Tag Archives: Puerto Rico

12th July 2016

The hungry were feeding when an itinerant gamer from the north-west wondered in to join us.  In the area for work, Yellow has been visiting several local game groups recently and was nice enough to come and join us for the evening.  In addition, Grey made another unexpected appearance; apparently Cerise was away with the little one, so he was free to come out and play with us.  Unfortunately for them though, our start was delayed a little while Blue and Burgundy scoffed their supper as quickly as they could and everyone else talked politics.  Normally politics is a topic of conversation people avoid for fear of arguments, but it is amazing how everyone in the group seems to agree at the moment.  In fact, as the evening wore on, it felt like history was being made as we watched: news come in that the Labour NEC had decided that Jeremy Corbyn should be able to stand as leader without needing the usual support from members of the Parliamentary Party, and the Petitions Committee had decided to schedule a referendum debate for 5th Sept, following the petition that garnered over four million signatures.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, we decided to get on with it with Blue and Magenta keen to play the “Feature Game”, Puerto Rico.  Surprisingly (as Puerto Rico is Green’s favourite game and it was with him in mind that we chose it), Green was keen to play Amerigo instead.  He had missed out on playing it on Friday night with the Didcot group and it had clearly been playing on his mind over the weekend.  By the same token, Burgundy and Black were less keen to play Amerigo as they had played it on Friday and they quite fancied Puerto Rico instead.  Purple had played it on Friday, but was keen to play again, so the group naturally split into two with Pine joining those playing Puerto Rico and Grey and Yellow joining the Amerigo group.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico is an older game, and in many ways the archetypal Euro game.  The idea of the game is quite simple in that on their turn, the active player chooses a “roles” then everyone takes it in turns to carry out the action associated with that role.  Each role has a “privilege” which the active player gets which gives them a little bonus (as well as the opportunity to take the action first.  Once everyone has chosen a role, the remaining role cards are “improved” by the addition of money, the used role cards are returned to the pool and the start player (The Governor) moves one player to the left before the new Governor starts the next round.  The aim of the game is to get victory points which are awarded for buildings and for shipping goods. However, to build, players need money, and before they can ship goods, players need to be able to produce the goods with a plantation (and where necessary process them in the appropriate building).

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Each building/plantation has a special bonus, but for a player to receive this, the building needs to be occupied by a “colonist”.  All these activities are carried out through the role cards.  For example, the Builder enables players to construct a building, but the player who chooses the role gets the privilege of paying one doubloon less than they would have done otherwise.  Similarly, the Craftsman is used to produce, but the privilege allows the player who chose the role to produce one extra item (of those they had already been able to produce).  Other roles include the Captain (enables players to ship goods); the Trader (allows players to sell goods for money); the Settler (players can take a plantation tile and add it to their island); the Mayor (the ship of “colonists” arrives and they are divided amongst the players), and the Prospector (everyone does nothing except the person with the privilege who takes a doubloon from the bank).

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The “colonists” arrive by ship, are dark brown and work on the plantations, so many gamers have assumed the term is a pseudonym for African slaves and in the USA this means some people have refused to play the game.  We are not like that in our group and, though we have no problem talking about slaves, we had far more fun talking about “colonists” in a way that everyone knew what we really meant.  What with that and the references to the Big Meerkat (that’s in the centre of Newcastle you know), the Orifice building (otherwise known as the Office), Worf (Son of Mogh), and the Big and Little Whorehouses (or perhaps they were really warehouses), much of the game was carried out in a sort of code.  This special group understanding was continued in the game play too where Magenta kept getting in Burgundy’s way, much to everyone else’s obvious delight, though Magenta insisted that it was all purely accidental.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy started, so he, Blue and Black began the game with an indigo plantation while Magenta and Pine started out with a corn field.  Pine found it quite hard to see what we needed to do, but he soon got past that and, as the game wore on, he quickly monopolised the tobacco market.  He remained the only player dealing in tobacco for most of the game which was quite important due to the way shipping works: when a player chooses the Captain role, players take it in turns to place goods on one of the three ships.  Each ship can only carry one type of cargo and they all have a finite space.  As the only player shipping tobacco, whenever Pine was able to transport some of his tobacco he simultaneously prevented others from shipping their goods.  Since this is the key way to get victory points, before long, Pine had built a sizeable pile and looked to be romping away with it.  Meanwhile, Black, then Magenta and Burgundy moved into sugar which made them uneasy allies, sometimes working together to get sugar into a ship, but otherwise competing to get their goods into the last space on a ship.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

