Tag Archives: Saboteur

28th June 2016

Blue and Red arrived first, so once they had ordered food, they settled down to a quick game of Mijnlieff (pronounced “Mine-Leaf”).  This is basically Noughts and Crosses or Tic-Tac-Toe with a bit of added strategy and some beautiful wooden pieces.  We’ve played it a couple of times before on a Tuesday, but as it is an independently produced game (by Hopwood Games), it is difficult to get hold of and Blue had taken the chance to pick up a copy at Expo.  The aim of the game is to form lines of three or four, but the different types of pieces force your opponent to control where you can play.  For example, when a Greek cross (or “+” symbol) is played, the next player must place their piece on an empty square in an orthogonal line from the piece just played.  Similarly, playing a saltire (or “×” symbol) forces the next player to place their piece in a diagonal line from the piece just played.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Unfortunately, Blue forgot to mention that if there was nowhere a player could go, they were forced to pass giving their opponent a free move, so when this arose, Red cried “foul” and Blue offered to concede the game.  It didn’t really matter much anyhow as Burgundy had arrived and so had food, so everyone’s attention was drawn elsewhere.  As other people arrived, we moved on to the inevitable post-Brexit referendum discussion:  the group consists of several continental European Union gamers (Denmark, Poland and Ireland), so we have a natural pro-Europe stance.  Consequently, the group as a whole has been pretty horrified at occurrences of the last week, and its long term consequences (not least of which is the increase in the cost of games!).  Before we depressed ourselves too much, however, we decided to play something to take our mind off it.  Since we were unsure of who was coming and with Pine wanting an early night, we decided to begin with something short, and with two possible games it seemed appropriate to have a quick referendum on the subject…  Saboteur went the way of the “Remain” campaign and lost by a tiny margin as we decided to turn the evening on its head and begin with 6 Nimmt! a game which we often finish and one that is guaranteed to cheer us all up.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game lived up its usual standard of chaotic fun, with Burgundy, Black, Pine and Green vying to collect as many high cards as possible.  After our usual two rounds, Purple finished with eight, but Blue took it with just six nimmts, all garnered in the first round.  With the fun over, it was on to the serious game and Pine left as he was “cream-crackered”.  The rest of us split into two groups for our “Feature Game”, Concordia, a strategic game of economic development in Roman times.  The game takes at least half an hour per person and with set-up and teaching, it was always going to take most of the rest of the evening.  Played on a beautiful map, Concordia is a game of resource production and exploration.  Notable cities which are connected via land and shipping routes, each produce one resource (indicated by tokens placed on the map allowing for variable set-up).  Each player begins with a hand of Character cards and six colonists and a handful of resources. Everyone begins the game with the same set of cards; on their turn, the active player chooses a card to play, and then carries out the associated action.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

These cards allow players to move colonists and build settlements, trigger production for all settlements in a given region, introduce more colonists etc., however one of the cards enables players to buy extra cards from the market (a face up display).  The cards are played into a personal discard pile where they remain until the player plays their Tribune card to get all their cards back. Each player also has a warehouse of a fixed size which will hold a maximum of only twelve items, which at the start of the game includes four of their six colonists (two ships and two “Elvis-meeples”).  So, managing resources and finances is one of the key parts of the game and it is essential that players have the right resources when they need them as there isn’t space to store excess.  Another “pinch-point” is the cards; players can only play each card once before picking them all up.  They also get income when they play their Tribune card to recover their cards, but as it is dependent on the number of cards they pick up, it is in the player’s interest to play as many cards as possible before collecting them all again – this also needs planning.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

The most difficult part of the game is the scoring, however, which is tied up in the Character cards.  In addition to a name and an action, each card is dedicated to a Roman God.  Each God rewards the card’s owner with victory points at the end of the game.  For example, Mars delivers points for colonists placed on the board.  Each Character dedicated to Mars gives two points per colonist, so a player with all six colonists on the board at the end of the game and five Characters devoted to Mars will score thirty points.  Thus, since the cards are effectively multipliers, in general, the strategy is to try to excel in one area rather than try to do a little bit of everything, but that is something that is definitely easier said than done.

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

With two copies of the game available and everyone keen to play it, we decided to split into two groups, both playing Concordia and both adding the Salsa expansion.  This is “Salsa” as in “Salt” rather than the Spanish “Sauce” or the Latin dance, so in addition to the standard resources of brick, wheat, tools, wine and cloth, we also had salt.  Salt is “wild”, so can be used as anything and adds some peculiarities to the scoring, but otherwise doesn’t make a huge difference to the game.  Both groups also chose to use the new Hispania board which includes the Iberia peninsula as well as the North Africa and Italian coast.  The biggest change to the base game, however, was the introduction of the Forum and associated Forum tiles.  These tiles come in two flavours, blue, which are perpetual, and green, which offer an instant, one-off reward.  Each player can choose one from a starting hand of two at the beginning of the game, but otherwise, these are taken when players play the Tribune card.  Since players have a larger choice of available cards if they are picking up more cards, and these Forum tiles can be quite powerful, this is another driver towards efficient use of Character cards.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy, Blue and Red  got going first.  Burgundy chose the Claudius Pompeius Forum tile (which gave him an extra opportunity to sell whenever he was playing the Prefect card); Blue chose Gaius Mercellus (who yielded an extra sestertii for every item she sold), and Red kept Titus Valerius (who enabled her to exchange any other commodity for salt when she played her Tribune card).  Burgundy went first and moved one of his colonists inland north-east settling in a brick producing city.  The close proximity of the two nearest brick sources meant that this made it very difficult for anyone else to get into brick production.  Consequently, when Blue went next, she headed north-east into Gallia, where there was wine and cloth to be had, and eventually brick, though that would take a few turns.  This left Red to head towards the sun in the south of Spain.

