have more.  There are also lost cat cards, and discarding a pair allows players take a two victory point token or one of the three stray cat cards which are particularly useful because they have special powers.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

The tricky part is making sure that the food a player gets matches the cards, because cats are fussy creatures and some like tuna, while others will only eat chicken…  At the end of the game, players score points for each happy well-fed cat and for their toy collection with extras if they have the most cat costumes.  Unfed cats, having the fewest costumes, and the largest surplus of food will give players negative points.  The game began with Purple going for costumes and toys while Black and Pine tried to get catnip to add extra points for their fed cats.  Perhaps Purple concentrated too much on the accoutrements for her pets because she ended up with so many cats that should couldn’t feed them all.  In her defence, it wasn’t that she had no food, it was that her cats were fussy eaters and turned their noses up at the fresh chicken, preferring to starve.  Unfortunately, this meant she lost points for having unfed cats, but also for having the largest surplus of food.  In contrast, the others had well fed cats and were level in almost every department, finishing with only three points between them, and Pine just a whisker in front of Black.

– Edited from video on youtube.com

Meanwhile, on the next table, Burgundy, Green and Ivory opted for NMBR 9. Only Burgundy had played it before, but the rules are simple enough so didn’t take long to explain.  The idea is that players will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice. One player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau. Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile. Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile. At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one. So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).  This time, Ivory and Green matched each other for several turns before making a slight different placement which then ballooned into big differences.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Ivory and Green were quite pleased early on when they were able to place the eight on the, then highest level when Burgundy had to be content with adding it to his “ground floor”. In the end, Burgundy proved cannier than the others, however, and even managed to get a fourth level by the end of the game, while both Ivory and Green could only manage three tiers. In the final scores, it was Burgundy’s experience that showed through and his score dwarfed that of Ivory and Green, who finished with only a point between them.  Chatting about the game afterwards, everyone was surprised how quick it had been and how easy it was to learn (helped by the zero setup time).  So much so in fact, that even though the game was not to everyone’s taste, everyone felt it made a very handy little filler game and with a nice little bit of challenge. Having played it once though, both Ivory and Green felt they had a better understanding of the challenges and were more familiar with the tessellation possibilities and looked forward to doing better next time.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

On the other table, Cat Lady was still underway, so the Green, Ivory and Burgundy opted for another of the hits from Essen 2017, Azul.  Despite the number of times we have now played this in the group, Ivory had somehow missed out.  The idea of the game is that players are tile laying artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora with “azulejos”.  On their turn, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory displays (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles in one of the five rows on their player board.  The catch is that each player only has five rows, each with a set number of spaces (up to five). Players can add tiles to a row later in the round, but once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row. Once all the tiles have been picked up, players evaluate their board, and, starting with the shortest row, one of the tiles from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Players score just one point for a tile that is not placed adjacent to any other tile, whereas tiles added to rows or columns score the same number of points as there are tiles in the completed row (or column). The game continues with players choosing tiles from the factory displays and then adding them to rows, the catch is that as the mosaic fills up, it is harder to fill the rows as each row can only take each colour once. At the end of the game, players score bonus points for completed columns, completed rows and complete sets of five of the same colour.  The game is actually much more complex to explain than to actually play and Ivory appeared to pick it up very quickly, successfully completing a column and two full coloured sets.  Green, on the other hand, had managed only one column and one colour set as he had got stuck with a single blue on the bottom row for at least two turns as there weren’t enough of that colour drawn from the bag which stopped him placing the colours he really wanted to.  It was Burgundy who romped home in the lead though, with two full columns and two complete colour sets and ninety-eight points, just three ahead of Ivory.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

While Azul was going on, Cat Lady had finished and the group also fancied playing Azul.  Unfortunately, we only had one copy between us so they settled on Sheep & Thief instead.  This is another light abstract that has proven quite popular in the group.  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.  It is a strange little “point salad” of a game with players trying to connect their home card to the other three corners while also trying to keep their sheep safe and trying to catch other players sheep with their fox as well as attempting to navigate their black sheep to the town in the bottom right corner of their board.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

With points for 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 hard to see who has the most points and get an idea of who is in the lead and it is astonishingly hard to do well at everything.  During this game, there almost seemed to be a lack of sheep and not much movement around the fields either.  The black sheep only moved a space or two and the foxes mostly sat and watched.  Everyone managed to connect their home card to at least one town, but it was Black who managed to collected a huge number of points when he managed to mastermind a huge river system giving him a completely unassailable lead.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Azul was over, but as Sheep & Thief wouldn’t be long, Green, Ivory and Burgundy settled on a quick game of Love Letter with Green’s home printed Hobbit cards.  It is a while since we last played Love Letter, but nobody had forgotten how as it is simple enough:  draw a second card and chose one to play then action it trying to knock everyone else out—last player standing is the winner.  This time, Burgundy was caught out first as he had been forced to discard the Elvenking, leaving Green with a fifty/fifty guess at Beorn or the Great Eagle (the mutterings on placing the Elvenking suggested he wasn’t Smaug).  Although he guessed right, Ivory played a Troll to compare hands and Green could not match Ivory’s eagle. In the second round, history repeated itself for Burgundy as the first card he played was an Elvenking and the Great Eagle guess proved correct.  It was Green’s Troll card that forced the compare this time and took out Ivory.

