Tag Archives: Port Royal

31st March 2020 (Online)

It is at times like this that we need social contact more than ever, and board games are a great medium for that, a fact recognised by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the British government.  With everyone confined to barracks for the foreseeable, we felt it was important to give online meetings a go.  There are several online gaming alternatives, but they all either cost or are horribly slow thanks to the fact that everyone else is trying to do the same.  For this reason, we decided to try to play a real game using the medium of Microsoft Teams with a camera pointed at the board and everyone else giving instructions.

Setting up for online gaming
– Image by boardGOATS

Our game of choice, and therefore our “Feature Game” for the day, was Las  Vegas. This was because everyone knows it (minimising explanations), lots of people can play (this was intended to be a social event, so that meant lots of people could be involved); it has no hidden information (a necessity for this sort of thing).  Blue and Pink began setting up at about 6pm, after the long walk home from work. They used two laptops: one was perched on some place mats and a pile of sturdy game boxes (specifically Tapestry, In the Hall of the Mountain King and Teotihuacan) with the reverse camera pointing at the table and the game, the second laptop was then used to see what everyone else could see.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Black and Purple (in Abingdon), were the first guinea pigs and struggled to get the link to work. Eventually, with some discussion over the phone and the inevitable microphones and speakers on/off issues, they were successful. While Pink popped out to fetch fish and chips from Darren Pryde and his itinerant chip van (which were truly excellent), Mullberry (in Wantage) became the next guinea pig and signed in with little difficulty.  After Blue sent out the link to everyone else at 7.30pm, there was a steady precession of gamers joining the party.  There were a few things we learnt from this first experience:

  • As the sun set, the natural light from the window faded and the camera really struggled—lighting really is critical.
  • MS Teams worked OK with people joining through a link via a web browser, but it is important that the “game camera” has an active microphone. If it does not, Teams decides it is not active and it disappears for anyone viewing on a browser.
  • MS Teams thinks that feeds where the image changes a lot are the most active and therefore the most important to show to people using a browser; turning off cameras when not active can help.
  • During setup, it helps to have something really obvious for people to focus on.
  • Maybe it’s the stress of the current climate, but there are an alarming number of soft toys in close proximity of people’s web cameras, most of which seemed to be pandas.

By about ten minutes to eight, most people had “arrived” and everyone was chatting about their new normal and sharing what they were drinking and stories of shopping—for a moment, it was almost like we were at The Jockey. A couple of minutes before the scheduled start, Green the last to join, signed in.  As Blue began dealing out the cards, Green’s opening comment was that it didn’t feel like a games night because we hadn’t spent half an hour chatting! That produced much hilarity, and more chit-chat, before we eventually started.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Las Vegas is a very simple game, which is, of course, why we picked it.  Players have a handful of dice and take it in turns to roll them and then place all the dice of one number on the casino of their choice. When nobody has any dice left, the player with the most dice in each cassino wins the jackpot.  There are a couple of clever twists that make this a really great game though. Firstly, the prize fund for each casino is dealt out in money cards.  Some cards are as high as $100,000, while others are only $10,000—the winner takes the largest denomination for that casino, the jackpot, leaving the player in second place to take the second largest, and so on.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Secondly, and perhaps most cleverly, all ties, cancel each other out.  This is absolutely key to the game: the vagaries of dice mean that a well-positioned player could roll one die and end up with nothing, and much hilarity follows. We also add the Slot Machine from the Boulevard expansion, which works in a slightly different way with dice of each number being added a maximum of once.  We also use the “Biggun” from the expansion, so each player has on large die that counts as two.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry began. One of the reasons we picked this game was that we thought most people might have dice of their own at home and could roll them themselves. Mulberry was the only one who didn’t, so being a true Millennial to the core, she opted for an electronic solution using an online dice roller.  Otherwise, it was very satisfying to hear the rattle of dice as people took their turns.  Although chatting was quite difficult over the network, that didn’t prevent a lot of smutty comments and requests for him to stop bragging when Green announced that he had “got a big one”.  Even more entertaining was when the conversation moved onto Iceland’s entry for Eurovision and links were shared through the chat feature which resulted in Pink pressing play by mistake and drowning out everything else.

– From Eurovision Song Contest on youtube.com

It was not an ideal way to play any game and with our group Las Vegas is not quick at the best of times, but the combination of people reading out their dice roll so that Blue and Pink could display them, dodgy internet connections, people sounding like Miss Othmar (the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons), and trying to keep eight people on-message, definitely slowed things down. At the moment though, these things are unavoidable and we managed. It was nearly 9pm before the first round finished and people were happy enough with the result to play a second, if not our usual third.

– From Corgi Adventures on youtube.com

Black made hay with his singleton on Casino Three, when Mulberry’s and Lime’s piles of dice cancelled each other out. Green just pipped Blue to take $100,000 on the Slot Machine, leaving her with just $20,000 for the round, and poor Lime with nothing at all.  Purple, Black, Pink, Green and Pine all had good totals in the range of $100,000-$150,000, so it was all to play for going into the second round.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

This time it was Casino Two that was a knife-fight in a phone box.  Pink, Blue and Pine all had four dice in the mix with Green in second place (and therefore winning the jackpot) with two.  The final roll of the game was Green’s “Biggun”, so when he rolled a two, nobody could believe his misfortune.  Just before he placed it though, he realised he had another option—the oft-forgotten Slot Machine. At which point Pink realised the jackpot could have been his if he had done the same on his previous turn.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Nobody really cared about the scores, but Mulberry, Lime and Blue all did better in the second round, though it was too little, too late. The winner was Green with total winnings of $280,000 with Purple in second with $230,000 and Pink and Black just behind.  The real loser of the evening was Covid though: it wasn’t a great game, but for a couple of hours, we’d all had a bit of fun chucking dice about, forgetting reality for a while.  And with that, Green, Lime, and Pine (signing in from Stoke of all places), left the meeting.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Those remaining, decided to give yukata.de a go, and after a bit of discussion, decided to opt for Port Royal. It took a while to get going with Blue and Black trying to remember how to play and explain it to Mulberry. The game itself is simple enough though, and yukata.de, though old-school, keeps everyone honest.

Yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Port Royal is a fairly simple, push-your-luck game.  On their turn the active player turns over cards until they either find one they want (and can afford) or go bust. There are four different types of card: Characters, Ships, Expedition and Taxes.  Ships are free and give money, Characters give victory points and special powers, while Expeditions give opportunities to trade Characters for more points, and Taxes give people behind in the game a little windfall.  Once the active player has taken their card, everyone else gets the chance to take/buy a card in turn order, paying the active player for the privilege.

Port Royal
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink started well, but Blue eventually got her act together and initially made inroads into his lead before taking it from him. When there was a succession of people going bust, her Jester gave Blue lots of cash enabling her to cement her position at the front.  It wasn’t long before her advantage was eroded though, first by Black, adding a Jester to his Admirals, and then by Purple, claiming an expedition.

Port Royal on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

It was all very tight towards the end, but Purple was the first to our chosen end of twelve points, with a score of thirteen points. Unfortunately, due to a rules misunderstanding, everyone was expecting one final round, but sadly, it was not to be.  Purple was the last player in the round, and once everyone had taken cards from her leavings, Yukata decided that was it, Game Over. In truth, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference, and Purple deserved her victory though the other platings might have been different if there had been another round.

Port Royal on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

It had been a slow and trying game, though not quite as bad as attempts to play synchronously at the end of last week when the website had repeatedly failed to record moves.  Mulberry was looking very tired and it was getting very late, so she signed off, leaving Blue, Pink, Black and Purple to start what will probably be a long, asynchronous game of Snowdonia. That’s another story though, especially as it could take a fortnight or longer to play!

