Tag Archives: Queendomino

Golden GOAT Award Winners – 2018

The inaugural Golden GOAT award was announced at the boardGOATS annual “Un-Christmas Dinner”.  There was also an award acknowledging the worst game of the year, known as the “GOAT Poo” award.  The rules were quite simple, only games played at a GOATS games night in 2018 (i.e. appearing in the log book) could be nominated, and everyone got just one vote in each category.  It was clear from the audience response that many of nominees were very popular choices, including Yokohama and Keyflower: The Farmers.  A couple of games managed the feat of appearing in both lists winning the unofficial “GOAT Marmite-factor” Award, namely Endeavor and Yardmaster.  The winner of the “GOAT Poo” award was Queendomino, with one third of the group nominating it (remarkable since only four people had actually played it).  There was also a special award for “possibly the best and worst moments of the year” which went to Purple and Green’s inability to play Rock-Paper-Scissors (during Walk the Plank! a few weeks back), and Burgundy appearing as the perennial Saboteur at the end of November.  The deserving winner of the “Golden GOAT 2018”, however, was Altiplano which turned out to be a very popular choice.

Golden GOAT - 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

11th December 2018

Since this was the last meeting before Christmas, we did what we did last year and arranged to eat a little earlier so we could all share an “Un-Christmas Dinner” together, complete with festive crackers and party poppers.  Plans were nearly derailed by gridlock in Oxford that delayed Blue (and by extension the crackers, party poppers, cards and the “Feature Game”), and motorway traffic that slowed Pink in his long trip from the frozen north.  Between their arrival and food appearing, there was just time to play a little game of “Secret Christmas Cards” – the idea being that everyone got a suitably festive goaty card and a name, and write the card to that person signing it on behalf of the group.  Once we’d got over the lack of pens, the “game” seemed to go very well, though a lot of people didn’t open their card, saving the excitement for later.  Green arrived and his announcement that his divorce had come through was greeted with a round of applause.

Pizza at the Horse and Jockey
– Image from horseandjockey.org

Once the cards, pizza, “half a side of pig with egg and chips”, burgers and ice-cream had been dealt with, it was time for crackers.  We had been just about to pull them when food arrived, and knowing what was in them, Blue suggested they’d be better left till the end of the meal as people might not want cracker contents as a topping to their pizza!  It was just as well, because when everyone finally grabbed a couple of cracker ends and pulled, there was an explosion of dice, mini-meeples, wooden resources, tiny metal bells, bad jokes, party hats and festive confetti that went everywhere.  The table went from mostly ordered to complete devastation at a stroke, to which party popper detritus was quickly added.  It was immediately followed by everyone trying to work out where the bits from their cracker had ended up and as some people ferreted under the table, others began to read the jokes (which turned out to be quite repetitive).  While the table was being cleared, subject of the “Golden GOAT” award came up.  This had first been mentioned a few weeks back by Ivory who had suggested we should have a game that we’d played during the year that deserved an award (presumably he was completely unaware that “Golden Goat” is also a strain of marijuana).

"Un-Christmas Party" 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine suggested that there should also be an award acknowledging the worst game of the year, which eventually became the “GOAT Poo” award.  Unfortunately there wasn’t really a plan for how to go about doing this.  In the end, Ivory and Green tore up some slips of paper and passed them round with the book so everyone could “vote”.  The rules were quite simple, only games played at a GOATS games night in 2018 (i.e. appear in the log book) could be nominated and everyone got just one vote. There was real concern that we were just going to end up with a list of different titles and two nine-way ties, but surprisingly, that did not happen.  As the votes were read out, it became clear from the appreciative noises round the table that many of the picks were very popular choices, including Yokohama and Keyflower: The Farmers.  A couple of games managed the feat of appearing in both lists winning the unofficial “GOAT Marmite-factor” Award, namely Endeavor and Yardmaster.  The winner of the “2018 Golden GOAT” however was AltiplanoQueendomino took the “GOAT Poo” award with a third of the group nominating it (remarkable since only four of the people present had actually played it).

Golden GOAT - 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

There was also a special award for “possibly the best and worst moments of the year” which went to Purple and Green’s inability to play Rock-Paper-Scissors (during Walk the Plank! a few weeks back) and Burgundy, the perennial Saboteur name last time.  Eventually, the table was cleared and the inaugural “Golden GOAT” awards had been announced, so people’s thoughts turned to playing games.  This year Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries was a hot choice and with two copies, two games were quickly underway.  This is a variant of the very popular train game, but with a nice tight map designed specifically for two or three players and featuring a snowy festive theme.  The game play is almost exactly the same as the other versions, with players taking it turns to either draw carriage cards, or spend sets of carriage cards in appropriate colours to place plastic trains on the map.  There are a couple of things that really make the Ticket to Ride games work:  firstly, the longer the route, the more points it gets.  This often makes the longer routes very enticing, but this has to be set against the desirability of tickets (the second thing).

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the game everyone chooses from a handful of ticket cards each depicting two cities and a value: players who manage to join routes together to connect the two cities get the depicted number of points at the end of the game.  The catch is that any tickets that players keep that are not completed successfully score negatively, and the swing can be quite devastating.  Ticket to Ride is a game everyone knows well and although we don’t play it often it is always enjoyable (perhaps because we don’t play it too frequently).  The familiarity means that everyone always fancies their chances at it though, which tends to make for very competitive games and the group really benefits from the variation that the different maps and versions offer.  On the first table, the game started out in much the same way as all Ticket to Ride games.  Ivory placed trains first, but Mulberry and Green followed soon after.  It wasn’t long before Ivory was drawing more ticket cards (instead of taking carriage cards or placing trains) and Green soon followed with Mulberry taking a little longer.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

As is usual, the colour cards that players wanted, just seemed to refuse to come up and everyone’s individual hand of cards grew even as the board filled with more tickets taken at regular intervals.   In the early stages the trio were fairly well matched.  Green was starting to pull ahead and then for some reason abruptly stopped and his hand of cards grew and grew.  He had said that he was going for it and it would either pay off or he would lose abysmally. Mulberry and Ivory had nearly twice as many points as Green when he finally laid a train:  the nine-carriage route giving him twenty-seven points and propelling him into the lead by more than his previous deficit.  Everyone still had lots of trains left though, so the game was far from over.  Eventually, Mulberry brought the game to a sudden halt when she placed her last three trains, catching the others by surprise.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

With their last turn they scrabbled for the longest route they could manage.  Since Green still had a handful of cards he was able to take a six-carriage route for a healthy fifteen points, however, that meant he had to abandon his twenty-four point ticket as he still needed two, very small routes to complete it.  The group decided to forgo recounting the points for placing trains and decided to assume they had kept on top of the scores during play.  Green was ahead in points for train placement by quite a margin, but Ivory and Mulberry had completed more tickets and Green was crippled by the forty-eight point swing caused by his incomplete ticket.  Mulberry took bonus for the the most completed tickets (by only one) and ended just one point behind Ivory.  With the score at the top so close they decided they had to double check all the scores and after a complete recount, there was a reversal and Mulberry edged Ivory out by one solitary point.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table the story was a little different, with Pink, the “Prophet of Doom” goading Pine offering him advice to give in before he’d even started as he was in for a torrid time playing against Blue and Burgundy.  Pine didn’t see it like that however, and as he likes the game, he really fancied his chances.  Fortune favours the brave, and he was out of the blocks like a greyhound with a fifteen point placement in just his second turn.  From then on, it was fast and furious with players fighting to secure the routes they needed to complete their tickets.  Blue and Pine kept fairly level and began to pull away from Burgundy, but neither of them dared to get complacent as he usually has a master-plan that he’s waiting for the perfect moment to enact.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine drew more ticket cards and Blue followed, keeping pace every step of the way while Burgundy kept drawing carriage cards.  Eventually Blue drew ahead in the “taking tickets” race, but it was one set of tickets too far for her as she drew three moderate to high scoring cards that were all unplayable.  Fearing she’d pushed her luck one step too far, she kept the lowest scoring card (i.e. the one with the fewest negative points) and pondered her options.  Pine took tickets and it was clear he had hit a similar problem though at least two of his were playable, if difficult.  In the end, he took a twenty-one point ticket that needed a little work, giving Blue an interesting choice.  In addition to the unplayable ticket, she had one low-ish scoring ticket left that she only needed one card to complete.  She’d been waiting for that single yellow carriage for a while though and persisting could allow Pine time to complete his new ticket.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Although she didn’t know the value or difficulty of Pine’s final ticket Blue felt sure it was high scoring and that he would need a few turns to complete it.  With a large set of pink cards and not many trains left, it gave her a chance; by placing a largely arbitrary route she triggered the end of the game.  Burgundy squeaked, although it had looked for all the world like he was trying for the long route, in fact he was really hunting for a locomotive (wild) card or a single orange carriage to complete his route into Narvik (though he came very close to getting nine cards necessary for the long route by accident).  The irony was that Blue had picked up loads of locomotive cards in her hunt for the single yellow, but hadn’t wanted them and had been unable to find yellow cards because Burgundy had them all!  In his penultimate turn, Burgundy had finally drawn his last orange card enabling him to finish his final, long ticket on his very last go.  Pine on the other hand was less fortunate and fell short, taking a swing of forty-two points which more than off-set Blue’s incomplete tickets.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

