Tag Archives: Roll 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.

12th June 2018

The evening started with a couple of quick rounds of Love Letter, while Pine and Burgundy finished off their dinner.  This is the a quick “micro game” played from a deck with only sixteen cards.  Each player starts with just one card in hand drawing a second on their turn, choosing one to play.  The aim is to try to eliminate the other players from the game, with the last player the winner.  Red started the first round and immediately knocked out Burgundy by guessing his hand.  When Pine swapped his Countess card for the Princess though, he took the first round.  The second was also won by the Princess, but this time Red was the beneficiary, despite being side-tracked discussing work with Blue.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With food essentially dealt with, it was time to discuss who was going to play the “Feature Game”.  This time it was Echidna Shuffle, a very simple pick-up and deliver game with a couple of clever little quirks and fantastic over-produced pieces.  This was a game Black and Purple played with Blue and Pink at UK Games Expo last week; they liked it so much they nearly came to blows over who was going to get a copy, and it sold out on Friday afternoon as well.  Everyone else had heard about it, and despite the fact that it played six, it was hugely over-subscribed, so Blue, Burgundy and Ivory took themselves off to choose something else to play.  For many, Echidna Shuffle looked like a game with hedgehogs—the wonderfully chunky and gorgeously styled models could be either.  As there are more hedgehogs than echidnas in the UK, that’s what everyone associated them with, so every time someone said “Hedgehogs” there was a chorus of “Echidnas!” in response.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea of the game is that each player has three tree-stumps on board, and three insects in-hand; players have to get all three of their insects to their tree-stumps by riding them on the backs of echidnas. Each echidna and each stump can carry just one insect, with stumps removed from the game once they are occupied.  The active player first rolls the dice, and then moves the echidnas.  There are a lot of echidnas and not a lot of free spaces, so players have to shuffle the echidnas round the board, first passing their insect pick-up point, then trying to move that echidna to a tree-stump. Someone commented that “Echidna Skiffle” might have been a better name, but Pine pointed out that while they might look like hedgehogs, none of them looked like Lonnie Donegan

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The total number of spaces moved is dictated by roll of a die, and this is perhaps one of the cleverest parts of the game: players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This clever trick means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.  There are two sides to the board, the normal “Summer Leaf” side, and the manic “Winter Snowball Fight” side.  On this occasion, we played the “simple” board with a full complement of six players.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Red got one of her bugs home first and it remained that way for several turns, before everyone else caught up quickly, leaving only Green bugless.  Red and Magenta then led the way with their second insect before Green finally got one of his home.  There followed a steady levelling-up with each player getting their second insect home, while everyone took care to make sure that Red and Magenta were prevented from getting their third critter to it’s stump.  Meanwhile Green and Pine were really struggling a second bug home, eventually leaving Pine the only one with only a single safe insect.  By this time, the game had turned into a group calculated effort to stop each other from getting their third insect home.  Consequently, Pine was feeling very left out as his echidnas kept falling victim to everyone else’s attempts to stop the others.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Pine joined the party, and everyone was struggling to get one final insect home and put everyone out of their pain.  A move by Purple appeared to leave the door open for Black to trundle his final echidna to his last stump in two moves, but for some reason he moved his echidna in the wrong direction on the first move, leaving it to do another loop before he could get it back, and that was the end of his chance.  The game continued for a while longer, like a never-ending six-player game of chess;  everyone circling each other, with their insects stuck in eternal echidna traffic jams until finally Pine broke through to an open leaf road, and an unstoppable position.  At least three other players were unable to get their insect to their own stump without playing “King Maker” for someone else, so Pine emerged the victor having spent so long stuck at the back of the field early on.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Discussing the game afterwards, we realised that with the “simple” board and six experienced gamers who thought perhaps a little too much about the game, it had ended up in an almost “Tic-Tac-Toe” impasse.  This had lengthened the game, making it take much, much longer than it should have done.  As a result, players vowed to use the more complex board “Snowball Fight” board and maybe look for other ways to prevent the stalemate, like using the “extra moves” variant, especially when playing with lots of people.  It would be well worth finding a way to make it play a little quicker as we all had fun with the game which had very nice pieces. A game we can all share with our non-gaming friends and families too, which gave it a big thumbs up from the group, most of whom don’t really care whether they are hedgehogs, echidnas, or even porcupines

