Tag Archives: Snow Tails

Next Meeting – 11th December 2018

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, 11th December, at the Horse and Jockey pub in Stanford-in-the-Vale.

As this is our last meeting before Christmas
we will be meeting early at 7pm for pizzas and Christmas festivities.

This week, the “Feature Game” will be Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey followed by a range of Christmas and winter themed games like Christmas TreeSnow Tails, The Great Downhill Ski Game, Snowboard, Antarctica, Carcassonne: Winter Edition and Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries.  Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey is a short game set in a world somewhere between Downton and The Adams Family, designed by a local gamer and member of the Didcot Games Club, Rob Harper.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

And speaking of Christmas…

Jeff wasn’t in a festive mood.  He was in a lot of pain, so he went to see his doctor to get the problem looked at.

“What seems to be the problem?” Jeff’s GP asked.

Jeff looked a bit shifty and uncomfortable, and not just due to his ailment.  “I’ve, er… got um…” he mumbled.

“Speak up, I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s the matter,” interrupted the doctor.

Jeff tried again, “I’ve, um…” but again his voice faded away to silence.

The doctor took pity on him and gently coaxed him on, “Is it something to do with an intimate area?  You know there’s nothing to be ashamed of, we’re all the same really.  Now what’s bothering you? You can tell me.”

Jeff took a deep breath “Doctor…” then he blurted out, “I seem to have a mince pie stuck up my bottom!”

“Oh, you’re in luck,” answered the Doctor, “I’ve got some cream for that!”

12th December 2017

With this being the last GOATS Tuesday before Christmas (and the Jockey shutting on Boxing Day which would be the next one), we decided to have an early “Christmas Party” with everyone arriving for supper at the same time and home-made crackers.  Out of habit, most of us ordered pizza from their Tuesday “Pizza Special” menu, though there was also the odd portion of scampi too.  Even though it was still nearly two weeks until Christmas, we were a bit short on numbers thanks to the combination of people leaving early for the holidays and work commitments.  That didn’t stop Pine and Ivory bringing out their favourite topical Christmas Cracker jokes though:  “Why doesn’t Trump ever finish decorating his Christmas tree?  Because people keep shouting “Moron”!”  “Why didn’t Teresa May visit the baby Jesus? Because she couldn’t form a stable government…!”

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

Once crackers, jokes and food had been dealt with, Magenta’s little one (who had come a long for the ride and a bit of pizza crust), found himself a friend to play with which gave everyone else the chance to get on with the “Feature Game”, Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey.  This is a short game designed by a local gamer and member of the Didcot Games Club, Rob Harper.  Blue and Pink picked up a pre-release copy at Essen in October and had saved it for a special, festive occasion, and this seemed appropriate.  The game is a fun, micro card game based 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.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

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. 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.  A lot of fun was had with everyone amused by the idea the sick combination of a set of electrodes and a puppy…  Before long, Magenta, Blue, Pine and Green had won one round a piece and Magenta’s son’s and his playmate was starting to look bored with the game they were playing, so although the we were just warming up nicely, we reluctantly decided to bring it to an early close when one player had won two rounds.  It was tight, but Green prevented Ivory and Burgundy getting in on the act and took his second round, and with it, the game.  Søn-Magenta had clearly had enough, so Mor-Magenta took him home leaving everyone else with a selection of wintery themed games to choose from.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

With five players left, the choice was actually rather limited and we quickly settled on an old favourite, the sled racing game, Snow Tails.  We played with the original edition, where players start by building the track which can either be from one of the suggested examples given in the rulebook, or, a home-designed one which we opted for.  On reflection, designing our own track might not have been all that clever, as we inevitably made it way more complicated than it needed to be.  The parcour began with a Chasm immediately after the start which caused an almighty bottle neck before everyone even got going.  Then there was a sweeping left hander and a short straight section followed by a right hander.  This wouldn’t have been so bad except they were immediately followed by a combination of a Crevasse (that had to be jumped at speed) and a field of saplings (adding a slalom element) just before the finish line.  As a result players had to control their speed very carefully throughout.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

