Tag Archives: Snowdonia

Boardgames in the News: New Editions that aren’t an Improvement

Everyone has experienced a disappointing remake of a favourite film; while we always hope for an improvement, only occasionally do we get one.  Board games have a similar problem, but as with films, things are often not clear cut.  For example, the new version of Camel Up arguably has nicer art and a better pyramid dice shaker than the original.  The Crazy Camel mini expansion and the partnership betting (from the original Supercup expansion) also add quite a bit to the game play, especially at higher player counts, but the money isn’t as easy to handle and the dice and camels themselves are plastic and don’t feel as nice.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Similarly, the recent editions of Glen More (Glen More II: Chronicles) and Snowdonia (the Deluxe Master set) are beautiful and include lots of extra content.  As previously discussed, this is at the expense of shelf-space though, and portability which means they are less likely to get played.  In other cases, the revision is considered a definite step back.  For example, the revised edition of Colosseum by TMG is widely believed to compare unfavourably with the original Days of Wonder edition.

– Image by boardGOATS

In a recent new edition of Monopoly, female players initially receive $1,900 with a salary of $240, while male players start with $1,500 receiving $200 when they pass “Go”.  On the plus-side, as part of the publicity, three teenage entrepreneurs received a grant of $20,580 each to invest in their own inventions.  Otherwise, Ms Monopoly is widely thought to be hugely patronising to half the population while claiming to celebrate empowering women, something that is apparent in the adverts.

– Video by Hasbro on youtube.com

These days, a lot of gaming is being done online.  One new electronic game that has been seen as a retrograde step is the new Scrabble app, Scrabble Go.  This is a new product that, thanks to changes in licensing, replaces the previous offering from Electronic Arts (EA).  The problem is that the new version seems to have been designed to appeal to the Candy Crush generation with vivid colours, treasure-style rewards and in-app purchases.  Unfortunately, Scrabble is a very traditional game and its players generally don’t appreciate that approach.  To date, nearly eight thousand of these have registered their disgust through an online petition.

Scrabble Go
– Image by boardGOATS from play.google.com

The Carcassonne app has also received a similar licensing-inspired change and although the new Asmodee version is less offensive, many seem to prefer the older, Coding Monkeys version.  So, before deciding to upgrade a game, keep in mind that a new version, often isn’t a better one.

Boardgames in the News: The Peril of Box Inflation

The increase in the number of games available has increased the pressure on the market considerably in the last couple of years, and as a result, buyers are getting more canny.  Backers are more discriminating on KickStarter, and it is becoming harder to get market penetration with an original product.  As a result, in the last year, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of reprints, deluxe editions and revisions of popular games.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

The explanation for this is relatively simple.  When a game becomes scarce, the price rises.  This creates its own frenzy of people calling for a reprint.  In turn, this raises the profile of this now unavailable game, fanning the flames of desire in those that can’t get it, and increasing the price still further.  This creates huge demand, and when the game is eventually made available, a lot of people perceive this as their only chance to obtain it.  The combination of this Fear Of Missing Out (aka “FOMO“), and the fact that people have a better idea of what they are getting, means the product is more likely to be successful than something relying solely on “the cult of the new”, reducing the risk for all parties encouraging more cautious people to take the plunge.

Yokohama
– Image by boardGOATS

The downside is that some people will already have a copy, so the problem is how to encourage them to get involved too.  One way is to provide a special edition, often including new material, or deluxe, better and, perhaps, larger components.  These often also provide a better margin for the producers, making it a win for them, in all directions.  The downside is that the box size has to be increased, partly to hold all the additional/larger content, but also to signal to everyone that the new edition is better than its predecessor.

Snowdonia
– Image by boardGOATS

Games to get a deluxe reprint in the last year include, Luna, Snowdonia, Glen More, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects and Age of Steam, with Rococo, Lords of Vegas, K2, and CliniϽ coming in the next twelve months or so.  These editions are truly beautiful and delightful to play with, but some of the boxes are enormous, especially when compared with their original editions.  This makes them a problem to store, but more importantly, they are much less transportable and therefore less likely to be taken to games nights.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

If the likelihood of games being played is dependent on them travelling, “box inflation” reduces the chance of them being played.  This is a great shame, because these deluxe editions are really lovely to play and have had a lot of time and money invested in them.

Luna
– Image by boardGOATS

12th May 2020 (Online)

Having spent the last few meetings playing online using Tabletop Simulator shared through Microsoft Teams, this time we decided to do something a little different.  One of the group’s most popular games is 6 Nimmt!, which also plays lots of people.  It has unavoidable hidden information, but is available through the online platform, Board Game Arena.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

On our first online game night, a small group had had a difficult time playing Port Royal on Yucata.  Some of the group had also played rather challenging games of Snowdonia and San Juan, and, as a result, had moved to Board Game Arena for three more recent, epic games of Keyflower.  The graphics and playing environment on Board Game Arena are more up to date than those for Yucata, but like most other platforms, the servers have been struggling at peak  times with the load caused by the recent influx of new online gamers.  The folks at Board Game Arena have done a lot of work on that in the last couple of weeks though, and the performance has improved significantly as a result.  So much so, that we felt reasonably confident it would be stable enough to be the focus of games night.

