Tag Archives: Love Letter

24th January 2017

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

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

10th January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Jórvík

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

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

29th December 2016 – boardGOATS do the Quiz

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

Quiz
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Quiz
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Gamers can be good at quizzes too.

 

9th August 2016

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

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Orléans
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

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

Orléans
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

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

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Orléans
– Image by BGG contributor styren

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

Orléans
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Orléans
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Orléans
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14th June 2016

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

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

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

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bovbossi

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

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

23rd February 2016

After another quick game of Love Letter (a resounding win for Magenta), we moved on to our “Feature Game”, Kobayakawa.   This is a simple little Japanese micro-filler game with elements of betting and push-your-luck.  The rules sounded unpromising, but it was much more fun on the table.  The idea is very simple:  from a deck numbered one to fifteen, each player is dealt a single card with one extra one face up in the middle.  Like Love Letter, players draw a card and chose which to keep, but the aim is different as players are trying to set themselves up for the second phase of the game.  In the second phase, players take it in turns in player order choosing whether to pay a token to join the bidding or not. The player with the highest card in hand wins the pot and the winner over all is the player with the most tokens after seven rounds.  There is a catch, however, as the player with the lowest card gets to add the face up card to their total.

Kobayakawa
– Image by boardGOATS

It is at this point that the little bit of strategy comes in:  in the first phase, players can choose to replace the face up card instead of drawing a card into their hand.  It is only a very little bit of strategy though, since play is strictly in player order and at the start of the round you have almost no information.  Thus, a player who has chosen to keep a low card can find their round is trashed when the last player in the round changes the face-up card from a high value to a low one.  That said, the game is not meant to be an intensely deep strategy game, and it was much more fun than it sounded on reading through the rules.  Pine took an early lead with Green crashing out as he ran out of tokens.  Although we enjoyed it, we felt the end-game could do with a little work as the rules say that everyone who has enough tokens must pay two to join in the last round of bidding (instead of one as previously).  This increases the value of winning the final round and means the preceding rounds can be essentially meaningless unless a player has managed to accrue more than half the number of tokens available (and in that case the final round is pointless instead).  We felt that maybe the game would be better with an early target, with the winner being the player to collect, say, three times the number of tokens as players, and if that hadn’t happened by round seven, then play the final round.

Kobayakawa
– Image by boardGOATS

This was followed by a short break during which we discussed what to play next and got side-tracked by an (unusually serious) conversation regarding the upcoming EU referendum.  As the debate disintegrated into general moaning along the lines of European stereotypes Green felt a game of Lancaster was in order, as it is a game where players are directing noble families from the time of Henry V, vying for power and favour amongst themselves, with a side order of fighting the French.  This is a game that has had a couple of outings recently since we first played it just after Christmas, but this time we decided to add the Reward Tiles mini-expansion.  Pine was the only one not to have played it before, so we had a quick run-through of the rules.  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: Reward Tiles
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Baartoszz

The mini-expansion added reward tiles which are drawn at the start of each round and placed next to a county on the game board.  During the rewards phase, the player who takes control of the county may collect the reward tile instead of the imprinted basic reward (collecting both the nobleman tile and the reward tile if they pay the extras).  Clearly these weren’t going to have a huge impact on the game, though they would make some of the benefits slightly more available during the game, something that had the potential to help out Purple who insisted that she never did very well as Green and Black always knocked her out of the castle improvement counties (something that was not denied).  The first round of knight placement was a benign affair as no-one seemed up for a fight. Black concentrated on beating the French, Purple inevitably went for castle improvements, Green wanted the starting token and Pine thought building up his knights would be a good start.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor kopernikus

