Tag Archives: Notre Dame

Boardgames in the News: 20 Years of Alea

Latin for “dice”, Alea is a brand of Euro games that celebrates their twentieth anniversary this year.  Alea is owned by Ravensburger, a company that has been around for nearly a hundred and fifty years producing everything from instruction manuals to children’s books under their familiar Blue Triangle trademark.  Alea is a more recent development intended to develop a range of strategy games distinct from their more family-friendly range.  Dating from 1999, the Alea range is credited with bringing a lot of “modern classics” to our tables, including Puerto Rico, Ra, Taj Mahal, San Juan, The Castles of Burgundy, Broom Service and one of our groups all time favourites, Las Vegas.  There are four series in the range, the “Big”, “Medium”, “Small” and “very Small” box games, each game in the series is numbered with the artwork on the covers designed to have a “book-shelf” look.

Alea Big Box Games
– Portmanteau image created by boardGOATS

It looked like the end was nigh when Asmodee bought Heidelberger Spieleverlag in 2017, and with it the distribution rights to the Alea brand.  However, Ravensburger reclaimed the rights last year, so to celebrate that and Alea’s twentieth anniversary, they are relaunching the line with new graphics.  They are starting with a new version of The Castles of Burgundy, a boxed set including all the current expansions, and Las Vegas Royale, a big-box version of Las Vegas, including selected elements from the Boulevard Expansion and some new action tiles.  It remains to be seen how many of the old familiar titles will also get a face-lift and make an appearance in the new line and how many new exciting titles will be introduced.

The Complete Original Alea Range
No. Big Box Medium Box Small Box
1 Ra (1999) Louis XIV (2005) Wyatt Earp (2001)
2 Chinatown (1999) Palazzo (2005) Royal Turf (2001)
3 Taj Mahal (2000) Augsburg 1520 (2006) Die Sieben Weisen (2002)
4 The Princes of Florence (2000) Witch’s Brew (2008) Edel, Stein & Reich (2003)
5 Hoity Toity (2000) Alea Iacta Est (2009) San Juan (2004)
6 The Traders of Genoa (2001) Glen More (2010)
7 Puerto Rico (2002) Artus (2011)
8 Mammoth Hunters (2003) Las Vegas (2012) &
Las Vegas Boulevard (2014)
9 Fifth Avenue (2004) Saint Malo (2012)
10 Rum & Pirates (2006) La Isla (2014) V. Small Box
11 Notre Dame (2007) San Juan (2014) The Castles of Burgundy:
The Card Game
12 In the Year of the Dragon (2007) Broom Service:
The Card Game
13 Macao (2009) Las Vegas:
The Card Game
14 The Castles of Burgundy (2011) The Castles of Burgundy:
The Dice Game
15 Bora Bora (2013) Puerto Rico:
Das Kartenspiel
16 Puerto Rico with Expansions (2014)
17 Broom Service (2015)
18 Carpe Diem (2018)


22nd September 2015

It was a quiet night and, like last time, while we were waiting for people to arrive, we started off with the cooperative card game, The Game.  This time it was only a three-player game and we had a terrible start when Blue’s initial hand had nothing below forty or above sixty.  Things got worse when, a few rounds later she was left with little between ten and ninety.  We struggled on manfully, but we finished with a total of twelve unplayable cards left at the end – we were not even close to matching our recent success.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

With the arrival of Black and Purple, we decided to move onto our “Feature Game”, Notre Dame.  This is one of the first games published by the highly prolific game designer, Stefan Feld, who also designed some of our other favourite games including The Speicherstadt and Amerigo.  Feld’s games are often referred to as “point salads” – i.e. games where players can build their score from lots of different sources and Notre Dame is one of these games.  The round starts with the revealing of three character cards which can be hired at the end of the round.  This is followed by drafting three action cards:  each player draws three action cards from a personal deck of nine, keeps one and passes the other two to the player on their left.  From the two they receive, they then choose another one to keep and pass the remaining card on so that everyone finishes with a hand of three cards, one card from each of the two players to their right.