Board Game Arena Logo
– Image by boardgamearena
on twitter.com

So, this week, the “Feature Game” was to be 6 Nimmt! played on Board Game Arena.  This is a game that everyone knows well, though there are a couple of minor tweaks to the rules.  The idea is that everyone starts with a hand of cards, ten on Board Game Arena (we usually play with the hand size that is dependent on the number of players).  Simultaneously, everyone chooses a card, and then, starting with the lowest numbered card, these are added to the four rows in the display.  Each card is added to the row that ends with the card with the highest number that is lower than the card played.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Placing the sixth card in the row causes the active player to take all the cards in the row, replacing them with their played card.  The clever part is that the score is the not the face value of the cards, but the number of “bull’s heads” shown on the cards.  The aim of the game is to finish with the lowest score.  When the group usually play, we split the deck into two halves and play just two rounds.  On Board Game Arena, however, everyone starts with sixty-six points and the game end is triggered when someone’s score falls to zero.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

From 7pm, players began logging onto Board Game Arena and joined the MS Teams meeting.  Lime was one of the first and his chat with Blue and Pink was interrupted by a phone call from one of Blue’s relatives trying to source a set of drain rods.  Blue and Pink were quite convinced they didn’t have any, but that didn’t stop Pink having to spend the next hour hunting for some without success (so Lime kindly offered to lend his if required).  While Pink rummaged in the garage, everyone else joined the meeting and chatted.  Mulberry unfortunately wasn’t able to join us, but she was replaced by Ivory on his first online meeting.  It was great to “see” him again after so long, and good to hear that Mrs. Ivory, Little Ivory and Littler Ivory were all doing well and might be interested in OKIDO.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Pink finished ferreting and returned to the chair kept warm by his panda and everyone settled down to play.  The Board Game Arena implementation worked nicely and everyone was able to chat in the background using MS Teams, but also through the game’s “chat” channel.  There was the usual moaning about the quality of cards and comments about how badly things were going:  it was almost like playing together in the pub, though not quite.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Green and Purple managed to avoid picking up any cards for the first round or two, but it wasn’t long before their natural collecting mania began.  The disease spread and soon Pine, Ivory and Black were picking up lots of cards too.  It wasn’t long before Lime triggered the end of the game, and Burgundy managed to avoid picking up anything in the final round to win, ten points clear of the rest of the field.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

There is a lot of luck in the game, especially with so many players, but everyone was happy to play again and it is very easy to engage in a re-match, or so we all thought.  It wasn’t until the second game had started that we realised we’d “lost” Lime somewhere along the way.  He seemed to be playing a game, but then it dawned on him, that he’d somehow got himself involved in somebody else’s game by mistake.  He was very embarrassed and was keen to extricate himself, but Blue worked out where he’d gone and shared the link.  So, to the complete mystification of the four French gamers involved, the Brits all joined their game as excitable spectators.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone boisterously cheered on our British Representative, to the blissful ignorance of the French and huge embarrassment of poor Lime.  Meanwhile, Black worked out how to abandon the incomplete game and Blue started a new one which everyone joined while still following Lime’s progress against the French.  Lime played really well and was in the lead for much of the game, but sadly, one of the French finished strongly and just beat him.  Still, we all felt he’d done an excellent job keeping the British end up, and he finished a very creditable second (especially since he was somehow also playing the group’s game and working!).

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

After all that excitement, our game was something of an anticlimax.  Nobody was really paying much attention for the first part as they were distracted by Lime’s stellar performance.  But when everyone focussed on the game again, Pine, Blue, Ivory and Green were fighting it out to at the top while Pink was doing his best to end the game nice and quickly.  There were the usual smutty comments (Green: “Ivory’s got a big one there…!”) and other banter (Pine: “I had the lead for all of two seconds…!”), but eventually, Pink put everyone out of their misery, somehow leaving Blue just ahead of Pine.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

Nobody was desperate for an early night, so everyone chose the rematch option again, and this time, everyone ended up in the same game.  It started quite close, but Black soon found the cards irresistible and quickly amassed an unassailable pile of brightly coloured cards.  At the other end, Pink went from “zero” to “hero”, going from last place to first place, with Pine and Lime tying for second place.  Nobody seemed keen to play another round and the evening degenerated into chatter.  Pink shared how to customise backgrounds on MS Teams including a selection he had downloaded from the BBC, with one from Blake’s 7 and another from Multi-coloured Swap Shop.

The Goodies Album Cover
– Image from youtube.com

This led to a discussion as to which was better: Swap Shop or ITV‘s offering, TISWAS.  From there, Pine shared some of his album collection with a quick blast of The Goodies’ Funky Gibbon and everyone started sharing weird things on YouTube including sheep playing on roundabouts; a fluffy sheep with no facial features, and the world’s biggest dogs. Pine offered Pink a copy of the soundtrack to The Sound of Music on orange vinyl, a generous offer that was politely declined.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

With Lime, Ivory and Green gone, and everyone else clearly not ready for bed yet, but running out of chat, someone suggested another quick game.  Once Blue’s maths had been corrected several times (ruling out all the five-player games), the group started a game of For Sale.  This is a simple auction game of two halves.  First, there is the property sale, where players take it in turn to bid for a building or pass and take the least valuable available.  Then, players choose which properties to sell when the “buyers” reveal their offers (cheques).

