Tag Archives: Om Nom Nom

10th January 2017

A new year, a new log book, and a shortage of people thanks to sickness, work and problematic cars.  Pine, Magenta and Blue were the first to arrive, so while they were waiting for food they decided to get in a quick game of No Thanks!.  This used to be one of those games that got played a lot, but for some reason it fell out of favour and was replaced by games like Love Letter, 6 Nimmt! and Om Nom Nom.  No Thanks! is a very simple little game where players have to make the binary decision to take a card or pay a chip and pass the problem on to the next player.  At the end of the round, players add the face values of the cards together and offset this with any remaining chips to give their total – the smallest value is the winner.  The really clever part is that if a player has a run of consecutive cards, then only the lowest counts.  Spice is added by the removal of nine cards from the original thirty-two consecutive cards in the deck.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

We first introduced Pine to No Thanks! over Christmas, when he had done rather well at it, this time was a bit different, however, with Blue coming in first with twenty-five in a generally high scoring game.  As food arrived, so did the other gamers, with Ivory first and, just as we were explaining the rules to him, Green rolled up as well.  The second hand began with Ivory picking up cards.  As it went on, he picked up more cards, and more and more.  This was excellent for everyone else until it started to look like he might be able to make them into one very long run.  In the end, Ivory’s massive gamble didn’t pay off and he finished with ninety points, a massive  eighty more than anyone else.  It was Magenta who took the round though, her enormous pile of chips offsetting all her cards leaving her with minus one.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With food over and everyone who was expected present, we decided to move onto our “Feature Game” will be Jórvík.  This is a Viking retheme of a game we have played a few times and enjoyed called The Speicherstadt.  The game is card based and driven by a novel auction mechanism that somehow doesn’t really feel like an auction.  The idea is there is a row of cards and players use their meeples to bid with.  They take it in turns to choose which cards they would like to have the option of buying, by placing their meeples in rows below the cards they want.  The cards are then “auctioned” in turn with person who who placed their meeple below a card first getting first refusal.  The clever bit is that the cost of the card is the same number of coins as there are meeples below the card.  When it is their turn, the active player can choose not to to buy the card, but then they must remove their meeple which makes it cheaper for the next player in line.   Thus, placing first can be a good thing if you have enough money to back it up, but money is scarce, very scarce.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards could be contracts (that give points at the end if fulfilled), ships containing goods (that enable players to fulfill contracts), defenders (which help score points if there is an attack of the Picts), craftsmen (which enable players to sell goods for a better price), feasts (which give points the more you have), journey cards (which just give points) or, towards the end of the game, skald cards (which yield points for some other condition).  The deck of cards is broken into several batches which ensures that while cards don’t come out in a  fixed order, early cards are less powerful than cards that appear later in the game.  The basic Jórvík game is quite light, but the new rendition includes the original Kaispeicher expansion.  This provides extra cards, though more importantly, it also adds a whole new mechanism that still has the same flavour, but turned on its head.

Jórvík

The new expansion adds a second method for players to get cards:  at the start of each round a second row of cards are displayed and, instead of using their turn to place a meeple in the auction, they can use it to reserve a card.  This card (and its meeple marker) are then moved to a new row.  At the end of the round, after the cards in the usual “auction” have been dealt with, the reserved cards are paid for in the order that they were reserved.  The snag is that the cost depends on how many cards were reserved after it.  Thus, players who reserve early have the best selection of cards to choose from, but will end up paying if they choose to buy it.  This means that players often end up reserving a card, as much as anything else, to stop the other players from getting it.  This led to Pine commenting that the game was a bit like window shopping with players standing hopefully next to items they had no hope being able to afford!

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

Only two of us had played the game before (mostly in its original form as The Speicherstadt), and nobody had played with the expansion at all.  Everyone tried different strategies, with Magenta trying to collect feasting cards (largely unsuccessfully) and Green beginning by trying to collect defender cards in the hope of being able to scoop up all the points for repelling the Picts.  Ivory, Blue and Pine were slower to settle on a strategy, though Ivory was ominously collecting what looked like some very powerful cards.  Then, Pine began collecting pink resource cubes, the valuable cloth and successfully used them to fulfill a couple of lucrative contracts.  For a long time this looked like it was going to be a winning strategy, until Blue changed tack.  She had started by trying to pick up contracts and fighting with everyone else for resources, but it was gradually becoming clear to her that this wasn’t working.  Although Blue had fallen foul of the Picts in the first round, since then she had been trying to avoid losing points.  This strategy had kept her in the running, and she decided to to actively pursue the points.  In the end she finished with thirty-six points, just three ahead of Pine in second place.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

Despite winning, Blue wasn’t sure about the expansion.  She felt it added a largely random element that players had no control over.  She felt the that the fact players were reserving cards that only they could buy meant that once someone had selected a card nobody else had a chance to contest it.  The only thing they could do was force the price up.  Green, on the other hand, said he really liked it and thought it was really clever, though he agreed that with five players it probably wasn’t at its best.  In the end, we concluded that it would likely add a lot to two and three player games, which encouraged Blue to get out her copy of The Speicherstadt with Pink to try it with KaispeicherJórvík had taken longer than expected and for Ivory and Magenta it was home time.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

Living more locally, Green, Pine and Blue had time for a quick game and chose Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.  This pretty little tile-laying game was a Christmas present chosen with the group in mind, so this seemed like a good opportunity to give it a go.  The game is very simple:  players have a hand of tiles and take it in turns to add one to the central “lake”.  Each tile has up to four coloured sections and if the tile is placed in such a way that some of these match the tiles they are next to, the active player gets a lantern card of that colour.  In addition, every turn, each player gets a card that corresponds to the colour on their side of the tile placed.  At the start of their turn, players can make a devotion and trade sets of lantern cards for points tiles.  There are three stacks of points tiles, with values decreasing from top to bottom.  Each stack corresponds to different sets, with one each for three pairs, a set of seven different and four of a kind.  There are also special platform tiles that give players favour tokens.  These grease the wheels a little as pairs can be spent to allow players to swap a card for one of a different colour.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The winner is the player with the most points once all the tiles have been played.  This means that there are two competing factors, players want to make as many dedications as they can, but higher value dedications are better.  Tile placement was cagey at the start, but before long Green and Blue began making dedications, quickly followed by Pine.  It was Green who managed to maintain the highest frequency of dedications though Blue’s early tiles were generally slightly higher in value.  Frequency was important and his later tiles were also higher value which meant Green finished ten points clear with fifty one.  With bed calling, there was just time to discuss a new idea:  “Monster Games” sessions.  The idea is that as a group we have quite a lot of games that are too long to play on games nights, so the plan is to arrange ad hoc games afternoons in private residences, with the first one planned for 14th January.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is better to stop others than make a purchase yourself.

