Tag Archives: Ra

3rd Movember 2021

Blue and Pink were, unexpectedly, joined by Green and Lilac thanks to a clock-reading malfunction.  So while Blue and Pink were dealing with their dinner, Green introduced Lilac to Tsuro.  This is a very accessible game that we actually managed to play a little over a year ago from home, but is much better played in person.  Each player starts with a stone lined up on the edge of the board and a hand of three tiles.  On their turn, they place one of their tiles on the board next to their stone, and move their stone along the path on the tile, then replenish their hand.

Tsuro
– Image by boardGOATS

The aim of the game is to stay on the board the longest, with the last player remaining, the winner.  It wasn’t long before Lilac had Green on the ropes and Blue and Pink urged her to take her chance and finish him off.  It’s not in Lilac’s nature to go for the jugular, however, and despite the encouragement, she didn’t make the most of her opportunity.  Inevitably, Green wriggled free and it wasn’t long before he was edging Lilac off the board himself.  With the first game over, and Blue and Pink finishing their dinner, there was a little chatter before others arrived and players were deciding what to play.

Tsuro
– Image by boardGOATS

The “Feature Game” was to be Modern Art, which is an auction game where players are buying and selling art trying to make a profit with paintings valued by the number of artworks of that type that were sold.  It is an older game, nearly thirty years old, and several people had played it before, albeit some years ago.  When Green admitted that he hadn’t really enjoyed it, Pink was shocked and suggested that not liking Modern Art was akin to not liking puppies, at which point Green, much to Pink’s horror, admitted he wasn’t that keen on them either…

Modern Art
– Image by boardGOATS

Needless to say, when settling on games, Green took himself away from the slightly offended Pink and his copy of Modern Art leaving him (with his brick and sack comments), to play the “Feature Game” with Ivory, Blue and Teal.  The game is a simple, yet clever auction game, and therein lies the problem—the group has had mixed responses to auction games.  For example, the highly regarded Ra (like Modern Art designed by Reiner Knizia) received mixed responses when that was played, however, one of the all-time favourites, Keyflower, is an auction game at its heart (though to be fair it doesn’t really feel like one).

Modern Art
– Image by boardGOATS

The group (aside from Pink) was therefore slightly reticent, but went for it positively, and in the event, really enjoyed it.  Each round consists of several auctions, each of which is conducted by a player.  The auctioneer chooses one card from their hand which is auctioned according to the indicator on the card.  There are five possible auction types:  Open, Fixed Price, Sealed Bid, Once Round the Table, and Double (where two pieces by the same artist are offered at the same time).

Modern Art
– Image by boardGOATS

We were playing with the new Oink Games version, which features real modernist artwork from the likes of Mondrian, Kaminski and Ivory (who obviously has talent we were hitherto unaware of).  When the fifth work by an artist is offered for sale, the round ends (without the final auction), and the works valued.  The value depends on how many paintings were sold by that artist in the round, with the value increasing by $30,000 for the most popular.  Players then sell their art to the bank, but here there is a catch.  Players only get a return on art by the three most popular artists in that round—everything else is worthless.  The value of the art that is sold, however, is the cumulative total including increases over all the previous rounds.

Modern Art
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, players sell their art giving them money to buy more, and more expensive art in the next round. Although the mechanics are clever, what makes the game fun is the auctioneer’s pitch as they try to describe the work they are selling and draw the other players’ attention to its clear and obvious assets and up-sell it.  One notable lot by Kaminski was initially described as “a cat’s pencil sharpener” and then to much hilarity as “a charming number depicting someone bending over picking up a fiver.”  The game ends after four rounds and the player with the most money at the end wins.

Modern Art
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, players clearly had a bit of a fixation with Kaminski with his works being the most popular in the first round, with Hick and Mondrian making a distant second and third.  The initial popularity of Kaminski inflated the perceived value of his work in the second round and, although fewer works were offered for sale, it still scored, though the Mondrian age was upon us.  The third round was dominated by the works of Okamoto, putting in a brief, but valuable appearance for those that made purchases, as it provided funds for the all-important final round.  This led to a resurgence of Hick as the most popular together with poor Ivory, who’s work had hitherto only had a brief period in the limelight in the second round.

Modern Art
– Image by boardGOATS

The eternal popularity of Kaminski continued until Blue brought the game to an end with a double auction ensuring Kaminski’s works gave a return again, and having scored in every round, they were very lucrative.  Despite the game feeling like there was a lot of ebb and flow, the final scores were remarkably close with a mere twenty grand between first and third—fine margins indeed in a game where the scores were measured in hundreds of thousands and players reserves fluctuated wildly during rounds.  It was Blue though, who made the most, finishing with $392,000, just ahead of Ivory (the gamer rather than the artist).

