Tag Archives: Port Royal

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.

1st Movember 2016

Blue and Red arrived first, with Red telling the tale of her exciting weekend.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy, Pine and Green had arrived so, at Blue’s behest, Red began telling it all over again.  She had been part of a teem entered into to a twenty-four hour “jigsaw-a-thon” in Belgium.  The Unofficial World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship is held every year in a place called Hannut and includes teams from all over the world.  This year, there were one hundred and twenty four teams, each fielding four active members at any one time (though as many interchanges as required were allowed).  Each team was competitively “jigsawing” in a little pen, Red explained, and when a puzzle was finished the team involved cheered madly and set off a klaxon.  Red’s team came a very creditable fifty-ninth, which was particularly remarkable as they had primarily gone along to have a good time where other teams took it very seriously and were exceptionally well organised.  Everyone was quite taken with the idea though, so much so that Green suggested entering a GOATS team next year.  It remains to be seen whether that actually happens…

Hannut 2016
– Image from 24hpuzzle.be/flickr.com

Green had his own exciting tales to tell about his visit to Millbrook Proving Ground and Burgundy had been to Wembley to see the season’s last American Football match of the NFL International Series which had turned out to be “a great game for neutrals”.  Consequently, it was gone 8pm before we realised that Black and Purple still hadn’t arrived and nobody knew whether they were coming or not.  Texts followed just as Black and Purple walked in commenting how great the NFL match had been.  Needless to say, we were late starting as we chatted on about that again.  Eventually, we split into two groups, with Green, Black and Burgundy settling down to play the “Feature Game”, Batavia.  Batavia was the Dutch colonial name given to the Indonesian city of Jakarta from the seventeenth century.  Batavia was also a ship of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VOC) that was built in Amsterdam, and shipwrecked on her maiden voyage in 1629 off the Western Australian coast.  The game, Batavia, on the other hand, is concerned with shipping commodities from the spice islands in the seventeenth century and features both the city Batavia and the ship Batavia.

Batavia
– Image used with permission of
BGG reviewer EndersGame

Batavia is played over several rounds on a map of Asia featuring the central islands of the spice trade route.  Players are merchants visiting trading posts of the five East India Companies throughout Asia, gaining “majorities”, which earn the right to different commodities, which in turn translate into money that wins the game.  Each round consists of two phases:  an auction phase and a movement phase.  In the first phase, a die is rolled to determine how many cards will be auctioned.  Then, players bid using their promissory notes increasing the bid until everyone has passed with the highest bidder winning the cards and the right to go first.  The interesting part is that the winning bidder does not pay the bank, instead paying the other players by dealing the promissory notes round the table.  This is a very clever balancing mechanism, because it means the total number of promissory notes in circulation remains unchanged throughout the game.  Players who fail to win an auction also have in increased chance of winning the next time, and promissory notes are worth bonus points at the end of the game, giving them an intrinsic value in their own right.

Batavia
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

One the auction has been completed the auction winner begins the movement phase.  Each player has a choice, they can take two cards or play ship cards and move their merchant figure to get a new trading post counter.  Ship cards can only be played if the active player has, or can can achieve a majority of cards in one of the five trading companies – cards are played into a tableau and the player with the most cards of a particular shipping company gets the corresponding Company Seal which indicates possession of the majority in that company (and can be taken from another player if necessary).  Thus a player with a Company Seal can play any cards they wish, but if they do not have a Company Seal, they must play enough cards to earn the right to get one, and then can play additional cards as well.  In other words, if a player does not have any of the Company Seals, and can’t play enough cards to get one, then they must draw two cards instead.  Once the active player has played cards and has at least one Company Seal, they may move their Merchant figure along the hex-track to a trading post counter that corresponds to one of the Company Seals they own.  They take this tile which represents gaining the matching commodity from that trading post and is marked by placing a wooden Crate in the appropriate warehouse for that commodity.

