Tag Archives: Periodic: A Game of the Elements

17th September 2019

Blue and Pink arrived nice and early and so after ordering food, started a quick game of Ganz Schön Clever (a.k.a. That’s Pretty Clever).  This is one of the first of the “Roll and Write” games from the last couple of years and, as it received a Kennerspiel des Jahres nomination last year, arguably one of the best.  This type of game has been around for many years, with Yahtzee being one of the first, but the current trend was started by games like Qwixx.  Qwixx came out seven years ago, but has since been followed last year by games like Roll to the Top!, Railroad Inc., Welcome to… and the Roll Through the Ages and Penny Papers Adventures series of games.

Ganz Schön Clever
– Image by boardGOATS

These games all have different themes and different mechanisms, but the basic principle is the the same with players rolling dice (sometimes bespoke dice) and marking the results on a piece of paper, usually from a bespoke pad, or more recently a laminated card.  Ganz Schön Clever is an abstract game using six coloured dice which are used to fill in boxes in five coloured areas of the individual player “boards” (the white die is wild).  The active player, rolls all six and chooses one to keep and use, discarding all dice with lower pip values.  They then roll any remaining dice, again keeping and using one and discarding the rest before rolling the rest one last time keeping and using one final die.  The other players can then use one of the discards, before play passes to the left.

Ganz Schön Clever
– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part is the way the dice are used, and the fact that filling in some of the boxes gives a bonus action, enabling players to fill in other boxes or gain the opportunity to re-roll their dice or even use an extra die.  With just two, the game is played over six rounds, giving them just eighteen dice on their own turn with another six from their opponent’s turn and as many bonuses as they can get.  The player who wins is therefore the player who makes the best use of the dice they roll and usually, the player who manages to build the most combinations to take advantage of the bonuses available.  This time round, Blue was failed to get a good start and Pink took her to the cleaners, finishing with a hundred and ninety-two, a winning margin of twenty-six.

Ganz Schön Clever
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Pink had only just started, when the others started rolling in, but unusually, there was no sign of Burgundy.  By the time food had arrived, we were into double figures, but still no  sign of Burgundy.  People were starting to get worried until Blue borrowed a phone and checked her email to discover he wasn’t feeling well.  There were still enough players for three games, and eventually, everyone else took themselves off leaving Blue, Pink and Green to play the “Feature Game”, West of Africa.  This is a game set in the Canary Islands (which really are west of Africa, unlike Krakatoa which is famously not East of Java), and has a slightly nasty edge to it, making it almost like a “Vanuatu Light”.

West of Africa
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is quite simple with some very nice little elements. The basic flow of the game involves planting crops, selling crops, becoming Alcalde (or mayor) of islands and then building settlements.  Each player has their own deck of cards which they use to carry-out their actions, with each card having a value.  Players simultaneously choose up to five of their cards (the first four are free, the fifth comes at a cost), then each hand is evaluated and the lowest value hand is played first.  This means there is a nice tension between choosing a low value hand and going first, or choosing higher value cards, giving other players the chance to carry out actions first, potentially meaning that those actions are no-longer available.

West of Africa
– Image by boardGOATS

There are two types of cards: islands and actions.  Moving workers or boats are simple actions where players just move workers a given number of steps along the shipping lanes, however, some of the action cards need a location to be played.  For example, planting crops needs to be played with an island card which indicates where the crop tokens are to be played.  Similarly, selling crops and settling both need to be played with island cards, but the clever part is that island cards can be used for multiple actions and actions can be carried out at multiple islands an unlimited number of times.  The round ends once all players have completed their actions, then any planted crops are automatically moved into the warehouses where they can be moved and/or sold in later rounds.

West of Africa
– Image by boardGOATS

The islands are split into east, west and central with islands in the different regions having different characteristics.  So the western Canaries only have spaces for production, while the eastern islands only have spaces for settlements.  Selling goods is more lucrative in the east than in the west, however, each lot selling for twelve gold, instead of six.  So shipping goods eastwards can be lucrative, but that requires playing a card and only four (or five) can be played each round.  Selling only provides gold, however, and players need points to win.  The two players with the most gold at the end of the round get a point each, but this is not the main source of points.

