Tag Archives: Love Letter

17th May 2022

Black and Purple were first to arrive this week, but Pink and Blue were not far behind, and once food had been ordered, there was just time for a quick game of Love Letter to commemorate its recent tenth anniversary.  We used to play this quick little filler game quite a bit, but that fell victim to the global pandemic and, as a result, it’d been a while since anyone round the table had played it.  Played with just sixteen cards, the game is really simple, but is a great way to kill a few minutes.  The idea is that each player starts with one card, and on their turn draw a second from the deck and play one of the two.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Each card has a number and an action or effect.  The actions range from number one, the Guard, which allows the player to guess what character card a player is holding and “assassinate” them if correct, to number eight, the Princess, who will win the game for the player holding it at the end, but lose it for them if they are forced to discard it before then. There was just time for three rounds before food arrived.  Black took the first round and Pink the second.  Pink then recused himself as he went to chat to some of the locals about Jubilee plans leaving Black, Purple and Blue to fight it out with Blue taking the final point.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With the arrival of Pine and Lime, the group went on to play Moneybags, which had been the “Feature Game” a couple of weeks ago.  The idea of this is that, on their turn, players have to decide whether to rob another player’s hessian sack of gold or not.  Critically, however, they must not be too greedy.  This is because the victim can challenge the thief, and if the thief is found to have more than the victim, the victim takes the lot, but that makes them more of a target as now everyone else knows how much they have…

Moneybags
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the game did not go according to plan.  Black played the Godfather and divvied up the loot.  Purple robbed Pine, who promptly challenged and won a huge pile of gold.  As it was his turn next, after lots of advice from everyone else, he closed his bag and stepped out.  Then Blue challenged Black and won, knocking him out too.  Although it was close between Pine and Blue, much closer than most people thought it would be, Pine’s huge stash won out.  The moral of this story is to rob someone before you in the turn order otherwise, if they challenge and win, they can kill the game by closing their bag.

Moneybags
– Image by boardGOATS

This week, the “Feature Game” was the Arts and Architecture expansion to Tapestry, which is something that Ivory in particular, had been waiting ages to play.  We wanted to give others an opportunity to play the base game first and then the (slightly less complex) Plans and Ploys expansion, which got an outing a few weeks ago.  That was enjoyed by everyone involved, so it was now time to add the second expansion.  The base game is simple in terms of what you do, but playing well is much more difficult.  The idea is that there are four advancement tracks:  Science, Technology, Exploration and Military, and on their turn, the active player progresses along one of these taking the actions for the space they land on.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

In general, players must pay resources to carry out actions and, in some cases, may pay more to carry out a bonus action.  The first player to progress along each of the tracks receives a building as they pass landmark spaces, which those players then add to their city.  Filling rows and columns of their city gives additional resources and as these are scarce, the extras can be invaluable.  Players can focus on a specific track or take a more balanced approach, but this decision is often driven by starting Civilisations which give players a special and unique ability.  Coupling the Civilisation with the right strategy is often the difference between success and failure.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

When players run out of resources, they can instead take income which means players move on to the next round at different times.  The Arts and Architecture expansion provides more civilizations, tapestry cards, technology cards and capital city plans.  The biggest change, however, is the addition of a new advancement track featuring new Art or Masterpiece cards and tiles and, of course, associated Landmark miniatures.  Each Income phase, players can activate their masterpiece power and get the benefit shown, typically resources or points allowing players to prolong their turns further, but like the Technologies, they are really a long term investment.

Tapestry: Arts & Architecture
– Image by boardGOATS

Green and Teal joined Ivory in what was a Tapestry rematch of the last game and, in addition to the Arts and Architecture expansion also included the Plans & Ploys expansion. Each player received a standard capital city and an expansion capital city, but everyone decided to try the new ones to add variety to the game.  For the Civilisations, in an effort to ensure things were balanced, the up-to-date starting adjustments were used, and players chose:

  • Craftsmen (Ivory), which gave him a new board to place his income buildings on for extra bonuses;
  • Historians (Teal), which enabled him to choose a player each round, and when that player placed a special building, Teal would gain extra resources;
  • Architects (Green), which gave his income rows double points scoring under certain conditions.
Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

Green’s Civilisation did not last beyond his first income phase, however, as he played the Plague Tapestry card which allowed him to draw a new one. This new one, Entertainers, gave him an extra bonus track to follow each income phase.  Ivory made his intentions clear by moving up the new purple Arts track and gained a couple of special Arts cards.  Green followed him, but also spread a bit more onto the Technology track for a Technology card.   It was Ivory who was first to take an income phase, but as he had not explored the Technology track he did not have a Technology to upgrade on his first income.  Ivory did have a couple of Arts cards to provide him with a nice little bonus though.

Tapestry: Plans and Ploys
– Image by boardGOATS

Teal went a different route and travelled up the Explore track and expanded his island.  The resources he gained on the way enabled him to take his first income much later than the others.  This pattern of Teal taking income last remained in play to the end of the game. Green took the second income first, and Ivory switched back to first for the third income. It was Ivory who took his final income first, closely followed by Green leaving Teal to play on his own at the end.  By this time, Ivory had collected all the Arts buildings, completed both the Arts and Science tracks and expanded his empire by three more hexes.

Tapestry: Arts & Architecture
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory had also collected three Arts cards and replaced two of his income scoring tracks. He had only placed two income buildings on his Civilisation card, but had mostly completed his capital city (including a massive seven special buildings), but had only one, solitary technology card.  Teal had completed the Explore track, although two of his space hexes were very poor scoring for him, and had not progressed at all on the Arts track. His empire was seven hexes in size, including the one in the centre of the territory. He had also collected six special buildings on his way, but no Technology at all.

Tapestry: Arts & Architecture
– Image by boardGOATS

Green managed to complete the Arts and Technology track, choosing to travel up the Arts again for his technology completion bonus. He did not expand his empire at all, although he had grown the islands a little. He finished with four Arts cards and three Technology cards, but only five special buildings.  In the final scoring  Green finished with a personal best of two hundred and ninety-three points, beating the hitherto invincible Ivory who “only” managed two hundred and fifty-one, some way ahead of Teal.  Part of the reason for this was that Teal did not place his last player cube choice from his civilisation on his penultimate income.

Tapestry: Arts & Architecture
– Image by boardGOATS

This was because the game ended in a bit of a rush because time was getting on and Teal unfortunately didn’t thought the others wouldn’t get any more buildings.  As a result he missed out on a few free resources in the final round and even a few resources can make a huge difference. As ever it is difficult to find the right balance in Tapestry as players need to both specialise and be a Jack of all trades, which is very hard to do.  Although the game took longer as a result of the expansions, all three liked the added enhancements and would be keen to play again with all the extras.

Tapestry: Arts & Architecture
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the the other side of the room, Lime was introducing Black, Lilac and Pine to Die Wandelnden Türme, a recently released, curious little family game.  The idea is that players start with a handful of Wizards placed on top of the little Towers around the board, and a hand of three cards.  On their turn, the active player plays a card which allows them to move one of their Wizards a set number of spaces forward, or move a tower a set number of spaces.  When Towers move, they take any resident Wizards with them but can also land on top of another Tower and trap any pieces that were on the roof.  A player that catches other pieces in this way gets to fill a Potion Flask.  They can then spend the Potions to cast spells.

Die Wandelnden Türme
– Image by boardGOATS

In the base game the spells available are “move a Wizard one space forward” or “move a Tower two spaces forward”, but others are available and change the feel of the game a little.  Players are trying to land all their Wizards in the black, Raven Castle and fill all their Potion Flasks—when someone succeeds, that triggers the end of the game.  It is a fun and entertaining game where players Wizards get variously trapped and if they have a bad memory, can find they lose them in the circus of dancing towers.  And that is exactly what happened to poor Pine.  His Wizards disappeared and every time he uncovered where he thought they were, he discovered they weren’t.

Die Wandelnden Türme
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end it was a tie between Lime and Black, but it had been a lot of fun, and Pink in particular was watching with envious eyes from the next table as he’d read about the game in the Spielbox magazine and fancied giving it a go.  While eying up the Wizards, Pink was playing Calico with Purple and Blue.  This is another game that is new to the group, although it was released a couple of years ago.  It has a similar feel to Patchwork, the popular two-player tile-laying game about designing quilts, though the games are by different designers.  The most obvious difference is that Patchwork is a Tetris-like game with polyomino tiles, where all the tiles in Calico are regular hexagons.

Calico
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, the active player chooses a patch tile from their hand of two, and sews it into their quilt, before replenishing their hand.  If they complete a colour group with that tile, they can add a button to their quilt; if they create a pattern group that is attractive to a cat, it will come over and sit on their quilt.  At the end of the game, when the quilt is finished, players score for buttons, cats, and their own personal target.  In reality, the theme is a bit “pasted on”, but the pieces are nice, and make what is otherwise a bit of a brain-burny abstract a little more accessible.  Purple and Pink struggled with the puzzly nature of the game at the beginning, where Blue got a better start.

Calico
– Image by boardGOATS

Achieving the personal targets is difficult—these specify the number of different tiles that should surround a particular tile.  For example, the goal tile AA-BB-CC scores when surrounded by three different colours, or three different patterns, with two matching tiles in each colour/pattern.  Successfully fulfilling a target with both the colour and the pattern scores more points, but is significantly more difficult.  Despite explaining this to Purple in her rules outline and saying she had decided to give up on the extras, Blue somehow got lucky and was able to fulfill two of private goals with both the colour and the pattern.  With lots of buttons and cats, it was a bit of a runaway victory for Blue, but it was very close for second, with Pink just edging it.

