Tag Archives: Saboteur

9th July 2019

The pub was madly busy thanks to a boisterous party and a couple of large groups in the bar area, so we decided to start with a game while we waited for food.  The “Feature Game” was to be Forbidden Desert, but as most people were waiting for food, we decided to start with something we could play as a group.  6 Nimmt! was the first suggestion, but in keeping with the cooperative game theme of the Feature, we decided to start with Saboteur.  In this game, players are either Dwarves or Saboteurs, where Dwarves are collectively trying to dig a tunnel to find the Gold, while the Saboteurs are trying to stop them.

Saboteur
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn players can play a tunnel card to extend the network, play an action card or discard a card and pass. Action cards come in several flavours.  There are red and green tool cards, with red broken tool cards stopping others from digging and green “fixed” tool cards that repair broken tools.  There are map cards that allow players to peek at one of the three target cards to see if it holds the gold, and rock-fall cards that enable players to remove a single card  from the tunnel network.  All the action cards can be used by Dwarves and Saboteurs alike to impede the other team.

Saboteur
– Image by boardGOATS

Black was the first to play and began ditching all his rubbish blocking tunnel cards while Pine started off by explaining how Burgundy was always a Saboteur and generally made Burgundy’s life a misery by besetting him with broken tools and reminding everyone how last time we played Burgundy was a Saboteur three times running.  This time, we had more players, but it wasn’t long before it became clear that Burgundy was indeed a Saboteur, along with Lime, who was playing it for the first time and was not at all secretive of his position.  Eventually, Red found the Gold on behalf of the Saboteurs, and Black was outed as the third and final Saboteur and had apparently all the cards he had been discarding had been good tunnel cards not bad ones.

Saboteur
– Image by boardGOATS

The rules as written state that there should be three rounds and players pass gold cards around in an effort to determine who will be the overall winner.  We don’t think the game needs a winner in this way, so we play with a “house-rule” that treats each round as a game in its own right.  This way, we can stop at two games if it is beginning to outstay its welcome, or carry on and play three or even four rounds, giving more people to join Burgundy as Saboteurs.  Everyone had really enjoyed the first round and was keen to go again, so cards were handed out and Pine once again accused Burgundy of a “Saboteury” first move.  Blue had loads of blocking cards, but after Black had spent almost all the previous round dumping cards, didn’t dare pass for fear that she would be accused of being a Saboteur.

Saboteur
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue asked everyone else for advice and Red suggested that the one thing she could do to convince her that she was a Good Little Dwarf was play a blocking card on Burgundy, which she obligingly did.  It didn’t work, however, and it wasn’t long before Red declared Blue a Saboteur.  In frustration Blue showed Red all the blocking cards she had and that seemed to stem the tide of accusations, at least for a few turns.  With Burgundy buried under a pile of broken tool cards, his delight was evident when Blue revealed her true colours and played a disruptive blocking card.  It was just a smidge too late though and Black brought the round to an end by finding the Gold.

Saboteur
– Image by boardGOATS

By this time food had been ordered, but was not looking like it was going to arrive immediately, so we decided to see if Burgundy could make it three in a row again.  Inevitably, we were only a couple of turns in, therefore, when food turned up and the tunnel network was obstructed by Purple’s enormous bowl of mushroom tagliatelle.  Pine confused everyone by indicating his position early, playing a blocking card right in the middle of the map.  Perhaps it was the difficulty of playing round a plate of pasta, or perhaps her mind was just elsewhere, but a very curious card placement quickly led to Purple being labeled as a Saboteur joining Burgundy and Pine.  Flying well under the radar, if only the real Saboteurs had had helpful cards to play then they might have won, however, it was not to be.

Saboteur
– Image by boardGOATS

It turned out that Blue and Black were once again the real Saboteurs (along with the more obvious Pine), but frustratingly there was nothing they could do and Red once again finished the round by finding the Gold for the Dwarf team.  By this time everyone was very hungry, so food mostly disappeared quite rapidly and while Black, Purple and Burgundy dealt with their last few mouthfuls, Blue, Lime, Pine and Mulberry took themselves off to the table by the door (ostensibly to get space to play, but partly to take advantage of the respite the cooling draught offered from the humidity), to play the “Feature Game”, Forbidden Desert.

