Tag Archives: Puerto Rico

31st October 2017

The evening began with Blue handing out Essen orders to Red (Sole Mio!, a relative of Mamma Mia!), Green (Thunderbirds and all the expansions), and Burgundy (lots of Concordia and Orléans bits).   Just to make sure Ivory and Pine didn’t feel left out, she had also brought a whole flock of boardGOATS to pass round – all suitably decorated.  There was a lot of discussion of the games at Essen, but Spiel has grown so much over the last few years that it was impossible to see everything as was evident when Green trotted out the fruits of his research and what was “hot”.  Altiplano, Clans of Caledonia, Photosynthesis, Gaia Project, Charterstone, and Noria were all completely missed for various reasons, but Pink and Blue had managed to look at Agra, Meeple Circus, and Kepler-3042 and had picked up copies of Keyper, Queendomino, Mini Park, Montana, Captain Sonar and Azul (Blue’s tip for Spiel des Jahres next year) among other things, all of which will no doubt appear over the coming weeks.

A Flock of boardGOATS
– Image by boardGOATS

With the chit-chat and pizzas over, it was definitely time to play something.  With six of us, it was almost certainly two games which was fortunate as Green wasn’t keen on anything Halloween themed, which ruled out the “Feature Game”, Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game. That wasn’t a problem though, as Pine was keen to play and everyone else was happy to be a third.  In the end, it was Blue that joined them as she hadn’t played it before.  With two novices, that meant a full explanation of the rules.  Dead of Winter is a semi-cooperative game.  There are a number of things that make it different from other, older cooperative games like Pandemic.  For example, there is a group objective, but each player also has a secret, personal objective:  players must achieve both to win.  There is also the addition of a traitor, who’s objectives are counter to everyone else.  Both Pandemic and Shadows Over Camelot have this mechanism integrated as part of an expansion, and in Dead of Winter, this is also optional, or (like another of our favourites, Saboteur) can be played in such a way that there may, or may not be a traitor present.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Perhaps more significantly than these though, is the nature of the ticking clock.  In Pandemic there is a deck of cards that which dictate what happens and, ultimately, how long the game is going to go on for as the game ends if they run out.  The situation is similar in the other Matt Leacock games like Forbidden Island and its sequel, Forbidden Desert.  In contrast, Dead of Winter, is played over a set number of rounds.  There is still a deck, the “Crisis deck”, but this sets the tone of the round and provides the “team” with a task that must be completed before the end of the round otherwise nasty things happen.  In general, the Crisis sets a tithe of cards that must be forfeit by the “team” during the round.   Of course, as in real life, the “team” consists of people who have different agendas, and one who may be out to sabotage the colony…

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

So, at the start of the round, a card is drawn from the Crisis deck and then everyone rolls their dice and the first player takes their turn.  This begins with another player drawing a card from the Crossroads deck.  This player is supposed to read only the first line, unless the condition is fulfilled in which case they read the rest of the card.  These are quite clever, as they end with two options—the eponymous “Crossroads”. The text on these cards adds a lot of atmosphere as well as adding to the sense of impending doom as sometimes the card might be activated by something the active player does.  Each player starts with two Survivors and the active player has one die per character and an extra one.  The Survivors have special abilities and the dice are “spent” by them carrying out actions.  For example, a player could attack a zombie which costs one die, but the value of the die needed will depend on the character:  James Meyers who is a bit of a wuss, is rubbish at fighting and needs a six, on the other hand Thomas Heart is a violent sort who loves a good brawl and anything at all will do.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

