Tag Archives: Race for the Galaxy

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.

Boardgames in the News: What is Asmodee’s Grand Plan?

Four years ago, Eurazeo bought a small French games company called Asmodee from the investment firm, Montefiore.  Asmodee were a small company hitherto primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble.  With the financial might of their parent company behind them, over the next few years, Asmodee proceeded to gobble up many larger, well-established companies, including Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games and most recently, Lookout Spiele.  Those companies produced some of the best known modern games including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola and Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.  Not content with that, they also acquired the rights to the English language version of the Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and all the related Catan games as well as gobbling up a number of smaller and/or newer companies like Space Cowboys (producers of Splendor and Black Fleet) and Plaid Hat Games (producers of Dead of Winter and Mice and Mystics) and entering into a distribution agreement with many others.  There are now very few games companies of any substance that are not somehow tangled in the Asmodee web.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

The last major purchase was F2Z Entertainment in 2016, and since then it has been relatively quiet.  With the new year comes a new wave of acquisition, however, so at the end of January Asmodee announced that they were in exclusive negotiations with Rebel.  Rebel is a relatively small, Polish company responsible for games like K2 as well as Polish editions of many popular games like 7 Wonders and Codenames.  Perhaps more importantly, Rebel also produces the Polish language versions of many of the Asmodee games and is the largest distributor in Poland.  And Poland is a big country, smaller than France or Germany, but bigger than Italy and the UK,  globally Poland is the thirty-forth largest country by population.  That is a lot of Poles and they do like playing board games in Poland.

K2
– Image used with permission
of boardgamephotos

This announcement was almost immediately followed by the bombshell that Asmodee had acquired all the residual assets from Mayfair and with it, Lookout Spiele. Although this is by far the largest deal in recent months, Asmodee have not been resting on their laurels and there has been a lot going on behind the scenes.  In December last year they announced that Esdevium was to be renamedAsmodee UK” bringing them in line with the “Asmodee North America” and “Asmodee Canada” brands.  At around the same time, Eurazeo announced that French publisher Purple Brain Créations would be joining the Asmodee Group.  Furthermore, they have also been streamlining their distribution network in North America.  Having reduced the number of distributors they deal with to five in 2015, in June last year Asmodee North America announced an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors, effectively creating a monopoly of supply within the USA.  This coupled with their Minimum Advertised Price policy (or MAP) gives them a stranglehold on the US market in a way that would never be allowed in Europe.  Whether they are planning to take that one step further and acquire Alliance themselves still remains to be seen, but that looks like a real possibility.  Finally, they have been pushing in a new direction, developing electronic versions of some of the most popular games through their studio, “Asmodee Digital“.

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

So what is Asmodee‘s Grand Plan?  Where will it all end?  Well, there are still a couple of other large manufacturers out there that are not yet part of Asmodee.  Looking at the companies they have already absorbed there is a clear trend: they typically have one particular feature that Asmodee are interested in.  In the case of Days of Wonder, that was the Ticket to Ride series, with Z-man Games it was Pandemic and Carcassonne, and with Rebel, it was probably their distribution network that caught the eye of the executives at Asmodee.  Going forward, the most obvious targets are probably Rio Grande Games, Czech Games EditionQueen GamesHans im Glük and maybe 2F, or Pegasus Spiele (who have just announced a partnership with Frosted Games).  For example, it would be surprising if Rio Grande Games have not been approached given the popularity of games like Dominion and Race/Roll for the Galaxy.  Similarly, Czech Games Edition are a small company with some very juicy morsels including Galaxy Trucker, Dungeon Lords/Petz, and the hugely successful Spiel des Jahres winner, Codenames.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately they may or may not add some or all of these to the Greater Asmodee Empire, but it is clear that at some point, eventually, there will be nothing left worth taking over and growth of the company will plateau, so what happens then?  And this is the crux of the matter. Some have speculated that the aim is to add Hasbro to Asmodee’s ever growing dominion, but Hasbro has a market value of $11.9 billion—Asmodee are mere minnows in comparison.  On the other hand, the parent company, Eurazeo are worth approximately $5.7 billion, which at least puts them in the same ball park, although even they are small by comparison.  According to the “Vision” page on the Eurazeo website:

The purpose of Eurazeo is to identify, accelerate and enhance the transformation potential of the companies in which it invests, even long after its exit. An active and committed shareholder, Eurazeo assists its holdings in the long term – 5 to 7 years – with control over exit timing. An extensive role enabling it to combine business development and corporate social responsibility.

