Tag Archives: Ra

Boardgames in the News: 20 Years of Alea

Latin for “dice”, Alea is a brand of Euro games that celebrates their twentieth anniversary this year.  Alea is owned by Ravensburger, a company that has been around for nearly a hundred and fifty years producing everything from instruction manuals to children’s books under their familiar Blue Triangle trademark.  Alea is a more recent development intended to develop a range of strategy games distinct from their more family-friendly range.  Dating from 1999, the Alea range is credited with bringing a lot of “modern classics” to our tables, including Puerto Rico, Ra, Taj Mahal, San Juan, The Castles of Burgundy, Broom Service and one of our groups all time favourites, Las Vegas.  There are four series in the range, the “Big”, “Medium”, “Small” and “very Small” box games, each game in the series is numbered with the artwork on the covers designed to have a “book-shelf” look.

Alea Big Box Games
– Portmanteau image created by boardGOATS

It looked like the end was nigh when Asmodee bought Heidelberger Spieleverlag in 2017, and with it the distribution rights to the Alea brand.  However, Ravensburger reclaimed the rights last year, so to celebrate that and Alea’s twentieth anniversary, they are relaunching the line with new graphics.  They are starting with a new version of The Castles of Burgundy, a boxed set including all the current expansions, and Las Vegas Royale, a big-box version of Las Vegas, including selected elements from the Boulevard Expansion and some new action tiles.  It remains to be seen how many of the old familiar titles will also get a face-lift and make an appearance in the new line and how many new exciting titles will be introduced.

The Complete Original Alea Range
No. Big Box Medium Box Small Box
1 Ra (1999) Louis XIV (2005) Wyatt Earp (2001)
2 Chinatown (1999) Palazzo (2005) Royal Turf (2001)
3 Taj Mahal (2000) Augsburg 1520 (2006) Die Sieben Weisen (2002)
4 The Princes of Florence (2000) Witch’s Brew (2008) Edel, Stein & Reich (2003)
5 Hoity Toity (2000) Alea Iacta Est (2009) San Juan (2004)
6 The Traders of Genoa (2001) Glen More (2010)
7 Puerto Rico (2002) Artus (2011)
8 Mammoth Hunters (2003) Las Vegas (2012) &
Las Vegas Boulevard (2014)
9 Fifth Avenue (2004) Saint Malo (2012)
10 Rum & Pirates (2006) La Isla (2014) V. Small Box
11 Notre Dame (2007) San Juan (2014) The Castles of Burgundy:
The Card Game
(2016)
12 In the Year of the Dragon (2007) Broom Service:
The Card Game
(2016)
13 Macao (2009) Las Vegas:
The Card Game
(2016)
14 The Castles of Burgundy (2011) The Castles of Burgundy:
The Dice Game
(2017)
15 Bora Bora (2013) Puerto Rico:
Das Kartenspiel
(2018)
16 Puerto Rico with Expansions (2014)
17 Broom Service (2015)
18 Carpe Diem (2018)

 

Boardgames in the News: The Hobby Grows and Grows

In the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, boardgames were only available from toy shops, and the range was limited to a relatively small number of “traditional” games, like Chess, Monopoly, Game of Life or Cluedo.  With the appearance of bigger, supermarket-like stores like Toys “R” Us in the 1980s and 1990s, a wider range became available and, occasionally, games like the early Spiel des Jahres winner, Rummikub, made their way onto our shelves.  As children grew up, they might graduate into playing Risk and eventually move onto longer, more complex games like those produced by Avalon Hill.  However, if you liked playing games, but war themes were not for you, it was quite difficult to find good alternative games to play.  They were there though:  games like Acquire and the 18xx railway games had been about for a long time, but these were the exception rather than the rule and were still an acquired taste.

Rummikub
– Image by BGG contributor OldestManOnMySpace

In contrast, in Germany, games like Scotland Yard were starting to become readily available and genuinely very popular.  The success of the Spiel des Jahres, which rewarded good games like Ra, El Grande, Tikal, and the 1995 winner, The Settlers of Catan, meant that boardgames were receiving a lot of publicity in Continental Europe.  The characteristics of these “German Games” (or “Euro Games”) typically include balance, with only a small amount of luck, and lack of player elimination.  As the market developed, beautiful boards and lots of wooden pieces also became an essential component.  Unlike war games, “Euro Games” tend to be less confrontational and much more suitable for family gaming.

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

In the 1990s, UK designers like Alan R. Moon and Richard Breese started publishing small numbers of “designer games”.  These were often largely assembled by hand and generally had a limited print run.  For example, only 1,200 copies of Elfenroads (precursor to the later, Spiel des Jahres winner Elfenland) were ever made and Keywood, the first of the highly acclaimed “Key Series“, was hand-made and had a print-run of just 200.  Given the exclusive nature of these games, it was not surprising then, that many teenagers either gave up on boardgames or moved on to collectable card games, like Magic: The Gathering or Role-Playing Games.