Batavia
– Image by boardGOATS

Once a player has played their cards and moved their Merchant, they may, if they wish, turn their hex-tiles into points (or Gold).  The commodities on the tiles are of no significance, but the tiles traded must be from different companies; the more a player trades, the better the return, i.e one tile gives one point, but five tiles (from each of the five different companies) yields a massive fifteen points.  There is a catch though, trading is prohibited if the hex-tile just acquired comes from a company that the player already had a counter for.  Worse, trading post tiles cannot be turned into points at the end of the game, which means decisions can be tense, especially towards the end of the game.  There is another catch though.  Every time a ship card is played, the token that corresponds to that shipping company is moved along the Pirate track, as is the Pirate cannon.  When the cannon reaches a certain point, players forfeit all cards that correspond to the shipping company token that has made it the furthest along the Pirate track.  This fulfills many functions, including ensuring the number of cards in play doesn’t become unwieldy and preventing one player from getting an unassailable majority as well as encouraging players to diversify.  The game end is triggered when one player reaches the end of the trading post track and the round is finished to ensure everyone gets an equal number of turns.

Batavia
– Image by boardGOATS

We had nearly completed the set up when we discovered several pieces missing from the box that had been used elsewhere and not returned.  Rather than abandon the game though, we scavenged bits for the company seals and ‘navigator’ pieces from other games, primarily Vasco da Gama (at least some part of that game is being played).  With that sorted, we were quickly under way.  The early rounds of the game were characterised with high dice rolls, meaning that there were a lot of cards available for each auction that both Burgundy and Green paid handsomely for.  While Burgundy and Black made steady progress, laying claim to a few different commodities, Green raced ahead concentrating on just nuts and vases, the two highest valued commodities available in the game at that point. Black, on the other hand, won so few auctions that he had to miss his turn twice, collecting just two cards instead.

Batavia & Vasco da Gama
– Image by boardGOATS

During the early part of the game we discussed the optimum number of trading post hex-tiles to a swap for points.  The more a player trades, the better the return, i.e one tile gives one point, but five tiles (from each of the five different companies) yields a massive fifteen points, but more is correspondingly more challenging.  Burgundy explained that he felt that three was a good number as four was rife with risks of not being able to get one of the two remaining companies available. He stuck to his guns and exchanged after just three chits, while Green and Black both managed a four relatively easily.  Elsewhere in the  game, Cloth and Coffee were conspicuous by their absence, until about half way when Cloth materialised creating a veritable textile market quarter.  Coffee didn’t become available until the second half of the game and two thirds turned up in the final ten spaces, but by then Green was so far ahead of the other two that neither of them stood much of a chance to even get a foot-hold in that particular racquet.

Batavia
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end, although Burgundy had placed more crates overall, he only had the majority in one commodity, while both Green and Black managed the majority in two each. However with Green snatching the most valuable majorities and the end Target Token he was a clear winner. Black, who had seemed to be on the back foot for most of the game, just snatched the bonus for finishing with the most promissory notes (everyone must have been pretty even handed about their assumptions of card values, to finish with almost exactly the amounts we started with).  When Green snatched that final trading post hex-tile, Burgundy and Black were both a long way behind and plans were scuppered, but it did mean they had a reasonable choice to gather a final useful token.  Ironically, Burgundy placed a final crate in Cotton, which removed Black’s majority there. If he hadn’t done that, Black would have beaten Green by one point. It just goes to show that the player to watch out for isn’t always the most obvious one.