So, it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Eurazeo going to make their “controlled exit”?  With this in mind it seems unlikely that acquiring Hasbro is on the agenda, but making Asmodee attractive to Hasbro just might be…

Hasbro
– Image from twitter.com

17th October 2017

Inevitably, the evening started with Blue and Burgundy eating pizza while discussing Essen and what goodies might be available.  For lots of reasons, it was a very quiet night, but the “Feature Game”, Squirrel Rush, had enough pieces that everyone could join in, so we started off with that.  It was a new game to the group, but not terribly complex, even with the “Smart Squirrel” variant that we used.  That said, there was still a little bit of an “analysis paralysis” problem and at times we were in danger of getting into a “Chariot Racesituation again

Squirrel Rush
– Image by boardGOATS

The game takes place over six rounds with each round consisting of players moving their wooden squirrel around the board turning over tiles as they pass them and collecting nuts as they go.  Each tile has a different number of nuts on each side, but the catch is that squirrels can only move orthogonally and as players move their squirrel, each tile must have fewer nuts on it than the last.  Thus, a squirrel could move over a  tile with five nuts on it, then a three nutter and stop on a double nut tile (perhaps because there were no singletons available).  From round two, players can also play a card from their hand that allows them to break the rules slightly, for example by moving diagonally once or jumping a tile, or even leaving the “board and returning somewhere else.

Squirrel Rush
– Image by boardGOATS

It sounds quite simple, but in practice, we were all a little bit prone to over-thinking the problem and trying to spot that perfect move.  With five players there was also a lot of unproductive down-time.  This was because the board was constantly changing as tiles were turned over so meaningful decisions could not be made until the previous player’s turn at the earliest.  There were the inevitable nutty jokes to keep people amused between turns though, and Ivory enjoyed winding up Pine about how enormous his nuts were and how he was sure Pine would be happy to share them with Blue who didn’t have any…  Pine retaliated with a nutty factoid, asking which bird buries more nuts than a squirrel.  Only Burgundy knew the answer is the Jay, funny, yet beautiful birds.

Squirrel Rush
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile the game continued, though everyone was finding it a bit of a struggled thanks to the tile layout which had lots of “fours” along one side.  The nutty comments continued as well with, Pine commenting that he’d found a nice bit of glade to sit in, nibbling his nuts…  In the end, it was a surprisingly close game, despite the fact that everyone knew Ivory was miles in front and had an insurmountable lead.  Insurmountable until the last round in fact, when Burgundy picked up a massive eighteen points thanks to an well placed nut, finishing on seventy-one, beating Ivory by just one point.  Pine nearly managed the same feat, finishing just one behind on sixty-nine.  In fact, it was a tight finish all round as Blue and Black finished in joint fourth with sixty-six.    All in all, it was a beautifully presented, enjoyable little game that would be play differently with a different tile layout; as Pine pointed out, “It’s Nuts!”

Squirrel Rush
– Image by boardGOATS

With so few of us, we needed something that played five.  Although lots of options were put on the table, it was almost inevitable what were going to end up play.  Ivory had been very envious of the fact he’d missed out when he’d been away last time due to a work team-building event, and his eyes lit up when he realised Roll for the Galaxy was a real option.  Problem was, Burgundy was not keen as he (like a lot of people), struggles with the icons and the procedure.  It is not actually as bad as the slightly older card game, Race for the Galaxy, but it’s still quite unlike anything else we play and the iconography adds to the challenge.  Black and Blue were firmly of the opinion that the reason we all struggle with this game is because we don’t play it enough and were therefore quite keen play it in order to become more familiar.  So Burgundy bravely agreed to give it a another go.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

On the face of it, the game is quite straight-forward:  players roll the dice in their cup in secret, behind their screen then separate the dice according to their symbols (Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship). Players then, still in secret, re-position one of their dice to use it to choose one action they would like to activate.  Players can also put a die to one side for a turn to “Dictate” the symbol on another die, i.e. reassign it to a different phase. When all the dice have been assigned, Once everyone has positioned their dice, they are revealed and players simultaneously carry out the phases that have been chosen in the appropriate order.  The catch is what happens to the dice when they are “spent”.  For example, dice used to Explore are simply placed straight into the “Citizenry” where they wait to be recycled on a later turn when they can be returned to the cup at a cost of $1.

