Tag Archives: Niagara

20th April 2022

Meeting for the first time on a Wednesday, Pink and then Blue were the first to arrive, and like last time, played a game of Abandon all Artichokes (with the Rhubarb mini-expansion) while they waited for food to arrive. This is a very quick and simple “deck shredding” game: on their turn the active player takes a card from the face up market, adds it to their hand and then plays as many cards as they can before they discard the rest and draw five new cards. If this new hand contains no Artichoke cards, the player wins.  Although it is very simple, it seems the function sequence is somehow challenging.  Pink struggled last time, but seemed to have got the better of it as he won.

Abandon All Artichokes
– Image by boardGOATS

As they were finishing, Pine turned up and, while Pink went to the bar, Blue explained the rules to him and then they played again.  Pine also struggled a bit with which pile was the discard pile and which the draw pile, and where to take cards from and where they were going to.  There is hope though as, despite the arrival of food in the middle, Pink won the second game too.  Pink and Blue were just finishing their supper when Purple and Black arrived, soon followed by Green, Lime and Ivory.

Abandon All Artichokes
– Image by boardGOATS

This week, the “Feature Game” was the new edition of Libertalia, Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest, a card driven game where players are admirals commanding a crew of sky pirates in search of adventure, treasure, and glory.  Pine had watched the advertised play-through video and professed it “looked” fun, so was keen to give it a go.  Ivory and Pink joined the party, while Green shouted across from the other end of the table that he would be happy either way as he knew nothing about it.  In the end, after considerable debate, Ivory, Pink and Pine were joined by Blue and Purple, leaving Green, Black and Lime to find something else to play.

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Blue had read the rules, she had very deliberately not looked at the character cards, so Pine arguably knew most about Winds of Galecrest.  It is a rejuvenated version of the older game, Libertalia, but with new, lighter artwork, additional characters and streamlining of some of the mechanisms.  Very simply, each player starts with a deck of forty cards, of which six are drawn into their hand.  The idea is that players have the same character cards to play, but can play them in different orders.  Thus, one player (in our case Pink) shuffles their forty numbered cards and then draws six, which the the others find in their numbered and sorted decks.

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over three voyages, the first of which takes four days, the second, five days, and the final voyage takes six days.  Each day, players simultaneously choose a card to play, which when revealed are laid out in numerical order on the island.  The are then played three times: first in ascending order (daytime), next in descending order (dusk) and finally simultaneous (night).  Some cards only have actions that activate in one or two of the time-frames, but any characters still on the island, move back to that player’s ship and stay there till the end of the voyage.  At the end of the voyage, players activate any loot and characters they have with end of voyage actions.  Despite that being pretty much all there is to the game (and it being written clearly on the board), the group still managed to make a bit of a meal of it.

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
– Image by boardGOATS

The first hand consisted of six relatively uninteresting cards (or so it seemed at the time), which all had daytime actions.  The first voyage, and to some extent the second too, players were feeling their way.  Because the group failed to remove the Character cards from their ships at the end of the first voyage, that skewed things somewhat, especially as some players had the First Mate in their ship which in some cases scored twice giving points for the number of characters in their ship which was also artificially inflated.  Ivory knew which cards he’d played and when, but others were unsure and some had built a strategy that relied on having certain Characters in their boat at the end of the second voyage.  So rather than trying to back-track, ships were emptied for the first time at the end of the second round.

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
– Image by boardGOATS

It took the group a bit of time to understand when the actions for the loot happened—most occur at the end of the voyage, but some occur on the day they are collected, during the dusk phase.  As a result, several players missed some of those dusk actions, the additional reputation gained from picking up a Barrel in particular.  At the beginning of the second round, Blue, Pine, Ivory and Pink agreed they were all playing the “obvious card”.  On revealing their cards they discovered they had differing ideas of what the obvious play was, which gave the first inkling that there was much more to the actions than had first appeared, but the players really got to grips with the planning aspects of the game in the final round.

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory played his Carpenter, which reduced his funds by half, and immediately followed it with the Officer which increased his kitty to twelve doubloons.  Then, because he is always a threat, he was targeted by Pine and then Blue, losing first his Carpenter and then his Gambler from his ship (both give money at the end of the round).  Blue then assassinated Pink’s Carpenter and he took out her Gambler in revenge.  Pink discovered that the Saber type loot was much more dangerous than he gave it credit for as yet another of his Characters on the island bit the dust.  Meanwhile, Purple was building the contents of her treasure chest largely unmolested, mostly only suffering as collateral damage.  Pine also made killing by playing his Bodyguard with perfect timing, simultaneously taking lots of gold for discarding all the Sabers and Hooks from the loot pile, and starving everyone else of treasure.

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
– Image by boardGOATS

In the final accounting Blue was the most successful pirate, though she was one of the beneficiaries of the “rules malfunction” at the end of the second voyage.  Purple made an excellent second place though, picking up loads of gold from her loot while largely managing to avoid being caught in the cross-fire as the others attacked each other.  Libertalia is a much more vicious game than those we usually play, even though it was a “Calm” game and supposedly “easy and friendly”—Heaven only knows what Stormy will be like!  It was a lot of fun though, especially when the group started to get to grips with it properly during the final round.  It’s clear the game could cause a lot of relationship trouble, but that won’t stop it getting another outing soon.

Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table things were much more peaceful with Green, Black and Lime laying carpets.  No-one felt up to anything too taxing or long tonight, so after reviewing the selection of games available Black suggested they play Marrakech, which certainly fitted the bill. Marrakech, is an unusual little game, with fantastic little rugs made of fabric and coins made out of wood, where players take the role of a rug salesman who tries to outwit the competition.  Each player starts with ten Dirhams and an equal number of carpets.  On their turn, players may rotate Assam ninety degrees, then roll the die and move him forward as many spaces as shown (up to four).

