Tag Archives: Noughts and Crosses

12th June 2018

The evening started with a couple of quick rounds of Love Letter, while Pine and Burgundy finished off their dinner.  This is the a quick “micro game” played from a deck with only sixteen cards.  Each player starts with just one card in hand drawing a second on their turn, choosing one to play.  The aim is to try to eliminate the other players from the game, with the last player the winner.  Red started the first round and immediately knocked out Burgundy by guessing his hand.  When Pine swapped his Countess card for the Princess though, he took the first round.  The second was also won by the Princess, but this time Red was the beneficiary, despite being side-tracked discussing work with Blue.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With food essentially dealt with, it was time to discuss who was going to play the “Feature Game”.  This time it was Echidna Shuffle, a very simple pick-up and deliver game with a couple of clever little quirks and fantastic over-produced pieces.  This was a game Black and Purple played with Blue and Pink at UK Games Expo last week; they liked it so much they nearly came to blows over who was going to get a copy, and it sold out on Friday afternoon as well.  Everyone else had heard about it, and despite the fact that it played six, it was hugely over-subscribed, so Blue, Burgundy and Ivory took themselves off to choose something else to play.  For many, Echidna Shuffle looked like a game with hedgehogs—the wonderfully chunky and gorgeously styled models could be either.  As there are more hedgehogs than echidnas in the UK, that’s what everyone associated them with, so every time someone said “Hedgehogs” there was a chorus of “Echidnas!” in response.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea of the game is that each player has three tree-stumps on board, and three insects in-hand; players have to get all three of their insects to their tree-stumps by riding them on the backs of echidnas. Each echidna and each stump can carry just one insect, with stumps removed from the game once they are occupied.  The active player first rolls the dice, and then moves the echidnas.  There are a lot of echidnas and not a lot of free spaces, so players have to shuffle the echidnas round the board, first passing their insect pick-up point, then trying to move that echidna to a tree-stump. Someone commented that “Echidna Skiffle” might have been a better name, but Pine pointed out that while they might look like hedgehogs, none of them looked like Lonnie Donegan

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The total number of spaces moved is dictated by roll of a die, and this is perhaps one of the cleverest parts of the game: players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This clever trick means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.  There are two sides to the board, the normal “Summer Leaf” side, and the manic “Winter Snowball Fight” side.  On this occasion, we played the “simple” board with a full complement of six players.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Red got one of her bugs home first and it remained that way for several turns, before everyone else caught up quickly, leaving only Green bugless.  Red and Magenta then led the way with their second insect before Green finally got one of his home.  There followed a steady levelling-up with each player getting their second insect home, while everyone took care to make sure that Red and Magenta were prevented from getting their third critter to it’s stump.  Meanwhile Green and Pine were really struggling a second bug home, eventually leaving Pine the only one with only a single safe insect.  By this time, the game had turned into a group calculated effort to stop each other from getting their third insect home.  Consequently, Pine was feeling very left out as his echidnas kept falling victim to everyone else’s attempts to stop the others.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Pine joined the party, and everyone was struggling to get one final insect home and put everyone out of their pain.  A move by Purple appeared to leave the door open for Black to trundle his final echidna to his last stump in two moves, but for some reason he moved his echidna in the wrong direction on the first move, leaving it to do another loop before he could get it back, and that was the end of his chance.  The game continued for a while longer, like a never-ending six-player game of chess;  everyone circling each other, with their insects stuck in eternal echidna traffic jams until finally Pine broke through to an open leaf road, and an unstoppable position.  At least three other players were unable to get their insect to their own stump without playing “King Maker” for someone else, so Pine emerged the victor having spent so long stuck at the back of the field early on.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Discussing the game afterwards, we realised that with the “simple” board and six experienced gamers who thought perhaps a little too much about the game, it had ended up in an almost “Tic-Tac-Toe” impasse.  This had lengthened the game, making it take much, much longer than it should have done.  As a result, players vowed to use the more complex board “Snowball Fight” board and maybe look for other ways to prevent the stalemate, like using the “extra moves” variant, especially when playing with lots of people.  It would be well worth finding a way to make it play a little quicker as we all had fun with the game which had very nice pieces. A game we can all share with our non-gaming friends and families too, which gave it a big thumbs up from the group, most of whom don’t really care whether they are hedgehogs, echidnas, or even porcupines

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Blue, Burgundy and Ivory, had eventually chosen to play Dice Forge, a game they had enjoyed once before but felt they had unfinished business with.  The game is a dice building game, with a similar feeling to deck building games like Dominion and bag building games like Orléans, or cup building games like Roll for the Galaxy.  In these games, the aim is to try to mitigate the effects of luck by stacking the deck, bag, cup to improve the odds; in the case of Dice Forge, it is the dice themselves that players are modifying.  Each player starts with two dice, similar to those in some of the Lego games, where the faces can be removed and changed.  Beyond this, the game is actually quite simple.  On the active player’s turn, everyone rolls both their dice and accumulates resources accordingly.  On their turn, the active player can then also spend their resources to either upgrade dice, or to move their pawn from their central “Starting Portals” to one of the “Islands” on the board and take a “Heroic Feat” card.  Dice upgrades and cards all have a cost, with the best having the highest costs.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the key strategy elements is where to put dice upgrades, and how to improve the dice.  For example is it best to save up for the most expensive upgrades, or given the fact that the game only lasts ten rounds, is it better to upgrade dice at every possible opportunity?  Similarly, is it best to upgrade one dice preferentially, to try to ensure that something good will come out every time, or is it best to sprinkle good stuff on both dice and hope that the dice Gods will smile…  On the other hand, cards can be more effective, so it can be better to concentrate on getting them, but only if the means to buy them can be accumulated quickly and efficiently.  This time Blue decided to concentrate on building up one die and try to keep her points tally ticking over.  Burgundy tried a different approach and went for cards, but struggled to get the “Sun Shards” he needed to execute his plan.  Meanwhile, Ivory serenely surfed the resource roller-coaster, buying cards and upgrading his dice seemingly at will.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