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.

12th July 2016

The hungry were feeding when an itinerant gamer from the north-west wondered in to join us.  In the area for work, Yellow has been visiting several local game groups recently and was nice enough to come and join us for the evening.  In addition, Grey made another unexpected appearance; apparently Cerise was away with the little one, so he was free to come out and play with us.  Unfortunately for them though, our start was delayed a little while Blue and Burgundy scoffed their supper as quickly as they could and everyone else talked politics.  Normally politics is a topic of conversation people avoid for fear of arguments, but it is amazing how everyone in the group seems to agree at the moment.  In fact, as the evening wore on, it felt like history was being made as we watched: news come in that the Labour NEC had decided that Jeremy Corbyn should be able to stand as leader without needing the usual support from members of the Parliamentary Party, and the Petitions Committee had decided to schedule a referendum debate for 5th Sept, following the petition that garnered over four million signatures.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, we decided to get on with it with Blue and Magenta keen to play the “Feature Game”, Puerto Rico.  Surprisingly (as Puerto Rico is Green’s favourite game and it was with him in mind that we chose it), Green was keen to play Amerigo instead.  He had missed out on playing it on Friday night with the Didcot group and it had clearly been playing on his mind over the weekend.  By the same token, Burgundy and Black were less keen to play Amerigo as they had played it on Friday and they quite fancied Puerto Rico instead.  Purple had played it on Friday, but was keen to play again, so the group naturally split into two with Pine joining those playing Puerto Rico and Grey and Yellow joining the Amerigo group.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico is an older game, and in many ways the archetypal Euro game.  The idea of the game is quite simple in that on their turn, the active player chooses a “roles” then everyone takes it in turns to carry out the action associated with that role.  Each role has a “privilege” which the active player gets which gives them a little bonus (as well as the opportunity to take the action first.  Once everyone has chosen a role, the remaining role cards are “improved” by the addition of money, the used role cards are returned to the pool and the start player (The Governor) moves one player to the left before the new Governor starts the next round.  The aim of the game is to get victory points which are awarded for buildings and for shipping goods. However, to build, players need money, and before they can ship goods, players need to be able to produce the goods with a plantation (and where necessary process them in the appropriate building).

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Each building/plantation has a special bonus, but for a player to receive this, the building needs to be occupied by a “colonist”.  All these activities are carried out through the role cards.  For example, the Builder enables players to construct a building, but the player who chooses the role gets the privilege of paying one doubloon less than they would have done otherwise.  Similarly, the Craftsman is used to produce, but the privilege allows the player who chose the role to produce one extra item (of those they had already been able to produce).  Other roles include the Captain (enables players to ship goods); the Trader (allows players to sell goods for money); the Settler (players can take a plantation tile and add it to their island); the Mayor (the ship of “colonists” arrives and they are divided amongst the players), and the Prospector (everyone does nothing except the person with the privilege who takes a doubloon from the bank).

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The “colonists” arrive by ship, are dark brown and work on the plantations, so many gamers have assumed the term is a pseudonym for African slaves and in the USA this means some people have refused to play the game.  We are not like that in our group and, though we have no problem talking about slaves, we had far more fun talking about “colonists” in a way that everyone knew what we really meant.  What with that and the references to the Big Meerkat (that’s in the centre of Newcastle you know), the Orifice building (otherwise known as the Office), Worf (Son of Mogh), and the Big and Little Whorehouses (or perhaps they were really warehouses), much of the game was carried out in a sort of code.  This special group understanding was continued in the game play too where Magenta kept getting in Burgundy’s way, much to everyone else’s obvious delight, though Magenta insisted that it was all purely accidental.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy started, so he, Blue and Black began the game with an indigo plantation while Magenta and Pine started out with a corn field.  Pine found it quite hard to see what we needed to do, but he soon got past that and, as the game wore on, he quickly monopolised the tobacco market.  He remained the only player dealing in tobacco for most of the game which was quite important due to the way shipping works: when a player chooses the Captain role, players take it in turns to place goods on one of the three ships.  Each ship can only carry one type of cargo and they all have a finite space.  As the only player shipping tobacco, whenever Pine was able to transport some of his tobacco he simultaneously prevented others from shipping their goods.  Since this is the key way to get victory points, before long, Pine had built a sizeable pile and looked to be romping away with it.  Meanwhile, Black, then Magenta and Burgundy moved into sugar which made them uneasy allies, sometimes working together to get sugar into a ship, but otherwise competing to get their goods into the last space on a ship.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

While everyone else was engaged in building a productive plantation, Burgundy began by by using his land for quarries, lots of quarries.  These make building cheaper, but don’t provide goods when someone chooses the Craftsman role.  Seeing where he was going, Magenta picked up a Construction Hut which enabled her to choose a quarry instead of a plantation each time anyone chose the Settler role.  Blue managed to pick up one quarry, but otherwise, between them, Burgundy and Magenta were in danger of getting all of them.  Burgundy got round the potential for a lack of plantations by building a Hacienda which gave him an extra plantation every time anyone else Settled.  He then coupled this with Hospice which meant that one of these plantations/quarries arrived complete with a “colonist” – a very powerful combination.  For a long time Black havered over whether to try to get in on the quarry game or not.  To begin with he decided not before picking one up anyhow.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine was sat next to Magenta quietly coveting her Construction Hut, but it was pointed out that it wasn’t a good time to buy it and there were better things he could do, advice he took.  It obviously rankled a little though because every time after that when quarries were mentioned he added, “Though I’m not allowed a quarry…”.  Eventually, Blue decided she was struggling from a lack of both cash and victory points and needed to do something drastic to get back into the game.  So, taking a leaf out of Pine’s book, she expanded into coffee and then screwed everyone else up by starting a coffee ship which took several rounds to fill.  Eventually, she was joined by Pine who then variously helped her and got in her way.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Black both made a hash of their timing with the crafting and shipping, and when Blue finally worked out what she was doing and planned what she needed for a large building she lost the plot and failed to choose the Builder role when she had the chance.  So, when Magenta took the builder a couple of turns later, everyone had enough for a large building and Blue was left without her first or second choice.  Magenta who had filled less than half her plantation spaces took the Residence just to stop Burgundy and Blue who had been able to fill theirs and would have been able to get maximum points for it (thanks to their Haciendas).  So, Burgundy took the Fortress (which gave him one point for every three “colonists”) and Blue took the Customs House (which gave one extra victory point chip for every four already held).  This left Black with the dregs from which he took the Guild Hall (giving him points for his production buildings).  Meanwhile, Pine ominously kept producing vast amounts of tobacco and shipping it.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