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Blue, Burgundy and Ivory, had eventually chosen to play Dice Forge, a game they had enjoyed once before but felt they had unfinished business with.  The game is a dice building game, with a similar feeling to deck building games like Dominion and bag building games like Orléans, or cup building games like Roll for the Galaxy.  In these games, the aim is to try to mitigate the effects of luck by stacking the deck, bag, cup to improve the odds; in the case of Dice Forge, it is the dice themselves that players are modifying.  Each player starts with two dice, similar to those in some of the Lego games, where the faces can be removed and changed.  Beyond this, the game is actually quite simple.  On the active player’s turn, everyone rolls both their dice and accumulates resources accordingly.  On their turn, the active player can then also spend their resources to either upgrade dice, or to move their pawn from their central “Starting Portals” to one of the “Islands” on the board and take a “Heroic Feat” card.  Dice upgrades and cards all have a cost, with the best having the highest costs.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the key strategy elements is where to put dice upgrades, and how to improve the dice.  For example is it best to save up for the most expensive upgrades, or given the fact that the game only lasts ten rounds, is it better to upgrade dice at every possible opportunity?  Similarly, is it best to upgrade one dice preferentially, to try to ensure that something good will come out every time, or is it best to sprinkle good stuff on both dice and hope that the dice Gods will smile…  On the other hand, cards can be more effective, so it can be better to concentrate on getting them, but only if the means to buy them can be accumulated quickly and efficiently.  This time Blue decided to concentrate on building up one die and try to keep her points tally ticking over.  Burgundy tried a different approach and went for cards, but struggled to get the “Sun Shards” he needed to execute his plan.  Meanwhile, Ivory serenely surfed the resource roller-coaster, buying cards and upgrading his dice seemingly at will.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

The game came to a close with the tenth round, finishing just as the echidnas were finishing their elegant waltz.  Blue, who had been working up to a twenty-six point card had he plans quashed when Burgundy caused her to roll one of her dice and she ended up loosing six of her valuable Moon Shards.  This was all the more damaging as she had been waiting patiently for her turn with a full quota wasting any dice rolls that gave her more.  That meant that Ivory could take the last card on his turn, leaving Blue to try to find other ways of making points with her final turn.  And then it was just a case of quickly adding up the scores:  Blue had accrued more than twice as many points with her dice than Burgundy, who had in turn amassed a large pile of cards giving him more than twice as many points as Blue via that route.  It was Ivory though who was the clear winner, the same number of points from his dice as Blue, and almost the same number of points from his cards as Burgundy.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

It wasn’t late, but with Green, Red and Magenta heading off for an early night, that left six to play something else.  Ivory had enjoyed his first and only game of Las Vegas so much that he was keen to give it another go and everyone else was happy to join him. It is a very simple game with players rolling their dice and assigning some of them to one of the six numbered casinos.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card.  The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of table talk and “helpful suggestions”.  As usual, we added the Slot Machine (which is like a special seventh casino); some elements from the Boulevard expansion, including extra high value money cards and the large, double weight dice, and house ruled the game to three rounds.  Some people did well on the first round, some well on the second, some on the third, but once, again, it was Ivory who finished with $400,000, just a head of Blue and Purple, proving that last time wasn’t just beginner’s luck…

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Some dice games aren’t all about luck.