The group recounted the train points and found a few extra points for Blue, but it was still very close and all down to the tickets.  Blue had mostly low-scoring cards; where Pine had one fewer, they were more valuable.  In the end, Blue finished twenty-three points ahead of Pine, but she had managed to complete one extra ticket which had given her the ten point bonus – had it gone to Pine there would have been a twenty point swing and the second group might have had a recount too.  Both Ticket to Ride games finished at much the same time and while the third game was finishing off, the two groups compared notes.  It was then that the first group realised they had not played quite correctly, as there is a rules change in this version that means locomotive cards can only be used as wilds on tunnel and ferry routes, not on ordinary routes.  This explained why Green had managed to succeed at his long route when Burgundy had failed. While playing correctly would have changed the game, there was no accusation of cheating as Ivory and Mulberry who had been playing that game had played by the same rules.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, while the two ends of the table were playing with their train-sets, the trio in the middle were decorating their Christmas Tree.  This game is a cute little card drafting game that originated in Hungary.  The game takes place over three rounds during which Christmas decoration cards are drafted. After each card is chosen, the player puts it anywhere they like on their tree.  After seven cards, the round ends and the trees are evaluated.  Decorations include gingerbread men, glass ornaments in different shapes, wrapped sweets and, of course, festive lights.  The gingerbread men have different markings on their hands and feet and the more that match the adjacent decorations, the more points they score.  Some glass ornaments and all the sweets score points directly; lights only score if both halves match.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

The decorations only score at the end of the game though;  objective cards are evaluated at the end of each round.  At the start of the game each player receives four objective cards and at the start of each round everyone chooses one; these are shuffled and before the round begins.  The trees are therefore evaluated at the end of each round according to these objectives.  and then decorations score at the end.  One of the things about this scoring mechanism is that it’s often not obvious who is in the lead during the game as there are so many points awarded at the end.  This game was no exception, and was ultimately very close as a result.  It is one of those games that benefits from experience, and Black and Purple’s who had both played before took first and second, in that order.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

There was time for something else.  Inevitably, we threatened Pink with Bohnanza (he has possibly the smallest amount of love for the game per copy owned), but it’s lack of festiveness, meant it was a hollow threat.  We still had the “Feature Game” to play anyhow, which was Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey.  This is a mad game by a local gamer and member of the Didcot Games Club, Rob Harper set in a world that is a sort of cross between Downton Abbey and the Adams Family.  The artwork is suitably gruesome, though it was very clear from the start who the Countess D’Ungeon was a caricature of!  Played over several short rounds, each player takes the role of one of the various eccentric and unpleasant family members grasping for whatever feels like the best present.  To this end, players begin with a character card and a couple of gift cards, all face down on the table in front of them.  On their turn, the active player may either swap one of their face-down cards with one elsewhere on the table, or turn a card face-up, possibly activating a special action on the gift cards.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

The round ends when all a player’s cards are face up at the start of their turn or a bomb is revealed, at which point everyone scores points if they have collected the gifts wanted by their characters.  With six people playing nobody had a clue what was going on and mayhem reigned.  Ivory and Pine jointly took the first round giving them a point each, but after that, the gloves were off.  Purple took one round and Pine and Ivory took another each, so it was all down to the last round.  Green had spent most of the game trying to furnish Little Eugenia with two bombs, so when Blue realised he had the cards he needed to win the round, she made it her business to try to obstruct his plans.  Needless to say he spent the round getting his cards back.  With Blue and Green playing silly beggars in the corner, everyone else fought it out, but there was nothing everyone else could do to stop Ivory taking the point he needed to win.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

There was still time to play something else, but nobody was really in the mood so, instead, Blue and Ivory drooled over the fabulous pink dinosaurs from Ivory’s new arrival, Dinosaur Island.  Blue had nearly KickStarted the second edition, but had withdrawn when she’d heard Ivory was already committed to the project.  Needless to say, Ivory had brought his copy to show it off at the earliest opportunity, including plastic goats as well as dinosaurs.  And of course it will undoubtedly be a “Feature Game” sometime in the new year.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Christmas Crackers can make an awful lot of mess.

27th Movember 2018

With the Festive Season now apparently upon us, the pub was once again packed and food was later than usual.  For this reason, we started with a quick game of No Thanks!.  This used to be one of our “go-to” filler games, but has been somewhat neglected of late, so was surprisingly unfamiliar to some people.  It is very simple though and very easy to learn on the fly:  everyone starts with eleven red chips and the first player turns over the top card—they can take it, or pay a chip for the privilege of passing the problem on to the next player.  The player with the lowest summed card total when the deck expires is the winner.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

There are are two catches, firstly, where a player has a run of consecutive cards only the lowest is counted and secondly, a small number of cards are removed from the deck at random.  Top scorer looked to be a toss up between Blue, Red and Mulberry, but Red took the dubious honour in the end, with forty.  It was tight between Pine and Burgundy, however, both of whom had a large pile of chips and a substantial run of high cards (between them they had nearly forty of the fifty-five chips and the cards numbered twenty-eight to thirty-five).  There were only two points in it in the end and it was Pine who took the honours.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor ronster0

The group had been just about to start playing when Black, Purple and Green had walked in.  Since No Thanks! only plays five, so pre-empting a discussion of options, Blue chucked over a copy of Dodekka which the group obligingly settled down to play.   This is another light set collecting game where the aim is to get the highest score possible from one of the five colour suits, while ideally scoring nothing in all the other suits.  Gameplay is very simple:  take the first card on display, or reveal a card from the deck and add it to the end of the row (thus “passing”).  If the sum of the cards on display now totals more than twelve, the active player must pick up all of the cards on display. When the deck runs out, the winner is the player with the highest score (the total face value of one suit minus one for each other card).  It was very close at the top, with only one point separating Black and Purple, and much to Purple’s chagrin, it was Black who came out on top.