By this time, Blue and Black were convinced that Pine was miles ahead, and everyone else was playing for the minor places.  Pine in turn was convinced Magenta had a healthy lead; Magenta was certain she was losing, but continued to innocently obstruct Burgundy and the game turned nasty as everyone began to struggle to ship what they wanted.  With the number of victory point chips available dwindling faster than the number of “colonists”, everyone scrabbled to build that last utility and ship those final crates.  It turned out that it was a very close game: Magenta had a misleadingly large pile of singleton victory point chips; Pine probably would have won if the game had the game ended a round or two earlier, and Burgundy may well have won had it gone on another for another couple of rounds.  In the end though, despite being quite convinced she was nowhere close, Blue finished in first place with fifty-six, just three points ahead of Pine with Black taking third on a tie-break.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Amerigo was going full steam ahead.  In this game players are exploring the islands of South America, securing trading routes, and building settlements.  The game board is made up of a four by four grid of large tiles that make an archipelago.  Players then have two ships each which they sail through the maze of islands, mooring at natural harbours to build trading posts, and then expanding settlements.  The actions available to players are determined through the use of a special cube tower that contains lots of buffers and buttresses. The idea is that each of the seven actions has an associated set of coloured cubes:  blue for sailing, black for loading cannon, red for buying buildings, green for settling etc.  At the start of the game, all the cubes are put into the top of the tower a small number get stuck and remain inside the tower to be potentially knocked out at a later point in the game.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

There are four rounds and each round consists of seven phases, corresponding to each action where all the cubes available of that colour are poured into the tower.  Most of these cubes come out again, but some dislodge cubes previously caught in the baffles, while others others get stuck themselves.  Of the cubes that come out, the colour that is in the majority dictates the number, while all the colours dictate the actions.  Thus, if five blue, one green and one black come out, players can choose between sailing, building settlements or loading cannon, and in each case, they have five “action points”.  So, the actions that are available are largely predictable, with a slightly random element meaning there is a tactical element (taking advantage of the actions currently available in the best way possible) as well as a strategic (long term plan) element to the game.

Amerigo
– Image by BGG contributor mcfer

Points are available throughout the game for all sorts of things, including being the first person to land on an island and establish a trading post; building settlements on an island; completing an island by settling on its last available space; collecting gold, and moving along the progress and special action paths.  At the end of each round, however, the pirates attack and players have to fire their cannon to repel boarders.  Anyone who has not loaded sufficient cannon to fend off the pirates, loses points which is particularly nasty, because these players lose as many points as they would if they’d had no cannon at all, and they also have to fire the cannon they had loaded!

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Inevitably we all started off sailing to islands near to us, and generally we all did the main colour action in the first round. Grey toyed with the idea of not doing Cannon’s, but in the end decided to copy the more experienced players.  So an easy and simple, first round, in a game that gradually became a more cut throat battle.   Purple concentrated on running up her brown track and gaining the bonus action chits and spread across to a few islands. This strategy seemed to leave her struggling for points as the game went on.  Yellow was unsure how best to approach the game, so tended to stick to the action colour sequence, but got hold of the red equals green equals red bonus chit, which he used to good effect to build up on his several islands. This strategy netted him a good haul of points as the game progressed.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

Grey was running an expansionist policy, getting to as many islands as he could. On top of this he, quite slyly, built over the extra empty trading post spaces, thus rendering them useless and gaining a monopoly on several islands, however, his score also seemed to suffer for this.  Meanwhile, Green carried out a number of red planning actions to build up a large backlog of buildings to place. This meant he always had something to place in those tricky corners, but he lost out on his big islands by leaving it too late to place them. Early on, he nabbed the big six neutral tile (the only one in the game) and then realised that he was on the wrong side of the big island to be able to place it, so had to make a quick trip to the other side to develop a new trading post before he could place it for a whopping eighteen points. This strategy was proving quite productive and he and Yellow were regularly vying for the lead.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

In the last part of the game, while Purple and Yellow continued their general strategy, Grey decided he had enough islands and started to place his tiles on them to gain the resources. Green, having built as much as he could, was left wondering what to do next. He had lots of tiles still to place, but nowhere to place them without a new trading post. There were four left, all on the other side of the board and they were disappearing fast, so green started sailing.  By using his gold and going round the outside he was able to get to the area in just one move.  By this time, there were only two trading posts left as everyone else worked together to stop Green. With no more gold, Green was not quite able to get to a trading post and ended just one space away.  Yellow took his turn and he built on the other trading post leaving Green to sail once more and place his trading post.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With only two single spaces left on this last island, there was a bit of a stand-off between Yellow and Green:  whoever built first would gain a single point, but leave the other to get the three point bonus for finishing the island.  Meanwhile, there was a total of eight pirates on the board which everyone had covered until Purple took the two-plus pirate attack bonus token.  Purple was aright of course, but everyone else needed another two cannon if they weren’t going to end up with an eight point penalty. More turns were sacrificed to gain cannon which also sent players to the top of the line and provided extra gold.  Purple and Green found themselves with no actions to do, so ended up trading action cubes for gold, while Grey and Yellow mopped-up island bonuses.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the very last action everyone swapped their gold for extra spaces on the white turn order track, just to get to that extra scoring location.  With the game coming to an end and neither Green nor Yellow prepared to give quarter on the last island, neither took the final three points.  Before the final scoring began, Yellow was in the lead, a few points clear of Green.  As the final scoring phase began, it became apparent that everyone except for Purple had misunderstood the scoring the resource bonuses. We thought the number on the yellow action chits was its multiplier value, however, this number is irrelevant to the scoring, it only means it costs more to obtain. Grey was particularly annoyed as he had deliberately been going for the high value action tokens and had been choosing the resource tokens appropriately.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the end, it was very close with Grey and Purple catching up however, it wasn’t quite enough, and Yellow and Green remained several points ahead, tied on a hundred and thirty-one.  The tie-breaker gave it to Yellow, as he was at the end of the turn order track and Green was five spaces farther back. On reflection though, Green later realised that he could have taken it had he known the rules better as he’d finished with six gold.  He could easily have spent the surplus gold to move along the track, but had decided against it as, although it would have given him an extra five points, the gold was worth one point each so there had seemed no point.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Puerto Rico was still underway, and with Grey deciding he could do with an early night (while the Cat’s away, the Mice will play – and it seemed this Mouse had been playing quite a bit!), Purple, Green and Yellow opted for some quick, light-hearted fun with Om Nom Nom.  This is one of our more popular games, and we’ve played it a few times on a Tuesday evening.  Purple loves it and it was new to Yellow though, so despite his conviction that it’s completely random, Green joined in.  The idea is quite simple, each player has a hand of “Predator” cards, and the dice represent “Prey”.  Players simultaneously choose a card to play and then Prey is divided up accordingly.  If there is enough Prey for all the Predators to eat, then players take their share of the appropriate dice.  If not, the Predator(s) go hungry and the cards are discarded.  The catch is that some cards are both Predator and Prey, which is where the game descends into double-think (or Luck as Green prefers to think of it).