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

If Assam lands on another player’s carpet, the active player must pay one Dirham per contiguous carpet square of that colour.  Finally, the active player then places one of their carpets orthogonally adjacent to Assam.  The winner is the player with the most money after the last carpet has been laid.  After a quick explanation to Lime (who hadn’t played it before), the group had to decide the Role of the Merchant.  On Board Game Arena, there are two options:  one where the player turns him himself before rolling the dice, and another where the player who just played gets to turn him at the end of their turn and before the next player.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

After a brief check of the rules, the group discovered that the first option was the original rule (move the merchant before rolling the dice) and so they went with that.  As a result it took several turns before anyone landed on anyone else’s carpet, then Black landed on a single square of Lime’s.   A couple more turns and landing on carpet became a regular activity.  When Green landed on a five square of Black’s, it became apparent that Lime had been labouring under a false understanding about what counted as a paying patch of carpet. He had thought that players have to pay for all the carpet squares connected, by any means including other people’s carpets, but of course only the patch that the Merchant is stood on counts.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

At various points in the game everyone had a large patch of carpet posing a hazard to the other players: Green had a large area in one corner, Black a large squarish patch in the middle, and Lime managed to get a zig-zag line from one corner all the way to the opposite one.  Mostly everyone managed to avoid landing on these until they were broken up, but that duck was broken when Green landed on a large Black area, shifting the coin balance heavily in Black’s favour.  At the end of the game carpet value was added to coins, and although Green had the most carpet showing, Black had significantly more coins than the others and finished as the winner by five points.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

Libertalia was still ongoing, and Marrakech had served as an excellent aperitif, but it was now it was time to move on to something more substantial, and the game of choice was Niagara. This is fantastic family game, that won the Spiel des Jahres Award in 2005, but is still a lot of fun seventeen years later.  The idea is that players have two canoes that they are using to navigate up and down the river while trying to collect gems and land them safely on shore.  Players simultaneously choose a paddle card from their hand, which dictates the distance their canoes travel.  Once everyone’s boat has travelled, the river moves and any canoes that are too close to the falls take the long drop and are turned to matchwood.

Niagara
– Image by boardGOATS

Players are trying to land five gems of the same type (or seven different colours) and the first to do so is the winner.  We last played this about nine months ago, online, through the medium of Board Game Arena.  On that occasion, Pink had betrayed everyone’s trust and stole several people’s precious loot.  The victims (in particular Burgundy), were vociferous in their grievance, and as a result, despite Pink being enthusiastic about playing again, nobody was keen to join him.  With Pink tied up in a quite different loot battle, this was a good opportunity to play again as it was still quite early and it was also an opportunity to introduce Lime to an old classic.

Niagara
– Image by boardGOATS

The first round played relatively gently and much the way it normally does with everyone holding their cloud paddle tile (which allows them to change the speed of the river) back for the last round.  Going into the second round however, Black and Green conspired to shake things up a notch. After putting a canoe onto the river, Black then moved the cloud from the plus one space it had been left on at the end of first round, to the plus two space. However, Green had also thought this was a bold move and had planned to do the same, but unfortunately, he had to move the cloud and as plus two is the maximum, the only direction to go from plus two was back to plus one.  The result was that everyone spent the rest of that round moving five steps forward and four back.

Niagara
– Image by boardGOATS

The highest cards were not enough to get players’ boats off the river and each time they just got dragged back again, with the landing stage forever out of reach.  Green tried to “go against the flow” using some lower cards earlier in the round and holding a bigger card for later, but apart from moving around on different river discs, the end result was still the same.  Everyone ended up on the same disc a couple of times too, and Lime was unfortunate when he lost one of his boats over the rapids.  At the beginning of the third round players got their boats off the river.  By this point, Black had managed to collect four different coloured gems and only needed that elusive pink. Green also had four gems, but that included two purple ones.  Lime had just two gems as he decided to trade one to get his second canoe back.

Niagara
– Image by boardGOATS

Black tried to inch down the river, sometimes choosing not to move a canoe in order to arrive at that last spot to collect his game winning pink gem. However Lime slowed the river down to minus one, and this left Black’s canoes in the wrong place.  In the meantime, Lime also collected another couple of gems and Green managed to pick up another two as well, one purple and one blue.  This left Green needing just one gem to win with seven (the fact that a pink would give him one of each did not matter—there is no double win in this game).  As the new round began, Green got on the river, collected the final purple gem and there was nothing the others could do to stop him landing it on his next turn.  And with that, the paddling was over with Green the victor.

Niagara
– Image by boardGOATS

Although it was not that late, Lime and Green left for their respective homes, leaving Black to watch the final few turns of Libertalia.  When that wound up, Ivory headed home and there was still time left for something short. While everyone else discussed the options, Pink went to the bar for a “tot” of Dead Man’s Fingers Rum.  In his absence, Bohnanza was eschewed as “not short” and 6 Nimmt! and Coloretto had both been played recently.  Saboteur doesn’t play so well with smaller numbers so in the end, the game chosen was Sushi Go!.  The first thing to do was to remove the promotional expansions for its big brother Sushi Go Party! (Sukeroku, Inari, Sake and Pickled Ginger; these can be played with the original version but other cards need to be removed), however the Soy Sauce promo cards included as usual.

Dear Man's Finger Rum
– Image by Pine

The game is really simple:  from their hand of cards, players simultaneously choose one to keep and pass the rest on before repeating until everyone has no cards.  At the end of the round the different cards are scored according to their individual characteristics.  After three rounds, puddings are evaluated and the winner is the player with the largest total number of points.  This time there was a serious shortage of puddings in the first round and Blue seemed to have more than her fair share.  It wasn’t clear whether it was because she was overly focused on deserts or whether it was just because she’s rubbish at the game, but her score was lower than everyone else except Pine.