Batavia
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, after a short debate about what to play, Blue, Red, Pine and Purple started on Kerala: der Weg der Elelfanten, “the way of the elephant”.  This was one of the games that came back from Essen and, as a light tile-laying game got its first outing last time.  Pine and Purple had enjoyed it and Red had missed out last time so was keen to give it a go.  The idea is that on their turn, the active player draws the same number of tiles from the bag as there are players and then chooses one to add to their display of tiles.  The everyone else takes it in turns taking a tile and adding them to their own display.  Play is mostly simultaneous as players puzzle over where to add tiles according to the fairly simple rules.  Tiles must be placed next to a tile with an elephant on it and the elephant is then moved onto the new tile.  It can be placed in an empty space, or on top of a previously laid tile.  However, a large part of the game is to finish with exactly one contiguous region of each colour (except the player’s own colour which can have two regions) as any extras must be removed and each tile taken away scores minus two points at the end of the game while any missing colours score minus five.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue drew with Black drew last time, thanks to a large number of “apron” tiles which score five points each when placed so that the apron matched the correct colour.  This time, everyone else was wise to how valuable these were and Blue had to fight harder for points.  In this game, positioning elephants and choosing suitable tiles (or leaving everyone else with poor tiles) is everything.  Both Purple and Pine and pine got themselves in a bit of a tangle with multiple regions of the same colour.  For the most part though, by the end of the game they had managed to connect the relevant areas and minimise the number of points lost.  It was Red, playing for the first time who got the best of the tiles.  She was no doubt helped by the fact that Blue (sat to her right), got herself in a terrible tangle and ended up trying to build her way out of trouble by placing tiles on top of others.  The problem was that no sooner had she fixed one problem than another came along, which meant she was more concerned about choosing the best tiles she could for herself than leaving tiles that were difficult for the next players.  Once again, the game finished in a tie, but this time it was Pine and Red who finished in joint first place, nearly ten points clear of the others.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

Batavia was still underway, so the group moved onto a nominally quick little card game, called Fleet Warfside.  Although the game is about the fishing industry and uses the same artwork as the original Fleet card game, the game play is quite different.  The idea is that Wharfside is the sequel, with players buying and selling fish (caught in the original Fleet).  Players begin the game with a handful of fishy goods cards which they can use as currency or trade for points.  In ascending value, the goods cards each represent shrimp, oyster, tuna, swordfish, lobster or king crab.  Thus, two oyster cards are worth more than two shrimp cards and two king crab are worth more than two of anything else.  However, an extra card will always be worth more so three shrimps for example is worth more than two of anything else, even the valuable king crab.  Over-paying is allowed, in fact, it is over-paying that means the game works as, at its core, Fleet Wharfside is a set collecting game, and players need to be able to cover all the bases as prices are constantly changing.

Fleet Wharfside
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, players can either carry out a Market action or use the Wharf.  Market action involves buying contract or building card from the face up Market.  The price of each of the four individual cards is set in advance and is given by an indicator card immediately above the contract cards.  When a card is bought, the price of one of the four cards will change as the indicator card is rotated (usually increasing the price).  The Market affected depends on the replacement card drawn.  Instead of carrying out a Market action, players can instead visit the Wharf.  This allows them to do a variety of actions including: use any special abilities that come with the contract cards; assign a maximum of two goods to contracts and store king crab for scoring at the end of the game.  If a contract is completed during this phase, the assigned goods cards are placed on the discard deck and the completed contracts removed from the player’s tableau and placed in their scoring pile.  Bonus points cards are awarded for the first and second contract of each type to be completed.  A Wharf action is finished with a visit to the Wharf where players can take two cards from one of the two pools of face up cards.  There is a hand-limit, but players can choose which cards to discard after they have picked up.

Fleet Wharfside
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

The game end is triggered when a player completes a set number of contracts and the round completed so everyone gets the same number of turns.  Points are scored for completed contracts/buildings (at face value); stored king crab (at a rate of one per card plus a bonus for the player with the most); contract completion bonuses; the largest set in-hand at the end of the game (one point per card), and the player’s personal Captain Bonus (each player gets a random Captain card at the start of the game which depicts one type of goods and the player scores one point per speciality on their completed contracts).  Blue and Pink played Fleet Warfside on their way to Essen last month, but otherwise it was new to the group.  Although it is a great little card game, it is not really like anything else we’ve played on a Tuesday, and as a result, everyone struggled a bit.   Things were made worse by the fact that nobody really used the ability to over-pay, nor did they use the any two for one, which when judiciously used can speed things a long quite a bit.  When explaining the game, Blue commented that although the goal was to finish contracts, in actual fact it was generally better to try to keep the maximum of three contracts for as long as possible, as each contract has a spacial power and as soon as a contract was fulfilled, its power was lost.  Although this comment was well-meaning, it only succeeded in confusing Pine and Purple further.