As well as attack a zombie, there are a number of other actions that require a die, including search a location, clean the waste, and build a barricade.  Searching is the only way players can get Item cards.  Around the central game board, there are a number of special locations and each one of these has a pile of Item cards.  The distribution of the different types vary and depend on the location, for example, weapons are unlikely to be found a the hospital, but medicine is quite prevalent.  Like attacking zombies, ability to search depends on the different characters and some Survivors have a special ability which means they are good at searching in a particular location.  In contrast, anyone can build a barricade or take out the bins, so these actions can be carried out by anyone with any dice, as long as they are in the right place.  In addition to actions that require a die, players can also play a card, help deal with the crisis, move a Survivor, turn food cards into food tokens, request cards from other players, hand cards to other players or initiate a vote to exile someone.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

While there are lots of things players can do, there are also hazards along the way.  For example, moving from one location to another is risky, so the Survivor must roll to see what damage the exposure did.  It may be that they were well wrapped up and nothing happened, but it is also possible that they were wounded in the attempt, or caught frostbite which is nasty because the effect progresses in later rounds.  Worst, of course, is getting bitten because the Survivor dies straight away and the effect spreads to other Survivors at the same location (who also have to roll the exposure dice).  Once every player has taken their turn, the zombies swarm, arriving at each location that where there are Survivors, with extras attracted by noise.  If a location gets overrun by zombies, they start killing Survivors.  Every time a Survivor dies, they Colony’s moral drops.  The game ends moral gets to zero, the requisite number of rounds have been played or if the main objective has been completed.  Our main objective was simply to survive the five rounds we were to play.  Blue began with a serious lack of practical ability in David Garcia (accountant) and James Meyer (psychologist).  Fortunately that was made up for by Ivory and Pine who began with Thomas Heart (soldier), Andrew Evans (farmer), Janet Taylor (Nurse) and Edward White (chemist).

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image by BGG contributor The Innocent

Andrew Evans, Janet Taylor, Edward White and David Garcia all had special abilities when searching and Thomas Heart was excellent fighting off zombies, while James Meyer just had an especially uncool anorak.  We started well and for the first couple of rounds, the zombies were only faintly annoying and the biggest issue was fulfilling the requirements of the Crisis Cards.  Early on, Ivory armed Andrew Evans with a rifle which enabled him to take out any one of the undead, something that proved very handy and made up for the enormous amount of noise Andrew Evans had been making during searching.  During the second round, Blue gained an extra couple of characters (Buddy Davis and Harman Brooks), which gave her extra dice and more special abilities she could use, but the downside was they came with a load of extra helpless survivors (folk that are a bit of a dead-weight and just need a lot of feeding).  It seemed like a gamble, but in the third round, Ivory “found” Sophie Robinson (a pilot) as well.   By the end of the third round, it was clear the message had got out to the zombie hoards and they were coming to get us (possibly due to the racket that Ivory had been making with Andrew).

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

The fourth round was tight especially as everyone’s attention began to turn to their secondary goals.  The otherwise fairly useless James Meyer suddenly found himself some courage and a baseball bat and set about the un-dead with great gusto.  Pine decided that he really, really wanted that extra character that he’d been persuaded out of earlier in the game and acquired Alexis Grey, a librarian with an ability to search the library efficiently.  Going into the final round, we had to be a little careful in a couple of areas and moral was low, but it was clear that unless one of us turned out to be a traitor, the game was won.  And so it turned out: there was no traitor and it was just a question of who had succeeded in their secondary goal.  At the start of the game, Pine had been highly conflicted, needing medicine for Edward White’s special power, but also having a goal of needing to finish with two at the end of the game.  Since he started his final turn with no medicine, he thought the boat had sailed, but with his very last action, he happened to draw two medicine cards to satisfy his second objective.  Ivory also needed two medicine cards for his goal and had managed to hoard these throughout the game.  Blue’s challenge was more difficult as she needed the colony to have lost three members to the hoards.  Despite her best efforts to kill off some of her own Survivors, Pine and Ivory had generously helped keep them alive, so she failed dismally, the only one not to complete both victory requirements.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Although we had all enjoyed the game, it was unfortunate that there wasn’t a traitor as the lack of an enemy within meant it felt a bit like communal puzzle solving.  It was also unfortunate, that so very few of the Crossroads Cards actually had an effect as they mainly affected characters we weren’t playing with.  This wasn’t helped by our habit of forgetting to draw them and/or reading too much of the card.  We felt the Crossroads Cards would have been more interesting with extra players, but it was already a long game and we felt the down-time would really drag with more.  Certainly, some turns, especially as Blue and Ivory acquired additional Survivors, seemed to take an unbelievably long time already.  Certainly four would probably be the maximum we would want to play with, though we would also increase the likely-hood of a traitor as we felt we’d missed out on half the fun.  In conclusion, Red and Burgundy’s comment at the start now made sense, “It’s a good game, but if there’s something else more interesting about…”

