Tag Archives: Pick Picknic

19th February 2019

Blue, Black, Purple, Burgundy and Mulberry were just trying to squeeze in a quick game of No Thanks! before eating, when Green arrived with his parents.  They were quickly followed by the first round of food, so it wasn’t until they had finished that the carefully counted piles of chips finally got put to use.  The game is very simple:  players take it in turns to either take the card on the table or pay a chip to pass the problem on to the next player.  If they don’t have any chips left they must take the card when it is their turn (and any chips that are on it).  The game ends when the deck has been depleted and everyone scores the sum of the face value of the cards minus any remaining chips—the player with the lowest score is the winner.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Last time we played this, Pine dropped a chip, but a thanks to the kind generosity of the people at  Amigo Spiele, it had not only been very swiftly replaced, but they had kindly sent spares in case the something similar happened again.  And they were almost required straight away, when Black managed to send a couple of chips flying.  Having learnt our lessen from last time, we immediately took a quick intermission to play “Hunt the Game Piece”, finding one quickly, while the other perched precariously over the same large gap that the had been so disastrous last time.  The rogue chip was rescued without further calamity, but for the avoidance of other mishaps, we might have to put tissue paper down the hole for next time…

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game of No Thanks! was a bit incidental around all that excitement.  Burgundy took the first card in an effort to get ahead, but it wasn’t the best card to build from.  Purple and Blue were forced into trying to build runs from the ends, which is always risky, but can yield huge rewards.  This wasn’t going to be one of those times though and Purple’s problems were compounded by the fact that she only discovered the twenty-three in the middle of her long run was missing when it came to scoring.  Mulberry was very tempted by some if scoring cards, but despite the fact she was pushed to her last chip, she managed to avoid getting herself into a mess.  Black played a very canny game building a small medium value run, not tempted to take a chance on gaps.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone finished eating, it was time to decide what to play.  Black had suggested that Dixit might be suitable for Green’s parents.  However, Green was keen to play the “Feature Game”, Celestia (a remake of the older game, Cloud 9), and as Black was the only one who knew the rules, that meant he was up for that too.  Burgundy was less keen, so in the end, as Celestia is better with more players, and to avoid too much shuffling of seats, Blue, Mulberry and Burgundy left everyone else to board the airship.  In this game there is no board, instead there are nine city tiles making a path.  Players then take on the roles of adventurers exploring the cities of Celestia by airship.  At the beginning of each journey a new captain is identified and they begin by rolling the dice to discover the challenges they will face.  Before the Captain faces these challenges, however, however, each player must decide whether to stay on board, or leave the airship.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

At each city there is a pile of treasure cards (mostly just victory points) which get better as the journey progresses.  When a player leaves the ship, they take a treasure card at that city, forfeiting the potential riches to come.  Once everyone has made their decision, the Captain has to deal with the challenges by playing equipment cards.  If the Captain is successful, the airship moves on to the next city where a new captain is identified who rolls the dice and so on.  If the Captain is unable to deal with the challenges they face, the airship crashes, returning to the first city and none of the passengers on board get any treasure.  Those passengers who left the ship then get back on board for the start of the new journey.  When one  player has a total of fifty points the game ends.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the group added the A Little Help expansion which adds cards that players can use to help out the Captain.  There are a few extra cards like The Bandit and The Mooring Line as well, which players who are not on the ship can use to make life harder for those trying to get to the next city.  The group also added the lifeboat from the A Little Initiative expansion, which enables players to continue on their journey alone.  One of the key parts of Celestia is hand management as cards are scarce.  Players start with a hand of cards, six cards in a four or more player game and only get to draw a card when the journey ends, either due to a crash or arriving at the ninth city.  With the inclusion of the expansion cards, there seemed to be quite a bit to remember when learning the rules, but as ever, once underway the game flowed and the rules became clearer. Even so there was still a lot of double checking of which cards could be used when. Black and Purple had both played the game before and knew how quickly things could get difficult.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