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Green has tried a variety of “methods” to beat the “luck”, but much like an inveterate gambler, a “technique” that works a couple of times almost always fails in the end, and so it proved this time too.  In the first card of the first round, Green decided to change his card just before everyone revealed theirs which proved fortuitous as his hedgehog ended up with a bunch of frog dice and cards. So, Green swapped his second and third cards at the last second and he picked up Prey on both occasions. As the round progressed, Purple and Yellow also achieved some success and Green took another card, but by the end of the round, the scores were very even with Purple ahead by just one point.  Probability can be a funny thing, but it was still quite a shock to roll nine carrots, each with a probability of one-in-six.  And so  began a little game of cat & mouse, literally with everyone trying to  second guess each others choices and all ending up feeling that the carrots looked too good to be true and there was bound to be a fox hanging around.

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

At the second attempt, Yellow found he couldn’t resist temptation and went for the carrots only to find Purple’s fox was waiting to pounce.  Then, somehow (and nobody could work out exactly how), Purple ended up with the entire haul of carrots all to herself.  By this time, Green had reverted to type and scored nothing for the round, Yellow produced a creditable showing, but Purple took an amazing twenty-nine points. The final round was a much more even spread of dice and scores. Yellow was getting better and better and won the round while Green got lucky and took a few more points.  Purple was not so successful this time out, but it didn’t matter, as her massive score in the second round gave her a record-breaking forty-eight, according to the scoring card, a new high score!

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Learning Outcome:  Don’t ascribe to luck what others might call skill.

23rd February 2016

After another quick game of Love Letter (a resounding win for Magenta), we moved on to our “Feature Game”, Kobayakawa.   This is a simple little Japanese micro-filler game with elements of betting and push-your-luck.  The rules sounded unpromising, but it was much more fun on the table.  The idea is very simple:  from a deck numbered one to fifteen, each player is dealt a single card with one extra one face up in the middle.  Like Love Letter, players draw a card and chose which to keep, but the aim is different as players are trying to set themselves up for the second phase of the game.  In the second phase, players take it in turns in player order choosing whether to pay a token to join the bidding or not. The player with the highest card in hand wins the pot and the winner over all is the player with the most tokens after seven rounds.  There is a catch, however, as the player with the lowest card gets to add the face up card to their total.

Kobayakawa
– Image by boardGOATS

It is at this point that the little bit of strategy comes in:  in the first phase, players can choose to replace the face up card instead of drawing a card into their hand.  It is only a very little bit of strategy though, since play is strictly in player order and at the start of the round you have almost no information.  Thus, a player who has chosen to keep a low card can find their round is trashed when the last player in the round changes the face-up card from a high value to a low one.  That said, the game is not meant to be an intensely deep strategy game, and it was much more fun than it sounded on reading through the rules.  Pine took an early lead with Green crashing out as he ran out of tokens.  Although we enjoyed it, we felt the end-game could do with a little work as the rules say that everyone who has enough tokens must pay two to join in the last round of bidding (instead of one as previously).  This increases the value of winning the final round and means the preceding rounds can be essentially meaningless unless a player has managed to accrue more than half the number of tokens available (and in that case the final round is pointless instead).  We felt that maybe the game would be better with an early target, with the winner being the player to collect, say, three times the number of tokens as players, and if that hadn’t happened by round seven, then play the final round.

Kobayakawa
– Image by boardGOATS

This was followed by a short break during which we discussed what to play next and got side-tracked by an (unusually serious) conversation regarding the upcoming EU referendum.  As the debate disintegrated into general moaning along the lines of European stereotypes Green felt a game of Lancaster was in order, as it is a game where players are directing noble families from the time of Henry V, vying for power and favour amongst themselves, with a side order of fighting the French.  This is a game that has had a couple of outings recently since we first played it just after Christmas, but this time we decided to add the Reward Tiles mini-expansion.  Pine was the only one not to have played it before, so we had a quick run-through of the rules.  Players take it in turns to place their knights in one of three places:  in the shires; in their castle, or in the wars in France.  Once the knights have been placed, players then vote on and evaluate “the Laws” which give players a benefit just before they get their their rewards for knight placement.  After five rounds, the player with the most points wins.