Fleet Wharfside
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

The effect was an endless stream of questions and queries and repeated questions and queries which gave Red a fit of the giggles. The advertised time for Fleet Warfside is twenty to thirty minutes, but although Blue was expecting it to take longer, even she wasn’t expecting it to drag on as long as it did.  The problem was made worse since its sweet-spot is probably three players and with people agonising over what to do and questioning what the options are, the effect was even worse than it was.  Unsurprisingly given that she was the only one to play it before, Blue finished as the winner five points ahead of Red in second place.  Sadly, although it is a clever little game, with this group it was not a great success this time.  Actually, it may be that the more abstract, less visual nature of card games is the problem, since the same people struggled with Port Royal Unterwegs last time and with Oh My Goods! the time before – perhaps something to keep in mind for the future.

Isis and Osiris
– Image by boardGOATS

Since Batavia had finished, Green, Burgundy and Black looked round for something to play that might fill the time while Fleet Wharfside ground on.  Green’s eye fell on Isis & Osiris, a little game that Blue and Pink had brought back for him as a present from Essen.  The pieces  needed removing from their frames and nobody had played it before so there a flurry of rules reading, though in truth it was a simple enough game.  The game comprises elements of strategy and memory.  At the start, players are dealt a pile of tiles, face down, and get a handful of octagonal wooden blocks in their colour.  Game play is very simple: on their turn, the active player can either place a tile face down, first showing it to everyone else, or they can place a block.  At the end of the game, all the tiles are turned face up and players score points for those tiles orthogonally adjacent to their blocks.  The catch is that the tile values range from minus four to plus four (with no zeros), i.e. are both positive and negative.

Isis and Osiris
– Image by boardGOATS

After the inevitable terrorism comments, we started.  The skill in this game is to not only remember where all the best scoring tiles have gone, but also to work out when and where to place your own piece in order to maximise those tile placements: if someone turns up a high negative tile they certain to try to place it next to your piece and away from their own.  While playing we soon realised that a real quandary was when to place the four wooden pieces. Placing them early ensures they are out and gets a large part of the board covered.  Alternatively, waiting until near the end gives a better idea of where the scores are, but leaves less spaces in which to actually get those points. On reflection it seems that it really needs to be a balance, going early or late will probably end up with being boxed out of controlling your own destiny (not that you feel like you have much control normally anyhow).

Isis and Osiris
– Image by boardGOATS

We were unsure what kind of scores we would get. We had the feeling it was one of those game where negative scores would be all too common, and even a single point might be the winning score In the end the scores were a little higher than that at four, five and eight.  Burgundy admitted to forgetting where the scoring tiles were very early, on but still went on to win. It’s not clear what that says about this game, though we would need to play it a couple more times to find out how “random” it really is. With good players with good memories it could be a very challenging game.  Still it did only take the twenty minutes claimed (including set up, explanation and confusion during scoring) which makes it a good filler, which is more than could be said for Fleet Warfside on the next table which was still going.  It was obvious they would be another half hour or so, so with no messing our old favourite Splendor was out of the box and ready to go.

