Tag Archives: Small World

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.

– 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.

– 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.

– 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.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

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

Boardgames in the News: Are Asmodée Taking Over the World?

Asmodée is the French translation for Asmodeus, and according to Binsfeld’s classification of demons, Asmodeus is the demon of lust and is therefore responsible for twisting people’s sexual desires.  In the boardgame world though, Asmodée (originally known as Siroz) are a small French game publishing and distribution company, specialising in the family market. For example, they are well known for Dobble, Dixit, Time’s Up! and Ca$h ‘n Guns, but they also publish some more challenging games including Snow Tails, Mr. Jack, Formula D, Takenoko and 7 Wonders.

Jungle Speed
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Asmodée was started in 1995 by Marc Nunès, a self-trained entrepreneur developing role-playing games, but quickly became France’s foremost games publisher and distributor.  One of the big early successes was Jungle Speed, launched in 1998, which has since gone on to be one of the top-selling titles in France, rivalling Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Pay Day.  The real turning point came in 2003, however, when Asmodée obtained the French licence to distribute Pokémon collector cards, which opened up the mass retail sector.  This development led to an 18% investment from Naxicap in 2005.  Naxicap’s stake was bought out two years later by Montefiore who acquired 60% of the company as part of a deal with management worth €40-50 million.  Montefiore invested €120 million to finance Asmodée’s international growth, funding the acquisition of the Belgian game distributor Hodin in 2008, the Spanish games developer Cromola and the German Proludo in 2009, followed by the purchase of a 60% stake in the UK-based distributor, Esdevium Games in 2010.  Asmodée also strengthened it’s portfolio with the acquisition of Abalone and partnership with Libellud (leading to the distribution rights for Dixit) in 2010.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

In 2012, Asmodée branched out further, setting up a subsidiary in Shanghai, China,  with the intention of expanding “into a new market taking advantage of Asmodee’s extensive line-up of games and the existing relationships with partners, thus promoting the brand in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan”.  This ambition brought Asmodée to the attention of the Eurazeo, a European investment company and a deal was announced in November 2013 that valued Asmodée at €143 million.   In January, 2014, almost exactly a year ago now, Eurazeo bought 83.5% of Asmodée through an equity investment of €98 million while Asmodée’s management team and original founders reinvested €14 million of their own money.

Ticket to Ride
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

With the backing Eurazeo provided, Asmodée then went big:  in August last year it was announced that Days of Wonder would be “merging into the Asmodée Group of game companies”.   Days of Wonder are one of the biggest names in modern boardgaming, and are often credited with the growth of the modern boardgame industry, thanks largely to their flagship Ticket to Ride games, which have sold well over two million copies to date.  This is not the only “big game” in their catalogue either, they are also responsible for Memoir ’44 and Small World, both of which are popular games, demonstrated by the number of expansions they support and which take Days of Wonder’s total number of games sold to over five million since their founding in 2002.

Small World
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor crosenkrantz

According to Forbes, Days of Wonder generates between $10 million and $20 million in revenue annually, not bad in such a niche market.  From Eurazeo/Asmodée’s point of view, such an acquisition makes sound financial sense, not just because of the commercial value, but because they already provided a lot of the distribution for Days of Wonder games.  This wasn’t enough for Asmodée however, and three months later, they acquired the U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

This was a bit of a change of direction for Asmodée:  hitherto, all the acquisitions had been firmly in the family boardgame and distribution markets.  Fantasy Flight games are a very different animal and their headline games, Twilight Imperium and Arkham Horror are much less family friendly.   Even their X-Wing Miniatures Game which is very popular with fathers and sons, is a long way outside the normal scope of Asmodée, since it is essentially a two-player war game with a Star Wars theme.  However, there are considerable benefits for both parties, since the merger will enable Fantasy Flight to improve its distribution in Europe, while simultaneously giving the growing Asmodée Group access to Fantasy Flight’s North American sales and marketing teams.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission BGG contributor Toynan

Asmodée weren’t stopping there, however, with Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games also becoming “part of the Asmodée family” late last year.  The link with Ystari Games almost certainly comes from their mutual interest in Space Cowboys.  Space Cowboys is a game creation studio created in 2013 by Marc Nunès (who started Asmodée way back in 1995, remember?), Philippe Mouret and Croc (both of Asmodée), Cyril Demaegd (Ystari) and Sébastien Pauchon (GameWorks).  Space Cowboys is a very small outfit, but already has one Spiel des Jahres nomination under its belt in Splendor and looks to be trying for a second with Black Fleet, the gorgeous pirate game released at Essen last year.

Asmodee Publishing 2015
– Image from eurazeo.com

So, what are Asmodée up to?  The concern is that gamers generally like the current diversity in the market and fear that this succession of mergers and partnerships will mean a homogenisation of the games available.  The November 2014 Eurazeo “Investor Day” report spelled out the current state of Asmodée in detail and the good news is that this does not seem to be Eurazeo/Asmodée’s intention.  The report states, “Each studio has its own DNA,” and goes on to say, “Repeated success lies in the full independency granted to these studios, to keep innovating.”  So it seems the diversity is valued, however, by acquiring mid-sized publishers like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight, Asmodée is positioning itself to compete more effectively with multinational toy giants like Hasbro and Mattel, who publish top board game brands including Monopoly and Scrabble.

Asmodee Organisation 2015
– Image from eurazeo.com

So, is it a good thing that Asmodée are setting themselves up to rival the big boys?  Well, Asmodée is not the only company to engage in mergers:  in 2011 Filosofia purchased the U.S. publisher Z-Man Games, and U.S. publisher FRED Distribution (which releases games under the Eagle Games and Gryphon Games brands), acquired U.S. publisher Face2Face Games.  More recently, in late 2013, Mayfair Games (the U.S. partner for Catan) bought a controlling interest in Lookout Games (the company who first brought Agricola, Caverna, Le Havre and Ora et Labora to the market).

Asmodee Logo
– Image from escapistmagazine.com

Clearly a large stable company provides security for designers, as well as providing support for the individual studios who know that one poor decision is no-longer likely to bring about the end of the company, both of which have to be A Good Thing.  However, companies like Eurazeo invest for only one reason:  financial return.  With an effective monopoly, Asmodée are now in a position to squeeze the market, indeed we may already be seeing the evidence of this in the price rises announced at the start of the year.  With this in mind, it will become clear in due course whether Asmodée is good for boargaming in the UK or whether it is genuinely the demon of lust responsible for twisting our gaming desires…