Sushi Go!
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine made up for it in the second and third rounds.  In general, consistency is usually the winning factor in Sushi Go!, so Pink should have been in a good position, but both Black and Purple had a couple of really strong rounds, as indeed did Pine.  As a result, it was a really close game.  Pine was undone by the combination of his poor first round and the fact he was the only one with no puddings and lost six points as a result.  In contrast, Blue’s score was boosted by six points as she had a clear majority.  It was Purple and Black who were the ones to beat though, as they tied for the lead on thirty points and tied on the pudding tie break as well, so shared victory.

Sushi Go!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  If you are looking for job security, don’t become a pirate.

20th July 2021 (Online)

Since last time, there had been quite a bit of debate about returning to the Horse and Jockey, but there was a little hesitancy and with the extremely hot weather, staying at home this week turned out to be the right choice all round.  As the decision had been just a little bit last-minute, we chose to keep the “Feature Game” simple and opted for the Skills Mini Expansion for Cartographers.  We have played Cartographers several times and everyone has really enjoyed it.  With the Spiel des Jahres winners announced this week, this was also the nearest we could get to playing a game to mark the occasion (it received a nomination for the Kennerspiel award last year).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

Cartographers is a “Roll and Write” type of game, but one with more of a “gamery” feel than most.  It is based on Tetris, with shapes revealed on the flip of a card in a similar way to other games we’ve played this year like Second Chance and Patchwork Doodle.  However, the thing that makes Cartographers more “gamery” than these is the addition of terrain and players usually have to make a choice, either of the shape or the terrain.  The terrains are tied in with goal cards, four of which are revealed at the start of the game.  Two goals are then scored at the end of each of the four seasons, in a similar way to another game we like, Isle of Skye.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

There are lots of other little aspects of the game that make it interesting—the presence of Ruins and Ambush Cards in the deck, for example, deliver a curved ball, just when players feel they are in control.  Players can also build their income by surrounding mountain ranges and choosing to play certain shapes; this gives more points at the end of each round.  The Skills expansion gives players a way to offset this income for special actions which potentially give players other ways of achieving their goals, further adding to the decision space.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the most impressive things about Cartographers is the amount of variety that is built into the game, which means every play feels different and the game stays remarkably fresh.  So, there are two different player maps and four of each type of goal card.  This variety is carried through to the Skills expansion; there are eight cards of which three are chosen at random.  This time we chose the B side of the map (with empty “wasteland” spaces marked) and drew the Greenbough, Mages Valley, Wildholds and Borderlands goal cards together with the Search, Negotiate and Concentrate skills cards.  These skills cost anything from free (like Search) to three (like Concentrate), and each can be played multiple times per game although only one can be played each Season.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

We quickly realised that the expensive skills like Concentrate are only likely to be played in the final round, as the cost is in “income” and that income is generated at the end of every round.  So, playing Concentrate at the start of the game will ultimately cost a player twelve points, while playing it in the final round will cost three just three points.  For this reason, the free Search skill was always likely to be used by almost everyone in almost every season (and so it proved).  Of course, the higher tariff reflects the increased power though:  Search allows players to increase the size of the shape they are drawing by a single square; Negotiate (which costs one) allows players to draw a two-by-two shape, and Concentrate allows players to draw the shape a second time.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

As well as the skills which we had not played with before, several of the goal cards were new to us as well, including Greenbough (which rewards gives players one point per row and column with at least one Forest square in it) and Mages Valley (which gave points for each space next to a Mountain—two points for each Lake and one point for each Arable).  We’d played with the Wildholds goal before though (which gives six points for each Village of six or more spaces) and, although Borderlands was new to us (which give points for each completed row or column), we’d played The Broken Road goal which is similar (giving points for completed diagonals).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The game began much as usual, and Pink, who was watering the tomatoes in the “mini-market-garden”, commented that he could hear Burgundy muttering, sighing and generally sounding stressed from outside.  Although we had played with “Wastelands” before, we had all focussed on how the fact some of the spaces were already full would help.  We had all forgotten how much the Wastelands obstruct plans and generally make life considerably more difficult.  Blue made a bit of using the ruins spaces to give her more flexibility later, but had forgotten that it would reduce the number of spaces she would be able to fill later in the game.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

It was clear after the first round that Ivory was going to be tough to beat, a feeling that was cemented after the second round.  Unusually, Burgundy was the first to post a score, with a total of one hundred and forty-one.  Although this was high enough to earn him second though, when Ivory’s score came through he was a massive twenty-five points ahead.  Once again, it had been a very enjoyable game, and as we tidied up there was a little bit of chit-chat about the skills and what they added to the game.  Since they are not compulsory, the consensus  was that we should add them every time, though it was clear that they had been widely used because of the presence of the free Search skill, which everyone had used, and some in every round.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

With Cartographers over, we had a bit of a discussion about moving back to our much loved and greatly missed, Horse and Jockey.  We’d conducted some anonymous surveys over the preceding week to try to gauge opinion trying to ensure that nobody felt under pressure to do anything they weren’t comfortable with.  Some of the group had been back on occasional Thursdays, playing old favourites like The Settlers of Catan, Wingspan, and Roll for the Galaxy and new games like Red Rising, Mercado de Lisboa, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam, Tapestry (with the Plans and Ploys expansion), Ginkgopolis, Everdell, and Draftosaurus (aka “Sushi Go with Dinosaurs”).  Others, however, had not been to the pub for nearly eighteen months.  After some discussion, we decided that we’d schedule a trial visit in ten days time, so that those who had not been out could see how they felt without committing, and those that went could report back to those that were feeling a little more reticent.