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

Blue started out with lots of cash, but no idea what to do with it, on the other hand, Burgundy knew exactly what he wanted to do but couldn’t find the money to do it.  Red and Blue were relatively unfamiliar with the game so opted for the scatter-gun approach, while Burgundy was picking up as many cards as he could.  Before long Red and Blue got away from the congestion of the Iberian peninsula, with Red taking over North Africa and Blue spreading to Corsica and Sardinia and across to the Amalfi Coast.  This race to place settlements eventually dried up when Red found more fun activating Africa to pick up lots of goods.  Since one of the end game triggers is a player running out of “houses”, Blue had to decide whether to end the game early by placing her last few “houses” or whether to try to push forward on other frontiers.  Something told her that she was too far behind in collecting cards, so she decided to take a break from building and try to maximise points elsewhere, starting by buying as many cards as she could and then getting all her colonists onto the board.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

With only a couple of cards left in the market, Blue placed her final houses and triggered the end of the game.  As suggested in the rules, we went through each of the Gods in turn, though with Burgundy’s enormous pile of cards, it all looked like it was going to be more a measure of how much he was going to win by.  As we added together the totals, every time Blue picked up points, Burgundy took more and Red languished at the back.  Before long, Burgundy had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead.  When Mercurius was scored Blue’s large number of settlements began to tell, and with a lot of Character cards devoted to Mars and all six colonists on the board, Blue finally took the lead.  With only Minerva to  go, Blue looked to have taken it, then we all realised how many Specialist cards Red had.  With all her high scoring Specialist cards and a lot of settlements in high value production cities (inc. lots of Salt which counted for each of them) it looked like she would take it the lead.  In that final scoring phase Red picked up a massive thirty-nine points, but sadly it wasn’t quite enough, and with Blue taking the extra seven points for placing all her settlements, she was the clear winner, though there was just four points between second and third place.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, set-up and rules explanation took a little longer, but they were soon under way too.  Coincidentally, two of the Forum tiles chosen were the same –  Claudius Pompeius (chosen by Burgundy and Green which gave them an extra opportunity to sell goods) and Gaius Mercellus (chosen by Purple and Blue and which gave an extra sestertii for every item sold).  Black, on the other hand, took Appius Arcadius which gave him the ability to move three spaces instead of two – potentially very powerful, especially in the early part of the game.  Purple began followed by Black, leaving Green with a much more restricted choice, but gradually all three began their expansion across the board producing and trading as they went.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

In contrast to the game on the next table, the players used their Forum tile powers only rarely.  Green made good use of his bonus tile several times early in the game, but he used it much less later on, when having the goods was more important than having the money.  Purple used her bonus only a small number of times and Black did not use his bonus tile until almost the very end of the game, but then he used it to good effect to jump two spaces and build in a city that Green had his eye on.  The game was probably about two thirds through when Green moved his ship and, unintentionally he claims, blocked Purple.  And there he left it until the end of the game as his card collection action enabled him to buy a new ship which was much better placed to move efficiently to the other side of the board.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Green took every opportunity to encourage his “Elvis-meeples” to leave the warehouse, but while Purple occasionally added colonists to the board, black persisted with only his starting two throughout the entire game.  Eventually, Green ended the game by buying the remaining character cards.  While Purple found she could do nothing in her final turn to increase her score, Black pulled a master stroke and used a special card to buy all four of his remaining colonists in one go, thus increasing each of his Mars scoring cards by eight, and since he had three of them this gave him a massive twenty-four points more from just one turn.  It wasn’t enough though; the scores were all close, but Green finished twenty-four points ahead of Black largely thanks to the fact that he’d managed to get a settlement in each region and had plenty of scoring cards to go with it.

ConcordiaSalsa005
– Image by boardGOATS

While Black, Purple and Green put everything away, Burgundy, Blue and Red began the inevitable discussion of the game.  We all enjoyed the game, but Concordia is probably one of Burgundy’s all-time favourites, as a result he has played it quite a bit.  There is no question that this familiarity helped when choosing which character cards to buy and when,.  This is unquestionably an advantage as it is clear that the only real strategy in the game is to try to match the Character cards to the cities and perhaps specialise in one direction.  That said, there are many ways that this can be done and in practice, it is really quite difficult to it do well.  Although for Blue theme is not the most important factor in a game, she feels it should be there to help players remember the rules.  In Concordia, however, Blue felt that the scoring was a little arbitrary making the game feel just a little bit abstract.  Red also enjoyed the game, but felt that the game was slow to get started and with such a beautiful map, it seemed a shame that it took so long before really exploring it.  On the whole though, we were all in agreement that it was a very good game that needed playing several times, and we were all very willing to give it another go soon.

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes experience pays, sometimes less so.

17th May 2016

Red and Blue were late arriving, so while they fed on lamb burger and chips, everyone else settled down to a quick game of Sushi Go! (with added Soy Sauce). This is probably the quickest and simplest of the drafting games.  Drafting is very simple mechanism:  everyone begins with a hand of cards and simultaneously chooses one and passes the rest on.  Once the cards have been revealed, players pick up the hand they’ve been given and again choose a card before passing the hand on.  In this way the hands progressively get smaller with players adding cards to their display.  It is a mechanism used to great effect in more complex games like 7 Wonders and Between Two Cities, where other mechanisms are added to give the game more substance (engine building and semi-cooperative tile laying in these two examples).  In Sushi Go!, the aim of the game is to collect sets of cards, with points awarded for different achievements depending on the type of card.  For example, the player to collect the most maki rolls scores six points while anyone who collects three sashimi gets ten and so on.

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

Everyone except Burgundy did reasonably well in the first round, with Green getting his nose in front thanks to some well-timed wasabi and a pair of tempura while Purple and Pine fought for the maki roll bonus.  In the second round Burgundy managed reduce his deficit, and Green’s lead took a big dent.  With Black as his main threat, however, Green felt sure he had the situation well under control as he was sat to Black’s left so was the one passing him cards in the last round.  In the end, despite everything, it was a really tight game with almost everyone scoring thirty points before the puddings were evaluated.  As the only one, Burgundy paid the full price for failing to pick up a single pudding card.  In contrast, because of the seating order in the last round Green had been able to ensure that Black was unable to challenge him for the title of “Pudding King” leaving Green the winner by a healthy margin.

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

With the lamb burgers dealt with, we moved onto our “Feature Game” which was Cargo Noir.  We had two copies, so decide to set them up side by side so we could all play.  This game is nearly ten years old and hasn’t been as popular as other games by Days of Wonder, so most of us had not played it before.  The exact reason for the lack of enthusiasm could be the artwork which is 1950s style and quite drab in colour, so is perhaps less appealing than, for example the highly successful Ticket to Ride and Small World.  Perhaps more significant though is the game play which appears to have a bit of “Marmite Factor” with some people raving about it while others seem to loath it with equal passion.  This is curious because at it’s heart, Cargo Noir is just an auction game, built around set collecting, but with a little bit of bite.

Cargo Noir
– Image by BGG contributor fabricefab

At the beginning of the game each player has three ships and at the start of their turn, each ship will be located at one of the harbours, in the casino and the black market.  On their turn, the first evaluate the status of each of their ships and resolve any auctions; then they trade any sets of goods for cards (which are worth victory points at the end of the game), before finally repositioning any left over ships.  So, like lots of games, Cargo Noir is basically about turning money into points.  Aside from the starting handful of money, the only other source is the casino and ships placed there yield two coins (yes, it IS the only casino in the world that gives out money!).  These can be used to bid for the goods available in the harbours.