Isis and Osiris
– Image by boardGOATS

In Splendor, players have just three options on their turn:  collect gem tokens, buy a gem card using gem tokens (and/or cards), or reserve a gem card and receive a gold (wild) token at the same time.  Players can have a maximum of ten tokens, though unlimited cards and the cards act as permanent tokens.  Thus, at its heart Splendor is an engine building game built on a set-collection mechanism.  Players score points when they buy some gem cards and for attracting Nobles which are awarded to the first player collect certain combinations of gem cards; the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points and the player with the most at the end wins.  One of the fun things about this game is that, despite its relative simplicity, each game plays differently.  This time it seemed to be a token-heavy game, in other words everyone did a lot of token hoarding, keeping several key colours out of circulation, making progress in a particular colour tricky for everyone.  As a result a number of gold tokens were taken for very lowly cards, several level twos and even a couple of level one cards. Indeed, Black took gold several times for want of anything better to do, since nothing else looked helpful.  The lack of tokens seemed to weigh particularly heavily on Burgundy in the early parts of the game, giving Black and Green a little optimism that maybe this time they might be able to topple him for the first time in four games.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Overall it was a very tight game. Burgundy, in spite of his protestations of having nothing he could do, managed to take the first Noble card. Black quickly got another with a high scoring card, leap frogging him into a strong lead and Green wasn’t far behind in gathering his first Noble.  Burgundy was able to build on his first Noble (one with three cards in each of three colours) by adding just two more cards to give his second Noble and put him within a whisker of ending the game with fourteen points. At this point, Black recognised that this could be his last turn, but he needed two turns to complete his plan. He did the best he could and also reached fourteen points.  Green went next, but his plan worked out just in time, and he placed a reserved card worth three points giving him his second Noble in the same way that Burgundy had and helping him to fifteen points triggering the game end making it the last round.  Unfortunately,  thanks to the turn order, Burgundy got one final turn and it didn’t take a lot of effort to find a way to gather two more points to maintain his Splendor crown, albeit with a warning shot across his bows: next time we’ll get him, maybe.

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

With Fleet Warfside finally over, Red there was still time one final short filler, and, after a quick discussion, we resorted to our old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.  While Burgundy shuffled, the rest of us engaged in a discussion as to when we last played – after a look through the book, the verdict was July, which only left us to decide whether that was “ages” or not.  We reminded ourselves of the rules:  players simultaneously choose a card, then simultaneously reveal them before playing them in ascending order placing each on on the highest card that is lower than the card being played.  When the sixth card is added to a row, the first five are taken and the number of heads contributes to the player’s score, lowest score wins.  We tend to play a variant over two rounds with half the deck in each round and not resetting the table in between which tends to result in a cascade of points in the second round, and this time was no exception.  Black and Burgundy top scored in the first round with zero and one point respectively and nobody else close, setting up a head to head in the second.  Victims of the second round cascade, unfortunately for them, Black and Burgundy both had disastrous second round.  It was Red who redeemed a poor first round to win by one point from Purple and Green who finished in joint second place.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Card games are more abstract and sometimes more difficult to understand.

18th October 2016

Magenta arrived first, and after a short delay while she fiddled with her phone she was joined by Blue (armed with lots of “Mammy Sheep” for Red and a pile of other bits from Essen for everyone else). Burgundy, Pine, Red and Cerise followed together with food.  We were nearly done when Black and purple turned up and ordered their food, so while we were waiting we started a pair of parallel games of the “Feature Game”, The Game: Extreme.  We’ve played the original version, The Game, quite a lot, so were keen to see what this added.  The Game is very simple:  as a group, players must try to to play every card from the deck (numbered two to ninety-nine) onto four piles.  On their turn, the active player must play two cards from their hand on any of the four piles:  for two of the card must be of higher value than the current top card, while for the other two it must must be of lower value.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can discuss anything they like so long as nobody discloses any specific number information and they can play as many cards as they like on their turn so long as they play at least two (until the deck has been depleted, after which they must play one).  To help eveyone out, there is also the so called “Backwards Rule” which allows players to push a pile back so long as the difference between the card they are playing and the card they are covering is exactly ten.  Once the active player has played their cards, they replenish the missing cards.  The game ends when all cards have been played or the active player is unable to play a card.  The game is often compared with Hanabi, as it is a cooperative card game, but for Hanabi to work really well it needs to be played in total silence and with poker faces – anything less and clues are given away unintentionally and the level of “cheating” becomes arguable, but playing like this is very stressful.  In contrast, we find that The Game is much more relaxed and “fun”, which is why we like it.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