Forbidden Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

Where Saboteur is a “semi-cooperative” game because it has a traitor mechanic, Forbidden Desert is a fully cooperative game.  This means everyone plays together against the game, with the same goal.  The story is that a helicopter has crash-landed in the desert, and the survivors, in our case, an Archaeologist, a Climber, an Explorer and a very well behaved, cooperative, er, camel (“Water Carrier”), must try to find the buried, missing pieces of a historic air-ship, in order to escape.  This, with minimal water, the sun beating down and the growing sand-storm, means that players have to be quick in their hunt, and smart in keeping the keeping the storm from getting out of hand.

Forbidden Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played on a five by five grid made of twenty-four tiles and one gap.  The tiles all start face down and must be excavated to reveal their other side.  Some tiles will yield clues as to where the missing air ship parts are, others hide potentially useful equipment, while excavating others will yield a launch pad or the entrance to a tunnel.  Everything is useful, but all four pieces of the ship must be found together with the launch pad, before the players can escape.  On their turn players have four action points per turn which they can use freely to move, remove sand from the tile they are on (or an adjacent one), excavate a cleared tile, or pick up a piece of airship.

Forbidden Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

Once all four actions have been completed cards from the storm deck are turned over and tiles are moved in the direction indicated into the eye of the storm reflecting the shifting dunes.  As they are moved, sand tiles are placed on each one, building up the dunes and burying the antiquities in sand.  There is a finite number of sand tiles and running out triggers the end of the game with the team losing.  Running out of sand is only one way to lose however.  If any player runs out of water, the whole team loses, and the storm level increasing to its maximum also spells doom.  On the other hand, if the team manage to find all the parts and the launch pad, they will be able to escape from the desert.

Forbidden Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the problems with cooperative games is “quarter-backing” also known as the “alpha gamer problem”, where one player takes control and tells everyone else what to do.  With Blue the only player to have played it before (though Lime had played Forbidden Island some time ago), it would have been easy for her assume the role of Colonel, but that sucks all the fun out of the game.  So there was a little discussion as to how we should approach the game (primarily trying to make the best use of our characters’ special abilities and trying to work quickly to excavate tiles) and then we started, with the storm level on “normal”.

Forbidden Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

The game began badly, when two of the first tiles we excavated were tunnel tiles.  These are very useful because players can use them to shelter from the sun and thus preserve water when a Sun Beats Down card is revealed.  They also enable players to travel from one part of the board to another in a single move.  Unfortunately, the tiles were adjacent which meant they were much less helpful than usual.  Prioritising, digging in order to find parts of the airship, the team found a lot potentially useful equipment, but it seemed ages before the first clue came up, a hint to where the propeller was buried.

Forbidden Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

The team soon found the second clue to the location of the propeller which turned out to be relatively conveniently located so Pine, the Climber, quickly picked it up.  It was then that Lime pointed out that the number of sand tiles available was getting critical, and something had to be done.  A couple of turns and concentrating on the sand problem and use of Mulberry’s Dune Blaster, helped, but a couple of Sun Beats Down cards in the meantime meant there was now a water shortage. so Pine and Blue (the Water Carrier), set out to rectify the situation.  Unfortunately, the first of the possible springs turned out to be a mirage.  While it didn’t lead to anyone running out of water immediately, valuable time and moves had to be used to excavate another tiles.

Forbidden Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

Once a spring had been found, Blue was able to top up her water supply and share water with Pine, before taking some back to the Lime and Magenta (who by this time was hiding in a tunnel to conserve her dwindling water supply).  With everyone settling into their roles and assuming the duties associated with their special abilities, it wasn’t long before the second part of the airship had been located.  Everyone had water and the sand situation was more or less under control, but it was all taking too long.  The storm had picked up and with it, the Sun Beats Down cards were coming round at an increasing speed.

Forbidden Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

Worse, the rate of sand deposition was also increasing. and it wasn’t long before the situation was getting desperate again, and clues to the location of the missing parts of the airship were proving impossible to find.  Forced into making difficult decisions, Pine and Lime started to take risks.  To begin with they seemed to pay off, but it wasn’t long before there was a succession of bad cards, culminating in two Sun Beats Down cards, and Pine and Lime who were left out in the sun ran out of water and sadly perished.  It had been good fun though and everyone had enjoyed playing, even though the team had ultimately failed to escape.