Then came the first phase of voting for the Laws. Confusion abounded concerning quite how it worked, and having been fairly unanimous in our votes we prepared to discard two laws and replace them with two more. A quick check of the rules about how we do this indicated that we’d done it all wrong:  we should have voted for the new laws we wanted not the old laws we wanted to keep.  There was a little more discord at the ballot box when we tried again, but we still got two new Laws.  With that, the most complicated part of the game, out of the way for the first time, we went into the rewards round with players counties collecting knights, castle improvements, voting cubes and squires, and awarding points for the victory in France.  It was when we came to the rewards from the Laws that Green realised that all his calculations as to what he would get were wrong since number of squires and money had suddenly changed.  It was only when placing the knights in the second round that Green realised that the rewards from the Laws should be awarded immediately after the vote and before the rewards from the rest of the board.  We changed to follow the rules for the rest of the game, but did think that it could make an interesting variant as it provides an extra level of uncertainty into the game.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Over the next couple of rounds, Black continued his grudge against France, Purple tried to build her castle (largely unsuccessfully), Green gathered voting nobleman around his table and Pine built up his fighting strength.  By round three Purple and Black had both accumulated a lot of squires and Pine and Green found themselves being kicked out of a few counties and having to replace somewhere else and by the fourth round, the knives were really out and the counties were changing hands like “pass the parcel” at a birthday party.  Pine and Green had superior knight strength, but Black and Purple had the upper hand with squires; battles raged across the land and the rivers ran red with the blood of so many faithful soldiers.

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

The battles continued into the final round, however, Black had often swiped the nobleman from under the noses of the other players by judicious use the free nobleman king’s favour and the free nobleman alternative reward from the expansion (the only person to actually take advantage of it in the whole game). Eventually, everyone settled with several sending their knights home to treat their wounds, and the game ended except final scoring.  Black began the scoring several points ahead of the others and it looked like his fighting in France may have paid off, especially as he had managed to gain quite a table of nobleman as well. The superior knights of Green and Pine and the better castles of Pine and Purple brought them a little closer to Black prior to the nobleman scoring.  Black and Purple finished with the same number of nobles giving them fifteen points, but Green finished with two more which he had snuck in right at the end and took him to a near full compliment giving him an extra thirteen points and with it the win, leapfrogging Black in second place with Pine finishing just one point behind in third.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In discussing the game after, Pine said he quite enjoyed it and we ruminated on how weak the castle improvements seemed to be, more because they were so hard to get early on, when they would provide the most benefit whereas later on they were of less use.  This brought in the idea of using the expansion extra reward tokens all at the beginning of the game rather than only one new one out each round.  We also wondered if placing them randomly rather than on specific counties could work, though that might need some thought.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, Blue, mindful that Green and Burgundy had been keen to play Endeavour again, had produced that as a her offering for a game about international treaties.  With Green engaged elsewhere, Blue and Burgundy recruited Magenta to the cause and gave her a rules run-down as she had not played it before.  The game felt much less confusing than last time as it was fresh in Blue’s and Burgundy’s minds having played it within a month.  So, despite all the little bits that need to be set out, the perceived complexity of the game and the relative inexperience of the players, Endeavour was actually under way first.  The game is played over seven rounds, each of which consists of four phases:  Building, Population, Income and Action.  The idea is that players have four status tracks which correspond to Industry, Culture, Finance and Politics, which roughly correspond to the four phases and dictate what players are allowed to do at each stage.  The game is actually much less confusing than we made it last time, though there are a number of apparently little rules that have the potential to make a large difference.  For example, last time at least one player had multiple copies of one building which can significantly change the balance of the game as well as potentially making that building unavailable to other players.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players start by choosing a building:  although the choice is very limited at the beginning so everyone begins with only a slight variation in direction, we have a feeling that the choices made very early on in the game are critical.  Similarly, getting the first round of settling and shipping right is vital as this gives both position and a crucial fast start on the status tracks allowing players an early toe-hold in the game.  As such, Magenta was at something of a disadvantage not having seen the game play out before, though with just three players (compared to four last time) there was just a little more wriggle room.  Burgundy and Magenta began by building Shipyards, so Blue decided to do something different (largely just for the sake of it) and built a Market instead.  Although she didn’t plan it that way, it meant that she was first to start picking up cards from the Asset Deck in Europe, giving her an alternative method of building her status tracks.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Magenta and Burgundy were both engaging in shipping though Magenta was having the better of it managed use to build up her Population and Income tracks and quickly took the Governorship of South America.  Somehow, Burgundy had got things very slightly out of kilter and was unable to put them right.  Before long his Income status track had fallen behind which restricted his available population as well as blocking up his action spaces.  Magenta was on roll judiciously shipping, settling and picking up Asset cards, and generally playing a very canny game.  In the previous game, with four players, almost all the board had been opened up in what had been a very tight game.  This time, with only three players, large sections of the board didn’t get explored much at all.  This was exacerbated by Blue only starting her shipping slowly, so Burgundy had to make almost all the running in India, which was hard work, but necessary for him to build a network of settlements.  Matters were made worse for him with Blue pouncing on one of his key targets.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Although everyone finished in much the same place, as before, with nearly complete status tracks and a near full set of cards, it was clear that Burgundy had struggled and Magenta had really done very well.  Blue’s position was less clear as she hadn’t done quite as well as Magenta on the status tracks (especially as she had to discard one of her cards at the end of the final round), but had picked up points elsewhere, in particular on her Asset cards.  In the final count, Burgundy was nowhere near as far back as we had thought and it was clear that if he had been able to increase his income just slightly, earlier in the game, he would have been way out in front.  As it was, Blue finished some twelve points clear thanks to her Asset card victory points and more cities than anyone else.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Lancaster was still under way, so Burgundy, Magenta and Blue decided to play something small and quick that they all knew.  The minimal set-up time and its more relaxed feel commended The Game, and since the decision had to be made quickly, no-one really looked any further.  We’ve played this simple little card-laying co-operative game a lot, so the only thing we needed to check was the number of cards in the starting hand.  Unfortunately, an appalling deal quickly put paid to our “R&R” and the stress levels quickly rose as it looked highly likely that we weren’t going to even get through the deck.  In the event, we just about managed to get to a point where the draw deck was depleted, but that was it and we finished with seventeen unplayed cards.  Lancaster was drawing to a close, but scores still had to be tallied and there were a lot of bits to put away, so we decided to give it another go, with speed.  Not thinking seemed to help (or maybe it was the practice from the previous try), because we made a much better fist of it, finishing with just four unplayed cards.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