Yucata.de
– Image from yucata.de

Learning Outcome: Playing remotely is not as good as playing round a table together, but it is definitely better than nothing at the moment.

3rd April 2018

Blue and Pink arrived first and, as they were early, they decided to get in a quick game of NMBR 9, while they waited for food and more people.  This is a game which is rapidly becoming one of our go-to fillers primarily thanks to it’s almost non-existent setup time.  This time, Blue turned over the cards, and Pink scratched his head a lot as he tried to work out what to do with his tiles.  Once a few tiles have been placed to form a base layer, then tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile.  This is essential as the higher the tiles are placed the more they score.  Unfortunately, the rule Pink forgot about was that tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile on that level.  “Cheating” didn’t do him much good though, as Blue won by more than thirty finishing with a massive eighty-one thanks largely to placing a seven on the fourth tier.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although a few of our regulars were missing (Green, Red and Ivory), they were ably replaced by a couple of our irregulars in Pink and Turquoise.  So while we made sure there were no more stragglers and Burgundy finished his inch thick slice of ham, we played another quick filler game, this time of 6 Nimmt!.  This has long been a favourite in the group, thanks to the fact that it plays a lot of people coupled with the hilarious way that a tenuous control of the game can catastrophically turn into chaos.  It is one of those games that is more difficult to explain than to play, but essentially each player has a hand of cards and simultaneously everyone chooses one to play.  Simultaneously, everyone then reveals their card and each card is added in turn to the end of one of the four rows of cards on the table.  Beginning with the lowest each card is added to the row with the highest number that is still lower than the active card.  The snag is, if anyone’s card is the sixth to be placed in a row, the first five are “won” and and the card becomes a new starting card.

– Image by boardGOATS

As well as a face value (one to a hundred and four), each card also has a “nimmt” value: most are one, but there are some as high as seven.  The player with the fewest nimmts at the end is the winner.  It has been somewhat neglected of late though, and has only been played once this year by the group, and then only just (it was the early hours of New Year’s Day), so it was definitely time for another outing.  Normally we play two rounds, dealing out approximately half the deck each time, but with so many of us all wanting to play, we decided to go for a single round and deal ten cards each.  This time Black and Purple were fighting it out for the unofficial wooden spoon, but that honour was reserved for Turquoise with a quite fantastic thirty-one.  At the other end, both Burgundy and Blue thought they might have got it with just three and one respectively, but it was Pink with a nice round zero who pipped them to it.

– Image by boardGOATS

Once the food and the nimmts had been dealt with and it was clear that no-one else was coming, the inevitable squabble began over who wanted to play the “Feature Game”.  This week it was Fabled Fruit, a very light worker-placement and set collecting card game with a “Legacy” element to it.  As such, the game is very simple, but develops as you play.  The idea is that the game starts with six “Locations”, each of which is formed by a deck of four cards.  On their turn the active player moves their meeple to one of the locations and either carries out the action shown on the cards in the deck or buys one card for the amount shown.  The locations provide access to “fruit cards”, which are the currency in the game and are used to buy the location cards.  Each location has a different action, for example, the first location enables the active player to draw two cards from the top of the fruit deck.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

On the other hand, Location Five allows the active player to draw cards until they have a hand of three—useful if they started with no cards, but not so helpful if they had a handful. At Location Six, the active player can turn over as many cards as they like, keeping all the unique cards they turn over, but go bust in a Port Royal sort of way if they turn over a duplicate card.  Since there are five different fruits, this action quickly becomes increasingly risky.  There are other actions, some of which add a bit more interaction, like giving a player a banana card and getting two cards in return or drawing one card from the fruit deck and then exchanging three fruit cards with another player.  A little more interaction comes from the fact that visiting an occupied location costs a fruit card: since location cards typically cost four or five fruit cards, this is expensive, especially with low player counts, but playing with the full complement makes this almost unavoidable from time to time.  Aside from this though, there is very little interaction and the actions for the starting locations are quite mild.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

The interesting part is how the game develops, since a new card is added to the game every time a location card is bought.  Each location holds just four cards, so for every cards that are bought, a new location is introduced, and once all the cards for one location have been bought, that location and therefore that action is no longer available.  The really clever part of the game is the “Legacy” element:  the end game condition, becomes the start condition for the next game.  For this reason, we decided to play the game three times so we could see and appreciate how it evolves.  The rules were easy enough to explain and Turquoise, Magenta and Burgundy were keen to give it a go, so they joined Blue and Pink leaving Black, Purple and Pine to find something else to play.  It wasn’t long before the Fabled Fruit players were happily collecting fruit cards and occasionally turning them into juice by buying location cards.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

It is a game of very fine margins, though and it wasn’t long before almost everyone had two Location cards tucked away and were fighting for one more to win.  In truth it wasn’t a long fight as Pink made his experience with the game tell and took the first round.  Then instead of resetting the game, we checked we still had the right number of cards out, and started again with the new set up.  So this time, we started with the market which had been introduced during the first round.  This is a face up display of five cards that players can interact with.  The Locations that were available allowed players to trade cards with the market, but also trade one strawberry, for any three non-strawberry fruit cards in the market.  This hugely increased the value of strawberries and, with the high value of pineapples (which could be traded for five from the deck) and bananas (which could be used to take cards off another player), it meant that players were holding more and more cards.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

This all changed in the third round, however, when Location Ten appeared which allowed the active player to take two fruits from the player with the most cards.  Nobody liked falling victim to that one very much, but everyone took advantage where they could.  With just Pink taking the second round as well as the first, it was all about trying to stop him taking a clean sweep.  In the end it was really tight.  Everyone gets the same number of turns, so when it was clear that Pink was once again in a position to trigger the end by purchasing his third card, it was a question of whether anyone could stop him.  Although Turquoise who started the round had been steadily improving, there was nothing she could do, nor Burgundy who went next.  As Pink then played his master-move and picked up third Location card, the question changed to whether Blue and Magenta would be able to join him.  Both had enough cards, but but Magenta, was unfortunately standing on the only card she could buy, so in the end, the final round was shared by Blue and Pink.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Black, Purple and Pine had started off with Azul.  This, like NMBR 9, has been an immensely popular game since it first appeared on the group’s radar at Essen last year.  The game is almost entirely abstract, with a very loose “artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora” theme, but somehow, that doesn’t seem to matter as the game play is good and the production values very high.  In summary, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory displays (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles they took in one of the five rows on their player board.  The catch is that although they can add more tiles to a row later in the round, once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row. The round ends when all the tiles have been picked up, and one tile from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Tiles placed singly score just one point, but if they become part of a row or column, they pick up points for each tile in the row or column, so clever players can make tiles score over and over again.  The game ends when one player gets a complete row, so it takes at least five rounds, and then bonus points are awarded for completed columns or rows and full sets of five of a colour.  Purple wasn’t concentrating, so failed to get any bonus points, while Black and Pine picked up a few negative points.  Pin had a disastrous final round when he was forced to pick up six red tiles but could only place two of them meaning the rest all scored negative points, a total of minus thirteen for that round.  It didn’t do him too much damage though as he finished with thirty-eight, ten points clear of the others who were in a battle for second that Black won by a single point.