– Image by boardGOATS

In the third round, Green started off by keeping himself out of harms way with Elrond, but he drew Smaug as his next card and knew that the writing would be on the wall—it’s very hard to keep that quiet for long. The inevitable happened when Ivory forced Green to reveal his card, but it didn’t do Ivory much good as Burgundy was then able to beat him on another comparison.  With one golden ring apiece and Sheep & Thief being scored on the next table, it was all or nothing on the final round.  Burgundy was knocked out first, but Green and Ivory took it to the final cards, a compare hands. Much to the dismay of Green who had accused Ivory of being Smaug earlier in the round, Ivory had subsequently drawn the dragon card, and with it took the game.  It wasn’t all that late, but nobody really wanted to start anything else.  With Green and Ivory making for home, Black, Burgundy and Pine waited on the birthday girl’s decision, but she also wanted to head off—she’d had a busy day.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Don’t be a fussy pussy or it could be fatal!

9th January 2018

The evening started with a quick pre-pizza game of Love Letter.  We’ve played this micro game quite a bit over the years and it still comes out thanks to its amazing ability to fill tiny slivers of time.  It’s simplicity is the key though: from a deck with only sixteen cards, each player starts with only one card in hand.  On their turn, the active player draws a second card, and then chooses one to play, trying to eliminate other players from the game.  The winner is the last player remaining, or the player with the highest value card (on the rare occasion that the deck is exhausted first).  The very first card played set the tone for the whole evening, when Magenta played a Guard and correctly identified Blue as the Princess taking her out of the round without even playing a card.  Just to add insult to injury, Magenta pulled the same stunt in the third round too.  Blue got her revenge eventually, but it took several tries and in reality wasn’t all that satisfying even though she managed to prevent Magenta from winning a single hand and ensured Red took victory.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With a full compliment of gamers and pizza consumed, it was time to start gaming in earnest. The first game on the table was the “Feature Game”, Scoville.  This is an unusual game with auction, set collecting and “travelling salesman” elements, as well as a cool colour combination mechanic.  The individual elements of the game are not terribly complex, but because the rounds are quite long it is easy to lose track of things making the game a bit susceptible to analysis paralysis.  Each round starts with a blind bidding phase for turn order with the winner choosing his position on the player order track.  This is key because while the next phase, Planting takes place in turn order, the following stage, Harvest, takes place in reverse player.

Scoville
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

During the Planting phase, each player first chooses a card from the market and gets the chili or chilis depicted on it.  Then they must plant a chili, either one they have just received, or one they already had behind their player screen.  Chilis are planted in a plot in massive communal player field on the central game board.  The position chilis are planted in is crucial, not only to the player doing the planting, but also to everyone else, as once a chili has been planted everyone can use it and nobody can remove it from the field.  Once everyone has planted a chili, then, in reverse player order, everyone takes it in turn to harvest.  Players move their Farmer meeple three steps around the field taking chilis as they go.  This is the clever part: the chili players get depend on the the cross-breed of the two chilis in the fields on either side.

Scoville
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, if a player’s Farmer passes or stops between a red chili and a blue chili, they get a purple chili.  Similarly a combination of a yellow and a blue chili will give a green chili.  Once everyone has harvested, people get a chance to do something with their chilis:  take sell them for cash; get points for using them in a recipe, or exchange them for more chilis, points and/or cash at the farmers market.  The game is split into two halves, “morning” and “afternoon”, with the afternoon consisting of more exciting chilis available at the start of the round before planting.  When there are fewer recipe cards than there are players, the game is over and the winner is the player with the most points.

Scoville
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There was the usual debate as to who was going to play what, but as there were nine of us five ended up playing Scoville.  Blue got the “luck” of the draw and went first.  During setup, we’d had a discussion about the fact that going last is often a good thing as it means harvesting first, but in the early stages everyone went for planting as early as possible, leaving Burgundy to plant last and harvest first.  And harvesting first turned out to be a good thing for Burgundy because it meant he was the first to get an award for harvesting a second generation chili (i.e. a purple, orange or green one).  These awards are worth points at the end, and the earlier ones are worth the most.  It was a trick Burgundy pulled off a couple of times, netting him what felt like an unbeatable amount of points, however, the game had hardly started.

Scoville
– Image by BGG contributor chizcw

Everyone seemed to be struggling with something.  The first problem was distinguishing between the red, brown and purple chilis; there are a lot of little wooden pieces and many of them have similar colours, a problem exacerbated by the fact that a critical light-bulb had failed.  Beyond that, the game is fairly straightforward, however, it was the first time we had played it and people spent rather a long time staring blankly at the board, trying to decide where to plant their chilis.  Worse, since farmers cannot pass through or stop on a space occupied by another farmer, the amount of planning players could do in advance was severely limited.  This meant that players had a bit of a habit of getting in each others’ way and it wasn’t long before Burgundy and Magenta had managed to separate themselves from Blue, Pine and Red who had managed to wonder off in the other direction.