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

Dice used in the other phases have a slightly more complicated route, so those assigned to Development or Settling are placed on to the appropriate pile of tiles until there are enough to build them, and then they are placed in the Citizenry to await recycling.  Dice used for Producing are themselves turned into produce and placed on the Production World tile, where they stay until someone activated a Shipping phase.  When the goods are Shipped, they are removed from the Production tile and placed in the Citizenry where they can be similarly recycled.  This is complex enough, but it is only really the back-drop to the game, the guts of which are centred on choosing tile combinations to build according to a particular strategy.  The problem is, if players are struggling to get the nuts and bolts of the game to work, then strategy inevitably will suffer.

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

Unsurprisingly given his enthusiasm for playing it, Ivory made all the early running, settling early and making good use of his Terraforming Robots Development which meant he had pots of cash and was referred to as “Money Bags” for most of the game.  Meanwhile, Burgundy and Pine were struggling to get their heads round the different “Dice Cycles”.  Pine had played it for the first time only a couple of weeks ago, but it is such a unique game in many ways that it is hard to remember what to do.  In fact, although both Black and Blue have played it several times now, they were both quite slow off the mark as they had to remind themselves of what they had to do.

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

It was about halfway through the game that the Christmas music started; Ivory was thrilled while Pine was disgusted in equal measure.  The bar staff were all feeling very festive and were not impressed when we pointed out that there was still Halloween and Bonfire Night to go before we could even begin to consider Christmas!  When Ivory built his twelfth world and  triggered the end of the game, his mood was improved even further, making him a very happy squirrel indeed.  With nobody else close to twelve worlds, it looked like Ivory was home and dry with some to spare, however, although she only had nine Worlds she had a lot of higher value, Genes Worlds.  This, together with the large pile of Victory Point chips she had acquired towards the end of the game, much to everyone’s surprise, drew her level with Ivory on forty-eight.  This led to a tie-break, which, despite the fact that we’d already started packing up clearly went Ivory’s way as he had many more dice and loads more money than Blue.  Magnanimously though, Ivory offered to share the victory.

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

Learning Outcome: It’s probably best not to comment on the size of a squirrel’s nuts…

7th February 2017

It was a very quiet night, with work and family commitments and illness decimating our numbers.  In fact, for a long time it looked like there might only be two of us, but we were saved that indignity when Ivory turned up, quickly followed by Green.  After we had cheered Burgundy through his Hawaiian, we settled down to the “Feature Game”, Roll for the Galaxy.  This is a re-implementation of an older card game, Race for the Galaxy, with the addition of dice.  One of the common complaints about Race for the Galaxy is the complexity of the iconography, which was used to limit the amount of text on the cards.  This has been significantly reduced in Roll for the Galaxy (and largely replaced with text), but in its place there is a complex dice economy.

Race for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

In summary, players roll the dice in their cup in secret, behind their screen.  They then distribute the dice according to their symbols, matching them up to each of the five phases, Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship.  Players then, still in secret, re-position one of their dice to use it to choose one action they would like to activate.  Players can also put a die to one side for a turn to “Dictate” the symbol on another die, i.e. reassign it to a different phase.  Once everyone has positioned all their dice, the player screens are removed and players simultaneously carry out the phases that have been chosen in order.  In general, each die is used to carry out an action once, so if a player has multiple dice assigned to the same phase, the action may be carried out several times.  Any dice that are not used (or were used for the Dictate action) are returned to the players’ cups whereas dice that are used must be placed in the player’s “Citizenry”.  Dice in the Citizenry must be transferred back into the player’s dice cup before they can be used again, and this costs $1 per die.