Azul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Next the trio moved on to Sagrada.  This is another popular “game of the moment”, with very similar feel to Azul, but this time using dice and players are building a stained glass window by placing dice on a grid of dice on their player board.  Each board has some restrictions on where certain coloured or numbered dice can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to manipulate some of the dice, either during the “drafting” phase, or sometimes those already in their “window”.  Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window. There are also three public objectives which everyone can use to score points; this time these gave points for complete sets of all five different colours, complete sets of all six numbers, and for columns that contained different numbers.  The game starts with each player choosing a window from two double-sided cards dealt at random.  The hard ones come with a lot of favour tokens and these can be critical as they can be used to move and re-roll dice or other special actions depending on what special tools are available.  This time they were particularly important, as everyone kept rolling sixes which wasn’t what they really needed.  Purple in particular made full use of all her favour tokens which helped keep her in the game.  When it came to scoring, it was quite close, with players taking similar scores on the separate public objectives. The small differences added up, however, and Pine finished in front with a nice round fifty, a handful of points ahead of Black in second place.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Fabled Fruit still hadn’t finished, but was well into its third round, so Purple, Black and Pine, looked round for something familiar and quick to play, and their collective eye fell on Kingdomino.  The rules didn’t need much recap: take a domino and add to the kingdom and then place a meeple on one of the dominoes on display for the next round.  When placing the dominoes, one of the two ends must connect to terrain of the same type already in the kingdom, or connect directly to the start tile.  Points are awarded at the end of the game by multiplying the number of tiles in an area of terrain by the number of crowns in the area.  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space (or be discarded) and bonus points are awarded for successfully placing all tiles and finishing with the start tile in the centre.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It is a very clever little game, and tile placement is clearly critical, but one of the most important aspects is the trade off between turn order and tile value.  Each domino has a numerical value and they are set out and taken, from low to high, so players going for the more valuable tiles are trading this value against their position in the turn order.  This was key for Pine who failed to get the crowns he needed and when he did couldn’t add them to the terrain he wanted.  This was exacerbated by the fact that with only three players, some tiles never appear which can upset the balance of the game.  All in all, Pine had a complete “mare” of a game, crowned by the fact that he failed to place all his tiles and didn’t get his castle in the centre of the kingdom either.  It was a game he wanted to forget, but was close between Black and Purple.  Black had the edge though and finished with a grand total of seventy.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Nobody wanted a late night, but everyone fancied finishing with something light, and with so many people Las Vegas is always a good option.  This light dice game is really easy to play and doesn’t require much in the way of concentration, so is great to wind down with.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money;  the catch is that to place a “bet”, the player must use all the dice of one number that number.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card. The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of barracking.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

We also always add the Slot Machine from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar, which is like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  We also add some elements from the Boulevard expansion, including extra high value money cards, the “biggun” (which replaces one die per person with a larger, double weight die worth two of the little ones) and extra dice so more people can play.  Finally, we always house rule the game so we only play three rounds instead of four—although we love it, with four rounds it can outstay it’s welcome for those who feel they can’t catch up.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

It’s never easy to tell how people are doing as the money is stored face down and the denominations vary from $10,000 to $100,000, so someone with a large pile may be very rich or just have a lot of “notes”.  And Purple certainly had a lot of notes as she popped out to the conveniences and came back to find a massive money pile.  Everyone was so impressed that several others optimistically tried the same trick, but unfortunately they didn’t quite have the knack.  It was an exciting game though; with so many people playing there were a lot of draws and lots of bids ended up cancelling out others, often with three people involved and a fourth very lucky “loser” picking up the spoils.  In the final counting, Pink proved that while he was good at collecting fruit, he was rubbish at collecting money.  At the other end of the scale meanwhile, Black and Purple were again fighting it out for first place, but a tie on $340,000 each was eventually resolved in Purple’s favour.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Learning Outcome:  Aesop doesn’t have a monopoly on Fables.

20th February 2018

As food was being dealt with, Red introduced a new gamer, Olive.  Olive is not new to Eurogames, but was unfamiliar the “Feature Game”, Colt Express: Marshal & Prisoners.  This is the second expansion to the train robbing game, Colt Express, and one nobody around the table had tried before.  Pretty much everyone said, “I really like the game, but I wouldn’t mind playing something else depending what that is…”   This inevitably led to a lot of debate as to who would play what, but in the end, Blue, Magenta, Pine, Black and Olive settled down to play Colt Express.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor lacxox

Colt Express is a programming game where players take it in turns to choose the cards they are going to play (sometimes in the open, sometimes in secret) and then, after all the cards have been chosen, players take it in turns to action the cards.  The cards enable players to move their robbers along the train, onto the roof of their carriage, shoot or punch each other and pick up loot, the ultimate aim of the game.  The thing is, by the time players come to actioning the cards they chose, they have forgotten what their plan was, and usually the game state is completely different to what they thought it would be.  This ends up with lots of people taking a wild swing at empty space, or shooting someone they hadn’t intended to target.  The Marshal & Prisoners expansion makes things even more complicated as one of the players is the train Marshal instead of a robber, and has different objectives during the game.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Punkin312

Black took the role of the Marshal, who starts the game with five objective cards.  Two of these are to capture other players (drawn at random), and all of them are placed face down to be revealed to the Marshal one at a time, one per round.  He also got a hand of special action cards and two clips of bullets.  Everyone else got the same action cards as in the base game, but additionally got a Brilliant Ideas card.  This card affects how players interact with the other new component, the Prison Car. Basically, its effect depends on the character’s location:  if they are not in the prison car then they repeat the previous robber’s actions, otherwise they have a choice of freeing a captured robber or rescuing a prisoner who will then work for them.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It took us a little while to remember some of the finer details and also get to grips with the changes caused by the expansion.  Marshal Black quickly captured Olive, a move everyone felt was a bit harsh on her fist visit.  Fortunately for her, Pine was in a chivalrous mood so instead of freeing a prisoner (and getting the associated special power), he liberated Olive from her cell, at a cost of course.  Meanwhile, Magenta had started out as she clearly meant to carry on, by being violent and shooting Blue.  Inevitably, she retaliated in the next round and from there bullets flew in all directions.  Magenta wasn’t only busy being a brutal murdering psychopath, she was also busy collecting.  Pine was slightly more gentlemanly about it, but was also making free with the available loot.  Blue’s game ended when she too was caught by Marshal Black and nobody saw fit to let her out.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Punkin312

Eventually the game came to an end, and Marshal Black was first to declare whether he had achieved his goals.  To win, he had to succeed in four of the five challenges, but unfortunately for him, he’d only managed three of them.  He’d managed to shoot all four people and capture Olive (which was one of his goals), but he’d failed to nab Pine and one of his other tasks was nearly impossible.  This meant everyone had to reveal their stash.  While locked in her prison cell, Blue had been reading the rules and discovered that the Brilliant Idea card would enable her to escape on her own, but by that time, the game was nearly over and the damage was done.  Magenta, Pine and Blue had all managed to empty their clips so scored $1,000 as gunslingers.  Pacifist Olive had managed to pick up the strong box and some other loot, but getting captured cost her $500.  Pine finished second with an excellent $2,200, but it was a long way behind Magenta who finished well ahead with $3,150.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, after some discussion, everyone else settled on playing Port Royal (with the extra cards from the Expansion).  This is a very simple game; on their turn the active player turns over the top card of the deck.  If it is a Ship that they want, they can take it to give them income, alternatively, they can repel the Ship if they don’t want it and have sufficient cutlass cards to do so.  If it is a Character card that they want and can afford, they buy it and put it in front of them.  If they do not want the card they place it face up in the display in front of the draw-deck and draw another card.  The active player continues in this way until they have taken a card, or a Ship is drawn that is the same colour as a ship already in the display and cannot be repelled, in which case, they go bust and play passes to the next player.

– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part of the game is that it uses the same dual use cards trick as Bohnanza, where the cards have one meaning when face up and are coins when face down.  This means some cards get buried in the money piles and may never appear face up, making each game slightly different.  The other clever part of the game is that if the active player buys or takes a card, then everyone else has the chance, in turn, to take or buy a card until there are none left in the row, however, it will cost them one coin, paid to the active player.  In general, each Character card has a special power, but is also worth victory points at the end of the game which is triggered when someone reaches twelve points.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

It had been a little while since we last played this and we all felt a little rusty, and Ivory was entirely new to it.  So, the first few rounds were a little tentative but as we got into it, Burgundy opted for his tried and trusted strategy of gaining the Admiral Character card that would give him two extra coins (taken from the draw deck) if there were at least five cards in the row when it was his turn to choose. This worked very well for him initially, so that when the option to get a second came along he took it for a potential gain of four coins when there were five cards in the row just be fore he could choose one.  Whether it was just luck or that the rest of us made an extra special effort, he immediately stopped getting his five card chance after this and only rarely managed his four coins.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Punkin312

After the first couple of rounds we were still finding our feet and everyone really needed more money so we were all trying to get some higher scoring pirate ships. Green was the first to go bust when the third he pulled out was a second green pirate.  Tom was next up and he also bust and so it went on round the table for an (almost) fully busted round, with only Burgundy bucking the trend.  The game was generally bereft of the Expedition Cards (which allow players to exchange some people for more points), and unusually there were only two available in the whole game.  This meant that for Green, Purple and Red who were pursuing and Expedition card based strategy it was a real struggle.  Despite Burgundy’s frequent large haul of coins, it was actually Purple that fell foul of the Tax Man first, and Burgundy (by way of having a solitary soldier), kept winning the extra coin for largest defense force when the taxes were due.

– Image by boardGOATS

In the past, Green had done well with Pirate and Sailor strategy, but unfortunately this time he struggled to get the fighting cards he needed.  Ivory was getting a feel for the game and took two red Trader cards that would add to his coin haul whenever he took a red ship.  However, these cards are not as powerful in this game as they at first appear, as it’s rare that you get to choose which colour ship you take. Since he had this double bonus, the rest of us made sure he didn’t get to use it.  In the end Burgundy made his strategy work and as everyone else struggled to gain traction he sailed to victory finishing with twelve points with everyone else in a very tight game for second place.  It was not clear how long Colt Express was going to go on, but as they were about half way through, a shorter five player game was in order.  This was not an easy choice with the games available which were either way too long or rather too short.  It ended up being Red’s favourite, Bohnanza.

Bohnanaza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Bohnanza is a very popular game within the group, but somehow Ivory had managed to avoid playing it.  Everyone else were old hands with it though, so after a quick summary of the rules we had a discussion of the key points of the game.  As far as the rules go, the key part is for everyone to suppress all natural instinct and NOT sort their hand of cards.  This is something that is surprisingly difficult given the OCD nature of most gamers, but is is the crux of the game as the cards must be played in the order they are received.  The only way to work round this is to trade away the cards in hand, which means they must be played straight away, but by another player.  There was a short discussion on this point as the fun of the game is in the trading and if people refuse to trade it becomes tedious.  That wasn’t going to happen here though.  Our group are usually fairly free and easy with our trades, but that’s not to say we are push-overs. We trade, but we trade hard. Occasionally we might let someone have an exceptionally good deal, but only on the condition that they remember for next time!

– Image by boardGOATS

In many ways this was fairly typical game of Bohnanza.  Green was the first to go for a third bean field (often none of us do), and that was because he wanted to plant his Garden Bean while not getting in the way of his normal game.  There are only six Garden Beans in the game, but if you can get at least two, that gives you a point per bean card.  Although Ivory had already planted and harvested three Garden Beans, Green felt it was worth the gamble that at least one of the others was going to turn up sometime.  He was right about that.  They both turned up in Burgundy’s hand and he wasn’t trading!  Ivory followed shortly after planting his third bean field, largely for the same reason: he did not want to harvest an incomplete field just yet for a low yield, high scoring bean.  Like Green however, ultimately, the strategy failed.

Bohnanaza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

By this time, Colt Express had finished and since Bohnanza was going with such a swing the “train robbers” decided to join in with their own “Game of Beans” using a second copy.  In many ways it was a mirror of the first game; a case of different people, same game.  So, Blue picked up a third bean field quite early in the hope that it would ensure she could capitalise on some of the rare, but valuable beans she had in her hand, in particular her Garden Bean.  Everyone else tried to manage without, though Olive decided to pick one up in the late stages—a controversial decision in the eyes of the spectators.  Like Green and Ivory, the third bean field didn’t help them either though, in Blue’s case, largely because it spent the almost the whole game with one solitary bean in it because the rest all ended up in Pine’s coin stash. Both games were quite tight, so much so that when the first group couldn’t find someone to trade with, they tried to see if anyone on the next table could help.  Red, The Bean Queen, came out on top in the first game with sixteen, with Ivory finishing in second with fifteen and each place thereafter one coin behind the one above.  The winner on the second table also finished with sixteen and was a tie between Pine and Black who’d had a quiet, but obviously effective game.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Sometimes violence pays.

28th November 2017

The “Feature Game” was to be Lords of Waterdeep, and with a nearly full turn-out, it was simply a question of who wanted to play it.  Some were a little put off by the Dungeons & Dragons theme, but Burgundy, Green, Ivory, and Purple were keen to give it a go, with Ivory and Purple new to the game.  Each player is a secret Lord of Waterdeep, who uses their agents to recruit adventurers to collect gold so that they can complete Quests to advance their cause.  Each player in turn places one of their “agents” on a building space on the board and immediately resolves the effects of that building. A player may not place his agent on a building space if it has already been taken; the round ends when all agents have been placed, and a game is exactly eight rounds long.  Most of the buildings on the board give money or adventurers. The adventurers are represented by coloured wooden cubes: orange for Fighters, black for Rogues, white for Clerics and purple for Wizards.

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The adventurers players collect are exchanged for completing Quest cards. These cards can range from only a few points (four to six), but an extra advantage or some adventurer returned (a bit like a cash-back scheme), to some that give a massive amount of points (over twenty).  This is not the only source of points as there is also a substantial reward given to each player for completing the requirements on their secret Lord of Waterdeep card.  Despite the Fighting Fantasy theme, Lords of Waterdeep is really just run of the mill worker placement game, with adventurers instead of resources.  Unlike many games of this genre, “resources” flow in quite readily, but unfortunately they also flow out just as easily too…

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

When Green completed a twenty point Quest early on, he looked a long way in the lead, but although it took a couple of rounds for his advantage to be quashed, quashed it duly was. It didn’t take long for everyone to work out which Quest card types everyone had for their secret goals, with Green and Ivory both wanting Commerce, and Green and Burgundy both chasing Piety. Only Purple remained more elusive to work out which was not surprising since she was actually scoring for every building she built and not scoring for Quests completed at all. No-one guessed, even though she managed to build six out of the maximum ten built. To be fair to Green and Ivory, Green had only played the game once before and that was four years ago, and Ivory had never played at all. Burgundy was at least aware that there was such a task, but after the game commented that he never does well at this game (unusually for him), though he enjoys the challenge.

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Throughout the game, Purple employed an interesting strategy in that she built up a number of Intrigue cards without using them. She turned that round in the last two or three rounds as her pile of Intrigues got whittled down, gaining her bonuses at everyone else’s expense ( and occasionally to their benefit as well), until she ended the game with none.  Ivory put a lot of effort into trying to get the big scoring quests and at one point was holding out for one on display to use with the building that would gain him an extra four points if he could complete at the same time as picking it up. In the end he bottled it and took it a turn earlier in case it was lost. It turned out he was right to do so, as shortly after he had taken it, all the quest cards were replaced. Ivory also managed to gain a number of bonus points as he too was a prolific builder.

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Green was trying to get as many Commerce cards as he could figuring the low scores would add up (Peity cards, his other bonus challenge, were in rather short supply in this game). About half way through, he built the extra worker building that when used allows the player to choose an action before anyone else. Green then used this to great effect taking this piece regularly and combining it with the first player marker to get the first two turns.  In a game where white Clerics were in such short supply (and many of the Quests that appeared later required lots of clerics), this really scuppered the plans of Ivory and Burgundy in particular.  Peity cards need more Clerics than most, Burgundy’s game was often frustrated by the lack of white cubes, and although he kept the first player token in the early part of the game and made good use of it, he just couldn’t quite get his engine going.