The Game: Extreme differs from the original in that the cards have a different colour scheme and twenty-eight of them are marked with special “command”.  There are seven different commands, three that take effect immediately and only directly affect the active player, and four that continue to affect every player on their turn until they are covered by another card.  These commands are all nasty and vary from “play three cards” to “pick up only one card”, or “no talking”.  It was very quickly apparent that the commands make The Game: Extreme much more difficult than The Game.  What was less obvious was that it becomes much more stressful and, as a result, less fun.  After both groups had endured two terrible rounds getting barely half way through the deck, Magenta, Blue and Burgundy came to the conclusion that a large part of the problem was that it felt like the game was playing the players rather than the players playing the game.  Blue commented that it hadn’t felt like that with two players when , so maybe an extra card each would help?  So Magenta, Blue and Burgundy gave it another try with seven cards apiece.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, it was much better – everyone felt like they had meaningful choices instead of no choice, but it was still difficult.  Clearly with the extra cards The Game was much easier, but still not trivial and the group finished with a creditable three cards remaining.  Meanwhile, Pine, Red and Cerise had got bored with dispiriting losses and had moved onto Port Royal Unterwegs.  This is supposed to be the travel edition of Port Royal, though how it is the travel edition, Heaven only knows as the box is the same size as the full version, which itself is big enough to include the expansion as well!  Perhaps it is in reference to the number of cards, which is considerably less than half the number in the full game and, as a result it plays a maximum of four rather than the five in the original.  The cards are different and the rules slightly more succinct too, which make the game play a little more streamlined.

Port Royal Unterwegs
– Image by boardGOATS

Port Royal is a very simple game:  on their turn the active player turns over the top card of the deck and either takes the card if it is a Ship that they want; repels the Ship if they don’t want it and have sufficient cutlass cards to do so; buys the card if it is a Character card that they want and can afford, or places it face up in the display in front of the draw-deck and draws another card.  They continue to do this until they have bought/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.  The game uses the same dual use cards trick as Bohnanza where the cards have one meaning when face up and are coins when face down.  In general, each Character card has a special power, but is also worth victory points at the end of the game.  Port Royal Unterwegs is very similar except the characters are generally less complex and the game ends when someone gets to eight points instead of the usual twelve.

Port Royal Unterwegs
– Image by boardGOATS

These changes make Port Royal Unterwegs quite a bit quicker than its parent, but it helps a lot if players have an idea of what they are trying to do and what chances they need to take as there isn’t time for them to come round again.  It turned out that of the group of players only Pine had actually played it before and he had scant recollection of it.  Blue did her best to remind him from the next table, but as there were slight changes to the rules and she didn’t want to let the side down in The Game: Extreme, she couldn’t give them the help they really needed.  After the event, Blue asked Pine what happened and he replied, “Just record it as three people who didn’t know what they were doing…”  Red was similarly vague and aside from the fact that Cerise won and Pine came second, everyone seemed very keen to forget the whole experience.  Maybe one to try again sometime.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of
nonsensicalgamers.com

While all this was going on, Black and Purple on the next table were struggling with one of their Essen acquisitions, Best Treehouse Ever.  This is a card drafting game where players spend three weeks (rounds) building themselves a tree-house.  Similar to games like Between Two Cities, 7 Wonders and Sushi Go!, players start with a hand of cards (in this case six) and then everyone simultaneously chooses one room card and places it face down in front of them before passing the rest of the cards on to their neighbour.  Once everyone has passed their cards on, everyone simultaneously adds their room to their tree-house.  There are very few building restrictions, but it is these that make the game interesting.  For example, tree-houses must be no more than six levels high and each room must be supported by two branches from the room below (except on the outside).  The first room of any colour may be placed anywhere, but those that follow must touch a room of the same colour.  If at any point a room card cannot be placed, it must be discarded, reducing the final magnitude of the tree-house and ultimately the number of points it can score.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