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

The next natural question is, how do players get money?  Money comes from Trading goods:  during the Ship phase.  Goods are placed on Production Worlds during the Produce phase and can either be Traded for money (where the value depends on the type of World that produced them) or Consumed for victory points (where bonuses are received if the dice colours match that of the Worlds that produced them) during the Ship phase.  There are three types of World on double sided square tiles:  one side is a Development World and the reverse is either a Coloured Production or a Grey Non-Production World.  Worlds are all “built” by spending dice during either the Development phase or Settle phase (for Production and Non-Production Worlds) and the cost is returned in Victory Points at the end of the game.  Players draw World tiles from a bag during the Explore phase.  They choose which side they are going to try to build and therefore which stack to place them in, either the Develop or the Settle pile.

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

In general, Development Worlds give special powers and or extra points at the end of the game.  In contrast, Production and Non-production worlds give more dice and, in the case of the coloured Production Worlds can also provide Victory Points and/or money.  The clever part is controlling these piles and manipulating the worlds built in order to steer a particular strategy.  The game ends when either one player builds more than twelve Worlds, or the Victory Point chip pile is exhausted, in this way, it is a race and controlling the game length is one important aspect of play.  Inevitably in a dice game, the most important part of the game, is managing and working with luck.  The different dice colours have different distributions of the phase symbols, for example, while red (Military) dice have two Develop and two Settle symbols, blue (Novelty) dice have two Produce and two Ship symbols.  Thus, the game could be compared with a game like Orléans, where players build the contents of their bag in an effort to control luck, rather than the symbols on the dice in their cup.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

It is a game that takes a bit of getting used to and everyone struggled a bit.  Unusually though, it was Burgundy who struggled the most which made a change for the rest of us.  It was all made worse by the inevitable rules confusions though.  Before we started, Green had questioned whether it was compulsory to place one die to choose the phase or whether it was optional.  Only Blue had played before and then only with two players which made it a quite different game, and on that occasion, they had played that it was optional.  It was not glaringly obvious from the rules, though eventually we came to the conclusion that it should not be optional, so we proceeded with the game along those lines.  As the game progressed, it became apparent that this led to a logical inconsistency.  The rules specifically stated that if a player had no dice in their cup after recruiting (i.e.at the end of the round) they must recall any dice left on worlds as goods or in the process of Developing or Settling.  The problem with this was that if a player was then forced to use this die to choose a round, without dice to actually carryout the action they would be forced to spend any assets, but with no way of turning them into anything useful.

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

For this reason, we returned to playing that choosing an action was optional, which allowed players to take a chance that others would choose the action they wanted.  About half way through the game, Green, who had been fiddling with his phone looking up specifics of a World he’d built, had an “Aha!” moment when he found something on the rules forum.  The thread explained that the die that use to select a phase acts as a worker of that type during the chosen phase.  This is in “Frequently Overlooked Rules”, but somehow the use of the the term “worker” didn’t make it clear.  If the die used to select the action could also carry out that action though, not only did it prevent “single die jeopardy”, but it also meant that players were effectively guaranteed one completely unconstrained move (because the symbol on the die used to choose the action does not have to match the phase).  Even better, a player with three dice, could use the “Dictate” option to give them any two (potentially different) actions.

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

Although this clarified everything, it had the potential to make such a huge change to the game we decided to carry on playing as we had been.  We could all see how this made much more sense though and would also speed the game up.  By this time it was very clear who was going to win in any case though.  Green had started with the Genetics Lab which turned out to be extremely powerful as it gave him an extra $2 every time there was a Produce phase.  After checking the rules forum (again) it became clear that this was regardless of whether he initiated it, so long as he left his green die on a production world he had an income which effectively meant that he didn’t really need to worry about money.  Eventually, he put us out of our misery by building his twelfth World bringing the game to an end.  Totting up the scores gave a surprising result. Green was inevitably miles in front with forty-four points, but everyone else was caught in a three-way tie on twenty-two points.

