Tag Archives: Om Nom Nom

13th Movember 2018

There was a bit of a delay for food, so after Blue had handed over an exciting box of echidnas to Pine and given Burgundy and Green a selection of Splendor, Orléans, and Zooloretto promo cards from Essen, we decided to play something quick.  As there were a lot of hungry people, we decided to start with a quick game of Om Nom Nom.  This is a fabulous little double think game based on critters eating other critters further down the food chain.  The game is set up with a large handful of dice which are rolled to give either items from the bottom of the food chains (flies, carrots and cheese) or animals from the middle of the food chains (frogs, rabbits and mice).  Players start with six cards representing animals from the middle of the food chain and the predators from the top of their food chains (hedgehogs, wolves and cats).  Players simultaneously choose a card to play and then everyone reveals them and they are placed on the appropriate space on the three central player boards. before and the animals begin to feed starting at the top of the food chain.  For example, wolves eat frogs and any surviving frogs then eat flies.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

If only one card of any type is played, the predator feeds and the player takes their card back with any cards/dice their animal has eaten placing everything in their scoring pile.  Where more than one card of the same type is played and there is enough food to go round it is shared equally and everyone eats (taking their cards back with their share of the prey).  If there is not enough food for everyone to get a share, they all starve and lose their cards going home with nothing.  This is repeated until there are no cards left.  Food at the bottom of a chain is worth two points at the end of the game and food from the middle of a chain and any cards are worth one point.  The game is played over three rounds and the winner is the player with the most points.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue won the first round with eleven, more than twice the points anyone else managed to gather.  Om Nom Nom is one of those games where a high score in one round is usually balanced by a dreadful score in the next, so everyone expected Blue to fail to score at all in the second round.  Burgundy’s twelve points in the second round looked really good, but contrary to the usual run of things, Blue somehow managed to improve her score picking up eighteen points—one less than the record for a single round in our group.  The third round was a little bit of a dead rubber, but Burgundy was keen to see Blue get her bad round and if she did, fancied his chances.  It was a much more even final round and with lots of points available, things looked good for Burgundy, but unfortunately for him, everyone else chose this round to get it together.  In the end it was all about second place, which Burgundy just managed to take ahead of Black and Mulberry as food arrived.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

While Burgundy, Blue and Mulberry ate their belated supper, everyone else carried on the food theme, playing a little Japanese game picked up by Black and Purple at Essen called くだものフレンズ or Fruit Friends.  This is a little card drafting and set collecting game where players are collecting different types of fruit using the “I divide, you choose” mechanism.  There are a surprisingly few games that use this idea, but two of the best are …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (aka Piece o’ Cake) and San Marco.  …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne is relatively unusual as it works well with players dividing the pie into more than three.  In contrast, San Marco is a three to four player game, but plays much better with three than four because the “I divide, you choose” mechanism generally works best when the pile is divided into three.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

In Fruit Friends, each player starts with a random start or “seed” card, dealt face up.  Players are then dealt seven cards which they divide into three piles of two (discarding the final card).  Beginning with the player who was dealt the apple start card, players offer the three piles to the player on their left who takes one pair; the next player then chooses from the remaining two piles leaving one pair for the active player.  Play continues in this way until everyone’s cards have been taken.  The second round is played the same way except cards are offered anti-clockwise and the player with the grapes start card goes first.  The final round is clockwise again, and the player with the kiwi start card begins.  At the end of the game, each player has eighteen fruit cards, with each type scoring differently.

1 card 2 card 3 card 4 card 5+ cards
Apples 0 points 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points (max)
Grapes 2 points 5 points 8 points 11 points 11 points (max)
Kiwis 2 points 6 points 0 points 12 points 18 points (max)
Bananas 3 points 7 points 12 points 0 points 0 points
Peaches 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points 20 points (max)

There are some catches, for example, peaches come in two colours, yellow and white, but only one of them scores.  Oranges score one point per apple card and similarly melons score one point per grape card (both up to a maximum of four points). The scoring intervals also offer some quirks, so while almost everyone scored twelve points for their bananas at the end of the game, Ivory went “Banana Bust” by over-shooting.  Otherwise it was close at the top and you could fit the first four players in a fruit-basket with only five points between them.  It was Purple, the “Kiwi Queen”, who just had the edge, “pipping” Green by a single point with Pine and Black finishing in joint third.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

By the time the game came to an end, the eaters had mostly finished, so Black started getting out the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium (also described previously as “the one with the elephant on the box”).  Burgundy and Ivory were quick to stake a claim to play it and Purple was equally quick to opt out.  Mulberry and Blue made up the five, so Green started to collect together the games he thought the rest might play, which Pine pointed out just made it look like he was playing Jenga with boardgames.  It took a while to come to a conclusion, but eventually the trio went for Echidna Shuffle.