The Horse and Jockey
– Image by boardGOATS

After that, we moved onto Board Game Arena.  It was a quiet night without both Pine and Lime, and once Green and Ivory had left as well, we were down to five which gave us a lot of options.  Coloretto was one, but in the end we chose Niagara, a game we’ve all played quite a bit, but never online, and we were keen to see the new Board Game Arena implementation and whether losing the tactile moving river would leave the game lacking.  A strong element of the game is the element of simultaneous play, however, and this was a large part of the appeal this time.  Players simultaneously choose a Paddle Tile which dictates how far their canoe will move in the round.  Then, in turn order, players move their canoe up or down the river, paying two movement points to pick up a gem from the bank (or drop one off).

Niagara
– Image by BGG contributor El_Comandante
adapted by boardGOATS

The winner is the player to get four gems of the same colour, five gems of different colours, or any seven gems safely home and into the shallows.  On the face of it, this is relatively simple, but the really clever part of the game is the movement of the river.  In general, the river moves at the speed of the slowest boat—if the lowest numbered Paddle Tile is a two, then the river moves two spaces and all the boats move with it.  However, one of the Paddle Tiles is a weather tile which enables players to increase or decrease the rate to make life harder or easier.  Since everyone has to play all their Paddle Tiles before they can recycle them, the timing of their weather tile is critical: players who leave it to the end run the risk of the river running fast and losing boats over the cascade because they can’t do anything about it.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

And it wasn’t long before that’s exactly what happened, when both Blue and Black got their timing wrong and lost boats over the falls, so had to pay hard earned gems to get new ones.  Then, to add insult to injury, Pink sneakily crept up on Blue and stole another gem from her.  Players can only steal if they land on the same space as another boat while travelling upstream, and even then it is a choice.  There was much ill feeling especially from Blue, but she wasn’t the only one.  And with that, the gloves came off and everyone tried to redress the balance and ensure that such bad behaviour would not go unpunished.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Pink was abreast of that though and had a plan.  Knowing his bad behaviour would make him a target he collected gems in one boat letting others take them while he stole the gems he wanted and got them to shore quickly.  Much to everyone’s disgust, he soon had five different gems and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him getting them home.  Burgundy actually had more gems giving him a nominally higher score, but his set of six did not include five different colours and Blue’s set of five included three nuggets of amber.  The victims of Pink’s grand larceny were unimpressed with his terrible behaviour, and as it was getting late, we decided to call it a night.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

Learning Outcome:  Theft is totally unforgivable.

23rd August 2016

A little unsure as to who was coming, we decided to start with the “Feature Game”, which was the filler, Abluxxen (also known as Linko!).  This is a “get rid of all your cards” type of game, and although it is initially a little confusing to understand, it mostly became clear as we played.  On their turn, players play any number of cards as long as they are all the same. The cards are then sequentially compared with the last cards played by all the other players:  if the number of cards played is the same, and the face value of the cards played is higher, then the other player’s cards are “snatched”.  They can either be “snatched” by the active player (the “snatcher”) who takes them into their hand, or alternatively the “snatchee” has to do something with them.  The “snatchee” can either choose to take them back into their hand or discard them.  If they decide to discard, then they must replace the cards with the same number from the face up display in the centre or drawn blind from the draw deck.

Abluxxen
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, the idea is that players are trying to get rid of cards and force other players to pick cards up, however, picking up cards an also be a good thing as it can be an opportunity to improve the cards in hand.  Better, having a lot of identical cards in hand means that when they are played they go on top of any cards previously played making it more difficult for anyone to “snatch” them or force them to be picked up.  The game ends when either one player runs out of cards or the draw deck and central pool has been depleted.  Just to add to the the confusion, however, the winner is then the player who has played the most cards, but any cards left in hand give a penalty of minus one.

Abluxxen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although it was a simple game and everyone knew what they had to do, at first nobody really understood what they had to do to win.  Gradually people began to work it out though, starting with Burgundy who had watched a video of the game online, then Ivory who was new to the group, but had played plenty of games before.  Pine and Blue eventually joined the “in the know” club, but Red continued to struggle.  Every time it was her turn, Red said, “Sorry, I know I keep asking, but if I play two sevens what will happen?”  Despite this apparent lack of understanding, Red was the first to check-out and with a huge pile of cards too.  This was particularly amusing as Red had just been explaining to Ivory that he shouldn’t believe Burgundy and Blue when they claim to be doing badly or have no idea what they are doing as they usually go on to win.  Inevitably then, although most people were only one or two turns away from finishing, Red was miles ahead much to Burgundy’s chagrin as he needed just one more turn and was left with six cards in hand compared with the seven in his pile.  Blue who had just played seven “fives” and had only a couple of cards in-hand was second, just ahead of Ivory and Pine.

Abluxxen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Black and Purple had walked in just as Abluxxen started, so amused themselves reading game rules and trying to work out what everyone else was doing.  Abluxxen had taken a little longer than expected so with everyone present and a group of seven, we decided to split into two.  Red was keen to play Niagara, a really unusual game with a moving river.  It won the Spiel des Jahres in 2005 and still holds up as a good family game more than ten years on.  The group has played it before, but in summary, players have two boats that they move up and down the river, trying to collect gems and return them home, to the top of the river.  There are a couple of catches.  The first is that each player has a set of Paddle Cards and must play each one once before they can play any of them again.  These Paddle Cards dictate how far they can move on the river, but can also affect how much the river will move.  Paddle Cards are selected simultaneously at the start of the round, so there is an element of programming involved, though not as much as in games like Colt Express or Walk the Plank!, but it does mean there is an element of anticipation.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Marsh

The second “catch” is the river.  The river flows after everyone has moved their boats and the rate is dependent on the lowest Paddle Card played in the round and the weather.  Each player has a weather Paddle Card, which they use to speed up or slow the river down, however, as this has to be played instead of moving boats, this can be a trap for the unwary.  In the worst case this can lead to the loss of a boat and its contents with a penalty to get the boat back.  The game ends when one player fulfills one of three criteria:  four gems of the same colour, one gem of each of the five colours or any seven gems.  Gems are limited, and this leads to the third “catch”, which is that once a player has picked up a gem and has it safely in their boat, another player can steal it so long as they are paddling up stream and land on the same river segment.  So a nice little game with a nasty edge.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor erfalucho