Forbidden Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, the other group had been playing Villagers.  This is a new card drafting and tableau building game that first got an outing a few weeks ago and was so successful that Lime immediately bought himself a copy. The idea is that players take it in turns to take villager cards from the “road”, then add them to their village tableau.  Different villager cards have different advantages; some give money at the end of the game, while others enable players to draw more cards from the road per round or place more cards in their village per round.  The clever part of the game is the interplay between the cards caused by the conditions required before they can be played.

Villagers
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, a Blacksmith cannot be added to a village unless there is a Miner already present.  The cards are then played in a tree structure such that the Blacksmith is placed over the Miner card, superseding any icons depicted on it.  Many villager cards, especially the more valuable ones, also require a payment of two gold to another specific villager.  The money then sits on that villager card until a scoring round.  Ideally, the payment would be made to a villagers in the player’s own village, so that the money ultimately remains theirs, but if the active player does not have the necessary villager and someone else does then the money is paid to the opponent.

Villagers
– Image by boardGOATS

Like a lot of card games, there is a lot of luck in the game and there is a knack to surfing it.  Although many of the the group have played it before, Black had missed out, and he struggled waiting for a Grazier to become available.  In general, everyone went for a range of different types of villagers, everyone except Burgundy who went mad for Mining, because it “seemed like a good idea at the time”.  He started with a Seeker and then when he added an Ore Muler his income increased spectacularly and he looked like he was going to romp away with it.  Red and Black eventually managed to play Monks which helped to grease the wheels for them, but it was too late. Burgundy had the edge over Red in almost every department beating her into second place by twenty gold.

Villagers
– Image by boardGOATS

Villagers and Forbidden Desert finished at about the same time, and as time was getting on, Mulberry took Red home, and Pine and Lime didn’t want a late night so went their separate ways too.  That just left Blue, Burgundy, Black and Purple; Purple fancied a game of Bosk, and, as there wasn’t time to debate it, everyone else went along with her suggestion without debate.  This is a really pretty game, and although Black and Purple have played it quite a bit since they picked it up at the UK Games Expo, Blue and Burgundy were new to it.

Bosk
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played in two parts:  first players place their trees in the forest on a grid, then each tree sheds its leaves and players try to control where the leaves fall to give them the most leaves in each of the areas of the forest.  The first phase is really just an hors d’oeuvre; the second phase is the guts of the game.  At the end of the first phase, players score for having the majority in each row or column.  Purple was at the back, so went first in the second phase, and more importantly, the direction the wind goes in.  This is important because if the wind is in the wrong direction, any player with trees of the same number wedged up against the same edge  will find their options severely restricted.

Bosk
– Image by boardGOATS

An awful lot of time was spent by all staring at the board, but this is no hardship as it really is a very picturesque game.  Blue and Burgundy were feeling their way, but it was always advantage to Black with his greater experience.  In the end, it was surprisingly close, though that was possibly due to Blue confused by the “S-shaped” score board, screwing up the scoring.  The margin of victory was still significant though as Black finished with thirty-five points while Blue and Burgundy tussled for second place with thirty-one and thirty respectively.  It was then that the group realised the half hour game had taken twice that and everyone quickly left before they out-stayed their welcome and the landlord threw them out.

Bosk
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Working together is fun, though it helps to know who is on  your side.

14th May 2019

A lot of the usual suspects weren’t about, so it looked like it was going to be a really quiet  night.  This was due to be offset by Pink, who was putting in one of his rare appearances from the frozen north, but at 6pm he was stuck at Leicester Services with a “limping” car.  While Pink’s arrival looked in doubt, he also lost the unofficial title of “furthest traveled” with Mulberry bringing along her other-half, newly arrived from California.  He had been awake for some forty hours traveling, so was reluctant to actually play anything, but we really appreciated his company all the same.  We were just starting the “Feature Game” when Pink arrived (thanks to a couple of very nice AA men), so as he scoffed his pizza we went through the rules for Powerships.

Powerships
– Image by boardGOATS

Powerships is not a complex game:  Black described it as “roll and move”, which is a little harsh if arguably accurate.  The game is played on a hexagonal grid representing the solar system and featuring the planets.  On their turn, players may take or return a single die, and then re-roll as many of their dice as they choose.  They may then rotate their space ship sixty degrees left or right and then move it the total number of spaces shown on their dice.