Jenga
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is a game that we first discovered at the UK Games Expo back in June and since then, has been very popular with everyone who has played it.  This is partly because of the fabulous, over-produced pieces, especially the lovely echidnas with cute smiley faces.  The game is very simple:  Players have to get their bugs to their tree-stumps by moving echidnas around the board.  On their turn the active player rolls the die, and moves echidnas a total of that number of spaces.  The clever part is that players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine moves.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

There are two sides to the game board:  green “Summer” and snowy “Winter”.  There was some discussion as to which to play.  Pine thought the Summer side of the board rather than the Winter side was more of a challenge.  He explained that it was more confusing on the snowy side and that it is not so easy to block people.  On the other hand, the first time it was played with the Summer side, the game had become something of an epic marathon as everyone worked together to stop everyone else winning.  So this time the group started with the “advanced” Winter board and ended up with a very short game indeed.  After only about three rounds, Purple had got one of her bugs home and Green had managed two.  Then Pine surprised everyone and with a roll of seven managed to complete all three of his bugs and the game was over, almost before it had begun.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is really meant to be a children’s game, so perhaps it should not have been a huge surprise that it ended quite so quickly.  Maybe Pine had had a point though, so unusually the game got a second chance, this time with the Summer board.  This second game, did indeed last longer, but was still relatively quick and before too long everyone had just one bug remaining each. Green was first to get to this point, but Purple and Pine managed to successfully block his route while they also got their second bug home.  In the end Pine became the “Kingmaker” as everyone knew how many moves each player would get and he found himself in the position where he could either move the echidna out of purples way and into Green’s or do something else entirely. Either action (or inaction) would result in win for either Green or Purple and in the end he inevitably chose to open the door for Purple.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

It maybe that as a bunch of adult gamers, we have found the limit of this very pretty and lovable game.  On the other hand, the number of players also has quite an impact—the full compliment of six seems to have the effect of dragging out the Summer board, but the combination of a small number of players and the complexity of the Winter board appears to make the game too open.  Hopefully the company will bring out some new expansions or different board layouts that will give us more to explore, in the meantime, the game may get fewer outings in the weeks to come.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Because of the late start and the fact that Green wanted an early night, there wasn’t enough time for another medium-weight game, but it was still early enough for a short game. After some discussion, the trio agreed upon Walk the Plank!, a cute little programming game with a hefty dose of “take that”.  In programming games players choose the cards they are going to play before the round starts and then action them during the round, usually taking it in turns to reveal one card and then carry out the associated action.  One of the classic games of this type is Colt Express which won the Spiel des Jahres a few years ago, but Walk the Plank! is a quicker and simpler game.  The idea is each player has three pirate meeples on a ship and the last one remaining is the winner.  Players start each round by simultaneously choosing three cards and laying them face down in front of them.  On their turn, players turn over the top card and action it.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards allow players to do things like “shove” one of the meeples belonging to the player on their left, or to the player on their right.  When this is played a meeple that shares a space with one belonging to the active player is moved one step along the plank and thus closer to falling into the depths.  There are lots of other actions including “drag to ship”, “drag to sea” and “Charge!”, but the most exciting cards are probably the “retract the plank” cards.  At the start of the game the plank comprises three pieces, but usually at least one player removes one of these at the start of the game, heightening the stress levels. We usually play with a couple of house-rules too, firstly we play to the last meeple standing (the rules say the last two share victory) and we allow the plank to be completely removed (the rules say there is always one piece left).

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

We’ve loved the game for years and have several different editions within the group—this time we played with the “limited edition” which includes some optional extra cards.  This time two of the extra single use cards were added to each player’s deck:  “Parlay”, which gives a player a chance to turn the tables via a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, and “Dynamite”, which pushes everyone on one tile one space closer to the sea.  After a little shuffling about, Green played his “Dynamite”, but succeeded in sending two of his own men closer to the water as well as the others.  Then Purple played a “Charge!” card to try to push Green into the sea.  Green used his “Parlay” to see if he could to prevent it, but this ended up in hysterics thanks to a total inability to play the game correctly.  It started with Green playing on the count of three as agreed and Purple after the count of three (i.e. on four).  After multiple attempts including one where Purple ended up just pointing vaguely at Green everyone was in fits of giggles, but it didn’t look like the tie was anywhere nearer being resolved.