Cargo Noir
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ronster0

Each ship can visit one harbour and takes with them a stack of money.  If it is the only ship in the harbour at the start of the players next turn, then the player gets all the goods laid out in the harbour.  If they are not alone, the player can either leave the ship there and add enough money to the stack to win the current bid, or remove the ship from the board taking nothing.  Thus, the trick is to bid enough to keep others away, but not enough to risk bankruptcy.  The final location ships can visit is the black market, which enables players to either trade one of their existing commodities for one on display, or to draw a free tile at random from the bag which can be very useful as it gives a tile without spending money.  Players get “credits” (but no money) for sets goods where all the tiles are either all the same or all different.  Since larger sets give more “credits”, the ability to trade a commodity can enable players to buy more valuable cards.

Cargo Noir
– Image by BGG contributor DaveyJJ

There are some serious limitations for players to consider, for example at the start of the game each player can only carry forward a maximum of six goods to the next round – everything else must be sold.  Similarly, having three ships can be seriously restrictive.  So, some of the victory cards yield fewer points at the end of the game, but give smugglers an edge during it, providing extra cargo ships for example, or giving them access to a warehouse to store extra goods enabling them to build up more credits and buy more valuable cards.  Players who choose to buy a syndicate card can even get money from the bank when they withdraw from a bidding war, which has the potential to provide a nice little earner while damaging opponents, if used wisely.  The game lasts a fixed number of rounds (depending on the number of players) and the player with the most points wins.

Cargo Noir
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

With two copies and seven of us (most of whom were unfamiliar with it), we decided to split into two groups both playing the same game.  In the four player game, Pine (who started) got off to a flying start while everyone else struggled, getting caught in bidding wars.  A few rounds in, Red briefly got her nose in front, but Pine was better positioned and galloped away.  As the game came to a close, Blue fought her way back into the game quickly buying two extra ships and engaging in a “collect as much as possible and sell immediately” approach which sort of worked, but it was too little too late.  Meanwhile, Green collected a massive amount of uranium together, but couldn’t quite make enough on the last round to make a big impact leaving Pine to win with a healthy margin despite finishing with just four ships.

Cargo Noir
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

The other game was very close with Purple doing her best to scupper the plans of Burgundy and Black, but doing more damage to herself in the process.  The game finished with Burgundy taking it by just five points which was particularly galling for Black as he was one coin away from getting the additional five he needed for the draw.  There was a lot of discussion as to whether we liked the game.  Green was of the opinion that there was too much downtime and it was time you couldn’t do very much with as the previous player had the ability to completely upset any plans made in advance.  Red also had misgivings, saying she quite liked it, but wouldn’t bother to go out and buy a copy; Blue commented that as she already had a copy the question was more whether it should be kept, and it would certainly stay for a while yet.  Pine on the other hand, had really enjoyed it (despite the faces he pulled at the start), but in general, consensus seemed to be that it was “OK”, even “quite nice”, but not a “great game”.  It was also perhaps better with three than four and the downtime would have been very significant if playing with five.

Cargo Noir
– Image by BGG contributor thornatron

Green decided to get an early night so the rest of us decided to finish with an older, large group game, Saboteur. This is a bit of an old favourite, and is one of the original hidden traitor/social deduction games.  The idea is that each player is either a Dwarf or a Saboteur and players take it in turns to play cards with the Dwarves aiming to get 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 tunnels come in different shapes and must be played in the correct orientation, so Dwarves try to push the path in the right direction, while Saboteurs try to play disruptive cards while trying to look like they’ve done the best they can with the hand available.  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.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

We usually play with a few house-rules.  The rules suggest that the game should be played over three “rounds” with the winning team semi-randomly receiving “gold” cards; the overall winner is then the player whose gold cards depict the most gold pieces.  Now, we find that the game can sometimes outstay its welcome and the addition of the gold at the end of the rounds feels like an attempt to make more out of the game, but in actuality just makes it more frustrating as there is a large amount of randomness in their allocation.  So firstly we dispense with this aspect altogether and treat each round as a game in its own right.  That way, we can play one or two games/rounds and then move on, or play extras if everyone is enjoying themselves or time dictates.  Secondly, the teams are drawn from a pool cards so that there is an unknown number of Saboteurs around.  Although it’s nice to have this additional uncertainty, we’ve always found (particularly with six players) that the minimum number of Saboteurs makes the game very easy for the Dwarves, so we tend to play with a fixed number of Saboteurs.  This time, we debated whether to add the expansion, Saboteur 2, but decided against it as the characters seemed to be completely random draw and we didn’t really have time to think about the implications properly – maybe next time.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

The first “game” was very cagey with everyone looking very “saboteur-y” and everyone accusing everyone else of “saboteur behaviour”.  In the event, it turned out that all the dwarves had poor hands, and it was fairly clear that the Saboteurs had won when first Pine and then Blue outed themselves to ensure that the Dwarves didn’t make it home.  The accusations were already flying about as the cards were being dealt out with Pine commenting that it was highly unlikely that he would be a Saboteur twice in a row and even more unlikely that Blue would be too.  This quickly degenerated into a discussion of probability and how the probability was actually exactly the same as last time as the two events were independent, even though the probability of the identical set of Saboteurs is relatively unlikely.  Unlikely it may have been, but this time it happened.  In an effort to do something different and in the hope that her behaviour would look different, Blue outed Pine as a Saboteur since everyone was already somehow suspicious.  Nobody really fell for it however, and it was a fairly easy win for the Dwarves.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Since we’d had two games with the same Saboteurs, we decided to play a third.  This time things were going reasonably well for the Saboteurs as the Dwarves were struggling with poor cards again.  Red was already looking shifty, so when the Dwarves suddenly got it together and headed in the right direction quickly, nobody was terribly surprised when she outed herself because by playing a “rockfall” card. As she drowned under a hailstorm of “broken tool” cards, Red declared that the other Saboteur was going to have to pull their finger out or it would be all over.  Black was sat to her left, but miscounted the distance to the gold and played a map card.  This left Purple and Pine to finish the game and everyone question why Black hadn’t played his rockfall card, especially Red who was quite vehement in her criticism of Saboteurs who don’t pull their weight!  With that, much hilarity ensued and eventually everyone headed home.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

Learning Outcome:  If you are going to try to win, don’t leave it too late.