Calico
– Image by boardGOATS

Die Wandelnden Türme finished first, so the foursome scratched about for something else to play and settled on The Game.  This is a simple cooperative game that was one of Burgundy‘s favourites.  The team have a deck of cards numbered from two to ninety-nine (in our case, from a copy of The Game: Extreme, but ignoring the special symbols), and they must play each card on one of four piles.  For two piles where the card played must be higher than the top card, and for two it must be lower.  There are just three rules:  on their turn, the active player can play as many cards as they like (obeying the rules of the four piles), but must play at least two cards before replenishing their hand, and players can say anything they like but must not share “specific number information”.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Finally, there is the so-called “Backwards Rule” where players can reverse a deck as long as the card they play is exactly ten above or below the previous card played on that pile.  The game ends when, either all the cards have been played onto the four piles, or a player cannot play a card.  This time, things went wrong from the start and unusually, kept going wrong, so much so that there were still two cards left in the deck when the group could no-longer play.  Lilac ducked out and Pine, Lime and Black gave it a second try, but the end result was not much better.  Clearly the group keenly felt the loss of Burgundy’s special skills.

– Image by boardGOATS

While they played their second game of The Game, Calico came to an end, and Lilac joined Purple, Pink and Blue for a game of Sushi Go!, the archetypal “card drafting” game.  Players start with a hand of seven cards, and choose one to keep, passing the rest on to the player on their left. Players repeat this with the aim of the game being to end up with the set of cards that score the most points. The game is played over three rounds with the player with the highest total winning.  This time, the game was interrupted by an arrival, one some people had been waiting all evening for.  The “special guest” was the new resident at the pub, a gorgeous black Labrador puppy by the name of Winston.

Sushi Go!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game decidedly played second fiddle when cuddles were on offer.  Despite the distraction of Winston, or perhaps because of his help, Blue, who is usually appalling at this game, somehow managed to make two solid rounds.  Pink did the same in the first and third rounds, while Purple and Lilac were more consistent over the three rounds.  Purple finished with the most puddings, and Pink and Lilac shared the penalty for having the least.  Those penalty points made all the difference as Blue pipped Pink to the post.  And as Tapestry had also finished and Pink had finished admiring Teal’s copy of Root, it was time for all little puppies to go to bed.

Winston
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: It’s hard to specialise and be a “Jack of all trades” simultaneously.

Boardgames in the News: Ten Years of Love Letter

This week, Love Letter celebrated its tenth anniversary.   Originally self-published by Seniji Kenai (of the Kanai Factory) and released at the Tokyo Game Market in 2012, the sixteen card micro-game has been a roaring success from the very start.  The game reached a much wider audience, however, after the designer Seniji Kanai literally gave the AEG owner John Zinser an “elevator pitch” when he demonstrated Love Letter to him during a ride in a lift. As a result, the game received a US release in later the same year and has since sold an more than three million copies copies worldwide.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

The secret of Love Letter is in its speed and simplicity:  on their turn, players draw a card and add it to their hand, then choose one of their two cards to play.  Each card is numbered, and the winner is the player left holding the highest value card at the end of the game, or the last person standing, if everyone has been eliminated.  The clever part are the actions, which work fit together well, creating a really tight game.  The actions are simple enough that they can be played as an introductory game with players just reading the cards and choosing one of the two options, but also works as a very quick filler for more experienced gamers.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Since its release, Love Letter has been continuously in print with some thirty or more variants and special editions including Santa, Munchkin, Batman, Hobbit, Star Wars and Lovecraft themed versions.  Some of these have small rule changes, while others simply have alternative artwork.  There have also been games that develop the core mechanism like Infinity Gauntlet, Star Wars: Jabba’s Palace, Archer: Once You Go Blackmail… and the Lost Legacy series of games.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

To celebrate the tenth anniversary, Arclight, the Japanese publisher of Love Letter, is planning three new editions of the game:  a collection of all the variants; a version with alternate action cards that can be swapped in and out, and a campaign based story-driven edition of the game.

6th October 2021

For the first time, the group were meeting on a Wednesday to avoid clashing with the Quiz on Thursday.  As Blue and Pink waited for food they decided to squeeze in a quick game of NMBR9 to celebrate our ninth birthday.  This is a quick little tile-laying game that has almost zero setup time, so is very appealing as a filler in this sort of situation.  The tiles are poly-ominos roughly shaped like the numbers zero to nine and there is a deck of cards featuring each number, zero to nine, twice.  Players take the appropriate number from the box following a flip of a card, and add it to their personal play-space.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Tiles have to be placed in layers with tiles on higher layers being more valuable as the number on the tile is multiplied by the “storey” it is on.  Tiles must be placed adjacent to another tile on the same layer and, when placing tiles on higher layers they must not be wholly over one other tile and must be completely supported (no bridging gaps or overhangs).  This time, Pink managed to make it to four layers putting a seven on the top layer, his third “storey” to give twenty-one points.  As a result he was sure he was going to win.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink had fewer tiles on the second and, particularly third levels, though, where Blue had concentrated her efforts.  The effect was very similar, so much so that there was only one point in it, but much to his disappointment, even several recounts couldn’t put the deficit in Pink’s favour.  He was cheered up by the imminent arrival of his pizza though and they were still eating when Green, Lilac, and then Teal turned up.  Since Green and Lilac had missed last time, they introduced themselves to Teal and there was some general chit-chat as everyone else turned up.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Appropriately, as we were celebrating our ninth birthday, there were nine of us to play the traditional birthday “Feature Game“, Crappy Birthday, as we ate meeple decorated chocolate cupcakes.  Crappy Birthday is a silly little party game but is a surprising amount of fun.  As we explained the rules to Teal, we reminisced about last year, when we played it over two sessions (one wrapping our parcels and one giving them) in order to be able to play it online.  Lime expressed his astonishment that it was a year ago, and everyone concurred that it didn’t feel like a year.

2021 Birthday Cupcakes
– Image by boardGOATS

Crappy Birthday doesn’t sound like much: the game is played over one “year” and each player takes it in turns to have their birthday, with everyone else choosing a card from their hand as a “gift”.  The birthday boy or girl then chooses their favourite and least favourite gifts and the givers of these each get a point.  As such, those gifting are trying to avoid the mediocre , in a similar way to Dixit, but “not as good” as Purple opined.  While most people around the table would agree that Dixit is the better game, this group tend to get more fun out of Crappy Birthday because of the really silly gifts on the cards.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

The silliness of the gifts would get stale if we played the game more frequently, but we only play Crappy Birthday once a year and we usually only use around half the cards, so most cards only come out once every two years.  It is a great way to find out about people though, so being new to the group, everyone thought Teal would be at quite a disadvantage.  This year we found out that Pink was unimpressed by 100lb of raw fish, Lilac quite fancied a trying out a wingsuit and Blue would overcome the creepiness of 3am in the Paris catacombs as apparently they were hard to get to visit.  Ivory, was torn between the opportunity to sing the National Anthem before a Major League Baseball game and getting his earlobes stretched, but went for the latter as his least favourite as it was more permanent.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

We discovered that Teal likes to keep his feet on the ground, so he eschewed a flight in a fighter jet, but really liked the idea of a Viking helmet.  It was about this point that we were joined by one of the former bar staff who stuck about to help Pink with his gift selection.  It seemed she didn’t really help a lot though as he completely failed to get any of his gifts picked as best or worst.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

From there, Purple nearly ended up instigating divorce proceedings when she received a set of camera scales from Black (a gift nobody else would have been prepared to give to anyone).  Instead of fully justified revenge, however, Purple gave Black’s his favourite gift a campervan.  Lime having just moved house eschewed recycled newspaper wallpaper, instead opting to decorate his new home with some modern art after some classes.  DIY seemed to be in the air, as Green chose a house that needed renovation, though he volunteered Lilac to fix the roof.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

As usual, Lime’s amazing gift-giving skills meant he did well, but this time he was beaten into third place by Purple and, remarkably, Teal who tied for first place, with four—it seems Teal knows us all surprisingly well after just a couple of weeks!  As people counted their scores and decided what to play next, the group put together a special selection of gifts for Pine who was running late thanks to a group of over-enthusiastic cubs whom he had been showing round his work.  This special selection was tailor-made for a vegan who doesn’t like horses.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

From there, the group split into three, one led by Lilac who wanted to play Thurn und Taxis, one led by Ivory who wanted to play Key Flow and one led by Green to play with something short that Pine could join in with when he arrived.  Thurn und Taxis is a slightly older, Spiel des Jahres winning game where players build postal routes connecting cities across Bavaria and surrounding regions.  Routes are built city to city to city, so that each city is adjacent to the next city on the route and there is a road connecting these two cities.

Thurn und Taxis
– Image by boardGOATS

Players are building routes by collecting cards and playing them in front of them.  Every turn, the active player takes a city card from the face-up display (or blind from the top of the deck) and then plays a card for a city connected to either end of their existing route.  The card played, must connect to their route, otherwise they have to discard their route and start again.  Then they can score their route if they choose, but each route must consist of at least three cities and players may build only one route at a time.

Thurn und Taxis
– Image by boardGOATS

If after adding to the route, the length of the route is at least three cities, the player may declare it finished and score it.  Players start with a supply of twenty post offices in their colour, each of which is worth minus one at the end of the game. When they score a route, players place post offices in cities on the board, but they have a choice.  Each city is in a region and each region has a colour, when a route is scored, the active player can either place one post office in one city in each of the region their route visits, or in all the cities on one of the regions their route goes to.

Thurn und Taxis
– Image by boardGOATS

When a route is scored, the active player can take a cart card.  These give points, however, in the general case, the cart card must be one more than the previous one and the route must be longer than the cart number.  Thus, if someone is scoring a six leg route, they can only take a level six card if their previous cart was a level five card.  If they enlist the help of the Wainwright, however, if they have a level five card, they would be able to take a level six card with a route of only four legs.  Once a route is scored, the city cards of that route are discarded, and the player begins a new route on their next turn.

Thurn und Taxis
– Image by boardGOATS

The Wainwright is not the only special character in the game: the Postman, Bailiff and Coachman are all there to offer help, allowing players to take a second card, refresh the card market and play a second card respectively.  Players can only enlist aid once per turn though, so they must choose who they call on carefully. When a player exhausts their supply of post offices or acquires a value seven carriage, the end of the game is triggered with players continuing the round—the player with the most points wins.