Powerships
– Image by boardGOATS

The movement rules are slightly more complex.  A crash is hitting a planets, a dust cloud or the “Trumpian” wall surrounding the solar system (there is a problem with alien immigrants in 2345 apparently).  Players may only crash if they have no choice, and if they crash, the penalties are severe: they must go in the direction that means they travel the furthest (even if that is unfavourable), they lose all their dice, and they move their damage maker left by a space for every unused movement (leading to a reduction in the maximum number of dice they can have).

Powerships
– Image by boardGOATS

Although ships can pass others, spaces cannot be occupied by more than one ship—they don’t crash though (fortunately), they just pull-up short, just behind. There are a number of special spaces:  yellow chevrons apply drift to a ship as they pass; space currents cause ships to change direction and warp speed and hyperspace enable ships to briefly go twice as fast.  What really makes the game, however, is the course:  players have to travel round three planets in a specific order and in a particular direction as marked by three orange bollards, before arriving at the finishing planet.

Powerships
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, as it was Tuesday, Mercury was the  starting planet. Random chance selected Purple as start player, but as spaceship placement is in reverse player order, Mulberry chose pole position and Blue placed her ship next.  Perhaps it was because he was still focusing on his pizza or maybe he decided to be a gentleman, but Pink placed his ship on the opposite side of the starting planet and just for good measure pointed it away from the first corner on Venus so that he was not forced to crash into Mercury on his first turn.  Green, Lime, Black and Purple placed their ships in turn order, with their start positions increasingly obstructed until Purple was left with no choice but to start on the planet itself surrounded by everyone else, and hope to avoid rolling a one on her first turn.

Powerships
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple was lucky and managed to escape from the ring of ships, parking herself squarely in front of Mulberry.  As everyone else rolled their first die and moved towards the first corner, the unfortunate consequences of Pink’s initial position became apparent.  Rolling a three, forced him to move his ship away from the first bollard and directly towards the walled edge of the solar system, where he stayed for the next few turns, trapped between some space dust, Saturn and a hard place, shuffling about in a strange many-point turn.

Powerships
– Image by boardGOATS

The rest of the fleet made good progress towards the first check-point, Venus, and then Blue foolishly rolled an extra dice and was forced to head off-course.  Green and Mulberry were pulling away a little as the pack headed into the farthest reaches of the solar system and approached the second corner located on Uranus, and that was where the mayhem really began. Purple went the wrong way round the bollard, so had to go back for a second shot; Mulberry hit the planet head on at full speed and was forced to maneuver slowly, and carryout repairs before she could build up speed again; Lime overshot and had to pirouette to get back on course while Black carefully dodged the debris, but struggled to find a clear course.

Powerships
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Green sailed on serenely, finding the unobstructed path to the third marker on Pluto, on his first attempt.  It was perhaps just as well, as he was so busy advising Lime and fiddling with his phone that he missed his turn.  He suddenly realised he had missed out, but as everyone else unanimously agreed that turn order had been scrupulously observed and it was all in his imagination, he had no choice to but to acquiesce.  When Pink was about to taking his next move there was much hilarity when Green suddenly noticed he had missed out again! It was much harder for everyone to deny him a second time, and Green paid more attention for the rest of the game.

Powerships
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink had finally escaped from the combined gravitational pull of the starting planet and the  wall and Blue was moving back up the field as everyone else struggled to avoid calamity.  As Green headed towards the finish at Neptune, Black and Blue engaged in fierce struggle for second place (which Blue ultimately won by one turn) and Lime led the rest of the pack round the final corner.  It was coming into the home straight that Lime snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when he failed to decelerate and careered off for what looked like a second lap.  Mulberry was the beneficiary closely followed by Purple, with Pink and Lime bringing up the rear in what had been a mad, chaotic race, but a lot of fun.

Powerships
– Image by boardGOATS

With Powerships taking more than an hour longer than the advertised half-hour, Mulberry signed Pine’s birthday card and then took her jet-lagged husband home leaving six.  Inevitably as Pink was around, someone raised the subject of Bohnanza.  Other games were discussed, including 6 Nimmt! and Saboteur, but someone pulled a face for all of them, and in the end as Lime hadn’t played it, “Beans” won the day. This is one of our all-time favourite games, and everyone else was very familiar with it, especially Pink who claims to dislike the game while owning several copies of it in multiple languages.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Black explained the rules to Lime as everyone else tried to work out the game set up for six.  The game itself is actually very simple: each player starts with two bean fields in front of them.  On their turn, the active player must plant the first card in their hand and may plant a second before turning over the top two cards from the draw deck.  These two bean cards must be planted before play can continue, but they can be planted in the active player’s field or in someone else’s if a trade can be agreed.  Once these cards have been dealt with, the active player can freely trade as many cards as they want from their hand (all of which must be planted) before drawing cards and ending their turn.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