Lancaster: Reward Tiles
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Baartoszz

The mini-expansion added reward tiles which are drawn at the start of each round and placed next to a county on the game board.  During the rewards phase, the player who takes control of the county may collect the reward tile instead of the imprinted basic reward (collecting both the nobleman tile and the reward tile if they pay the extras).  Clearly these weren’t going to have a huge impact on the game, though they would make some of the benefits slightly more available during the game, something that had the potential to help out Purple who insisted that she never did very well as Green and Black always knocked her out of the castle improvement counties (something that was not denied).  The first round of knight placement was a benign affair as no-one seemed up for a fight. Black concentrated on beating the French, Purple inevitably went for castle improvements, Green wanted the starting token and Pine thought building up his knights would be a good start.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor kopernikus

Then came the first phase of voting for the Laws. Confusion abounded concerning quite how it worked, and having been fairly unanimous in our votes we prepared to discard two laws and replace them with two more. A quick check of the rules about how we do this indicated that we’d done it all wrong:  we should have voted for the new laws we wanted not the old laws we wanted to keep.  There was a little more discord at the ballot box when we tried again, but we still got two new Laws.  With that, the most complicated part of the game, out of the way for the first time, we went into the rewards round with players counties collecting knights, castle improvements, voting cubes and squires, and awarding points for the victory in France.  It was when we came to the rewards from the Laws that Green realised that all his calculations as to what he would get were wrong since number of squires and money had suddenly changed.  It was only when placing the knights in the second round that Green realised that the rewards from the Laws should be awarded immediately after the vote and before the rewards from the rest of the board.  We changed to follow the rules for the rest of the game, but did think that it could make an interesting variant as it provides an extra level of uncertainty into the game.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Over the next couple of rounds, Black continued his grudge against France, Purple tried to build her castle (largely unsuccessfully), Green gathered voting nobleman around his table and Pine built up his fighting strength.  By round three Purple and Black had both accumulated a lot of squires and Pine and Green found themselves being kicked out of a few counties and having to replace somewhere else and by the fourth round, the knives were really out and the counties were changing hands like “pass the parcel” at a birthday party.  Pine and Green had superior knight strength, but Black and Purple had the upper hand with squires; battles raged across the land and the rivers ran red with the blood of so many faithful soldiers.

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

The battles continued into the final round, however, Black had often swiped the nobleman from under the noses of the other players by judicious use the free nobleman king’s favour and the free nobleman alternative reward from the expansion (the only person to actually take advantage of it in the whole game). Eventually, everyone settled with several sending their knights home to treat their wounds, and the game ended except final scoring.  Black began the scoring several points ahead of the others and it looked like his fighting in France may have paid off, especially as he had managed to gain quite a table of nobleman as well. The superior knights of Green and Pine and the better castles of Pine and Purple brought them a little closer to Black prior to the nobleman scoring.  Black and Purple finished with the same number of nobles giving them fifteen points, but Green finished with two more which he had snuck in right at the end and took him to a near full compliment giving him an extra thirteen points and with it the win, leapfrogging Black in second place with Pine finishing just one point behind in third.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In discussing the game after, Pine said he quite enjoyed it and we ruminated on how weak the castle improvements seemed to be, more because they were so hard to get early on, when they would provide the most benefit whereas later on they were of less use.  This brought in the idea of using the expansion extra reward tokens all at the beginning of the game rather than only one new one out each round.  We also wondered if placing them randomly rather than on specific counties could work, though that might need some thought.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, Blue, mindful that Green and Burgundy had been keen to play Endeavour again, had produced that as a her offering for a game about international treaties.  With Green engaged elsewhere, Blue and Burgundy recruited Magenta to the cause and gave her a rules run-down as she had not played it before.  The game felt much less confusing than last time as it was fresh in Blue’s and Burgundy’s minds having played it within a month.  So, despite all the little bits that need to be set out, the perceived complexity of the game and the relative inexperience of the players, Endeavour was actually under way first.  The game is played over seven rounds, each of which consists of four phases:  Building, Population, Income and Action.  The idea is that players have four status tracks which correspond to Industry, Culture, Finance and Politics, which roughly correspond to the four phases and dictate what players are allowed to do at each stage.  The game is actually much less confusing than we made it last time, though there are a number of apparently little rules that have the potential to make a large difference.  For example, last time at least one player had multiple copies of one building which can significantly change the balance of the game as well as potentially making that building unavailable to other players.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players start by choosing a building:  although the choice is very limited at the beginning so everyone begins with only a slight variation in direction, we have a feeling that the choices made very early on in the game are critical.  Similarly, getting the first round of settling and shipping right is vital as this gives both position and a crucial fast start on the status tracks allowing players an early toe-hold in the game.  As such, Magenta was at something of a disadvantage not having seen the game play out before, though with just three players (compared to four last time) there was just a little more wriggle room.  Burgundy and Magenta began by building Shipyards, so Blue decided to do something different (largely just for the sake of it) and built a Market instead.  Although she didn’t plan it that way, it meant that she was first to start picking up cards from the Asset Deck in Europe, giving her an alternative method of building her status tracks.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Magenta and Burgundy were both engaging in shipping though Magenta was having the better of it managed use to build up her Population and Income tracks and quickly took the Governorship of South America.  Somehow, Burgundy had got things very slightly out of kilter and was unable to put them right.  Before long his Income status track had fallen behind which restricted his available population as well as blocking up his action spaces.  Magenta was on roll judiciously shipping, settling and picking up Asset cards, and generally playing a very canny game.  In the previous game, with four players, almost all the board had been opened up in what had been a very tight game.  This time, with only three players, large sections of the board didn’t get explored much at all.  This was exacerbated by Blue only starting her shipping slowly, so Burgundy had to make almost all the running in India, which was hard work, but necessary for him to build a network of settlements.  Matters were made worse for him with Blue pouncing on one of his key targets.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Although everyone finished in much the same place, as before, with nearly complete status tracks and a near full set of cards, it was clear that Burgundy had struggled and Magenta had really done very well.  Blue’s position was less clear as she hadn’t done quite as well as Magenta on the status tracks (especially as she had to discard one of her cards at the end of the final round), but had picked up points elsewhere, in particular on her Asset cards.  In the final count, Burgundy was nowhere near as far back as we had thought and it was clear that if he had been able to increase his income just slightly, earlier in the game, he would have been way out in front.  As it was, Blue finished some twelve points clear thanks to her Asset card victory points and more cities than anyone else.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Lancaster was still under way, so Burgundy, Magenta and Blue decided to play something small and quick that they all knew.  The minimal set-up time and its more relaxed feel commended The Game, and since the decision had to be made quickly, no-one really looked any further.  We’ve played this simple little card-laying co-operative game a lot, so the only thing we needed to check was the number of cards in the starting hand.  Unfortunately, an appalling deal quickly put paid to our “R&R” and the stress levels quickly rose as it looked highly likely that we weren’t going to even get through the deck.  In the event, we just about managed to get to a point where the draw deck was depleted, but that was it and we finished with seventeen unplayed cards.  Lancaster was drawing to a close, but scores still had to be tallied and there were a lot of bits to put away, so we decided to give it another go, with speed.  Not thinking seemed to help (or maybe it was the practice from the previous try), because we made a much better fist of it, finishing with just four unplayed cards.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

With Magenta heading home for an early night, there was just enough time (and people) for a quick game of one of our most popular fillers, Om Nom Nom.  The game is quite simple with players simultaneously choosing animal cards to try to eat as much possible:  for example, a cat will eat mice.  Similarly a mouse can eat cheese, but only if it is not eaten by a cat first.  The board is seeded with dice, after which there is a large dose of double-think as players try to guess whether everyone/anyone else is going to go for the largest tastiest helpings or not.  As usual, Green moaned about how badly he does in the game, and tried his usual array of randomly choosing cards and going for his second choice rather than his first, but for all that, he didn’t do so badly in the end, though he was some way behind Blue who just pipped Pine thanks to a large helping of carrots (which, it turns out score double) in the final round.