Thurn und Taxis
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to points for cart cards, there are also bonus points available for players to connect all the cities in a region or to have a post office in every outer region, as well as for players completing longer routes and for the player who triggers the end of the game.  In general, bonuses score most for the first player to make the achievement with diminishing returns thereafter.  This is therefore a consideration players must take into account, but the fact that players must add at least one city to their route each turn or lose the whole route is probably the most important aspect of planning in the game.

Thurn und Taxis
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Thurn und Taxis is an older game, Purple had not played it before, and it took her a while to get her head round it.  She got to grips with it eventually, however, it was later in the game and Black and Lilac had already got a head start.  It was very close between them though with the scores neck-a-neck until the last.  Lilac triggered the end of the game by taking a level seven cart card and with it took what turned out to be the decisive bonus point, pipping Black with twenty-seven points to his twenty-six.

Thurn und Taxis
– Image by Lilac

On the next table, Teal had looked in the game bags and decided Azul was one he’d like to play.  Green, Lime and Teal had just started without Pine when he inevitably arrived a couple of turns in.  He politely eschewed their kind offers to start again, instead concentrating on his healthy supper of crisps and cake and choosing his gift.  In Pine-like fashion, he chose to redefine the rules and decided his favourite gift was a hunting expedition as long as the subjects of the hunt were the people delivering the perkiness training in his other “choice” gift.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

We have played a lot of Azul and its derivatives (Stained Glass of Sintra and Summer Pavilion) over the last three years, but the original is probably still the favourite across the group.  It is really very simple, and despite being an abstract game, the pieces are really nice.  On their turn, the active player either takes all the tiles of one colour from one of the “markets” putting the rest in the centre, or they take all the tiles of one colour from the central pool.  They then add the tiles to one of the rows on their player board.  The catch is that all the tiles placed in any row must be the same colour and if they over-flow, they score negatively.  Additionally, each colour can only score in each row once.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

Only complete rows are removed and scored, and then only at the end of the round (when all the tiles in the market and central pool have been taken).  Thus if a player has a nearly complete row at the end of a round, they carry that through to the next round leaving them with less free space to work with.  When a row is scored, one tile is moved to the player’s mosaic and scores for the number of tiles it forms a continuous row/column with.  The game ends when one or more players complete two rows.  This time it was a game of two halves, or rather two games.  It had been a while since we played the original version (or any version for that matter), but it wasn’t long before Teal, Lime and Green were happily playing, filling their boards.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime and Teal took an early lead and were soon well ahead of Green as he had concentrated on filling his grid from the bottom up, whereas they had been working from the top down. As the game progressed Green began to catch up.  It was then that he realised that he’d forgotten what the game end trigger was.  He’d thought it was when the markets could no-longer be refilled, but checked the rules to be sure.  Only to find that two full completed rows had happened two turns earlier!  The group decided to finish the round and make it the last.  It was very close between Lime and Teal, with Lime just taking victory by three points.  The other games were still going and it was not yet late, so the group decided to give it another go, and this time finish the game correctly.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

In the second game, Green built his grid from the top down and the scores remained fairly similar, until around half way through when Teal began to pull away.  It was at about this point that Green noticed that one row had tiles of a colour he’d already scored for that row.  No-one was quite sure how it had happened, but the mutual decision was that he’d move these tiles down to the next row.  That turn didn’t go quite as expected, but at least it wasn’t a complete disaster.  The following round, he discovered he’d done the same thing again.  This time he worked out what he’d done:  he’d had failed to clear the remaining tiles when he moved one across to the pattern board.  So, on the previous turn, instead of moving tiles, he should have removed them.  It didn’t really matter though as Teal won by a landslide.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Ivory, Blue and Pink had revised the rules, completed card set up for Key Flow, and had started playing.  Key Flow is the card game of one of the group’s favourite games, Keyflower.  In both games, players are building villages and activating the buildings in their villages by playing meeples (or rather Keyples) to generate resources and score points.  The games have a lot in common including the artwork, the iconography and the fact both take place over four rounds or seasons.  Fundamentally, the underlying game mechanism is different, however, with players acquiring tiles by auction in Keyflower and by card drafting in Key Flow.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the card decks have been sorted out, Key Flow is quite straightforward to play, though doing well is a different matter.  Players who start with a hand of cards, choose one and pass the rest on.  They then add their chosen card to their village.  There are three types of card:  Village cards, Riverside cards and “Keyple” cards.  Village cards are buildings that can be activated by playing Keyples above them, while Riverside cards provide instant resources and skill tiles.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards have to be “connected” together and location can be important.  Buildings for example are more productive if they have been upgraded, but upgrading needs resources and the resources need to be located on the building being upgraded.  Similarly, in autumn there are some buildings which score points for resources they are holding.  Therefore, it is helpful if the building producing the resources is near to the one being upgraded or used for scoring as moving resources can be expensive and sometimes difficult.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of both Keyflower and Key Flow players get some winter tiles/cards which can act as objectives to guide players’ strategies.  Whereas in Keyflower these are just added to the tile draw, in Key Flow, players get to keep one of their winter cards with the rest going into the draft.  At the end of the game, at the end of winter, players score for any autumn cards, any buildings with upgrades as appropriate, any winter cards and finally one point for any otherwise unused gold.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the biggest differences between Key Flow and Keyflower is the way Keyples work.  In Key Flow, they are cards and come in singletons and pairs.  Each card has a small Keyple at the bottom of the card, and the number of Keyples needed to activate a building is one more than the number of small Keyples already there.  So if there is one small Keeple already there, a pair would be needed to activate that building.  Further, only one card is can be played each round, so if two small Keyples are already present, the Keyple card must be augmented with a Keyple token (obtained as a bonus with some cards or from some buildings).

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Further, the Keyple cards also feature arrows which indicate where they can be played.  Some can be played either in a neighbour’s village or the player’s own village.  Other cards can only be played on one side or cannot be played in their own village.  This is why three players is arguably the sweet-spot for Key Flow—with more players there is at least one village players cannot use, adding a level of randomness that it is difficult to deal with.  With three however, everything in play is accessible, though perhaps at a cost.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

It had been a while since Key Flow had been given an outing, so although game play is functionally straightforward, it took Blue, Ivory and Pink a while to remember the little features and how to make the game work for themselves.  Pink started off early with an obvious strategy of generating stone, stone and even more stone from his Keystone Quarry.  It was very clear, even to Pine who joined in to spectate about halfway through, that Pink had a winter card that would score for stone.  And so it proved when he produced the Trader in the final round.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Things were less clear-cut for Blue and Ivory, however.  Blue started by just playing the cards in her hand, which meant she ended up with a lot of cows (just because).  In summer, Ivory picked up a boat that allowed him to convert sheep into pigs and pigs into sheep, which went nicely with his animal scoring winter cards.  Blue, on the other hand, very out of practice with this sort of game, just played tactically, and played for points.  Her Workshop went well with the Mercer’s Guild she had in her winter cards, but the Well and Goldsmith, both fully upgraded gave her thirty-five points alone.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory had a bit of a nightmare and was unable to make the game work for him this time.  This was made worse by a rule we only spotted towards the end which meant each Keyple card could only be used towards one goal and the fact he made a mess of things when he put a Riverside card in the middle of his village and had to make it work retrospectively.  As he said sadly, although he had remembered how to play, he’d forgotten how to win.  Pink, with his massive pile of stone thought he was in with a good chance, but they were actually only worth one and a half points each, so although he had a huge pile, it only gave him thirty-nine points and had taken a lot of work to get them.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink was a little bit stymied by the fact he was banking on also getting a a sheep scoring card in winter, but Ivory took it before it got round to him.  Blue on the other hand had lucked out when she picked up a lot of Keyple scoring cards that nobody else seemed interested in giving her over a hundred points and a comfortable victory.  With that, Ivory left, as did Lime and Teal, leaving Green, Pink, Blue and Pine waiting for the conclusion of Thurn und Taxis, and time to play a couple of rounds of Love Letter.  In the end, it really was just a couple of rounds and ended with a round a piece for Green and Pink, as the pub was closing and it was time to leave.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  While camera scales may seem like a good gift idea, in reality the giver will probably end up sleeping on the couch.

23rd September 2021

Burgundy and Blue were just finishing their supper when Teal introduced himself.  The three were chatting when Lime, who hadn’t been able to come for over a month, also joined the group.  It was expected to be a quiet night with Green and Lilac away on holiday, Pine working late, and Pink stuck somewhere on the Warwick bypass.  So, there was a lot of chat, but eventually, the group decided to play something and settled on Love Letter.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

This is a very simple little game that we’ve played a lot, but somehow Lime had missed out.  So, there was a very quick rules explanation:  players start with a hand of one card, draw a second and choose one to play and do the action on the card.  The cards are numbered and the aim of the game is to finish the round with the highest card, or more commonly, avoid being knocked out.  There are only sixteen cards in the deck (and one of those is removed at the start of the round), so it doesn’t take long.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

The group were only three rounds in when everyone else turned up (including Pink who had escaped the roadworks), so Lime was declared the winner with two tokens and everyone else was introduced to Teal and started to discuss what to play.  In the end, Burgundy took matters into his own hands and started a game of Wingspan, so while Pink waited for his pizza to arrive, Blue explained the “Feature Game“, Mini Rails.

Mini Rails
– Image by boardGOATS

Mini Rails is a very simple little stock-buying and track-laying train game that compresses a lot of the game play of long and complicated games like the 18xx series into under an hour.  Players have two turns in each round, on one they buy shares in one of the companies and on the other they extend the “track” of one of the networks.  If it is built on a white space, players with holdings in that colour increase their value by the marked amount.  If the network is built on a red space, the stocks in that company are decreased in value.

Mini Rails
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is very simple, but there are a couple of clever little tweaks.  Firstly, there are two “tracks”, one is the turn-order track, while the other holds train disks drawn at random from a bag.  On their turn, players choose one of tokens and decide which action to use it for, “build track”or “buy shares”.  The position of the token that is taken dictates where they will be in the turn order in the next round.  Manipulating this turn order is one key aspect of the game, as is deciding whether to buy and then build, or build and then buy.