Rock-Paper-Scissors
– Image from theguardian.com

Pine suggested that perhaps they should try after the count instead.  Green duly obliged, but Purple had finally worked out how to play on the count of three and still the problem persisted.  Then Green chose stone and Purple also chose stone changing to paper at the last second, but this was spotted by Pine who ruled a “Let” and so they had to try yet again.  By this time everyone was laughing so hard that in a fit of confused giggles Purple then chose “none of the above” by using a single finger.  Pine suggested Green and Purple put their hands behind their backs, but this time it was Green’s turn to make a mess of things and he just couldn’t get the hang of it.  In the end, in an effort to stop Purple from soiling the furniture, Pine suggested they remove the counting element and play with closed eyes which was finally successful.  It was largely immaterial by this time, but Green won, so one of Purple’s pirates went charging off the plank into the sea.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Getting back to the game seemed tame by comparison. Everyone ended up back on the boat and then started moving forward again.  With the plank retracted, Green found himself with all three of his pirates on the end when Pine played his dynamite and Green was out in one go taking one of Purple’s and one of Pines own with him.  So Green became the Ghost and with two pirates versus one, it looked to be Pines game.  Two rounds later, though the Ghost shoved one of Pine’s pirates off the ship to level things up until Purple played her “Dynamite” and managed to get both dumped into the water, bringing the game to a shuddering halt, and on that note, Green headed home.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Imaginarium was still underway with no sign of finishing soon, so Pine and Purple decided to give Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra a go as Pine had missed out last time.  As in the original game, Azul, players take all the tiles of one colour from a “factory” and put the rest in the middle, or they take all the tiles of one colour from the middle. Tile placement and scoring is rather different however. All the tiles taken in a turn are placed in a single column of the player’s personal player board. This board is modular with the double-sided strips laid out at random so everyone has a different starting setup.  Tiles must be placed in the strip immediately below the Glazier meeple, or in a strip to its right.  The Glazier is then placed above the strip the tiles were placed in.  Instead of taking tiles, players can choose to reset the Glazier’s position, moving him back to the left most strip.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Players get points when strips are completed scoring the sum of the score depicted below the strip and any strips to the right that have already been completed.  There is also a colour bonus—each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game, and any tiles that match the colour for the round score extra.  Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed.  Any left over tiles that cannot be placed yield a penalty with players moving along a negative score track which has small steps at the start that get larger.  There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

This is definitely a game that takes a at least one play to understand how it works and what the best way to score points is.  For example, the way the score builds, it is imperative to complete the furthest right strips early as then they score again and again.  However, they are relatively low scoring, so this is not the only important strategy. So while Pine started off well, Purple scored more later, especially when she picked up colour bonus point as well.  Early in the game, the penalty for picking up the first player token or for having left-over tiles is small, but it quickly increases, and with Pine taking the first player token more than Purple, he finished with more negative points too.  All the little extras combined to make it a bit of a landslide in Purple’s favour, but then Purple had the advantage of having played the game several times, so next time will surely be different.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

While these games had been going on, the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium was getting an outing.  Subtitled “The Dream Factory”, this game is a worker-placement, engine builder with a Steam Punk theme where players are building machines in a factory.  Beautifully produced with remarkable artwork, players first take it in turns to choose a position on the factory conveyor-belt.  They select either the broken machine card that they are going to buy or a position to collect charcoalium.  These are then carried out in “action” order which then also becomes the selection order for the next round.  At the end of the round any unused cards move long the conveyor-belt and the early positions are populated with new, exciting cards.  As the game progresses, the broken machine cards generally become more expensive, but the machines become more useful, producing more and/or higher value resources.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

On a player’s turn, their existing “machines” first produce resources, then the player must buy the broken machine card they had chosen. The active player finally carries out two actions dictated by an unusual clock mechanism:  each player has a board with the six possible actions arranged in a circle and the hands of the clock are fixed such that players are unable to take actions that are adjacent.  As the clock hands must be moved every round, players are only able to take repeat one action in consecutive rounds.  Possible actions include hiring a character, trading resources, extracting charcoalium, repairing broken machines and reorganising or dismantling existing machines.  When a machine card is taken from the conveyor-belt, it is broken, they must be repaired before they will work and produce resources.  Once repaired, machines can be combined to make them more efficient, or dismantled to give points, the game ends when one player gets to twenty points.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