The really clever bit is the “Balance Marker” – a wooden cube at the bottom of the tree.  Everyone knowns that when building a tree-house it must be balanced if it is not to collapse.  So, rooms cannot be built on the same side of the tree as the balance marker, which shifts throughout the game based on the players room placement.  Thus, the building restrictions require constant awareness of the position of rooms in a players tree as well as those in the trees of the opposition.  While the ability to start a new set of coloured rooms gives flexibility, players must be cautious not to cut off existing colours too early.  Once all cards have been played or discarded, the round is concluded by a scoring session where players choose one of the four game changer cards, which either multiply the score of one room colour or completely prevent a room colour from scoring.  After three complete rounds there is a final scoring round where players with the majority of one or more room colours at the end of the game will score an additional point per room of that colour.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

With just two players, the scoring s simplified – the multipliers are removed and players have one “this room doesn’t score” card each instead.  As ties don’t score at all in the final round, these become quite critical in a head-to-head game.  This time, both players had level five treehouses, though this was probably largely because it was the first time Black and Purple had played the game and they played too many rounds.  In the final scoring, Purple dominated the red and brown rooms while Black had the majority in yellow and purple rooms.  It was very tight, but Purple took the game by a single point.  Best Treehouse Ever was a game that Black and Blue had discussed getting.  Sadly, it was clear that Black was disappointed that it wasn’t at its best played with two, however, it will doubtless get another outing in the near future with more of us involved.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

With Black and Blue suffering from “German lurgy” and Burgundy still recovering from his last bout, everyone was keen for an early night.  Once Red, Cerise & Magenta had headed off, everyone else settled down to go through the rules of Kerala, a simple little tile laying game with beautiful presentation, while Purple multi-tasked and wrote an essay about her favourite tree-house. In Kerala, each player starts with a single tile in their own colour with two wooden elephants perched precariously on it.  On their turn, the active player draws the same number of tiles from the bag as there are players and then chooses one before everyone else takes it in turns choosing one.  Players then simultaneously place their tiles next to a tile with an elephant on it and move the elephant onto the new tile.  The tile can be placed in an empty space, or on top of a tile previously laid.  Thus, over the course of the game players’ elephants ponderously move over their play-area with players messing with the player to their left by leaving them with tiles they don’t want.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

Tiles come in the five different player colours:  red, green, blue, black and purple.  At the end of the game players require precisely one contiguous region of each colour (with two allowed for their own colour); if they are missing a colour they lose five points and if any regions appear more than once, tiles must be removed with a penalty of two points per tile.  There are three types of tiles, Elephant tiles, Edge tiles and Action tiles.  Elephant tiles score points at the end of the game with players receiving one point for each elephant visible. “Edge” tiles have one side with a different colour; if these are adjacent to the correct colour the player scores an additional five points otherwise they can be ignored.  There are also two sorts of action tiles, which score no points but allows the player to move either a tile or an Elephant.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

After a few slight rules queries, everyone got on with the gentle action of choosing tiles and moving elephants, but gradually everyone became aware of the game’s “Tusks” as Blue left Pine with something he really didn’t want for the second time and what had initially seemed like multiplayer solitaire suddenly wasn’t.  As their areas expanded, players gradually got themselves into difficulties and then struggled to get themselves out of them again.  Although nobody pulled their punches when choosing tiles to leave, everyone offered genuine assistance and friendly opinions, especially to those unfortunate players left with rubbish at the end of the round.  Predictably, having played it before, Blue finished some way ahead of the pack, though Black, with a veritable troop of Elephants in a very tidy array joint top-scored with forty-five, eight ahead of Pine in third.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Essen is Awsome, and Blue needs cloning.