Mini Rails
– Image by boardGOATS

Perhaps the most complicated aspect of the game is the end-game scoring.  At the start of each round train discs are drawn from a bag; one more than there are turns.  This means everyone always has a choice, but the token the last player does not use is put to one side indicating they have paid “taxes”.  For the companies that have “paid taxes” any negative dividends are erased and positive dividends are counted.  For those companies that have avoided paying their taxes the reverse is true and negative points will be scored while positive points are lost.

Mini Rails
– Image by boardGOATS

This means it is in the interest of players with both large positive or significant negative scores to forgo building track or buying shares and leave a potentially valuable token as taxes.  Similarly, if a player is left with a choice of two tokens, it may be in their interest to buy/build a relatively unfavourable track to deprive other players of points.  With three players, the game doesn’t take too long to play, and with more it would likely become quite random.

Mini Rails
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime took an early lead, though of course lots of early points are… pointless, if the company doesn’t pay taxes.  In the end it was extremely tight, but in the end, Blue just pipped Lime by a single point.  With just three there isn’t much downtime and the game rocks along nicely with plenty of interaction, though as Pink said, “That’s one hell of an abstraction for a train game.”  Blue pointed out that this was what a lot of gamers thought of when someone said “Train Game”.  Pink felt disappointed at the lack of actual trains and tracks so to make it up to him, the group moved on to play Ticket to Ride Demo.

Ticket to Ride Demo
– Image by boardGOATS

Ticket to Ride Demo is one of the small games based on the Spiel des Jahres winner, Ticket to Ride Europe.  The Demo game has an interesting history—it was designed as a sales tool and had only a small print run.  It was so popular though, that it ultimately spawned a new range of small “City” games, New York, London and Amsterdam.  These games are essentially played the same way as the full-sized versions, but with fewer pieces on a smaller map which means they typically take less than half the time.

Ticket to Ride Demo
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn players can do one of three things:  take cards from the market, spend cards to place trains or take tickets.  Players score points for placing trains, but also for connecting the places on their tickets.  The catch is that any tickets that are not completed score negative points.  The small versions of the game are much tighter with less room for error.  Unlike the others, Ticket to Ride Demo has a double sided map, one USA and one Europe.  This time the group played the Europe map.

Ticket to Ride Demo
– Image by boardGOATS

Compared to the full-sized equivalents, all the little games are like a knife-fight in a phone-box, and this game was no exception.  Lime only completed three of his four tickets as Blue brought the game to a quick and sudden end.  Pink completed all four of his tickets and they were high-scoring too.  Blue’s tickets were less lucrative, but she managed to place all her trains and took the European Express bonus points for the longest continuous route, and with it victory, by just two points.

Ticket to Ride Demo
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table an epic, five-player game of Wingspan was underway.  We’ve played Wingspan quite a bit since it came out and always found it very enjoyable.  We’ve played it enough that we’ve also explored the European expansion, but thanks to the restrictions over the last year or so, this was the first opportunity to play the new Oceania expansion.  The base game is a reasonably light, card-driven, combination building game.  On their turn, players can place a bird card from their hand in one of the three habitats, or activate all their cards in one of the habitats and carry out the associated action.

Wingspan: Oceania Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

The habitats are Woodland, Grassland and Wetland and the actions associated with them are collecting food, laying eggs or collecting cards (respectively).  Once the action has been carried out, the active player activates each card in the habitat in turn.  The game is played over four rounds, with a decreasing number of actions per round as the game progresses.  At the end of each round there are goals and each player also starts with a personal bonus card which is evaluated at the end of the game.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The European expansion really only adds extra cards, though this includes a number of birds with abilities that are activated at the end of rounds, and others that increase player interaction.  The new Oceania expansion also adds more cards, but additionally mixes things up a little more with the addition of a new food type, nectar.  Nectar can be used as wild food type, although some of the new bird cards have nectar specified in the cost.  Whenever players spend nectar though, they don’t put it back in the supply, instead they store it in the habitat they spent it on.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of the game, the player with the most nectar stored in each habitat scores five points at the end of the game with the player coming second scoring two points.  Nectar is therefore a very important resource giving a potential fifteen points at the end of the game, although it requires some skill to use it effectively as it can’t be carried over between rounds.  Burgundy and Black really invested in nectar and managed to make good use of it during the game as well as take the lion’s share of the nectar points at the end of the game.

Wingspan: European Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy and Black also prioritised valuable birds and tried to ensure they stayed in the running for the end of round bonuses.  Three out of the four of these involved eggs, which fitted with Ivory and Teal’s strategies which focussed on an end-of-game egg rush.  Ivory also picked up a lot of points from his Common Starling which enabled him to discard up to five bits of food and tuck a card for each one.  With a maximum of twenty points, Ivory did well to take eighteen during the game, but it was only enough for third place this time though.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

It was very close at the top between Black and Burgundy.  Burgundy had four bonus cards one of which proved quite lucrative.  The big difference was in the value of the bird cards, however, while Black edged it in many departments Burgundy had a ten point head start.  This wasn’t simply because he had high value birds, more that he had lots of them.  In the end, Burgundy finished five points ahead of Black with ninety-five, in a good game that had been enjoyed by everyone round the table.

– Image by boardGOATS

Wingspan was still only on its third round when Ticket to Ride Demo came to an end.  At around the same time, Pine pitched up, so the, now foursome settled down for something else which ended up being a game of Reiner Knitzia’s Botswana (aka Wildlife Safari).  This is an unusual auction-like game made all the better by the inclusion of plastic animals.  Played over several rounds, players are dealt a hand of cards and on their turn play a card and take an animal of their choice.  The cards are numbered zero to five and come in five different animal suits.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards are played in the centre of the table in suits and the game ends when all six cards of one suit have been played.  The top card in any suit is the current value of that animal.  Thus, if the top zebra card is a five, a player that has three zebras will earn fifteen points for them if the game ends.  However, if the zero just before the game ends, the zebras will become worthless.  It is a deceptively simple, yet fun little game.  Blue thought she’d won until a recount docked her ten points and she finished just two points behind a delighted Pink.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

As Botswana came to an end, so did Wingspan, and although time was marching on, and Lime and Ivory took an early night, there was still time for everyone else to play one last game.  After a little discussion, we settled on 6 Nimmt!, a game we all know and love.  Players simultaneously choose a card and these are sequentially added to the end of four rows of cards, specifically the row with the highest number that is lower than the card itself.  If the card is the sixth card in the row, instead, the player takes other five and adds them to their scoring pile.  The player with the lowest score at the end of the game is the winner.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

We’ve all played this a lot online over the last year, but doing the maths ourselves was a little daunting, so we decided to go back to playing the non-professional version.  We play over two rounds using half the deck in first and the other half in the second.  This time Teal top-scored in the first round with nineteen, while Burgundy kept a clean sheet with Pink just behind.  Blue’s killer thirty-three in the second round gave her a total of forty-eight, but the winner for the second time in the evening was Pink with just four points.  And with that, it was bedtime.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Today’s railway industry is no longer about trains and tracks. ☹

26th August 2021 (Back at the Jockey!)

Following the test event at the Horse and Jockey and much discussion, we decided to try meeting in person once again.  As the pub are not currently serving food on a Tuesday, we decided to move to Thursdays, at least in the short term, especially as times are so uncertain.  This week, the “Feature Game” was Red Rising, a new card collecting game inspired by Fantasy Realms and themed round the books by Pierce Brown.  The books are set in a dystopian future on Mars following low-born miner Darrow, a Red, as he infiltrates the ranks of the elite Golds.

Red Rising
– Image by boardGOATS

In the books, society follows a fourteen-colour caste system from Gold at the top to Red at the bottom.  Red Rising the board game takes this colour hierarchy and adds elements of hand-management and card-combo building.  The idea of the game is very simple:  players start with a hand of five cards and on their turn, play one card onto the game board and pick up another.  The aim is to improve the quality of their hand and with it, its value.  Cards are played on one of four locations on the central game board and have an additional deployment action when played, the effect of which can be dependent on the location they are played in or the card they are played on top of.

Red Rising
– Image by boardGOATS

The card picked up must be the top card from another different location except where enabled by the played card.  The location from which the card is collected dictates an additional bonus action:  Move along the Fleet track, Collect helium, Increase one’s presence in the Institute, or Claim the Sovereign token.  There are a couple of other options:  play a card and then take a card blind from the Character deck and roll a die to decide what their bonus action will be.  Alternatively, instead of playing a card, just draw a Character card from the deck and place it, then take the bonus action.  In practice, these two options are relatively rare and only taken if there is nothing to pick up, or the player likes the hand they have.

Red Rising
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends when either seven is reached in all three of the Fleet track, helium and the Institute, or one player has reached seven in two of them.  At the end of the game, players sum their total score from each card, the scores from combining effects of cards, ten points if they finished with the Sovereign token, three points for each helium, their score for progressing along the Fleet track, and points for each of their tokens in the institute (four per token for the player with the most, two and one for less committed players). Anyone over the seven card hand-limit loses ten points per card over the limit.

Red Rising
– Image by boardGOATS

There is a large deck of cards of which only a relatively small number are seen in each game.  The nature of the game changes dramatically depending on which cards come out.  This time Blue, Pink, Burgundy and Pine made up one table while Ivory, Green, Black and Purple made the other, both playing with the Collector’s Edition.  The first difficulty, was that although beautiful, some of the colours in the Collector’s Edition are difficult to tell apart.  The Influence and Fleet tokens in blue and green, and pink and red, were a particular problem which was made worse in low light.  This was not too much of a problem in practice, however, because influence tokens can be grouped together and we weren’t playing with the maximum number of players so could ditch the worst clashes.

Red Rising
– Image by boardGOATS

A bigger problem was the amount of text on the cards.  Pine and Burgundy both had issues with this, which could be got round by passing cards if people wanted to read them.  Additionally, the cards used in a game tend to circulate with one player playing it and another picking it up before playing it themselves.  So the burden is not as heavy as it seems at first.  Despite it not being complicated, the one table seemed to have a significant issue with rules.  Pine struggled with whether the action was associated with the location a cards was played or the location it was collected from.