So Black and Purple cashed in their travel tickets early in the first round and hopped off the airship quite early on, leaving everyone else wondering if they were missing something as they sailed onwards. In contrast, Green and his parents (who had not played before) stayed on board and as a result took a lot of points.  This all seemed a little too easy and on rechecking the rules it became apparent that something was wrong. Players had been drawing cards after arriving at each city as the Captain changed rather than after it crashed, which meant everyone was awash with cards.  From then on the group played correctly, but the damage had already been done.  The balance of cards had been destroyed, and Green and his mum had an unassailable lead.  Green came out he victor with some canny play that allowed him to hop on and off the airship, but it was a hollow victory as those first twenty-five points were not fairly won.  The game definitely deserves another try though as it is a clever and fun game when played correctly.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

While the airship was being filled, Blue, Mulberry and Burgundy debated what they were going to play.  Orléans was very tempting, but as Celestia was supposed to be relatively quick, the trio decided to play the shorter Tokaido instead.  This is a simple, but very clever game where players are traveling the East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo), meeting people, tasting fine food, collecting beautiful items, discovering great panoramas, and visiting temples and wild places.  The winner is the player who discovers the most interesting and varied things and is the most initiated traveler.  The really clever part of the game is the turn order, because the player at the back goes first.  Although this is an unusual mechanism, it is not unique and is also seen in Glen More, an out of print game that is getting a face-lift and reprint this year as Glen More II: Chronicles.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that each location on the road can only be occupied by one player.  Players only ever move forward and the player at the back has a free choice of which empty location they move to.  They can choose to stop at the first empty location which means they will be able to maximise the number of locations they can visit, or they can choose to skip a few locations potentially gifting these to their opponents, but ensuring they stop at the locations they will profit most from.  Thus the game is all about optimising movement, compromising visiting the best locations, visiting the most locations and preventing opponents visiting the locations they want by getting there first.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts with a character card which gives them a different start condition and a special power.  Burgundy was positioned at the front playing Yoshiyasu enabling him to draw a second card whenever he encounters someone, and choose which one to keep Encounter cards give a one-off bonus, so being able to choose instead of relying on random draw is a nice advantage.  Mulberry started in second position on the track and as Kinko, was able to pay one Yen less for her food at mealtime.  There are several stops for food along the way and money is always scarce so anything that saves money is always good.  Blue began at the back (and therefore started), playing Sasayakko who gets the cheapest souvenir for free whenever she buys two or more when visiting the Village.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

In this game, it is essential that players make the most of their special powers, so Blue visited as many Villages as she could, collecting as many sets of souvenirs as she could.  To do this though, she need lots of money and money is not easy to come by.  Similarly, Burgundy stopped to make as many encounters as he could and coupled this with visiting the Hot Springs.  Hot Springs simply give a two or three point card drawn at random from a deck, with the three point cards depicting monkeys playing in the spring.  Somehow, every time Burgundy drew a Hot Spring card, it featured monkeys, while Blue and Mulberry received no monkey-love; after his fifth card it was something they really began to resent.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was the first to score points and Burgundy wasn’t far behind.  Blue was slowest off the mark, but eventually caught up and overtook the others, romping into the lead, helped by Burgundy who persisted in moving Blue’s token when he scored points.  That wasn’t the full story, however.  At the end of the game points are awarded to the players with the most Hot Spring cards, the most Encounter cards, the most Souvenirs, for donating money at the Temples, and for the player who spent the most on food.  With Burgundy taking the vast majority of these points, he caught up and, after several recounts, both Blue and Burgundy finished on eighty-one points with Mulberry not far behind.  With more achievement cards, Burgundy was the clear winner, but he’d tried to be generous with his points throughout the game and insisted on sharing victory with Blue (to go with the lack of sleep they shared).