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part of this game is that the property cards are numbered (one to thirty), so they have a relative value with those numbered close to thirty more valuable than those around one.  Everyone starts with $14,000 and bids are in $1,000 increments, but anyone passing takes the lowest value property available, but takes a rebate equal to half the value of the bid (rounded down).  This adds an interesting level of decision making towards the end of each bidding round.  In the second phase, cheques are revealed with values between zero (void) and $15,000.  The player with the highest value of cheques and any left over money once all properties have been bought and sold, is the winner.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

Board Game Arena have a very nice implementation of For Sale, faithfully reproducing the original, quirky card art.  There were a lot of controversially high bids, not least from Burgundy who paid $9,000 for the space station, the highest value property.  It worked though, as Burgundy just pipped Pine to win by a mere $1,000, in what was a very tight game.  It is a game where valuing property is key, both for buying and selling, and as it plays quickly, the group decided to give it a second try.

For Sale on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

This time, aside from Pink propping up the table again, everyone who had done well, did badly, and everyone who had done badly did well.  So, Blue, Black and Pink were at the top this time, with Blue pushing Black into second place by $5,000.  With that, Pine left the others to decide what long and drawn-out game they were going to play over the next fortnight, and everyone else eventually settled on Tokaido and set up the table to start the next day.

Tokaido on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Learning Outcome:  6 Nimmt! est imprévisible dans toutes les langues.

14th April 2020 (Online)

Social contact is really important for mental health and board games are a great medium for that.  Unfortunately, physical proximity isn’t an option at the moment, so we’ve moved our games nights online.  Despite the limitations experienced last time, the overwhelming response from the group was that we should persist with online meetings.  With this in mind, and the recent special offer for Tabletop Simulator on the Steam platform, we’d had a couple of trial runs to see if that would work for the group.  Tabletop Simulator is a “sandbox” environment, which provides an electronic rendering of the game and tools to move things around.

Tabletop Simulator Splash Screen
– Image from steampowered.com

The strength of Tabletop Simulator, but also its weakness, is that people have to do everything themselves.  Everything.  This is good because it means the game can be played according to any rules people want, however, it also means there is a substantial overhead, which is just that bit too much for players not used to computer gaming.  Additional hurdles included installing software (a problem on some work laptops) and the intricacies of actually getting it running which required an hour or so tutorial to get going.  Unfortunately, these were just too large for us, especially for a group meeting only once a fortnight.

Chess on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Last time, we had played a simple physical game that we knew well, Las Vegas using cameras.  Seeing the “table” had been difficult though, limited by the resolution of the cameras and lighting.  So to improve things and get others involved, we decided to go with a compromise:  some people would run the game on Tabletop Simulator (providing a better visual experience), but the game would then be “streamed” to the group through Microsoft Teams, using the technology everyone was already familiar with.  This time, we were more ambitious: the “Feature Game“, Camel Up has more moving parts and lots of people hadn’t played it before.  It still fits the two key requirements, however, lots of people can play (especially with the Supercup expansion), and it has minimal “hidden information”, so it would still work with a couple of minor tweaks.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Camel Up is a simple enough family game, so teaching, even online, wasn’t too difficult.  It is a race game, where people are betting on racing camels and the player with the most money at the end of the race is the winner.  On their turn players have four options.  Firstly, they can roll dice to move a camel.  In the physical game, this is done with a special pyramid dice shaker that holds a die for each of the five camels and spits them out one at a time.  We found using the online rendering of this very difficult, and wanted to involve the players more, so we used the real shaker to deliver dictate the number and players rolled their own dice at home to see how far they moved.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Alternatively, players could place a tile on the track which would earn them money whenever anything landed on it and move those camels forwards or backwards one space (depending which way up the tile had been placed).  The other two options involved betting:  players could bet on the winner of the leg (i.e. after all the dice had been rolled once) or the eventual winner or loser of the overall race.  A simple roll and move would not make betting very interesting, but in Camel Up, when a camel lands on the same space as another camel, it is placed on top of the other piece.  Then, if the lower camel moves before the top one does, it gets a free ride.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Betting on the winner of a leg was easy to implement—each player had a space on the simulator and betting tiles (and pyramid tiles showing players had rolled dice) were moved to that area.  Betting on the eventual winner/loser was more difficult.  In the physical game, players have five cards which they play onto the winner or loser pile.  At the end of the game, these are evaluated with the first player to bet correctly getting the most money, continuing on a sliding scale, with those who bet incorrectly losing their stake.  Obviously, this wasn’t going to work for us, so instead, one person made a note of who placed bets and people kept track of their own choices (as well as their money), and we just tallied up at the end.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue, Pink, and Mulberry started setting up from around 7pm.  We used the expanded board from the expansion to make the race a little longer, but decided that any of the other modules would just make it too complicated this time.  This was a very hard decision, because the game can become very random with lots of players and the expansions do a lot to mitigate that.  We had already increased the complexity considerably compared with last time, and that would have been a step too far this time.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

As people joined the “meeting”, people chatted, mostly about nothing, largely because not a lot had happened for most people.  Blue commented on the lovely large rainbow image in the window at Lime’s house (drawn by Little Lime), and Pine commented on how nice it was to be home now his caring duties were over.  Green was the last to join the party, and he immediately asked when Pine was going to get back which led to much hilarity as the previous conversation was reprised.  The procession of soft toys reappeared:  Mulberry showed off her Pony, apparently called Macaroni (after Yankee Doodle), and Pine introduced us to his Gremlin, who apparently wants to join us at The Jockey when it re-opens and would like to be known as “Beige”.