One of Ivory’s questions before playing a new game is always, “Where are the points going to come from?” In addition to dismantling machines, points are also available for completing “projects” i.e. satisfying goals drawn at random at the start of the game, or by trading charcoalium.  There are also two points available for players who have the most of one of the four resources at the end of the game.  As the game was late starting, the group decided to end the game at fifteen points instead of twenty, though to begin with it didn’t look much like anyone was going to get to fifteen points before midnight.  Black assured everyone that people would pick up speed as the game progressed and eventually, Ivory got going completing the first of the projects and then Black and Blue followed.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is mostly multi-player solitaire, except when it’s not.  There are some machine cards that take resources from the other players.  In a game where resources are very tight and players are very reliant on resources for their plans this can be crucial.  The game also has a distinctly mean streak, as a player that is unable to pay for the card they have chosen, doesn’t get the card, but also loses all their resources, completely upsetting their plans and forcing them to start again from scratch, potentially losing them the game.  This is exactly what happened to Blue—Ivory went earlier in the turn order and bought and then repaired a machine that took all her charcoalium which meant she lost the card she was going to buy and all her resources.  She vowed to get her revenge, but the opportunities for that are few and far between.  As she waited for her chance, she gathered charcoalium to ensure she would be able to buy the right card when it came up.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Sadly for her, interaction in the game is minimal so there she never really got her chance.  Amassing large amounts of charcoalium wasn’t totally without use though as it enabled her to fulfill one of the projects and as they were playing to a smaller total, she started trading them in for points in an effort to avoid coming last.  Meanwhile, Ivory kept amassing points and Mullberry kept doing “the weird goat-head thing” which ensured she always had plenty of charcoalium and was starting to build a productive engine.  Black and Burgundy had also just got their engines going and were planning to score heavily when Ivory announced that he’d passed the fifteen point mark.  With Blue still to take her turn, she maximised her points and everyone added up their scores.  Sadly, for Black, Burgundy and Mullberry this wasn’t a long process as shortening the game had had the unforeseen consequence that the game ended just before their plans had come to fruition.  Much to her surprise, Blue had done rather better as she had stuck to short-term targets that lent themselves to the short game.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

There was only one winner though and Blue’s fourteen points flattered her position as the scores did not tell the true story of the game.  It’s definitely a game to try again sometime, though perhaps with fewer people which would give players a bit more control over their own destiny.  The artwork is somehow both amazing and very disturbing at the same, and it certainly had an unforeseen effect on Blue.  She is not normally one to remember dreams or one to design games, but when she awoke the next morning she had a fleeting recollection of dreaming about playing a card only version of Om Nom Nom that she had designed called “Yum Yum Tum”.  We will have to see if that ever comes to fruition.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  When gamers are hungry they play games about eating.

4th September 2018

Blue, Red, Burgundy and newcomer, Mulberry, were finishing their food when Pink arrived after a long drive from the north-east.  While he was waiting for his food he opened a very special present Red had brought back from Spain for him.  Pink and Blue have quite a few games and for various reasons there are one or two that they have multiple copies of.  However, there is one game that they have many, many copies of.  Ironically it is a game Pink doesn’t even like playing very much, and yet, it has become a bit of “a thing” that every time Pink goes to Essen he comes back with yet another copy (ideally in a different language, but often just another German copy).  Red has strong opinions about this particular game though, and believes that by far the best language to play it in is Spanish, so kindly brought Pink a copy back from Spain to add to his burgeoning collection.  As he began to unwrap it, Pink took a few moments to realise what it was, but was really touched by this very special gift of Bohnanza.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

There wasn’t time to play it before food arrived, then everyone else was turning up and the “who’s going to play what” debate began.  The “Feature Game”, Keyflower with the Farmers expansion had been Pink’s request and Keyflower is one of Blue’s favourite games, so they were a bit of a foregone conclusion.  They were quickly joined by Burgundy who is also very fond of the game, and Ivory who was keen to see if the expansion changed the balance and the strategies available.  Since that was likely to be the long game, they got on with it while everyone else sorted themselves out.  Keyflower itself is not a complicated game mechanistically, though it has an awful lot of depth.  Over four seasons, players are simply taking it in turns to bid for tiles to add to their village or use tiles available in the villages or the central display.  The clever part is that bidding and using tiles are both done with meeples as currency and players must “follow suite”, that is to say, use the same colour if the tile has already been activated.