Red Rising
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink, meanwhile, developed an inexplicable habit of taking the action at both locations.  Adding insult to injury, Pink also repeatedly distracted Blue by complaining that he couldn’t see a way of increasing the number of cards in his hand and asking advice.  On the next table, however, Green felt he was being got at.  This is actually quite a normal state of affairs because we all love to pick on Green, but in this case that wasn’t what was happening.  Green’s special power that meant he was able to place an Influence token in the institute every time he took the Sovereign token, but he had a card that meant he would lose points if he had the Sovereign token at the end of the game.

Red Rising
– Image by boardGOATS

So, for this reason, Green concentrated on collecting red helium gems instead.  Unfortunately, random draw meant that on this occasion the game had an awful lot of cards that penalised players with the most helium or a player of choice, which Green felt was mostly him.  Worse, the nature of the game is that players play these cards then others pick them up and play them again, which can make it feel like there are more cards like this than there really are.  Black’s influence dominated the Institute, while everyone competed for points on the Fleet track.  It was an extremely close game with four points between first and third.  Purple channelled her inner “Magic: The Gathering” player and with a lot of helium, sneaked ahead of Ivory to take second.

Red Rising
– Image by boardGOATS

Despite struggling to get Gold cards and feeling the game was against him, Green finished just ahead with two hundred and fifty two points.  The other game was nowhere near as close and clearly played out very differently.  Blue, also lost some helium thanks to Burgundy, but it only happened once, there was no real shortage of Gold cards, and the game seemed to take a lot longer.  Part of this was because Pine spent a lot of time checking what he was doing and insisting it wasn’t his sort of game, yet he dominated both the Institute and the Fleet track.

Red Rising
– Image by boardGOATS

There were over a hundred points between first and last in this game, but the scores didn’t feel as disparate while playing.  In spite of his complaints, it was Pine who came out on top with a massive three hundred and nine points.  Overall, both games were a bit of a mixed bag with Burgundy saying it didn’t gel for him, Pine feeling bewildered (not withstanding his success), Green feeling “got at”, and even Pink (who had played it twice before) made a bit of a hash of things. Ivory, Pink and Blue had played it before, and all three had been unconvinced after the first game, but more positive after the second.  So it is definitely a game that benefits from multiple plays, if people are prepared to give it a second chance…

Red Rising
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory, Green, Black and Purple finished first and, at the time it looked like the other group wouldn’t finish for ages.  So after some discussion, they started another game and chose Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam.  This is one of the “little” spin-off games based on the original Ticket to Ride.  Themed round a city rather than a country or continent, these are smaller and quicker to play than the bigger games, but lots of fun.  This one is based on the Dutch capital, but the game play is essentially the same as the other editions.

Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, players either collect coloured cards from the market, or spend them to place plastic carts and score points.  Players start the game with three tickets (of which they must keep at least two), which depict two locations.  Players who can connect these locations score points at the end of the game; failure to do so leads to negative points.  Each variant has a little tweak.  So, in addition to scoring points from placing pieces and successfully completing tickets, in the Amsterdam edition, players can pick up goods cards when they complete a route marked with carts.

Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam
– Image by boardGOATS

The player with the most of these at the end of the game scores an extra eight points with other players scoring fewer with the amount depending on the number of players.  This time, Purple built her routes through the middle of Amsterdam and to the north.  Everyone else went for the potentially lucrative goods routes in the south, east and west.  The problem with this was the competition, with Green the main casualty.  Although Green managed to get three goods cards he failed to complete his second ticket.

Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory also went for two tickets and completed them, but managed to add five goods cards giving him the most and adding a valuable eight points to his score.  Both Purple and Black largely eschewed goods cards (collecting just one) and concentrated on finishing their three tickets.  In a tight game, which this was, those solitary tickets and the tie-breaker for them was critical.  It was a tie for second between Black and Ivory, but it was Purple, who just edged in front, winning by a single point.

Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam
– Image by boardGOATS

While the others were playing with their trains carts, the second table had finally finished their game of Red Rising, so they picked up where they had left off last time with another game of the filler, Love Letter.  This “micro game” consists of just sixteen cards.  Players start with one, draw a second and play one of them doing the associated action.  The player with the highest value card, or the last player standing is the winner of the round.  The first player to win three rounds is the winner.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Last time, it was all about Blue and Burgundy, with Poor Pine being knocked out every single round.  This time it was a bit different, and it was all about Pine and Blue.  Pink and Burgundy failed to take a single round, but it was tight between Pine and Blue.  There was a bit of ebb and flow with one taking a round and then the other, but it was Pine who took his third round first and with it revenge for last time as he left Blue languishing with just two love tokens.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam and Love Letter finished at about the same time, Purple, Black, Green and Ivory all decided it was time to make a move.  The others felt there was still time for one quick game of …Aber Bitter mit Sahne, a fun little game based on the simple “I divide, you choose” mechanism.  On their turn as Master Baker, the active player constructs a “pie” from pieces drawn at random and divides it into portions, each consisting of several pieces.  Starting with the player to the Baker’s left, each person takes a portion of their choice and decides which pieces to keep and which pieces of cake to eat.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

When all the cake has been distributed, the player with the most of each type scores the number shown on that type, while each piece that has been eaten scores for the number of blobs of cream, sahne.  The clever part is that the number of cake pieces of each type in the game is the number shown on the pieces, thus the most common types are the most valuable, but also need the most pieces to score.  Thus the aim of the game is to collect sets, but only the largest of each type scores, everything else is worthless unless it has been eaten.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Players tend to wind up collecting different sets.  This time, Pine won nine points for his gooseberry pie, Burgundy won seven for his blackberry flan and Pink took twenty-one points for his strawberry tart and chocolate gateaux.  That was without counting the cream though.  Pink thought he’d done enough, but was just beaten by Burgundy who, as well as a lot of cream, also shared the points for a lot of the lower scoring cakes. His final total of thirty-four was one more than Pink with Pine and Blue tied for third.  And on that sweet note, it was home time.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It will take a little time to get used to playing face-to-face again.

19th August 2021 – “Unofficial boardGOATS”

We’d had such fun at the “Post-Covid Test Event” at the Horse and Jockey and some were so disappointed to have missed it, that we decided to have another, this time “unofficial” meeting at the pub before our formal return.  As we chattered away and waited for food to arrive, we told Lime what we’d played last time.  He said he was sorry to have missed Sushi Go! as he really enjoyed it, and in a trice, a real, hardcopy of the game was out and cards were being shuffled and dealt.  We’ve played Sushi Go! plenty of times both online and in person, but as usual, we had a very quick run-through of the rules.

Sushi Go!
– Image by boardGOATS

Players start with a hand of seven cards, and choose one to keep, passing the rest on to the player on their left.  Players repeat this with the aim of the game being to end up with the set of cards that score the most points.  The game is played over three rounds with the player with the highest total winning. The final round was coming to an end when pizza arrived, but we just had time to get to the end.  It was close, but Blue made up for her disastrous showing earlier in the week online with a win, just a single point ahead of Pine (who had missed out completely on the previous game).

Pizza
– Image by boardGOATS

Food was summarily dispatched and Ivory arrived, and after some discussion about what to play and whether to split into two groups, we all settled down together to play the dice-drafting game, Sagrada, with the 5-6 player expansion.  This is another game that most of us are reasonably familiar with and we thought it would be a good game to play to help dust some more of the cobwebs off our gaming skills which had proven to be decidedly rusty at the “Test Event”.  The base game is quite simple:  the starting player draws dice from the bag and players take it in turns to take one and add it to their stained glass window.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

As well as following the restrictions given on the players’ window cards which specify colours and numbers for some spaces, players must place new dice next to already played dice while avoiding placing dice of the same colour or number in adjacent spaces.  Depending on the difficulty of the player’s window card, players get a number of “cheat tokens” which are worth points at the end, or can be spent to use “Tools” to enable players to improve their move dice, change dice numbers and otherwise break the rules.  This time the Tools cards drawn at random were the Eglomise Brush, the Copper Foil Burnisher and the Cork-backed Straightedge.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

The Eglomise Brush and the Copper Foil Burnisher allowed players to move dice ignoring any colour/number restrictions printed on their window card, while the Cork-backed Straightedge allowed players to place their chosen die in a location not adjacent to another die.  The Tools are really useful as they allow players to improve their scores. These come from individual goal cards, and shared goal cards drawn at random.  This time we drew one objective card rewarding dice of the same colour arranged diagonally and two that scored points for pairs of dice (ones and twos/threes and fours).

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

The 5-6 player expansion, tweaks the rules a little.  In the base game, in each round, the draft goes one way and then returns so that the first player gets to choose first and last with the last player taking two dice one after the other (similar to the initial settlement placement in The Settlers of Catan).  With large numbers of players this can lead to a lot of down-time, partly because of the sheer number of decisions (which are taken sequentially), but also because there are more dice giving players a larger number of options to consider.  To avoid this, players start the game with their own personal dice pool consisting of two of each colour, rolled to give random numbers.  Players then take one die from the draft and one from their personal dice pool.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink began, drawing seven dice from the bag, but we were only a few rounds in when Lime thought he might have dropped one.  This queued a mad session of dice counting as well as fond recollections of the time Pine dropped a No Thanks! token between the floor boards which is probably still there.  Fortunately, the dice, though small, would not fit through the gap and it turned out nothing had been dropped anyhow.  Meanwhile, Blue and Burgundy discussed how to interpret the “diagonals” in the objective card as it was unclear from the rules.  We decided to use the generous interpretation and score for each diagonal line, counting dice multiple times, but checking online after proved this incorrect and each diagonally adjacent die of the same colour scores just once.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime was first to use his cheat tokens, though almost everyone else soon joined him.  The exception was Pine who, despite starting with one of the most difficult Window cards, still had all six cheat tokens left at the end.  Ivory pointed out that Pink’s window seemed to have a lot of high scoring green dice, making it likely that green was his personal objective and giving him a high score that would be hard to beat.  And so it proved, though Ivory scored only one less for his personal, purple objective.  Scores for pairs of dice were mostly similar, though Ivory, who started out with a hatful of ones managed to pair these with five twos giving him ten points.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end, Burgundy and Pink were both close with fifty-six and fifty-eight points, but Ivory was five points clear with sixty-three.  Lime had a horrifically early morning so reduced the numbers to five, and giving the mess we’d made with Bohnanza last time, the rest of the group decided to give it another go.  This is a fantastic trading game where players first plant beans from their hand, then draw two beans from the deck which can be planted or traded (and planted by the recipient) and finally harvest beans.  The key point about the game is that cards in hand must not be rearranged.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

There are some really clever aspects to the game, for example, because the beans become money, the distribution of beans in the deck changes as the game progresses, but players can manipulate that by choosing when they harvest.  Harvesting just before the deck is shuffled means more cards of that sort become available in the next round.  With slightly fewer players, this becomes increasingly significant.  This time, Burgundy’s shuffling got the blame when Blue started with a handful of green beans and then turned over more.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Green beans continued to fall into her lap and punctuated by a full set of garden beans, some black-eyed beans and a small number of others, she harvested significantly more than the fourteen cards available.  Pine managed to gather a full set of four cocoa beans, which felt all the more special as they often not in the game because they are removed for many player counts.  Pink repeatedly demonstrated how he was unable count, trying to taking four cards to refill his hand each round instead of three.  A couple of rounds in, Blue, bought herself a third bean field and nearly underpaid for that too (the cost varies depending on the number of players).