Beige
– Image by Beige’s “Wrangler”

Having already set the game up for eight, Green and Lilac decided to play as a team, especially as they were still to eat their supper.  Blue was about half way through the rules explanation, when, much to everyone’s delight, Burgundy arrived.  He didn’t have a microphone, though he could hear everything people said.  This created a weird juxtaposition of speaking and reading replies, which occasionally became typing (especially for Blue) when confusion set in.  Playing would have been quite difficult as well as needing more set up, but it was lovely to have Burgundy back as we’d all missed him last time, and people couldn’t resist chatting on the text channel in the background.  We will definitely sort out a microphone for him for next time though.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

From there on, it was disorganised chaos mediated by camels.  Pine decided to share his packet of Tangy Cheese Doritos with everyone, and the disembodied crunching and rustling was quite something.  He blamed it on Beige, but no-one was fooled.  This was followed by someone (possibly Black) making a strange bonging noise that to Pink sounded like a bell from a traditional, mechanical signal box.  He does have a bit of a thing about trains though.  Meanwhile, on the chat, there were discussions about shopping and Pine’s burping camel impersonations.  Clearly the Doritos were working their magic.

– From Peter Jordan on youtube.com

The game was something of a side-show to all this “excitement”.  In the first round, aside from a couple of people placing oasis/mirage tiles, everyone just moved camels.  Having seen how the race worked though, the betting really got going on the second round.  The tech, though not perfect, worked well enough, thanks largely to Mulberry’s efficiency.  And although the game wasn’t a “meaty”, “manly” game, being together doing something a little different was the most important thing.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

The betting on the end game really told the story of the race.  Mulberry was the first to bet on a win, quickly followed by Pine, Black, Purple, Pink and Blue, with everyone gambling on the green or white camel making it over the line first.  Pine was the first to have another shot, but still didn’t get it right.  Betting on the loser, on the other hand, was started early by Lime and quickly followed by Pink, Black, Blue and Mulberry all of whom bet on the yellow camel to stay at the back of the pack.  That camel seemed to have three legs, or maybe a pulling rider, or perhaps it had eaten too many of Green’s sausages.  Whatever, it was definitely not a contender, and everyone agreed with Purple who commented that it should retire to a camel sanctuary.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

The front of the race was much tighter, and as the probability field gradually whittled down the likely order of finishers as it became clear that the game was coming to an end.  The order of movement was all important and players jumped in with their final bets on who would win the race, but the final leg.  Lime was the first to bet on the eventual winner, giving him eight Egyptian pounds, followed by Blue, and Pine with diminishing returns.  Green realised that betting on the winner of the leg was more lucrative by this point than betting on the end of the race, and Pink followed suit, leaving Mulberry to finish the race.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

A quick run-down of the final finances showed that Pink was a single pound ahead of Green who who posted an initial, competitive total winnings of twenty Egyptian pounds.  Lime, the first to successfully predict both the overall winner and loser finished some way ahead though, with takings of twenty-eight pounds.  Pine excused his particularly poor showing by saying he thought camel racing was cruel.  From there, the evening mostly descended into verbal and text chatter as people discovered and shared emojis (Pine was the first to find camels, but only in camel colour) and stickers, and then soft toys… again.

Pikachu
– Image by Mulberry

Mulberry suggested that when The Jockey re-opens we should have a “BYOB” party and “Bring Your Own Buddy”.  Burgundy apparently misheard and there was more hilarity when the sad message appeared on the chat, “no bunny”.  Green saw Mulberry’s Pikachu and said Pokemon Go was a problem in the current climate.  That’s not the case for Mulberry apparently, who commented that she has a “Pokey-stop” outside her house.  For those who were not familiar with the game Pokemon Go, that just sounded very smutty.  Mulberry shared a “Let Me Google That For You” link, but it didn’t seem to help, and things only got worse when she tried to explained what she did with her “Pokey-balls”…

Yucata.de
– Image from yucata.de

Time was getting on, and meeting on line is surprisingly tiring so eventually, people sadly departed, leaving Pink, Blue, Black and Purple to continue the seemingly eternal game of Snowdonia they had started two weeks earlier, on Yucata.de.  Snowdonia is a worker placement game that we’ve played quite a bit as a group, where players are building the rack-railway up the famous mountain.  The basic idea is that each player has two workers and they take it in turns to place these on one of the seven options:  gather resources; remove rubble; convert resources; lay track; build part of a station; pick up a contract card, and move their surveyor.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Each of these actions have a different number of available spaces, so for example, only three workers can lay track in any given round.  During the game, the weather changes, increasing and decreasing the work-rate so that players can build that track faster, or slower, or if it is foggy, not at all.  Contract cards give players points for successfully completing certain tasks, but can also be used to give an enhanced action instead.  The game ends when all the track has been built to the summit, Yr Wyddfa.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