Notre Dame
– Image by boardGOATS

Beginning with the start player, there are then two rounds where each person plays one card, discarding the third.  One way of looking at this is as worker placement where the card drafting is just a novel way of restricting choices.  The actions include things like collecting victory points, collecting money, moving the players carriage and so on.  However, in order to be able to carryout the action, players must place a “worker” (called influence cubes in this game) on the corresponding sector of their map.  The clever part is that the reward yielded (i.e. how many victory points they get, how much money they receive or how far the carriage can move etc.) depends on the total number of influence cubes in the sector.  Thus, for placing the first cube in the banking sector, a player will get one coin, but if they later add a second cube, they get two coins, and so on.

Notre Dame
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of the round, players can then hire one of the characters for the fixed cost of one coin.  Finally, once everything else has been dealt with, everyone increases their rat population according to the number of rats shown at the bottom of the character cards (which were first displayed at the start of the round).  If a player exceeds nine rats, then nasty things happen including loss of influence cubes and victory points.  Every third round, the cathedral is scored.  This is an area of the board that everyone can place an influence cube in, in exchange for a donation to the church.  When it is scored, a set number of points is divided amongst the players depending on how many influence cubes they have in the Cathedral area.  For example, in a five-player game, twelve points are up for grabs; when four of the players each have one cube in the cathedral, they will get three points a piece, but if there is only one player with a presence in the cathedral, that player will take all the points.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Like most good worker-placement type games, players always want to do more things than they can.  For example, if a player does not have sufficient cubes in their personal supply, then they can move them from somewhere else.  That means the original action has one influence cube less, however, and consequently will yield less reward.  So, one of the actions is to get additional influence cubes.  For this reason, players have to try to make sure that they maintain a sufficient supply of cubes by carrying out the corresponding action.  With only two actions per round though, this is difficult.  Similarly, without money players cannot hire one the characters and at the end of the round, the rat population increases so it is essential that players stay on top of that too.  Meanwhile, the winner is the player with the most points at the end of the game, so players also have to try to collect victory points whenever they can.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Everyone started out a little unsure of what to do, but we got the hang of it quite quickly.  Black started out best, having played before he had an idea of what all the actions could do and how the game would develop.  At the end of the third round, the Cathedral points were shared evenly between Burgundy, Blue, Green and Black.  Meanwhile, Burgundy was trying to collect messages with his carriage with the idea that they would allow him to get points as well as maintain his cube supply and control his rat population.  However, this plan backfired and he got stuck without money which meant he couldn’t hire characters.  Green had a plan to try to alternate between picking up cubes and money, but somehow couldn’t quite make it work.  Blue was just picking up what she could when she could, and then got lucky picking up all the Cathedral points at the end of the sixth round.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor GogTad

Totaling up the scores showed that the game was much tighter than we all thought, but ultimately difference was caused by the Plague.  Blue and Green invested heavily in keeping their rat population under control, ensuring the plague never broke out and did best.  There were only eight points between second and last.  Being the sole beneficiary of the second batch of Cathedral points put Blue eight points clear of Green in second which annoyed him as he felt he could have shared the points if he’d spotted it (or listened to Black who had pointed it out just before his last turn).  We all really enjoyed the game, finding it a bit different with very tight  choices, especially at the end.  Definitely a game to try again sometime soon.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We finished the evening with a quick game of one of our current favourite “push-your-luck -fillers”, Om Nom Nom.  Burgundy won the first round with fifteen by taking a whole bunch of carrots unchallenged. Green declared that he disliked this sort of game because it was far too luck dependent.  The second round was much tighter; Green decided to try a new strategy – choosing two cards playing the one he least liked, but although this sort of worked for the first card or two, it didn’t after that.  Blue was the clear winner of the final round with sixteen, thanks to a swarm of flies.  This gave her a total of thirty-two, eight more than Burgundy in second and a clean(ish) sweep for the evening.  Green finished last – Luck?  What luck…?

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