And that is what Snow Tails is all about really: controlling speed.  Players have a deck of number cards from which they draw a hand of five cards.  On their turn, cards are played on one to three of the active piles: the left husky, the right husky or the brake.  The catch is that if multiple cards are played, they must all be the same number, and once a card has been used, it can’t be used again until the player’s individual draw deck has been depleted.  The idea is that the sled’s speed is the sum of the dog cards in play, minus the current value of the brake; the speed dictates the number of spaces the sled moves forward in each turn.  Steering is carried out by adjusting the difference between the speeds of the two dogs which gives rise to “drift”, i.e. sliding movement to the left or right.  Drift occurs as a sled moves forward, with a maximum of one lane drift per forward movement.  An evenly matched pair of dogs goes faster leading to a balanced sled bonus, but for some reason we forgot about this.  It probably didn’t matter anyhow though, because the nature of the course meant that a balanced sled was a real rarity rarity and the close proximity of the obstacles meant it was unlikely that anyone would have been able to make use of the bonus as well.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory and Blue were first out of the blocks and managed to steal a bit of march on everyone else, getting through the Chasm first and causing chaos behind as everyone else got stuck.  With nobody in his way, Ivory took an early lead and Blue gave chase, but bit by bit he continued to edge away.  It wasn’t long before Pine led the charge from the rear and those who had got jammed in the Chasm began to catch up.  This was partly because they had been able to store up a few good cards and plan their attack while they were waiting to get past the obstacle at the beginning, but also because first Blue, and then Ivory, paid the penalty for their quick start and were forced into the barriers.  Coming round the final corner, it was really tight, but Green, Burgundy and Pine were heading for home through the Saplings.  It was then that we realised the importance of positioning:  for those with no dents in their sled, it was possible just to mow through the saplings taking damage as necessary and career across the line.  There is a limit though as players got in his way, Pine stalled, allowing both Blue and Green through the gap, pipping him on the line.  Burgundy crossed the line first however, with Green finishing a close second in what had been a quite chaotic race.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

With a shortage of five-player winter-themed games, we decide to go for one of our most popular games6 Nimmt!.  This is probably our most played game, which is strange as, even when we have a break, it always comes back into fashion again.  In the group we’ve discussed the phenomenon many times, and it is definitely a special game.  There are a combination of factors that add to it’s appeal including the time it takes to play, the number of players, the lack of down time, the simplicity etc..  Perhaps the biggest factor though is the illusion of control the game gives, until it all goes horribly wrong of course.  And of course it did this time too.  The first round was quite close with three players picking up almost exactly the same number of “Nimmts”.  It was the second round that was most amusing though as Pine and Ivory seemed to be competing to collect as many as they could, taking it in turns to pick up rows.  Unusually, as he usually has one catastrophic round, Burgundy managed to win both rounds with a clean sheet in the first and just five in the second.  This gave him a clear victory with Blue some way behind, just pipping Green to second place.  The excitement had all been far too much for Ivory and he decided it was home time, having won the unofficial “hat on the longest” competition that only he had been playing.

– Image by boardGOATS

This left everyone else with time for one last festive game, Christmas Tree.  This is an apparently simple card drafting game, which turns out to be surprisingly challenging in practice (not least because shuffling diamond-shaped cards is remarkably difficult!  Each player begins with an empty Christmas tree shaped board and a hand of eight cards.  Simultaneously, everyone chooses one card to keep and passes the rest on.  They then add the card to their tree, decorating it.  Each card features a bauble of some kind, a wrapped sweet or a gingerbread cookie and some additionally have half a light on the edges.  Points are scored at the end of the game for satisfying the gingerbread men’s neighbourhood preferences, matching the half lights to make whole ones, for sweets and baubles.  The largest number of points come from the “objective cards”, however, which give points for ornaments in a particular arrangement.  At the start of the game, each player is given four objective cards and players choose one at the start of each round, which is scored at the end of that round.  As only Blue and Green had played it before (and then without the objectives) it was felt that it was fairest to draw the objective cards at random this time.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