The game came to a close with the tenth round, finishing just as the echidnas were finishing their elegant waltz.  Blue, who had been working up to a twenty-six point card had he plans quashed when Burgundy caused her to roll one of her dice and she ended up loosing six of her valuable Moon Shards.  This was all the more damaging as she had been waiting patiently for her turn with a full quota wasting any dice rolls that gave her more.  That meant that Ivory could take the last card on his turn, leaving Blue to try to find other ways of making points with her final turn.  And then it was just a case of quickly adding up the scores:  Blue had accrued more than twice as many points with her dice than Burgundy, who had in turn amassed a large pile of cards giving him more than twice as many points as Blue via that route.  It was Ivory though who was the clear winner, the same number of points from his dice as Blue, and almost the same number of points from his cards as Burgundy.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

It wasn’t late, but with Green, Red and Magenta heading off for an early night, that left six to play something else.  Ivory had enjoyed his first and only game of Las Vegas so much that he was keen to give it another go and everyone else was happy to join him. It is a very simple game with players rolling their dice and assigning some of them to one of the six numbered casinos.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card.  The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of table talk and “helpful suggestions”.  As usual, we added the Slot Machine (which is like a special seventh casino); some elements from the Boulevard expansion, including extra high value money cards and the large, double weight dice, and house ruled the game to three rounds.  Some people did well on the first round, some well on the second, some on the third, but once, again, it was Ivory who finished with $400,000, just a head of Blue and Purple, proving that last time wasn’t just beginner’s luck…

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Some dice games aren’t all about luck.

Boardgames in the News: Biscuit Boardgames at Bake Off

This week on The Great British Bake Off, it was biscuit day.  So, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith set the remaining eleven bakers the challenge to bake a biscuit-based showstopper with a boardgaming theme that could actually be played.  Now on its eighth series, The Great British Bake Off recently moved from BBC to Channel 4, a change that was accompanied by a rejuvenated presenting team including Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

The Great British Bake Off
– Image from Channel4.com

Sadly, the games depicted were all variants on traditional games like Snakes and LaddersCoppit (similar to Ludo), Operation and Chess rather than some of the fantastic modern classic games now available.  Nevertheless, there were some interesting renditions, including from one contestant, Kate, who went for something slightly more modern, basing her creation on Jumanji, the game from the eponymous film.  Stacey was more ambitious deciding to design her own game called “Get to School”, as well as bake it.  There wasn’t time to play test that, but Paul Hollywood did challenge student Liam to a game of Noughts and Crosses played with his compendium of biscuit games.  In the end, the title of Star Baker went to Steven, the Marketer from Hertfordshire, for his “Check Bake Game”, based on Chess.

The Great British Bake Off
– Image from Channel4.com

The episode is available to watch on on demand for another three months.

18th April 2017

Blue was the first to arrive, together with Pink on one of his rare visits.  The bar was busy, so they decided to get in a couple of quick rounds of Mijnlieff before ordering food.  This is a very simple “naughts and crosses“/Connect 4 type game, with the twist that each piece a player places restricts where their opponent can play.  Blue started out getting early revenge for the various defeats over the weekend, winning the first game four points to three.  Pink quickly leveled the score, however, taking the second game two points to one.  Since Black and Purple had arrived, they settled on a draw and decided to order food before beginning a quick game of …Aber Bitte mit Sahne (aka Piece o’ Cake).

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

…Aber Bitte mit Sahne is a very simple little game of “I divide, you choose”, with a side order of set collecting.  Played over five rounds, the “Master Baker” divides the eleven slices of the pie into pieces and each player takes it in turns to take a piece (leaving the Master Baker with whatever’s left).  As players take their share, they can choose to keep slices or eat slices:  eating a slice guarantees points (equal to the number of blobs of cream on top), while saving it gives the opportunity for more points if the player has the most of that type stored at the end of the game.  Blue started out collecting Chocolate cake which can be highly lucrative, but as there are more slices available can be tough to make pay.  Pine, on the other hand, played safe and opted for eating his Chocolate slices and tried to make Pea Pie (or was it Gooseberry?) and Blackberry pay.  Purple had other ideas though and competed for both just shutting Pine out of the Gooseberry, and finishing in a three way tie for the Blackberry pie with Blue (all three score in full).