1st May 2018

When we played Mini Park a couple of weeks ago, we had all found it a little underwhelming.  At the time we had felt it might be better with fewer people, so as it was a very short game, while we were waiting for food to arrive, we decided to give it another try. The game is a hexagonal tile-laying game where players choose one character which dictates the end game scoring.  We played the “advanced” game which has slight changes to the scoring and pairs each scoring character at random with a second character.  The latest version of the rules suggest that these subsidiary characters should be kept secret, but we felt that would make things a little bit too random.  We did adopt the simpler in-game scoring though.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

This time there were only three players, so everyone got two characters instead of one:  Burgundy took the people (Man and Child); Blue took the wildlife (Fish and Bird), and Magenta got everything else (Cyclist and Cat).  Unquestionably it was better this time round.  The Fish was still very powerful, but this time it was largely luck of the draw as Blue took it early and then managed to draw lots of pond tiles, netting her a massive forty-five points, with Magenta getting twenty-two.  The Cyclist was a lot less powerful this time though, and combinations of main character and subsidiary had a much stronger effect as well.  For example, while Blue had two of the strongest main characters, her subsidiaries were the weakest; on the other hand, Magenta and Burgundy had a much more even distribution of points across the board.  The end score was much closer this time, and despite the obvious high Fish score, it wasn’t the foregone conclusion of last time.  Nevertheless, wildlife won in the end with Blue finishing on eighty-six, ten ahead of Magenta in second place.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

With Mini Park and food over, it was time to play something more serious, and we moved on to the “Feature Game”, Lords of Xidit.  This is a reimplementation of the simultaneous programming game, Himalaya, which has a very unusual scoring mechanism.  The game is set in the fantasy land of Xidit, which is under attack.  The last hope for restoring peace lies with the Kingdom’s noble heirs, the Idrakys, who must travel the Kingdom recruiting brave soldiers and restoring the threatened cities.  The game board is a map of Xidit, depicting the cities, on which double-sided tiles are placed, showing either recruitment or threats.  The game is played over twelve years with each year consisting of players giving their Idrakys six secret orders using a special player board, and then executing them in order.  There are three possible orders for the Idrakys:  moving along one of the three road types; in a city, either recruit a Unit or eliminate a threat (depending which side the tile is showing); or wait.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The catch is that if the action is possible, it must be carried out, so if the order is move along a green road, that is what it must do.  Similarly, if a player’s Idrakys is in a city where the tile is recruitment face up, they must recruit a Unit.  The Units come in five different types, in order of increasing power: Peasant Militia; Archers; Infantry; Clerics, and Battle Mages which are orange, green, grey, white and purple respectively.  When the city tiles are Recruitment side up, they hold five Units, in predetermined colours, and when recruiting, players can only take one Unit and it must be the least powerful available.  These Units can then be used to defeat a Threats in exchange for Gold Sovereigns, placing their Bards or add Stories to the city’s Sorcerers’ Guild Tower if it is their own.  When a Threat or Recruitment tile is removed, another is drawn from the respective stack and placed on the appropriate city.  If there are insufficient tiles in the Treat stack, then the Titan tiles are turned over, to the Raging Titan’s side—these are super-aggressive Threats that are not associated with a city and can be eliminated in a similar way to other Threats.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of boargamephotos