Dodekka
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as No Thanks! was coming to an end, food arrived, along with Ivory.  Dodekka was still going, so while some munched, those remaining decided to give The Game an outing (played with a copy of The Game: Extreme, but ignoring the special symbols).  This is a surprisingly popular game within the group, which is remarkable because it is cooperative and we generally prefer competitive games.  Another simple game, the idea is that the team have a deck of cards from two to ninety-nine and they must play each card on one of four piles:  two where the card played must be higher than the top card, and two where it must be lower.  There are just three rules:  on their turn, the active player can play as many cards as they like (obeying the rules of the four piles), but must play at least two cards before replenishing their hand, and players can say anything they like but must not share “specific number information”.  Finally, there is the so-called “Backwards Rule” where players can reverse a deck as long as the card they play is exactly ten above or below the previous card played on that pile.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

Red started and it quickly began to go wrong with with Pine holding a “nice mid-range hand”.  With the help of everyone else he battled through though, and it wasn’t long before he had a “nice extreme hand” while all the piles were offering “nice mid-range options”.  It perhaps wasn’t surprising with this that the group didn’t win (i.e. play all their cards onto the four decks), but given that they had such a poor run of luck, they did well to exhaust the draw deck and ultimately have only eight cards they were unable to play.  Inevitably, Dodekka finished just after The Game started, so Black, Purple and Green killed time with a quick game of Love Letter.  This is the original “micro game”, consisting of just sixteen cards.  The idea is that each player starts with a single card, draws a second card and chooses one of the pair to play.  The cards are numbered one to eight (with more of the lower numbers), and each number has an action associated with it.  The aim is to eliminate all opponents, as the last man standing is the winner.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Rounds only take a minute or two, so elimination is not a problem.  This time, each player won a round.  So with honours even and with the other game and food coming to an end, it was sudden death.  This time it was Purple’s turn to come up trumps, taking the final hand and with it, the game.  This started a big debate as to who was going to play what.  As it was likely to be Ivory’s last chance for a meaty game for a few weeks (with Christmas and his impending arrival), the “Feature Game” was Ambition, the expansion to one of his favourite games, Roll for the Galaxy.  With Burgundy fed-up with the feeling of confusion that Roll for the Galaxy always gave him and Black feeling that he’d played it a couple of times recently, for a while it looked like it was only going to be Blue and Ivory.  Eventually Black saw sense, and Green joined in, despite the fact that he felt he’d not played the base game enough to appreciate the expansion.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Roll for the Galaxy is the dice game of the popular empire building card game, Race for the Galaxy.  Both suffer from the same “iconography confusion”, but that aside, neither are actually complicated games.  The idea builds on the Puerto Rico/San Juan idea of different phases or activities that only happen if or when players want them to.  Roll for the Galaxy is almost a “worker placement” game where dice are the workers and have a say in what sort of work they do with players “spending” these dice to make actions happen.  Each player starts with a dice in their cup which they roll and assign, in secret behind a screen.  When dice are used they are placed into the player’s Citizenry and it costs a dollar to move them from the citizenry to back into the cup.  Each face of the worker dice corresponds to one of the five different action phases:  Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce, Ship.  Each player uses one die, any die, to select a single phase that they want to “happen”.  All the other dice are assigned to the Phase that corresponds to the face rolled.  Any that do not correspond to the chosen phase can only be used if another player chooses those phases to happen.  Any that are used move into the player’s Citizenry, any that are not used go back into the cup.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

As such everyone is reliant on other players to help them out and the player who best piggy-backs other players’ choices usually does well.  It is not only about second-guessing what other players are going to do though: success also requires a good strategy, a complementary tiles (Worlds), an understanding of probability, the ability to effectively manipulate the dice rolled, and a modicum of luck.  Luck is everywhere, but there are ways to mitigate its effect.  For example, in Phase I (“Explore”), players draw tiles out of a bag.  These are double-sided with one side being a Development World and the other a Production World.  These are “Built” in Phases II & III (“Develop” and “Settle”) and the cost is paid in dice, anything from one to six (with expensive Development Worlds generally partnered with cheap Production Worlds).  These tiles are drawn at random in Phase I and a side chosen and the Worlds added to the bottom of their personal Development or Settle pile as appropriate.  The top World tile is the one that will be built first and if there is not enough to complete a building, that means there will be fewer dice available for the following rounds, until it is finished.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This may seem very harsh, with players potentially getting stuck with a high value building and a shortage of dice so that they struggle to complete it in a timely fashion.  However, clever use of the Explore Phase can ensure that this is not a problem, despite the luck involved.  Players can discard as many tiles as they like, drawing one extra from the bag.  Thus, an early round committing lots of dice to the Explore phase can enable lots of tiles to be recycled as better ones are drawn.  Dice assigned to Phase IV (Produce) are moved to Production Worlds where they will stay until Phase V (ship) happens and that player has dice assigned to it.  In this way, dice can get “stuck” in a similar fashion to dice involved in Developing or Settling.  Thus dice management is one of the key skills to the game.  Points come from building (a building that requires five dice is generally worth five points at the end of the game); from bonus points Development buildings which give points for some particular feature (e.g. one extra point for a particular type of Production World), and from victory points generated during Phase V (Shipping) by using the “Consume” option.

Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dotKeller

The Ambition expansion doesn’t change the game very much, simply adding a very small number of Worlds, some extra Starting Worlds, some in game Objective tiles and replaces one of each player’s starting white dice with a black “Leader” die.  The first player (and only the first player) to achieve each of the objectives receives “Talent” counters; these can be treated as single-use workers or as victory points at the end of the game.  There are also orange “Entrepreneur” dice—these and the “Leader” dice have some faces with two symbols allowing players to choose which of these Phases to assign them to and giving them the magic power of automatically switching to the alternative Phase if the initial nomination does not happen.  There are a couple of other little twists, for example on some faces the second symbol is a dollar sign signifying that if the die is used for its intended Phase then the die goes back into the Cup (not into the Citizenry) after use, making it effectively free to use.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Ivory was fastest out of the blocks with a large amount of liquidity from his “Doomed World” that gave him $8 start up.  Furthermore, his “Alien Artefact Hunters” start-world gave him $2 each time he consumed Alien goods, and Victory points (from Consuming).  For everyone else it looked like it was going to be over before it had begun when Ivory  was the first to achieve an Objective, adding the associated Talents to his already growing pile of victory points.  Although they were a little less obvious , everyone else’s Start Worlds were quite useful too however.  Black for example received extra cash every time he developed, Green had the ability to reassign two of his white dice as Explorers or Settlers and Blue could reassign any two dice to explore.  These special abilities were slower to take effect, but gradually, these, together with the lack of production on the “Doomed World” meant the group began to haul back Ivory’s rapid head-start.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Blue, and to a lesser extent Green, spent a lot of time Exploring (using their special abilities), carefully choosing which Worlds to build and stacking the deck to control the order, a tactic that paid dividends later in the game.  In Blue’s case, she used the Objectives as a target and then used the Talents to finish off Worlds quickly enabling her to grab a couple from under Ivory’s nose.  Green more or less ignored the Objectives as he was too busy trying to remember how to play the base game while fiddling with his phone.  Black was less fortunate, and really struggled with the luck of the dice and found it difficult to make use of his special ability to get his engine going.  Then suddenly it looked like Ivory might end the game as the Victory Point reserve rapidly depleted.  He couldn’t make it on the first attempt though and there were a couple more things he wanted to do in any case.  In the end it was Blue who ended it—building not only her twelfth World, but also an extra one giving her a massive forty points for that alone.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although Blue had a couple of Victory Point chips and a handful of Talents left over, it paled into insignificance compared with the massive pile of chips in front of Ivory—the question was whether it would be enough though.  It was very close, but Blue’s last round just tipped it in her favour and she won by five points.  With that, Ivory and Green took their leave, leaving Black and Blue to consider their options.  While they had been playing with their dice, the others had played a full four rounds of Saboteur and moved on to their next game.  Saboteur is a fun little hidden traitor game where players are either Dwarves trying to find the treasure or Saboteurs trying to stop them.  We’ve played it quite a bit and in truth it plays best with more than six players, as the number of Saboteurs varies and there is an element of doubt.  With five their can be either one or two Saboteurs, and the odds are heavily stacked against a lone Saboteur, but in favour of a pair.  Nevertheless, the group were keen to introduce Mulberry to it.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