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The intrigue cards added an extra layer and interaction into the game. Many of them gave a benefit, but also gave a lesser advantage to another player of choice. And some were downright mean to a player of choice, and so alliances were made and broken throughout the game. Reasoning and pleading were a regular feature—an enjoyable interaction which is not so direct in other games.  In the end, it was a close game, but Ivory came out on top, just three points ahead of Green.  Everyone enjoyed it though and would be happy to play it again, but there was general agreement that with five players it would get crowded and might begin to drag.

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Meanwhile, on the next table, they had a bit of a problem:  almost all the games they had were four player games and there were five of them!  That afternoon, Magenta had expressed an interest in playing The Climbers again and, as it plays five, it was an easy choice.  This is a great three dimensional strategy game that we first played about a year ago.  It looks like it is designed round a set of children’s building blocks, but it’s appearance belies its true nature however, and, although it looks like a kiddie’s dexterity game, it is really a strategy game with almost no dexterity component at all.  The game is played in turn order with each turn comprising three steps. Firstly, the active player can move a block, any block so long as there isn’t anything on it, and they can place it anywhere, in any orientation as long as there is sufficient space. Next the active player can move their Climber as far as they like within the rules.

– Image by boardGOATS

Climbers can climb up any step below their head height unaided as long as the face they are climbing onto is grey or their own colour. They can also use their long and/or short ladders to climb larger distances, but they are fragile and therefore single use. Before the end of their turn, the active player may place their blocking stone, which prevents a brick being moved or used until that player’s next turn.  These are also single use though, so timing is everything, in fact that is true for almost everything about this game which was amply demonstrated by Blue. Nominated to go first by random draw, she made the most of it using her long ladder and getting as high up as she could as quickly as possible, much to everyone else’s disgust.  Black got himself somewhat stuck on a ledge, but Red, Pine and Magenta quickly caught up.  Then it became a real game of chess with everyone trying to outmaneuver everyone else.   Red accused Blue of using “Dubious Tactics”, but they proved to be winning tactics as she finished just higher than Red in second.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

With the Matterhorn conquered, and Lords of Waterdeep still going, it was back to the search for a five-player game, and Santo Domingo fitted the bill.  This is a light card game of tactics and bluffing with a pirate theme set in the world of one of our more popular games, Port Royal.  The idea is that in each round player one character card from their hand which are activated in character order and then are placed on a personal discard pile.  The characters are designed to maximise player interaction, with their result dependent on cards that other players have chosen, similar to games like Citadels and Witch’s Brew.  For example, the first card is the Captain who can take a victory point (from a track on a central game board) up to a maximum of twice. The second character is the Admiral who also takes one victory point, but this time up to a maximum of five times, but this is only possible if there are enough points available. This means players have to play “chicken” and try to time playing their second card when other players play something other than the the Captain or the Admiral.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

Players have to be careful though because the third card is the Governor which gives players goods (rather than points) for every player who played either a Captain or an Admiral card. This means players are trying to maximise their return by reading everybody’s minds and saving their Governor for the round when everyone else is playing the Captain and the Admiral.  Cards four, five and six are the Frigate, Galleon and Customs are roughly analogous to the first three characters, except the Frigate and Galleon yield goods (instead of points) and the Customs card gives points (instead of goods).  Goods are very useful as they can be turned into victory points using the Trader (the seventh character card). Timing is key here too though as the potential return increases for every round that nobody uses the Trader; the return also depends on the number of people to play the card though, so even if everyone waits and then plays the Trader at the same time, players may get less than if they had played a round earlier.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

The final card is the Beggar which allows players to pick up their discard pile so that they can re-use them in the following rounds. At the end of each round, players check to see if anyone has passed thirty points and if so, that triggers the end of the game where any residual goods are converted to points at the minimum rate and the player left with the most points is the winner.  It was about half way through the game that Blue realised that there was something missing.  When the Trader is played, the return is dependent on the yellow track and how many players play the same card.  The problem was that once someone plays the Trader, that triggers a reset of the yellow, trader’s track.  Unfortunately, we forgot the reset bit which meant that players who were prioritising goods were finding it easy to get a good return whenever they wanted.  As a result, the game was very close and finished very quickly.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

Magenta took the first place with thirty-one points, just two ahead of Black in second.  As we had time, we decided to give the game another go, playing correctly this time.  Second time round was still close, though there was a better spread and the Beggar (who also gives goods for every Trader card played in the same round) suddenly became a bit more interesting.  After doing well in the fist game, Black got his timing wrong and failed to trade his goods.  Magenta was extremely efficient the second time round as well, but this time was beaten into second place by Blue.  With the game finished, Red and Magenta headed home and Blue, Black and Pine began a game of Azul.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

This is a new release that Pink and Blue picked up at Essen this year and so far has been popular with the group as well as receiving a lot of buzz further afield.  The idea of the game is that players are tile laying artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora with “azulejos”.  On their turn, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory display (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles in one of the five rows on their player board.  The catch is that each player only has five rows, each with a set number of spaces, one to five. Players can add tiles to a row later in the round, but once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row. Once all the tiles have been picked up, players evaluate their board, and, starting with the shortest row, one of the tiles from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Players score one point for a tile that is not placed adjacent to any other tile, whereas tiles added to rows or columns score the same number of points as there are tiles in the completed row (or column). The game continues with players choosing tiles from the factory displays and then adding them to rows, the catch is that as the mosaic fills up, it is harder to fill the rows as each row can only take each colour once. The game is actually much more complex to explain than to actually play, and as such is just the sort of game we really appreciate.  Blue and Black had both played before, but Pine was new to the game.  Last time he played, Black had commented that this was “just the sort of game that he really liked, but wasn’t any good at”, so it was left to Blue to lead the way.  Pine didn’t need much showing however, and soon had a very fine wall of his own.  So much so in fact, that when Blue was forced to pick up five black “azulejos” she didn’t have space for he was in prime position to take a well deserved win.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

While Azul was still underway, Lords of Waterdeep had come to an end, so Green, Ivory, Burgundy and Purple decided there was time for quick game of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.  This is a straight-forward, light tile laying game, where players are decorating the palace lake with floating lanterns and competing to become the most honored artisan when the festival begins. Each tile is divided into four quarters, each of which has a colour, red, orange, blue, green, purple, black and white. On their turn, players choose a tile from their hand of three and add it to the central palace lake. Every player then receives a lantern card corresponding to the color on the side of the tile facing them, with the active player receiving bonus cards for any edges where the colours of the new tile match those of the lake. At the start of their next turn, players can gain honour tiles by dedicating sets of lantern cards, three pairs, four of a kind or seven different colours. Each tile is worth honour points and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Purple, Burgundy and Ivory went for trying to collect for the full colour set, while Green was content to begin targeting the “two-pairs” or four of a kind. Purple was a late starter to exchange her cards, forcing Burgundy to go for a couple of two-pairs, and Green got stuck with three orange lantern cards with none left to collect. Part way through the game, they suddenly realised that the six point scoring taken was actually a nine point scoring token and everyone had to work out who should have earned what. There weren’t too many already taken, so the correction was worked out quite easily. Purple seemed to not only hoard the cards, but was also building a large collection of bonus discs, such that the others thought that she wasn’t going to be able to use them all.  As usual there was the normal mutterings of the tiles being the wrong way round. Later on with shortages of some colours, tiles were placed in such a way to prevent some players collecting anything at all.  As the game wore on Purple started to exchange her cards and use her discs. By the end of the game she had actually used them all, and it turned out that she’d used them to perfection, proving that hoarding can sometimes be a winning strategy.