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Celestia was still going and wasn’t looking like it was going to be finished very soon, so Blue,  Burgundy and Mulberry decided to try something else.  After a bit of discussion, they opted for a new game by the producers of the Spiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis winner, Azul, that had been brought back from Essen late last year.  Blue had played Reef with Pink, Black and Purple after The Gallerist during a recent “Monster Games” session, but otherwise it hadn’t made it to the table.  It isn’t a complex game though and is very quick to teach:  on their turn, players can either take a card from the pool of face up cards, or play a card, adding the pieces of coral depicted in the top half to their reef and then scoring the pattern shown in the bottom half of the card.

Reef
– Image by boardGOATS

The reefs are a three by four grid and the pieces of coral can be played anywhere and can stack up to a maximum height of four.  Scoring the patterns is as viewed from above, and each one can be scored several times with different patterns worth different numbers of points.  This means there are two approaches to the game, scoring low but frequently, or building to one large score.  Mulberry opted for the first approach and facilitated this with single colour piles of coral.  Blue tried the alternative strategy, building to a large twenty-plus point score, while Burgundy tried a mixture.  As a result, Mulberry quickly built up a healthy lead, and the question was whether the others would catch her or not.  It was close, very close, with just four points covering all three players.  This time though, little and often was the winner, and Mulberry finished with forty-two points, one more than Burgundy.

Reef
– Image by boardGOATS

Celestia was still going, so Mulberry stayed to play one last game, San Juan.  This is an old game from the Alea Small Box Series that is sometimes referred to as the card game of Puerto Rico.  The idea is that on their turn, the active player chooses a role, Builder, Producer, Trader, Prospector, Councillor and then everyone takes it in turn to carry out the associated action.  The person who chose the action gets to use the privilege of the role (pay one less for building, trade or produce one extra item etc.).  One of the clever things about the game is that cards have multiple purposes, similar to Bohnanza where cards can be money or beans.  In San Juan, each card can be played onto the table as a building, but when in hand they can be used as payment, and during the game they can be used as produce as well.  Each card has a value when built and there are a small number of special buildings whose score depends on the other buildings in play.  The game ends when a player builds their twelfth building.

San Juan
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was tired and really struggled, so Blue and Burgundy tried to help explain what she could do, certain she’d get the hang of it.  They stressed the importance of not getting left behind on the building, a message Mulberry took to heart, building at every opportunity.  Blue made life difficult for everyone though, building a Guardhouse reducing everyone else’s hand limit to six.  Burgundy saw one of the valuable six point plus violet building cards early in the game, but that was it, so he ended up building lots of production facilities.  Blue on the other hand built lots of violet buildings and with it a City Hall giving her one point per violet building.  In the meantime, Mulberry kept building so when Blue failed to spot she had eleven buildings she accidentally triggered the final round.  It was very, very tight, but somehow, Blue just kept her nose in front finishing with twenty-three points, one more than Burgundy and two more than Mulberry.

San Juan
– Image by boardGOATS

In the meantime, Celestia had finally come to an end.  With Green and his parents wanting to leave and Pine finally putting in an appearance after a long day bird watching in the West Country, the group we went for a very short game, one about birds: Pick Picknic.  This game combines simultaneous card selection with bluffing and a 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.  This time there seemed to be a lot of hungry foxes, and lots of fighting birds.

– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

These were accompanied by the usual exclamations as people realised that their attempt to grab a pile of corn was stymied by someone else’s decision.  It was a close game, with four players within four points of each other.  It was tight at the front too with just a handful of points between first and second place, but it was Purple who just edged Green’s father into second place.  With that over Family Green headed off and, as Burgundy was still occupied playing San Juan, everyone else felt it was a good opportunity to play Splendor as someone else would have a chance to win.  Splendor is a game we’ve played a lot and it is ideal for late in the evening when everyone is tired because it doesn’t need too much thought.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Splendor is very simple:  players take it in turns to take gems (chips) or use the gems to buy cards from the display.  Cards can be used to buy other cards, but some of the cards also give points, and collecting certain combinations of cards allows players to claim a Noble tile giving more points.  Essentially, it is a race to fifteen points, though as players finish the round (so everyone gets the same number of turns), it is the player with the most points who wins.  This time the game started with everyone evenly matched.  There was a lot of overlap in the colours required to claim Nobles tiles, so they were claimed at much the same time.  Then Black took the lead and although both Purple and Pine were close to adding to their respective totals, Black’s score of nineteen was unassailable.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Close Games are Good Games.

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.

19th May 2015

With more new people, most of the regulars and a few less regulars, it was always going to be a busy evening.  So, as it was, we started out with three games.  The first group began with Eight-Minute Empire, a game that we’ve played before on a Tuesday, however, not with this group – only one person playing this time was familiar with it.  It is a quick little area control and set collecting game, though in truth, it only plays in eight minutes if everyone really knows what they are doing and nobody suffers from “Analysis Paralysis”.  On their turn, the active player starts by picking up a card:  they can choose whether to take the first available card which has no cost, or take another and pay the appropriate number of coins from their limited supply.  Each card is a resource which provides points at the end of the game, the number depending on how many of that resource the player has;  each card also has an action associated with it, which can be place armies on the map, move them about, ship them across the sea, build a city etc.  Players score points for having the majority in a countries and controlling the most countries in each continent, as well as for sets of resources.

Eight-Minute Empire
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Cyan started heading over the seas, Yellow went in the other direction and Green ominously began amassing armies in the start region. Orange and White started with a mixture of expansion and growth.  As the game progressed, Cyan was spreading himself thinly over two continents while Orange headed north leaving the main continent behind and Yellow, White and Green fought over the regions in the middle.  White was also doing a fine trade in rubies while Cyan was collecting anvils.  This gave Cyan a dilemma when a double anvil turned up:  although he had the money to pay the two it would cost, he was playing a miserly game and decided to let it pass.  As it happened, it stayed on the table for nearly the full round until White swiped it from under Cyan’s nose.  Everyone saw the mass of Green in the middle, and, thinking he was an experienced player, decided to gang up on him.  With three players going after Green in the last round they did a good job of removing his dominance in the centre, leaving White the winner with eleven points, though the rubies really helped Yellow in second place just two points behind.

Eight-Minute Empire
– Image by BGG contributor lhapka

After a brief drinks break, the group then went on to play Salmon Run.  This was another game that we had played before, but was new to the majority of the players this time so it took a while to remember how it worked.  In essence, it is a race game that uses a hand-drafting mechanism, so players have their own personal draw piles a bit like Dominion.  The game is modular with a range of possible river sections.  This time the group opted for a short game with only four boards, which was enough to give everyone a flavour of the game, ready to give it a proper run through next time.  After a couple of rounds, everyone started to get the hang of it and salmon were zig-zagging their way up stream dodging bears, eagles and rapids, jumping waterfalls and trying to be the first to get to the spawning pool without being too tired.  Throughout the game the group remained uncertain of the the rules though, and at one point Green got himself blocked with no cards in his hand to help him.  After checking, he realised he could in fact play a card and do nothing (the fish banging its head against the wall). Unfortunately this meant he ended up way behind the others.  Before long, Cyan leapt the last waterfall and landed in the spawning pool with a splash.  It was a tight game with three other players teetering on the brink and ready to make the final jump, but in the end no-one else managed to get across leaving Cyan the clear winner.