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

Learning Outcome: Games can be very different when you change even the smallest of rules…

1st December 2015

Red and Blue were late thanks to a ridiculous queue at Frilford Crossroads, so food had only just been ordered when Green and Pine turned up.  We hadn’t seen Grey and Cerise for a while, so when they arrived the evening descended into gossip.  Pine manfully resisted the chips, but when he eventually succumbed, he ended up with more than he bargained for as they’d all stuck together…  Amid chips and chat, eventually, someone suggested a game and everyone else agreed, so we started with the “Feature Game”, Pandemic: Contagion.  The original game, Pandemic, is a very well known cooperative game where everyone plays together to defeat the tide of disease that is overcoming the world.  Pandemic: Contagion is a lighter game and almost the complete opposite:  players are the diseases and compete against each other to be the most effective and take over the world.

Pandemic: Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

The game itself is fairly straightforward.  Cards are drawn to represent cities – these are coloured and are under attack from disease.  On their turn players can do any two of three possible actions: place cubes or “infect” a city, draw cards or mutate their disease.  Placing cubes cost cards and the cards must match the colour of the city they are infecting.  The number of cubes they can place or cards they can draw depend on the characteristics of their disease, and both can be increased by mutation.  Like infection, mutation must be paid for with cards, though the number of cards used depends on the level, thus going from an infection level three to level four is much more expensive than going from level one to two.

Pandemic: Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

A city becomes overrun with disease when the total number of cubes placed on the card equals or exceeds the population.  At this point, the city is scored and the players with the most cubes get points (in the event of a tie, the disease to infect it first wins).  The person who placed the last disease cube additionally gets a bonus action that depends on the city.  At the start of each round an event card is drawn which either alters the rules of the game for the duration of that round, or otherwise disrupts everyone’s plans, by for example, causing them to lose cards or reduce their infection rate etc. etc..  Some of these cards also have a symbol on them either a city indicating that a new city should be added, or a skull and crossed bones after every second of which points are awarded to the player with the most disease cubes in each city.  The game ends when either, there are only two cities left, or the game has proceeded through all twelve event cards.

Pandemic Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

The game went very slowly with everyone falling for “group think” and going for the cities with the largest populations which therefore score the most points when completed.  Unfortunately, this left the game somewhat mired in treacle as everyone did pretty much the same thing for the first three rounds collecting cards and infecting cities.  Blue picked up a few points at the first interim scoring, but otherwise it was pretty dull and we were all wondering what we were doing wrong.  Then it dawned on us that our disease cubes weren’t doing very much:  for all the large cities, one player had a significant majority, so there was no incentive to compete for it; worse, the winner was reluctant to commit more resources to the cause, but that meant their cubes were just sitting there, waiting.

Pandemic: Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy tried to get things going by increasing the number of cards he could draw, but that back fired when an event card forced him to dispose of half his cards (much to his horror, rounded up!).  It was then that everyone began to look for other things to do and attention turned to finishing off some of the smaller, weaker cities.  We’d sort of forgotten about the bonuses that come when cities are scored and it turns out that some of them are very powerful indeed.  This was amply demonstrated when Blue finished Milan that gave her a card for every city she had infected, which turned out to be quite a few.

Pandemic Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

With a little grease to oil the wheels, she was now able to use her newly liberated disease cubes to infect other cities in an effort to finish them.  Everyone else joined in and finally the game began to look a little better, however, before we’d had time to really start to appreciate it, the game was over and it was time to score the remaining cities.  Blue took the win with sixty-one points with Cerise some fifteen points behind behind just fending off Burgundy and taking second place, but everyone was frustrated at what had looked like a promising game, but had fallen so spectacularly flat.

Pandemic: Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

On reflection, as Blue commented (much to Green’s amusement as he listened in from the next table), “If we’d played it differently it would have been a very different game.”  Although that sounds like a stupidly obvious thing to say, the problem was that everyone tried to play the same way and everyone fell into the same trap which dragged the game down badly.  If we’d realised the value of the bonuses and gone for some of the smaller cities first, the game wouldn’t have dragged so much and would have been much more enjoyable and interesting.  Unfortunately, as Pine succinctly put it, he’d enjoyed everything he’d played with us and would be happy to play any of them again, “except that.”  Which means it’s unlikely to get a second chance very soon.

Pandemic: Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Green and Grey had decided they fancied playing something a bit more “piratey” together.  With Pandemic: Contagion supposedly taking “just half an hour”,  they decided to give Port Royal a go.  Although Green had played it a couple of times, Grey was completely new to the game.  We’ve played it quite a bit recently, but in summary, the game combines “push your luck” with strategy, the idea being that players turn over cards until there is something they want, or they go bust.  Once they’ve taken a card, the other players have their pick of what’s left (for the cost of one coin).  This means that in a two player game, the strategy changes quite a bit as players have to watch what they leave as well as be careful about taking a card and paying their opponent for the privilege.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