It is another quite simple game:  On their turn, players can play a tunnel card onto the grid in the centre, play a special card (a broken or fixed tools card on another player or a map card to look at the destination cards), or discard a card face down and then draw a replacement.  If the Dwarves don’t get to the treasure before the cards run out, the Saboteurs win.  In the first round, Burgundy was isolated as the Saboteur and despite his best efforts, he failed to disrupt an organised team of Dwarves.  In the second round Burgundy was joined by Pine, and with two of them the odds were much better and the pair took the opportunity to prevent the Dwarf team from getting to the gold.  As a group, we normally only play a couple of rounds, but everyone wanted to see if luck would deal Burgundy a Dwarf card.  The immediate answer was no, and in the end it turned out that the third rounds was a direct replay of the second with Pine joining Burgundy on the Saboteur winning team.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

By this time the group had decided they would keep playing until Burgundy wasn’t the Saboteur, and in the fourth round they finally got their way when Mulberry was a lone Saboteur.  Inevitably she failed to break the will of the “gang of four” who easily found the treasure.  Normally we don’t bother sharing out the “gold” scoring cards as it is very arbitrary who goes first and in a low number of rounds it is purely luck who wins overall which takes some of the fun out of the game.  This time though, the group played the rules as written.  With Burgundy and Pine winning two rounds and sharing the spoils two ways (instead of three) it was inevitable that they would score well.  In the end it was Pine who did lightly better, thanks to the fact he had been on the winning Dwarf team in the first round.  As Roll for the Galaxy was still going (and Red and Mulberry had gone home for an early night), the group looked round for something else to play and Purple’s beady eye lit on Steam Donkey.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

Steam Donkey is a card game that involves building a seaside resort consisting of a four by three grid of attraction cards. The three rows represent the different parts of the resort:  beach (yellow), town (pink) and park (green).  Similarly, the four columns correspond to the different types of building: amusements, lodgings, monuments and transport.  In order to place a feature, it must go in the correct location and must be paid for using cards of the same type, as such it has similarities with games like Race for the Galaxy and San Juan.  As players build their resort, visitors arrive at the station and come to see the attractions. Each attraction can take a certain number of visitors, which are actually a row of face down cards that are used to replenish the cards in players’ hands. Thus, on their turn players carry out one of the following actions:  choose a colour and build as many attractions in that colour as they can/want paying with other cards from their hand; choose a colour and start taking cards in that colour from the “station” (a row of face down cards), or if there are no visitors of the chosen colour (or there are no spaces for the visitors to go), they can add visitor cards to their hand and refill the station platform with four new visitors.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

The colour of the visitor side of cards does not reflect the colour of the attraction on the other side, however, the type of attraction is indicated.  There is a hand limit of twelve though and this can actually be quite a serious impediment for players collecting cards to build the more valuable attractions.  At the end of the game, points are scored for each unique attraction built as well as for fulfilling individual goals and bonuses depicted on players’ resort posters.  It was a long time since anyone in the group had played it, and Pine hadn’t played it at all, so it took a while to get going.  It was close at the top with Burgundy and Pine scoring pretty evenly for their buildings and taking almost exactly the same number of bonus points too.  Burgundy just had the edge however, and took the game by three points, with a grand total of seventy.

xSteam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

When Roll for the Galaxy finally finished and Green and Ivory left Blue and Black alone it was clear that they were going to be waiting for a while, so they looked round for something that wasn’t too long and played well with two.  In the end, they settled on Kingdomino, but decided to add the new Age of Giants expansion acquired at Essen.  Kingdomino is a tile-laying game with a couple of clever mechanics.  Players take it in turns to choose a “domino” and add it to their “Kingdom”.  The clever part of the game is that the tiles are numbered with players who choose the high numbered (and therefore more valuable) dominoes taking their turns later in the next round.  In the two player game, players get two turns per round, so their first turn can be used to try to set up the second turn.  In the two-player game, each player is building kingdoms consisting of 7×7 arrays of “squares” rather than 5×5 arrays, which makes the game much more strategic.

xKingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends when there are no more tiles to place.  Scoring is by multiplying the number of tiles in each terrain by the number of crowns in that terrain.  Thus a moderate sized area with plenty of crowns is worth more than a large area with very few crowns.  The Age of Giants expansion doesn’t change things as much as Queendomino, which we found managed to take all the fun out of the game and add a whole load of unnecessary complexity instead.  This expansion adds a small number of tiles that feature either a Giant or a Giant’s footprints.  When a Giant Tile is drawn, a large wooden giant meeple is placed on it.  When this is taken, the Giant is taken too and is placed over one of the crowns anywhere on that player’s area.  When a footprints tile is taken, a Giant of their choice moves from their Kingdom to another player’s Kingdom.

xKingdomino: Age of Giants
– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

There are two problems with this little addition, firstly, there is a rules tweak that means five tiles are drawn in the two player game and one is discarded.  Blue and Black found that this meant they just chose not to take tiles with Giants on them except when forced to right at the end.  Secondly, even when forced to take a Giant, there was almost always somewhere it could be poked that caused minimal damage, so it wasn’t really a big issue.  This was a real shame as the Giants are lovely.  As well as adding a fifth player there is also a a small pile of bonus-point tiles; both Blue and Black really liked these as they thought that they added a nice twist.  This time, they ended up with bonus points for Sea tiles adjacent to the castle and Marsh land on the corners.  Both players tried to accommodate these, though Black did a much better job than Blue.

xKingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

It may have been that Black was focussing too much on the bonuses however, as he ended up unable to place all his tiles.  And although he scored well on the bonuses and for Sea and Pasture, he scored very little for Woodland, Marshland and Mountains.  In contrast, while Blue completely failed to score for Pasture, she scored well in every other terrain and made a killing with her Wheat fields, giving her a total of two-hundred and thirty-three, some sixty more than Black.  With that done and the epic game of Steam Donkey finally over, there was just time to arrange some of the details for the Christmas Party nest time before everyone went home.

xKingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  We like simple games: they can be quick to learn, but take time to master.

16th October 2018

Blue was late after an unscheduled nap, so Burgundy consumed the first half of his supper alone.  Blue was quickly followed by Ivory and Pine and then a new visitor, Navy.  With Cobalt last week (who was busy moving house this week so couldn’t come) that makes two new people in two weeks.  Navy is a more experienced gamer and is into slightly more confrontational games than those we normally play, but that’s good as it might encourage us to leave our comfort-zone of cuddly Euros set in medieval Germany.  As we were all introducing ourselves, Green, and then Black and Purple turned up and the discussion moved on to how we choose the “Feature Game” (Blue suggests something to Green who mostly replies that he’s never heard of it, but it sounds quite interesting…).  Recent discussions have centred round the new Key Flow (aka “Keyflower the card Game”) for the next meeting and maybe Imaginarium (or, “The One With The Elephant on the Front” as Navy referred to it).  With that, Green started getting out this week’s “Feature Game“, which was Greed, a card drafting game where players are crime lords trying to earn more money than anyone else through clever use of their cards.

Imaginarium
– Image by BGG contributor W Eric Martin

At it’s heart, Greed is a quite simple, card-drafting game with a healthy dose of “take that” and a gangster theme.  Players start with a hand of twelve cards and “draft” three cards  (i.e. choose a cards and pass the rest on, three times).  Players then simultaneously choose one card then together reveal this card and action it before the it is replaced with another drafted card.  A total of ten cards are played in this way per person before the players tally their holdings and the player with the highest value is the winner.  Obviously, the game is all about the cards and there are three types, Thugs, Holdings and Actions, but it is the combination of these that is critical.  Actions have a unique effect associated with them while Thugs and Holdings typically also have a cost or a condition associated with them (e.g. cash paid to the bank or a collection of symbols on cards held).  Holdings are the key however.  When a Holding is played a token is placed on that card for each symbol on it and an additional token for each symbol of that type already possessed. These tokens are worth $10,000 each at the end of the game which is added to the value of cash collected through card plays.