Keyflower: The Farmers
– Image by boardGOATS

In Keyflower, the depth is generated by the actions available on from the tiles and their interaction, added to the fact that except when playing with a full compliment of six, only a subset are used, and these are drawn at random.  This means that one of the most important aspects of game play is to keep as many options open as possible since everything is likely to change in the final round.  This is not only because some tiles don’t appear, but also the fact that there is always someone who will make it their business obstruct even the best laid plans.  Thus it is vital to have at least two ways ways out.  Adding The Farmers expansion exacerbates this as it introduces lots more tiles so each one is less likely to be revealed.  This is a potential problem when trying to “play with the expansion” as it is perfectly possible that none of the Farmer tiles are introduced into the game.  To prevent this, some tiles were drawn explicitly from the Farmers set.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

The Farmers expansion doesn’t change game play much, it just adds depth by the addition of farm animals as another means to score points.  The idea is that animals are kept in the fields that are formed by the roads in a village.  Each field that is occupied scores points depending on the type of animal or animals in it.  Thus each field with sheep in it scores one point, each field with pigs scores two and each with with cows scores three points.  These scores are increased for villages with special tiles, like the Weaver, which increases the sheep score to three per field.  Animals in a field another of the same type breed at the end of each season and can be moved in a similar way to resources.  The expansion also introduces Corn to the game, which allows players to enhance their movement actions.  Otherwise, the game with the expansion plays in much the same way as the basic Keyflower game, takes a similar amount of time and requires a similar blend of tactical decision making and strategic planning.

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

Meanwhile, everyone else had divided themselves into two groups of three and had begun to play.  Pine joined Red and Mulberry in a game of Finca.  Pine had played it before, but a long time ago so Blue took time out from setting up Keyflower to explain how to it worked.  It’s a very simple game of set collection with beautiful wooden fruit that’s now nearly ten years old.  At its heart is an interesting rondel mechanism.  On their turn, players choose one of three possible actions:  move around the rondel and collect fruit; use a donkey cart to deliver fruit; or carry out an action with one of the special, single use tokens that each player starts the game with.  There are some lovely features about the game.  For example, players move as many spaces round the rondel as there are workers on the space they started on and the number of fruit they get depends on the number of workers on the space they finish on.  As players have four workers each, there are lots of factors to consider when choosing which worker to move.

Finca
– Image by BGG contributor kneumann

Investing wisely is the key to the game, and Pine went for variety while Mulberry specialised more, particularly in figs and oranges.  It was the figs and oranges that won the day with Mulberry finishing with fifty-one points, just four ahead of Red who’d had lots of fruity fun with Finca.  With that finished, Red spotted Yardmaster in a bag, one of her favourite games, and decided to introduce Mulberry to it.  It is quite a simple game and was described by Mulberry as “UNO with trains”.  Players are building a locomotive by drawing cargo cards and using them to buy railcar cards from the four face up cards in the middle.  The game was very close, but it was Red’s experience that was key, giving her a two-point winning margin over Mulberry in second place.  With that done, they moved onto another old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor moonblogger

6 Nimmt! gets played a lot, but it’s unusual that we play it with so few players.  The idea is that everyone chooses a card and then players add them to one of the rows, in ascending order adding them to the row ending in the highest card that is below the card they are playing.  The catch is that when a sixth card is added to a row, that player picks up the first five cards.  The game really is at its best with more players where the simultaneous card selection adds mayhem.  They just played the one round; perhaps Mulberry misunderstood and thought the idea was to collect “nimmts”, but either way, she top scored with twenty-one – quite an achievement with only three players and only one round!  Red did rather better and finished the winner with just two “nimmts”.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

On the neighbouring table, Green had joined Black and Purple and they started out with this year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul.  This is a really an abstract game with only a loose theme of tiling a palace, but unusually, nobody seems to mind and we’ve played the game a lot with multiple copies in the group.  The game is really just a set collection game, similar to Finca and Yardmaster, but with an added spacial factor as tiles have to be placed to score points.  Tiles are chosen from “factories” with those that aren’t taken going into a central pool.  Since players can only take one colour at a time and must always take all the tiles of that colour in that location, they can easily end up with not quite enough, or even too many scoring negative points. Although it is not really an aggressive game, it is remarkable how much damage players can do to each other.  Landing too many tiles is bad, but it is arguably worse to get “not quite enough” as it inhibits options in the next round too and therefore can affect the whole game.  As we’ve played it a lot, we all have a good understanding of how to play, so unless someone gets things very wrong, games are often close, making them quite tense affairs.  This was no exception, with Purple just taking the honours with sixty-three points.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