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

It was a tight game with Black’s love of Strawberries, Purple’s Goose-goggs and Pine’s whipped cream fetish leaving them all within a point or so of each other.  Pink had also played safe and eaten amount of cake, but also kept his Cherry and Kiwi pies and scored both.  It wasn’t quite enough though, as Blue managed to keep her nose ahead in Chocolate and with Blackberry and Plum as well and some cream to top it off she finished with twenty-eight, four ahead of Pink in second.  With that over and the arrival of pizza (and Ivory) we had to decide what to do next.  Everyone was very keen to play the “Feature Game”, Power Grid, but although it would play six, we knew that would make it longer and it would perhaps be tight to finish in time.  Nobody was keen to play anything else though, so we decided to go for it with everyone’s agreement that we would have to keep it moving.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Power Grid is a slightly older game that is now nearly fifteen years old and was itself built on the slightly older Funkenschlag.  So, it is something of a classic, but only Black had actually played it before.  Although it seems complex, the game is actually a fairly simple auction game where players are power moguls building power plants and trying to supply cities with juice.  At the start of each round, players bid for power plants which have different fuel requirements and supply different numbers of cities.  Players then fuel to power their cities before adding cities to their network.  Finally, players decide how many power plants they are going to activate and thus how many of the cities in their network they are going to supply, which dictates their income for the round.  The clever part that really takes a little bit of thinking to understand, is the market.  Each power plant up for auction has a different number from 01 to 50, with the higher numbers generally the more efficient plants.  The deck of power plant cards is shuffled and the top eight cards revealed.  These are then sorted with the four with the lowest number put out for auction and the others put in the reserve row.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

Once a plant has been bought, another card is revealed and, if it’s number is higher than the lowest card in the reserve, it goes into the reserve and the lowest is made available for auction, otherwise it goes straight into auction instead.  The reason this is clever is that it provides variety between games, while effectively preventing the extremely unbalanced case where one exceptionally efficient plant is won very early.  This is particularly important because each player can only win one auction per round, thus, the last player to bid could be bidding unopposed.  Getting an efficient plant cheaply is really quite key because money is tight and there is lots of demand for it.  Firstly, there’s fuel to power the plants:  the cost of fuel ebbs and flows depending on demand.  If there is a lot of demand, the price increases and, in the extreme case, especially if players are hoarding, it can become unavailable. If possible, it is best to find a niche in the market and buy/build power plants that use a different fuel-stock to everyone else because money is also needed to pay for the infrastructure to supply cities.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

This is another key part of the game:  Each player starts with a foothold in one city.  To extend their network, they need need to pay for the infrastructure within another city, but also the connections to it.  In the early part of the game, each city can only support one “power generator”, so positioning is key.  While it’s not possible to actually get cut off, if someone else has already built in all the adjacent cities, it is necessary to pay two (or more) connection fees as well as the city infrastructure fee.  Once at least one player has connected a given number of cities to their power network, the game enters the second phase and cities can support a second power generator.  Although players cannot build a second generator in a city they already supply, it does mean players can extent their network more easily. Buying a second generator in a city is more expensive than the first however, and later in the game when it becomes possible to buy a third, it is more expensive still.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

The end of the game is triggered when at least one player has connected a given number of cities (or more) in his network.  The final scoring is slightly unusual as the winner is the player who has sufficient resources and power plants to power the most of their connected networks.  Thus, if a player mistimes their ending and has run out of money to buy sufficient fuel they can squander a promising position.  We played with the deluxe edition of Power Grid, which has slightly updated graphics and a few minor rules tweaks as well as some nice wooden pieces to represent the fuel resources and generators.  A lot has been  written about the differences between the two versions, but the most obvious is probably the replacement of “rubbish” with natural gas, though the rule changes are actually more significant, though they are small.  The deluxe edition comes with a double sided board, Europe and USA, and there are slight variations in the rules for each.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

Our first decision, therefore, was which map to use.  Since the rules suggest USA is easier for beginners, despite a general preference for Europe (as Europeans), the shortage of time meant we decided to start there.  We then had to choose which areas to use, so we went for the central five, missing out the mid-Atlantic states and the north western states (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington).  Random draw put Blue first, followed by Ivory, but as Black pointed out, going first is not necessarily an advantage.  It meant that Blue had the opportunity to choose which power plant should be auctioned first, and might get it cheap if nobody else fancied a punt.  On the other hand, if there was nothing she fancied, she might get landed with something less popular with the chance that something better might be drawn to replace it.  Worse, losing means having to have another try, while going last means the there is no-one left to compete and any power plant can be bought at the minimum price.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

Since we were using the USA map, there was a slight modification where a discount token was placed on the smallest power plant  before the auction to signal that the minimum bid for this plant is reduced to one Elektro (independent of the actual number of the power plant).  This is supposed to help prevent players over-bidding for rubbish.  There was worse to come for Blue and Ivory though, as buying resources and choosing starting cities for networks are done in reverse player order, making them last and making the resources most expensive and the ensuring the most flexible places had already gone.  Black began in the deep south while Pine and Pink began building his network in the mid-west.  With Purple beginning in Las Vegas and Ivory starting in Columbus, Blue had very little space to move so she decided to go for the only double city available – Mexico City.  For the most part, we managed to keep the game moving, and if anyone stopped to think for too long, everyone reminded them that the clock was ticking.  Although Blue was able to make a quick start, despite being the sole user of uranium, she quickly began to struggle and gradually slid down the ranking.  Meanwhile, Ivory, who found himself with a nice un-congested corner to work began to pull ahead.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

As play continued, Pine spread into Tennessee and Purple began something of a monopoly along the western seaboard.  Black and Ivory discovered the value of wind power, while everyone else was trying to work with coal and gas fired power stations (Pine’s gas is famous apparently – well, he is a vegetarian!).  As time ticked towards pumpkin o’clock, the game progressed into the final stages and we finally allowed people a little extra thinking time.  Ivory eventually triggered the end of the game when he added his fourteenth city to his network.  He could see the writing on the wall, but try as he might, Ivory was not able to stop Black taking a clear lead with fifteen cities.  This only left the question as to how many people were able to provide all their cities with power.  In the event, everybody was able to serve their entire network, which left Black in first place, one ahead of Ivory and three ahead of Pine (who’s gas obviously wasn’t all it was cracked up to be).  There was just time to take a quick snap of Black’s Glorious Win before we packed it away, discussing the game as we did so.  On reflection, we decided that although Black had a nice mix of powerful power sources, it was number 36 that was probably made the difference as it served five cities and, as it was green, there was no running cost.  Nobody will let him get that cheaply again!