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

Just as they started, Azul finished so Blue suggested Black might like to give NMBR 9 a try since he had been quite intrigued last time when Pine, Blue and Purple had played it. Black was Keen and Pine had enjoyed it, so Blue explained the rules.  The idea is that players will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice.  One player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau.  Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile.  Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile.  At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one.  So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game followed the usual course, but it wasn’t long before the the bingo calls started.  Pine began, but Ivory on the next table soon joined in: “Number eight,  garden gate”; “On it’s own, number one”.  Pine finished with, “This number’s smaller, Ivory’s the caller!”  And finished the evening just about was, with only the maths left to be sorted out.  Both Blue and Black had managed to sneak a nine and a one onto the third story.  Pine had more than Black on the first story, but Blue had more than either of them and finished with a grand total of fifty three, some five points more than either of the others.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome: Don’t be misled by an unpromising theme.

11th July 2017

It was another quiet night, with Ivory attending a course, Red recovering from partying too hard, Green and Violet learning about rocks ‘n’ stuff, and Pine delayed by work (swearing blind that his absence had nothing at all to do with how much he had hated 20th Century last time).  We had enough people though, with Turquoise putting in an appearance for the last time before travelling over-seas to visit family for the summer.  While Blue, Burgundy, Turquoise and Magenta waited for pizza, they decided to get in a quick game of one our current favourites, the Spiel des Jahres nominated Kingdomino.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Kingdomino first really hit the group radar after UK Games Expo when both Black and Purple, and Blue and Pink came back with copies.  Both couples enjoyed playing it when they got home and immediately introduced it to the rest of the group who have also taken quite a shine to it.  Despite this, neither Turquoise nor Magenta had managed to play Kingdomino, so Blue quickly explained the rules.  The game consists of dominoes featuring two terrain “tiles” with some tiles also depicting one or more crowns.  When the dominoes are placed, one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or connect to their starting tile (which can be considered to be “wild”).  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space and if one or more dominoes cannot be placed according to these rules, then they are discarded. At the end of the game, each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region and adds them up together with any bonuses to give their score.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

It’s not a difficult game, but it is one where players can get themselves in trouble if they don’t play the early stages well.  So everyone helped out Turquoise, especially Burgundy.  In truth though, she didn’t really need it, instead, it was Blue who struggled with a complete inability to get any tiles with crowns on them.  Burgundy had mixed results with a mixed kingdom and Magenta made good use of what she got building a massive lake which with a few smaller features gave her a total of seventy-four, enough for second place.  With Burgundy taking Turquoise under his wing, the rest of us should have seen the writing on the wall, especially given how large the writing was!  Her massive, high scoring woodland gave Turquoise eighty-five points and clear victory.  Black, who had arrived with Purple in the closing stages commented that he could see how forests were potentially a game-breaking strategy, but that just meant we all now know what he will be trying to do next time we play.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

With what was likely to be our full quota of players we then moved onto our “Feature Game”, Santo Domingo.  This is a light card game of tactics and bluffing with a pirate theme set in the world of one of our more popular games, Port Royal.  The game is a re-implementation of the slightly older game, Visby, which was only given a limited release.  The idea is that in each round player one character card from their hand which are activated in character order and then are placed on a personal discard pile.  The characters are designed to maximise player interaction, with their result dependent on cards that other players have chosen, similar to games like Citadels and Witch’s Brew.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, the first card is the Captain who can take a victory point (from a track on a central game board) up to a maximum of twice.  If more than one player has chosen to play the Captain, then players take it in turns.  The second character is the Admiral:  he can also take one victory point, but this time up to five times, giving him a maximum of five points, but this is only possible if there are enough points available.  Since points added to the track at the start of each round, players want to try to play their Admiral card in a different round to everyone else so that they can ensure they get the maximum number of points.  Alternatively, it could be looked at from the other perspective with players wanting to play their Captain at the same time as everyone else plays their Admiral so that they minimise the income other players can get.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

The third card is the Governor.  This card is different to the first two as it gives players goods (rather than points) for every other player who played either a Captain or an Admiral card.  So, for the Governor, players are trying to maximise their return by reading everyone else’s minds and saving their Governor for the round when everyone else is playing the Captain and the Admiral.  The fourth, fifth and sixth characters (Frigate, Galleon and Customs) are roughly analogous to the first three characters, except the Frigate and Galleon yield goods (instead of points) and the Customs card gives points (instead of goods).  Goods are very useful as they can be turned into victory points using the Trader (the seventh character card).  Timing is key here too though as the potential return increases for every round that nobody uses the Trader; the return also depends on the number of people to play the card though, so even if everyone waits and then plays the Trader at the same time, players may get less than if they had played a round earlier.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

The final card is the Beggar which allows players to pick up their discard pile so that they can re-use them in the following rounds.  Even this character has a timing element as player playing the Beggar are rewarded with extra goods for every Trader played in the same round and for minimising the number of cards they have left when they play it.  At the end of each round, players check to see if anyone has passed thirty points and if so, that triggers the end of the game where any residual goods are converted to points at the minimum rate and the player left with the most points is the winner.  Santo Domingo is one of those games that takes a little while to get the hang of, so the game started slowly with everyone feeling their way.  Blue and Magenta had played before and led the way, but Black and Burgundy were quick to follow.  It was a tight game with players taking it in turns to take the lead.  It is a quick little game and it wasn’t a long game though before Black triggered the end of the game by reaching thirty points.  Magenta just had the edge though and pipped him to the post finishing with thirty-three points, one more than Black.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

There was still plenty of time before Magenta and Turquoise had to leave, so we decided to give Las Vegas a go.  This was another one that was new to Turquoise, but we’ve played it a lot as a group and all enjoy it as there is plenty of time to relax and offer unhelpful advice to everyone else between brief bouts of activity.  The game itself is a very simple betting game.  Players begin their turn by rolling all their dice and then assign some of them to one of six casinos (one for each dice face) each of which has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  Players must place all the dice displaying one number to bet on the casino of that number, and when done, play passes to the next player.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card, with the person in second place taking the next and so on.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The really clever part of this game is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed.  This leads to a lot of barracking when dice are played as opponents try to encourage the active player to choose their favoured option.  As usual, we included the Big Dice from the Boulevard expansion which are double weight and count as two dice in the final reckoning.  We also included the Slot Machine mini-expansion from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar which acts a bit like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but dice of each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  Since we tend to play the game unusually slowly which can make it out-stay it’s welcome, we also house-rule the game to just three rounds rather than the four given in the rules.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The first round had all the large value cards with every casino having jackpot of $90,000 or $100,000.  This really put the pressure on early as with six casinos (and the the Slot Machine) and six players, everyone was under pressure to win at least one to stay in the game.  Inevitably, someone didn’t and that someone was Magenta.  Someone else was obviously the beneficiary, and that was Turquoise.  There were plenty of slightly smaller amounts available as well, so things wouldn’t have been so bad if Magenta had picked up some of these.  Sadly she didn’t though and got her revenge by knocking over a glass of water and drowning the lot. Reactions were quick and the game is hardy, so a quick mop and dry followed by a firm press and everything was fine.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The second and third rounds were much more evenly spread out, but the jackpots were also smaller, which made playing catch up more difficult.  Much hilarity ensued when Magenta kept rolling “lucky” sixes, but couldn’t do much with them.  Despite such “good luck” without the fourth round, Magenta felt she was pretty much out of the game, but everyone else was in with a good chance.  There is a reason why winnings are kept secret though and as everyone counted out their totals, it was clear it was really close, with everyone within a few thousand dollars of each other.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