It took a while for everyone to get the hang of the game, and it quickly became apparent that Green’s experience was invaluable as he took an early lead.  Blue, on the other hand, was demonstrating how not benefit from the advantage she had been given and was grubbing about at the back of the pack.  It turned out that everyone had a different strategy and was targetting different objectives, as evidenced by the changing of places in the final scoring.  Green, who was a long way out in front, remained there unchallenged, but all of a sudden, Blue made a march from the back, thanks to her large number of completed festive lights and a couple of well-timed linzer cookies (which allow players to swap decorations positions on their tree).  It was very tight for second, in fact, there were just two points in it, which given that scores ranged from one hundred and forty to over one hundred and eighty was very close and merited a recount of the final round.  The scores stood, however, and Blue just managed to edge in front of Burgundy to take second.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  There are very few festive themed games that play five!

29th December 2015

The pub was very busy, and with one chef down with the lurgy (which had got four of us as well), food was delayed. So, unusually, we started off with a quick game. Expecting more people, we decided to play something short, and opted for Qwixx. This game was designed by Steffen Bendorf who also designed The Game (which has been popular with the group this year) and was nominated for Spiel des Jahres in 2013. So, it has a good pedigree, however, when it was nominated there were a lot of comments about its suitability and eventually, it was beaten by Hanabi, which most people agreed was a better game. We finally got the chance to give it a go in October and generally felt that although the rules made for a promising sounding filler, the resulting game was disappointing. Given how some people continue rave about it though, we’d were keen to give it another try and see if we’d been mistaken.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Qwixx is a very simple game: each player has a score card displaying the numbers two to twelve in the four different colours, red and yellow ascending and blue and green ascending.  On their turn, the active player rolls six dice, two white, and one of each of the colours, red, blue, green and yellow.  Every player may cross out the number corresponding to the sum of the white dice. The active player may then also cross out a coloured number corresponding to the sum of one white die and one matching coloured die. If the active player cannot or chooses not to cross off a number, then they must tick a penalty box, which costs them five points at the end of the game. The snag is that although numbers can be skipped, they must be crossed off in order, red and yellow ascending, blue and green descending.

Qwixx
– Image by boardGOATS

Points are scored for the number of each colour crossed out and penalties subtracted; the game ends when one player has picked up four penalties, or players have crossed off the last number for two colours locking them for everyone. Scarlet, an experienced local gamer who is usually unavailable on Tuesday evenings, commented that it was a bit like Yahtzee, but with slightly more decisions to make. This didn’t further endear the game to Blue, who has bad memories of playing Yahtzee as a child. Scarlet did manage to demonstrate a modicum of strategy when he chose to cross off a sixth red number rather than his first green number since that would give more points at the end. His discovery clearly gave him a bit of an edge as he took second place, eight behind Burgundy who won with eighty.  We had a bit of discussion about what strategy there was, but it was not really enough to rescue the game in anyone’s eyes and it now faces donation to a worthy cause.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, Grey and Cerise had arrived and seeing everyone else engaged decided to play a quick game of Hey, That’s My Fish!. This is a cute little abstract with a penguin theme, and, in common with games like Carcassonne, although it plays more, in many ways, it is at its best as a two player game when it is most vicious. The game is played on a grid of hexagonal tiles, with each player starting with four penguin figurines which players take it in turns to move in straight lines across the tiles. When a penguin is moved, the active player gets the tile it was sitting on, leaving a gap that cannot be crossed. Thus, the ice flow progressively melts away trapping the penguins in increasingly smaller spaces.