This game was started after the last games night, so it was only fitting that is should be finished on a games night too.  It had started quite slowly – Yucata is quite different to Tabletop Simulator because it is much less flexible, but does ensure players follow the rules and can play turns for them when they have no decision to make.  This can help speed things along, but can also be confusing at times when the game state changes more than expected between turns.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Playing a strategy game over such a long time period proved difficult for those not used to it.  This is mainly because players lost the thread of the “narrative”, and ended up playing tactically for the short term rather than following a long-term plan.  Unsurprisingly, Black, who plays quite a lot of games asynchronously on Yucata, struggled least with this.  He was also must familiar with the environment and got off to a flying start.  Blue prioritised getting a train, but discovered that it didn’t do quite what she had in mind when she tried to use it a day or two later.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Pink was the first to move his surveyor, but then completely forgot about it.  He only realised it had been passed by everyone else’s about half-way up the mountain in the final round, by which time it was too late to do anything about it and the others were all at the summit.  Blue had been horribly inefficient in places due to losing the thread of the game and additionally couldn’t quite build the track she needed to fulfil her most lucrative contract.  According to Black, Purple was “playing online like she plays in real life”, but she was definitely doing something right as she put a spurt on at the end laying track.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Black started fastest, took the lead and then stayed there, but contracts can be a big game changer in Snowdonia.  This time though, Black completed two contracts adding a total of forty-six points to his twenty-one for getting his surveyor to the top of the mountain and forty-five points collected for building during the game.  The total made him a run-away winner with a total of a hundred and twenty-one, miles ahead of Purple who sneaked into second place a couple of points in front of Blue.  And with that it was time for the long walk to bed.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Learning Outcome:  A simulator can still be used even when most people don’t have access.

31st March 2020 (Online)

It is at times like this that we need social contact more than ever, and board games are a great medium for that, a fact recognised by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the British government.  With everyone confined to barracks for the foreseeable, we felt it was important to give online meetings a go.  There are several online gaming alternatives, but they all either cost or are horribly slow thanks to the fact that everyone else is trying to do the same.  For this reason, we decided to try to play a real game using the medium of Microsoft Teams with a camera pointed at the board and everyone else giving instructions.

Setting up for online gaming
– Image by boardGOATS

Our game of choice, and therefore our “Feature Game” for the day, was Las  Vegas. This was because everyone knows it (minimising explanations), lots of people can play (this was intended to be a social event, so that meant lots of people could be involved); it has no hidden information (a necessity for this sort of thing).  Blue and Pink began setting up at about 6pm, after the long walk home from work. They used two laptops: one was perched on some place mats and a pile of sturdy game boxes (specifically Tapestry, In the Hall of the Mountain King and Teotihuacan) with the reverse camera pointing at the table and the game, the second laptop was then used to see what everyone else could see.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Black and Purple (in Abingdon), were the first guinea pigs and struggled to get the link to work. Eventually, with some discussion over the phone and the inevitable microphones and speakers on/off issues, they were successful. While Pink popped out to fetch fish and chips from Darren Pryde and his itinerant chip van (which were truly excellent), Mullberry (in Wantage) became the next guinea pig and signed in with little difficulty.  After Blue sent out the link to everyone else at 7.30pm, there was a steady precession of gamers joining the party.  There were a few things we learnt from this first experience:

  • As the sun set, the natural light from the window faded and the camera really struggled—lighting really is critical.
  • MS Teams worked OK with people joining through a link via a web browser, but it is important that the “game camera” has an active microphone. If it does not, Teams decides it is not active and it disappears for anyone viewing on a browser.
  • MS Teams thinks that feeds where the image changes a lot are the most active and therefore the most important to show to people using a browser; turning off cameras when not active can help.
  • During setup, it helps to have something really obvious for people to focus on.
  • Maybe it’s the stress of the current climate, but there are an alarming number of soft toys in close proximity of people’s web cameras, most of which seemed to be pandas.

By about ten minutes to eight, most people had “arrived” and everyone was chatting about their new normal and sharing what they were drinking and stories of shopping—for a moment, it was almost like we were at The Jockey. A couple of minutes before the scheduled start, Green the last to join, signed in.  As Blue began dealing out the cards, Green’s opening comment was that it didn’t feel like a games night because we hadn’t spent half an hour chatting! That produced much hilarity, and more chit-chat, before we eventually started.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Las Vegas is a very simple game, which is, of course, why we picked it.  Players have a handful of dice and take it in turns to roll them and then place all the dice of one number on the casino of their choice. When nobody has any dice left, the player with the most dice in each cassino wins the jackpot.  There are a couple of clever twists that make this a really great game though. Firstly, the prize fund for each casino is dealt out in money cards.  Some cards are as high as $100,000, while others are only $10,000—the winner takes the largest denomination for that casino, the jackpot, leaving the player in second place to take the second largest, and so on.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Secondly, and perhaps most cleverly, all ties, cancel each other out.  This is absolutely key to the game: the vagaries of dice mean that a well-positioned player could roll one die and end up with nothing, and much hilarity follows. We also add the Slot Machine from the Boulevard expansion, which works in a slightly different way with dice of each number being added a maximum of once.  We also use the “Biggun” from the expansion, so each player has on large die that counts as two.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry began. One of the reasons we picked this game was that we thought most people might have dice of their own at home and could roll them themselves. Mulberry was the only one who didn’t, so being a true Millennial to the core, she opted for an electronic solution using an online dice roller.  Otherwise, it was very satisfying to hear the rattle of dice as people took their turns.  Although chatting was quite difficult over the network, that didn’t prevent a lot of smutty comments and requests for him to stop bragging when Green announced that he had “got a big one”.  Even more entertaining was when the conversation moved onto Iceland’s entry for Eurovision and links were shared through the chat feature which resulted in Pink pressing play by mistake and drowning out everything else.