At the end of the fourth, eighth and final (twelfth) year, there is a Military census where, beginning with the Peasant Militia (and continuing with the others in turn), players secretly hold a number of Units in their hands before a simultaneous reveal.  The player with the most of Units receive a reward; players are not obliged to reveal all their Units of that type, indeed, bluffing can be a good idea when trying to mislead players at the end of the game.  This is because the final census is followed by a series of assessments, where the weakest player in each one is eliminated until one player is left.  Each assessment ranks the players based on either their Wealth, their level of Influence with the magical community, or their Reputation across the Kingdom.  The last player remaining at the end of the assessment stage is the winner.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game looks complicated, but was actually surprisingly easy as long as the Threat/Recruitment piles are managed effectively.  Game play is also very quick, much to everyone’s surprise: it never took too long to work out what the six actions were going to be and even when someone took a bit longer than usual it was never excessive.  Carrying out the actions was very quick too—players barely had time after completing one action before it was time for the next.  As such this game does not suffer from “Analysis Paralysis” and there never seemed to be any down time, unusual for a game like this and a welcome change.  The other curiosity was that even though there is never anything hidden (although items are hidden behind a players screen, they are collected in the open, so it is entirely possible for players to keep track of how each other are doing) no-one had any real idea of who was actually winning.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There were the occasional blunders as someone miscalculated and carried out the wrong action (such as going to a city to recruit just after someone took the last unit), or as in the case of Pine towards the end, looking at the wrong Idrakys counter when working out route and actions for the turn.  On the whole though, everyone was were able to plan the sequence of commands each “year” without difficulty.  The key to this game, however, is probably keeping a close eye on which Threat/Recruitment tiles are due to come out in the next couple of turns to try to plan an efficient route and arrive at the right city at the right time.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The unique elimination based scoring system worked well, keeping everyone guessing who would win right to the end. By the end of the game, Green and Black had both managed to build all their towers (the final round of elimination scoring), while Pine had the least. The Bard tokens (the penultimate elimination round) seemed relatively close, but Burgundy and Pine had both been fighting over the hidden central citadel so that outcome was unknown.  Before these two assessments could be addressed, players have to survive the elimination round for gold coins, and these are hidden.  Green had got off to a good start and gained a lot of gold at the beginning of the game; given his strong position in with respect to towers and bard tokens on the board he looked like the front runner. Unfortunately, he had neglected to collect gold later in the game and ended up with the least, just one less than Black, so was out in the first elimination round.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

Then there was a discussion as to whether Green’s Bard tokens should be taken off the board and disregarded now he had been eliminated.  The answer didn’t seem to be in the rules, but it was at that point that we realised we should have scored everything first and then gone through the elimination checks so Green’s bard tokens remained.  Towards the end of the game, there had been a flurry players placing Bard tokens and, as a result Green again had the lowest Bard score, but since he had already been eliminated, Black was the next to go, leaving only Pine and Burgundy in the Sorcerers’ Guild Tower elimination round.  We knew that Black and Green had the most, but as they had both been eliminated it the best of the rest, and that was Burgundy. This was a surprise to everyone as he and Pine would have been knocked out much earlier, demonstrating that playing to win (i.e. concentrating on the final elimination) is not the way to play this game.

Lords of Xidit
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Overall everyone really enjoyed it:  it was fast, fun and there were a few surprises too. Nobody of us felt it was award-winning, but it was certainly one we would play again, and probably more than once.  Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, everyone else was playing Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a tile laying game where players are building an extravagant castle for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, one room at a time.  Rooms selected randomly are sold off in batches with one player, the Master Builder, setting the prices for each room in the batch.  Payment is made to the Master Builder (similar to the auctions in Goa), but as they are the last player to buy, there is a large element of “I divide, you choose” (similar to games like …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne).  Thus, the idea is that the Master Builder wants to arrange the tiles such that rooms desired by the other players are expensive, but generally not too expensive, and similar to Goa, having a lot of money is powerful, but when you spend it, you give that advantage to the active player.  The other interesting mechanism is controlling the room layout so that rooms that work well together are daisy-chained yielding the most points.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

When a room is placed, points are scored for that room, but also the room it is attached to.  Most of the points are dependent on the type of room they are connected to, so, a large purple living room with (say) six doors, will score every time a room is added to it.  If it scores two points for every “blue sleeping room” that is connected to it, it will score two points when it is first placed (next to a sleeping room, but four when the next is added to it, then six and so on.  However, the difficult part is trying to find six blue rooms that also score when they are placed next to a purple living room.  Balancing the synergistic effects are really what make the game interesting.  When a room is completed, there is a bonus, this can be extra points or some other advantage like an extra turn or money etc..