To alleviate the stress of Azul, the trio moved on to play Om Nom Nom, a light “dice-chucker”  This needs a similar sort of double think to 6 Nimmt!.  The idea is that the board is seeded with dice populating the lower levels of three separate food chains.  Then players simultaneously select an animal card to play, populating the higher levels of the food chains.  The idea is that cards played at the top of a food chain will eat those immediately beneath it.  So if there is a juicy bunch of carrots rolled, is it best to play the rabbit and risk getting eaten by a fox, or is it better to play a fox and gamble on everyone else being tempted to play rabbit cards?  Often the wisest move is not to get involved, but if everyone adopts that approach, the carrots get left and everyone is now playing in the more confined space of two food chains.  Sometimes the game is very tight, but this was not one of those times.  Black took five cheeses in one round and finished some twenty points ahead of everyone else.

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

The other games were still going and nobody fancied anything particularly taxing, so after a brief hiatus, Splendor got the nod.  Yet another set collecting game, it is also very simple and surprisingly popular in our group.  There is a remarkable amount of thought necessary for the apparently simple choose three different tokens or buy a card.  Many people seem to think it is a trivial game, but for us, it has the right balance of strategy and tactical thinking to make it the perfect game when people are tired but still want something that provides a little bit of interest.  We’ve played it a lot, and almost inevitably, Burgundy wins.  One of the factors in choosing the game was the guarantee that he wouldn’t win this time as he was engaged elsewhere.  In the event, it was another close game, with Green and Black very close to finishing, but Purple just getting to fifteen points first and ending the game before they could catch her – her second win of the night.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

We were about an hour into our respective games and Blue was concentrating deeply on her next turn in Keyflower, when her village was suddenly and unexpectedly improved by the addition of a very fine chocolate cake complete with candles.  Much to her embarrassment, it was also accompanied by singing.  There was a brief interlude while Blue blew out her candles and cut up the cake, admired her quite a-llama-ing card, everyone consumed the really rather delicious cake (Waitrose finest no less), and Burgundy made sure there wasn’t even a pattern left on his plate.  And with all that done, the games continued.

Cake!
– Image by boardGOATS

Keyflower continued after cake and the strategies were beginning to become clear.  Ivory, Blue and Pink were going for animals, while Burgundy’s plans had been undermined by both Blue and Ivory and was trying to make something from his very, very small village.  With the arrival of Winter, players had to put in their choice of the tiles they’d been given at the start.  Much to Ivory’s disgust, someone had put in the Dairy which increases the score for fields with cows in them.  Since neither the Cow Shed tile nor the Ranch tile had been drawn in Autumn, nobody had any cows so the Dairy was a waste of a Winter tile.  This meant there was even more competition for the other tiles, and there weren’t many of those as players can put only one tile into the mix.  Burgundy got his Key Market which nobody else had any real interest in, Blue took the Hillside, but lost out on the lucrative Truffle Orchard to Pink.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory took the Mercer’s Guild and the Scribes after a brief tussle with Blue.  It was quite tight with everyone getting points from different places and it was clear the tiles everyone picked up in the final round made all the difference.  Ivory, Blue and Burgundy had spread their points about, while Pink put all his eggs (or rather pigs) in one basket, but it paid off, giving him a massive forty points and seventy-three points overall, four more than Blue in second place.  Everyone had enjoyed playing with the expansion, particularly Ivory who felt it had added more depth.  Although Ivory had to go, there was just time for a quick game of 6 Nimmt!, so Pine took his place and the foursome played a couple of hands.  In the first round Burgundy and Pine competed for the highest score with twenty-five and twenty-seven points respectively.  In the second round, Pine picked up what might be a record score of forty-five.  At the other extreme, Blue managed to keep her score down to eleven, and added to the three in the first round that gave her a clear victory—just in time for her birthday at the end of the week.

An Empty Plate!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes a pig strategy brings home the bacon!

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.

– 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.

16th June 2015

Burgundy and Blue were just finishing their supper when they were joined by Cerise, Grey and Red and decided to play a short game until everyone else had arrived.  They chose Sushi Go! which is a card drafting game similar to 7 Wonders, though without the complexity, so, all the players start with a hand of cards, simultaneously play one and pass the rest of the cards to the player on their left.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Since every player is doing the same thing, each player also receives a hand of cards from the player on their right, but each time the cards are passed the hand gets smaller.  In this game players are collecting sets of cards with rewards varying depending on the card and the target.  This time, we played with the Soy Sauce mini expansion which consists of four cards that reward players for getting more different colours encouraging more speculative play.  The game is played over three rounds, with the middle one going in the opposite direction and the winner is the player with the most points.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kladan