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

It was clear that playing correctly would have a huge impact on game play and, although Green and Ivory had to leave everyone was keen to give it another go in a few weeks time.  Blue had the chance sooner, however.  On Sunday afternoon we had the third of our “Monster Games” sessions, and after a game of Roads & Boats, Blue, Pink, Black and Purple gave it another go.  Black and Purple were completely new to it, and Purple struggled a bit with the dice economy while Black was not sure how to control the worlds available to him.  It was clear to Blue and Pink though that playing by the rules as written, unsurprisingly, made the game work much better.

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

With Green and Ivory gone, Burgundy was keen to play something a little shorter and lighter and Blue fancied having another go at beating Burgundy at Splendor.  We play this game a lot and beating Burgundy at this game has become something of a Group Challenge, but somehow he always just gets the rub of the green.  This is a game of chip-collecting and card development where players collect chips to buy gem cards which can then be used in lieu of chips.  More expensive cards are also worth points and the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points and the round is completed to give everyone the same number of turns.  Points are also awarded for “Nobles” which go to the first player to get a specific combination of gem cards and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

This time, the Nobles were opal, diamond & ruby; opal, ruby & emerald; sapphire, emerald & diamond.  At the start of the game rubies were scarce, but sapphires and emeralds in particular were scarcer.  This was not too much of a problem initially as opals and diamonds were needed for the Nobles, but it gradually became more of an issue as the game went on.  Blue and Burgundy were pretty much neck-a-neck for the first half of the game with both players picking up nobles on the same turn.  It was very tight though and the pressure from Burgundy forced Blue to reserve cards giving helpful Gold (which is wild), but is a very inefficient approach.  In the end, the game was painfully close.  Burgundy finished his turn and began re-counting his points.  It was only as Blue claimed seven points (one card and a Noble) to give her a total of sixteen points that he commented that actually he already had fifteen.  Since Blue started, that meant she wasn’t able to claim her final turn.  Normal service resumed then!

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Learning Outcome:  Playing by the correct rules can improve a game no end…

16th June 2015

Burgundy and Blue were just finishing their supper when they were joined by Cerise, Grey and Red and decided to play a short game until everyone else had arrived.  They chose Sushi Go! which is a card drafting game similar to 7 Wonders, though without the complexity, so, all the players start with a hand of cards, simultaneously play one and pass the rest of the cards to the player on their left.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Since every player is doing the same thing, each player also receives a hand of cards from the player on their right, but each time the cards are passed the hand gets smaller.  In this game players are collecting sets of cards with rewards varying depending on the card and the target.  This time, we played with the Soy Sauce mini expansion which consists of four cards that reward players for getting more different colours encouraging more speculative play.  The game is played over three rounds, with the middle one going in the opposite direction and the winner is the player with the most points.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kladan

Grey went for the unusual combination of dessert with soy sauce, but Blue topped the round by the judicious application of wasabi to a valuable squid nigiri.  Burgundy won the second hand and Red close behind with a large pile of maki rolls, so, it was all to play for in the final round.  It was a low scoring finale, with Grey the only really successful player, pulling off his best round when it counted.  Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough:  although Blue’s scores had been steadily diminishing round on round, she just managed to hang on to win, just one point ahead of Grey.  With Black and Purple having arrived, the group split into two, one playing the Feature Game and the other playing another new game, Om Nom Nom.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Om Nom Nom was a UK Games Expo special that Purple had been looking for since Essen last year.  The game is quite quick and fairly simple with a lot of “double think”.  The game simulates the hunter and prey relationship.  There are three game boards each depicting a food chain:  cat, mouse & cheese; wolf, rabbit & carrot; hedgehog, frog & fly.  Each player has six cards representing the top two rungs of each ladder; at the start of a round a handful of dice are rolled that represent the lowest two rungs and are then placed on the appropriate section of the board.