Hey, That's My Fish!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

A number of fish is depicted on each tile, and the player with the most fish at the end of the game, i.e. when there are no more valid moves, is the winner. This is just the sort of game that Grey likes, deliciously savage with plenty of opportunity to go for the jugular and for a while he had Cerise under the cosh. Her delight at the end was obvious though when the final reckoning put her four fish clear.  With food imminent for those who hadn’t yet eaten, and Green expected, we decided to split the group and start the “Feature Game”, Broom Service.  This game uses the role selection mechanic from Witch’s Brew (a game we played a few weeks ago), but adds much more with a board and a delivery mechanic.  Witch’s Brew was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2008, but was beaten by Keltis (a boardgame equivalent of the popular two player card game Lost Cities), but its reincarnation, Broom Service, won the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Like Witch’s Brew, players start with a hand of character cards from which they simultaneously choose a subset in secret. The start player then chooses a card and announces they are that character declaring they are either “brave” or “cowardly”. The other players then must follow suit if they hold that card. If a player is cowardly they take a lesser reward immediately, but if they are brave, they must wait until the end of the round to see if they get a reward. Once everyone has declared their position, the last brave player takes a greater prize and anyone who was brave earlier in the round gets nothing.  The character cards come in three types, Gatherers (who provide ingredients), Witches (who allow players to travel to an adjacent region) and Druids (who deliver potions to the towers). There is also the Weather Fairy who charms away clouds using magic wands.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The rules are modified by event cards that are revealed at the start of the round, and with less than five players, the game is also made tighter by the inclusion of “bewitched” roles (cue Burgundy and Pink demonstrating how to wiggle-twitch their noses like Tabitha). The game is considerably more complex than the cute theme and artwork imply. Compared with Witch’s Brew, there are also a number of small rules that it is difficult to remember at the start, though they are in keeping with the theme.  The game ends after eight rounds, and, although points are awarded for delivering potions during the game, there are extra points for weather clouds and sets of potions collected.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Grey quickly got his nose in front delivering potions early, but Scarlet and and Cerise followed suit and kept the points difference down. It didn’t last however, and before long, Grey had moved his witches away from everyone else’s into the south-east corner of the board where he was able to score heavily without competition.  Despite Cerise’s best efforts with the Weather Fairy and Scarlet’s set collecting, Grey had an unassailable lead and finished nearly thirty points clear with ninety-three points. Second place was much closer, however, Scarlet taking it by just two points from Cerise.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, once the matter of food had been dealt with, Blue, Pink and Burgundy were debating what to play. It had been narrowed down to Snow Tails or Snowdonia (with Pink requesting an expansion to add interest), when Green appeared, newly arrived from visiting relations over Christmas. He was keen to play Snowdonia, so that sealed the deal, with the Jungfraubahn expansion added as a sweetener.

Snowdonia
– Image by BGG contributor duchamp

The base game is not that complex and we’ve played it a few times, however, it is one of those games that somehow everyone struggles to remember how it works. With both Burgundy and Blue suffering with Seasonal Lurgy, adding the expansion was always going to make things more complicated too.  The idea is that players take it in turns to place their workers in the seven possible actions, which are then activated in order. These actions include, visiting the stockyard; converting iron ore into iron bars; digging to remove rubble from the track-bed; laying track; building part of a station; taking contract cards; and surveying the route.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

There are two twists: the weather and the game. The stockyard is refilled from a bag, and there are small number of white cubes in the bag which, when drawn cause the game to play itself. This mechanism came about because the designer dislikes players who hoard resources, so in this game, if people don’t keep things moving, the likelihood of white cubes coming out increases and the game moves along on its own. The other interesting mechanism is the weather which increases and decreases the digging and track laying rate making players’ timing key.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Green, Pink, Blue and Burgundy were still setting out the game and trying to work out what modifications the Jungfraubahn expansion made, when Broom Service finished, so Grey, Cerise and Scarlet played a quick game of Cosmic Encounter. This is a game they were all familiar with, though we’ve not played it on a Tuesday night before.  The game is reasonably straight forward, with each player leading an alien race trying to establish colonies on other players’ planets with the winner the first player to have five colonies on planets outside their home system.