At any time, a player can harvest a field of beans, at which point some of the beans are retained with the cards turned face down, becoming “money”.  The player with the most money after three trips through the deck is the winner.  There are two key rules: firstly, players cannot rearrange their hand – it has a front and a back and cards are played from the front and arrive at the back.  Thus the game is all about manipulating the order of the cards in hand by trading the unwanted ones for something more helpful.  Secondly, although players can harvest a field whenever they want, they cannot harvest a field with only one bean card unless all that player’s fields are singletons.  While the rules of the game are not difficult, things were complicated considerably by the fact that the only version available was in Spanish – a special gift from Red to Pink.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Blue’s Spanish was up to the job, the fact that everyone else (familiar with the English version) used the English names for the beans instead of those on the cards, confused Lime utterly.  Despite that, Lime got stuck in to what turned out to be a very tight game.  Green, Pink and Purple bought a third bean field; Green was adamant that he gained no advantage from his though Purple and her “Judías Colora” may have done a little better and Pink thought he might have got an extra coin out of it.  In the end, Blue and her seemingly never-ending stream of “Pochas” had the edge and she finished in first place with a total of fifteen coins, some way ahead of a five-way, eleven-point tie for second place.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Pay attention or you might miss a turn (or two).

Boardgames in the News: What are “House Rules” and are they a Good Thing?

Occasionally, our game reports refer to “House Rules”.  These are slight alterations to the game rules which our group introduce when we play.  For example, the GOATS are quite slow players and, although we love Las Vegas, they find that it drags a little if the full four rounds are played, so we have a House Rule which means we stop after three.  Similarly, for us Saboteur sometimes drags and we find the scoring element a bit pointless.  For this reason, we usually skip the scoring and play each round as a short, independent game, which means we can play for as long as we want and just stop when we’ve had enough without worrying about overall winners.  The group also recently discussed allowing two players to make a pact with the Devil in Auf Teufel komm raus when playing with six, to help those players bringing up the rear catch-up, and perhaps make the decisions a little more interesting for the other players too.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

House Rules are frequently quite controversial though, and the reason is largely philosophical:  the game designer’s vision is based on “The Rules as Written”.  Tampering with the rules can be seen as showing anything from a lack of respect for the designer, to ignorance.  This is because the designer, publisher and development team will have the best understanding of the game through extensive play-testing which will be reflected in the rules. There is a point here, famously, many people play Monopoly “wrong” for example, which changes the character of the game significantly making it overly long and often extremely tedious (especially for players at the back).

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

When asked, most games designers will encourage experimentation though. This is for two main reasons.  Firstly, game designers enjoy experimenting themselves; to them there is no “one true rule set”, only the “current rule set”.  This is true for the rest of us too, as some games change when new editions are published—for example Carcassonne where the first, second and third editions all have different scoring, and Orléans where the rules for the Bathhouse  changed between the first and second edition.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Secondly, most designers understand that different groups have different characteristics and dynamics, and enjoy different aspects of playing games.  Designers also want people to get the maximum enjoyment out of their game and sometimes that means tweaking the rules slightly, so ultimately, they want people to play the way that makes them happiest.  For the avoidance of arguments, it is clearly important to make any “House Rules” very clear to everyone playing, as there is an expectation that games will be played with “The Rules as Written” except by prior arrangement.  However, if playing a game in a particular way is enjoyable, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using “House Rules” as long as everyone knows they are doing it.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Golden GOAT Award Winners – 2018

The inaugural Golden GOAT award was announced at the boardGOATS annual “Un-Christmas Dinner”.  There was also an award acknowledging the worst game of the year, known as the “GOAT Poo” award.  The rules were quite simple, only games played at a GOATS games night in 2018 (i.e. appearing in the log book) could be nominated, and everyone got just one vote in each category.  It was clear from the audience response that many of nominees were very popular choices, including Yokohama and Keyflower: The Farmers.  A couple of games managed the feat of appearing in both lists winning the unofficial “GOAT Marmite-factor” Award, namely Endeavor and Yardmaster.  The winner of the “GOAT Poo” award was Queendomino, with one third of the group nominating it (remarkable since only four people had actually played it).  There was also a special award for “possibly the best and worst moments of the year” which went to Purple and Green’s inability to play Rock-Paper-Scissors (during Walk the Plank! a few weeks back), and Burgundy appearing as the perennial Saboteur at the end of November.  The deserving winner of the “Golden GOAT 2018”, however, was Altiplano which turned out to be a very popular choice.