12th January 2016

With Red, Magenta and Blue moaning about work and only Burgundy waiting for real food, when Pine rolled up we began straight away with our “Feature Game”, the light filler, Las Vegas. This is a very simple dice game, but actually quite a lot of fun.  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 of over $50,000, drawn at random from a deck of money.  Thus, each jackpot could be anything from $50,000 to $180,000 and comprise one to five notes.  On their turn, players must use all the dice of one number to bet on the casino of that number.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card. The player with the most money after four rounds is the winner.  The snag is that before any money is handed out, any dice leading to a draw are removed. It is this rule that makes the game interesting, raising the decisions above the trivial and, in our view, making it a better and much more fun game than Qwixx which we played two weeks ago.  Although the game only plays five (without the Boulevard expansion), Blue had added an extra set of purple dice just in case, so when Green walked in just before the game started, he was able to join in.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the early part of the round, each player has to decide whether to conserve dice or whether to make a statement and go in big.  As the round progresses, players must choose where to place their bets then try to finesse their position before being forced to place their last die or dice based solely on chance.  The factors that go into the decision include the value of the rewards available, the current position and the number of notes as well as the probabilities of other players interfering.  The probabilities are non-trivial too, because rolling multiples can change the number of dice available for the next roll.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

In the first round, everyone made the same mistake and committed too many dice too early, but after that, we all got the hang of it and the game was quite close.  Players keep their winnings hidden, but since everyone had had rounds with lean pickings as well as generous ones, we all felt we were in with a chance.  The last round began with it all to play for and everyone taking it in turns to roll lots of sixes.  At the end of the game, we announced our totals in turn:  Green finished with $260,000, Pine with $250,000, Burgundy and Blue tied with £270,000, but Magenta just pipped them with $280,000.  Red, however, took longer to count up her cash for good reason and finished well clear with $360,000.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

With the arrival of Black and Purple, we decided to split into two groups.  The only game that everyone really wanted to play was Isle of Sky: From Chieftain to King, so since we only had the one copy, five went for that leaving the three others to find something else to play.  Isle of Skye is a tile laying game where players play a sort of solitaire Carcassonne, bidding for tiles and scoring a the end of each of the six rounds.  We’ve only played the game once on a Tuesday in November, but it has proven to be very popular at other local meetings too, so everyone playing had played before and the game was quick to get going.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Burgundy had played it a few times and, unusually, generally seems to struggle with this game.  This time he started well, and took the lead from the start, unfortunately however, he struggled to pick up scrolls, so suffered in the end game scoring.  One of the peculiarities of this game is the fact that from round three, at the start of the round players get one extra gold coin per player in front of them on the score track, increasing to four extra coins by the final round.  This really adds up, and a player who takes advantage of this bonus can have a large impact on the score track.  Black made hay on the bonus sitting at the back for most of the game, however, he failed to use the gold and finished with fifty-one unspent coins.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Punkin312

Between Burgundy at the front and Black at the rear, Purple, Pine and Magenta were jostling for position.  Without sheep and cattle featuring strongly in the scoring tiles this time, Pine felt he would struggle, but he made a surge for the front in the final scoring.  Magenta who had spent a lot of the game at the back of the pack with Black gradually moved through the field in the later rounds and finished four ahead of Burgundy in joint first with Pine on sixty-six, with Pine taking it on the tie-breaker.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Blue, Green and Red were playing an aggressive game of Citadels.  This is a slightly older, role selection game.  Everyone starts with a hand of district cards and the start player, “The King”, also has a hand of eight Character cards.   The Character cards are shuffled and one is placed face down blind.  The King can then choose one Character card and pass the rest on to the next player.  The cards are drafted in this way until (in the three player game) everyone has two and the remaining card joins the first card, face down to one side.  Thus, each player has two Character cards and each Character card has a number and a special ability.  “The King” then calls the characters in turn, by number and name, and the player who has that card then immediately carries out their turn.

Citadels
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor themilkcrate

A turn consists of either taking money or drawing two cards from the deck, then paying the monetary cost to build one of the district cards from their hand.  The game ends at the end of the round in which a player builds his eighth district card.  The scores are then added up with players receiving points for their buildings equalling the total cost to build them, plus bonuses for being the first player to build eight district cards, bonuses for having at least one district in each of the five colours and for achieving a total of eight buildings before the game ends.  We played with some of the Characters from the Dark City expansion so “The Witch” replaced “The Assassin”, “The Tax Collector” replaced “The Thief” and “The Navigator” replaced “The Architect”.  We also chose a random selection of the valuable “purple buildings”, a factor that turned out to be quite critical to the game play in the end.

Citadels
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Nodens77

Blue took an early lead, building a couple of “purple buildings”, in particular, the very annoying Ball Room.  The “purple buildings are expensive to build, but generally come with some sort of special power, in the case of the Ball Room, if the owner is also The King, every player must say “Thanks, Your Excellency” before taking their turn otherwise it is forfeit.  Without “The Thief” in play, Blue was able to let her money build up and was hoping to build the Library, when Red played “The Magician” and swapped hands with her.  Unimpressed, in the next round Blue played the same trick, giving Red the apparently rather useless Armory in exchange.  To make sure Red didn’t nick it back, Blue built the Library quickly, her third purple building giving her a healthy lead though she, like Green was struggling to get the blue cards she wanted to pick up the bonus for having a building of each colour.  Green meanwhile was having other problems of his own, compounded by the fact that he forgot to be obsequious and therefore lost a turn.

Citadels
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Red made persistent assaults on Blue, but it was when Blue had six district cards built and was trying to find a way to close out the game that Red decided to use that “rather useless Armory” to destroy Blue’s valuable Library.   Discussion ensued as Blue had originally decided to ditch the Armory as it was too restrictive, but Red wasn’t so sure.  Green resorted to looking it up on-line and found a wealth of discussion none of which really answered our questions.  After a brief hiatus, we decided to let Red go ahead as Blue was so far in front, although it wasn’t that far as it turned out.  Both Green and Blue hadn’t seen a blue district card all game so missed out on the three point bonus and, as Red completed her eighth building first, she also took an extra two points for that, finishing on thirty-seven.  Green and Blue tied for second place though arguably Green should not have been able to take his last turn since he forgot to “Thank, Her Excellency” again…

Citadels
– Image by boardGOATS taken from boardgamegeek.com

Citadels is one of those rare games that plays a wide player count, nominally from two to eight players.  However, while there is a consensus that it does not play all numbers equally well, the on-line jury is still out as to where its “sweet spot” is.  In fact, some people appear to think it is best with small numbers, while others prefer it with more players.  We’ve played Citadels a few times on a Tuesday, a couple of times with just two players, but also with five.  Blue and Green had been involved on each occasion and Blue in particular had quite enjoyed the game with just two players, but had hated it with five.  With two she felt it was a game where players could really try to get inside the head of their opponent whereas with five she felt it was horribly chaotic and difficult to follow what was going on.  Knowing this, Green had thought three might have some of the features of the head-to-head game while adding more dimension to the game play and, despite losing, Blue agreed, that three was an excellent number of players for this game.