While everyone else was engaged in building a productive plantation, Burgundy began by by using his land for quarries, lots of quarries.  These make building cheaper, but don’t provide goods when someone chooses the Craftsman role.  Seeing where he was going, Magenta picked up a Construction Hut which enabled her to choose a quarry instead of a plantation each time anyone chose the Settler role.  Blue managed to pick up one quarry, but otherwise, between them, Burgundy and Magenta were in danger of getting all of them.  Burgundy got round the potential for a lack of plantations by building a Hacienda which gave him an extra plantation every time anyone else Settled.  He then coupled this with Hospice which meant that one of these plantations/quarries arrived complete with a “colonist” – a very powerful combination.  For a long time Black havered over whether to try to get in on the quarry game or not.  To begin with he decided not before picking one up anyhow.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine was sat next to Magenta quietly coveting her Construction Hut, but it was pointed out that it wasn’t a good time to buy it and there were better things he could do, advice he took.  It obviously rankled a little though because every time after that when quarries were mentioned he added, “Though I’m not allowed a quarry…”.  Eventually, Blue decided she was struggling from a lack of both cash and victory points and needed to do something drastic to get back into the game.  So, taking a leaf out of Pine’s book, she expanded into coffee and then screwed everyone else up by starting a coffee ship which took several rounds to fill.  Eventually, she was joined by Pine who then variously helped her and got in her way.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Black both made a hash of their timing with the crafting and shipping, and when Blue finally worked out what she was doing and planned what she needed for a large building she lost the plot and failed to choose the Builder role when she had the chance.  So, when Magenta took the builder a couple of turns later, everyone had enough for a large building and Blue was left without her first or second choice.  Magenta who had filled less than half her plantation spaces took the Residence just to stop Burgundy and Blue who had been able to fill theirs and would have been able to get maximum points for it (thanks to their Haciendas).  So, Burgundy took the Fortress (which gave him one point for every three “colonists”) and Blue took the Customs House (which gave one extra victory point chip for every four already held).  This left Black with the dregs from which he took the Guild Hall (giving him points for his production buildings).  Meanwhile, Pine ominously kept producing vast amounts of tobacco and shipping it.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

By this time, Blue and Black were convinced that Pine was miles ahead, and everyone else was playing for the minor places.  Pine in turn was convinced Magenta had a healthy lead; Magenta was certain she was losing, but continued to innocently obstruct Burgundy and the game turned nasty as everyone began to struggle to ship what they wanted.  With the number of victory point chips available dwindling faster than the number of “colonists”, everyone scrabbled to build that last utility and ship those final crates.  It turned out that it was a very close game: Magenta had a misleadingly large pile of singleton victory point chips; Pine probably would have won if the game had the game ended a round or two earlier, and Burgundy may well have won had it gone on another for another couple of rounds.  In the end though, despite being quite convinced she was nowhere close, Blue finished in first place with fifty-six, just three points ahead of Pine with Black taking third on a tie-break.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Amerigo was going full steam ahead.  In this game players are exploring the islands of South America, securing trading routes, and building settlements.  The game board is made up of a four by four grid of large tiles that make an archipelago.  Players then have two ships each which they sail through the maze of islands, mooring at natural harbours to build trading posts, and then expanding settlements.  The actions available to players are determined through the use of a special cube tower that contains lots of buffers and buttresses. The idea is that each of the seven actions has an associated set of coloured cubes:  blue for sailing, black for loading cannon, red for buying buildings, green for settling etc.  At the start of the game, all the cubes are put into the top of the tower a small number get stuck and remain inside the tower to be potentially knocked out at a later point in the game.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

There are four rounds and each round consists of seven phases, corresponding to each action where all the cubes available of that colour are poured into the tower.  Most of these cubes come out again, but some dislodge cubes previously caught in the baffles, while others others get stuck themselves.  Of the cubes that come out, the colour that is in the majority dictates the number, while all the colours dictate the actions.  Thus, if five blue, one green and one black come out, players can choose between sailing, building settlements or loading cannon, and in each case, they have five “action points”.  So, the actions that are available are largely predictable, with a slightly random element meaning there is a tactical element (taking advantage of the actions currently available in the best way possible) as well as a strategic (long term plan) element to the game.