Red was joined by Pine, Ivory and Burgundy in what was to be a very close game.  With four players, each boat should only hold one gem at a time, but a minor rules malfunction meant that everyone played with the double boats from the Spirits of Niagara expansion.  Red and Burgundy took full advantage of this collecting the difficult blue and pink gems first and in one trip.  It quickly became clear that five unique gems was going to be difficult so everyone went for the slightly easier seven random gems.  Pine was the only “proper adventurer” exploring the limits of the river.  Misinformed by Burgundy with respect to the effects of the weather, Pine become intimately acquainted with the waterfall, turning one of his boats to matchwood, but he was the only one to experience the long soggy drop.  Otherwise, the weather was fairly muted and everyone was fairly close to getting a full set of gems when Red, kicking on from her successful start got her nose over the line first, finishing with a total of eight gems.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor William Hunt

With Niagara done, the group moved onto Splendor.  In this game, players have just three options on their turn:  collect gem tokens, buy a gem card using gem tokens (and/or cards), or reserve a gem card and receive a gold (wild) token at the same time.  Players can have a maximum of ten tokens, though unlimited cards and the cards act as permanent tokens.  Thus, at its heart Splendor is an engine building game built on a set-collection mechanism.  Players score points when they buy some gem cards and for attracting Nobles which are awarded to the first player collect certain combinations of gem cards; the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points and the player with the most at the end wins.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Despite being a very simple game, it is one we still enjoy as a relaxing little filler.  Indeed, it got an outing last time when Blue succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when Burgundy came steaming through from nowhere to win.  It could have been this, or perhaps it was previous alleged trouncings that inspired Blue and Purple to let out an emphatic war cry from the neighbouring table exhorting everyone to stop Burgundy at all costs.  So, Burgundy did lots of sighing as everyone rallied to the clarion call and went out of their way to bring him down.  Pine had been one of the victims last time and, understanding his likely fate commented that he wished he could record all of Burgundy’s deep sighs and general moaning and then play it back to him when he won.

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

The tactics appeared to be working, however, as about half way through, Pine had eight points as Burgundy took his first.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy took the first Noble too, but he was still some way behind and nobody was terribly concerned.  Meanwhile, Ivory was quietly building his engine taking lots of freebees, looking like the new threat.  Red was enjoying herself hoarding rubies just to annoy Burgundy even though she was well aware that it wasn’t actually doing her any favours.  Then suddenly, Burgundy took his second Noble and the writing was on the wall:  everyone knew they were doomed.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy took his third Noble and nobody had an answer as he repeated the trick he’d pulled off so successfully last time winning from the back of the pack.

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

Meanwhile, on the next table Black, Blue and Purple were engaged in a slightly protracted game of Castles of Burgundy.  This is a game we’ve not played before with the group, though Blue had played it a few times as a two player game and Black had played it quite a bit online.  It is one of those games with fairly simple mechanics, but a lot of complexity in the game play.  The idea is that each player has two dice which they roll at the start of the round.  On their turn they then spend the two dice, trading them for two separate actions.  Players can take a building from the pool on the central player board that matches the number on their die, for example, if a player rolled a six, they can take any of the buildings in the “six” poll and place it in their own supply.  Their supply is limited in size and there must be space for them to be able to do this.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor thatmadgirl

Alternatively, the player could take a building form their supply and place it on their personal player board on a space that matches both the number of the die and the colour of the building.  Both of these actions are quite restrictive, so players can instead choose to collect two worker tiles and add them to their store.  These worker tiles are the oil that greases the wheels a little, since they allow players to alter one of their dice by one for each tile used (e.g. spending two worker tiles will allow a player to change a five to a three or a one).  The last action is selling goods.  Players can acquire goods tiles during the game, but can only store three different types.  each of the six types correspond to a different number and, on their turn, as an action players can sell all their goods that correspond to the die (modified by workers if they choose).  In return they get a silverling and some points.  Silverlings are a form of currency and can be used to buy one extra building per round.  These are taken from a special pool, though there is nothing particularly special about the buildings themselves except that they are harder to obtain and therefore are generally only taken by players that really want them.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Points is what the game is all about, and being a game designed by Stephan Feld, there are lots of different ways to get them.  Although the actions within the game are simple, how points are achieved is where the complexity of the game really lies.  Each building placed on their board gives the active player a bonus.  Sometimes it is a bonus action, sometimes it is bonus points and sometimes it is a strategic advantage; it is the player that makes the most of these bonuses that will win the game.  Players then also score points for placing buildings to complete regions on their own board.  The larger the region, the more points they get, however, there are also bonus points for completing regions early.  Extra points are also available to the first players place the maximum number of each type of building in their province.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor 3EBC

Black, by far the most experienced, began by investing in the special buildings that give one off strategic bonuses (e.g. an the opportunity to place an extra tile or take another from the central board).  Blue began without a strategy and, as is her wont played very tactically, without a real strategy and see what unfolded.  Purple, on the other hand, went for animals early.  These give points, but in an unusual way:  every time an animal tile is added to an area, all the other animals of the same type score again.  Blue picked up four pigs in the first couple of rounds, then added two, then three then another four more, and before long she was following Purple down the animal route.  Their strategies were very different, however, with Purple taking anything she could get while Blue was much more targeted.  So, as Blue went heavily into pigs, she was able to keep re-triggering their scoring building a tidy number of points.  Purple could have made up for with the yellow knowledge tile that rewards players with four points at the end of the game for each different sort of animal they have, but Blue had her eye on it too and got there first.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