Citadels
– Image by BGG contributor lolcese

While Citadels was finishing, the other players filled the time with a couple of rounds of an old favourite, Dobble.  The first round was a warm up which Magenta ducked out of as she has a bit of a reputation as the “Dobble Queen”.  This was played with the conventional “Towering Inferno” variant, where players call out matches and grab cards from the central pile.  In the second round, Magenta joined in so “The Poisoned Gift” variant was chosen, otherwise known as “Gang up on Magenta”.  In this version, instead of grabbing cards from the middle for yourself, you match them and stick them on someone else’s pile (usually Magenta’s), with the aim to finish with as few cards as possible.  Everyone accordingly rained cards down on Magenta who duly lost with Black winning by one from Pine and Burgundy.

Dobble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Time was ticking on, so we decided to play a quick game of Saboteur.  This is a team game where you don’t know who your team mates are.  With eight players, there is a team of five or six Dwarves trying to find the treasure, and two or three Saboteurs, trying to stop them.  On their turn, the active player can play a tunnel card to progress towards the three possible treasure locations, play an action card or discard a card face down (a very Saboteur-like action).  The action cards come in a variety of flavours:  broken tool cards that are played in front of other players and prevent them from laying tunnel cards; tool cards than cancel out broken tool cards; map cards that allow players to look at one of the possible treasure locations to see whether it contains the gold or not, as well as rockfall cards that allow players to remove tunnel cards that have already been placed.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The game is supposed to consist of three rounds with the winning team taking prize cards, however, last time we played, we decided that the addition of prizes meant the game inevitably outstayed its welcome.  We felt it would be better to play one round, and if we wanted, play a second, but treat them as separate games, which is exactly what happened this time.  In the first “game”, Magenta and Purple claimed the gold was at one side, while Black and Blue claimed it was in the middle – clearly we had two of our Saboteurs, but which pair looked guilty?

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

After a couple of rounds, Magenta showed her true colours and played a broken tool card in a Saboteur-like manner and she and Purple were promptly stomped on.  Suitably, after everyone had doubted him for so long, Black was the one to finally find the gold.  Green had had enough and headed off, but Pine, Red and Magenta agreed to stay for one more go.  This time Red decided to have a go at Pine from the very start – maybe it was the pointiness of his ears or the way he carried his pick axe, but she claimed he was definitely a Saboteur.  Everyone else was less quick to condemn, and before long it became clear that it was Red and Purple (again!) who were guilty and, although it was closer, the Dwarves still got to the gold first.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

With people leaving, there was just time for Black, Purple, Burgundy and Blue to squeeze in a quick game of The Game.  We started dreadfully, and two piles were very quickly closed off.  Somehow we managed to keep going though and, despite an appalling run of luck and a couple of us making dodgy decisions, Black was eventually able to draw the last card from the deck.  Playing just one card at a time made things a little easier, but we still had over twenty cards to get rid of.  Sadly, it was not to be; the poor start had done its damage and we finished with a total of eleven cards in hand.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  When a game is *that* popular, bring it again!

Boardgames in the News: The Best Games Featuring Maps

The “Brilliant Maps” Blog recently listed what it considered “The 28 Best Map Based Strategy Board Games You’ve Probably Never Played“.  Leaving aside the fact that most dedicated gamers will have played many of them, how valid is this list?  On closer inspection it turns out that the list is really just the top twenty-eight games listed on BoardGameGeek.com (BGG) that happen to have a map for the board.  As such, it makes no subjective judgement on the quality of the map and is simply a list of the best games according to BoardGameGeek that feature a map.

Twilight Struggle
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor killy9999

For example, the game with the highest rating on BoardGameGeek.com is Twilight Struggle which is a Euro/war game hybrid and is therefore played on a map.  The map is not particularly picturesque, however, though for those old enough to remember, its spartan nature is strongly evocative of the Cold War setting.  Is it a great map though?  It certainly captures the theme of the game and perhaps, as such, it is indeed a great map.

Terra Mystica
– Image by BGG contributor Verkisto

Unsurprisingly, many of the games mentioned are war games.  There are a fair number of Euro games too though:  high on the list are Terra Mystica at number two, Brass at four and Power Grid at six.  Number ten on the list is Concordia and eleven is El Grande – a game that is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year.  Further down are Tigris and Euphrates, Steam, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Carcassonne and finally, just sneaking onto the list, The Settlers of Catan (or Catan as we are now supposed to call it).  All these games indeed include maps of some description, but overwhelmingly, they are also all well-established “classic” games.  Are they the best maps though?

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

There are some stunningly beautiful games that haven’t made the list, for example, Amerigo is played on a beautiful seascape and Lancaster includes a lovely map of the England.  How do we define “map-based game” however?  Clearly, a map is is a two-dimensional play space so that excludes games where the play-area is predominantly linear i.e. “a track”.  But what about games where the map is produced as the game is played?  If Carcassonne is considered a map game, other games where the board is built during the play should also be included, like Saboteur and Takenoko.  What about one of our favourite games at boardGOATS, Keyflower?  In this game, players buy tiles and then use them to build their own personal little village map.  Should this be included too?

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately, none of this really matters of course:  a game is a game and it all comes down to how much people enjoy playing it.  One thing is clear though, while a game can be good in spite of the rendering, playing with beautiful components can only enhance the boardgame experience.

Carcassonne
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Topdecker

28th July 2015

We started the evening splitting into three groups, the first of which played Machi Koro.  This was the “Feature Gamea couple of months back when it received a nomination for the coveted German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award.  In essence, it is an engine building game with elements taken from The Settlers of Catan and Dominion.  Like Settlers, on their turn players first roll one or two dice, which yield resources, in this case money.  Players then use their money to buy cards like Dominion.  Each card is numbered and provides money, sometimes when the owner rolls, sometimes when someone else does, with the amount sometimes depending on the other cards a player has.