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

Game play is very simple:  simultaneously, all players choose a card to play a predator.  If their is enough prey to feed each hunter, then the player gets their card back with the prey and they score one point for each.  If there is insufficient food available, the animal starves and they lose their card.  Once the first card has been resolved they must play one of the remaining five cards.  So, the clever bit is the middle rung of the food chain where there are both cards and dice, so a card played in the middle will get eaten by any played above.  There are three rounds with everyone playing all six cards in each round, so trying to out-think everyone else is the name of the game.  Purple had played Om Nom Nom before and used her extra experience to win the first round by a sizable margin.  Grey made up for it in the second round as everyone began to get the hang of it, and Red took the final round, making it a close game.  Her consistency made the difference though and Purple finished just two points ahead of Grey.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor Jean_Leviathan

Next the group had a rummage through the bag and opted for another Essen/UK Games Expo acquisition, Steam Donkey; with such a cool name, we wanted to see if the game play matched.  The game is set in 1897, a time when rival seaside resorts are competing to attract a visit from the Queen.  So, players are trying to build a four by three grid of cards representing their seaside resort.  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.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

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 first choose a colour and build as many attractions in that colour as they can/want paying with other cards from their hand.  Next they choose a colour and start taking cards in that colour from the “station”, a row of face down cards.  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. Once there are no more visitors of the chosen colour, or there are no more spaces for the visitors to go, the active player adds the visitor cards to their hand and the station platform is refilled with four new visitors.  There is a hand limit of twelve and this can actually be quite a serious impediment for players collecting cards to build the more valuable attractions.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

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.  Since this was the first time anyone in the group had played it and there are a couple of unclear points in the rule-book it might not have been played quite correctly, however, everyone seemed to enjoy it what was a very tight game and finished with Purple one point ahead of Red who was just one point ahead of Grey.  Since Purple declared, “It’s a good ‘un!” it almost certainly won’t be long before it gets another outing.

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, the other group were playing the Feature Game, Evolution, yet another game about food and eating!  This is another Essen Special, and is a reimplementation of an earlier game, Evolution: The Origin of Species: the idea is that the game(s) simulate evolution and the “survival of the fittest” concept.  Players start with a herbivore with no special characteristics, and a hand of cards.  Like many games, the cards serve multiple purposes, in this case, they carry a “food supply” number, details of a trait and can also act as a sort of currency,  At the start of the round, players simultaneously choose a card to place face down in the watering-hole, which will dictate how much food will be available later in the round.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Once this is done, players can begin to modify their species.  This can be done in turn, but as it is slow and quite boring if you are relatively unfamiliar with the game, we played this part of the game simultaneously.  There are three things players can do:  they can add a trait to their species; spend a card to increase the body size or population of a species, or spend a card to start a new species.  Cards are a valuable resource and players only get three cards at the start of each round, plus an extra one for each species they have.  This means that traits must be played with care, but also that there is a strong argument for adding new species as early as possible.  However, if there is insufficient food available, animals will starve and if they starve their population will fall, potentially to extinction.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

There are a wide range of traits that can be added to a species.  For example if a species is “Fertile”, its population will automatically increase every round saving cards.  Alternatively, if an animal has a “Long Neck” it will feed twice before everything else, allowing it to jump the queue.  It is also possible, however, to make a species a carnivore, which means that instead of feeding from the communal watering-hole, they will only eat meat, feeding off other, smaller species round the table.  Since there are carnivores, there are also traits that can be used to help protect species from being eaten, like the ability to climb, burrow or camouflage.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Traits are most powerful in combination, however. For example, a species which has the ability to cooperate will feed every time the animal to its right feeds.  This means it will jump the queue if that species has a long neck.  Similarly, an animal that can climb and camouflage can only be attacked by a climbing carnivore with good eye-sight.  Since each species has a maximum of three traits, this carnivore would go hungry if the only animals smaller than itself give warning calls as it has no ability to ambush them.  Trait cards are all played face down and revealed in turn order once everyone has finished playing cards and modifying their animals, so players have to try to work out what others might be doing and plan accordingly.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Once everyone has finished playing cards and the traits have been revealed, the amount of food available is revealed and the food numbers on the cards played at the start of the round added up.  Players then each feed one of their hungry species in strict rotation (varied only where traits allow), starting with the start player.  Each player can choose whether to feed one of their herbivores from the watering-hole or use a carnivore to attack another species.  Tactics are important here because each species will need sufficient food for its population.  Once nothing else can feed, any hungry animals will suffer population loss and anything that was completely unfed loses all it population and will become extinct.  On the rare occasion that there is any food left in the watering-hole, it remains there until the next round.  The round ends with each player putting all the food into their food bag which makes the bulk of the points at the end of the game, with extras for each surviving member of the population and any trait they may have.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Unusually there was plenty of food in the first few rounds and everyone quickly built up a pack of animals to try to ensure they got plenty of cards at the start of later rounds.  Unfortunately, food shortages soon set in and one of Black’s animals went carnivorous.  Burgundy suffered badly from the early loss of his alpha species and never really recovered.  Cerise started off well, but was the first to lose a species to Black’s hungry hunter.  Blue was the only player who had tried the game before and was able to use a combination of climbing, cooperation and a long neck to keep her animals fed, but still fell prey to Black and his savage carnivore.  One by one, the animals developed traits to try to out-smart Black, as he added features in a race to avoid starvation.  It was quite tight in the final count, but Blue finished five points clear of Black in second place.