While Blue and Purple were engaged in a agricultural battle Black was able to continue with his plan pretty much unchallenged.  So he moved into shipping and completed lots of areas picking up the corresponding bonuses.  Purple took the bonus for finishing the farming tiles first and picked up points for finishing several others too including mining – quite an achievement since she was the last to get a mine at all.  It was the compound scoring for the animals that clinched it though coupled with the knowledge tile that enabled Blue to place her green farming tiles more flexibly and she ran out the winner with one hundred and eighty-five points, nearly twenty ahead of Black in second place.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor Korosu_Itai

Ivory headed off, and Castles of Burgundy was still well under way, which gave Red an opportunity to suggest one of her favourite games, Bohnanza.  The original bean-trading game, this is a staple family game and is still very popular with the group as it keeps everyone involved throughout and is usually very popular as a “gateway” game.  Last time he’d played it, Pine had really struggled, which both surprised the rest of the group and caused us a certain amount of consternation as it should have been a game Pine would have enjoyed.  It seemed he couldn’t remember the disaster last time though and he was happy to try again.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

The game is very simple, but players have to keep their eye on what is going on around them.  Players start with a hand of cards and are not allowed to change the order – a simple mechanic that is the critical part of the game.  In front of each player are two “Bean Fields” and on their turn, players must plant the first card in their hand and may plant the second.  Thus, the key to the game is managing the order of cards in their hand, as they cannot be rearranged and must be “planted” in the order they arrive.  However, it is possible to remove unwanted cards by trading them away.  Once the active player has planted the card(s) from their hand, then they turn over the top two cards from the draw deck:  these must be planted by the end of the turn, though not necessarily in one of the active player’s fields if they can be traded.  Once all these cards have been planted, the active player can then offer to trade any unwanted cards in their hand before their turn ends with them replenishing their hand from the draw deck.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

There are lots of different strategies players use:  the cards have different values which reflect their rarity so some go for high value rare cards and others for more common cards that are easy to get.  The best players are usually the most flexible and those that fit in best with what other players around are trying to do.  Another aspect players need to keep an eye on is harvesting.  Each field can only contain one type of bean and when they are harvested some of the cards are kept as profit.  In this way, the rare cards (which are also the most profitable) are gradually depleted from the deck.  So towards the end of the game, they become increasingly difficult to find.  Worse, sometimes there might only be one card left and woe-betide the player that gets stuck with it in a field as there is a nasty little rule that says players can only harvest a field with one bean card if all their fields have only one bean card.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

This time, Pine began well offering lots of generous donations which earned him lots of good will as well as getting him off to a flying start.  In contrast, Burgundy was repeatedly forced to plough up fields before promptly picking up the beans he had just disposed of.  The first trip through the deck always seems to take ages, but as usual, the second time through was much quicker.  With three players, everyone got a couple of turns in the final, third pass and everyone was looking nervously at each others’ piles of “coins”; it looked very close.  In fact, there was only one point in it as Red finished just ahead of Pine who finished with a very creditable twenty-seven.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

With Castles of Burgundy finally over, Blue was keen to play something quick and light to finish the evening and, knowing how much Purple likes it, suggested Om Nom Nom.  This is a really sweet little game with elements of double-think.  The idea is that there are three food chains each with three tiers, a primary predator, a secondary predator and pray.  Each player has a hand of cards representing the top two predator tiers and dice are rolled to represent the bottom two tiers.  Once the dice have been rolled and assigned to their spaces on the board, everyone simultaneously chooses a card and the food chains are resolved starting from the top.  Any predator with no prey (or where there is insufficient for all the animals played) goes hungry and is discarded.  Otherwise, prey is divided equally amongst its predators leaving any left-overs for later.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

A bit like 6 Nimmt!, it is all about synchronising with everyone else, or rather in this case, getting out of synch with everyone else.  This is because everyone has the same set of cards, so if every player except one plays the same cards, all the players who played the same cards will likely cancel each other out and get no reward.  On the other hand, irrespective of whether they get any reward for playing something different, the very fact they did not play the same card means they have it to play later when there is no competition.  This worked particularly well for Blue in the first round, when she managed to pick up lots of carrots and cheese uncontested.  Since prey at the bottom of the food chain are worth two point, this netted her a massive seventeen points.  In contrast, the second round was very low scoring with lots of animals going hungry.  Blue was less effective this time, but still won the round so going into the final round the game was hers to lose, and she tried her best.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine struggled throughout and Red couldn’t get to grips with the double think aspect so was curious as to whether random draw would work better  Since she won the final round it is possible that it did.  Meanwhile Blue was doing her best to throw the game, demonstrating that while it was important to be out of synch with everyone else, it was important to be out of synch in the right way.  First her rabbit got eaten, then her cat went hungry, but somehow she managed to scrape together enough points to ensure she ran out the winner.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  You don’t have to know what you are doing to win.

24th February 2015

We started out with a game that was new to the group, …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (which means “…But Please, With Cream”, although the game is also known as “Piece o’ Cake” in English).  This is a quick little set collecting game we’ve not played before with very simple rules.  The game uses an “I divide, you choose” mechanism with points awarded to players with the most slices of the each different types of cake.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

