We were late starting (again), though by the time we began we knew we were going to be short of people, so we started with Mr. Jack. This is an asymmetric, two-player game where one person takes on the role of “Jack” who is trying to escape, and the other tries to catch him before the escapes. We’ve played the pocket version a couple of times before, but this was the first outing on for the big version on a Tuesday evening at the pub.
The idea is that four of the characters are active in each round, with the four chosen at random in the first round, then the remaining four are played in the second round before the characters are shuffled and drawn randomly at the start of the third round. In the first round, the “Detective” chooses one character and plays it straight away; then Jack chooses and plays two from those left; finally the Detective finishes the round by playing the last character available. In general, on their turn, a character is moved one to three spaces around the board. However, each character also has a special ability which may be used to modify their action. For example, Miss Stealthy, can move up to four spaces and may move through buildings if she wishes, on the other hand, Inspector Lestrade can only move a maximum of three, but must move one of the barriers during his turn.
Thus, each character is moved in turn and at the end of each round, the question is asked, “Is Jack in the Light or the Dark?” If Jack is immediately adjacent to any other character, next to a street lamp, or in line with Dr. Watson’s lamp, he is in the Light, otherwise, he is in the Dark. The player playing Jack must respond truthfully, thus allowing the detective to eliminate some characters. If he is in the Light, Jack has survived another round, but may not actually escape until he is in the Dark again.
The game began with Green (playing “Jack”) choosing his alter ego at random from the eight possibilities: Sergeant Goodley, Miss Stealthy, Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Bert, Inspector Lestrade, John Smith, Sir William Gull and Dr. Watson. Meanwhile Blue set up the board. Blue had played it a number of times before, and although Green had played the pocket version once, this version was entirely new. So, Blue felt really bad when she had eliminated half of the characters by the end of the first round, leaving just four possibilities. Green had a much better second round however, and going into the third, still had three characters left.
It was then that Black and Purple walked through the door. With only two possible characters left, the ultimate conclusion of the game wasn’t really in any doubt, but rather than keep Black and Purple waiting, Blue decided to add a little spice to it the end of the game and guess and got it wrong… But then, who would suspect Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick Dr. Watson…?
With Black and Purple, we decided to play something a little longer that would take up most of the rest of the evening. After some discussion and presentation of likely candidates, we eventually decided to play Amerigo. This is a game that we had all played before though you wouldn’t have believed it if you’d been listening to the “table talk”.
In this game players are exploring the islands of South America, securing trading routes, and building settlements. The game board is made up of a four by four grid of large tiles that make an archipelago. Players then have two ships each which they sail through the maze of islands, mooring at natural harbours to build trading posts, and then expanding settlements.
The actions available to players are determined through the use of a special cube tower that contains lots of buffers and butresses. The idea is that each of the seven actions has an associated set of coloured cubes: blue for sailing, black for loading cannon, red for buying buildings, green for settling etc. At the start of the game, all the cubes are put into the top of the tower a small number get stuck and remain inside the tower to be potentially knocked out at a later point in the game.
There are four rounds and each round consists of seven phases, corresponding to each action where all the cubes available of that colour are poured into the tower. Most of these cubes come out again, but some dislodge cubes previously caught in the baffles, while others others get stuck themselves. Of the cubes that come out, the colour that is in the majority dictates the number, while all the colours dictate the actions. Thus, if five blue, one green and one black come out, players can choose between sailing, building settlements or loading cannon, and in each case, they have five “action points”. So, the actions that are available are largely predictable, with a slightly random element meaning there is a tactical element (taking advantage of the actions currently available in the best way possible) as well as a strategic (long term plan) element to the game.
Points are available throughout the game for all sorts of things, including being the first person to land on an island and establish a trading post; building settlements on an island; completing an island by settling on its last available space; collecting gold, and moving along the progress and special action paths. At the end of each round, however, the pirates attack and players have to fire their cannon to repel boarders. Anyone who has not loaded sufficient cannon to fend off the pirates, loses points and it’s nasty, because these players lose as many points as they would if they’d had no cannon, and they also have to fire the cannon they had loaded!
It was the point-scoring for completing islands that really confused Blue, however and she never really quite got the hang of it. The islands are divided into two classes: small islands and large islands. Building on large islands always scores more points than building on small ones and these points are awarded at the time. Completing a large island wins the player a treasure chest which they can turn into gold, but there is much more to it than that. Anyone with a trading post on the completed island scores points determined by multiplying the number on the time marker for that round (which decreases by one each round during the game), by the number from the triangular series that corresponds to the number of trading posts they have (i.e. 1, 3, 6, 10, 15 & 21 for one to six trading posts respectively). Thus, completing an island on which you have a lot of trading posts scores a significant number of points, but you don’t have to be the player to complete the island and the earlier it is completed, the more everyone scores.
Black started out well managing to get an entire large island all to himself, by blocking off all the trading posts and proceeded to buy some large settlement tiles and build them on his large island. Meanwhile, Green had a bit of a nightmare as every plan he made got stamped on by Blue. It was clearly completely unintentional, as Blue had barely enough understanding of the game to manage her own plans never mind upset someone else! Green got his revenge, however, by picking up the “everyone else needs two extra cannon to fight off the pirates” progress tile. Nobody else was very impressed, especially purple who had just acquired the “fight off the pirates and get two gold” progress token.
Everyone was quite convinced that Black was the run-away leader as he’d been able to buy two of the valuable neutral settlement tiles every turn instead of just one and a large island all to himself. However, somehow, Black’s plan to fill the large island hadn’t quite come off and he’d been out maneuvered when building his largest settlements by Green and Blue who carved up the largest free space between them, so by the end of the game it turned out that he’d not actually been able to capitalise on a lot of the buildings he’d bought. Blue had also had problems building enough having picked up two progress tiles early which gave her two extra action points when sailing and two when buying settlement tiles (planning), but she had decided to get round the problem by sacrificing a turn and moving up the special action track to land on a green space. This gave her additional opportunities to build whenever white cubes came out of the tower and she ended the game with almost no unused tiles. This proved invaluable in the dying stages of the game as, despite a late charge from Green (who had a huge pile of “sticks”), she finished eight points clear.
Learning Outcome: You don’t have to understand a game to win it.