West of Africa
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of the round, the occupation of each island is evaluated and the Alcalde or mayor of each is assigned, with players getting a point for each island they control.  This is not the main source of points either though, that is settling with each settlement giving three points.  Settling is expensive though and gets more so as the cheaper plots get built on.  Another of the clever little features of the game is that the number of settlements available in each round is limited which adds more pressure to the turn order.  As this is so critical, ties have to be resolved, and are always in favour of the player with the most gold which increasing the importance of money, adding balance to the game.

West of Africa
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink had the lowest scoring starting hand so went first.  This can be a substantial advantage as he knew he would be able to do what he wanted.  Green went next and managed to interfere with Blue’s plans, though she had been aware of the risk and had managed to build in some extra options to help mitigate the effects a little.  Pink took control of La Hierro and La Palma, and Green took La Gomera leaving Gran Canaria to Blue who also picked up Fuerteventura, with an eye to later in the game.  Green got the best of the early rounds though setting up a small, but important lead, though more significantly, arguably better positioning.  The game is not a long one, and there isn’t really time to build an engine, so it wasn’t long before Green, in particular, was threatening to trigger the end of the game by getting twenty-five points.

West of Africa
– Image by boardGOATS

It was then that Blue made her monumental mistake: when choosing which of two island cards to play she ended up playing both and not the sale action card to go with them.  This, coupled with Green’s action which he took first, meant she was unable to do anything at all in the penultimate round.  Green followed this by messing up his final round, also failing to play a sale action card which meant he didn’t have enough gold to build the number of houses he wanted to.  He was still able to build one final settlement though, giving him a clear win with forty points.  It was much closer for second with Pink’s thirty-two points just pipping Blue by a single point.  It had been an enjoyable game, but despite the excellent balance and some really nice touches, none of the three players could put their collective finger on what was lacking and what the game needed to take it from “OK, but eminently forgettable” to “great”.

West of Africa
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighboring table, despite their reluctance to play it with two chemists, Pine and Lime had joined Red and Mulberry to play Periodic: A Game of the Elements.  This is a recent KickStarter delivery, and seemed entirely appropriate for the International Year of the Periodic Table.  On their turn, the active player either pays energy to activate trends (such as “Decrease Atomic Mass” or “Increase Atomic Radii”) to move their flask around the periodic table board in the direction allowed by the trend.  If they finish a trend movement on an element that appears on the top, visible card of one of the four goal card decks, they can “discover” that element.  Flasks can be moved up to five spaces, but activating the trend multiple times means the player’s flask can be moved further enabling them to “discover” multiple elements.

Periodic: A Game of the Elements
– Image by boardGOATS

The first activation costs one energy point and all additional trends costing two energy points with tokens spent in this way placed on a space associated with the trend used.  Instead of paying to move, the active player can take all the energy accrued on that trend and move their flask according to a trend, but just once.  Thus, the conservation of energy forces players to spend carefully and play efficiently.  When someone discovers all the elements for one goal they take the associated card with a bonus action tile, and all the other players who discovered some of the elements on the card, get consolation points.  Players can also discovering particular types of elements, as shown in by cards laid out around the edge of the board.

Periodic: A Game of the Elements
– Image by boardGOATS

Moving along a step along this “track” gives players academic achievement which is worth an ever increasing amount of points.  The third and final source of points are from the agenda cards which give players personal objectives and are dealt out at the start of the game.  The game ends when someone completes the research track or when a stack of goal cards is depleted and the player with the most points at the end wins.  Unfortunately, due to a “rules malfunction”, the group were halfway through the third stack of goal cards when they realised the game should have ended so decided to carry on till all four piles were depleted in what they referred to as “Periodic: The Director’s Cut”.

Periodic: A Game of the Elements
– Image by boardGOATS

All in all, Pine and Lime needn’t have worried that Mulberry’s and Red’s chemistry backgrounds would give them a significant advantage.  Although there were a lot of nice chemistry references that the scientists appreciated it was not necessary to understand these to play the game effectively.  The strategies employed varied:   Red and Mulberry concentrated on progressing on along the academic track, while Lime on his agenda cards and Pine focused on goal cards.  In the end, it didn’t make a lot of difference and there was a three-way tie for second place with Red, “The Evil Chemist” finishing seven points ahead of the others, with a final total of seventy-one.  Everyone had enjoyed the game though and would be happy to give it another go though they all agreed they would do things differently next time.