Grey went for the unusual combination of dessert with soy sauce, but Blue topped the round by the judicious application of wasabi to a valuable squid nigiri.  Burgundy won the second hand and Red close behind with a large pile of maki rolls, so, it was all to play for in the final round.  It was a low scoring finale, with Grey the only really successful player, pulling off his best round when it counted.  Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough:  although Blue’s scores had been steadily diminishing round on round, she just managed to hang on to win, just one point ahead of Grey.  With Black and Purple having arrived, the group split into two, one playing the Feature Game and the other playing another new game, Om Nom Nom.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Om Nom Nom was a UK Games Expo special that Purple had been looking for since Essen last year.  The game is quite quick and fairly simple with a lot of “double think”.  The game simulates the hunter and prey relationship.  There are three game boards each depicting a food chain:  cat, mouse & cheese; wolf, rabbit & carrot; hedgehog, frog & fly.  Each player has six cards representing the top two rungs of each ladder; at the start of a round a handful of dice are rolled that represent the lowest two rungs and are then placed on the appropriate section of the board.

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

Game play is very simple:  simultaneously, all players choose a card to play a predator.  If their is enough prey to feed each hunter, then the player gets their card back with the prey and they score one point for each.  If there is insufficient food available, the animal starves and they lose their card.  Once the first card has been resolved they must play one of the remaining five cards.  So, the clever bit is the middle rung of the food chain where there are both cards and dice, so a card played in the middle will get eaten by any played above.  There are three rounds with everyone playing all six cards in each round, so trying to out-think everyone else is the name of the game.  Purple had played Om Nom Nom before and used her extra experience to win the first round by a sizable margin.  Grey made up for it in the second round as everyone began to get the hang of it, and Red took the final round, making it a close game.  Her consistency made the difference though and Purple finished just two points ahead of Grey.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor Jean_Leviathan

Next the group had a rummage through the bag and opted for another Essen/UK Games Expo acquisition, Steam Donkey; with such a cool name, we wanted to see if the game play matched.  The game is set in 1897, a time when rival seaside resorts are competing to attract a visit from the Queen.  So, players are trying to build a four by three grid of cards representing their seaside resort.  The three rows represent the different parts of the resort:  beach (yellow), town (pink) and park (green).  Similarly, the four columns correspond to the different types of building: amusements, lodgings, monuments and transport.  In order to place a feature, it must go in the correct location and must be paid for using cards of the same type, as such it has similarities with games like Race for the Galaxy and San Juan.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

As players build their resort, visitors arrive at the station and come to see the attractions.   Each attraction can take a certain number of visitors, which are actually a row of face down cards that are used to replenish the cards in players’ hands.  Thus, on their turn players first choose a colour and build as many attractions in that colour as they can/want paying with other cards from their hand.  Next they choose a colour and start taking cards in that colour from the “station”, a row of face down cards.  The colour of the visitor side of cards does not reflect the colour of the attraction on the other side, however, the type of attraction is indicated. Once there are no more visitors of the chosen colour, or there are no more spaces for the visitors to go, the active player adds the visitor cards to their hand and the station platform is refilled with four new visitors.  There is a hand limit of twelve and this can actually be quite a serious impediment for players collecting cards to build the more valuable attractions.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of the game, points are scored for each unique attraction built as well as for fulfilling individual goals and bonuses depicted on players’ resort posters.  Since this was the first time anyone in the group had played it and there are a couple of unclear points in the rule-book it might not have been played quite correctly, however, everyone seemed to enjoy it what was a very tight game and finished with Purple one point ahead of Red who was just one point ahead of Grey.  Since Purple declared, “It’s a good ‘un!” it almost certainly won’t be long before it gets another outing.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, the other group were playing the Feature Game, Evolution, yet another game about food and eating!  This is another Essen Special, and is a reimplementation of an earlier game, Evolution: The Origin of Species: the idea is that the game(s) simulate evolution and the “survival of the fittest” concept.  Players start with a herbivore with no special characteristics, and a hand of cards.  Like many games, the cards serve multiple purposes, in this case, they carry a “food supply” number, details of a trait and can also act as a sort of currency,  At the start of the round, players simultaneously choose a card to place face down in the watering-hole, which will dictate how much food will be available later in the round.