Modern Art
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, at the other table, Green, Lilac, Purple and Black (who also expressed a dislike of Modern Art, though not of puppies), were playing the puppy related game, Snow Tails.  This is a fun race game where players are racing dog sleds along a winding track of varying complexity.  The idea is that players have a hand of cards, which they play to adjust the dogs’ speed or apply the brake.  When they play cards, they can play up to three (one for each dog and one for the brake), but they must all have the same value.  The sled speed (how many spaces it moves) is then the sum of the dogs’ speed minus the value on the brake.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Additionally, the sled will drift left or right by the amount by which the two dogs’ speeds differ.  Players have to use this to negotiate corners and slalom round pine trees to get to the finish line.  The cards come from their own personal decks, and this is where the game gets clever because players have to manage the cards they play to make best use of them.  If a player crashes or goes into a corner with too much speed and exceeds the limit, they pick up a dent card.  These occupy space in the player’s hand which means they have less choice.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

The first player to cross the line (or, in the case of a tie cross it and travel the furthest), is the winner.  The group spent far too long debating which track to use. Lilac had not played Snow Tails before so the group did not want to make it too extreme, but also not too trivial for everyone else.  In the end the group decided on a variation of “Treemendous” (chosen as it would fit on the “narrower than we would like” pub table) and swapping the first set of trees for a narrow canyon.  Through random selection, Lilac was chosen as start player, but as she wasn’t sure how the game would play she took a gentle start so Purple, Green and Black shot past her at speed.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Through the first corner and approaching the Canyon, Purple hit the side of the track and slowed up, while Green and Black raced forward. Lilac took her foot off the break and caught Purple, who was struggling to get her head around which side of the sled needed the higher number to move to the right to get around the corner.  With the bend successfully negotiated Black slowed for the canyon, but Green decided to let rip through it. He made it in one go without hitting anything, but was on the outside for the next corner.  Black took a steadier run through the canyon and came out on the inside of the corner behind Green.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Lilac also maintained a steady pace taking a couple of turns for the Canyon, while Purple continued to dally at the back, hampered somewhat by her reduced hand size from her earlier crash. Black and Green raced to the forest, with Black reaching it just before Green. He “dropped an anchor” and came to an almost complete stop at the entrance right in front of Green, causing him to slow up sharply and swerve to the left instead of taking the route ahead he had planned.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Black managed to clear the forest first but found himself drifting towards the outside of the long hairpin bend. Green was close behind, but his direction of travel sent him to the inside.  Lilac continued her steady progress, avoiding the hazards and came through the forest unscathed in the middle of the track.  Black and Green were racing hard:  Black had the speed, but was forced to the outside of the track and wasn’t able to make progress while Green going more slowly on the inside, manage to squeeze past to get just ahead.  Then it was a straight fight to the line.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Black was able to lift his break to a one, but could only manage a double four, so he positioned himself less advantageously to try and block Green. It didn’t work as Green came off the corner on another track, but he was a little heavier on his break, so still on a two, and also a double four, Black managed to just slide past for the win finishing just ahead.  Lilac continued her steady progress and finished the following round while Purple took a more leisurely ride through the forest, came out on the outside of the bend.  Struggling to stay on the track on the way round the corner, she finally found her speed down the final straight and came flying off the end of the track, unfortunately a couple of rounds too late to win.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Snow Tails was still going when Modern Art finished, but only just, so Tsuro got a second outing of the evening.  This time, Blue was out first by killing herself and taking her piece off the board, quickly followed by Pink who committed harakiri in a similar fashion.  That left them to cheer on Teal and Ivory.  It was close and they were down to the last few tiles, but in the end, Teal took victory when he pushed Ivory off the board.  As the huskies settled down for a well-earned nap, Pine arrived just in time for one last game of Bohnanza, replacing Green and Lilac who went home as they had an early start the next day.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Bohnanza is one of our old favourites, and barely even needs a reminder beyond the rules that are specific for the particular player count.  With six, players start with different numbers of cards, they plant one or two beans turn over two bean cards from the deck, plant and trade, then draw four cards to replenish their hand.  Buying a third bean field is cheaper as well with six, costing two Bohnentaler instead of three.  This is important because the game is shorter with more players and some players barely get a turn in the final round.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

As a result, buying a third field is always a bit risky, and the general consensus is that it is rarely worth it. This time was the exception that proves the rule however, with lots of people deciding to buy a third field.  This had the unintended effect of shortening the game as more beans were left in fields at the ends of the rounds.  This didn’t stop the usual hilarity when people made the occasional silly trades and players got unfeasibly lucky with the draw of the cards.  This time the winner was Ivory, two Bohnentaler ahead of Pine, but in truth, we are all winners with a game that is so much fun.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: It is amazing how much money people will spend on tat.

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!
– Image by BGG contributor TheBoardGameFamily

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!
– Image by BGG contributor onorc

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.

Ra
– Image by BGG contributor Stas

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
– Image by BGG contributor blakstar

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
– Image by BGG contributor Stas

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.

Ra
– Image by BGG contributor usagi-san

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.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

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