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Pine’s gas is powerful, but wind is better for the environment…

28th June 2016

Blue and Red arrived first, so once they had ordered food, they settled down to a quick game of Mijnlieff (pronounced “Mine-Leaf”).  This is basically Noughts and Crosses or Tic-Tac-Toe with a bit of added strategy and some beautiful wooden pieces.  We’ve played it a couple of times before on a Tuesday, but as it is an independently produced game (by Hopwood Games), it is difficult to get hold of and Blue had taken the chance to pick up a copy at Expo.  The aim of the game is to form lines of three or four, but the different types of pieces force your opponent to control where you can play.  For example, when a Greek cross (or “+” symbol) is played, the next player must place their piece on an empty square in an orthogonal line from the piece just played.  Similarly, playing a saltire (or “×” symbol) forces the next player to place their piece in a diagonal line from the piece just played.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Unfortunately, Blue forgot to mention that if there was nowhere a player could go, they were forced to pass giving their opponent a free move, so when this arose, Red cried “foul” and Blue offered to concede the game.  It didn’t really matter much anyhow as Burgundy had arrived and so had food, so everyone’s attention was drawn elsewhere.  As other people arrived, we moved on to the inevitable post-Brexit referendum discussion:  the group consists of several continental European Union gamers (Denmark, Poland and Ireland), so we have a natural pro-Europe stance.  Consequently, the group as a whole has been pretty horrified at occurrences of the last week, and its long term consequences (not least of which is the increase in the cost of games!).  Before we depressed ourselves too much, however, we decided to play something to take our mind off it.  Since we were unsure of who was coming and with Pine wanting an early night, we decided to begin with something short, and with two possible games it seemed appropriate to have a quick referendum on the subject…  Saboteur went the way of the “Remain” campaign and lost by a tiny margin as we decided to turn the evening on its head and begin with 6 Nimmt! a game which we often finish and one that is guaranteed to cheer us all up.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game lived up its usual standard of chaotic fun, with Burgundy, Black, Pine and Green vying to collect as many high cards as possible.  After our usual two rounds, Purple finished with eight, but Blue took it with just six nimmts, all garnered in the first round.  With the fun over, it was on to the serious game and Pine left as he was “cream-crackered”.  The rest of us split into two groups for our “Feature Game”, Concordia, a strategic game of economic development in Roman times.  The game takes at least half an hour per person and with set-up and teaching, it was always going to take most of the rest of the evening.  Played on a beautiful map, Concordia is a game of resource production and exploration.  Notable cities which are connected via land and shipping routes, each produce one resource (indicated by tokens placed on the map allowing for variable set-up).  Each player begins with a hand of Character cards and six colonists and a handful of resources. Everyone begins the game with the same set of cards; on their turn, the active player chooses a card to play, and then carries out the associated action.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

These cards allow players to move colonists and build settlements, trigger production for all settlements in a given region, introduce more colonists etc., however one of the cards enables players to buy extra cards from the market (a face up display).  The cards are played into a personal discard pile where they remain until the player plays their Tribune card to get all their cards back. Each player also has a warehouse of a fixed size which will hold a maximum of only twelve items, which at the start of the game includes four of their six colonists (two ships and two “Elvis-meeples”).  So, managing resources and finances is one of the key parts of the game and it is essential that players have the right resources when they need them as there isn’t space to store excess.  Another “pinch-point” is the cards; players can only play each card once before picking them all up.  They also get income when they play their Tribune card to recover their cards, but as it is dependent on the number of cards they pick up, it is in the player’s interest to play as many cards as possible before collecting them all again – this also needs planning.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

The most difficult part of the game is the scoring, however, which is tied up in the Character cards.  In addition to a name and an action, each card is dedicated to a Roman God.  Each God rewards the card’s owner with victory points at the end of the game.  For example, Mars delivers points for colonists placed on the board.  Each Character dedicated to Mars gives two points per colonist, so a player with all six colonists on the board at the end of the game and five Characters devoted to Mars will score thirty points.  Thus, since the cards are effectively multipliers, in general, the strategy is to try to excel in one area rather than try to do a little bit of everything, but that is something that is definitely easier said than done.