Green decided to aim to complete “expeditions”, while Grey took a more tactical approach, just doing what seemed best at the time; neither player decided to protect themselves by picking up pirate cards.  Both players really enjoyed it and the fickle hand of fate was much in evidence:  there was much hilarity when three of the four tax cards came out in the same round.  Fate wasn’t done yet either and when Green pushed for four ship cards (in order to be able to buy two cards in the round), almost two dozen cards had been drawn before he finally went bust by revealing a second of the same colour.  With no pirates in his arsenal to repel the attack, the whole lot was wiped out, much to Grey’s annoyance as he had his eye on a particular card.  In the end Green won convincingly with his expedition strategy, but he had the advantage of having played it twice before.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Since the larger group were still playing Pandemic: Contagion and only about half way through, Grey and Green decided to give Port Royal another go. This time both players decided to mitigate some of the luck by picking up pirate cards and it was generally a very close game.  Pirate ships were repelled left, right and centre and more than once two cards were purchased in one round.  In the end Grey brought the game to an end by exchanging cards for an expedition causing him to exceed the magic twelve points, finishing on fourteen.  Since Grey had started, Green got one more round.  With eleven points, Green needed four to win.  As only two card purchases would do, he went for a four pirate line. With a fighting total of six he could easily repel anything except the skull ships.  With the odds in his favour managed to get to the necessary four ships so that he could buy two cards, but his meagre finances stopped him getting the four points and had to settle for three, leaving him with fourteen points, level with Grey.  Unfortunately for Grey, he had no money left to buy anything, and it all went down to the tie-breaker.  The rules state this is by money, and since Green had just one coin left, he took his second victory of the night.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With Pandemic: Contagion STILL going (yes, it really DID drag on, though it was near the end by this time…) Green and Grey decided to play a very quick game of Pick Picknic. This is another game that was new to Grey, but he proved to be a natural at.  A sort of early version of one of our current favourites, Om Nom nom, the game combines simultaneous card selection with bluffing and a good slice of luck.  The idea is that there are six farm  yards of different colours, if someone plays the only chicken card of a given colour, they get all the grain at that coloured farm.  If multiple players go for the same coloured yard, then players can either agree to share the corn in any way that is mutually acceptable or roll the die for all of it.  Foxes don’t eat corn, however, they only eat chickens, so if someone plays a fox card, they will eat any chicken cards of that colour, and before long Grey was happily gobbling his way through Green’s chickens adding to his pile of captured corn.  In the end Green managed to get more corn, but the birds captured by Grey’s hungry foxes more than made up for the missing corn and Grey ran out a clear winner. Both players agreed that they preferred Pick Picknic to Om Nom Nom.  Although it doesn’t have the great dice of the newer game, they game doesn’t have the feeling that it’s all over after one poor move.

Pick Picknic
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

With Pandemic: Contagion finally finished, Cerise and Grey headed off, leaving Burgundy, Green, Pine and Blue with a little over an hour to play.  After a little bit of thought, we decided to continue Pine’s “boardgame education” and introduce him to The Settlers of Catan (or simply “Catan” as it is now known).  Playing with Green’s fourth Mayfair edition, there were the inevitable comments on the new colour scheme.  Blue outlined the rules to Pine while Burgundy and Green set up the board.  At its basic level, the game is one of resource management and civilisation building.

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

Players start with two roads and two settlements.  These are placed along the edges and on the corners of the hexagons of the modular board.  Each hexagon has a number on it, and on each player’s turn, first they roll both dice and resources are awarded to players with settlements on the corners of the hexagon that  corresponds to the total rolled.  Once the resources have been handed out, the active player can trade resources with other players and use them to build more roads and settlements, develop their settlements into cities or buy development cards.  Victory points are awarded for settlements, cities and the longest continuous road as well as via development cards (both as straight victory points and for the player with the most soldier cards, i.e. the Largest Army).  The random set up had the desert off centre and almost all the specific ports a very long way from good supplies of the necessary resources.  After much debate, we decided to let Pine go first and try to make sure he ended up with decent starting positions.  Green, who went third, decided to try something different and explore the coast hoping there would be less competition there, leaving Blue two reasonable positions in the centre of the board.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

As usual with “Settlers”, resources were poorly distributed amongst players and after a brief flurry of wood, it disappeared for the rest of the game.  On the other hand, Green was awash with ore, and Blue, who had quickly upgraded one of her settlements to a city after an early glut of wheat, suddenly found she had more brick than she could possibly work out what to do with.  Pine, once more attracted animals and had an enthusiastically breeding flock of sheep while Burgundy persistently rolled sixes – just about the only number he didn’t have a settlement on. We had a big debate as to whether a four-for-one trade with the bank had to be four identical cards.  After checking the rules, we found they should be identical, though neither Burgundy nor Blue remembered playing that way in the past.  Since we were a little tight on time, we decided to house-rule it to “any four resources” this time, though on reflection, it probably wasn’t really necessary.

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

Burgundy picked up the Longest Road tile and joined Pine in the sheep farming business.  Having ensured Pine’s starting placements were reasonable, he was making an excellent job of building on it and had found a nice little bit of space to work in, building a couple of new settlements and threatening to take the Longest Road card.  Meanwhile, Green discovered that he was a bit stuffed, with few good options despite having tried to place his starting settlements to avoid being cut off.  With good access only to ore and occasional wheat, he started buying development cards and used the robber effectively to cut off the wood supply.  Blue, with a sudden influx of cards, managed to get her nose in front with a couple of settlements which she was able to upgrade quickly when she got another sudden influx of grain and brick.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Just passing the hour mark, Blue hit eight points and was looking to extend her road and take the Longest Road from Burgundy, or build a couple more settlements.  In the event, the dice rolled in her favour and she picked up a stack of cards with no sign of the robber, which meant she was able to do both giving her eleven points.  This brought the game to a swift and sudden end and the score belied how close the game actually was.  Since we’d finished a little quicker than expected we decided to play something quick.  The suggestion of Red7 scared off Burgundy, but after some consideration, Blue and Green decided to continue Pine’s boardgame education with a quick game of Love Letter.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Love Letter is a game we played a lot a year or so ago, but not so much recently.  The first of the so-called “micro games” it is played with just sixteen cards.  Each player starts with one card and on their turn, draws a second card and then plays one of them.  Each card has a value (one to eight) and an action (discard a card, swap cards with another player, compare cards, etc. etc.).  The object of the game is to have the highest card when the deck has been exhausted or, be the last person remaining, which ever is soonest.  The rules say the winner is the first player to take a set number of hands, however, we tend to play far a few rounds and then decide how far to take it.  In this case, Green, Blue and Pine had one point each, so we went for one final round, which Pine took with much aplomb.

Love Letter
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thatmadgirl

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is the way that you play that makes a game enjoyable.