Amerigo
– Image by BGG contributor mcfer

Points are available throughout the game for all sorts of things, including being the first person to land on an island and establish a trading post; building settlements on an island; completing an island by settling on its last available space; collecting gold, and moving along the progress and special action paths.  At the end of each round, however, the pirates attack and players have to fire their cannon to repel boarders.  Anyone who has not loaded sufficient cannon to fend off the pirates, loses points which is particularly nasty, because these players lose as many points as they would if they’d had no cannon at all, and they also have to fire the cannon they had loaded!

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Inevitably we all started off sailing to islands near to us, and generally we all did the main colour action in the first round. Grey toyed with the idea of not doing Cannon’s, but in the end decided to copy the more experienced players.  So an easy and simple, first round, in a game that gradually became a more cut throat battle.   Purple concentrated on running up her brown track and gaining the bonus action chits and spread across to a few islands. This strategy seemed to leave her struggling for points as the game went on.  Yellow was unsure how best to approach the game, so tended to stick to the action colour sequence, but got hold of the red equals green equals red bonus chit, which he used to good effect to build up on his several islands. This strategy netted him a good haul of points as the game progressed.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

Grey was running an expansionist policy, getting to as many islands as he could. On top of this he, quite slyly, built over the extra empty trading post spaces, thus rendering them useless and gaining a monopoly on several islands, however, his score also seemed to suffer for this.  Meanwhile, Green carried out a number of red planning actions to build up a large backlog of buildings to place. This meant he always had something to place in those tricky corners, but he lost out on his big islands by leaving it too late to place them. Early on, he nabbed the big six neutral tile (the only one in the game) and then realised that he was on the wrong side of the big island to be able to place it, so had to make a quick trip to the other side to develop a new trading post before he could place it for a whopping eighteen points. This strategy was proving quite productive and he and Yellow were regularly vying for the lead.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

In the last part of the game, while Purple and Yellow continued their general strategy, Grey decided he had enough islands and started to place his tiles on them to gain the resources. Green, having built as much as he could, was left wondering what to do next. He had lots of tiles still to place, but nowhere to place them without a new trading post. There were four left, all on the other side of the board and they were disappearing fast, so green started sailing.  By using his gold and going round the outside he was able to get to the area in just one move.  By this time, there were only two trading posts left as everyone else worked together to stop Green. With no more gold, Green was not quite able to get to a trading post and ended just one space away.  Yellow took his turn and he built on the other trading post leaving Green to sail once more and place his trading post.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With only two single spaces left on this last island, there was a bit of a stand-off between Yellow and Green:  whoever built first would gain a single point, but leave the other to get the three point bonus for finishing the island.  Meanwhile, there was a total of eight pirates on the board which everyone had covered until Purple took the two-plus pirate attack bonus token.  Purple was aright of course, but everyone else needed another two cannon if they weren’t going to end up with an eight point penalty. More turns were sacrificed to gain cannon which also sent players to the top of the line and provided extra gold.  Purple and Green found themselves with no actions to do, so ended up trading action cubes for gold, while Grey and Yellow mopped-up island bonuses.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the very last action everyone swapped their gold for extra spaces on the white turn order track, just to get to that extra scoring location.  With the game coming to an end and neither Green nor Yellow prepared to give quarter on the last island, neither took the final three points.  Before the final scoring began, Yellow was in the lead, a few points clear of Green.  As the final scoring phase began, it became apparent that everyone except for Purple had misunderstood the scoring the resource bonuses. We thought the number on the yellow action chits was its multiplier value, however, this number is irrelevant to the scoring, it only means it costs more to obtain. Grey was particularly annoyed as he had deliberately been going for the high value action tokens and had been choosing the resource tokens appropriately.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the end, it was very close with Grey and Purple catching up however, it wasn’t quite enough, and Yellow and Green remained several points ahead, tied on a hundred and thirty-one.  The tie-breaker gave it to Yellow, as he was at the end of the turn order track and Green was five spaces farther back. On reflection though, Green later realised that he could have taken it had he known the rules better as he’d finished with six gold.  He could easily have spent the surplus gold to move along the track, but had decided against it as, although it would have given him an extra five points, the gold was worth one point each so there had seemed no point.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Puerto Rico was still underway, and with Grey deciding he could do with an early night (while the Cat’s away, the Mice will play – and it seemed this Mouse had been playing quite a bit!), Purple, Green and Yellow opted for some quick, light-hearted fun with Om Nom Nom.  This is one of our more popular games, and we’ve played it a few times on a Tuesday evening.  Purple loves it and it was new to Yellow though, so despite his conviction that it’s completely random, Green joined in.  The idea is quite simple, each player has a hand of “Predator” cards, and the dice represent “Prey”.  Players simultaneously choose a card to play and then Prey is divided up accordingly.  If there is enough Prey for all the Predators to eat, then players take their share of the appropriate dice.  If not, the Predator(s) go hungry and the cards are discarded.  The catch is that some cards are both Predator and Prey, which is where the game descends into double-think (or Luck as Green prefers to think of it).