Cosmic Encounter
– Image by BGG contributor RRunner

On their turn, The active player becomes “The Offense”. The Offense encounters another player on a planet by moving a group of his or her ships through the hyperspace gate to that planet. They draw cards from the destiny deck which contains colors, wilds and specials. The Offense then takes the hyperspace gate and points at one planet in the system indicated by the drawn destiny card. The Offense and The Defense both commit ships to the encounter and both sides are able to invite allies, play an encounter card as well as special cards to try and tip the encounter in their favour.  The game was close with lots of too-ing and fro-ing, but Cerise was the one to finally successfully establish five colonies, with Grey and Scarlet finishing with four and three colonies respectively.

Cosmic Encounter
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

By this time, the other group had finally sussed out what they were doing and had got under way with Snowdonia.  The Jungfraubahn expansion changes the game quite considerably replacing fog with snow which adds rubble to the track that must be cleared again before track can be built.  It also introduces dynamite which can be used to remove large amounts of rubble as well as being used to initially clear a route through the mountains before the track-bed is prepared. Added to these, the new contract cards, seemed to introduce even more bad weather than “north-wet” Wales!

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Blue and Burgundy were both a bit slow off the mark and struggled to really get going. In contrast, Green quickly picked up an engine and Pink got a couple of valuable contract cards. With Grey and Cerise leaving, Scarlet was left as an interested spectator. Eventually, Blue and Burgundy got going, but it was a bit of a rear-guard action.  With the expansion, the game was taking slightly longer than expected, so Green, decided to take the opportunity to play Scarlet as a substitute and went home leaving the rest to finish the game without him. He had set out his plan and Scarlet did an excellent job executing it, however, Pink just had the edge.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ansi

Green/Scarlet took a massive seventy-nine points in bonuses and with twenty-nine points for station building together with the maximum for his surveyor, they finished with one hundred and twenty-two.  The break down for Pink was nearly completely reversed with him taking seventy-eight points for station building and nearly sixty more in bonuses, giving a total of one hundred and thirty-eight, and the game.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Learning outcome: Lurgy does not improve gaming ability.

15th December 2015

It was a bit of a disparate night: Blue was late thanks to a disastrous day at work and Black and Purple were able to come for the first time in ages, but arrived even later and hadn’t had any supper.  So after Red, Burgundy and Magenta had finished discussing JunKing, Red, Burgundy, Magenta, Pine and Green played a quick game of The Game.  This simple cooperative game has very simple rules:  Play a minimum of two cards on any of the four piles following the appropriate trend – two piles must always increase, two decrease; the exception to this is if you can play a card where the interval is exactly ten in the wrong direction (known as “The Backwards Rule”).  Players can talk about anything so long as there is no specific number information given and the aim is to cooperatively get rid of all ninety-eight cards by playing them on to the four piles.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

With a hand of just six cards and some players staring with nothing but high cards and others with only cards between forty and sixty, it was always going to be challenging.  In our experience, playing with five is also more difficult, so as a result, at the start of the game expectations weren’t high.  As usual, there were howls of horror as players were forced to play cards that others didn’t want.  Magenta started out with a really nice combo of four cards, but after that everyone just stepped on everyone else’s toes.  Eventually though, much to everyone’s surprise, the deck was gradually whittled down and before long the final cards were drawn from the deck and players were looking to maximise the number of cards they were going to play from their hand.  With only one playable pile at the end it was always going to be difficult and unfortunately, Burgundy was forced to bring the game to a close leaving a combined holding of five cards.

The Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

With Blue finished and Black and Purple just arriving, we decided that the week’s “Feature GameBetween Two Cities would be nice and quick.  Sometimes (like last week) “nice and quick” turns out to be “a bit slow”, but this one has simple rules and rattles along at a good pace.  The game is set in the early 1800s, a time of immense construction and urbanization with players designing new cities.  It is an unusual game as players work in pairs building two cities, one with the each person they are sat next to.  The cities are made up of square tiles and the final layout is a four by four grid.  Since players gradually add tiles to their city, the amount of available space decreases and players have to be more discerning about where they build.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over three rounds.  The first and third are tile drafting rounds, similar to games like 7 Wonders and Sushi Go!, except that players are drafting small square tiles instead of cards.  So, in these first and last rounds, each player begins with seven tiles, everyone simultaneously chooses two, and passes the rest on.  Once everyone has chosen, players can discuss what to play and where, before placing one tile in each of their cities and then picking up their next hand.  In the first rounds cards are passed to the left, in the third round to the right.  Between these two rounds, players are dealt three double sized tiles each from which they choose two to play.  Since these must be placed the right way up and can be in either horizontal or vertical configurations, the choice and placement of these is quite critical, and are probably key producing the best city.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

Each city is scored separately at the end of the game and the winner is the player with who gets the most points for their lowest scoring city.  Points are awarded to each city for each building in it, but the score depends on the type of building and where it is placed.  For example, yellow shops score when placed in a row.  A single, isolated shop will score just one point, but two adjacent shops score five and three in a row score a total of ten.  Similarly, the first green park tile will score just two points, but if three are placed in a group, they will score twelve points.  The scoring for some buildings depends on what else is present in the city however.  Houses flourish best when there are a variety of other types of building nearby, so their score depends on the number of different buildings across the whole city.  On the other hand, nobody likes living next to a factory, so a brown house tile next to a grey factory tile will score just one point regardless of everything else.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

Only Burgundy and Green had played the game before, but as Burgundy explained when people asked for advice, although he’d played well and even won in the past, he never had any idea how.  So everyone was on their own pretty much,  and when the first hand of tiles were dealt out, it felt like a bit of a lottery.  As the game progressed, everyone discussed what they were trying to do with their neighbours and, before long players were struggling to find the best tiles to play to maximise their final scores.  Magenta was trying to decide which of her two cities (shared with Blue and Red) should have the final entertainment establishment and a complete set, and Pine and Burgundy were busily industrialising their city to pick up a few extra points.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

In the final scoring, it was Blue and Magenta who’s city came out best with sixty-three, though the winning city is usually irrelevant.  In Between Two Cities, players total up the points for both cities, but it is their lowest score that is compared and the higher is only a tie-breaker.  Thus, players are trying to maximise both cities equally.  In this case however, the second best city was built by Blue and Burgundy, so Blue took first, with Magenta in second place.  This game was a win all round though as everyone had enjoyed it.  The game was originally funded though KickStarter, and these games often feel a bit incomplete and lacking in finishing touches.  This one, however, had a really good feel about it, the right amount of length for its depth and beautifully executed – definitely a game that will come out again.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

With Black and Purple finished and ready to play, there was some debate about what to go for.  Green had been desperate to play Rockwell for about three years, so when he heard Blue had brought it, he was keen to give it a go.  Meanwhile, Purple had been feeling aggrieved at the fact that Snow Tails had been shouted down at the previous Didcot Games Club meeting, so when Black said he would play it with her that pretty much set the games and everyone divided into two groups, with Magenta and Red joining Black and Purple to race dog sleds.

Snow Tails
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Snow Tails is a fun dog-sled-racing game where players built round a deck building and control mechanic.  Each player starts with a sled drawn by two huskies.  At the start of the game, each dog has a speed of three, and the break is also applied at a level of three.  Thus, the sled-speed is the sum of the dogs minus the value of the break, i.e. everyone begins with a speed of three so and move three spaces forward.  In addition, since the dogs are pulling evenly, this movement is in a straight line, but the also sled achieves a bonus equal to their position in the race.  On the other hand, if the left dog had a speed of four and the right hand dog had a speed of two, although the sum would be the same, the difference of two means that the sled must also drift two lanes to the left.  This “drift” can be applied at any point during the sleds move, so two of the moves are diagonal rather than just straight ahead.