With Magenta heading home for an early night, there was just enough time (and people) for a quick game of one of our most popular fillers, Om Nom Nom.  The game is quite simple with players simultaneously choosing animal cards to try to eat as much possible:  for example, a cat will eat mice.  Similarly a mouse can eat cheese, but only if it is not eaten by a cat first.  The board is seeded with dice, after which there is a large dose of double-think as players try to guess whether everyone/anyone else is going to go for the largest tastiest helpings or not.  As usual, Green moaned about how badly he does in the game, and tried his usual array of randomly choosing cards and going for his second choice rather than his first, but for all that, he didn’t do so badly in the end, though he was some way behind Blue who just pipped Pine thanks to a large helping of carrots (which, it turns out score double) in the final round.

Om Nom Nom
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Learning Outcome: Games can be very different when you change even the smallest of rules…

9th February 2016

Blue was delayed by washing machine shenanigans and Green by pancakes, so while Burgundy, Black and Purple were entertained by food, Red and Magenta distracted them with a few quick rounds of Love Letter.  Magenta took the first two rounds winning the second by drawing the princess as the penultimate card; the third round went to Black when he played a Prince and asked Purple to discard her card which turned out to be the Princess.  With the arrival of Green and Blue had finishing her pancakes, we decided to play our “Feature Game” which was Ticket to Ride and its variants.