Periodic: A Game of the Elements
– Image by boardGOATS

On the other side of the room, Ivory was introducing Black and Purple to this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Wingspan.  Wingspan was our “Feature Game”, a few weeks ago and was always going to have another outing – in fact, this time we had a choice of two copies!  Wingspan is a robust, card-based engine builder, with beautiful production and gorgeous artwork.  The idea is that players are collecting birds for their reserves.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions/habitats, and then starting with the card furthest to the right in that habitat, activate each card in turn.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The primary action associated with the habitats are spending food to play cards; getting food; laying eggs, and more drawing bird cards.  Players start with eight possible actions per turn, which gradually reduces to five over the course of the four rounds of the game.  All the bird cards in the game give bonuses that fit with their real-life behaviour.  For example, the food needed to play cards closely resemble their diet.  The designer and producer have paid attention to other details too.  For example, the number of eggs each bird has in their nest is not accurate, but are proportionately correct and bonus actions are associated with birds that flock and birds of prey.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

This time the game was very tight, though different strategies were employed.  Purple tried to maximise her food income, starting with an Eastern Phoebe which provided invertebrates , and later adding a Baltimore Oriole, a Red-Breasted Nuthatch, a Mountain Chickadee and an Indigo Bunting ensuring a lucrative food source giving her a wide variety too.  Then she added a White-Faced Ibis and a Ferruginous Hawk both birds of prey that are triggered by other players actions and give points at the end of the game for each food they bring in.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

It’s arguable that the cards could have been shuffled better, and as a result birds that ate small mammals or fish and aquatics didn’t come out till later so she wasn’t able to take as much advantage of some of her food supplies as she might.  In contrast, Black and Ivory went for a more egg-based strategy, with Ivory playing a Cassin’s Sparrow and a Brown-Headed Cowbird both of which laid eggs, the sparrow when activated and the Cowbird on other players’ turns.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Black played a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, which also activated on on other players’ turns and coupled it with a House Finch which enabled him to store a lot of eggs.  The end result was really close, with only four points between first and third.  Everyone had a similar number of “tucked” birds, bonus points and end of round points.  Purple took more from her birds and finished with ten food on her cards from her predators.  Although Black and Ivory had no stored food they had twice as many eggs as Purple and, on aggregate, Ivory pipped Purple, by just two points.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

With time marching on, some of the group decided to head off for an early night leaving Blue, Black, Purple, Pink and Pine to play “something short”.  Pink determinedly eschewed the option of Bohnanza, and suggested “Sahne” instead, which was quickly accepted by the other four.  This cute little game, correctly known as …aber bitte mit Sahne (a.k.a. Piece o’ Cake), is the archetypal “I divide, you choose” game.  Played over five rounds, players take it in turns to be the “Master Baker”.  They divide the eleven slices of the pie into pieces and each player takes it in turns to take a piece (leaving the Master Baker with whatever’s left).

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

As players take their share, they can choose to keep slices or eat slices:  eating a slice guarantees points (equal to the number of blobs of cream on top), while saving it gives the opportunity for more points if the player has the most of that type stored at the end of the game.  Each slice has a number on it which is the number of points the player with the most uneaten slices of that type gets, but also how many are available (though a couple are always removed to add a little non-determinism).  Thus, the most valuable cakes are also those with the most slices available but also those with the most cream.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple started out collecting slices of strawberry tart, while Pine opted for what he insisted was gooseberry flan, but looked like it was made out of peas.  He also went for the pizza (or possibly apricot?) and got into a tussle with Blue for that and cockroach (which Pine insisted on calling pecan, though in truth it could have been date too).  Things kicked off when Pine offered Pink (sat to his left) a particularly favourable selection and when Blue pointed this out, was persuaded by Pink to be “nice”.  However on Pink’s turn, when he had the option to be nice to Blue, he wasn’t.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Clever mechanisms, a great game do not necessarily make.