The first player (the Baker) bakes a cake with the types determined at random.  Each slice has a number of blobs of cream on it and a numeral demonstrating how many of that type there are in the game.  The Baker then divides the cake up (usually so that there are sufficient pieces for everyone to have one), with each piece containing any number of slices of any type.  Next, the player to the left of the Baker selects a piece of cake and chooses what to eat and what to keep.  They can eat or keep as many slices they want.  Any cake they choose to eat is turned face down and the total number of blobs of cream in the pile contributes that number of points to the the final score.  Thus, each player takes a piece of cake and chooses what to eat and what to keep, finishing with the Baker.  Then the next player takes a turn as the Baker and so on.  The game continues for five rounds.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of the game, each type of cake is assessed and the player who has collected the most slices of a variety receives points.  The number of points obtained is the same as the number of slices in the game and is written on each slice of that type of cake.  For example, there are eleven pieces of chocolate cake in the game and the player with the most slices will win eleven points at the end.  Crucially, in case of a tie, all tied players score the points.  In general, players can only eat fresh cake (i.e. cake just served), the exception is that they can forfeit the opportunity to take fresh cake and instead eat all the stale cake of one type in front of them.  This might be a good idea if a player can see that they cannot win a category and the number of blobs of cream will give them more points than they would get from the fresh cake.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy started off as the Baker.  Blue began modestly keeping a slice of apricot cake and eating her chocolate cake (having given up chocolate and cake for Lent, this was very appealing).  Meanwhile, Cerise began collecting strawberry and chocolate, Grey went for gooseberry leaving Red and Burgundy to fight it our for cherry, blackberry and plum.  In the second round, Burgundy set the tone by pinching the a slice of apricot cake from under Blue’s nose handing her a load of relatively worthless slices in the process.  From then on, it was more about stopping other people from getting what they wanted than about collecting something useful, which meant that those who had picked up the start of a set in the first round were in the best position.  The game ended with players sharing the top spot for a lot of the categories, but the strawberry and chocolate that Cerise had picked up early on gave her a massive number of unshared points.  The title of Master Baker went to Burgundy, however, winning by a single point.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor GeoMan

By this time, Green, Black and Purple had arrived, so we split into two groups with the first starting off with the “Feature Game”, Niagara.  This is one of the first games we played in the group back in October 2012, and it was certainly long overdue another outing.  The idea of the game is that players are travelling up and down the Niagara River in canoes collecting gems.  The river is the feature of this game as it is made up of plastic discs that actually move during the game carrying the players boats towards the falls.  Each player has a set of “paddle cards” with numbers 1-6 and a cloud on them and each card must be played one can be reused.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Marsh

Simultaneously, all players choose a paddle card, then they take it in turns to resolve their card.  Each player has two canoes which can either be on the bank or on the river.  Any boat on the river must be moved and a boat on the bank can be moved if the player wants to (though if they are both on the bank, only one can be moved).  Movement is exactly the number shown on the chosen paddle card, no more and no less (except when bring a boat home with a gem on board) and the boats cannot change direction during the turn.  In addition to moving, players can also load or unload a canoe, which costs two movement points and must be done at the start or end of a move.  An empty boat that is travelling up-stream and lands on a space occupied by another boat laden with a gem may also steal it for no charge.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor erfalucho

At the end of the round, after everyone has taken their turn moving their boats, then the river moves.  It’s movement is dictated by the smallest canoe movement, modified by the weather.  Each player has a weather paddle card and as one of their options, they can alter the weather setting from sunny (-1) to very rainy (+2).  Thus if the lowest paddle card played was a three and the weather was very, very wet, the river would move five spaces.  The winner is the player who has either four gems of the same colour, five of different colours or seven of any colour at the end of the game.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor William Hunt

The game started well, and “just to demonstrate to everyone how it was done”, Blue nicked one of Burgundy’s gems and then increased flow rate of the river.  She got her comeuppance since she promptly ended up with two yellow gems.  Meanwhile, Cerise had collected two clear gems and Red followed Blue’s example and increased the weather flow to it’s maximum.   By the time everyone had been through their paddle cards once, everyone had moved on to trying to get the difficult pink and blue gems that are perilously close to the cataract.  The inevitable happened then, when everyone played a “6” and one of Cerise’s precious canoes went sailing over the waterfall.  Despite turning one of her boats into match-wood, she was still the first to get a complete set of five different coloured gems, giving her the win.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cmessenger

Meanwhile, the other group were showing no signs of finishing, so since Cerise had never played it, the group moved on to one of Red’s favourite games, Bohnanza.   Cerise was very generous which meant everyone else followed suit and the game wasn’t as tough as it has been when we’ve played it recently.  Burgundy went for the “high value” market, but suffered and Red and Blue’s mixed bean strategy and Blue finished just two coins ahead of Red.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

The other group were still what seemed like hours from finishing, so the first group tried decided to move onto their third game.  Burgundy expressed an interest in playing Blueprints, a cute little dice stacking game.  However, just as Blue was getting it out, Black suddenly commented that their game was coming to an end.  Blueprints can be a little lengthy, so it was quickly replaced with Tsuro, which turned out to be just the right length.

Tsuro
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Tsuro is a very simple tile laying, path making game, that has the advantages of playing a range of numbers reasonably well, as well as being very quick to play and extremely easy to teach.  The idea is that players have a stone which is located on the board and a hand of three tiles.  On their turn, they have to place one of the tiles on the board next to their stone such that it extends it’s path and remains on the board, then they replenish their hand.  Players continue until their stone collides with another player’s stone or it is forced off the board (by another player or because they have no choice because of the tiles they have), in which case they are out.  The game started slowly, but Red was the first to go, when she lost a tussle with Burgundy.  Burgundy didn’t last much longer, leaving just Cerise and Blue to tough it out.  Blue was forced to place a tile that left her at the mercy of Cerise, but Cerise had no choice and collided with Blue, ending the game.

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

By this time, the other group were just adding up their scores, but what was it that they had been playing that took so long?  Well, they had been playing Village with The Port expansion.  In Village, each player takes the reins of a family striving for fame and glory.  The game is full of difficult decisions, however, it feels like it moves quite quickly.  What is particularly unique though, is the way the game uses the delicate subject of death as a natural and perpetual part of life in the village and a mechanism for dictating the flow and duration of the game.

Village
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Each player starts the game with a personal farmyard board and the four members of the first generation of their family.  There is also a central village game board which depicts the different locations players can go to carry out different actions.  At the start of the game/round influence cubes are drawn at random from a bag and placed on these locations.  During the round, players take it in turns choosing a location and taking one of the cubes and then (optionally) carrying out the action. There are a range of actions, from “building a family”, to “crafting goods” or “going to market”.  Some of these (like visiting the “well”) give resources of some kind, while others (like going “travelling” or “entering the church”) are primarily a means to obtain points.