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor zombiegod

Meanwhile, on the next table, Green and Burgundy were teaching Red how to play Puerto Rico.  This is a much older game which was the highest rated game for many years and is still well regarded.  Red had never played it and it was a very long time since Burgundy or Green had played it as well, so they were keen to see how it held up against some of the more modern games.  In Puerto Rico, 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.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The flow of the game is quite straight-forward in that on their turn, the active player chooses a “role” 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 among the players), and the Prospector (everyone does nothing except the person with the privilege who takes a doubloon from the bank).  The game ends when either, one player has built their twelfth building or the supply of victory points or colonists has been exhausted.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The first few rounds were a little tentative. Green started with the Governor (through random selection) and chose the build action first. Burgundy chose Mayor using his extra citizen to occupy both indigo plantation and production building. Red needed a little help to suggest that she place her citizen on her Corn rather than her small market since this would enable her to produce something, whereas in the market she would have nothing to sell. So inevitably Red then chose craftsman. This gave Red a two corn, Burgundy an Indigo and Green nothing as he only had indigo and one citizen.  From there, the game progressed as you might expect, with each player following a different strategy.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Green relied on his indigo resources and built a Small Market and an Office (so he could sell multiples of the same type of goods), dug a couple of quarries, and clearly went for a money and buildings strategy. When he started losing out in the Captain (shipping) phase he was able to very quickly buy a Wharf and always managed to ship something and thus stay in the running on victory points. He was the first to buy a big building of course and chose the one which gave him extra points for production buildings believing he could fairly easily add to his already reasonable tally. Burgundy went for a diversified portfolio of goods and as able to add a factory building which started to really rake in the money with four different types of goods. He was only missing corn, which he easily added to make an extra five doubloons every time craftsman came up. As a result he was not far behind Green at buying a large building.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Since he had been shipping regularly and gathering victory points Burgundy took the building that would give him an extra point for every four points he had, however about half way through the game he began to struggle with his shipping. Red had begun to regularly take Captain, which meant that he was last to load and would often miss out being able to load all his goods—without any kind of warehouse was regularly losing all his stock of two or three goods each time.  Eventually, he had enough of this and decided to do something about it.  The choice was between a Wharf and a Harbour:  increasing his victory point income every time he shipped, or gain an extra ship he could always ship to.  It was a tough choice, but in the end he chose Wharf only to then discover he did not have quite as much money as he thought and so had to settle for Harbour after all.  This nearly proved his undoing in the end, as with two or three more captain actions happening he still found himself unable to ship everything, losing several goods in the process—Red and Green made quite sure of that!!