Scoville
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The problem with this was that Magenta and Burgundy had managed to acquire white, black and better yet, the clear sparkly chilis and planting these generated was more productive giving Burgundy even more awards.  At least, that was the way it started, but Magenta had other idea and cleverly managed to manipulate the turn order to ensure that she obstructed Burgundy in such a way as to beat him to the most lucrative of the high value awards.  Red, Pine and Blue could do little more than watch, feeling there was no way they could compete, but then, gradually, they began to build up collections of chilis and spend them on recipes which the found could also yield lots of points.  Unfortunately, by this time Burgundy and Magenta had run out of awards to compete for and were also turning their greedy eyes towards the points available for recipes…

Scoville
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With their better area of the field and only two players working it, perhaps it was inevitable that Burgundy and Magenta would be in a better position to grow the chilis needed for the most valuable recipes.  In the process, they managed to trample Pine into the ground and rub chili in his eyes by ensuring that he couldn’t take any recipe cards in the last couple of rounds because he couldn’t get the chilis he needed.  The last couple of rounds were a bit of an anti-climax, as everyone could see what was going to happen and we somehow managed to drag it out for longer than really necessary too.  No-one was in any doubt that the first and second places were going to Burgundy and Magenta, but the others hadn’t been paying enough attention to know which way round it was going to be.  In the end, Magenta finished with a massive one-hundred and eleven points, over twenty more than Burgundy in second, a difference that was almost as large as the range that covered everyone else.  It had been a much longer game than expected and everyone agreed that with fewer players it would have dragged less towards the end.

Scoville
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the next table, the other group were playing First Class, a modular, train-themed card drafting game, where two of five option modules are added to the basic card set, giving the game a lot of variety.  Although Black and Ivory had played it before, Green and Purple were new to the game so they needed a run-through of the rules and only the first two modules were used.  In First Class, players are competing rail line managers, working to upgrade their trains and improve their routes from Venice to Constantinople along path of the Orient Express.  Over three two-stage rounds, players select and activate action cards from a central area, each of which has their own deck of action cards.

First Class
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

At the start of the round players draw cards from the phase deck until there are three rows of six cards in the middle of the table.  During their turn the active player does two things: choose a card from the offer and then use it.  When the number of cards removed from one row is equal to the number of players, the row is removed from the game entirely.  The action cards allow players to extend their route; move their trains; improve their carriages; move their conductors, or expand their train.  There are also contract cards that may be drafted which have a specific condition that must be met during the game; meeting that condition may receive give bonus actions, points, or both.

First Class
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

After the first couple of rounds, Black and Ivory gave away what seemed to be the best tactic for this game, going for track cards and moving their Locomotive Meeple. This worked as not only did it give bonuses each time the train landed on a city space, it also gave bonuses at the end of each round (depending how far the train had got). Green had been building up his carriages and trying to get his Conductor to the end of his train as quickly as possible, since the largest bonuses seemed to be for the first person to get him to the end of their train.  However, when he looked across at Black and Ivory’s approach he felt that he had read the game completely wrongly as he had not realised that the mini-train track bonuses came up every round.

First Class
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor ckirkman

Green continued regardless and quickly filled his train with zero point carriages, relentlessly pushing his Conductor to the end as fast as possible. He was of course rewarded for getting his Conductor there first, and so he spent the rest of the game trying to build up the value of his carriages to pick up as many points as possible. In contrast, Purple’s game plan was a little more measured and she did a little of everything, but that did mean that her Locomotive Meeple wasn’t travelling very far and neither were her guards as her long train wasn’t very long.  Black and Ivory were less interested in developing a long train and kept building up the value of their carriages, including some very useful double multiplier cards which meant that it seemed that Black and Ivory were chuffing away to victory while Green and Purple were running off the rails.

First Class
– Image by BGG contributor Wizzy Parkerir

Purple’s game was rescued in the second half by a masterful placement of a Locomotive Meeple bonus multiplier. She had applied it to the second bonus space; one which gave her two more forward movements of her Locomotive Meeple. In one go she leapt forward a total of six spaces, giving her three bonuses which would then score again for her at the end of each round.  With her Locomotive Meeple making it to the end of her track she then followed Green’s example of getting the Conductor to the end of the train taking the second place bonus on that. By the end of the game, Black and Ivory’s trains had also mostly reached their desired length and Green’s carriage values had increased.  In the final scoring, however, it was Black and Ivory that steamed home at the front with Ivory taking first place with one hundred and ninety-four.  Green had not gone into a siding as he had feared, and was only seven points behind Black, showing that this game probably does have more than one route to victory.

First Class
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor ckirkman

Learning Outcome: Just because a game has enough pieces for five players, doesn’t mean it is a good idea for five people to play it.

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 player 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.