Village
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

While the action is optional, taking a cube is mandatory.  If there isn’t a cube available at the location, then the action cannot be taken.  Cubes are then used to pay for some of the actions.  In addition to the cube cost, some actions also have a “time” cost:  around the edge of the players farmyard, there is a time track and once a player’s token has been round the board one of their meeples dies.

Village
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

When one of their meeples dies, the player has to choose one of their oldest generation family members (i.e. those numbered “1”, or in the event that they are all deceased, one numbered “2”) kill them off.  These meeples are then either laid to rest in the Village Chronicle or in one of the anonymous graves behind the church.  Family members placed in the Chronicle will score victory points at the end of the game, however, if there is no room in the relevant section of the Chronicle, the family member is placed anonymously in the unmarked graves behind the church where they do not score.  The game will end when either the last empty space in the Village Chronicle is filled, or the last anonymous grave is filled.  The winner is the player with the most points at the end.

Village
– Image by BGG contributor jardeon

It took a little while to set up and revise the rules and to work out how the new Port expansion fitted in.  Basically this replaces the original travelling option with the ability to board ship and travel the seven seas. Players hire a captain, and then use the ship to sell domestic goods and pick up foreign commodities. Family members can be sent as missionaries to far away islands and dig up treasure chests.

Village Port
– Image by BGG contributor Grovast

Eventually the game began.  Black started out collecting green cubes, aiming for a market based strategy.  Grey was attracted by the large number of points provided by the expansion and decided to pop down to the port and start sailing almost immediately.  Meanwhile, Purple and Green were a little less certain of their initial direction and just built up a small stock of tiles (namely ox and plough to maximise wheat production).  By the end of the first round, both Purple and Green had sent family members into the church bag, and, by pure chance, both Green’s came out.  In the second round Purple joined yellow at sea, Green fumbled over getting his first meeple to work a second time in the craft halls without dying while Black (a hard task master) worked his first meeple into an early grave without shedding a tear!

Village
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Club Amatent

Blue was also heading deeper into the town hall, piling up extra bonus green cubes and tiles to enhance his market buying opportunities.  Grey continued a balancing act at home while slowly filling his boat.  Green joined Grey and Purple and took to the seas with the highest level captain and rapidly made his way round to collect the various goodies. Purple decided that she did not like the apparent slight by the God(s) and placed even more into the church, and paying for them to be taken out and so gaining the end of round church bonus.

Village
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Everything was looking rosy for Black, producing quite a pile of market chips, until the sailors began to return, and were able to swap their bounty for lots of points, saoring into the lead on the victory point track. Black was still confident, if a little nervous now, especially since Green had managed to plant one of his meeples in the far corner of the sea for a huge haul of points at the end.  The books of remembrance were slowly filling, as was the grave yard.  Black then took a late plunge into the waters, while Green started sending family members to join the local council in the Town Hall.  Purple collected cubes a plenty (enabling her to make some free actions of her own choice to her advantage) and Grey was really getting to grips with the game and was making good use of his second trip to sea and happily killing meeples left, right and centre, like mad despots!

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

There was a close finish in the final round.   Initially everyone thought it was going to be the last round, but then it started to look like the grave spaces would not be filled after all and another round would ensue.  Then, out of the blue, Green used three cubes to visit the market place, which had otherwise been empty of action cubes.  Buying twice killed off another meeple, which filled the last space in the graveyard and the game was suddenly over (leading the other group to change from Blueprints to Tsuro).  With one last turn each, only Black was able to do anything to increase his score at this point.  Before the final scoring it was very unclear who had won:  Green and Grey were far in front on the victory point track, but Black had a lot of market chips.  It turned out, Black had just done enough, pipping Green by a couple of points with Grey and Purple not far behind in what had been a very close and enjoyable game.

Village
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Learning Outcome:  Killing meeples is great fun, if a little time consuming!

Spiel des Jahres Nominations – 2014

Every year the a jury of German-speaking board game critics (from Germany, Austria, Switzerland), review games released in Germany in the preceding twelve months and award the best the German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres.  The criteria used include:

  • game concept (originality, playability, game value),
  • design (functionality, workmanship),
  • layout (box, board, rules),
  • rule structure (composition, clearness, comprehensibility).

Last year, the winner was Hanabi, and previous winners include, favourites like Ticket to Ride: Europe, Niagara, Zooloretto, Alhambra, and Carcassonne.  The nominees for this year have just been announced and include (amongst others) Splendor, which we played last time we met.

Spiel des Jahres

16th October 2012

The first three people to arrive started off with a quick game of Incan Gold. This is a relatively short “push your luck” type game where players have to balance chance against increasingly high stakes and out-manoeuvre the other miners to end with the most gem stones in their tent.

Incan Gold

Just as we finished playing, two more people walked through the door, so as it was 8 o’clock, we started the night’s “Feature Game”. This was Finstere Flure (aka Fearsome Floors), which is a silly, yet clever game that seemed to repeatedly catch us out. Everyone has a number of tokens each of which moves by a different amount with players trying to get from one side of the board to the other and escape from Fürst Fieso (The Monster). The clever part is that the monster is attracted to the nearest player and changes direction whenever his path takes him closer to someone else. This makes predicting his movement very difficult and led to much hilarity as the monster repeatedly caught and ate people (especially when they were very close to winning).

Fearsome Floors

The final game of the night was Niagara and was quite tightly fought.  This is a very unusual game where the central strip of the board is made of perspex disks that move, representing the river Niagara, moving at the end of every round.  Players have two little boats that they use to travel up and down the river to collect gems, but beware – anything too close to the Falls risks a watery end.

Niagara

Learning Outcome: Hard won gems can be just as easily lost when water, landslide, spiders or worst of all, thieving gamers are about!