Machi Koro
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Players have five special buildings costing varying amounts and the winner is the first player to build all of them.  Red, Yellow, Orange and Cyan started setting up while people finished eating, but Red emigrated to play the hidden traitor game, Saboteur, with Teal and Violet when they arrived.  This is one of those little games that everyone always enjoys playing and plays lots of people well.  With only three players, it’s possible to have one bad dwarf, or none at all which makes everyone very twitchy, and as usual, accusations abounded.  After three rounds, Teal ran out the winner with five gold.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

Machi Koro and Saboteur finished together to the two groups coalesced to play Colt Express.  This had been the “Feature Game”, last time, however, none of this group had been available to play.  Red was particularly keen to give it a go as it has a lot in common with one of her favourite games, Walk the Plank!.  This style of game is sometimes refereed to as a “programming game” because players play all the cards and only after everyone has played cards, do they get to action the cards.  The effect of this is semi-organised chaos as players try to make plans to take care of all eventualities, and then find that by the time they get round to carrying out the actions the situation has completely changed and is nothing like they would have predicted.  This time, Orange took the $1,000 for the sharpest shooter and Cyan took the strongbox.  Despite this, the best thief turned out to be Yellow who finished with $2,700 some way ahead of Cyan in second place.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Meanwhile, everyone else had been playing the “Feature Game”, which was Last Will.  This is basically the boardgame equivalent of the 1985 film “Brewster’s Millions”.  The story goes that in his last will, a rich gentleman stated that all of his millions would go to the nephew who could enjoy money the most.  In order to find out who that would be, each player starts with a large amount of money, in this case £70, and whoever spends it first and declares bankruptcy is the rightful heir, and therefore the winner.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor PaulGrogan

The game is played over a maximum of seven rounds each comprising three phases.  First, starting with the start player, everyone chooses the characteristics of their turn for the coming round from a fixed list.  These include the number of cards they will get at the start of the round, the number of “Errand Boys” they will be able to place, the number of Actions they will get and where they will go in the turn order.  For example, a player may choose to go first when placing Errand Boys, but will then only get one card at the start of the round and crucially, only one Action.  On the other hand, a player may choose to sacrifice position in the turn order, draw no cards, only place one Errand Boy, but receive four Actions.  Since all but two cards are discarded at the end of the round and Actions must be used or lost, this decision is critical.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Next, in the revised turn order, players take it in turns to place one Errand Boy before placing their second if applicable.  Errand Boys are important as they allow players to control the cards they are drawing as well as manipulate the housing market and increase the space on their player board.  The heart of the game is the cards, however, which are played in three different ways:  as a one off (white bordered cards); on a player’s board (black bordered cards) or as a modifier (slate bordered cards) which enable players to spend more when black or white bordered cards.  Thus, White bordered cards are event cards which cost a combination of money and Actions to play, but once played, are discarded.  Black bordered cards cost at least one Action to play, but are kept and can be activated once in each round.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Black bordered cards come in three different types: “Expenses” which allow players to spend money; “Helpers” which additionally allow give players some sort of permanent bonus, and “Properties” which are by far the most complex cards in the game.  Properties are an excellent way of spending money as they are bought for a given amount and will either depreciate every round, or will require maintenance which can be expensive. Unfortunately, players cannot declare bankruptcy if they have property and must sell them.  This is where the property market comes in:  one of the possible errands is to adjust the property market, so if a property is bought when the market is high and sold when it is low, this is another possible avenue for losing money.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bswihart

At the end of the round, everyone reduces their hand to just two cards and loses any left-over actions, which puts players under a lot of pressure as it makes it very hard to plan.  So the game is an unusual mixture of timing, building card combinations, strategy and tactics.  Only Blue had played it before and that was a long time ago, so it took a long time to explain the rules and make sure that everyone understood how the cards worked.  Even then, there were a lot of misunderstandings.  Burgundy had also read the rules quite carefully as well though and mostly managed to keep everyone on track.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Green (as the last person to the bar and therefore the last person to buy something) went first and started out with an “Old Friend” which gave him an extra action.  Burgundy went for a “lots and lots of cards which don’t cost an Action to activate” strategy while Black and Purple went into the properties market.  Meanwhile, Blue’s starting cards favoured buying farms, but by the end of the first round it was becoming clear that the cards she needed weren’t there and an Events strategy would probably be better.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Towards the end of the fourth round it was becoming obvious that Burgundy’s preparation (reading the rules) was paying dividends as he was systematically spending more than £12 per round – the amount needed to force an early finish to the game.  Blue on the other hand was trying to work out why her pile of poker chips didn’t seem to be decreasing.  By the end of the fifth round it was clear that Green was pressing Burgundy hard and there would only be one more round.  A quick bit of maths also suggested that there had been a “banking error”.  Although it would normally be in Blue’s favour, unfortunately, as this is game where players are trying to lose money, it didn’t help her.  Since she had been in charge of the poker chips though, it could only have been her own fault.

Poker Chips
– Image by boardGOATS

The game came to an end in round six when Green ran out of chips.  This left him with a final total of zero and everyone else trying to make the best of the final round.  Black and Purple tried selling off their properties and Blue held another couple of expensive parties, but it was Burgundy who spent £20 to finish the winner with £13 of debt.  As we put the game away, we agreed that it was quite an unusual game, though quite complicated, especially on the first play.  We also all felt that it was the sort of game that would benefit from the familiarity with the cards that comes from repeated plays, so it is quite likely that we’ll play it again soon.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor CellarDoor

With everyone else gone, there was just time for a few quick rounds of Love Letter.  This is a game we played a lot a year or so ago, but not so much recently.  The first of the so-called “micro games” it is played with just sixteen cards.  Each player starts with one card and on their turn, draws a second card and then plays one of them.  Each card has a value (one to eight) and an action (discard a card, swap cards with another player, compare cards, etc. etc.).  The object of the game is to have the highest card when the deck has been exhausted or, be the last person remaining, which ever is soonest.  For variety, we played with Green’s much loved, very battered, previously lost but recently re-found, home-made, “Hobbit” themed deck, complete with tiny gold rings.  So, the first problem was remembering what all the cards did and then trying to match them to the new characters…  With five, we played until the first player had two rings – everyone got one except Burgundy before Black won a second round and finished as the winner.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Spending money is not quite as easy as you think.