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game came to an end, players tried to maximise their final scores, and then started counting.  Twelve was beaten by thirteen, which in turn was beaten by fourteen and then Ivory’s score of fifteen.  But Blue was still counting, and counting—the green beans and her third bean field had done their job and she finished with a massive twenty-one.  With that, Ivory left leaving four players and just enough time for a quick game of Love Letter, a game that is available online, but we’ve eschewed playing as it loses all it’s fun.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the most successful of the micro-games, there are just sixteen cards.  Each player starts with one card, draws a second from the deck and then plays one.  The aim of the game is to end with the highest value card, or be the last player standing when the deck is exhausted.  Some cards allow players to assassinate others if they correctly guess what they are holding, or if they compare cards and have the lower value.  The game is played until one wins three rounds.  Burgundy and Blue took the first and second rounds, before Pink took one round and Blue took another and with it, the lead.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine had been knocked out of every round and when Pink picked him again he protested that Blue would be a better target.  His protests were in vain, however, with Pink correctly suggesting Pine was “The Princess”, he was knocked out once more.  Pink’s comment, “Don’t worry, you’ll always be a princess to me,” received a disgruntled, “Eat my tiara!” in reply.  When Burgundy eliminated Pink, that gave Blue the last card and she went for the jugular taking what was the final round and with it, the game.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Anyone can be a princess.

Boardgames in the News: Is Rapid Market Growth a Good Thing?

The way boardgames are published and sold has changed massively over the last few years.  The development of Asmodee is one of the main stories of the last decade:  it has grown from a small company (primarily known for clever little kids games like Dobble), into an industrial conglomerate swallowing up the likes of Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, Lookout Spiele and most recently, Repos Production.  There have been other significant shifts too however. Changes in the way “hobby gamers” learn about and acquire games has been hugely influenced by the internet and with it, the rise of crowdfunding, in particular, KickStarter.

KickStarter Logo
– Image from
kickstarter.com

To give an idea of the impact KickStarter has had:  last Easter, they announced that more than one billion US dollars had been pledged by over three million backers, funding nearly seventeen thousand games projects since the platform started a decade earlier.  This growth occurred in tandem with a huge expansion in the hobby which has seen modern boardgaming move from the shadows of a dingy corner of geekdom towards the sunny uplands of the mainstream.  For the last five years, there have been more games released than any year previously.  Despite this growth, the dominance of Asmodee and KickStarter, have increased the squeeze on the smaller players in a relatively niche market.

Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) Logo
– Image from alderac.com

These smaller players also flourished as the market grew, but maybe a corner is now being turned.  Last year, Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), producers of games including Smash Up, Love Letter, Cat Lady, Dice City, Thunderstone, and more recently, Ecos: First Continent, announced that after twenty-seven years in the industry, they will be making fewer games.  From their press release:

“There is a reason why there are so many games coming. It is a great time to be making games, maybe the best ever. That does not mean it is easy. In fact, it is also the most challenging time to be making games that I can remember. The bar to get noticed and have any kind of staying power is higher than it has ever been.”

AEG are not the only company affected.  US Publishers, Winsome Games (producers of train games like TransAmerica, Chicago Express, Age of Steam, Railways of the World and the 18xx family of games) have announced they will no longer be presenting new games at Essen.  Part of this is due to owner and developer John Bohrer “aging (dis)gracefully”, but changes in the market have also no doubt taken their toll.

Steve Jackson Games Logo
– Image from sjgames.com

Other companies also seem to be feeling the pinch; last year, Steve Jackson Games (perhaps best known for games like Munchkin, Ogre and Cthulhu Dice) reported that gross income for 2018 was slightly down, the fourth year in a row.  In their 2017 report, they stated that “the current market is more a periodicals business than one that encourages growing and nurturing single games”.  In the 2018 report they observe that “things only got worse … as fewer and fewer copies of new titles were sold into distribution” and as a result, they “were forced to let some talented and hardworking staff go”.  As a company, they have expanded their use of KickStarter, observing that “over the last few years, our core hobby market has changed dramatically”.

Fantasy Flight Games Logo
– Image from
fantasyflightgames.com

Even the massive behemoth that is Asmodee is not unaffected.  About eighteen months ago, Asmodee was bought from Eurazeo by PAI Partners, a European private equity company, and  it seems they are now consolidating and streamlining their assets.  Earlier this month, Timothy Gerritsen, Head of Studio announced the closure of Fantasy Flight Interactive (FFI).  FFI was an independent subsidiary within Asmodee Digital with the remit of adapting tabletop games and creating new digital experiences based on Fantasy Flight Games’s best loved brands.  One of the highest profile of these was the Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game, but unfortunately it was not as successful as the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game it was based on.

Asmodee USA Logo
– Image from asmodeena.com

The cuts at Asmodee were wider reaching though, with the initial closure of the Fantasy Flight Customer Service department followed by reports of redundancies elsewhere in the company.  This has been more recently followed by a withdrawal of Customer Services for products all products from Asmodee, Fantasy Flight Games, Days of Wonder, Catan, Plaid Hat Games and Z-Man.  This change in policy is apparently due to “the number of quality titles in Asmodee USA’s growing library” which is making “maintaining an independent stock of elements of each game … more difficult”.  This may, or may not be true, but it is clear that as the market is growing, things are changing for everyone:  gamers and publishers, both big and small.

27th Movember 2018

With the Festive Season now apparently upon us, the pub was once again packed and food was later than usual.  For this reason, we started with a quick game of No Thanks!.  This used to be one of our “go-to” filler games, but has been somewhat neglected of late, so was surprisingly unfamiliar to some people.  It is very simple though and very easy to learn on the fly:  everyone starts with eleven red chips and the first player turns over the top card—they can take it, or pay a chip for the privilege of passing the problem on to the next player.  The player with the lowest summed card total when the deck expires is the winner.

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

There are are two catches, firstly, where a player has a run of consecutive cards only the lowest is counted and secondly, a small number of cards are removed from the deck at random.  Top scorer looked to be a toss up between Blue, Red and Mulberry, but Red took the dubious honour in the end, with forty.  It was tight between Pine and Burgundy, however, both of whom had a large pile of chips and a substantial run of high cards (between them they had nearly forty of the fifty-five chips and the cards numbered twenty-eight to thirty-five).  There were only two points in it in the end and it was Pine who took the honours.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor ronster0

The group had been just about to start playing when Black, Purple and Green had walked in.  Since No Thanks! only plays five, so pre-empting a discussion of options, Blue chucked over a copy of Dodekka which the group obligingly settled down to play.   This is another light set collecting game where the aim is to get the highest score possible from one of the five colour suits, while ideally scoring nothing in all the other suits.  Gameplay is very simple:  take the first card on display, or reveal a card from the deck and add it to the end of the row (thus “passing”).  If the sum of the cards on display now totals more than twelve, the active player must pick up all of the cards on display. When the deck runs out, the winner is the player with the highest score (the total face value of one suit minus one for each other card).  It was very close at the top, with only one point separating Black and Purple, and much to Purple’s chagrin, it was Black who came out on top.

Dodekka
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as No Thanks! was coming to an end, food arrived, along with Ivory.  Dodekka was still going, so while some munched, those remaining decided to give The Game an outing (played with a copy of The Game: Extreme, but ignoring the special symbols).  This is a surprisingly popular game within the group, which is remarkable because it is cooperative and we generally prefer competitive games.  Another simple game, the idea is that the team have a deck of cards from two to ninety-nine and they must play each card on one of four piles:  two where the card played must be higher than the top card, and two where it must be lower.  There are just three rules:  on their turn, the active player can play as many cards as they like (obeying the rules of the four piles), but must play at least two cards before replenishing their hand, and players can say anything they like but must not share “specific number information”.  Finally, there is the so-called “Backwards Rule” where players can reverse a deck as long as the card they play is exactly ten above or below the previous card played on that pile.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