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Green has tried a variety of “methods” to beat the “luck”, but much like an inveterate gambler, a “technique” that works a couple of times almost always fails in the end, and so it proved this time too.  In the first card of the first round, Green decided to change his card just before everyone revealed theirs which proved fortuitous as his hedgehog ended up with a bunch of frog dice and cards. So, Green swapped his second and third cards at the last second and he picked up Prey on both occasions. As the round progressed, Purple and Yellow also achieved some success and Green took another card, but by the end of the round, the scores were very even with Purple ahead by just one point.  Probability can be a funny thing, but it was still quite a shock to roll nine carrots, each with a probability of one-in-six.  And so  began a little game of cat & mouse, literally with everyone trying to  second guess each others choices and all ending up feeling that the carrots looked too good to be true and there was bound to be a fox hanging around.

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

At the second attempt, Yellow found he couldn’t resist temptation and went for the carrots only to find Purple’s fox was waiting to pounce.  Then, somehow (and nobody could work out exactly how), Purple ended up with the entire haul of carrots all to herself.  By this time, Green had reverted to type and scored nothing for the round, Yellow produced a creditable showing, but Purple took an amazing twenty-nine points. The final round was a much more even spread of dice and scores. Yellow was getting better and better and won the round while Green got lucky and took a few more points.  Purple was not so successful this time out, but it didn’t matter, as her massive score in the second round gave her a record-breaking forty-eight, according to the scoring card, a new high score!

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Learning Outcome:  Don’t ascribe to luck what others might call skill.

Boardgames in the News: Risking Imprisonment to Play

We are very lucky:  when our little game group meet, the worst anyone risks is a telling off for staying out too late.  In some parts of the world, however, gamers could be risking their liberty or worse.  Just imagine a world in where playing Puerto Rico or Agricola risked imprisonment or torture.  It seems absurd, but for for some people this sort of response is a reality.  In February, police in the Thai resort of Pattaya arrested thirty-two elderly Bridge players when they raided their local Bridge Club.

Bridge
– Image from innontheprom.co.uk

In Thailand, there are strict anti-gambling laws, so despite the fact the Bridge players declared that they were not playing for money, they were arrested for “possessing more than one hundred and twenty unregistered playing cards” in violation of section eight of the Playing Cards Act of 1943.  In this case, the members of the club were released after twelve hours, but Bridge is not the only “risky game”.  According to the Saudi Grand Mufti, Chess is forbidden in Islam, a view which could mean that players in some parts of the world genuinely risks a fate worse than death at the hands of fundamentalists.

We are very fortunate in the UK.