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

At the end of the game there are also bonus points for the player who best fulfils the requirements for the “King’s Favours” as well as points for personal bonuses.  The game uses a card-deck to determine which rooms are drawn and when it is exhausted it triggers the end-game.  One last round is played before all the bonuses are calculated and the winner is the player who finishes with the most points.  Although we played this quite a bit a couple of years ago, it has been neglected of late, and as a result, we had to recap the rules.  The problem with it is, the scoring when rooms are placed is a little counter intuitive, so a bit like Roll for the Galaxy, it is a game we often struggle with at first.  In fact, when it first came out, Blue and Magenta played it a few times, but only realised how the game “worked” when they played with a new player who just intuitively understood how to score heavily, and gave them a trouncing.  Although Blue had somehow forgotten again, it turned out that Magenta had not.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Blue started off buying a tile in error and thereafter was forced down a orange utility room strategy:  these tend to give fewer points when placed, but give bonus cards that score at the end of the game.  Clearly it was a game that wasn’t going to go well for Blue as, forced to which card to keep, the first card she discarded gave bonus points for money, and after a couple of rounds, it was clear this would have scored heavily for her if she had kept it. Purple had also played the game a few times before and also suffered the mental block associated with scoring.  She tried to build a lot of downstairs rooms and gardens, but again wasn’t able to get the room placement scoring to work for her.  Ivory was completely new to the game, and could be forgiven for not grasping the subtleties, but he was still in second place before the end game scoring and was clearly collecting blue sleeping rooms for an end-game bonus.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Early on, Magenta had managed to place a large purple Vestibule that scored four points for every adjoining yellow food room.  The key is, not only does each food room score four points, but they score every time another room is added.  With four doors and three of them leading to food rooms, this room alone scored her more than twenty-five points, which might have explained why Magenta was nearly twenty points clear before the end game scoring.  The final round was triggered when we ran out of room cards and that was followed by the Favour scoring.  Purple scored best here, picking up points in every category, but doing particularly well for her downstairs rooms.  The final scoring was the orange bonus cards.  Everyone thought that this was where Blue would make up ground as she had a fist full of them.  Unfortunately for her, none scored very well and some didn’t score at all.  Magenta had managed to pick up a few at the end of the game which scored well, meaning she finished some twenty-five points clear of everyone else who finished in a little group with a spread of just three points, with purple just beating the other two to take second place.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Both games finished at around the same time, and there was just enough time for something fun and not too long, so we opted for another game of one of our favourite, relaxing, light dice-chuckers, Las Vegas.  Despite the fact that we play this game a lot, Ivory had somehow missed out.  We thought it might be because he often leaves early and we often play it at the end of the evening.  Since he was sticking about this time, we all felt an introduction was essential.  The rules do not sound inspiring, and Ivory didn’t look terribly impressed.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money that comprises anything from one to eight notes; the player with the most dice in a casino takes first choice, then the second and so on.

– Image by boardGOATS

There are two little rules that make the game work: firstly, players must place all the dice of one number, and secondly, before any money is handed out, any dice involved in a draw are removed.  It is these rules that make the game interesting, raising the decisions above the trivial.  Although the base game only plays five, we add the Boulevard expansion, which adds more players, more high value notes, and big dice, which are “double weight” so increase the stress when bidding.  We also add the Slot Machine, where each number can be placed once, but only once, so it gives players another nice alternative to the conventional casinos.  The rules the player with the most money after four rounds is the winner, but the fourth round often drags, especially if you don’t feel you are in with a chance, so we generally house-rule it to three rounds. Despite his obvious misgivings, it wasn’t long before Ivory was chucking dice with everyone else and having great fun.  Unusually, Green, Blue and Burgundy scored quite well, but Pine thought he had it with his $370,000 until Ivory revealed is massive $440,000.  Definitely beginners luck…

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes experience pays, other times beginners benefit.