Snow Tails
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each player begins the game with the same deck of cards  – five sets of cards numbered one to five, shuffled, from which they draw a hand of five cards.  On their turn, the active player must play at least one card, but may play up to three cards, so long as they all have the same value.  These cards are used to update either or both dogs, and/or the break.  When they have completed their move, players draw cards from their personal deck back up to the hand-limit of five.  Thus, players use their cards to navigate their sleds round the avoiding obstacles and attempting to observe the speed restrictions.  Failure to do either incurs penalty “dent” cards which go into the player’s hand reducing the number of playable cards.  This reduces their ability to control their sled and increasing the chance of them hitting obstacles and getting more dent cards, thus chaos reigns.

Snow Tails
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The track is custom built, and we started off trees and finished with a sharp bend.  Black got the best start and, got lucky through the pines giving him a healthy lead which he held throughout.  The race for second place was very tight however, with Purple, Red and Magenta taking it in turns at the front of the pack.  Eventually, Red lost ground round a sharp corner and Purple finally got her nose ahead of Magenta to take second place.

Snow Tails
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, it was quickly becoming clear that Rockwell was a much more complex undertaking.  Not only were there an enormous number of pieces to sort out, it was also a few weeks since Green had read the rules.  The rules were quite complex and Blue’s, Burgundy’s and Pine’s very puzzled expressions had changed to confused bemusement long before Green had finished explaining.  The gist of the game is that players are the managers of a mining company, each with four drilling teams.  Each round is made up of four phases:  first players deploy their two managers, then they deploy their drilling teams, next they can sell or buy resources in the market and finally players can buy upgrades, for example, making their drilling teams more effective.

Rockwell
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, at its heart, the game is a worker placement and it is all about how players deploy their managers and then how they use their resources once they have got them.  These are just the sort of game Green likes best and also the sort of game Burgundy excels at.  In the fiddling with the small rules, however, we’d sort of lost sight of how players actually win:  basically there are achievement tiles and when people manage to fulfill the requirements of an achievement tile, they take the top one off the pile.  Since these are sorted so that their value decreases, there is an advantage to getting there first.  The achievements are a little strange and it took Pine a moment to grasp that, for example, players only needed to have eight zinc and eight copper to qualify for a tile; they did not need to actually spend the resources.  Players can also trade resources for points in the upgrade phase, though in this case, the resources are returned to the main supply.

Rockwell
– Image by BGG contributor Rayreviewsgames

There  are definitely a few very clever mechanics in the game and it is also beautifully produced with a lot of thought going into the design and rendition.  The game board is circular, but is made of slightly curved tiles forming concentric layers so that the layout is different every time and players don’t know which resources will be produced where.  Players move their mining teams around and between the strata and a layer is mined when an appropriate number of miners are there.  Since each player starts with four teams of one spread out evenly around the surface and the first layers need a total of three or four, this means there is necessarily cooperation and player interaction in the game.  Once the total for a given mine has been exceeded, the tile is turned over, and a corresponding card drawn indicating the resources to be allocated.  Unusually, these resources are divided up equally regardless of the number of miners each player has contributed, however, the left-overs (dubbed “The Lion’s Share”) are given to the player with “priority”, a point we mostly never truly got to grips with.

Rockwell
– Image by boardGOATS

It was always going to be one of those games.  The other table were well under way before Green had even finished reading the rules and once he had, everyone was still a bit clueless as to what to do, so it was largely through chance that Blue managed to pick up the first achievement tile.  At which point, perhaps in shock, Green dropped a pale blue zinc cube on the floor and the next half hour was punctuated by people hunting for it.  Black took a couple of breaks from the husky racing and made curiosity type noises as he passed and tried to work out how the game was going.  After the first couple of rounds, players finally began to understand what they were trying to do, though the rules of who got “The Lion’s Share” remained pretty baffling right up to the end.

Rockwell
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Before long, Burgundy was also picking up achievement tiles followed by Pine, but by this time Snow Tails was coming to an end.  This led to a discussion about how much longer Rockwell was going to take, at which point, Blue realised her watch had stopped and it was nearly midnight…  Yes, it was definitely one of those games!  Green decided we were unlikely to make it to the end, the game would take some time packing up and his curfew was approaching.  So in the end we just scored what points we had and left it at that.  Everyone felt they were on the way to pulling in points, but it was Burgundy who had the most with fourteen, four clear of Blue with ten.  Despite his confusion, Pine had picked up five points and only Green had failed to score, largely because he was focusing on the rules.  It was a very unsatisfactory end and we definitely have unfinished business with Rockwell.