Chess
– Image by BGG contributor unicoherent

OxCon 2016

This weekend is OxCon, a weekend of gaming held every January in The Mitre pub in the middle of Oxford.  It has almost mythical status since publicity hitherto has almost entirely been by word of mouth and often quite last minute.  This year, in a break from tradition, it was advertised early.   As usual, for those who are about on Friday evening there will be a meal at Pizza Express and some gaming afterwards.  As well as general gaming, there will also be tournaments with Puerto Rico on Saturday, and Settlers of Catan on Sunday.  Not sure how many of the GOATS will make it, that will depend on weather and family commitments, but it should be a good event.

The Mitre
– Image from pubsofoxford.co.uk

Boardgames in the News: So, What Are Euro-Games?

A couple of months ago at our game night, one of the gamers commented that there were a lot of good games from Europe.  This prompted a discussion about “traditional games”, “Euro-games”, “American games” and their relative merits.  Most people know all about traditional games even if they don’t know what gamers mean when they use the term:  traditional games are the games we all used to play as a child including Scrabble, Cluedo and love it or loath it, the dreaded Monopoly.  Some people also include in this list games like Chess, Go and Backgammon as well as traditional card games like Whist, Hearts and Rummy.

Go
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ManCorte

But the front page of the boardGOATS website says, “We generally prefer to play “Euro” style games,” so, what do gamers mean by “Euro-games” or “Euro style games”?  Well, most of the traditional games we used to play as children were produced by publishers in the United States of America, companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  Incidentally, both these companies are now part of Hasbro, but the aggregation of smaller companies to form a larger one is a topic that’s been covered elsewhere.  While the “English” market was dominated by big players that concentrated on producing a few top sellers, in Germany there was no such dominance.  The effect this had was that the market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

This coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon. It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, highlighted a range of games from Rummikub in 1980, Torres in 2000 and Camel Up last year.  Over the years, the red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has become a mark of boardgaming quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Therefore, the qualities espoused by these awards heavily influence the concept of the “Euro-game”.

Rummykub
– Image by BGG contributor OldestManOnMySpace

But what are these qualities that make a game “European”?  Well, that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, describes them as characterised by “simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction and abstract physical components”.   It goes on to say, “Such games emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.”  On the whole this is not a bad summary, except that it is not very specific:  how simple are “simple rules” and how long are “short to medium playing times”?  Clearly these features are more about contrast, and although there are lots of different types of games including party games and war games, this comparison is usually between European style ames and American-style Games, aka “Ameri-Trash”.

Last Night on Earth
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Bilben04

Although common, use of the term Ameri-Trash (or Ameritrash) is controversial as some see it as unnecessarily negative, however, although other terms have been suggested none have proved as popular or as persistent.  The term itself is over fifteen years old and was probably originally used disparagingly and applied to genuinely bad American games as a comparison with the much higher professional standards of games in Germany at the time.  Since then, the scope has been expanded and many fans of those American games have adopted the term as a badge of honour.

Merchant of Venus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

American-style games tend to be long, usually over two hours, and classically involve a lot of luck and often feature dice rolling.  They are often considered to be a lot less “cerebral” or “puzzle-like” and, as a result, are sometimes described as “more fun”.  The reference to “trash” may in part reflect the style of the pieces which tend to include a lot of plastic pieces to go with the dice.  There is also often a lot of direct conflict in American-style games, where European games tend to be much more family friendly with indirect player interaction.  Classic Ameri-Trash games include:  Arkham Horror, Merchant of Venus, Cosmic Encounter and Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game.  Sometimes there is also a book or film tie-in leading to games like Battlestar Galactica and Dune.  Even just comparing the titles with those of classic Euro-games like Puerto Rico, El Grande, Tikal and Agricola, the difference can clearly be felt.

Arkham Horror
– Image by BGG contributor igorigorevich

The most essential part of American-style games is the theme, however, which is often integral to the game mechanisms.  This encourages people fantasize they are part of the action when playing the game.  The miniatures, the long playing times, the complex interwoven rule-set and the interaction (often culminating in players being eliminated) all combine to draw players into the drama of the game.  In contrast, for Euro-games, the mechanisms are the focus, and the games can often be re-themed without much effort.  The theme is therefore used more as an introduction to the more abstract European strategy games, making them more accessible, rather than being an essential part of the emotional investment.