Red started and it quickly began to go wrong with with Pine holding a “nice mid-range hand”.  With the help of everyone else he battled through though, and it wasn’t long before he had a “nice extreme hand” while all the piles were offering “nice mid-range options”.  It perhaps wasn’t surprising with this that the group didn’t win (i.e. play all their cards onto the four decks), but given that they had such a poor run of luck, they did well to exhaust the draw deck and ultimately have only eight cards they were unable to play.  Inevitably, Dodekka finished just after The Game started, so Black, Purple and Green killed time with a quick game of Love Letter.  This is the original “micro game”, consisting of just sixteen cards.  The idea is that each player starts with a single card, draws a second card and chooses one of the pair to play.  The cards are numbered one to eight (with more of the lower numbers), and each number has an action associated with it.  The aim is to eliminate all opponents, as the last man standing is the winner.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Rounds only take a minute or two, so elimination is not a problem.  This time, each player won a round.  So with honours even and with the other game and food coming to an end, it was sudden death.  This time it was Purple’s turn to come up trumps, taking the final hand and with it, the game.  This started a big debate as to who was going to play what.  As it was likely to be Ivory’s last chance for a meaty game for a few weeks (with Christmas and his impending arrival), the “Feature Game” was Ambition, the expansion to one of his favourite games, Roll for the Galaxy.  With Burgundy fed-up with the feeling of confusion that Roll for the Galaxy always gave him and Black feeling that he’d played it a couple of times recently, for a while it looked like it was only going to be Blue and Ivory.  Eventually Black saw sense, and Green joined in, despite the fact that he felt he’d not played the base game enough to appreciate the expansion.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Roll for the Galaxy is the dice game of the popular empire building card game, Race for the Galaxy.  Both suffer from the same “iconography confusion”, but that aside, neither are actually complicated games.  The idea builds on the Puerto Rico/San Juan idea of different phases or activities that only happen if or when players want them to.  Roll for the Galaxy is almost a “worker placement” game where dice are the workers and have a say in what sort of work they do with players “spending” these dice to make actions happen.  Each player starts with a dice in their cup which they roll and assign, in secret behind a screen.  When dice are used they are placed into the player’s Citizenry and it costs a dollar to move them from the citizenry to back into the cup.  Each face of the worker dice corresponds to one of the five different action phases:  Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce, Ship.  Each player uses one die, any die, to select a single phase that they want to “happen”.  All the other dice are assigned to the Phase that corresponds to the face rolled.  Any that do not correspond to the chosen phase can only be used if another player chooses those phases to happen.  Any that are used move into the player’s Citizenry, any that are not used go back into the cup.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

As such everyone is reliant on other players to help them out and the player who best piggy-backs other players’ choices usually does well.  It is not only about second-guessing what other players are going to do though: success also requires a good strategy, a complementary tiles (Worlds), an understanding of probability, the ability to effectively manipulate the dice rolled, and a modicum of luck.  Luck is everywhere, but there are ways to mitigate its effect.  For example, in Phase I (“Explore”), players draw tiles out of a bag.  These are double-sided with one side being a Development World and the other a Production World.  These are “Built” in Phases II & III (“Develop” and “Settle”) and the cost is paid in dice, anything from one to six (with expensive Development Worlds generally partnered with cheap Production Worlds).  These tiles are drawn at random in Phase I and a side chosen and the Worlds added to the bottom of their personal Development or Settle pile as appropriate.  The top World tile is the one that will be built first and if there is not enough to complete a building, that means there will be fewer dice available for the following rounds, until it is finished.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This may seem very harsh, with players potentially getting stuck with a high value building and a shortage of dice so that they struggle to complete it in a timely fashion.  However, clever use of the Explore Phase can ensure that this is not a problem, despite the luck involved.  Players can discard as many tiles as they like, drawing one extra from the bag.  Thus, an early round committing lots of dice to the Explore phase can enable lots of tiles to be recycled as better ones are drawn.  Dice assigned to Phase IV (Produce) are moved to Production Worlds where they will stay until Phase V (ship) happens and that player has dice assigned to it.  In this way, dice can get “stuck” in a similar fashion to dice involved in Developing or Settling.  Thus dice management is one of the key skills to the game.  Points come from building (a building that requires five dice is generally worth five points at the end of the game); from bonus points Development buildings which give points for some particular feature (e.g. one extra point for a particular type of Production World), and from victory points generated during Phase V (Shipping) by using the “Consume” option.

Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dotKeller

The Ambition expansion doesn’t change the game very much, simply adding a very small number of Worlds, some extra Starting Worlds, some in game Objective tiles and replaces one of each player’s starting white dice with a black “Leader” die.  The first player (and only the first player) to achieve each of the objectives receives “Talent” counters; these can be treated as single-use workers or as victory points at the end of the game.  There are also orange “Entrepreneur” dice—these and the “Leader” dice have some faces with two symbols allowing players to choose which of these Phases to assign them to and giving them the magic power of automatically switching to the alternative Phase if the initial nomination does not happen.  There are a couple of other little twists, for example on some faces the second symbol is a dollar sign signifying that if the die is used for its intended Phase then the die goes back into the Cup (not into the Citizenry) after use, making it effectively free to use.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Ivory was fastest out of the blocks with a large amount of liquidity from his “Doomed World” that gave him $8 start up.  Furthermore, his “Alien Artefact Hunters” start-world gave him $2 each time he consumed Alien goods, and Victory points (from Consuming).  For everyone else it looked like it was going to be over before it had begun when Ivory  was the first to achieve an Objective, adding the associated Talents to his already growing pile of victory points.  Although they were a little less obvious , everyone else’s Start Worlds were quite useful too however.  Black for example received extra cash every time he developed, Green had the ability to reassign two of his white dice as Explorers or Settlers and Blue could reassign any two dice to explore.  These special abilities were slower to take effect, but gradually, these, together with the lack of production on the “Doomed World” meant the group began to haul back Ivory’s rapid head-start.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Blue, and to a lesser extent Green, spent a lot of time Exploring (using their special abilities), carefully choosing which Worlds to build and stacking the deck to control the order, a tactic that paid dividends later in the game.  In Blue’s case, she used the Objectives as a target and then used the Talents to finish off Worlds quickly enabling her to grab a couple from under Ivory’s nose.  Green more or less ignored the Objectives as he was too busy trying to remember how to play the base game while fiddling with his phone.  Black was less fortunate, and really struggled with the luck of the dice and found it difficult to make use of his special ability to get his engine going.  Then suddenly it looked like Ivory might end the game as the Victory Point reserve rapidly depleted.  He couldn’t make it on the first attempt though and there were a couple more things he wanted to do in any case.  In the end it was Blue who ended it—building not only her twelfth World, but also an extra one giving her a massive forty points for that alone.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although Blue had a couple of Victory Point chips and a handful of Talents left over, it paled into insignificance compared with the massive pile of chips in front of Ivory—the question was whether it would be enough though.  It was very close, but Blue’s last round just tipped it in her favour and she won by five points.  With that, Ivory and Green took their leave, leaving Black and Blue to consider their options.  While they had been playing with their dice, the others had played a full four rounds of Saboteur and moved on to their next game.  Saboteur is a fun little hidden traitor game where players are either Dwarves trying to find the treasure or Saboteurs trying to stop them.  We’ve played it quite a bit and in truth it plays best with more than six players, as the number of Saboteurs varies and there is an element of doubt.  With five their can be either one or two Saboteurs, and the odds are heavily stacked against a lone Saboteur, but in favour of a pair.  Nevertheless, the group were keen to introduce Mulberry to it.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

It is another quite simple game:  On their turn, players can play a tunnel card onto the grid in the centre, play a special card (a broken or fixed tools card on another player or a map card to look at the destination cards), or discard a card face down and then draw a replacement.  If the Dwarves don’t get to the treasure before the cards run out, the Saboteurs win.  In the first round, Burgundy was isolated as the Saboteur and despite his best efforts, he failed to disrupt an organised team of Dwarves.  In the second round Burgundy was joined by Pine, and with two of them the odds were much better and the pair took the opportunity to prevent the Dwarf team from getting to the gold.  As a group, we normally only play a couple of rounds, but everyone wanted to see if luck would deal Burgundy a Dwarf card.  The immediate answer was no, and in the end it turned out that the third rounds was a direct replay of the second with Pine joining Burgundy on the Saboteur winning team.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

By this time the group had decided they would keep playing until Burgundy wasn’t the Saboteur, and in the fourth round they finally got their way when Mulberry was a lone Saboteur.  Inevitably she failed to break the will of the “gang of four” who easily found the treasure.  Normally we don’t bother sharing out the “gold” scoring cards as it is very arbitrary who goes first and in a low number of rounds it is purely luck who wins overall which takes some of the fun out of the game.  This time though, the group played the rules as written.  With Burgundy and Pine winning two rounds and sharing the spoils two ways (instead of three) it was inevitable that they would score well.  In the end it was Pine who did lightly better, thanks to the fact he had been on the winning Dwarf team in the first round.  As Roll for the Galaxy was still going (and Red and Mulberry had gone home for an early night), the group looked round for something else to play and Purple’s beady eye lit on Steam Donkey.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

Steam Donkey is a card game that involves building a seaside resort consisting of a four by three grid of attraction cards. The three rows represent the different parts of the resort:  beach (yellow), town (pink) and park (green).  Similarly, the four columns correspond to the different types of building: amusements, lodgings, monuments and transport.  In order to place a feature, it must go in the correct location and must be paid for using cards of the same type, as such it has similarities with games like Race for the Galaxy and San Juan.  As players build their resort, visitors arrive at the station and come to see the attractions. Each attraction can take a certain number of visitors, which are actually a row of face down cards that are used to replenish the cards in players’ hands. Thus, on their turn players carry out one of the following actions:  choose a colour and build as many attractions in that colour as they can/want paying with other cards from their hand; choose a colour and start taking cards in that colour from the “station” (a row of face down cards), or if there are no visitors of the chosen colour (or there are no spaces for the visitors to go), they can add visitor cards to their hand and refill the station platform with four new visitors.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

The colour of the visitor side of cards does not reflect the colour of the attraction on the other side, however, the type of attraction is indicated.  There is a hand limit of twelve though and this can actually be quite a serious impediment for players collecting cards to build the more valuable attractions.  At the end of the game, points are scored for each unique attraction built as well as for fulfilling individual goals and bonuses depicted on players’ resort posters.  It was a long time since anyone in the group had played it, and Pine hadn’t played it at all, so it took a while to get going.  It was close at the top with Burgundy and Pine scoring pretty evenly for their buildings and taking almost exactly the same number of bonus points too.  Burgundy just had the edge however, and took the game by three points, with a grand total of seventy.