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

Once this is done, players can begin to modify their species.  This can be done in turn, but as it is slow and quite boring if you are relatively unfamiliar with the game, we played this part of the game simultaneously.  There are three things players can do:  they can add a trait to their species; spend a card to increase the body size or population of a species, or spend a card to start a new species.  Cards are a valuable resource and players only get three cards at the start of each round, plus an extra one for each species they have.  This means that traits must be played with care, but also that there is a strong argument for adding new species as early as possible.  However, if there is insufficient food available, animals will starve and if they starve their population will fall, potentially to extinction.

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

There are a wide range of traits that can be added to a species.  For example if a species is “Fertile”, its population will automatically increase every round saving cards.  Alternatively, if an animal has a “Long Neck” it will feed twice before everything else, allowing it to jump the queue.  It is also possible, however, to make a species a carnivore, which means that instead of feeding from the communal watering-hole, they will only eat meat, feeding off other, smaller species round the table.  Since there are carnivores, there are also traits that can be used to help protect species from being eaten, like the ability to climb, burrow or camouflage.

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

Traits are most powerful in combination, however. For example, a species which has the ability to cooperate will feed every time the animal to its right feeds.  This means it will jump the queue if that species has a long neck.  Similarly, an animal that can climb and camouflage can only be attacked by a climbing carnivore with good eye-sight.  Since each species has a maximum of three traits, this carnivore would go hungry if the only animals smaller than itself give warning calls as it has no ability to ambush them.  Trait cards are all played face down and revealed in turn order once everyone has finished playing cards and modifying their animals, so players have to try to work out what others might be doing and plan accordingly.

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

Once everyone has finished playing cards and the traits have been revealed, the amount of food available is revealed and the food numbers on the cards played at the start of the round added up.  Players then each feed one of their hungry species in strict rotation (varied only where traits allow), starting with the start player.  Each player can choose whether to feed one of their herbivores from the watering-hole or use a carnivore to attack another species.  Tactics are important here because each species will need sufficient food for its population.  Once nothing else can feed, any hungry animals will suffer population loss and anything that was completely unfed loses all it population and will become extinct.  On the rare occasion that there is any food left in the watering-hole, it remains there until the next round.  The round ends with each player putting all the food into their food bag which makes the bulk of the points at the end of the game, with extras for each surviving member of the population and any trait they may have.

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

Unusually there was plenty of food in the first few rounds and everyone quickly built up a pack of animals to try to ensure they got plenty of cards at the start of later rounds.  Unfortunately, food shortages soon set in and one of Black’s animals went carnivorous.  Burgundy suffered badly from the early loss of his alpha species and never really recovered.  Cerise started off well, but was the first to lose a species to Black’s hungry hunter.  Blue was the only player who had tried the game before and was able to use a combination of climbing, cooperation and a long neck to keep her animals fed, but still fell prey to Black and his savage carnivore.  One by one, the animals developed traits to try to out-smart Black, as he added features in a race to avoid starvation.  It was quite tight in the final count, but Blue finished five points clear of Black in second place.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Since the other group were still building their seaside resorts, so the group decided to try Om Nom Nom, and see what all the noise on the other table had been about.  By the end of the first round, it was obvious and there were howls of laughter as everyone tried to second-guess everyone else and everyone’s best laid plans crumbled into dust.  Blue and Burgundy managed to systematically stamp on each-others toes leaving Black and Cerise to fight it out for first place.  Her superb first round turned out to be the deciding factor though and Cerise finished four points ahead of Black.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

With time creeping on and Cerise and Grey leaving, we looked for a quick game to finish and decided to try another new game, called Skull which is based on an older bluffing game called Skull & Roses.  The idea is that each player has four cards:  three featuring flowers and one with a skull.  Players take it in turns to play a card and declare what the card is.  Alternatively, instead of playing a card, they can start bidding by declaring how many roses they can find around the table.  Once every player has passed the winning challenger must attempt to locate the required number of roses, starting by turning over all the tiles in their own pile.  If they find a skull before they complete their challenge, the lose a card; the winner is the first player to successfully complete two challenges.

Skull
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor nad24

Blue started off showing everyone else how to lose a challenge, by unsuccessfully bluffing to lure others into over bidding.  Black lost two challenges in quick succession, but Burgundy made an end of it by winning two out of two.  Since Skull had finished so quickly, we all felt there was still time for that last game and with barely a mention of 6 Nimmt!, Purple was getting the cards out to play what is rapidly becoming one of our most popular games.  It’s not obvious why we like it, but part of it is probably the fact that nobody really understands it.  This time it was a three way competition for the most points as everyone dived to the bottom, leaving Blue to finish with just eleven, some thirty points better than the person in second place.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Food is important, both in life and in games, but especially on Alternate Tuesdays