Rockwell
– Image by boardGOATS

Packing up didn’t take as long as predicted, and Pine did eventually find the missing zinc cube only for Blue to throw a white cube on the floor instead and the Great Cube Hunt to begin again.  With Red and Magenta waiting for their lift, there was some discussion about starting a quick game of Bellz!, but despite its festive feel, there wasn’t really time even for that.  So it was Christmas Greetings all round and time for home.

Rockwell
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Don’t start long complicated games after 9.30 pm, especially if they are new!

Save the Date: Mixing it in Wantage II

The Mix in Wantage town centre is a community space that can be booked for use by local groups, organisations, businesses and individuals for activities, fund-raising, meetings, workshops, and presentations etc.  This spring, we held a drop-in gaming session there to try to inspire people to play games.  With winter approaching (traditionally “the gaming season”) and Christmas on the horizon, it seemed an excellent time to do it again.

The Mix
– Image from thewantagemix.wordpress.com

We will be there from 10.30 am until 2 pm on November 21st 2015.  There isn’t an awful lot of space so, as before, the idea is to encourage people to drop in and play a short game or two, so we will be bringing along some of most eye-catching games like PitchCar, Colt Express, Dobble, Turf Horse Racing, Cube Quest, The Great Balloon Race and maybe a few of our favourite winter themed games like Snow Tails, Carcassonne: Winter Edition and The Great Downhill Ski Game.

The Mix
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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.

Abalone
– 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.

Eurazeo
– 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.

Eurazeo
– 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
– Image from forbes.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…

30th October 2012

This week we had two new people, who arrived early, so we started the evening off with a quick four-player game of No Thanks!  This is a very, very simple push-your-luck game with just a hint of strategy and probably one of the best games going for its size.  The idea is that you turn over the first card in the stack and either take it or pay a chip.  If you take it, you turn over the next card, if you pay, the decision passes to the next player; the person with the lowest number of points when the cards run out wins.  The strategy comes because for runs of two or more cards, only the lowest counts, but unfortunately, someone removed nine cards from the deck at random…  Just as we were finishing the first round, another player arrived, so as it is such a quick game we gave it another go.

No Thanks!

Since it was gone 8pm, we decided to play the  “Feature Game” which was The Great Balloon Race. This is a light hearted, relatively quick race game with quite a lot of luck, and (as it turns out) a lot of vendettas against certain colours with orange and blue being the most victimised.  One of the really nice things about this game was the way that people at the back who felt they had no chance, were able to catch up and indeed win.

The Great Balloon Race

Next, there was some debate about what to play next and in the end we decided to play a fairly light card game, Boomtown.  In this game, players are mining moguls who bid to win the first choice of the cards on offer.  Winning the bidding has two consequences:  you get first pick from the cards available, but you have to pay the other players what you bid.  The game was won by an landslide and it turns out that winning the bid is not always best as it can be expensive as well as favouring the player to your left.  Or was it right?  Actually, it was probably both…

Boomtown

With five games something of a record, we managed to squeeze in a game of Snow Tails.  This is a very pretty game of dog-sled racing, but the choice of game was possibly a mistake given the time, compounded by the fact that we used a more complex track than was wise, and we were playing with the full five players (three of whom were new to it).  Basic numeracy proved to be something of a challenge and the “Big Paws” token changed hands several times as the dents in the sleds increased and the saplings took a beating.  However, most people were in the lead at some point and in the final run for the line, everyone was within one turn or so of finishing the race.

Snow Tails

Learning Outcome: Basic skills such as being able to add up and tell your left from your right can be really useful when mining, flying balloons, and especially driving dog-sleds!