14th June 2016

It was a quiet night and Blue was late, so everyone else got on with a quick game of Love Letter.  Played with just sixteen cards, this is a great little game to play while chatting and doing other things (like eating).  The idea is that each player starts with a card on on their turn, draws a second and chooses one of them to play.  Each card has a number (one to eight) and an action; players use the actions to try to eliminated each other and the player with the highest card at the end, or the last player remaining is the winner.  This time, we played Green’s Lord of the Rings themed version which comes with a pile of tiny magical rings, which certainly had an effect on Pine.  Almost every round he had the highest value card, Smaug.  While this can be an advantage, it can also be a curse as it can make you a target, but only Magenta managed to profit at all.  Pine ran out the winner taking three rounds with Magenta taking the other two and everyone else failing to win any at all.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone fed, we moved onto our “Feature Game” which was Pi mal Pflaumen.  This is a German game where the name is a play on the expression “Pi mal Daumen”, which roughly translates as “rule of thumb” or “roughly”.  In this game, players are not interested in thumbs, but plumbs and other fruit. The game is a trick taking game with elements of set collecting and lovely artwork.  The idea is that each card features a fruit, a number and most also have some sort of special action.  Each player begins with a hand of cards and, starting with the start player, everyone takes it in turns to play one card.  Then, the player who played the highest value card chooses one of the cards which they place face up in front of them, before they carry out the action associated with the card.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

The action could be steal a card from another player; take the “watchdog” card (which guards against other players stealing cards), or take three “pi” cards.  Instead of an action, some cards indicate a scoring condition and the points awarded for achieving it.  These are of the form of, for example, ABC or AAA, indicating three different fruit or three identical fruit respectively.  The more fruit involved and the more similar the fruit, the more points they are worth.  When a player owns both the scoring card and the matching Fruit cards, they are all removed from their display and put to one side to score at the end of the game.  The game is played over three rounds and winner is the player with the most points at the end.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

We started off a bit tentatively, but by the end of the first round we were getting the hang of it and some people were just starting to get an appreciation of how clever the game is.  Burgundy collected a huge pile of cards and Pine starting the stealing and then getting a lot stolen from him.  In the end, it was a very close game with almost everyone finishing with thirty-one points, except Green, who much to his surprise was two points clear.  The game, on the other hand, received a mixed response:  Pine and Magenta really liked it, while Green, despite his win was largely unimpressed.  No doubt it will get another outing and we’ll see if opinions change.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Pi mal Pflaumen had taken much longer than expected, and Magenta fancied an early night, but felt she’d be able to squeeze another game in so long as it wasn’t too long.  After a quick debate, Green’s eye fell on Port Royal, which we’ve played a few times now and were all convinced we’ve played several times in less than half an hour, certainly way less then the fifty minutes maximum the box claimed.  In the end, the fifty minutes proved quite accurate and we decided that the time was probably dependent on the number of players…

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

The game is a fairly simple combination of “push your luck” and strategy, the idea being that players reveal cards until there is something they want, or they go bust.  The active player can keep turning over cards until either they choose to stop or they draw a second ship card that they cannot repel.  Assuming they choose to stop, they can then take a ship card or buy a character card before the remaining cards are offered round the table with players paying the active player one doubloon if they choose to buy/take a card.  The clever part is the dual use of the cards as money and ships/characters, which means the distribution of cards changes for each game giving variety.  The key to the game is the character cards though, as they are what enable players to build an engine and get an advantage over the opposition.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bovbossi

This time we included the Gambler promotional cards that were being given away by the manufacturer at the UK Games Expo at the start of June.  This card allows the active player to take a gamble by turning over four cards at the same time and, if they don’t go bust, they can choose to take an extra  card.  Unfortunately, the Gambler didn’t seem worth the gamble, so nobody gave it a  try which was a shame as the cards kept coming up.  Despite this, the game was a tight one, with several layers in the running in the going into the final round.  Burgundy had started the game and it was he who triggered the final round.  Green went next, but couldn’t quite make the cards work for him.  Pine and Blue followed, but had too much ground to make up.  Magenta went last and drew level, but Burgundy had plenty of money left and was able to take the lead back finishing with fourteen points, one ahead of Magenta.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Little card games can be just as much fun as big boardgames.

1st December 2015

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

Pandemic: Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Pandemic: Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Pandemic Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Pandemic: Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Pandemic Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Pandemic: Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Pandemic: Contagion
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

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

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Pick Picknic
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

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

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

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

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Love Letter
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thatmadgirl

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