Boardgames in the News: The Past, Present and Future of Z-man Games

The summer is now here which means conferences and take-overs.  Last summer, Asmodée acquired Days of Wonder and then followed it with Fantasy Flight Games, Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games. Last week, Canadian company F2Z Entertainment announced the purchase of the U.S. company Plaid Hat Games (who are responsible for Dead of Winter and Summoner Wars).  Most people in the UK will have no idea who F2Z Entertainment are, however, they are the parent company of Pretzel Games, but perhaps more significantly, they also own Filosofia Éditions who in turn bought Z-Man Games four years ago.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image by BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Z-Man Games was created in 1999 by New Yorker, Zev Shlasinger, for the sole purpose of reviving Shadowfist, the multiplayer Collectable Card Game.  From then on, the company produced a number of other American style games, including Grave Robbers from Outer Space and Ideology: The War of Ideas.  The company had a much more significant impact on Euro-games, however, by introducing many German games to the United States.  Z-man was one of the first companies to do this by actively engaging with the original European manufacturer and providing English translations.  The first game to receive this treatment was Ursuppe (a.k.a. Primordial Soup) designed and produced by Doris & Frank.   At the time, this was a very highly regarded game and the success of this reproduction quickly led to English editions of games like Santiago, Saboteur and No Thanks!.

Ursuppe (a.k.a. Primordial Soup)
– Image used with permission from BGG contributor samoan_jo

In 2007, Agricola was released in Germany to great acclaim, but as the cards are very text-heavy, it was essentially unplayable by non-native speakers.  The problem with this game was the huge number of wooden pieces adding to the expense of producing a new edition.  At the time, heavy Euro-games were perceived as a niche market and nobody was prepared to risk the capital outlay for such an expensive game.  Z-Man were only a small company and were already engaged on their own projects including the production of what was to become another hit, Pandemic, and could not take the risk either.  In the end, amid much controversy, Zev Shlasinger decided to gauge the interest of the community with one of the first boardgame pre-orders and the rest, as they say, is history.  So the impact of Z-Man on the history of modern boardgames highly significant, and arguably, they were the forerunner of the current KickStarter Craze.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor Simulacrum

In 2011, Z-Man Games was taken over by the French-Canadian distributor, Filosofia Éditions.  With the take-over of Plaid Hat Games last week, the company now has the “cradle to grave” of the boardgame market:  creation, publishing and distribution.  So in that sense, the deal is clearly a sensible one.  However, Z-Man Games used to be a by-word for exceptional customer service and following the take-over by Filosofia, this reputation was tarnished.  Although it seems to be picking up again, this demonstrates one of the downsides of this streamlining of the market.  More serious however, is the potential loss of innovation that comes from  agglomeration, particularly on a large scale.  That said, so far at least, all the “studios” that are part of the Asmodée group have kept their identity – the boardgamer in the pub would have no idea that Fantasy Flight Games and Days of Wonder are part of the same company.  Only time will tell whether we have seen the pinnacle of the golden age of boardgames or whether there is even better still to come.

Z-man Games
– Image by marshallgames.co.uk

27th January 2015

We started off with our “Feature Game”, which was the card game, SaboteurWe’ve played it a few times before, but basically the idea is that the group is split into two teams:  Dwarves and Saboteurs.  The aim of the game for the Dwarves is to lay cards forming a tunnel that leads to the gold, whereas the Saboteurs job is to stop them.  So players take it in turns to play cards.  These cards could be tunnel cards, which are added to the play area and, although they generally extend the tunnel, there are also dead-ends which can be used by Saboteurs to upset the Good Little Dwarves’ plans.  Alternatively, there are action cards, which come in several types.  There are broken tool cards, which allow players to prevent other players from laying path cards (useful if you suspect there is a Saboteur about); mended tools which are used to repair broken tools (useful when a Saboteur has been trying to slow everyone down by smashing up their tools); map cards (useful when a nasty Saboteur has been misleading everyone telling them the gold is in the wrong place), and rock-fall cards which can be used to remove tunnel cards (useful when an evil Saboteur has been causing havoc).  The round ends when the draw deck is depleted and gold cards are allocated to the winning side.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

As people arrived, Blue explained the game to the people unfamiliar with it and pointed out that, despite his protestations, Green was always a Saboteur.  At which point, in walked Green, commenting, “Whatever Blue may have said, I’m NOT always the Saboteur…!”  Needless to say, it quickly became apparent that Green was very definitely a Saboteur, but despite his best efforts (assisted by Yellow and Cerise), the dwarves found the gold, though it was pretty close at the end, coming down to the last few cards.  The second round was under-way with Burgundy indicating that the central target card was gold (a fact disputed by Grey) when Black and Purple arrived.  Since they’d missed the start they began a game of Patchwork.  This is a recently released two-player game where players compete to build the most aesthetic (and high-scoring) patchwork quilt, buying tetris-like patches with buttons.  The patches are laid out in a circle round the central time board, with a cotton reel marking the start.  On their turn players can purchase one of the three patches immediately following the cotton reel; they then pay the cost in buttons shown on the patch, and then add it to their personal “quilt board”.  In addition to the cost in buttons, the player must also advance their time token on the central time track: if the active player’s time token is behind or on top of the other player’s time token, then they take another turn, otherwise play passes to the opponent.

Patchwork
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Percatron

Instead of purchasing a patch, players can also pass, in which case, they move their time token to the space immediately in front of their opponent’s time token and take one button from the bank for each space moved.  Players can place their patches anywhere on their quilt so long as it doesn’t overlap any other patches.  This is not the only way to get buttons; in addition to a button cost and a time cost, each patch also features 0-3 buttons.  When a player moves their time token past a button marker on the time track, they sum the number of buttons on their quilt and get this number of buttons from the bank.  The game ends when both players are in the centre of the time track.  Each player then loses two buttons for each blank square on his game board and whoever has the most buttons wins.

Patchwork
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
greetingsfrombergen

Meanwhile, on the first table, the second and final (third) round of Saboteur had both finished with the Saboteurs making almost no impact on Dwarves’ ability to find the gold.  When the teams are drawn, there is always one card more than there are players, so one card is always left out.  The idea is that this introduces an element of ambiguity, however, we felt that this also unbalanced the teams.  For example, with eight players, the teams go from five Dwarves and three Saboteurs to six Dwarves and two Saboteurs, making it almost impossible for even a vaguely competent team of Dwarves to lose.  We discussed the options including whether it would be better to have a set-up phase where the everyone closes their eyes and the Saboteurs open them and look at each other (similar to Werewolf or The Resistance), but we felt this would give a large team of Saboteurs too much power.  In the end, we decided it would be better to remove the spare card and ensure there was the maximum number of Saboteurs.  Since Black and Purple were still going, we decided to play one extra round.  This worked much better, and thanks to a horrid distribution of cards for the Dwarves and some brilliant play by the team of Saboteurs led by Burgundy, there was nothing the Dwarves could do.  It was fitting therefore, that Burgundy finished one gold ahead of his closest competition.  On reflection, we decided there were definitely a couple of House Rules we would implement next time we play.  Firstly, we would remove the extra card when allocating players to teams, this definitely seemed to create a much more balanced game.  Secondly, we would probably also play several separate rounds and not worry about allocating gold at the end of the game.  This way, we could play one or two rounds and stop when the game had outstayed its welcome, rather than feeling that we should play to the end.