Love Letter
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Which variant was the subject of some debate as we had all played different versions and everyone wanted to try a different one.  For example, Blue had never played the original USA version, but all those that had didn’t want to play again; similarly while Green was interested in playing Märklin, Black and Purple weren’t keen; they were interested in Switzerland or Nordic Countries, but Magenta, Blue and Green were unenthusiastic about that.  And so it went on, in fact, the only thing everyone agreed on was that we should split into a three and a four and nobody wanted to play Europe edition (as everyone had played that a lot). In the end, the group of three was based round Black and Purple who wanted to play with the Switzerland map and setup, and were joined by Burgundy who was fairly flexible.  That left the group of four who decided to go for Nederland as none of them had played it before.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic Ticket to Ride game can be summarised as follows:  players take it in turns to carry out one of three possible actions and when one player has two pieces left or fewer, everyone gets one more turn before the game ends and points are tallied.  The first action is to lay trains on the map, but in order to do this, they must spend train cards in the colour featured on the map.  Thus, if a player wants to claim a four car route, they must play four cards of the corresponding colour and finally place four of their plastic carriages on the board in the correct location scoring points as they do so.  If they do not have cards to claim the route they want then they can, instead, choose two cards, either from the five face up cards next to the board, or from the face down draw pile.  “Laying trains” scores points, but a large number of a player’s points are scored at the end through tickets which give points to players that have connected several short routes together to connect two more distant cities.  Each player starts the game with some tickets (chosen from a larger number), but on their turn may, instead of drawing cards or claiming routes, draw more tickets.  At the end of the game, tickets which have been successfully completed score points, while unfulfilled tickets score negatively.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by BGG contributor stormrover

Although this is a fairly complete summary of the rules for the original base game, each different version has slight modifications and variations that change the game slightly.  The “Swiss trio” got under way first as Burgundy was quite familiar with the rule modifications:  tunnels, ferry routes and country-to-country tickets; locomotive cards can only be used for ferries and tunnels, but can be drawn from the face-up cards without penalty.  The game was very close with Purple trying to make a long route from east to west, Black travelling north to south and Burgundy doing a bit of both. The tunnels were a bit of a hindrance with everyone struggling to get through the Alps without paying extra.

Ticket to Ride: Switzerland
– Image by boardGOATS

As the ticket scoring came to a close, Burgundy had his nose in front and looked to have the win in the bag, but carefully counting up the trains gave Black the bonus for the longest route and with it, the win by just two points.  Burgundy was particularly cheesed off as he had attempted to claim a tunnel on his final turn that would have given him the longest route, but the fates conspired against him.  It was only later that we realised that there hadn’t been a recount for the points awarded as trains were placed on the map and as, invariably points tend to get missed out, a recount is generally sensible.

Ticket to Ride: Switzerland
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Blue, Green, Red and Magenta had worked out the rules changes applicable to Nederland.  There are no ferry routes or country-to-country tickets and obviously, no tunnels, however, in this low-country with countless canals and rivers, there are bridges instead. and these have a toll.  Each player starts with “toll tokens” to a total value of thirty.  Most of the routes are double routes, so can be claimed by two different players, this feature is common with all other versions of Ticket to Ride when playing with the maximum number of players, but in this game they are used for all games.  The first player to claim a double route pays the marked toll to the bank, but the second player to claim that route pays the toll to the player who got there first.  These tolls become quite critical in the end game as there are bonus points available for players who manage to conserve toll tokens, and these bonuses are sizable with fifty-five points going to the player with the most tokens at the end of the game and thirty-five and twenty for second and third.  Players who can’t afford to build, can borrow from the bank, but that removes them from the race for bonus points as well as costing points at the end of the game.

Ticket to Ride: Nederland
– Image by boardGOATS

As is traditional, everyone began by moaning about where their starting tickets were.  Beyond that, nobody really knew quite what to expect, but it was clear that this wasn’t a game where players could ill-afford to hoard train cards and wait as they were likely to find themselves paying tolls to other players and giving them bonus points.  As such, everyone got going quickly and Red led the way placing several long routes giving her an early lead.  Everyone else caught up, and as players started to run low on trains, they realised they had to watch the number of toll tokens they had left else they would have to begin to borrow and that would put them out of the running for the bonuses.  Blue picked up extra tickets first, but they left her with a really tough decision as most of her track was in the north-west and the tickets she had were pretty much everywhere else.  After a very long time thinking, she decided to keep them all and go for broke.  The others soon followed, picking up more tickets, and Green had several goes with some corresponding to routes he had already claimed.  It was only a couple of turns after she had drawn her extra tickets that Magenta counted her trains and started to make some uncomfortable sounding noises suggestive of possible problems ahead.