Salmon Run
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

The second group started out with a repeat of a quick game we played last time, called Yardmaster.  This little train themed card game is turning out to be surprisingly popular with our group, partly at least because it packs a surprising amount of punch for such a simple filler game that plays so quickly.  This time, it was just Burgundy turned the tables on Blue who failed to get the luck of the cards.  Then Purple and and Black turned up to join them for the the “Feature Game”, Machi Koro, which has just been nominated for the Spiel des Jahres.  This card game is a sort of cross between The Settlers of Catan and Dominion, where players take the role of mayor and roll dice and choose cards in order to make it the most successful town.  On their turn, the active player rolls the die (or dice if appropriate) and anyone who owns a card gets money in a similar way to the resource allocation in The Settlers of Catan.  Then, the active player can use their money to buy cards, building up their portfolio in a similar way to Dominion.  The winner is the first player to build all four of their land-mark buildings.

Machi Koro
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

There are two ways of setting up:  all the cards can be available in separate stacks at the start of the game, alternatively, the cards can be shuffled together and dealt out until there are ten different buildings available (others become available when a pile is exhausted).  The latter makes for a more strategic and interesting game, but when learning it is easier to see how the card combinations work by dealing out all the cards.  With so many people new to the game, all the cards were laid out at the start so everyone could see what their options were.  Blue was the only one who had played it before, so to off-set some of that advantage, she decided to try buying a building she had not bought before.  In her previous games, the Café (which rewards the owner with $2 from the active player when they roll a three) had been fairly ineffective, so she bought one.  Purple promptly rolled a three, and had to hand over some cash.  When this happened a second time, suddenly everyone started building Cafés and the gloves were off.

Machi Koro
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Blue built her Station first which allowed her to roll both dice and go for the higher number and value buildings and Purple and Burgundy were quick to follow.  Black was obviously not enjoying himself as much as the rest, and didn’t seem to be building much.  Eventually, he build a handful of Restaurants and Cafés, but otherwise just sat and accrued cash.  Blue and Purple had built their third landmark before Black had built one and it was looking like he wasn’t really focussing on the game at all.  Eventually, Blue built her Radio Tower winning the game.  Since there is nothing in the rules about what happens next, the rest of the group played on.  Burgundy managed to build his third and fourth landmarks in quick succession to take second place leaving Black and Purple to fight it out.  When Black suddenly completed his set (much to Purple’s disgust) his strategy became clear:  by building his most expensive landmarks first, he got a larger benefit from them, which enabled him to quickly complete the smaller ones.  Without two dice, his income was reduced, but since he had the majority of the red cards, he picked up money on when others rolled nines.  Although it hadn’t paid off this time, it looked like an interesting approach, though it was clear that Black was not terribly keen to play it again since, as he commented later, he is not keen on dice as a randomising factor, though he is quite happy to use cards.  Perhaps we’ll try a “dice deck” of cards next time and see if he likes it more…

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

Meanwhile, the third group had played an assortment of quicker games beginning with Coloretto.  This cute little set collecting game has been getting played a lot recently on Tuesdays, and, as Teal and Violet were new to the group, Red thought it would be a nice gentle game to start with.  Teal began by collecting a few choice colours, but quickly amassed a positive rainbow of chameleons.  Violet was much more selective and her favouritism for yellow chameleons proved to be particularly sensible in such a close fought game, and gave her clear victory over Red and Teal.  After briefly licking his wounds, Teal then regrouped and proceeded to thrash Red and Violet in a quick game of Dobble.

Dobble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Red had been enviously watching Blue and Burgundy playing Yardmaster across the room (which might explain her poor showing in Dobble).  So, as soon as they had finished, she decided to introduce Teal and Violet to it.  As the most experienced player, Red was in a good position to get revenge for getting beaten in Coloretto and her complete drubbing in Dobble.  The game was quite close, but a crucial coup of a green number one at the very last minute swept her sorting yard into play, making Red the clear winner.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor moonblogger