It was only when Turquoise gave her winnings though that everyone else realised they were actually competing for second place, some four hundred thousand dollars behind her.  It was just before Magenta and Turquoise headed off that Blue touted for interest in a weekend gaming session.  Together with Pink, she had been asked to play-test a new game, Keyper, and was looking for one or two more to make up the numbers.  Magenta and Turquoise were unavailable, but Black and Purple were keen to give it a go.  So, with that matter of business out of the way, Magenta and Turquoise left and everyone else settled down to one last game, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Lanterns is a straight-forward, light tile laying game, where players are decorating the palace lake with floating lanterns and competing to become the most honored artisan when the festival begins.  Each tile is divided into four quarters, each of which has a colour, red, orange, blue, green, purple, black and white.  On their turn, players choose a tile from their hand of three and add it to the central palace lake.  Every player then receives a lantern card corresponding to the color on the side of the tile facing them, with the active player receiving bonus cards for any edges where the colours of the new tile match those of the lake.  At the start of their next turn, players can gain honour tiles by dedicating sets of lantern cards, three pairs, four of a kind or seven different colours.  Each tile is worth honour points and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

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

This was another close game, made difficult by the lack of orange cards in the early part of the game.  Ordinarily, players can use favour tokens to make up a deficit like this.  Favours are rewards for placing special tiles that feature a “platform”, and pairs can be spent to enable players to exchange one coloured card for another.  It takes a while to collect favour tokens, however, so it is difficult to obtain and use pairs early in the game.  Spotting how the lack of orange cards was making life difficult for people, Blue began hoarding blue lantern cards, quickly followed by Purple who hoarded purple lantern cards.  It was another close game, though, with everyone finishing within five points of the winner.  In fact, Black and Blue finished level with around fifty honour points, but Blue took first place with the tie-breaker thanks to her two left-over favours.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Light games are best when they are as close as possible.

UK Games Expo 2017

Last weekend, 2nd-4th June, gamers once converged on Birmingham for three days of fun and games for UK Games Expo.  Whereas Essen, is primarily a trade fair so is all about the business surrounding games with lots of buying and selling, Expo focusses on gamers playing games and includes Euro Games as well as lost of role playing games, miniatures games, and war games.  In addition to tournaments there is lots of “open gaming” space and demonstration events for new designs.  There are lots of activities specially designed for kids in the “Family Zone” as well as a trade fair with all the latest games for their parents and seminars presented by industry experts, panels and celebrity guests.

Dice
– Image by boardGOATS

This is the eleventh year of Expo and the event gets ever larger.  Like last year, there were activities in both the NEC and the  NEC Hilton Metropole, though this year it spread into Hall Three at the NEC as well as taking over the whole of Hall One with the food fair outside.  The focus of Expo is on playing games rather than marketing, so there are generally fewer new releases available than at some of the other conventions.  The trade fair is growing though and as a result there were more new games available this year than previously, including The Cousins’ War (a two player game from Surprised Stare Games); Santo Domingo (a new light card game in the style of Port Royal) and Capitals, the new expansion to one of our favourite games, Between Two Cities.  There were also demonstrations and play-testing of of some exciting pre-release games including the new Splendor Expansion and the upcoming stand-alone Snowdonia variant, “A Nice Cup of Tea”.

UK Games Expo
– Image by boardGOATS

A number of GOATS went to play and make purchases with some taking time off work to go on the slightly quieter Friday, while others braved the hoards over the weekend.  A fun time was had by all and it will no-doubt be a topic of conversation next week. when we will surely play some of the new acquisitions.

UK Games Expo
– Image by boardGOATS

21st February 2017

We started the evening setting up the card games, The Golden Sails and 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!, but as more players arrived and time was getting on, we abandoned them in favour of the “Feature Game”, Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen or Cliff Hanger).  This is a game that that arguably should be come the group’s signature game as it is very simple little trick taking card game all about goats.  As the rules were explained, Grey (on one of his rare, but much valued appearances), commented that it was like Blackjack (aka Pontoon or Vingt-et-Un) – i.e. play to a limit, but exceed that limit and you are bust.  The idea is that players choose a card from their hand and play it face up in front of them – the person who plays the highest card takes the trick and with it all the cards played in the round.  The player who plays the lowest card plays draws a Goat Island card.  These have two ends with different numbers on them, so the first “loser” takes a card and places the goat-meeple on one end, choosing which end will become part of Goat Island.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

The game continues with players playing cards and winning tricks, and the player who plays the lowest numbered card adding to Goat Island, choosing whether to add a large or small amount to the total.  At the end of the game, the total of the four cards that make up the island define the limit and players who exceed that value are out.  The catch is that players are not summing the face value of the cards (which go from one to fifty), instead, a little like 6 Nimmt!, they are counting goats head symbols which have little relation to the face value of the cards.  We played the game twice through, since we made a bit of a mess of it the first time.  After a long discussion about whether completed tricks should be placed face down or not, Red who led first misunderstood and thought the cards were played face down, so that screwed up her first turn and lumbered her with a pile of cards she didn’t want.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

This led to Grey’s comment that the game was poorly designed as once a player is bust their game is over.  In fact though, the game is so short that effective player elimination doesn’t matter that much and in any case, players who are out can still try to take as many others with them as possible.  After the first hand (taken by Grey), we gave it another try.  By this time, Blue had managed to find out who leads after the first trick so instead of passing the honour round the table, we played correctly and the winner led.  The second game went to Red, and was definitely more fun as we began to see what the aim of the game was and how to screw up other people.  We were just beginning to get the hang of it, but felt we should move on to something else now everyone had arrived.  It was genuinely very quick though, so we’ll probably play it again and it might be worth trying some of the variants too.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

With such a short “Feature Game” and everyone being far too polite, we spent a lot of time deciding what to play next.  Orleans, Terraforming Mars, Viticulture and Agricola were all on the table, but nobody wanted to commit in case something better came along, or perhaps because they genuinely didn’t really mind and were happy to fill in once those who did mind had made a choice. Eventually, Magenta said she would like to play Isle of Skye and several said they’d be happy to play that if others wanted to play something else.  Ivory on the other hand said he was quite happy to play Agricola (which had been brought with him in mind, then Green walked in, making things slightly more complicated as with nine players one game would have to be a five-player which might make it long.  In the end Red got fed up with people being indecisive and started to direct people:  first she made a three player game of Agricola, then she found two to join Magenta playing Isle of Skye which left Blue, Burgundy and Red to find something else to play, which ended up being Imhotep.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep is a very simple game that we’ve played a few times since is was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres last year.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions:  procure new stones; load stones on a boat; sail a boat to a monument; or play an action card.  Players can only store a maximum of five stones and when they procure stones they can collect a maximum of three.  Stones are loaded onto ships one at a time, but which of the five possible destinations the boats end up at and the order they are unloaded in is vital, so timing and planning is everything.  What makes it particularly tricky is that the best plans in the world can be crushed by opponents with one small action: when they take a boat to the “wrong place” or “at the wrong time”.  There are four ships and five building locations, so one doesn’t get visited and the round ends when all four boats have sailed.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The building locations are double sided so the game can be played with the less complex Side A, the slightly more confusing Side B, or a mixture of the two.  Red had struggled last time she had tried Imhotep since she ended up playing with two people who had tried it before and wanted to play with Side B without fully appreciating how much more complexity it adds.  This time, therefore, we stuck to the simpler Side A, but instead added the Stonemason’s Wager Mini Expansion to give it just a little extra interest.  This little promotional item allows players a one-off, extra option:  the chance to bet on which monument will have the most stones in it at the end of the game.  Otherwise the game is unchanged and there are six rounds in total, as usual, with points scored in different ways for the different buildings; the player with the most points at the end is declared the best builder in Egypt.