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

With two copies of the game available and everyone keen to play it, we decided to split into two groups, both playing Concordia and both adding the Salsa expansion.  This is “Salsa” as in “Salt” rather than the Spanish “Sauce” or the Latin dance, so in addition to the standard resources of brick, wheat, tools, wine and cloth, we also had salt.  Salt is “wild”, so can be used as anything and adds some peculiarities to the scoring, but otherwise doesn’t make a huge difference to the game.  Both groups also chose to use the new Hispania board which includes the Iberia peninsula as well as the North Africa and Italian coast.  The biggest change to the base game, however, was the introduction of the Forum and associated Forum tiles.  These tiles come in two flavours, blue, which are perpetual, and green, which offer an instant, one-off reward.  Each player can choose one from a starting hand of two at the beginning of the game, but otherwise, these are taken when players play the Tribune card.  Since players have a larger choice of available cards if they are picking up more cards, and these Forum tiles can be quite powerful, this is another driver towards efficient use of Character cards.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy, Blue and Red  got going first.  Burgundy chose the Claudius Pompeius Forum tile (which gave him an extra opportunity to sell whenever he was playing the Prefect card); Blue chose Gaius Mercellus (who yielded an extra sestertii for every item she sold), and Red kept Titus Valerius (who enabled her to exchange any other commodity for salt when she played her Tribune card).  Burgundy went first and moved one of his colonists inland north-east settling in a brick producing city.  The close proximity of the two nearest brick sources meant that this made it very difficult for anyone else to get into brick production.  Consequently, when Blue went next, she headed north-east into Gallia, where there was wine and cloth to be had, and eventually brick, though that would take a few turns.  This left Red to head towards the sun in the south of Spain.

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

Blue started out with lots of cash, but no idea what to do with it, on the other hand, Burgundy knew exactly what he wanted to do but couldn’t find the money to do it.  Red and Blue were relatively unfamiliar with the game so opted for the scatter-gun approach, while Burgundy was picking up as many cards as he could.  Before long Red and Blue got away from the congestion of the Iberian peninsula, with Red taking over North Africa and Blue spreading to Corsica and Sardinia and across to the Amalfi Coast.  This race to place settlements eventually dried up when Red found more fun activating Africa to pick up lots of goods.  Since one of the end game triggers is a player running out of “houses”, Blue had to decide whether to end the game early by placing her last few “houses” or whether to try to push forward on other frontiers.  Something told her that she was too far behind in collecting cards, so she decided to take a break from building and try to maximise points elsewhere, starting by buying as many cards as she could and then getting all her colonists onto the board.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

With only a couple of cards left in the market, Blue placed her final houses and triggered the end of the game.  As suggested in the rules, we went through each of the Gods in turn, though with Burgundy’s enormous pile of cards, it all looked like it was going to be more a measure of how much he was going to win by.  As we added together the totals, every time Blue picked up points, Burgundy took more and Red languished at the back.  Before long, Burgundy had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead.  When Mercurius was scored Blue’s large number of settlements began to tell, and with a lot of Character cards devoted to Mars and all six colonists on the board, Blue finally took the lead.  With only Minerva to  go, Blue looked to have taken it, then we all realised how many Specialist cards Red had.  With all her high scoring Specialist cards and a lot of settlements in high value production cities (inc. lots of Salt which counted for each of them) it looked like she would take it the lead.  In that final scoring phase Red picked up a massive thirty-nine points, but sadly it wasn’t quite enough, and with Blue taking the extra seven points for placing all her settlements, she was the clear winner, though there was just four points between second and third place.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, set-up and rules explanation took a little longer, but they were soon under way too.  Coincidentally, two of the Forum tiles chosen were the same –  Claudius Pompeius (chosen by Burgundy and Green which gave them an extra opportunity to sell goods) and Gaius Mercellus (chosen by Purple and Blue and which gave an extra sestertii for every item sold).  Black, on the other hand, took Appius Arcadius which gave him the ability to move three spaces instead of two – potentially very powerful, especially in the early part of the game.  Purple began followed by Black, leaving Green with a much more restricted choice, but gradually all three began their expansion across the board producing and trading as they went.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

In contrast to the game on the next table, the players used their Forum tile powers only rarely.  Green made good use of his bonus tile several times early in the game, but he used it much less later on, when having the goods was more important than having the money.  Purple used her bonus only a small number of times and Black did not use his bonus tile until almost the very end of the game, but then he used it to good effect to jump two spaces and build in a city that Green had his eye on.  The game was probably about two thirds through when Green moved his ship and, unintentionally he claims, blocked Purple.  And there he left it until the end of the game as his card collection action enabled him to buy a new ship which was much better placed to move efficiently to the other side of the board.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Green took every opportunity to encourage his “Elvis-meeples” to leave the warehouse, but while Purple occasionally added colonists to the board, black persisted with only his starting two throughout the entire game.  Eventually, Green ended the game by buying the remaining character cards.  While Purple found she could do nothing in her final turn to increase her score, Black pulled a master stroke and used a special card to buy all four of his remaining colonists in one go, thus increasing each of his Mars scoring cards by eight, and since he had three of them this gave him a massive twenty-four points more from just one turn.  It wasn’t enough though; the scores were all close, but Green finished twenty-four points ahead of Black largely thanks to the fact that he’d managed to get a settlement in each region and had plenty of scoring cards to go with it.

ConcordiaSalsa005
– Image by boardGOATS

While Black, Purple and Green put everything away, Burgundy, Blue and Red began the inevitable discussion of the game.  We all enjoyed the game, but Concordia is probably one of Burgundy’s all-time favourites, as a result he has played it quite a bit.  There is no question that this familiarity helped when choosing which character cards to buy and when,.  This is unquestionably an advantage as it is clear that the only real strategy in the game is to try to match the Character cards to the cities and perhaps specialise in one direction.  That said, there are many ways that this can be done and in practice, it is really quite difficult to it do well.  Although for Blue theme is not the most important factor in a game, she feels it should be there to help players remember the rules.  In Concordia, however, Blue felt that the scoring was a little arbitrary making the game feel just a little bit abstract.  Red also enjoyed the game, but felt that the game was slow to get started and with such a beautiful map, it seemed a shame that it took so long before really exploring it.  On the whole though, we were all in agreement that it was a very good game that needed playing several times, and we were all very willing to give it another go soon.