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…

3rd October 2017

The evening started with a quick hand of Love Letter between Blue and Burgundy while they waited for their “Fave” pizzas to arrive.  The game only lasted a handful of turns and Blue took it with the Princess when she played a Baron to force a comparison.  As Burgundy said, with that combination of cards lined up against him, his poor Baron didn’t stand a chance.  There wasn’t time for him to get his revenge, however, as food arrived, along with a Happy Birthday text from Pink (who wasn’t able to come).  With the arrival of Red and Magenta, Blue and Red talked about work for a few minutes before Ivory and Pine joined the party and everyone settled down to a quick game of 6 Nimmt!—a quick game that could be played while eating pizza.

Happy 5th Birthday!
– Image by boardGOATS

Bizarrely, Ivory had somehow managed to avoid playing 6 Nimmt! despite it being one of our most frequently played games.  So, there was a quick run-down of the rules before we could start.  The game starts with four cards face up on the table, the beginning of four rows.  Each player starts with a hand of cards and players simultaneously choose one and place it face-down before a simultaneous reveal.  Cards are then played in ascending order, with players placing their card on the highest card that is lower than the card being played.  When the sixth card is added to a row, the first five are taken by the active player and the number of heads contribute to that player’s score; lowest score wins.  We tend to play two rounds, each using half of the deck of one-hundred and four cards.  The thing that makes the game so compelling is that players begin to feel they have control over their destiny, but any grip they may have is incredibly tenuous and once things start to go wrong the problems tend to escalate horribly.

– Image by boardGOATS

This time, things started to go wrong early for Red and Blue, but Pine outstripped them by miles and finished the first round with twenty three “nimmts”—as he commented, enough for a whole dairy heard.  Burgundy and Magenta were doing much better with one nimmt and none respectively.  Given his excellent performance in the first round, everyone expected Burgundy to start collecting cards with enthusiasm in the second round, and so it proved.  His efforts paled into insignificance compared with some of the others though, in particular Ivory and especially Blue, who finished with a massive top score of forty-four.  The winner was unambiguously Magenta, however, who added a second clear round to her first and managed to end the game without picking up a single bull’s head, a real achievement.

Happy 5th Birthday!
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone now arrived and pizzas all consumed it was time for the party to really start, with the “Feature Game”, Crappy Birthday accompanied by a marvellous blue Meeple Cake supplied by Georgie from The Jockey.  Everyone sang Happy Birthday and Blue and Green as the originators of the group blew out the candles then Red took the knife and started to carve while Magenta began dealing cards for the game.  With everyone eating cake (including the people at the pub who couldn’t believe we’d been going for five years), attention turned to Crappy Birthday.  This is funny little party game which we played for the first time last year to celebrate our fourth anniversary.  The premise of the game is that it is one player’s birthday and every one gives them a “present” chosen from the cards in their hand.  The birthday boy or girl then has to choose the best present and worst present and then returns these cards to the person who gave them.  At the end of the game players count up the number of pressies they have had returned and the one with the most (i.e. the one who gave the fewest mediocre presents) is the winner.  The game has a lot in common with Dixit, but is a lot simpler.  In the same way though, the production quality of the cards is really key to making the game work, though the emotions are very different:  in Dixit everyone marvels at the beauty of the art, in Crappy Birthday everyone laughs at the stupidity or brilliance of the gifts.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

This time we discovered that Black wanted a Viking helmet for his birthday, Red wanted to go on the first trip to Mars, Burgunday fancied a course in Sumo wrestling and a drive across the Sahara was on Ivory’s “Bucket List”.  There were many amusing gifts that didn’t actually score points including the Gnome ABBA Tribute Band (singing, “Gnoming me, Gnoming you” perhaps?) and a dead rat to hang on the front door at New Year.  We also discovered that Pine hates heights and horses (especially those that are trying to throw you off), so the session of rodeo riding was thrown straight back in disgust.  Red returned a Porta-Potty (she’s seen plenty in the last year apparently); Blue threw back comedy lessons (she hates being on stage); Black sent back a chair because it was boring and Red decided she couldn’t cope with a 150lb burger and claimed it would make her sick.  Everyone clearly thought that physical exertion was not Burgundy’s thing, but it was the tight rope walking that he was least keen on while Ivory had a fit of shyness and turned down the kind offer of a session skinny-dipping.  Purple rejected the idea of her very own personal roller-coaster, though it was close between that and snake charming lessons.  Pine commented that he would have combined the snake charming with the five chihuahua puppies as the latter would have provided an excellent food supply for the snakes.  This did not go down well with Purple who had chosen the chihuahua’s as her favourite gift and didn’t want them eaten…