Evolution
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Since the other group were still building their seaside resorts, so the group decided to try Om Nom Nom, and see what all the noise on the other table had been about.  By the end of the first round, it was obvious and there were howls of laughter as everyone tried to second-guess everyone else and everyone’s best laid plans crumbled into dust.  Blue and Burgundy managed to systematically stamp on each-others toes leaving Black and Cerise to fight it out for first place.  Her superb first round turned out to be the deciding factor though and Cerise finished four points ahead of Black.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

With time creeping on and Cerise and Grey leaving, we looked for a quick game to finish and decided to try another new game, called Skull which is based on an older bluffing game called Skull & Roses.  The idea is that each player has four cards:  three featuring flowers and one with a skull.  Players take it in turns to play a card and declare what the card is.  Alternatively, instead of playing a card, they can start bidding by declaring how many roses they can find around the table.  Once every player has passed the winning challenger must attempt to locate the required number of roses, starting by turning over all the tiles in their own pile.  If they find a skull before they complete their challenge, the lose a card; the winner is the first player to successfully complete two challenges.

Skull
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor nad24

Blue started off showing everyone else how to lose a challenge, by unsuccessfully bluffing to lure others into over bidding.  Black lost two challenges in quick succession, but Burgundy made an end of it by winning two out of two.  Since Skull had finished so quickly, we all felt there was still time for that last game and with barely a mention of 6 Nimmt!, Purple was getting the cards out to play what is rapidly becoming one of our most popular games.  It’s not obvious why we like it, but part of it is probably the fact that nobody really understands it.  This time it was a three way competition for the most points as everyone dived to the bottom, leaving Blue to finish with just eleven, some thirty points better than the person in second place.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Food is important, both in life and in games, but especially on Alternate Tuesdays

5th February 2013

It was another quiet night this week, but the landlady of the pub commented that February is the worst month for them, so maybe it’s catching.

The first game up was Race for the Galaxy.  This is a card game where players build galactic civilizations by playing cards that represent worlds or technical and social developments. Some worlds allow players to produce goods, which can be consumed later to gain either cards or victory points and other worlds or developments have bonuses that help players manage their hand or build more efficiently.  At the beginning of each round, players secretly and simultaneously choose roles, then each player has the opportunity to the action associated with the roles.  The iconography on the cards takes a little getting used to, and some of the players were unfamiliar with the game so we used pre-set hands.  The game was tight with only five points between first and last place and the Produce/Consume strategy giving the win.

Race for the Galaxy

We decided to save the “Feature Game” for next time, so instead, we played Queen’s Necklace.  This is another card game  (maybe we should be renamed “CardboardGOATS”?!?!)  where players buy gem-stones and then try to win the right to sell them.  There are two key things about this game:  firstly, if a card is not bought by the first player, it’s value decreases for the next player, so the longer they hang about the cheaper they are to purchase.  Secondly, when it comes to selling, each gem has an intrinsic value, but the amount the seller gets will also depend on availability, so if everyone tries to sell a valuable gem, the seller may not get as much as the person who won the right to sell a less valuable gem.  In addition to gems, players can also buy character cards which allow players to inspect another’s hand, steal a card, sell an extra gem etc.  This game was not as close as Race for the Galaxy though the eventual winner was the same.

Queen's Necklace

Learning Outcome: It’s always just when you have managed to build a really efficient victory point engine that someone ends the game.