Imhotep: The Stonemason's Wager Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Blue and Burgundy started out visiting the Market picking up statues, but with both in the same market it was always going to be a struggle.  Meanwhile, Red stole an essentially insurmountable lead in the Obelisks.  Blue took a green card that would yield a point for every three stones in the Burial Chamber at the end of the game, so she tried to encourage boats to go there.  Unfortunately, because she also nearly picked up a significant score on the Burial Chamber, but Burgundy was first forced to obstruct her plans and then Red and Burgundy started sending boats to the Temple instead.  In general, it was quite a cagey game with everyone concentrating on not letting anyone take too many points rather than trying to make a killing themselves.  Going into the final scoring, it was all quite close.  Red took the points for the Stonemason’s Wager, and Burgundy took points for statues, but Blue had a lot of bonus points from a range of sources, giving her first place, ten points ahead of Burgundy in second.

– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep finished, but next game was not far behind, so Blue, Red and Burgundy played a couple of quick hands of Love Letter while they waited.  With its quick play, this micro-game is one of our go to fillers.  The idea is that each player has a single card in hand, and on their turn they draw a second and choose one of the two to play.  Each card has an action and a number, one to eight.  Players use the actions to try to deduce information about which cards others are holding and, in turn use that to eliminate them.  The winner is either the last player standing or the player with the highest ranking card at the end of the game.  In the first round, Blue was caught holding the Princess leaving Burgundy to take the round.  The second played out to the final card.  With just two possible cards left and the Princess still hiding, Red took a chance and played the Prince, forcing Blue to discard her hand.  This meant she had to pick up the set-aside card, which was, of course, the Princess, making it a two-way tie.

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Magenta, Purple and Grey had been playing a game of Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King.  This won the Kennerspiel des Jahres last year, and has proven to be quite popular with our group.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with the added feature of an auction at the start of each round and scoring at the end of each round.  The scoring is one of the interesting parts of this game as the four scoring criteria change from game to game and, and each one scores three times during the course of the game.  Choosing how to prioritise these to drive a strategy is one of the keys to playing well.  This time, with points available throughout for completed areas (lakes and mountains), this was a clear target, however, identifying a strategy and making it work are two different things.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, Purple was unlucky that she was unable to get any tiles with cows on roads until the final round, which meant she struggled to build a score early in the game.  Although this meant she picked up the bonus money for being at the back, she still struggled to get the tiles she wanted.  Similarly, Grey was unlucky in that he placed a tile that later became an real obstacle making it difficult for him to place tiles later and get points.  It was Magenta though who had been able to build an early lead, and kept it throughout picking up points every round.  A couple of lucky tile draws gave her good tiles that both Grey and Purple wanted making it a sellers market, and leaving Magenta with lots of cash to spend towards the end of the game.  Going into the final scoring, Magenta had a sizeable lead, but Grey had a large pile of cash which yielded a tidy eight points and very nearly gave him the game.  Magenta managed to fend him off though with the one point she took for her remaining seven coins, making the difference between first place and second.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

With the games on the first two tables complete, Red, Magenta and Grey went home leaving Purple, Blue and Burgundy to play yet another in the long running campaign to beat Burgundy at Splendor.  This simple set collecting, engine builder has proved to be quite intractable.  Blue and Pine in particular have had several attempts to get the better of Burgundy, but so far he has just had the edge.  Sadly this this game was no exception, though the game was very, very tight. There was a shortage of Opals cards available, despite the presence of lots of cards needing them.  Emeralds were also quite scarce at the start, but Burgundy managed to build a substantial collection of Diamonds to keep the threat alive.  Blue thought she had finally got Burgundy trapped but in the final round Purple took a card and the replacement was a sapphire that Burgundy could take and gave him eighteen points, one more than Blue (who was last in the turn order).  Yet another very, very close game – we’ll get him in the end…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, all evening, Ivory, Black and Green had been engaged in an game of Agricola.  This had started out with an extensive effort to disentangle the cards for the base game from the myriad of expansions Blue had somehow crammed into the box.  Once this was sorted though, and the game was set up, a rules explanation was necessary as Ivory hadn’t played it before.  The archetypal worker placement game, players star out with a farming couple and a shack and during the game try to build up their farmstead, livestock and family, the winner being the player with the most successful farm. Actions available include things like upgrading the farmhouse, ploughing and sowing fields, enclosing areas, taking livestock, and, of course, procreating.  One of the clever parts of the game is that each round, an additional action become available, but the order of these is not known in advance.  The stress is provided by harvests that occur at intervals during the game and require players to have enough food to feed their family, or resort to begging (which yields negative points at the end of the game).

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, instead of playing the family game, we played the full version which includes occupation and improvement cards.  The challenge with this game is to use the cards effectively, but not to get carried away and try to force the strategy to use cards to its detriment.  Green started with occupations and used them to quickly fenced a large padock for sheep (building one gave him three extras).  He then ploughed and got three fields up and running before going back to enclosing pasture for cattle. Despite only having two family members, he struggled to have enough food until he eventually managed to nab a cartload of clay and used it to build a an oven, which proved invaluable at keeping hunger at bay.  Towards the end, he finally managed to develop his family and added a pig for a total of twenty-nine.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Black played a quiet game, also didn’t grow his family and farm developed only slowly too.  As he often does, Black instead concentrated on home-making and upgraded his house to clay and then stone in quick succession.  Somehow he didn’t struggle at harvest time as much as Green, probably because he went into building ovens which provided his food.  This was at the expense of his farm, which remained stubbornly small, right until the end.  The unused spaces cost him though, as did his lack of pigs, and he finished with a fine house, but only one child and a score of twenty-three points.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory went for a different strategy, starting by going for lots of food, and support for getting food later.  In particular he made good use of his Mushroom Picker.  Building his food engine so early enabled him to grow his family early in the game giving him extra actions.  These he used to quietly collect lots of resources, which enabled him to build a large field for sheep.  He then enclosed second pasture and just swiped a field full for boar before Green got them. He only ploughed late (perhaps it was the snowy landscape that delayed him), but his early food strategy really paid off.  All his extra cards were valuable too and added ten points to his score, giving him a total of forty-one points and victory by a sizeable margin, despite Green’s inadvertent cheating!

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as Agricola came to an end, Splendor finished too.  So, after helping to shoe-horn the miriad of little pieces back into the boxes, Ivory and Green headed off leaving Black to join the others.  The ever dwindling numbers were boosted with the arrival of Pine, who had been two-timing us with the WI – he said they had the lowest average age of any WI he’d ever come across, so maybe that was the appeal.  The remaining five gamers felt there was time for one more game, as long as we could keep it to about forty-five minutes.  We are not the quickest at playing, or choosing and time was beginning to get tight, so we opted for Bohnanza as it played quicker than other suggestions and it wouldn’t need any rules reminders (like 11 Nimmt! and Port Royal).  The game is one of our old staples, is quick to learn and keeps everyone involved throughout.  The key to the game is that players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand and must play them in the order they arrive.  Thus, on their turn, the active player first plays the first card in their hand with the option of playing the second if they desire.  Once they’ve been planted, two cards are drawn which can be traded, but must be planted by someone.  This can lead to free gifts, but also players being nasty and refusing to take even the apparently most lucrative trades.

– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Pine was making up for lost time, and the well-known good nature of the WI hadn’t rubbed off.  He accused Burgundy of just about everything he could think of, in an effort to persuade everyone else not to trade with him. Black had one of his worst games for a long time with all the wrong cards coming up at the wrong time giving him nothing to work with.  Otherwise it was a very tight game. In the dying turns, despite Black’s protestations, Purple and Pine both gave Blue exceptionally favourable trades (possibly in an effort to square things from earlier, but more likely to ensure that Burgundy didn’t win – again).  Much to Pine’s surprise, that left him in joint first place with Blue, one coin ahead of Burgundy (possibly the most important factor to him).  Feeling she had been gifted a joint win by Pine’s generosity at the end, Blue offered to concede to Pine, but on checking the rules he won anyhow on the tie-breaker, as the player with the most cards in hand at the end.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Learning Outcome:  Cheating doesn’t pay.