Golden GOAT - 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

11th December 2018

Since this was the last meeting before Christmas, we did what we did last year and arranged to eat a little earlier so we could all share an “Un-Christmas Dinner” together, complete with festive crackers and party poppers.  Plans were nearly derailed by gridlock in Oxford that delayed Blue (and by extension the crackers, party poppers, cards and the “Feature Game”), and motorway traffic that slowed Pink in his long trip from the frozen north.  Between their arrival and food appearing, there was just time to play a little game of “Secret Christmas Cards” – the idea being that everyone got a suitably festive goaty card and a name, and write the card to that person signing it on behalf of the group.  Once we’d got over the lack of pens, the “game” seemed to go very well, though a lot of people didn’t open their card, saving the excitement for later.  Green arrived and his announcement that his divorce had come through was greeted with a round of applause.

Pizza at the Horse and Jockey
– Image from horseandjockey.org

Once the cards, pizza, “half a side of pig with egg and chips”, burgers and ice-cream had been dealt with, it was time for crackers.  We had been just about to pull them when food arrived, and knowing what was in them, Blue suggested they’d be better left till the end of the meal as people might not want cracker contents as a topping to their pizza!  It was just as well, because when everyone finally grabbed a couple of cracker ends and pulled, there was an explosion of dice, mini-meeples, wooden resources, tiny metal bells, bad jokes, party hats and festive confetti that went everywhere.  The table went from mostly ordered to complete devastation at a stroke, to which party popper detritus was quickly added.  It was immediately followed by everyone trying to work out where the bits from their cracker had ended up and as some people ferreted under the table, others began to read the jokes (which turned out to be quite repetitive).  While the table was being cleared, subject of the “Golden GOAT” award came up.  This had first been mentioned a few weeks back by Ivory who had suggested we should have a game that we’d played during the year that deserved an award (presumably he was completely unaware that “Golden Goat” is also a strain of marijuana).

"Un-Christmas Party" 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine suggested that there should also be an award acknowledging the worst game of the year, which eventually became the “GOAT Poo” award.  Unfortunately there wasn’t really a plan for how to go about doing this.  In the end, Ivory and Green tore up some slips of paper and passed them round with the book so everyone could “vote”.  The rules were quite simple, only games played at a GOATS games night in 2018 (i.e. appear in the log book) could be nominated and everyone got just one vote. There was real concern that we were just going to end up with a list of different titles and two nine-way ties, but surprisingly, that did not happen.  As the votes were read out, it became clear from the appreciative noises round the table that many of the picks were very popular choices, including Yokohama and Keyflower: The Farmers.  A couple of games managed the feat of appearing in both lists winning the unofficial “GOAT Marmite-factor” Award, namely Endeavor and Yardmaster.  The winner of the “2018 Golden GOAT” however was AltiplanoQueendomino took the “GOAT Poo” award with a third of the group nominating it (remarkable since only four of the people present had actually played it).

Golden GOAT - 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

There was also a special award for “possibly the best and worst moments of the year” which went to Purple and Green’s inability to play Rock-Paper-Scissors (during Walk the Plank! a few weeks back) and Burgundy, the perennial Saboteur name last time.  Eventually, the table was cleared and the inaugural “Golden GOAT” awards had been announced, so people’s thoughts turned to playing games.  This year Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries was a hot choice and with two copies, two games were quickly underway.  This is a variant of the very popular train game, but with a nice tight map designed specifically for two or three players and featuring a snowy festive theme.  The game play is almost exactly the same as the other versions, with players taking it turns to either draw carriage cards, or spend sets of carriage cards in appropriate colours to place plastic trains on the map.  There are a couple of things that really make the Ticket to Ride games work:  firstly, the longer the route, the more points it gets.  This often makes the longer routes very enticing, but this has to be set against the desirability of tickets (the second thing).