xSteam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

When Roll for the Galaxy finally finished and Green and Ivory left Blue and Black alone it was clear that they were going to be waiting for a while, so they looked round for something that wasn’t too long and played well with two.  In the end, they settled on Kingdomino, but decided to add the new Age of Giants expansion acquired at Essen.  Kingdomino is a tile-laying game with a couple of clever mechanics.  Players take it in turns to choose a “domino” and add it to their “Kingdom”.  The clever part of the game is that the tiles are numbered with players who choose the high numbered (and therefore more valuable) dominoes taking their turns later in the next round.  In the two player game, players get two turns per round, so their first turn can be used to try to set up the second turn.  In the two-player game, each player is building kingdoms consisting of 7×7 arrays of “squares” rather than 5×5 arrays, which makes the game much more strategic.

xKingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends when there are no more tiles to place.  Scoring is by multiplying the number of tiles in each terrain by the number of crowns in that terrain.  Thus a moderate sized area with plenty of crowns is worth more than a large area with very few crowns.  The Age of Giants expansion doesn’t change things as much as Queendomino, which we found managed to take all the fun out of the game and add a whole load of unnecessary complexity instead.  This expansion adds a small number of tiles that feature either a Giant or a Giant’s footprints.  When a Giant Tile is drawn, a large wooden giant meeple is placed on it.  When this is taken, the Giant is taken too and is placed over one of the crowns anywhere on that player’s area.  When a footprints tile is taken, a Giant of their choice moves from their Kingdom to another player’s Kingdom.

xKingdomino: Age of Giants
– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

There are two problems with this little addition, firstly, there is a rules tweak that means five tiles are drawn in the two player game and one is discarded.  Blue and Black found that this meant they just chose not to take tiles with Giants on them except when forced to right at the end.  Secondly, even when forced to take a Giant, there was almost always somewhere it could be poked that caused minimal damage, so it wasn’t really a big issue.  This was a real shame as the Giants are lovely.  As well as adding a fifth player there is also a a small pile of bonus-point tiles; both Blue and Black really liked these as they thought that they added a nice twist.  This time, they ended up with bonus points for Sea tiles adjacent to the castle and Marsh land on the corners.  Both players tried to accommodate these, though Black did a much better job than Blue.

xKingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

It may have been that Black was focussing too much on the bonuses however, as he ended up unable to place all his tiles.  And although he scored well on the bonuses and for Sea and Pasture, he scored very little for Woodland, Marshland and Mountains.  In contrast, while Blue completely failed to score for Pasture, she scored well in every other terrain and made a killing with her Wheat fields, giving her a total of two-hundred and thirty-three, some sixty more than Black.  With that done and the epic game of Steam Donkey finally over, there was just time to arrange some of the details for the Christmas Party nest time before everyone went home.

xKingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  We like simple games: they can be quick to learn, but take time to master.

21st August 2018

Amid fears of a shortage of people, Burgundy dined alone until he was joined by Green who (unusually) also ordered some food.  While discussing likely numbers Pine appeared, shortly followed by Green’s food and then Ivory.  Once Burgundy had finished his meal he joined Pine and Ivory in a short game of Love Letter.  This is the archetypal micro game where players draw a card to give them a hand of two and then choose which one to play, with the aim of knocking everyone else out and/or being the last player remaining or the one with the highest card.  With only sixteen cards in the deck and each round taking only a couple of minutes, it provides an excellent little filler that can be stopped at almost any time.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

In the first round Pine was knocked out early, but Ivory caught Burgundy holding the Princess. In the second round, Burgundy was knocked out early leaving Pine and Ivory to try to outwit each other.  It all went to pot for Ivory though when he got confused as to which cards were played and thought he had to reveal his hand showing everyone that that he had been caught with the Princess.  He didn’t have to discard his hand, but what’s been seen, can’t be unseen, so when Pine drew a Guard, it was inevitable that he would “guess” correctly that Ivory had the Princess. There was just time for one last round (which Pine won) before Green disposed of his empty platter and Black and Purple arrived. So Love Letter ended with Pine the winner.

Love Letter
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

With six players and the “Feature Game”, Lancaster, playing a maximum of five, the group split into two, with Ivory and Burgundy joining Green for a little medieval fun.  Although Burgundy and Green had played it quite a lot over the last two and a half years, Ivory was new to the game so rules run-down was needed.  The idea is that players take it in turns to place their knights in one of three places:  in the shires; in their castle, or in the wars in France.  Once the knights have been placed, players then vote on and evaluate “the Laws” which give players a benefit just before they get their their rewards for knight placement.  After five rounds, the player with the most points wins.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Once the game was set up and rules explanation was over, we started – the first time we have played it with three, and it did play slightly differently.  With only two Nobles per County it was going to be a real scrap to get them.  Ivory went for a castle improvement strategy, Green tried to bag those few Nobles and Burgundy went for conflicts in France.  Overall there was not a huge amount of conflict in the counties with so few players.  In round one Green ended up with two upgrades and took his level two Knight straight to level four which gave him access to higher level counties that were out of the reach of the other two.  This helped him gain the nobles he wanted, but in the next round he sent the valuable level four Knight off to the wars in France, to help in a level seven & eight conflict that needed the firepower.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

There still wasn’t much conflict in the Shires, except for one where Burgundy knocked Ivory’s level one Knight out with another level one Knight and a squire. Ivory just accepted it and went elsewhere.  There was a little more conflict during rounds three and four, but not much.  Again it was Burgundy picking on Ivory, although Ivory put up more of a fight this time. Green did not make effective use of his voting influence and Burgundy was becoming a threat.  By regularly taking the ‘free’ Noble bonus when entering conflict in France, he had started to catch Green in the total number of Nobles.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Finally, in round there more conflict, though still not as much as we usually get in four and five player games.  Every one had managed to increase the number and value of their Knights. Ivory had also managed to gain three castle improvements and no longer needed to place any Knights there.  Burgundy and Ivory entered into a savage battle over a level four County which would give the victor the chance to gain two nobles, and lost several squires in the process. It didn’t stop there either as they fought over a couple of other counties that seemed a good benefit in this final round.  Just when it all seemed settled with Ivory coming out on top, Green placed his last Knight with a whole bunch of squires in the level four county.  Neither Burgundy nor Ivory had the “squire-power” remaining to dislodge him, so instead they entered into a new round of conflict in other Counties.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

In the end we realised that all the current Laws would benefit everyone all equally, and the new ones were not much help either, but we voted anyway.  When it came to dishing out the rewards, both Burgundy and Green realised they had made a mistake, forgetting that they wouldn’t get the Knight upgrades they needed for the reward until after reward had been evaluated.  Not that it made a huge difference as the scores were all quite well spaced already.  During the reward taking in the counties Ivory realised he had taken both Nobles from one county, which was against the rules (all nobles must be from different counties). There wasn’t a lot that could be done, but he insisted on putting it back and so the others suggested he take back his three coins as well. Burgundy did point out that he and Green may have done something different as they had both wanted this one too.  These things happen sometimes though, and it is “only a game” after all.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In final scoring Ivory won the points for the most improved castle, Green won the points for the most powerful Knights, and Burgundy and Green both had one more Noble than Ivory (who had grabbed a load in that final round).  Packing up, we discovered that three of the laws had been left in the bags (one of each of two, three & four class). We had commented how we had seem to get to the last round quickly, and now a check of the rules showed that we should not have taken any laws out and it should have gone on for another round.  The scores were pretty comprehensive though with Green nearly ten points clear of Ivory in second place.  But Ivory had enjoyed it though, so it will no doubt we’ll play it again in the not too distant future.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the next table, Pine, Black and Purple were playing Calimala.  This got an outing only a few weeks back, but Black and Purple have played it quite a bit since Yellow introduced it to them a six months ago at Didcot Games Club.  Calimala is an area-influence driven, worker-placement game set in the Republic of Florence during the Late Middle Ages.  The action is all centred round the unusual action board, where  place one of their workers on one of the twelve worker spaces.  Each one of these is adjacent to two of the nine action spaces and the active player gets to carry out both actions.  If there is already a worker disk present on the space when a disk is added, the owner of the other disk gets another turn.  This continues until a player places the fourth disk on a stack which triggers scoring.  In addition to worker disks of their own colour, each player also gets a small number of white disks:  coloured disks give players a maximum of two actions on three occasions (i.e. a total of six), while white disks give four actions when played, but none later in the game.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

The fifteen scoring phases are built on the actions, rewarding players for the amount of cloth they have shipped to a given city or combination of cities for example, or for their contribution to a specific building, or their contribution to the building effort of a given resource.  In each case, the player with the most scores three points, the player in second place scores two and the player in third gets just one point.  In case of a tie there is a complicated series of tie-breakers.  The game ends when either all fifteen tiles have been scored, or everyone has placed all their workers (in which case any remain tiles are scored).

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

This time Pine led the way in points, pretty much from the start.  He managed to give the impression that he had no idea what was going on though, as he kept asking questions.  It was really close at the end, however.  Black had the Barcelona scoring card, Purple had Troyes and Pine got close to the Lord, with the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.  It was all largely academic in the end though; as is often the case in this game, there were lots and lots of tie breaks when scoring the districts.  Gradually, as Black kept winning the tie-breaks, he began to catch up with Pine.  The question was, would he make it?  He did, just, beating Pine into second place by a measly three points.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Nobody is indispensable.

Boardgames in the News: Who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?

A couple of months ago, Reuters reported that according to un-named sources, investment bankers had been hired to run the sale of Asmodee.  The claim was that the sale “could value the company at over €1.5 billion”, but there was no credible information as to who the potential buyers were.  This mystery has now been solved with the announcement that PAI Partners have entered into exclusive discussions to acquire Asmodee, a company with an enterprise value of €1.2 billion.  So, who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?  Well, PAI is a European private equity company, that grew out of the merger between the French banks, BNP and Paribas in 1993, with a management buyout completed in 2001.  They have invested in a wide range of companies covering everything from yoghurt (Yoplait) to tyres (Kwik Fit) to cargo handling (Swissport).  Obviously PAI are interested in making money from Asmodee, but at this time there is no evidence to suggest that would by by asset stripping.  Price increases would be almost inevitable however, as the Studios would be under pressure to provide a good return on the investment.

PAI Partners
– Image from paipartners.com