Relic Runners
– Image by BGG contributor cnidius

But things are not as simple as that.  The nature of modern boardgaming encourages cross-fertilisation.  There are more highly-themed, strategy-games available now and more long, strategic games with miniatures – these are sometimes referred to as “hybrid games”.  For example, games produced by the Days of Wonder (based in the USA), like Ticket to Ride and Relic Runners have a lot of plastic pieces, though the games themselves are quite strategic and generally run for no more than an hour.  Similarly, games like Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Space Alert use real-time and a sound-track to draw the players in, yet they are both short (Escape takes just ten minutes to play) and have no player elimination.  Vlaada Chvátil’s Dungeon Lords series of games, also have a lot of theme, but are also playable in a manageable time-frame, have a lot of strategy and a reasonably streamlined set of rules.

Dungeon Lords
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor PaulGrogan

Confusingly however, “hybrid” has more recently also come to mean games that include some sort of mobile device application (and thus require a smart phone, tablet or similar).  Now, lots of games have Apps that help them a long a little (e.g. One Night Ultimate Werewolf), but games like Alchemists and XCOM: The Board Game don’t really function properly without them.  The question is, are these still boardgames?  In truth, they are a sort of hybrid computer-boardgame, but the point is, however appropriate the name, it is all about the game and the other people playing:  the bottom line is, if you enjoy playing it, it doesn’t matter what it is called.

Alchemists
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Mouseketeer

Boardgames in the News: Spiel des Jahres Awards

This week, Colt Express won the Spiel des Jahres Award.  Although it may seem strange, this German award is highly sought after and is the most coveted award in the world-wide world of boardgames.  The reason for this goes back nearly forty years when the “English” market was dominated by companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  These concentrated on producing a few top sellers, however, in Germany there was no such dominance.  So, the German market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.  This, coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry, encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon.

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, began in 1978, with the stated purpose of rewarding excellence in game design, and promoting top-quality games in the German market.  The red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has since become a mark of quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Thus, the award has been such a success that it is said a nomination can increase sales from a few hundred to tens of thousands and the winning game can be expected to sell up to half a million copies or more.

El Grande
– Image by BGG contributor Domostie

Over the last fifteen years, years, the Spiel des Jahres has generally gone from highlighting games like El Grande, Tikal and Torres (1996, 1999 & 2000), to rewarding lighter games like Dixit, Qwirkle and Camel Up (2010, 2011 & 2014).  The problem was particularly brought to light in 2002 when Puerto Rico, arguably one of the best games ever made was not rewarded because it was perceived as too complex.  The problem reared its ugly head again in 2008, but this time the jury awarded Agricola a special “Complex Game” award.  These two games are widely considered to be the pinnacle of “Euro-Games”: between them they’ve held the top position on the BoardGameGeek website for the best part of ten years, yet neither were awarded the top prize. The problem was that these games were not mainstream enough for the German family game market:  they were too complex for those families making their annual purchase. On the other hand, for frequent and dedicated boardgamers, these Spiel des Jahres games are too light.  So, for this reason, the Kennerspiel des Jahres or “Connoisseurs’ Game of the Year” was introduced in 2011 and for more serious gamers, this has largely superseded the Spiel des Jahres.  This year it was awarded to Broom Service, a reimplementation of Witch’s Brew which was itself nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2008.

Adel Verpflichtet
– Image by BGG contributor Henco

The Kennerspiel des Jahres is not the only prestigious award available to strategy games however.  In 1990, the German magazine “Die Pöppel-Revue”, introduced the Deutscher Spiele Preis or “German Game Prize”.  This is announced in October every year at the International Spieltage in Essen.  In contrast to the Spiel des Jahres, the Deutscher Spiele Preis has gone from rewarding lighter games like Adel Verpflichtet (aka Hoity Toity, in 1990) and our group’s current favourite filler, 6 Nimmt! (winner in 1994) , to highlighting games like Russian Railroads and Terra Mystica (in the last two years).