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Red’s game was a little more tentative, as she found her feet, trying to figure out how the game all hung together. She struggled a bit with getting the buildings and plantations all occupied in the right way to produce what she needed. She ended up with a lot of Sugar, but her small warehouse meant that early on she did not have to discard it and was able to make a large shipment later on, locking out Burgundy, the other Sugar producer in the game.  In the end she ended up with more citizens that she had spaces and so for a while had an occupied Indigo Production building but no Indigo Plantation. It seemed it didn’t really matter though, as she had a good thing going on with the Captaincy, shipping large amounts of Sugar regularly giving her a regular supply of points. With everything else that was going on, Red didn’t get round to buying a large building.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game neared conclusion, we thought we would run out of Citizens first, but selection of the Mayor slowed and Captains became a more regular feature so the victory points dwindled fast. Green was worried that he might not get his large building occupied before the victory points ran out, so when he became Governor for the last time, he chose the Mayor in an effort to extend the game, much to Red’s chagrin.  She claimed that it was allowing Burgundy to get his large building occupied and thus gain more points, which is true, but it helped Green too.  In the end it was Red’s Captaincy that ended what proved to be an incredibly close game; Puerto Rico is not a game we usually think of as being so well balanced that the scores are always close. The hidden victory points and various other ways to gain points tend to keep players guessing right til to the end and it is usually possible for one player to quickly build an efficient engine which wipes the floor with everyone else.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

That wasn’t the case this time.  Although the actual game play is quite simple, Puerto Rico can be a challenging the first time as it is hard to really work out the best way to play, and things only become clear after two or three rounds.  So Red did really well, not only to keep pace with two experienced players, but especially to take second place against two players, scoring fifty points.  Green’s lack of resources to ship, even with his wharf, let him down and it was Burgundy, who scraped a win with fifty-three points.  While packing up, there was a lot of discussion about the game:  did Green really hand Burgundy victory by choosing that Mayor? We concluded probably not, as if Burgundy would have chosen it if Green hadn’t.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico used to be the gamers’ game of games for quite a few years, until Agricola elbowed its way to the top. Since then that top spot has been fiercely fought for and, as in Formula 1, (where everyone now talks about Schumacher, Vettel and Hamilton), everyone seems to have forgotten poor old Juan Manuel Fangio, the unsurpassed master for decades. Once in a while it’s good to bring out the old tapes and watch the old master at work though, and so it is with Puerto Rico.  After so many years it was interesting to see how it stacked up against the newest masters of the gaming world.  We concluded that it still competes very well: it has variety and simplicity at its heart, great interaction and just enough complexity to make it a challenge without needing a PhD just to understand the rules.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Dead of Winter was still going and it sounded like there was another half an hour play, which meant there time for another, shorter game, and the group settled on Coloretto. Everyone knew it quite well it was a quick start.  On their turn the active player either draws a coloured chameleon card and places it on a “truck” or, they take a truck and its chameleons (which means they’re out for the rest of the round). The idea is that players are collecting sets of cards, but only three will yield positive points, with the rest scoring negatively.  There are some “special” cards as well, including multicoloured joker chameleons and “+2” cards which give an extra two points at the end of the game.  So, everyone was shocked when  a “+3” came out of the pile came.  Clearly there were some expansion cards in the deck and nobody had noticed despite having played with it several times before.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The first round was also remarkable in that first a yellow card was pulled, then a purple (placed on a different pile), then another yellow, which was placed on the purple pile, then a purple, which was placed on the yellow pile, to make two identical piles. So, what were the colours of the next two cards? Yes, yellow and purple! Burgundy and Red bailed at this point but Green decided to see where if he could get a second yellow or purple and ended up with a red instead giving him three singletons.  From there, the game progressed in the usual way. Green collected more new colours each with only one card, but that meant he had a wide choice to specialise in. Eventually he chose green as his primary colour, which the others found difficult to prevent him from getting. Burgundy was trying to keep his number of colours down, concentrating on just brown and yellow, but Red and Green kept ganging up on him to make sure he had to take something else very time.  To get round this, he ended up taking single cards several times, but that meant he didn’t get as many cards as he might otherwise have collected.  Red was the lucky one who took the rainbow joker and otherwise went for blues and purples.  She was forced to collect too many other colours though.  In the end, it was again Burgundy who managed to eek out the best score, despite Red and Green’s combined best efforts.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor SergioMR

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes winning is impossible, even with teamwork.

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!