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

It didn’t really matter who was the winner because everyone had fun and everyone got their moment in the spotlight as they had to explain their decisions.  And while they listened everyone else got sticky eating the meeple cake which was soon nibbled away to leave just a bit of head and a foot.  After one round we counted up who had the most returned cards and Ivory who had five cards was the winner by miles with Green and Burgundy in a distant, joint second place.  Party games aren’t really the Group’s “thing”, but everyone enjoyed this one (particularly accompanied by cake) and the consensus seemed to be that once a year was about probably right, especially as it gave everyone time to forget the silly things on the cards.  With the birthday cards collected in and the cake mostly gone it was time to decide what to play.  Nobody was quick to decide and things were complicated by those planning to leave early.  In the end we decided to stick together as a group (it was a party after all) and play a round of Saboteur.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

The idea of Saboteur is that each player is either a Dwarf or a Saboteur and players take it in turns to play a card from their hand.  The Dwarves aim is to extend the tunnel to the treasure, while the Saboteurs try to stop them.  There are two types of cards that can be played:  tunnels and special cards.  The cards with tunnel fragments shown must be played in the correct orientation, though the tunnel depicted can include junctions, bends, and even dead-ends. While the Dwarves try to push the path towards the gold, Saboteurs try to play disruptive cards while trying not to look like it.  Meanwhile, special cards include “rockfall” cards which can be played to remove a tunnel card already played, and maps which can be used to see where the gold is hidden.  Most importantly, however are “broken tool” cards which can be played on another player to prevent them building tunnel cards until they (or another kind-hearted soul) plays a matching “fixed tool” card to remove it.  The game is supposed to be played over several round with the winning team sharing out a pile of gold cards, but we tend to play it as a team game and stick to one round at a time.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The game began quite carefully with everyone doing their best to look like dwarves, that didn’t stop the accusations though and it wasn’t long before someone decided that Black and Green were looking shifty.  Green had almost all the map cards and unsportingly decided to stick to the rules and refused to share them.  Then Pine roused suspicions when his use of a map card led to a disagreement with Green clearly identifying one of them as a Saboteur.  Before long Ivory had joined the fray and nobody knew what was going on, except that the tunnels kept moving forward.  Eventually, Blue left nobody in any doubt when she gleefully diverted the tunnel away from the only possible remaining gold.  With the last card in the draw deck gone, it went down to the wire, but all the sabotage from Blue, Pine and Ivory was to no avail.  Cards continued to be played and it took a whole extra round, but the Dwarves just managed to make it to the treasure.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