With one victory each, Red got out another of her favourite games, Walk the Plank!.  This is a very simple if silly game, with a lot of opportunity to attack the others playing.  One of the big successes in the group, it has really earned it’s keep as one of the few genuinely popular KickStarter games.  This time was no different to previous games and everyone engaged whole-heartedly in trying to force their opponents off the plank and into the murky depths of the ocean.  Since it had been one game all, this could be seen as the groups tie-breaker and it was Teal who’s pirates managed to resist the temptation to jump into the shark-infested water the longest giving him two wins to Red and Violet’s one.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

With the second group still playing Machi Koro, Red Teal and Violet joined Cyan, Green and White for a quick game of Pick Picknic.  Like Walk the Plank!, Pick Picknic uses simultaneous card selection, but adds negotiation and a dash of chance and “double think”.  The idea is that there are six 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.  The game was really close and much hilarity ensued when when Cyan and Green, fighting over a yard managed to roll a tie five times in a row.  In the final count, White finished the winner, just four corn ahead of Green and six clear of Violet.

Pick Picknic
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

With people beginning to head off and everyone else reluctant to make it a late night, the remaining players began to look for something short-ish and fun.  Purple suggested Plague & Pestilence again, but when that wasn’t greeted enthusiastically, she proposed 6 Nimmt! instead.  Having had an outing last time, as well as at the Didcot group a few days ago, it is starting to become a bit of a regular.  In this case however, it was clear that everyone had fond memories of Burgundy collecting handfuls of cards and wanted to see if he was going to do it again.  Sadly, that was clearly not his intent and he finished the first round with just eight, only one behind the leader, Green.  Green didn’t keep the lead for long though as he was repeatedly forced to pick up high scoring cards finishing with a nice round forty.  Purple improved on her relatively poor first round, but still had quite a few more than Burgundy, Black and Blue.  It was fitting perhaps then, that it was Burgundy who, despite having a terrible hand played a blinder to finish just one point ahead of Black and two ahead of Blue.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  A long game can be very satisfying, but lots of little games can be lots of fun.

19th November 2013

Since we arrived in “dribs and drabs” and one player had to leave early, we started out playing a couple of quick little games.  First up was Pick Picknic.  This is a cute little game where players simultaneously play coloured chicken cards.  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 farm, then players can either agree to share the corn in any way that is mutually agreeable or roll for all of it.  They must beware the foxes though – foxes don’t eat corn, they only eat chickens; if someone plays a fox card, they will eat any chicken cards of that colour.  The first game was a bit of a white-wash, in contrast, however, the second game was a draw.

Pick Picknic

Next up was a game with a similar box and name, but other wise completely different: Pickomino.  This is a strange little dice rolling game with appealing “worm tiles”.  On a their turn, players roll eight dice.  They must keep all the dice of one “type”, i.e. all those with a one, or all those with a two etc., however, they must not have any of that number or type already.  Then they can, if they choose, re-roll the remaining dice and do the same again.  When they decide to “stick”, they can take any “worm tile” available in the pool with a value equal to or less than the total shown on their dice, and place it on the top of their pile.  When the number rolled exactly matches the topmost tile on someone elses pile, then the player may steal that tile if they choose.  The person with the most worms at the end wins.

Pickomino

Unfortunately, since the rules were in French and the English translation was not entirely clear, we didn’t play this quite right, so we’ll have to give it another go sometime. Since new players had arrived and one had to leave, we moved on to something a little deeper in Montego Bay.  This is an unusual little game about loading barrels into boats.