Saboteur
– Image by BGG contributor ckhiew

Patchwork was also coming to a close; scores there were quite close until the final scoring, when it turned out that Purple had more “gaps” in her quilt which lost her more points, leaving Black to take the victory.  With both games finishing we had a slight shuffling of seats, with the first group playing Mascarade.  This is a “micro” game, albeit with big cards.  The idea is that each player begins the game with a character card, but after a brief spell with them face up, everyone turns them face down and that’s the way they remain for the rest of the game.  So, the game is all about deducing which player everyone is, while trying to collect enough money to win the game.

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

After some initial trading, on their turn, each player can do one of three things.  Firstly, the active player can declare that they are a particular character, say, The King.  If nobody objects they can then carry out the action associated with The King, unmolested (in this case, take three coins).  On the other hand, another player may protest and claim that they are actually The King, in which case all players claiming to be The King must show their cards and whoever is correct, gets to take three coins from the bank, and all the others pay a fine of one gold coin.  A player’s second option is to “swap” their card with that of another player; since the actual exchange is done under the table, it is possible that there is no swap at all, and only the active player will know either way (or not, since everyone always seems to immediately forget which card is which).  The final option a player has, if all is complete confusion, is to look at their own card.

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

It always takes a little while to get the hang of the characters in play, and with people unfamiliar with the game, it was slow to get going. Orange was happy to be The Queen and collect her two gold each round, as did The King.  After a couple of turns, however, Red realised the power of The Witch and swapped her somewhat diminished fortune with that of Blue, who, as The King had managed to build a reasonably sized pile.  Meanwhile, the fines had built up and then the Judge became of interest and suddenly, the game clicked with everyone around the table, and people tried to manipulate the card they got and call others on their declarations.  Gradually, some of the piles started to get perilously close to the magic thirteen coins, especially since The Cheat was in play (if declared correctly, that player needs only to have ten coins to win).  The game finished somewhat abruptly, when Red declared that she was The Bishop and, as everyone knew she was right, there was nothing we could do.  And then it was home time for some.

Mascarade
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor pan_satyros
and pelnapara.znadplanszy.pl

Meanwhile, the second game was still going.  They were playing Colors of Kasane, one of our “Essen Specials”, but one we’ve not got round to playing until now.  It is a Japon Brand game, and they have a bit of a reputation for creating little, yet interesting games:  as Black commented, “They have a different way of thinking.”  They also have a bit of a reputation for rules that are difficult to understand; even when they seem clear, it often turns out that they aren’t, and we’ve fallen foul of this one before, most noticeably with Secret Moon (the sequel to Love Letter).  Colours of Kasane was no exception in this regard which may go some way to explaining why its taken so long to play it!

Colors of Kasane
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Nevertheless, the game itself is reasonably simple and beautifully rendered with pretty little Japanese fabric buttons used as player markers, reflecting the theme of a festival held at the Emperor’s court for which the players must make their own beautiful robe.  The game play is a mix of hand management and set collection.  The idea is that players take one card from the four available, and then, from their hand the active player may lay cards.  However, the cards can never be rearranged (similar to Bohnanza) and sets can only be laid from the most recent end (i.e. a “last in, first out” system) and may also include the last card laid.  Any cards laid must meet the requirements shown on one of the target cards, which also indicate the amount scored:  the more challenging the target, the more it is worth.  These target or scoring cards allow players to place of groups of even numbered cards, groups of odd numbered cards, melds with the same number, ascending or descending sets of cards, cards summing to ten etc. etc..  The key thing is that once a specific combination has been played, a glass bead is placed on it and no other player can score it.  This means it becomes increasingly difficult to play cards and score points, worse, someone else might claim something you have been building towards and render all the hard-work useless.  This is one way that players can mess with each-other’s plans, another is when picking up cards:  cards are laid out in columns so that players can see all the cards, but only the card at the bottom of each column is available to take.  Since the cards laid must necessarily include the card just picked up, a player’s plans can easily be blown out of the water by an opponent who watches carefully.  The winner is the player with the most points, with bonuses awarded for players who succeed in playing more than eight cards and either used a lot of different colours or who colour coordinated their “robe” and also for any players who managed to play all twelve of their cards.

Colors of Kasane
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game began with everyone groping their way through the the first round trying to get an idea of how the game played and how players and cards interacted and what strategies should be employed.  By the time Blue joined to sneeze and spectate, it was clear that all the best plans had gone horribly awry.  Black, who had brought the game and taught everyone the rules, was struggling, but he was not alone in that.  Green and Purple were also finding other players obstructing their plans, and even Burgundy (the eventual winner) was having difficulty placing the cards he wanted.  The challenges posed by the game were reflected in the fact that nobody got the bonus for playing all twelve cards:  definitely a game that requires a second try.

Colors of Kasane
– Image by BGG contributor matador

We finished with Istanbul, a game we’ve played a couple of times recently, so didn’t require too much in the way of rule revision.  Since Burgundy was the only person who  had not played it before and everyone else had previously played it with the “short track layout”, this time we used the “large number layout”.  This puts all the Warehouses together and a long way from the Mosques, and puts the money making a long way from the Wainwright.  Black started and went straight to the Post Office before expanding his cart with a trip to the Wainwright.  Purple also made several visits to the Post Office, coupled with a few trips to the Warehouses while Burgundy and Blue attempted to improve their success rates with visits to the Mosques.  Green on the other hand, paid several trips to the Caravansary to collect bonus cards in the hope that a few of these would help him out later on.  It is unquestionably a more interesting game with five players and useful things further apart, but that didn’t stop Black delivering the rest of us a sound thrashing.  All of a sudden, he ended the game as he collected his fifth gem when nobody else had more than two.  On inspection, other players were closer than it seemed:  Green collected his third gem on his final turn, Burgundy had loads of Lira and everyone else was well on the way to getting everything they needed, however, they needed several more turns to do it.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

Learning Outcome:  It’s true, Green always IS a Saboteur!