With time ticking on, Red and Magenta left for an early night and the residue of the group split into two parts, the first of which played Sheep & Thief.  This game has had a couple of outings recently, in particular on a Tuesday two weeks ago.  Sheep & Thief is a curious little tile/card drafting and laying game with elements of pick up and deliver mechanisms added for good measure.  Each player has a board divided into a four by four grid, and starts with their home card and two sheep in the top left hand corner.  Each round is played in two halves: first players draft cards then they play them, taking it turns to place one card per turn.  Players are trying to connect their home card to the other three corners while trying to keep their sheep safe and trying to catch other players sheep with their fox, meanwhile, they are also attempting to navigate their black sheep to the bottom left right corner of their board.  With points for all sorts of things including sheep captured, sheep retained, long rivers, connecting the home card to the other corners of the board as well as for moving their black sheep as far from home as possible, it is a veritable “point salad”, but one where it is actually very difficult to do well.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, with his love of sheep was always going to do do well, despite this being his first try at the game.  Everyone else had played it several times before and therefore knew what they were letting themselves in for.  The strategies were very varied though, for example, Purple prioritised getting her road from her home card to the opposite corner of her board and picked up fifteen points for doing so.  Green prioritised getting his black sheep as far as he could in the hope that he might get points for his road in the process.  Unfortunately, although Green’s sheep netted him fifteen points, he was not able to connect his home card to any other corner and therefore failed to get any extra points as a result.  In contrast, Black tried to do a bit of everything which really isn’t a strategy that works for this game.  As a result he really struggled.  It was a very close game, and on the re-count finished in a tie between Green and Pine who both scored thirty-one points with Purple just behind.  Since the tie-breaker is the number of sheep and and both Green and Pine finished with the same number of sheep the victory was shared.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Ivory, Burgundy and Blue were being indecisive.  In the end after looking longingly at the “Deluxified” Yokohama, they reluctantly decided that it would probably take too long and decided to give Dice Forge a go instead.  This game was new to everyone except Ivory who gave his assurance that it would not be a long and complicated game.  And he was right – the whole thing took less than an hour and a half including teaching.  The game is a dice building game, with a lot in common with the deck building games like Dominion and bag building games like Orléans, or cup building games like Roll for the Galaxy, where the aim is to try to mitigate the effects of luck by stacking the deck, bag, cup or in this case dice, to improve the odds.  In the case of Dice Forge, it is the dice themselves that players are modifying.  Each player starts with two dice, similar to those in some of the Lego games, where the faces can be removed and changed.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

Beyond this, the game is actually quite simple.  On the active player’s turn, everyone rolls both their dice and adds the result to their accounting tracks.  On their turn, the active player can then also spend some of their gains to either upgrade dice, or to move their pawn from their central “Starting Portals” to one of the “Islands” on the board and take a “Heroic Feat” card.  Each upgrade has a cost, with the best upgrades having the highest costs.  The cards also have costs and the most powerful cards are the most expensive.  When upgrading, players can choose which faces to replace and what to replace them with.  In contrast, most of the cards have a single use special action or bonus, but some also have a perpetual action.  With the game restricted to only ten rounds, however, these have to be bought early if they are to prove game winners.  Once everyone had had the full ten rounds, each player adds up their points and the player with the most is the winner.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

There are several sources of points:  firstly, some dice faces give points, but this is not a particularly efficient way of scoring unless there are some cards that can be used to increase the acquisition speed. Cards can be more effective, but only if the means to buy them can be accumulated quickly and efficiently.  Blue started off trying to get some nice dice faces to improve the probability of a good roll.  She quickly realised the really clever part of the game:  what is the best way to upgrade the dice and how should the faces be distributed?  For example, is it better to put all the good faces on one die and guarantee one good roll, or is it better to spread them across both and hope to roll more good rolls than bad ones?  She opted for the latter, but wasn’t sure whether that was the right choice or not.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

While Blue was faffing about with where to put her dice, Burgundy had a much bigger problem as he was struggling to roll what he wanted in order to upgrade his.  This had the knock-on consequence that by the time he got what he wanted, invariably, Blue or Ivory had pinched what he wanted.  Ivory, having played the game before clearly had a much better idea of what he was trying to do, but although he managed some exceptional rolls, he struggled from time to time too.  In the end, Burgundy more or less gave up on dice and started to collect cards.  Somehow he managed to accrue a seventy-two cards—a massive number compared with compared with the forty-two/forty-six that Ivory and Blue had gathered together.  It almost worked as well, since he netted a fantastic ninety-eight points, remarkable considering his very slow start.  In the end Burgundy finished just two points behind Blue who top-scored with a nice round hundred.  Everyone had enjoyed it though, despite the frustrations, and everyone was quite keen to give it another go, though not straight away as it was definitely home time.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Time flies when you are playing boardgames!