Montego Bay

To do this, each player has two workers, a large one and a smaller one, and a set of 5 cards for each worker which are used to move them.  Simultaneously, all players secretly choose one of the numbered cards from each of their card sets, then the workers are moved one at a time along the path around the outside of the warehouse, according to a prearranged (otherwise random) order.  Thus, when it is a workers turn to to move, the appropriate card is revealed and the worker moved accordingly.  The clever part is what happens if the space is already occupied, as the original worker is pushed to the opposite side of the warehouse.  In some cases, the position opposite side of the warehouse is also already occupied in which case both spaces are blocked and the active worker simply moves as far as he can.  When all workers have moved, the warehouses are checked if there is a worker next to a chamber. If a worker is next to a chamber with barrels, players receive drums in their colour equal to the number of barrels in the room. These drums are placed in one or more of the ships in the harbour; players may decide freely, but when a ship is full, it sails away immediately and players score points depending on who has the most barrels on the ship.  In contrast, if the chamber has broken barrels in it, drums must be removed from ships.  Thus, players are trying to make sure their workers are optimally placed, but since their pieces can be influenced by other players, everyone is trying to anticipate what each other will do.  Because of all the “double think”, the game is very prone to “analysis paralysis”, however, it wasn’t too bad and only really became noticeable in the last rounds of the game when it was all quite tight and moves were critical to the final score.  Green took the honours in the end, a couple of points clear of Blue, but everyone expressed an interest in playing it again sometime.

 

Montego Bay

Lastly, was the “Feature Game”, Coup.  This is a very quick little card game of bluffing and back-stabbing.  The idea is that each player starts with two cards representing the people they influence.  On their turn they can take a small amount of money or declare who one of their people is and do a more exciting action associated with that character.  The catch is that since the cards are hidden, players only know who they have influence over themselves – everyone else is secret.  Other players then have a choice, one of them can challenge the active player, or one of them can declare they are a character that can block the action (this declaration can also be challenged), or they can do nothing.  When a player is challenged, they must display one card:  if it demonstrates that they were telling the truth then they draw a replacement card, if it indicates they were lying then they lose a card.  The aim is to be the last player with influence (i.e. a hidden card).  The key to the game is to play as a team against the leader to prevent them from building up enough money to carry out a coup (which there is no real protection from), but to play independently when it is your own turn.  Unfortunately, we didn’t really get the team aspect of the game and, because we didn’t play very many hands, players didn’t really have time to work out that if a player tells the truth, that is a powerful tool to be used against them.  For this reason, it seemed more a game of chance (because if you tell the truth you are safe from challenges), than a game of skill.

Coup

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes short games are best played repeatedly so that they take as long as “big” games which gives time to play the meta-game.

8th January 2013

Normally, we are very reliant on support from people coming from outside Stanford – Stanford is a village and we are very grateful to the people who travel from the surrounding villages and towns.  However, this week we had a visitor who set a new record coming over 8,000 miles – although it is possible she might not have come just to play games…!

Since the early arrivals were eating, we didn’t start playing until 8pm by which time we had six people, so the first game was Pick Picknic. This is a fun little game where players play chicken cards to claim corn in one of six coloured fields.  If two or more chickens claim the same field, then they can choose to share or they can roll to see who gets it.  But watch out for the foxes:  They are not interested the large tempting pile of corn, and eat chickens instead.  Initially, it seemed that a handful of fox cards was an advantage (well, wouldn’t you prefer to be a fox?), but the winner was the person with the most corn…

Pick Picknic

The next game was the “Feature Game” which was Ticket to Ride, a train game where players compete to make routes connecting cities.  Since there were six of us we decided to play the “Team Asia” map which adds the twist that players play in teams of two and have shared information and hidden information.  The first thing we discovered was that it plays a lot better if you include the white, blue and yellow cards, but once we had got that sussed, the game progressed in the usual way with players picking up cards and mispronouncing place names as they laid trains to fulfil their routes.  After a short tussle for Hong Kong, Blue took an early lead with Red and Black squabbling over second place.  However, in the final scoring Black had many more tickets (and higher scoring ones too), and shot ahead running out easy winners.

Ticket to Ride - Team Asia

There had been a lot of discussion and the game took much longer than expected, so we finished up with three rounds of an old favourite, No Thanks!, with the added luxury of real poker chips.  All the winning scores were less than ten, but the final was -1.  We thought that was a good place to end the evening.

Poker Chips

Learning Outcome: Sometimes it is better to be a chicken than a fox!