Ticket to Ride: Nederland
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue triggered the end of the game and it was all too close to call with less than ten points between first and last before the tickets and bonus points were added on. Green was the first to count up and there was a stunned silence when we found he had a massive one hundred and thirty-seven points from the tickets to add to his train total of fifty-two.  Red had a couple of tickets that she had failed to complete so her ticket total took a bit of a bruising, but her problems were nothing to Magenta’s.  She only realised she didn’t have enough pieces to complete all her tickets when it was too late, so all her hard work to fulfil her initial tickets was almost completely negated as she finished with a ticket total of just one!  Blue had managed to complete all her routes and was pretty much neck-a-neck with Green which, like the other game, left it all down to the bonus points for toll tokens.  Red took the fifty-five points for the most remaining toll tokens, giving her a very respectable one-hundred and fifty-four and third place.  Blue picked up an extra thirty-five points and finished forty points ahead of Green who finished with the fewest toll tokens and therefore didn’t add to his score.

Ticket to Ride: Nederland
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine had appeared towards the end of the game and, after a brief explanation of the rules, had commented on the name of the game in German:  Zug um Zug, which translates to “step by step”, although Zug also means train.  This kind of double-entendre is not uncommon in Euro game titles and prompted a discussion of other games with similar “jokes”.  Blue mentioned Tier auf Tier which literally translates to the English title “Animal upon Animal”, a children’s game where players stack wooden animals, creating “tiers”.  Magenta brought up her favourite game, Bohnanaza, where “Bohn” is the German for bean.  Green chipped in with his offering of Citadels, which is called “Ohne Furcht und Adel” in German which literally means “without fear and noble” (colloquially translated as “without fear and nobility”).  This is actually a pun on “Ohne Furcht und Tadel”, which means “without fear or blemish”.  It is an old-fashioned expression seldom used now except perhaps when describing a perfect performance by Michael Schumacher for example, that refers to somebody being very valiant and chivalrous (ala King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table).  Interestingly, when trying to find the correct literal translation, Green submitted “Ohne Furcht und Adel” to Google and got “Citadels” in return, perhaps a measure of how embedded games are in German life.

Animal Upon Animal
– Image by BGG contributor dr.mrow

With eight of us, and nobody terribly keen to play anything too cerebral, we decided to go for something light, 6 Nimmt got a mention, but we settled on Las Vegas, using the extra dice for more players players and the wild cards from the Boulevard expansion, and the Slot Machine from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar.  This was a Christmas gift and had its first outing in January when it was the “Feature Game”, but as a light dice game that plays a wide range of player numbers it is quite versatile.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

On their turn, players must use all the dice of one number to bet on the casino of that number.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card. The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of barracking.  The Slot Machine is like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  The game was a lot of chaotic fun with with lots of chit-chat and before long we had worked our way through the card deck and spent an hour doing it.  Although there is a lot of down-time with so many players, it didn’t seem to matter very much and it was quite relaxing to chat about things.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We found Slot Machine definitely added a useful extra option to the game, however, the “wild cards” were less interesting.  This inspired a discussion about the value or otherwise of expansions.  In an evening essentially devoted to expansions, it was interesting consider whether the addition of expansions took a simple game that everyone liked and made it unnecessarily more complex, or whether it breathed new life into a game people had become tired of.  In the case of Ticket to Ride at least, it was clear that with a game that players had become almost too familiar with, the extra maps provided a nice alternative.  Meanwhile, the game was providing an interesting background to the discussion and the end results were almost incidental.  Magenta redeemed herself after the disastrous ticket fiasco, finishing with $390,000 and third.  Second place went to Red with $420,000, but with her second victory of the night, Blue took home the bacon with $460,000, more than twice that of last place.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

Learning outcome:  Germans *do* have a sense of humour!