– From Eurovision Song Contest on youtube.com

It was not an ideal way to play any game and with our group Las Vegas is not quick at the best of times, but the combination of people reading out their dice roll so that Blue and Pink could display them, dodgy internet connections, people sounding like Miss Othmar (the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons), and trying to keep eight people on-message, definitely slowed things down. At the moment though, these things are unavoidable and we managed. It was nearly 9pm before the first round finished and people were happy enough with the result to play a second, if not our usual third.

– From Corgi Adventures on youtube.com

Black made hay with his singleton on Casino Three, when Mulberry’s and Lime’s piles of dice cancelled each other out. Green just pipped Blue to take $100,000 on the Slot Machine, leaving her with just $20,000 for the round, and poor Lime with nothing at all.  Purple, Black, Pink, Green and Pine all had good totals in the range of $100,000-$150,000, so it was all to play for going into the second round.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

This time it was Casino Two that was a knife-fight in a phone box.  Pink, Blue and Pine all had four dice in the mix with Green in second place (and therefore winning the jackpot) with two.  The final roll of the game was Green’s “Biggun”, so when he rolled a two, nobody could believe his misfortune.  Just before he placed it though, he realised he had another option—the oft-forgotten Slot Machine. At which point Pink realised the jackpot could have been his if he had done the same on his previous turn.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Nobody really cared about the scores, but Mulberry, Lime and Blue all did better in the second round, though it was too little, too late. The winner was Green with total winnings of $280,000 with Purple in second with $230,000 and Pink and Black just behind.  The real loser of the evening was Covid though: it wasn’t a great game, but for a couple of hours, we’d all had a bit of fun chucking dice about, forgetting reality for a while.  And with that, Green, Lime, and Pine (signing in from Stoke of all places), left the meeting.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Those remaining, decided to give yukata.de a go, and after a bit of discussion, decided to opt for Port Royal. It took a while to get going with Blue and Black trying to remember how to play and explain it to Mulberry. The game itself is simple enough though, and yukata.de, though old-school, keeps everyone honest.

Yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Port Royal is a fairly simple, push-your-luck game.  On their turn the active player turns over cards until they either find one they want (and can afford) or go bust. There are four different types of card: Characters, Ships, Expedition and Taxes.  Ships are free and give money, Characters give victory points and special powers, while Expeditions give opportunities to trade Characters for more points, and Taxes give people behind in the game a little windfall.  Once the active player has taken their card, everyone else gets the chance to take/buy a card in turn order, paying the active player for the privilege.

Port Royal
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink started well, but Blue eventually got her act together and initially made inroads into his lead before taking it from him. When there was a succession of people going bust, her Jester gave Blue lots of cash enabling her to cement her position at the front.  It wasn’t long before her advantage was eroded though, first by Black, adding a Jester to his Admirals, and then by Purple, claiming an expedition.

Port Royal on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

It was all very tight towards the end, but Purple was the first to our chosen end of twelve points, with a score of thirteen points. Unfortunately, due to a rules misunderstanding, everyone was expecting one final round, but sadly, it was not to be.  Purple was the last player in the round, and once everyone had taken cards from her leavings, Yukata decided that was it, Game Over. In truth, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference, and Purple deserved her victory though the other platings might have been different if there had been another round.

Port Royal on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

It had been a slow and trying game, though not quite as bad as attempts to play synchronously at the end of last week when the website had repeatedly failed to record moves.  Mulberry was looking very tired and it was getting very late, so she signed off, leaving Blue, Pink, Black and Purple to start what will probably be a long, asynchronous game of Snowdonia. That’s another story though, especially as it could take a fortnight or longer to play!

Yucata.de
– Image from yucata.de

Learning Outcome: Playing remotely is not as good as playing round a table together, but it is definitely better than nothing at the moment.

Boardgames in the News: Withdrawal of Customer Service by Asmodee

One of the characteristics of modern boardgames is the number of pieces in the box:  generally the more complex the game, the more pieces there are, and the more it costs.  For many, part of the fun of acquiring a new game is checking, sorting and otherwise caressing these, often bespoke, pieces.  It is very easy to lose or break a piece and an estimated 1-2% of new purchases arrive damaged or with something missing.  One of the truly special things about the boardgame industry has been the general understanding of the sadness caused by a missing piece, and the support the manufacturers give when a game has become incomplete, even if it is not the manufacturers fault.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, just over a year ago, one of the boardGOATS dropped a counter for No Thanks!.  After an extended session of “Hunt the Game Piece”, we eventually found it nestling in a cushion of dust, just out of reach, exactly where it fell, having cleanly dropped through the gap between the pub floorboards.  The game is inexpensive and readily available, but our copy is much played and much loved, and replacing it for the sake of one token seemed wasteful.  Of course the missing token could be substituted with something else, a penny say, but that would have made us sad every time we played it.  So, a quick email to AMIGO Spiele offering to purchase a couple of spares, and one week later a small handful of red counters arrived in the post—exceptional Customer Service from a superb company.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The remarkable thing is that this is not the only example:  similar service has been received from Zoch Verlag (Auf Teufel komm raus), NSKN Games (Snowdonia: Deluxe Master Set), Queen Games (Kingdom Builder), Ferti Games (PitchCar), Tactic (Nollkoll), Z-man (Le Havre), Rio Grande Games (Torres) & Splotter (The Great Zimbabwe), to name but a few, sometimes their fixing a problem of their making, sometimes just helping out.  This superb service (sometimes with a fee, but often without charge) builds a good relationship with the customer and encourages more sales—so not so much “No Thanks”, as “Yes Please”!

