Tag Archives: Magic: The Gathering

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.

Playing with Money at The British Museum: Currency and Games

Following on from their visit to see the “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered” exhibition at the V & A Museum of Childhood, under beautiful blue skies, Blue and Pink set out to Oxford Parkway once more, to visit The British Museum to see their “Playing with Money: Currency and Games” exhibition.  Entry to The British Museum is free, which is excellent value given the number of truly remarkable, internationally significant exhibits that are there, including the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles.

The British Museum
– Image by boardGOATS

Of more interest to gamers are a large number of pieces from the Lewis Chess Set, one of which was recently discovered in a drawer in a family home in Edinburgh.  These are actually a number of pieces from at least four sets and maybe more, but are iconic and were used as the basis of the design for the Chess set in the film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  In addition to the Lewis Chessmen, The British Museum also has a permanent display entitled, “Games: People and Pastimes”, which includes a Nigerian Chess Set, a Syrian Mancala board, and a selection of Iranian playing cards.

The British Museum Exhibits
– Image by boardGOATS

There is also currently a specific exhibition entitled “Playing with Money: Currency and Games”, which is available until the end of the month.  This is in a small, side-gallery and and really focussed on the development of money in board games, from it’s use in The Landlord’s Game and Monopoly, to more recent games like Speculation, Dominion and Black FridayThe Noble Game of Swan, Ratrace, and Magic: The Gathering also featured, though the gallery was quite small so there were not as many exhibits as there were at the Museum of Childhood, nor were they as varied.  One of the most interesting displays was perhaps some of the money cards from Alhambra with the actual coins that inspired the artwork on the cards.

The British Museum, "Playing with Money: Currency and Games"
– Image by boardGOATS

Given the other exhibits, The British Museum is well worth a visit although the “Playing with Money: Currency and Games” exhibition is only open till 29th September 2019.

The British Museum, "Playing with Money: Currency and Games"
– Image by boardGOATS

Boardgames in the News: The Hobby Grows and Grows

In the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, boardgames were only available from toy shops, and the range was limited to a relatively small number of “traditional” games, like Chess, Monopoly, Game of Life or Cluedo.  With the appearance of bigger, supermarket-like stores like Toys “R” Us in the 1980s and 1990s, a wider range became available and, occasionally, games like the early Spiel des Jahres winner, Rummikub, made their way onto our shelves.  As children grew up, they might graduate into playing Risk and eventually move onto longer, more complex games like those produced by Avalon Hill.  However, if you liked playing games, but war themes were not for you, it was quite difficult to find good alternative games to play.  They were there though:  games like Acquire and the 18xx railway games had been about for a long time, but these were the exception rather than the rule and were still an acquired taste.

Rummikub
– Image by BGG contributor OldestManOnMySpace

In contrast, in Germany, games like Scotland Yard were starting to become readily available and genuinely very popular.  The success of the Spiel des Jahres, which rewarded good games like Ra, El Grande, Tikal, and the 1995 winner, The Settlers of Catan, meant that boardgames were receiving a lot of publicity in Continental Europe.  The characteristics of these “German Games” (or “Euro Games”) typically include balance, with only a small amount of luck, and lack of player elimination.  As the market developed, beautiful boards and lots of wooden pieces also became an essential component.  Unlike war games, “Euro Games” tend to be less confrontational and much more suitable for family gaming.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

In the 1990s, UK designers like Alan R. Moon and Richard Breese started publishing small numbers of “designer games”.  These were often largely assembled by hand and generally had a limited print run.  For example, only 1,200 copies of Elfenroads (precursor to the later, Spiel des Jahres winner Elfenland) were ever made and Keywood, the first of the highly acclaimed “Key Series“, was hand-made and had a print-run of just 200.  Given the exclusive nature of these games, it was not surprising then, that many teenagers either gave up on boardgames or moved on to collectable card games, like Magic: The Gathering or Role-Playing Games.

Elfenroads
– Image by BGG contributor dougadamsau

So it was with the growth of the internet that “Euro Games”, or designer boardgames became available to people in the UK.  Firstly, this was because it enabled people to find out about the games that were available, with sites like UseNet and eventually BoardGameGeek in 2000, providing a valuable source of information.  Secondly, internet shopping made “German Games” much more accessible.  The growth of the hobby meant an increase in boardgame publishers, and the appearance of designers like Reiner Knizia who were sufficiently prolific and successful to make a living from designing games.  Over the last fifteen years or so, the hobby has grown and grown and games like Carcassonne and The Settlers of Catan are now available in Waterstones and WHSmith, there are regular comments in The Guardian, there are repeatedly TV appearances, and boardgame cafés are sprouting up all over the place.  The question is, will it continue to grow, or have we reached a high water line?

Ernie
– Image from boardgamegeek.com