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

14th July 2015

It was a relatively quiet evening, which started off with food (yet again):  Blue and Burgundy finished their dinners while everyone else began a game of Om Nom Nom.  This fun little double-think game looks like it is going to be a popular filler following its two outings on one night last month. The game is quite simple with players simultaneously choosing animal cards to try to eat as much possible:  for example, a cat will eat mice.  Similarly a mouse can eat cheese, but only if it is not eaten by a cat first.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

There are three food chains, each with three tiers.  Dice are used to start off the bottom two tiers and cards are played to represent the top two tiers.  The simultaneous card play coupled with the random nature of the initial dice roll is what introduces the double think:  players have to decide whether to play a mouse card and go for the enticing large pile of cheese, or hope everyone else will play mouse cards and that their cat will get a good feed…  Purple, Black and Grey introduced it to Magenta and Flint and clearly did the job well as they took first and second respectively.

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

Meanwhile, since Blue and Burgundy had finished their supper before the rules explanation was over, they decided to see if they could finish a quick game of The Game before the others.  We played this last time and since it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres award, it seemed appropriate to try again.  The Game is a simple game:  on their turn, players have to play two cards from their hand onto one of four piles (the numbers increase for two piles and decrease for the other two).  Since the idea is to play all the cards and (although we’ve only played it a couple of times) we’ve never got more than about half-way through the deck, finishing first was thought to be quite likely.  However, ten minutes later, despite having been absolutely certain of catastrophic failure for most of the game, Burgundy played his last card leaving Blue with the just one, the unplayable sixty-four.  And just as Om Nom Nom was finishing too.

The Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The “Feature Game” was to be Colt Express, which won the Spiel des Jahres award last week.  Although there were seven of us and the game plays a maximum of six, everyone was keen to give it a go, so Black and Purple teamed up.  When it came out of the box it was clear why Colt Express had won the award:  the game is played on an amazing 3D train with bandits moving from one car to another, running along the roof and dodging bullets in an effort to steal the most loot.  The game is played over five rounds, each of which is played in two parts.  First there is the planning stage where everyone takes it in turns to play a card, usually face up onto a deck of cards.  In the second phase, the deck is turned over and the cards are played one at a time by the person who played the card.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Although that sounds quite simple, there are quite a few fiddly bits which take a little bit of getting used to.  The five rounds are played according to cards:  these are drawn from a small deck at the start of the game and modify the number of action cards everyone plays and how they play them during the round.  Starting with the start player, each person places their first action card on the communal deck, then they all take it in turns to place the next and so on.  However, although the general case is that everyone plays one card face up in clockwise order, sometimes two cards are played instead of one, or it might be played face down and some are even played in reverse order.  At the end of the round, sometimes there is also an event – all this adds to the interest increasing replayability, however, it also adds to the complexity on the first play through.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Players have ten action cards each, but they start each round with only six in hand, though they can draw an extra three instead of playing a card on the communal deck.  The action cards allow players to move along the train, between the levels (roof and carriage), shoot, steal, punch another player or move the marshal.  These actions are also a little tricky to get to grips with, especially since each player has a special ability and the card actions depend on where they are played.  For example, if a player can only move one carriage when inside the train, but up to three if on the roof.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This is fairly straight-forward, when compared with shooting though.  Inside the train, one player can shoot a player of their choice in an adjacent carriage, however, on the roof any player within “line of sight” could be the targeted.  In this context, “line of sight” means there is no other player standing in the way.  Players cannot shoot through the roof unless they are playing the character Tuco and nobody can shoot Belle unless she is the only available target.  When a player has been shot, they receive a bullet card from the shooter and this is added to their deck potentially reducing the number of useful cards they have in their hand.  In addition, if the shooter is Django, the victim is also pushed back by the force of the shot.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Trying to plan during the first stage of the round, keep all these possibilities in mind and remembering all the cards played is impossible, especially when there are a lot of players. Since action cards are mostly played face up, however, it feels like you have some control over what is going on, until the second part of the round, that is, when even the best laid plans need rearranging!  Once everyone has got their head round the rules, the unpredictability all adds up to a lot of fun though and our first game was no exception.  Team Purple-Black (Belle) were robbed of their last gem by Grey (Cheyenne) leaving them with nothing, although they picked up the $1,000 for sharpshooter.  Magenta (Tuco) finished with $500 in purses, but failed to add to it. Blue (Ghost) did better having looted $1,850 in purses, and finished just behind Burgundy who took $1,000 for the joint sharpshooter and the same in purses.  Although Flint (Django) took the strong-box and managed to hang on to it until the end of the game, he was pipped to the post by Grey (Cheyenne) who made good use of his pick-pocket ability and ended the game with $3,100.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We all enjoyed the game though with hindsight, we’d have set the table out slightly differently, putting the train at one end and the communal card pile in the middle of the table so that everyone could see what action cards were played (although it would have helped if we hadn’t had seven people round a six-player game of course).  It is a very well presented game, however, it would have been nice if the icons on the cards had been a little more helpful, or alternatively, the bonus player mats could have acted as a player aid.  With the number of small rules, inevitably, it turned out that we’d made a mistake.  It was not a large one, but it might have impacted the lead as Grey had been using his power to pick-pocket gems as well as purses.  We tried to work out what would have happened if he’d taken purses instead and Grey claimed he would still have won, but that just means we’ll have to play it again and make sure he doesn’t “cheat” next time!

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With Grey and Magenta leaving, we decided to introduce Flint to Coloretto, an old game, but one that has stood the test of time and that we’ve played a lot recently.  A simple set collecting game, on their turn, players can either pick up a chameleon card from the face down deck and add it to a truck, or take a truck (passing for the rest of the round).  The innovative part of the game is the scoring which uses the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.), with positive points for three sets and negative for the rest.  It was a tight game which finished in a draw between Flint and Blue, however, on the recount, Flint finished with twenty three, one point clear of Purple and two ahead of Blue.

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

We finished with yet another go at The Game, which is proving strangely compelling.  As a group, it is clear that we are beginning to work out some of the tricks we can use to extend the game and get closer to winning.  For example, players are now watching out for cards that are ten apart so that they can use the backwards rule.  In this way, we have been able to play three or even four card combinations that do minimal damage to a pile or even leave it better than where it started.  Of course, this only works when you have the cards and, since you have to play two cards each turn, it’s not always possible to wait to play things optimally.  This time we didn’t match our current best of one card, however, that was achieved with two players and we felt it is probably more difficult with four.  We did better than our previous attempts with more players though, and finished with eleven unplayable cards.

The Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Learning Outcome:  Chaos can be a lot of fun.