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes experience pays, sometimes less so.

8th March 2016

While Burgundy finished his ham, egg ‘n’ chips, the rest of us continued our political discussions from two weeks ago.  This time we discussed the length and timing of the school day, the inevitability of double-parent working households, the cost of childcare and whether or not parents should be paid to stay at home and look after their little ones.  We were expecting Black and Purple, but eventually, someone suggested playing a quick game, to which Blue commented that you could guarantee that they would arrive just as we finished setting up.  A brief debate about what to play followed before we settled on one of our old favourites, Walk the Plank!, a simple pirate themed “programming” game where players try to push each other along a plank and off the ship.

Walk thePlank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Since everyone had played Colt Express fairly recently, the rules were quick to reprise:  everyone simultaneously chooses three cards and the order in which they are going to play them, placing them face-down; starting with the first player, players then take it in turns to play one card until everyone has played all three.  With lots of aggressive options the game is always quick and fun, and the last pirate standing is the winner.  We had just finished the summary when Black and Purple arrived, but since it is only a short game we carried on.  Blue started the game by immediately shortening the plank and before long there was no plank left (a situation we allow through a “house rule”).  When Green Green played a “Drag to Sea) with only one pirate left which was perched precariously on the edge of the boat, it was inevitable that he would take Blue’s only pirate with him for company, leaving everyone else with two pirates each.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

It didn’t last, however, and before long Magenta’s last pirate received the Big E from Burgundy and joined the others watching the goings on from Davy Jones’ Locker.  With all the carnage in the first round (eleven pirates down in just fifteen cards), there were just two players left with two pirates each all on the ship.  Although the rules say the last two players share the victory this seems strangely friendly end for an otherwise savage little game, so we always play to the death. The second round began a little cagily with both players extending the plank, but then Burgundy was paid out for his treachery to Magenta when, in a moment of stupidity, one of his two remaining pirates dragged his pal off the end of the plank, leaving Pine the clear victor with two pirates still standing.  It was an exceptionally short game thanks to the early vindictiveness, but in truth, it is a much more fun game when it is played that way.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Despite the compressed nature of Walk the Plank!, Black and Purple still managed to squeeze in a little two-player abstract game called Mijnlieff (pronounced “Mine-Leaf”).  This is a beautiful little game made out of wood and designed by the designer of Dodekka, Andy Hopwood (Hopwood Games).  Black described the game as “fancy Noughts and Crosses” since the aim of the game is to form lines of three, but since there are different types of pieces and your opponent controlling where you can play it is much more strategic.  The game is played by placing wooden tiles on a four by four board.  Each Player has eight pieces with two each of four different symbols where the different pieces dictate where the other player can put their next piece.  For example, when a Greek cross (or “+” symbol) is played, the next player must place his piece on an empty square in an orthogonal line from the piece just played.  Similarly, playing a saltire (or “×” symbol) forces the next player to place his piece in a diagonal line from the piece just played.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Game play is really quick, so much so that despite Walk the Plank! finishing in record time, with Purple taking it by three points to Black’s two.  With everyone finished, we had a quick show of hands as to who would like to play the “Feature Game”, Kingdom Builder.  When seven hands went up, Green asked who was very keen to play it and nobody looked interested.  The most enthusiastic was Burgundy who had played it before, so Magenta swapped seats with Green to make a foursome with Blue and Pine.  On the face of it, Kingdom Builder is also a simple game, played by placing small wooden huts (Settlements) on a board made up of different terrains laid out using a fine hexagonal grid.

Kingdom Builder
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

At the start of the game, each player is dealt a terrain card and on their turn, they have to place three settlements on that terrain type.  As far as possible, the Settlements must be adjacent.  At the end of their turn, the player discards their card and draws a replacement.  Play proceeds in clockwise order until one player has run out of Settlements, then the round is completed and scores are tallied up.  While these are the basic rules, there are also specific rules that change for each game, and since the board is made up of four modules chosen at random from a set of eight, the number of possible layouts is vast. Each module board also has three special hexes on it: two with a gold scroll-work border (Locations) and one with a silver scroll-work border (Castles).  The Castles give points for players with an adjacent building at the end of the game while the Locations give an in-game benefit.

Kingdom Builder
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor SpaceTrucker

At the start of the game, each Location has two hexagonal chits on it which are taken by the first two players to build next to it.  These chits give players extra actions that they can take on their turn, but the nature of the Location and corresponding action is dependent on the boards chosen.  In this game we had the Tower, the Tavern, the Barn and the Paddock.  These allowed players to add an extra Settlement along the edge of the board; add an extra Settlement to where a player had a row of three or more Settlements; move an existing Settlement to a space matching the active player’s current terrain tile, and move one Settlement two spaces in a line from its current position (i.e. jump).