Greed
– Image from kickstarter.com

Although it was Green’s game he had only played it once and that was over a year ago, while Burgundy had read up on it.  Pine and Navy had joined them to make the foursome.  The game takes a few rounds to understand how it really works.  After that, it’s quite easy to play, but working out which card to take and which to play is much harder, as they all seem to be really good. Unfortunately Navy struggled a bit at the beginning and made mistakes in his first couple of plays as he either found he couldn’t actually play his chosen card and had to just ditch it, or wasn’t able to get the indicated bonus. However, as he had not accumulated any wealth early on, it also meant he didn’t lose any when Green played a couple of cards which meant everyone else lost dollars, which leveled the scores a little.  Burgundy’s preparation really helped when he played a Holding card and proceeded to place six tokens on it, so by the half way mark it was looking like a two horse race between Burgundy and Green with both Navy and Pine looking short on cards.

Greed
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Through the second half of the game, Pine really got the hang of it and started raking in the dollars and had quite a pile of cash. Green then played a Holding card which enabled him to add chits equaling the same number as the maximum on another players cards, which meant he was able to gain from Burgundy’s excellent earlier play.  In the final rounds, Green played another card which removed one of his holdings only to be able to play it again the following round with even more tokens than it had previously. There was a brief discussion as to whether he should get the usual amount for it as well as the removed ones and two extras, a decision that went in Green’s favour, but the real question was whether it would be enough to beat Burgundy.  In the end, it was close, but the answer was no and Green finished with $30,000 behind Burgundy’s winning total of $235,000.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the next table everyone was being indecisive, but in the end the decision was made in favour of Roll for the Galaxy.  This is a game that really fascinated the group for a while because somehow it behaves differently to everything else we play and we really struggled to get to grips with it.  At the time, we concluded that our struggles were probably because we weren’t playing it enough so effectively had to learn it afresh every time we played.  For this reason we went through a phase of playing it quite a bit, but that was some months ago now and it was definitely time for another outing.  In principle, it is not a difficult game and the core mechanism is similar to the so-called “deck builders” (like Dominion) or “bag builders” (like Orléans or Altiplano), except instead of building a deck of cards or a bag of action tokens, players are building their supply of dice.  In Roll for the Galaxy, each different die colour reflects the different distributions of the dice, so for example, white “Home” dice feature each of the symbols for Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship once and Explore twice.  On the other hand, the yellow “Alien Technology” dice have three faces that depict the asterisk (“Wild”) and one each of Develop, Settle and Produce.  Thus, where probability affects which cards or tokens are drawn in the other games, in Roll for the Galaxy, players have more control over which dice they are using, but chance affects how those dice roll.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In principle, Roll for the Galaxy is not a difficult game and the basic mechanism is similar to that in Dominion or Orléans/Altiplano, except instead of building a deck or a bag of action tokens, players are building their supply of dice.  Each different die colour reflects the different distributions of the dice, so for example, white “Home” dice feature each of the symbols for Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship once and Explore twice.  On the other hand, the yellow “Alien Technology” dice have three faces that depict the asterisk (“Wild”) and one each of Develop, Settle and Produce.  Thus, where probability affects which cards or tokens are drawn in the other games, in Roll for the Galaxy, players have more control over which dice they are using, but chance affects how those dice roll.  Although the dice are important, like Greed, the game is really all about the special powers the players’ tableau, in this case made up of World tiles rather than cards.  Ultimately the game is really a race to trigger the end of the game is when the victory point chip pool runs out or a player builds their twelfth World.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Game play is mostly simultaneous:  players roll their dice and  allocate them to their phase strip.  Each player can choose one phase that they guarantee will happen, so in a four player game there is a maximum of four phases per round and where players choose the same phase there will be fewer, sometimes even only one.  The phases are:  Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce & Ship which correspond to draw Worlds from a bag; “spend” dice to build development Worlds;  “spend” dice to build production Worlds; place dice on production Worlds, and move dice from production Worlds in exchange for either victory points or money (which in turn can be used to speed up recycling of dice).  While we were setting up Ivory regaled us with the first few pages of Julia Donaldson’s “The Gruffalo”.  We will miss him and his stories when he takes his paternity leave in the new year.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor The Innocent

Blue began with the poor starting combination of a level six development World and a level one settlement, or a a level one development World and a level six settlement so began by rectifying the problem by exploring.  The game rocked along at a merry lick, with Black and Purple building and Ivory thrilled that he finally managed to build his first ever “Alien Technology World”, a feat he quickly followed with his second. Blue was slower building, but had a few high value developments and made good use of these before she began collecting some victory points.  This started a sudden cascade of Black and Ivory collecting points as well.  As a result, everyone focused on the number of victory point chips as the end game trigger, so much so that nobody, spotted that Purple had built her twelfth World.  As the group was just about to start the next round and everyone likes seeing their plans fulfilled, they played on anyhow.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor dodecalouise

Although it was a very tight game and everyone added to their scores, the extra round probably didn’t make any difference to the final placings.  Black and Ivory took over twenty victory points in chips alone, but they were offset by Blue’s high value Worlds and bonus points which gave her fifty-six points, just three more than Black in second place.  Everyone enjoyed the game, but there was one non-game highlight: Green’s sad little face when he looked across and broke off from setting up Greed with the sad comment, “Oh, They’re playing Roll for the Galaxy…”  Well, as everyone had a good time and with players getting quicker at it, it’s less of a labour than it used to be, so it surely won’t be long before he gets a chance to play it again.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Greed finished first and as it was still early there time for another game, but nobody wanted to have a late night so the group picked something shorter and settled on this year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul.  This was another game that was new to Navy, but it is very popular in the group and we’ve played it a lot.  Players are tiling a wall, taking tiles of one colour either from one of the factories (putting the rest in the central pool) or from the central pool.  Tiles are added to rows on the players’ boards and at the end of the round one tile from each full row is transferred to the players’ mosaics.  The aim is obviously to fill all the rows to transfer the maximum number of tiles, however, any excess tiles score negative points.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Navy quickly got the hang of this one and all the scores were close for a lot of the game, though it was noted how neat Green’s mosaic was looking as he managed to fill the first left hand vertical row and nearly completed the second as well before placing anywhere else.  Burgundy and Pine were both less tidy, but was still picking up extra points for connecting tiles when placing them. Although Navy’s board was a little more scattered, but that would help him to catch up later.  Everyone thought they were entering what would be the final final round with  three players with at least one row just one tile from completion, amazingly nobody completed them and everyone get one extra round.  This meant the group actually ran out of tiles to place on the central discs, triggering the end game in different way.  After this final round and final scoring, Pine finished on top of the podium, ahead of Burgundy in  second place with Navy in a very respectable third in a close game.

Azul
– Image by BGG Contributor styren

While Roll for the Galaxy was finished, there was a bit of chit-chat about strategy and it was clear that to do well at the game, you also need to keep a close eye on what everyone else is doing too. This can be tricky when you are struggling to work out what to do on your own board however.  Winning or losing though, Azul is a nice game that always delivers a challenge; it will be interesting to see how the new stand-alone version of the game, Stained Glass of Sintra compares and if it is as good or better than the original, or whether it “does a Queendomino or Tsuro of the Seas“.  No doubt we will find out in due course.  With that, those that wanted an early night headed for home, leaving Black, Purple, Burgundy and Blue with time for one last, shortish game.  Black suggested San Juan which had been played at the last Didcot Games Club meeting, and everyone else concurred.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

Essentially, San Juan is sometimes referred to as “Puerto Rico the Card Game”, but in truth they are very different games although the artwork and roll selection is similar.  In practice, it is actually a simpler version of the card version of Roll for the Galaxy, Race for the Galaxy.  The game uses the same multi-purpose card mechanism seen in games like Bohnanza, though in this case, cards can be buildings, goods, or money.  The idea is that players take it in turns to choose a “role” and then everyone carries out the action associated with that role, though person who chose it carries out with the “privilege”, a slight advantage.  The roles are Councillor; Prospector; Builder, Producer and Trader.  Players have a hand of cards and can use the Builder to build these cards to paying for them with other cards from their hand.  Hands are replenished directly using the Councillor or Prospector.  However, it is much more efficient to build an engine using production buildings.  These take cards from the deck and turns them into goods when a player chooses the Producer role; when the Trader role is chosen, these goods can be traded for cards according to the current value depicted on the tally stick.  The game end is triggered when someone builds their twelfth building.