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Last week, however, Asmodee USA closed its Customer Services Department to the public, and announced that all games with missing pieces should be returned to the vendor (as yet there is no comment on who should pay for returns of online purchases, or what happens with gifts that arrive with a piece missing).  Worse, the FAQ adds that when buying a second-hand copy, they “encourage you to make sure that all components of a game are present and intact before purchasing” as they “cannot offer replacements for products that were not purchased directly from our USA retail partners or webstores”.  Their justification for this is:

“With the number of quality titles in Asmodee USA’s growing library, maintaining an independent stock of elements of each game becomes more difficult. We believe offering the customer service through the store they have purchased the game from will be a better experience.”

It was initially thought that this would only affect USA customers, however, it seems that is not the case.  Asmodee UK have passed the buck:  according to their website, for replacement pieces for Asmodee, Fantasy Flight Games, Days of Wonder, Catan, Plaid Hat Games or Z-Man Games, “please visit http://parts.asmodeena.com/”, which in turn simply says:

“As of February 18, 2020, if a game is purchased in the US that has damaged or missing components, please return to where you originally bought the game for assistance.”

This change in policy may or may not make business sense in the short term, but for the gamer it is a very sad loss of what always felt like friendly support, and something that made boardgaming special.

UKGE 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

UK Games Expo 2019 – Not as Hot as Last Year, but that’s a Good Thing…

Last weekend was the thirteenth UK Games Expo (sometimes known as UKGE, or simply Expo), the foremost games event.  Every year it grows bigger, and this was no exception. Historically, Expo is focused on gamers playing games rather than publishers selling new games, however, the exhibition aspect has been growing, and this year there were two halls full of vendors selling games and demoing wares.  Last year, there was an issue with the air conditioning on the Friday which, combined with the thousands of “hot water bottles” walking about looking at games, made it unbelievably hot.  This year, working facilities and a little more space made it much, much more pleasant, although Saturday was busier than ever!

UKGE 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

This year the hot games included Wingspan, copies of which were flying off the slightly wobbly shelves following it’s recent Kennerspiel des Jahres nominationFoothills, a two player Snowdonia game by UK designers Ben Bateson and Tony Boydell (designer of the original Snowdonia, Ivor the Engine and Guilds of London) was another extremely popular game.  Foothills is produced by Lookout Spiele, but there were sixty copies available from the designer’s Surprised Stare stand, which sold out in less than forty minutes (though there were a small number of copies to be had elsewhere for those that kept their eyes peeled).

Foothills
– Image by boardGOATS

Surprised Stare were also demoing Foothills and another Snowdonia-based game, Alubari, which is due for release later in the year (hopefully).  There was a new Ticket to Ride game available (London) as well as another instalment in the Catan series (Rise of the Inkas); the new expansion for Endeavor: Age of Sail was also available to see (coming to KickStarter later in June) and “old” favourites like Echidna Shuffle were there to be played and bought too.  There were some very good deals to be had from some of the third party sellers as well, including some of the Days of Wonder games for just £15.

Horticulture Master
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the reasons for attending conventions is the opportunity to see and play games that are not available elsewhere.  One example was Horticulture Master, a cute little Taiwanese game with beautiful artwork, which combined card collecting elements from Splendor with Tetris-like tile laying from games like Patchwork and Bärenpark.  Another cute little game was Titans of Quantitas from Gingerbread Games, a clever two player strategy game based round the old fashioned digital rendering of the number eighty-eight.  What really made this game special though was the fact that the stall was guarded by a fiberglass goat!  Not everything was quite as wholesome though, as one Games Master was thrown out and banned for life for including content in a role-playing game that allegedly involved sexual violence and played on the shock factor.  This is definitely the exception rather than the rule, however, and UK Games Expo is a great place for family and friends to spend a weekend.

UKGE 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

UK Games Expo 2017

Last weekend, 2nd-4th June, gamers once converged on Birmingham for three days of fun and games for UK Games Expo.  Whereas Essen, is primarily a trade fair so is all about the business surrounding games with lots of buying and selling, Expo focusses on gamers playing games and includes Euro Games as well as lost of role playing games, miniatures games, and war games.  In addition to tournaments there is lots of “open gaming” space and demonstration events for new designs.  There are lots of activities specially designed for kids in the “Family Zone” as well as a trade fair with all the latest games for their parents and seminars presented by industry experts, panels and celebrity guests.