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the game everyone chooses from a handful of ticket cards each depicting two cities and a value: players who manage to join routes together to connect the two cities get the depicted number of points at the end of the game.  The catch is that any tickets that players keep that are not completed successfully score negatively, and the swing can be quite devastating.  Ticket to Ride is a game everyone knows well and although we don’t play it often it is always enjoyable (perhaps because we don’t play it too frequently).  The familiarity means that everyone always fancies their chances at it though, which tends to make for very competitive games and the group really benefits from the variation that the different maps and versions offer.  On the first table, the game started out in much the same way as all Ticket to Ride games.  Ivory placed trains first, but Mulberry and Green followed soon after.  It wasn’t long before Ivory was drawing more ticket cards (instead of taking carriage cards or placing trains) and Green soon followed with Mulberry taking a little longer.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

As is usual, the colour cards that players wanted, just seemed to refuse to come up and everyone’s individual hand of cards grew even as the board filled with more tickets taken at regular intervals.   In the early stages the trio were fairly well matched.  Green was starting to pull ahead and then for some reason abruptly stopped and his hand of cards grew and grew.  He had said that he was going for it and it would either pay off or he would lose abysmally. Mulberry and Ivory had nearly twice as many points as Green when he finally laid a train:  the nine-carriage route giving him twenty-seven points and propelling him into the lead by more than his previous deficit.  Everyone still had lots of trains left though, so the game was far from over.  Eventually, Mulberry brought the game to a sudden halt when she placed her last three trains, catching the others by surprise.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

With their last turn they scrabbled for the longest route they could manage.  Since Green still had a handful of cards he was able to take a six-carriage route for a healthy fifteen points, however, that meant he had to abandon his twenty-four point ticket as he still needed two, very small routes to complete it.  The group decided to forgo recounting the points for placing trains and decided to assume they had kept on top of the scores during play.  Green was ahead in points for train placement by quite a margin, but Ivory and Mulberry had completed more tickets and Green was crippled by the forty-eight point swing caused by his incomplete ticket.  Mulberry took bonus for the the most completed tickets (by only one) and ended just one point behind Ivory.  With the score at the top so close they decided they had to double check all the scores and after a complete recount, there was a reversal and Mulberry edged Ivory out by one solitary point.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table the story was a little different, with Pink, the “Prophet of Doom” goading Pine offering him advice to give in before he’d even started as he was in for a torrid time playing against Blue and Burgundy.  Pine didn’t see it like that however, and as he likes the game, he really fancied his chances.  Fortune favours the brave, and he was out of the blocks like a greyhound with a fifteen point placement in just his second turn.  From then on, it was fast and furious with players fighting to secure the routes they needed to complete their tickets.  Blue and Pine kept fairly level and began to pull away from Burgundy, but neither of them dared to get complacent as he usually has a master-plan that he’s waiting for the perfect moment to enact.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine drew more ticket cards and Blue followed, keeping pace every step of the way while Burgundy kept drawing carriage cards.  Eventually Blue drew ahead in the “taking tickets” race, but it was one set of tickets too far for her as she drew three moderate to high scoring cards that were all unplayable.  Fearing she’d pushed her luck one step too far, she kept the lowest scoring card (i.e. the one with the fewest negative points) and pondered her options.  Pine took tickets and it was clear he had hit a similar problem though at least two of his were playable, if difficult.  In the end, he took a twenty-one point ticket that needed a little work, giving Blue an interesting choice.  In addition to the unplayable ticket, she had one low-ish scoring ticket left that she only needed one card to complete.  She’d been waiting for that single yellow carriage for a while though and persisting could allow Pine time to complete his new ticket.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Although she didn’t know the value or difficulty of Pine’s final ticket Blue felt sure it was high scoring and that he would need a few turns to complete it.  With a large set of pink cards and not many trains left, it gave her a chance; by placing a largely arbitrary route she triggered the end of the game.  Burgundy squeaked, although it had looked for all the world like he was trying for the long route, in fact he was really hunting for a locomotive (wild) card or a single orange carriage to complete his route into Narvik (though he came very close to getting nine cards necessary for the long route by accident).  The irony was that Blue had picked up loads of locomotive cards in her hunt for the single yellow, but hadn’t wanted them and had been unable to find yellow cards because Burgundy had them all!  In his penultimate turn, Burgundy had finally drawn his last orange card enabling him to finish his final, long ticket on his very last go.  Pine on the other hand was less fortunate and fell short, taking a swing of forty-two points which more than off-set Blue’s incomplete tickets.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