San Juan
– Image by BGG contributor Aldaron

Black and Burgundy were quick out of the traps building their efficient production engine, with high value coffee and silver producers.  Purple started with “purple buildings” before also moving into sugar production and then Monuments.  Blue on the other hand started with a hand full of nice looking purple civic buildings that she didn’t want to part with and after three rounds hadn’t seen a production building, so decided to try something different and built a Tower (to increase her hand limit from seven to twelve) and started building.  Elsewhere on the table Burgundy was stealing a march on everyone else, adding a Well, Smithy, Aqueduct and Market Hall to his high value buildings.  When he added a Library which enabled him to use his privilege twice, he began turning over cards at a phenomenal rate and it looked like the writing was on the wall.  Everyone was keeping a careful eye on everyone else, trying to make sure they didn’t fall behind in the number of buildings they had, and before long, the game end was triggered and it was the final round then the scores were added up.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

After the scores had been added up, Black bemoaned the lack of the endgame scoring bonus cards that rewarded the production buildings and monuments that he had been collecting (Guild Hall and Triumphal Arch).  It was then that Blue explained that she had been stashing them under her Chapel as she had no use for them and didn’t want the others to have them.  It was possible that this tactic made the difference, as despite having only two production buildings, her City Hall and Chapel delivered a massive thirteen bonus points, just enough to offset the cheaper buildings she had been forced to build.  Remarkably, Blue finished with thirty-one points, four ahead of the “Production King” Burgundy.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thatmadgirl

Learning Outcome:  Though difficult, it is important to keep a close eye on what everyone else is doing.

24th July 2018

It was a quiet night, and the atmosphere was slightly subdued as our thoughts were with Green who had had a very rough day and therefore wasn’t with us.  Burgundy and Blue were still eating, so Pine, Red and Ivory began punching out Pine’s brand-spanking, new copy of the “Feature Game”, AzulThis week, Azul won the Spiel des Jahres Award, but despite the fact that it only came out at Essen last year, and has been difficult to get hold of for much of the time, we’ve still managed to play it a lot.  Even so, Red seemed to have managed to miss out, so an explanation of the rules was in order.  It is quite simple to play, if a little abstract.  The idea is that players are tile laying artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora with “azulejos”.  On their turn, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory displays (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles in one of the five rows on their player board.

Azul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Each row can only contain one colour, but players may have more than one row with any given colour.  The catch is that each player only has five rows, each with a set number of spaces, one to five.  Players can add tiles to a row later in the round, but once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row.  Once all the tiles have been picked up, players evaluate their board, and, starting with the shortest row, one of the tiles from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored. Players score one point for a tile that is not placed adjacent to any other tile, whereas tiles added to rows or columns score the same number of points as there are tiles in the completed row (or column).  The game continues with players choosing tiles from the factory displays and then adding them to rows, the catch is that as the mosaic fills up, it is harder to fill the rows as each row can only take each colour once.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

End game bonuses, keep everyone guessing right up to the end which adds interest and occasionally it can be really nasty when someone ends up with a pile of tiles they can’t use.  Red, Ivory and Pine got going quickly, and once Burgundy and Blue had finished with their supper, they moved to a table near the door to make the most of the draught and started a second game with Black and Purple.  Having played the game quite a bit, nobody pulled their punches:  It was only the second round when Blue had to pick up ten yellow tiles netting her fourteen negative points.  She was fortunate that she didn’t have fourteen to lose, but when Black picked up seven yellow tiles a couple of rounds later he was less lucky.  On the next table Ivory was being nasty to Pine, leaving him with Hobson’s Choice and minus ten points either way.  Playing “dirty” clearly worked for Ivory as he won the first game, though there was some confusion of the scoring, which Pine blamed on his over-hot head.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

In the other game, there had been a lot negative points and a lot of bonuses, it was all surprisingly close.  In the last round, Purple took the tiles she needed for a full set of reds and Blue had scotched a ten point bonus for Burgundy.  Despite that, Burgundy still picked up a massive twenty-seven points in end-game bonuses, but much to everyone’s surprise he didn’t quite manage to catch Black who finished with a eighty-five.  It had been quite a stressful game, but as usual, we’d all enjoyed it, and discussion moved on to the new release coming in October: Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, which we are all looking forward to, as long as it doesn’t “do a Queendomino“.*

Azul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Red, Pine and Ivory had started their game first, and with only three players compared with four on the other table, it was no surprise that that also finished first.   As they were looking round for something to play, Red spied Yardmaster, one of her favourite games, in Blue’s bag.  Neither Pine nor Ivory had played it before, but it wasn’t difficult for Red to persuade them to give it a go.  Unlike most other train games, in Yardmaster, players are building a locomotive rather than routes.  On their turn players can do two from the three possible actions:  draw a cargo card (either blind or from the face up discard pile); buy a railcar card from the four face up cards in the middle, or swap their “Exchange Token” with any other one around the table.  To buy a railcar, players pay using sets of cargo cards, so a yellow number three railcar will cost three yellow “oil” cards.  The exchange tokens allow players to use other cargo cards at a rate of two-to-one, however, if a player only had two yellow oil cards but also had two blue “coal” cards and the blue exchange token, they would still be able to buy the yellow number three railcar.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

When buying a railcar, if the number or colour match the previous car, then it must be added to the end of their locomotive.  If not, then players can park it in their personal sorting yard and add it later, when another railcar is being bought and added to the locomotive.  This is the clever part of the game as it allows players to “stack” points in their personal train yard enabling them both to take some risks and strategically remove railcars from the grasping hands of their opponents.  Players score is the total of the numbers of the on the railcars making up their locomotive at the end of the game.  Ivory started out with a really clever move, using a discarded “extra move” cargo card to take another “extra move” card and Pine and Red thought it was all over before it had begun.  It wasn’t though, and despite it being a very short game, Ivory quickly got bogged down trying to buy a high value, “Purple Four”, which gave both Red and Pine the chance to get past him.  Although he was new to the game, it was clearly one that made sense to Pine who finished four points ahead of Red.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor moonblogger

As both games finished Blue, Burgundy, Black and Purple moved back to the group’s usual table and the options were discussed.  With seven players and Red present, Bohnanza was always a possibility, but with the heat sapping everyone’s strength, nobody fancied playing anything too strenuous and the deal was sealed.  Everyone is very familiar with this, even Ivory who has played it the least, so as Burgundy shuffled the deck and removed the cocoa and garden beans, everyone else reminded each other of the rules:  must plant the first card in hand, may plant the second as well; turn over two cards from the deck which must be planted before any other deals can be finalised; trading can only be with the active player; draw four cards at the end of a turn; two coins for a third bean field; fields with only one card can’t be ploughed in unless they all have only one card, and don’t forget – you can’t rearrange your hand!

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

As usual with a large number of players, it was a tight game and everyone spent most of it telling people not to trade with everyone else as they were winning.  Three times through the deck doesn’t take long and people don’t get many turns, but it was Blue, Black and Purple who stood on the podium at the end with everyone else within a point of each other.  It was Blue who made up for her dire showing in Azul though, beating Black into second place by a massive two points.  There was still time to play something else, but the heat had clearly got to everyone as the conversation degenerated into a discussion about everyone’s favourite childhood cartoons and how many had inspired boardgames.  The late, great Peter Firmin‘s Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog both got a mention, but then age and nationality created a bit of a divide, and the evening ended with Pine crowing, “My name’s Pig and I like cream cakes!”  His head was definitely over-hot.

Pipkins
– Image taken from youtube.com

Learning Outcome:  Children’s TV programs were very weird in the 1970s.

* Queendomino is the follow-on to the 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner, KingdominoWhen the group played it, we found the new game replaced the smooth elegance of the original with a more clunky, complex, long-winded game that was no where near as good as the games it was trying to compete with (much like Tsuro of the Seas a couple of years before).