Elfenroads
– Image by BGG contributor dougadamsau

So it was with the growth of the internet that “Euro Games”, or designer boardgames became available to people in the UK.  Firstly, this was because it enabled people to find out about the games that were available, with sites like UseNet and eventually BoardGameGeek in 2000, providing a valuable source of information.  Secondly, internet shopping made “German Games” much more accessible.  The growth of the hobby meant an increase in boardgame publishers, and the appearance of designers like Reiner Knizia who were sufficiently prolific and successful to make a living from designing games.  Over the last fifteen years or so, the hobby has grown and grown and games like Carcassonne and The Settlers of Catan are now available in Waterstones and WHSmith, there are regular comments in The Guardian, there are repeatedly TV appearances, and boardgame cafés are sprouting up all over the place.  The question is, will it continue to grow, or have we reached a high water line?

Ernie
– Image from boardgamegeek.com

20th May 2014

This week we started out with our “Feature Game”, Walk the Plank!.  This is a fun, light-hearted little game with a lot of chaos and not a few kamikaze pirates.  The board is set up with a “ship”, three plank segments and “the sea” and each player starts with three pirate meeples on the ship.  At the start of a round, everyone chooses three cards from their hand and places them face down, in front of them.  Each card has an action:  “Shove Anybody”, “Retract the Plank” and “Extend the Plank”, for example, enable a player to push another persons meeple closer to the sea, shorten and extend the plank respectively.  Each round then consists of each player taking it in turns to turn over the top card and do what card says.  Because players choose the cards and the order they will play them in at the start of the round, by the end of the round everyone is just trying to make the best of an increasingly worsening situation, and rounds often end with a lot of pirates perched on the end of the plank waiting for the last card to seal their fate.

Walk the Plank!

Blue and Green’s fate was sealed first in a manic pirate suicide pact, shortly followed by Red.  With a two pirates to one advantage, newcomer Orange always had the advantage over Yellow.  As Yellow shortened the plank, the end became inevitable and, although Yellow took one of Orange’s meeples with him, Orange chalked up her first victory.

Walk the Plank!

After a lot of debate about what to play next, Blue suggested Ra, as she’d never played it and it is a classic and is supposed to be one of the best (if not the best) of the auction games available.  Green said he’d played it once, a very, very long time ago and hadn’t liked it, but was happy to give it another go and see if that opinion was justified.

This game is an unusual and very clever auction game.  Basically, players take it in turns to pull tiles from a bag and tiles can be good, bad, or they can be “Ra” tiles which start an auction.  The auctions themselves are curious affairs: each player has three tokens that they use for bidding, each with a unique number.  Thus, the person with the highest value can always win if they choose to, but once the auction is over, the token is placed in the middle and effectively becomes part of the stash for the next auction.  The game comprises three rounds, each with ten to twenty auctions, however, each player can only win a maximum of three  in each round (i.e one with each token).

Ra

Those who had played it before had a better appreciation of the importance of the high value tokens.  Blue didn’t and squandered the higher tokens she started with.  With little or no choice in the auctions, she resorted to “turtling”, which in this context involved trying to minimise the effect of the higher tiles.  Instead of drawing a tile from the bag, the active player can also call “Ra!” and start an auction and this is what Blue did.  A lot.  An awful lot.  As the bidding starts with the next player, this meant blue would bid last, but Blue was committed to bidding if no-one else did.  With some of the lowest tokens, she had little to lose if forced to bid, and set her sights low, going for a “try not to loose points” strategy coupled with a small number of river tiles and trying to stay ahead with green Pharaoh tiles.

Ra

Moving into the final round, Red was collecting monuments, Yellow had built up a sizeable river, Green was going for Civilisation tiles and Orange was trying to do a little bit of everything.  Meanwhile, Blue was still calling “Ra!” at almost every opportunity, hoping to win something useful with her “one”.  Thanks to Yellow failing to get a “flood” tile to activate his enormous river (there was one left in the bag at the end), Yellow didn’t accrue the massive score expected and surprisingly, Blue nearly made it.  However, although her strategy had overall not been a bad one, on reflection, the game was probably ruined by Blue’s repeated small auctions.  Although Green was slightly more enamoured by the game than he was the first time he played it, the overwhelming opinion seemed to be in favour of not playing it again soon.

We cheered ourselves up by finishing with an old favourite, Bohnanza.  Also universally known as “The Bean Game”, we’ve played this quite a bit, so it was relatively quick to get started.  Only Orange was new to it, and as the rest of us know it so well, it was a very close game.  Blue started off strongly but slowed towards the middle of the game when Orange got the hang of it and Yellow and Red started trading efficiently.  The game finished with only a couple of points between the places and Green ran out the winner, only one point ahead of Red and Orange who tied for second.

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes an otherwise good strategy can ruin a game for everyone.