Kingdom Builder
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Points are awarded at the end based on the rules cards and a subset of three are drawn from a total of ten at the start of the game.  For this game, we draw the Knights, Discoverers and Citizens cards which gave two points for each settlement a player built in the horizontal row where they had the most Settlements; one point for each horizontal row in which they had at least one settlement, and one point for every two Settlements in each player’s largest settlement area.  Thus, to score one well, you needed a horizontal line, a vertical line and a clump, all with a limited number of huts.  To make the problem even more challenging the board layout had a large mountain range across the middle with a couple of awkwardly positioned rivers.  We all blamed Burgundy for his awful “choice” of boards and layout…

Kingdom Builder
– Image by BGG contributor pphh

Although the rules are prima facie quite simple we got into a bit of a tangle with the modifications caused by the Locations.  Blue kept forgetting that the Tower and the Barn were subject to adjacency restrictions and Pine struggled to see the point of the Barn at all.  Blue made an appalling start, while Burgundy’s best laid plans were stymied first by Blue and then by Magenta.  Meanwhile, Pine had got two groups of Settlements and was trying to build a vertical ribbon development to connect the two.  As Burgundy’s supply of Settlements dwindled faster than anyone else’s, Pine desperately needed to draw a desert terrain card, but kept drawing woodland cards which were nearly useless for him.  In the final round everyone tried to make the best of their limited number of remaining Settlements before totalling up the scores.  It was very, very close, but Blue finished with a round fifty, just two points ahead of Magenta, with Pine and Burgundy both within two points of her.

Kingdom Builder
– Image by boardGOATS

Kingdom Builder isn’t a long game, so Black, Green and Purple decided to opt for something short and light so settled on another old favourite, Splendor.  This is a fairly simple card game with a very loose gem merchant theme.  On their turn, a player can either collect chips (gems), or use chips to buy gem cards.  Most of the gem cards are effectively just a permanent source of chips, i.e. can be used to buy other cards, but the higher value ones also provide victory points.  Nobles can also give players points and these are claimed by the first player to collect certain combinations of gem cards (e.g. three each of onyx, sapphire and diamond).  The game finishes at the end of the round when one player gets to fifteen points, and the winner is the person with the most points.

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

Three of the four randomly selected Noble cards required a set of three green emerald cards as part of their requirements, with differing selections of the other colours; white diamonds, red rubies, blue sapphires and black onyx. The fourth Noble required four cards of each white diamonds and black obsidian.  With the first card selections it was clear that both Black and Green had studied the distribution of cards required to win Nobles tiles and were fighting hard to get the green emeralds that were available. Unfortunately, the number available was quite small, but nothing compared to the scarcity of rubies. The first of these was nabbed by Purple and Green, who failed to get the second was left unable to get the remaining one which was an expensive, high scoring, level three card.  Early on Black marked his intentions by reserving a level three (taking the bonus “wild” gold chip).  Meanwhile Purple was busy building a large supply of diamonds while Green concentrated on the low level emeralds and sapphires. With half a dozen cards each, scores were low and close, but quick glance across to Kingdom Builder showed they were still going through the rules…

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

Black reserved another high value card, Purple had managed a large haul of diamonds, both cards and chips and green had got his three green emeralds, now joined with three sapphires. Rubies still refused to come up with any kind of regularity which meant that players priorities usually changed quickly when one did come up.  Green was the first to obtain a noble when he got his third diamond card.  He did this with mostly non-scoring cards and so this only put his score on a par with the others.  The game entered a new tenser phase when Green quickly picked up his second noble after taking a third ruby card, though even he couldn’t quite believe he had managed to get three of them.  Black finally paid up for one of his put away cards and now the points were close to the end.

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

Black was just two points from getting the fifteen needed to trigger the end-game, and a study of the available cards showed Green that Black could get it with a diamond card on his next turn. Green persuaded Purple that she needed to take the diamond card using her gold chip (she couldn’t afford it otherwise) as she would not get another go if she didn’t and could not afford the high value one she was saving for anyhow.  Luckily the replacement card was not one which Black could afford so he had to take chips instead pushing the game into another round.  Green grabbed a high value level three card taking the bonus gold chip (giving him all he needed to buy it on his next turn) and Purple bought her high value card. Black bought his last reserved card, which put him on sixteen points giving Green one last turn. With a flourish he paid for his reserved card card which gave him three points and claimed the final noble for another three, giving him a winning total of seventeen points.  It was a few moments, before Green noticed and the others didn’t spot it at all, but Green’s last card was not a black onyx, but a fourth ruby – he had not got the noble after all.  Perhaps it was a touch of colour blindness from the excitement of the end-game, but Black was the winner after all with Green and Purple finishing in joint second.

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

Kingdom Builder should only take thirty to forty minutes, but for some reason it took nearly twice that, so Green, Black and Purple moved on to play Tobago, a really pretty game in which the players possess different parts of treasure maps and try to use narrow down the possible locations faster than everyone else in order get to the treasure first.  The idea is that on their turn, players can either can either play a card on one of the four Treasure Maps or move their little 4×4 truck up to three “legs” (a leg being anywhere within the current terrain, or a move from one terrain to another).  Playing a card narrows down the number of possible places that the Treasure could be, for example, “in the jungle”, “not next to a hut” or “in sight of a statue” etc..  Each clue card placed must narrow down the possible locations by at least one hex, cannot contradict a previous Clue, and cannot eliminate all possible locations for the Treasure.  Eventually there will only be one possible location, after which, the first player to get there retrieves the Treasure.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Lord Warlock