23rd January 2018

Once the inevitable pizzas were dealt with, we settled down to the “Feature Game”.  This was Cities of Splendor, the expansion to Splendor, a splendid little game that we’ve played quite a lot since its release in 2014. The base game is really quite simple, but although a lot of groups apparently find it very dull, our group seem to find quite a lot of mileage in its subtlety and trying to get the better of Burgundy who mostly seems pretty unbeatable.  According to the rulebook, players are Renaissance merchants trying to buy gem mines, transportation methods and artisans in order to acquire the most prestige points. The most wealthy merchants might even receive a visit from a noble, which will further increase their prestige.  Despite all this, the game itself is, in truth, really quite abstract.  Players have essentially have three options on their turn: they can pick up gem tokens; buy a development card, or reserve a development card (and take a Gold token).

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

When picking up tokens, the active player can either take three different gems, or, as long as there are four or more available, two the same, with a hand-limit of ten.  These are then used to buy development cards which provide the player with a permanent supply of gems of a given colour and sometimes, some prestige points. The development cards come in three decks, and the Level Three cards as significantly more difficult to obtain, often requiring many gems.  Sometimes it can be a good idea to reserve a particular card, preventing another player from taking it and getting a Gold token in return, which can be used in place of any gemstone when buying a development card.  At the start of the game there is a small number of noble tiles each with with a requirement (e.g. four opals and four rubies); the first player to fulfil this requirement gets the noble and the associated number of prestige points.  The first player to fifteen prestige points is the winner.

Cities of Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The expansion, Cities of Splendor, consists of four small modules:  Trading Posts; Strongholds; The Orient, and the eponymous Cities.  We were a little concerned that these expansions were going to take a game we enjoyed largely because it is so very simple, and make it unnecessarily complex (a phenomenon we had experienced previously with some parts of the Between Two Cities expansion, Capitals).  However, unusually, these modules must be used independently of each other, each providing a really very small tweak to the game, but potentially changing the dynamics quite dramatically.  For example, Strongholds provides three little plastic towers for each player, which can be moved by the active player whenever they take a development card.  The active player can either place or move one of their own strongholds, or remove someone else’s, thus providing another way to reserve a development card.  Alternatively, this effectively provides a way for everyone to “gang up” on one player, so this module has been renamed the “Get Burgundy” module…

Cities of Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We only had one copy of the expansion, but with several copies of the base game we decided to split into two groups, each playing different modules.  The groups were split along the lines of who wanted to get beaten by Burgundy and who didn’t.  The first group to get going contained Black and Blue, who were optimistic that the changes introduced by the expansion might upset Burgundy just enough to give someone else a chance to win.  As they don’t normally get the chance to play with them, they started with nobles drawn at random from the 2016 and 2017 Brettspiel Advent calendars and the promotional set and then had to decide which expansion module to use.   Rather than opting for the “Get Burgundy” module, they decided it would be fairer to choose something else and opted for the Trading Posts module.  This provides an additional small board with five “Posts” with specific requirements, which if fulfilled give players extra options.  For example, a player with one diamond and three ruby development cards is allowed to collect a single token every time they buy a development card.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although Splendor is normally quite a thoughtful game, it usually moves along quite quickly. However, the addition of the expansion, slowed the normal fast pace quite noticeably as everyone spent more time working through the options for each turn, especially at the start.  It wasn’t unpleasantly slow though, particularly as everyone had plenty to think about during the down time. Burgundy grabbed lots of diamonds and quickly began to claim some of the special powers available from the Trading Posts, making particularly good use of the first one which allowed him to collect a token every time he picked up a development card.  Black tried to go for the last two Trading posts, one of which gave him two a point for each other Trading Post he had claimed and another which gave him a straight five points.  Blue had started well, but was finding that all the diamond cards had evaporated which brought her game to an abrupt halt.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It wasn’t long before Burgundy was picking up his second noble, and with Black two turns away from finishing the game himself, the game came to an end as Burgundy claimed his fifteenth point, six more than anyone else.  Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, they were playing with The Orient Module.  This provides ten extra development cards at each of the three levels, a total of six of which are placed face up (two from each level).  These red-backed, “Orient” cards have interesting and unusual powers.  For example, there is a level one card which acts as a single use, pair of gold tokens which can be used at any time during the game.  The other card available from the level one deck is an “Association” card which is immediately associated with one other card and increases the yield of that card by one.  There are also some double gem cards and one that enables players to reserve a noble.  Everyone made good use of the double gold cards and the “money bag” Association cards (aka “onion” cards) in the first row of Orient cards.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The second row expansion cards remained in place for quite some time. Purple took a lot of development cards using gold tokens, Green plodded away with opal and sapphire development cards, while Red was trying to hold on to her double gold cards to use on those difficult to get top row cards.  Eventually Green claimed a level two Orient card, a double red gem, which got him to within a whisker of getting the first noble, but Red had other plans.  An Orient card swiftly enabled her to reserve the noble, take from under Green’s nose and thus preventing him from taking a commanding lead.  Before long, Green was back, however, having built up his opals and diamonds which enabled him to claim Isabelle of Castile (with four opals and four diamonds). Then it was only a matter of time, Red claimed her noble, but couldn’t stop Green taking a top row card to finish the game with sixteen points leaving Purple, who had started, very frustrated—she was just one turn from claiming her reserved card which would have given her the last noble and fifteen points.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Red had really enjoyed the extra challenge and had felt that the higher level expansion cards hadn’t really come into play and fancied giving it another go.  So, unusually for the group, rather than packing up, it got a second game.  There was a brief debate whether going first in Splendor is an advantage or not and the discussion spread to the next table.  It seems to be perceived wisdom, but there was a debate about whether the fact that players at the end of the round can get an extra turn (and so play for more points) might offset that.  Ultimately, no-one felt it made much of a difference and since Purple had started last time, it was between Green and Red, so they played Rock-Paper-Scissors to decide. With the excitement building, the count began, 1, 2, 3!  Round One was a draw: both had paper.  With the tension so tight you could cut it with blunt knife they started across the table at each other and prepared for the second round; a switch from paper was likely, but which way: Green went Scissors, but Red took the game with a well timed Rock and started the second game of Splendor.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Playing for a second time did not change the amount of thought that went into each turn; it always felt like a conundrum, one where several moves looked like good ones.  Perhaps the Orient cards hadn’t been shuffled very well, but all the level one “Onion” Association cards came out first and the double gold cards seemed to be stuck at the bottom of the pile. Red claimed to not know what she was doing, but made efficient use of her “Onions” nonetheless.  Purple continued her gold token strategy making sure she took whatever looked useful to Green while Green ironically, just couldn’t get any green emerald cards.  In fact the emerald development card handicap became quite a problem, especially since the other two were holding on to their green tokens and while an “Onion” card might have helped, he still needed one emerald card to start with! Eventually, Green was forced to change his strategy and picked up a level two expansion card to reserve the noble he was after before someone else had the chance to pinch it—all the more critical since it was the only one he could get under the circumstances.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Red took the lead when she gained her first noble, but she said it wouldn’t last long, and she was right. Purple was next and was able to reserve a noble for herself, then Green claimed his reserved noble. The game continued to be quite tight and even though Green managed to claim a second noble, it wasn’t enough to end the game. That privilege fell to Red who finished with seventeen points. Purple was left with nothing she could do to increase her score, but that led to a debate as to what Green might be able to do. With twelve points, green needed five to draw level with Red and there was a five point card he could claim on the table. However, if Purple took that he would then only be able to claim a three point card, unless the card purple took was replaced with another five point development he could claim.  Purple decided to play king-maker and took the card leaving an unhelpful replacement card leaving him two points behind Red, the winner.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Since Red, Green and Purple had gone onto a second game, Blue and Black decided to do likewise and have another pop at Burgundy.  This time, Blue went on the offensive and decided that black opals were essential to her game plan and a couple of rounds in, suddenly realised that she had almost all the black tokens and there were no attainable opal development cards available.  With the others in dire straights, Blue was able to completely strangle the game.  The problem with this strategy is that holding all the tokens of one colour is a very powerful position to be in, but that power is useless unless those tokens are spent and then the power is gone.  Additionally, the other players will inevitably build up their cards in other colours and eventually this will lead to accessible cards for the rare gem turning up.  So, timing is critical and there is a lot of luck involved as well.  Perhaps the key part is to ensure that the amount of effort put in to controlling the game doesn’t exceed the value obtained.  Inevitably, Blue didn’t have the perfect timing required and eventually Burgundy broke free, finishing the game with a massive twenty points, leaving the others standing.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dotkeller