Deutsche Spiele Preis
– Image from bordspil.is

6th August 2013

We decided to save our “Feature Game” (Guillotine) for an occasion when there’s a more appreciative audience and went straight into a much longer, deeper, and very highly regarded game called Puerto Rico.  Although we had all played it before, for some of us it was a long time ago, so we had a quick recap of the rules before we started.

Puerto Rico

In this game players are plantation owners in seventeenth century Puerto Rico growing up to five different kind of crops: corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee.  Each plantation owner must try to run their business more efficiently than their competitors.  First they must grow their crops then they must store them efficiently.  Finally, players must sell their crops at the right time or ship their goods back to Europe for maximum benefit.  In order to do this most effectively, the plantation owners must make optimal use of the arriving colonists and develop the capital city, San Juan, building useful amenities.  In each round, players take it in turns to choose a role, but no role can be selected twice in the same round.  Each player gets the opportunity to carry out each action, however, there is a privilege that goes to the player who chose to do it.  For example, if one player chooses to build, everyone can build if they want, however, it is cheaper for the person who chose to do it.  Ultimately, the player who selects the best roles to advance their position during the game will win.  There are two small expansions, but after some discussion, we decided not to use either in the end as we didn’t feel we needed the variety for this game, but maybe next time.

Puerto Rico

Green decided to start building a couple of quarries and then expanded the indigo plantation that he started the game with, and added sugar (as nobody else seemed to be planting sugarcane).  Meanwhile, Blue started out with some corn, built a quarry, then dabbled briefly in tobacco, before going all out for coffee sales.  Red, on the other hand, started out with one indigo plantation and added a tobacco plantation.  When that didn’t really provide what he wanted, he tried coffee as well for good measure before deciding that what he REALLY wanted was a factory!  Red then went into the coffee market which messed with Blue’s plans, so she started shipping corn and coffee which screwed up Green.  Towards the end of the game, everyone made a mad dash for big buildings, but the damage had already been done by the efficient factory which gave Red the win with fifty-three points.

Puerto Rico

We only had time for one other game, and decided on Hanabi.  This is a really clever and unusual cooperative game which has just been awarded the Spiel des Jahres.  Hanabi is the Japanese word for “fireworks” and the idea is that you are collectively trying make the perfect firework display.  To do this, all you have to do is play cards, in order from one to five, in their colour suits.  The snag is that you hold your hand of cards back to front so that you can’t see the cards you are going to play, although you can see everyone else’s.  Thus, on your turn you can give a hint to someone to tell them something about their cards or you can play or discard a card.  Hints are restricted though and you can only point point out all the cards of a specific, common number or colour.  You also only have eight hints, although you get extras for every card you discard.  You also only have three lives and lose one each time you play a card that has already been played or if you play a card before all the lower numbers of that colour have been played.  One of the reasons Hanabi is so unusual is that although players are working towards a common goal, they can’t really help each other.  In this game, we made a mistake quite early on when someone discarded the second yellow four and it all went downhill from there, ending with a total of eighteen (out of a possible maximum of twenty-five).

Hanabi

Leaning Outcome:  If you teach people too well, sometimes they end up winning!

OxCon and Big DoG

This weekend is OxCon.  OxCon is a weekend of gaming held every January in The Mitre pub in Oxford.  It has almost mythical status within since publicity is almost entirely by word of mouth and often quite last minute.

This year, in addition to the usual thread on BoardGameGeek, there is also a mention in the latest Queen’s Lane Advertiser (QLA-42, page 8) and a FaceBook page.  Not sure how many of the GOATS will make it, that will depend on weather (currently snow-chance) and family commitments, but it should be a good event with Puerto Rico and Settlers of Catan tournaments for the more competitive.

The Mitre, Oxford

In a couple of weekends time (2nd February to be exact – check out the calendar), is the Big DoG – a Day of Games hosted by the Oxford Meeples at Wolvercote Village Hall.  Just to the north of Oxford situated close to the A40 and A34, this looks to be a well cited event, and the list of proposed games looks enticing.  However, whether or not (m)any GOATS are there, will again depend on other commitments.

A Big Dog