The group recounted the train points and found a few extra points for Blue, but it was still very close and all down to the tickets.  Blue had mostly low-scoring cards; where Pine had one fewer, they were more valuable.  In the end, Blue finished twenty-three points ahead of Pine, but she had managed to complete one extra ticket which had given her the ten point bonus – had it gone to Pine there would have been a twenty point swing and the second group might have had a recount too.  Both Ticket to Ride games finished at much the same time and while the third game was finishing off, the two groups compared notes.  It was then that the first group realised they had not played quite correctly, as there is a rules change in this version that means locomotive cards can only be used as wilds on tunnel and ferry routes, not on ordinary routes.  This explained why Green had managed to succeed at his long route when Burgundy had failed. While playing correctly would have changed the game, there was no accusation of cheating as Ivory and Mulberry who had been playing that game had played by the same rules.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, while the two ends of the table were playing with their train-sets, the trio in the middle were decorating their Christmas Tree.  This game is a cute little card drafting game that originated in Hungary.  The game takes place over three rounds during which Christmas decoration cards are drafted. After each card is chosen, the player puts it anywhere they like on their tree.  After seven cards, the round ends and the trees are evaluated.  Decorations include gingerbread men, glass ornaments in different shapes, wrapped sweets and, of course, festive lights.  The gingerbread men have different markings on their hands and feet and the more that match the adjacent decorations, the more points they score.  Some glass ornaments and all the sweets score points directly; lights only score if both halves match.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

The decorations only score at the end of the game though;  objective cards are evaluated at the end of each round.  At the start of the game each player receives four objective cards and at the start of each round everyone chooses one; these are shuffled and before the round begins.  The trees are therefore evaluated at the end of each round according to these objectives.  and then decorations score at the end.  One of the things about this scoring mechanism is that it’s often not obvious who is in the lead during the game as there are so many points awarded at the end.  This game was no exception, and was ultimately very close as a result.  It is one of those games that benefits from experience, and Black and Purple’s who had both played before took first and second, in that order.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

There was time for something else.  Inevitably, we threatened Pink with Bohnanza (he has possibly the smallest amount of love for the game per copy owned), but it’s lack of festiveness, meant it was a hollow threat.  We still had the “Feature Game” to play anyhow, which was Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey.  This is a mad game by a local gamer and member of the Didcot Games Club, Rob Harper set in a world that is a sort of cross between Downton Abbey and the Adams Family.  The artwork is suitably gruesome, though it was very clear from the start who the Countess D’Ungeon was a caricature of!  Played over several short rounds, each player takes the role of one of the various eccentric and unpleasant family members grasping for whatever feels like the best present.  To this end, players begin with a character card and a couple of gift cards, all face down on the table in front of them.  On their turn, the active player may either swap one of their face-down cards with one elsewhere on the table, or turn a card face-up, possibly activating a special action on the gift cards.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

The round ends when all a player’s cards are face up at the start of their turn or a bomb is revealed, at which point everyone scores points if they have collected the gifts wanted by their characters.  With six people playing nobody had a clue what was going on and mayhem reigned.  Ivory and Pine jointly took the first round giving them a point each, but after that, the gloves were off.  Purple took one round and Pine and Ivory took another each, so it was all down to the last round.  Green had spent most of the game trying to furnish Little Eugenia with two bombs, so when Blue realised he had the cards he needed to win the round, she made it her business to try to obstruct his plans.  Needless to say he spent the round getting his cards back.  With Blue and Green playing silly beggars in the corner, everyone else fought it out, but there was nothing everyone else could do to stop Ivory taking the point he needed to win.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

There was still time to play something else, but nobody was really in the mood so, instead, Blue and Ivory drooled over the fabulous pink dinosaurs from Ivory’s new arrival, Dinosaur Island.  Blue had nearly KickStarted the second edition, but had withdrawn when she’d heard Ivory was already committed to the project.  Needless to say, Ivory had brought his copy to show it off at the earliest opportunity, including plastic goats as well as dinosaurs.  And of course it will undoubtedly be a “Feature Game” sometime in the new year.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Christmas Crackers can make an awful lot of mess.

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.

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!