The fact that both tables wanted to give their module another go says a lot about what we thought of them.  Clearly, the changes to the rules were not enormous but added a nice little bit of variation to a game we’ve played and enjoyed a lot.  Inevitably, we felt some of the Trading Posts some seemed much more powerful than others.  For example, the second Post enabled a player to take an extra gem of a different colour when taking two gems of the same colour.  The problem with this is that taking two tokens of the same colour is only possible if there are at least four tokens available in that colour.  In the two and three player games this is relatively unusual until later on when players have a lot of cards and no-longer need tokens, by which time it is too late.  In the four player game, we felt this would become much more valuable though.  On the other table, the players still felt they had been unable to use the high value Orient cards, even after a second attempt.  This led to a lot of discussion, in particular whether raising end-game trigger from fifteen to twenty, might encourage their use.  Certainly it could be an interesting variant to try on another occasion, either way, Cities of Splendor is certainly going see the table again for lots of reasons: it has breathed new life into the old game, we have two the other two modules to try, and Burgundy went straight out and bought a copy as well!

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

While Burgundy was finishing beating Black and Blue black and blue, the other group were looking for something to play.  Red had started the evening relating her failed attempts to acquire Kingdomino for less than a fiver.  She had been keen to get hold of it even though she had not played it, so this seemed an opportune moment for Red to be properly introduced to the game.  It’s such a simple game that the rules explanation was quickly done:  Players take a domino which they add to their kingdom and then place their meeple on one of the dominoes on display for the next round.  There are a couple of really clever bits to this game though.  Firstly, since the dominos have a numerical value and are set out and taken, from low to high, players going for the more valuable tiles are trading this value against their position in the turn order.  Secondly, the two ends of the dominos depict terrain and when placed one end must connect to terrain of the same type already in the kingdom (or connect directly to the start tile).  Since all dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space (or be discarded) keeping options open is an essential part of the game.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Finally, some tiles also depict one or more crowns, which are the key to scoring as each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region.  This means that no matter how big an area is, it is worthless without any crowns.  Although it is a simple little game, it is easy to make a fatal mistake, and that’s exactly what happened this time.  Somehow, Purple messed up her grid patterns, but worse was to come.  She had been targetting mountains and pastures, while both Red and Green were looking to forests and lakes to fill their kingdoms. With only three playing a dozen dominoes were removed and it was not until the end of the game (face down).  It was only at the end of the game that it became apparent why Red and Green had found it so much easier to fulfil their plans—the high scoring mines and lots of pasture (including three of the crown tiles) had been removed. The odds had been heavily stacked against Purple this time.  With the others both getting a full set of bonus points, it was very close between first and second despite the fact that Green had played the game several times.  In the end there was only two points  in it, with Green the narrow victor.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

On the other table, Cities of Splendor had finished and the group were looking for something to play.  Inspired by the nearby game of Kingdomino, Black spotted Queendomino which he had not yet played.  Blue commented that she was happy to play it and be proven wrong, but that she felt it took all the good things in a great little game and broke it.  In her mind, the comparison was similar to that of Tsuro and Tsuro of the Seas.  The former is a short, light game that plays lots of people and despite player elimination is still great fun with minimal downtime.  On the other hand, playing Tsuro of the Seas at the Didcot Games Club had, on one notable occasion, ended up with Burgundy getting knocked out a couple of turns in and spending the next hour and a half as a spectator.   In Blue’s eyes, Queendomino’s first offence was the fact that instead of the tidy little box that Kingdomino came in, it had a huge, Ticket to Ride sized box, mostly because there was a tile-tower included.  This offended her sense of efficiency, but wouldn’t have been so bad, if it had worked properly.  Although the magnetic closing mechanism was cool, Blue in particular had repeated difficulties getting the tiles out of the bottom, a problem that was exacerbated as the stack got smaller and the reduced mass pressed less on the tile being drawn out, making it increasingly difficult.

Queendomino
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

As for the game, the basic mechanism is the same as Kingdomino, however, there is an extra tile type: red building plots.  These act exactly the same as the other terrain types, except that there are a number of building tiles on display that payers can buy and add to their kingdom.  This building display is only refilled at the end of the round which can make being late in the turn order more of a problem.  This can be compounded if someone chooses to bribe the dragon to burn down one of the buildings.  Amongst other things, these buildings provide knights and turrets that players can use to collect taxes and score more points.  While this has the potential to make the game deeper, the downside is that it can make the already slightly mathsy scoring even worse.  Despite all this and Blue’s really rather appalling rules explanation, everyone was surprisingly keen to give it a go.  Burgundy inevitably, tried to profit from the new components and eagerly started collecting wooden turrets.  Blue and Black were a little more circumspect, though both of them picked up a few knights and used them to good effect to collect enough in taxes to ensure they were able to build a couple of nice buildings.

Queendomino
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

In the end, it surprisingly close, and after several re-counts, Black was deemed the winner, six points ahead of Burgundy in second place.  Looking at the scores, it turned out that both Black and Blue had made most of their points on the original terrain, and it was arguable how much the new buildings had really helped.  Burgundy’s entire game plan had revolved around the new buildings, but somehow, although it looked like he was running away with it, the game hadn’t quite panned out like that.  Blue asked what the others thought of it and Burgundy commented that he’d be happy to give it another go, but that was in complete contrast to Black, who’s one word answer, summed up Blue’s feelings, “Terrible”.  At some point point during the game, Red had asked whether Blue would feel better about the game if it didn’t have the tower, to which Blue replied that it wasn’t the tower per se, it was more that the tower was a metaphor for all all the stuff they had added to the original Kingdomino game:  it was nice to look at, but fiddly, totally un-necessary and overall made the whole experience much less enjoyable.  With that, she had removed the tiles from the tower and immediately felt better about the whole thing, but not enough to save the game from being sold at the earliest opportunity.  So, Burgundy might not get his second chance to play it after all.

Queendomino
– Image used with permission of
boardgamephotos

Meanwhile on the next table, everyone was feeling a little tired, but as the hugely complex game of Queendomino, was still going on, Red and Green decided not to leave Purple relegated to observer, and chose to play one more short game.  The game in question was Battle Kittens, primarily because it’s got kittens in it, but also because it’s quite quick.  This was a game Blue picked up on a trip to Reading with Green, and, as he had enjoyed it more than she had, he’d received it as a little gift at the GOATS New Year Party.  At it’s core, it is a card drafting game where players draft their hand of kitten cards and then send them off to battle.  Each of the three arenas will contest three of the four kittenny attributes: agility, strength, wisdom and cuteness.  Players decide which kittens they want to put into each arena and then resolve any special cards with the highest total running out the winner.  At various times, both Purple and Red had a victory cruelly snatched away from them to the benefit of Green. The first time this happened was to Red who had a high score with three kittens and had it ended there she would have won that battle.  Unfortunately, she was forced to take a King card first, and lost all her other kittens and ended up losing the battle. Similarly, in the second round, Purple managed to get some really good Crown cards and won a couple of battles quite convincingly, but they either gave more fish for coming second or gave an equal number for first and second place and thus did nothing to dent Green’s growing pile of fish as his kittens gambolled their way to victory.

Battle Kittens
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Some expansions really add to the game, others can take a great game and make it “terrible”.

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.