When a Treasure is retrieved, everyone who helped narrow down the treasure location by playing a card gets a share proportional to the amount of effort they put in.  Initially, each player gets a Treasure card for each clue card they contributed.  They look at the card(s) secretly before they are shuffled together with one drawn blindly from the deck. A card is then drawn at random and, starting with the player who found the Treasure, it is offered to each player in turn until someone takes it.  The order corresponds to the order they made their contribution, so some players may have made multiple contributions and therefore may get multiple chances to take a Treasure card.  Once a player has taken a treasure, that contribution is considered fulfilled.  The Treasure varies in value, but there are also two “Cursed Treasure” cards (also known as “Baad Treasure”).  If one of these is turned over, the remaining Treasure cards are not distributed and anyone left in loses an amulet (if they have no Amulet, they lose their most valuable Treasure card instead).  The appearance of Amulets is triggered every time a Treasure has been found and they can be collected by players moving their 4×4.  The player with the most Treasure at the end of the game wins.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Green’s strategy was to contribute as many Clues as possible, Black went for a drive to dig up treasure and Purple complained of having a terrible set of clue cards (to be fair she had a lot of “not in …” cards, which did prove difficult to place on the “in play” Treasure maps, but for some reason she was reluctant to start a new one). It was a slow start, but after the first treasure had been found and the Amulets started to appear we got into our stride a little more.  About half way through the game, Green checked the rules on what to do with the discarded Clue cards and instead found a small rule which stated that the one who takes the last Treasure card immediately places the first Clue on the now empty treasure “map”. We felt that this might have speeded the game up a little and implemented the rule.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Lord Warlock

Green and Purple were the first casualties of the “Baad Treasure”. They both had Amulets, but annoyingly a six point and a five point treasure were both lost.  The second time round we were all affected and everyone lost an Amulet, but the lost cards were not high value so it felt less of a loss somehow.  With only three treasure cards left in the deck (game ends when they are exhausted) placing Clues was quite tricky. Only one of the treasures would be found, and placing your clues on the others would result in nothing, but which one would be “found” first?  In the end it was a treasure only Green and Purple benefited from.  In the final scoring, Purple came out the richest finishing with thirty-eight, and Black came in second just four behind. So for all her complaining about her hand, she had made it work to her advantage. It also looked like Green’s strategy to spread clues thinly across all Treasure maps and let others do the actual finding, had failed as it made him almost certain to lose out when the “Baad Treasures” came up.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jayboy

By the time Kingdom Builder finally finished, Tobago was well under way, with no sign of finishing soon.  Magenta took an early night, so while Pine was at the bar, Burgundy and Blue discussed the options.  Given the time available, it was a toss-up between two games that Burgundy said he couldn’t get the hang of: Isle of Skye and Blueprints. Blue gave him the choice and in the end, he chose the latter as we’d not played it for a while.  This is a clever little building game where players are architects who must use different coloured dice (representing different materials) to build different structures from their blueprints.  The idea is that on their turn, each player chooses a die from the central pool and adds it to their building.  Each die must have the same value or higher than any it is placed on top of.  At the end of their turn, they roll a replacement from a bag, thus replenishing the dice supply.  Once each player has placed six dice, their building is evaluate depending on the colour of the dice they used, how many they are and their position etc.  For example, black dice score more if they are placed high up, whereas orange dice score more if they are surrounded by lots of other dice.

Blueprints
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

The person with the best building wins the round winning the Gold Award which is worth three points at the end of the game.  Points are also available for Silver and (depending on the number of players) Bronze.  There are also Special Awards (which are worth two points at the end) which go to players who fulfil other specific criteria, such using five dice out of the six in the same colour or having a building with a height of five or more.  In the first round, Burgundy demonstrated exactly how he couldn’t get the hang of the game, but failing to make the Special Award he was trying for and also not scoring highly enough to take either the Gold or Silver awards.  The second round was notable for the number of black fours that were rolled, and how, despite that, Pine somehow managed to take the Special Award for using four dice with the same number, but with fives while Blue failed to do the same with fours.  Going into the last round, both Burgundy and Pine tried to collect green dice, leaving Blue the pick of the rest, her third Gold Award, second Special Award and a clear win with thirteen points.

Blueprints
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dotKeller

With the evening coming to a close, there was just time for a quick filler.  Black commented that there was always “the old favourite” and since Pine claimed he’d not actually played it (though the logbook proved he had), there was no opposition to a quick closing game of 6 Nimmt!.  We reminded Pine of the rules:  players simultaneously choose a card, then simultaneously reveal them before playing them in ascending order placing each on on the highest card that is lower than the card being played.  When the sixth card is added to a row, the first five are taken and the number of heads contributes to the player’s score, lowest score wins.  The thing that makes the game so compelling is that any grip is incredibly tenuous and once it begins to go wrong it tends to escalate horribly.  In the first round, Green seemed to pick up everything and in the second it was Burgundy’s turn.  Black and Pine had two mediocre rounds and Purple made the only clean sweep.  It was Blue who got lucky this time though with two very good rounds totaling just two and four, so she took the game with a combined total of six, slightly ahead of Purple with twelve.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

We tend to play a variant over two rounds with half the deck in each round and not resetting the table in between.  This led to a bit of discussion as to why things tend to cascade.  The problem is that there are always some rows that get blocked off as they pick up a couple of high scoring cards as well as a finishing with a high face value card.  This means the chance of a player being forced to add something to (and take the row) is small, and nobody will take it voluntarily as the hit is too great.  In our game, three rows got blocked off early on in the first round which meant we spent nearly the whole game playing cards on one row.  The problem is that once a player has used, say, a low card that card is no-longer available, so the player is likely to be in the same position next time  too.  In the case of a six player game, things are exacerbated because it is the sixth card that triggers the pick up.  Thus, in our game, the first first player would take the singleton, leaving the next four players to add to the row and the player with the highest card to take the row and no better off for next time.  That doesn’t really detract from the fun though and it is still wonderfully stressful in a good way, so justifiably one of our favourite fillers.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcomes:  Sometimes some games just take much longer than expected.