Dice
– Image by boardGOATS

This is the eleventh year of Expo and the event gets ever larger.  Like last year, there were activities in both the NEC and the  NEC Hilton Metropole, though this year it spread into Hall Three at the NEC as well as taking over the whole of Hall One with the food fair outside.  The focus of Expo is on playing games rather than marketing, so there are generally fewer new releases available than at some of the other conventions.  The trade fair is growing though and as a result there were more new games available this year than previously, including The Cousins’ War (a two player game from Surprised Stare Games); Santo Domingo (a new light card game in the style of Port Royal) and Capitals, the new expansion to one of our favourite games, Between Two Cities.  There were also demonstrations and play-testing of of some exciting pre-release games including the new Splendor Expansion and the upcoming stand-alone Snowdonia variant, “A Nice Cup of Tea”.

UK Games Expo
– Image by boardGOATS

A number of GOATS went to play and make purchases with some taking time off work to go on the slightly quieter Friday, while others braved the hoards over the weekend.  A fun time was had by all and it will no-doubt be a topic of conversation next week. when we will surely play some of the new acquisitions.

UK Games Expo
– Image by boardGOATS

29th Movember 2016

Different week, different people, different sickness, same late start…  After Burgundy had finished worrying the pub staff by changing his supper order (given how fast Blue can polish off a pizza he thought he might be able to eat a Hawaiian quicker than his usual ham, eggs & chips – he was wrong), we split into two groups, with the first playing the “Feature Game”, The Climbers.  This is a great three dimensional strategy game that looks like it is designed round a set of children’s building blocks. It’s appearance belies its true nature however, and, although it looks like a kiddie’s dexterity game, it is really a strategy game with almost no dexterity component at all.  Red and Magenta thought it looked cool and Burgundy had read the rules on line so was also keen to give it a go, so the group was pretty much self-selecting with Blue making up the foursome.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

We began by placing the two Triple-height blocks in the centre and randomly piling the rest of the bricks round it, covering all the visible surfaces, then Blue started explaining the rules.  It was at about this point that we realised that Burgundy had read a very different set.  The game was originally released in German as Die Aufsteiger.  Since it is very language independent, when they were  translated into English, a few changes were made to the rules and when the second edition was brought out the rules were revised again with some of the additions listed as optional variants.  This means that there are effectively three different sets of rules and to make things worse, lots of people have their own “House Rules” as well.  Since nobody had played it very much we decided to stick to the rules as written in the copy we had, without the addition variants.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played in turn order with each turn comprising three steps.  Firstly, the active player can move a block, any block so long as there isn’t anything on it, and they can place it anywhere, in any orientation as long as there is sufficient space.  Next the active player can move their Climber as far as they like within the rules.  Climbers can climb up any step below their head height unaided as long as the face they are climbing onto is grey or their own colour.  They can also use their long and/or short ladders to climb larger distances, but they are fragile and therefore single use (though that’s not very green as Red pointed out).  Finally, the active player may place a blocking stone which prevents a brick being moved or used until that player’s next turn.  Probably the most difficult part of the game is the concept of “space”.  There are three different sized coloured blocks:  Cubes (2a x 2a x 2a), Half-height (2a x 2a x a) and Double-height (2a x 2a x 4a).  These blocks have each face painted a different colour, the five that correspond to the player colours and one side that is grey.  There are also two Triple-height blocks that are plain grey and are the base of the setup.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

The square faces of the blocks can be considered to consist of four smaller squares – this is the basic unit (a x a).  This basic “a2” unit is sufficient space for one Climber.  Blocks can be placed offset, like bricks in a wall sitting on two or more other bricks, so long as these basic “a2” units are observed and remain whole.  The undersurface of each block must also have full contact with the blocks underneath – there cannot be any holes or overhangs.  If a Climber is sat in an inconvenient place, he can be “nudged” out of the way using a block, provided that he isn’t knocked off or moved onto a different block.  This can make space for placing a block, or for a Climber:  Climbers can only sit on their own colour or grey and need an “a2” unit each.  Thus, several Climbers can sit on a large grey face.  The winner is the player who’s Climber is highest at the end of the game.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

Red and Magenta started climbing one side, with Blue and Burgundy progressing up the other.  Red stole a bit of a march as everyone else got in each others’ way leaving Magenta to fight a rear-guard action on her side.  Meanwhile, Blue and Burgundy fought for supremacy, until Blue managed to extricate one of the large grey blocks and use it to simultaneously screw up Burgundy and create a second summit at a similar height to the one Red was occupying.  With this second peak to fight over, there were effectively two races competing against each other, but it wasn’t long before first Burgundy, then Blue and Magenta were forced to take a pause in climbing.  It was at this point that we realised the mistake we’d all made.  Players can choose whether to climb or not, but the game ends when all players successively don’t (or can’t) finish their turn on a higher level.  With all three of us failing to climb, that left Red with potentially the final turn.  Although she was highest, Blue and Magenta were blocks at the same height, so we had to invoke the tie-breaker which meant the first player to reach that level would win.  Since Red had got there first, she had no incentive to move and, in was thrilled to finish in first place in what had been a hard-fought game.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

Green, Black and Purple joined the others playing with children’s building blocks, with a game of Totemo, an early Tony Boydell gem (he of Snowdonia and Guilds of London).  This game consists of of colored wooden blocks that have a small dowel attached on one end and a hole in the other. This allows them to be placed in the wooden peg-board.  The game starts with one of the multi-colored wild pieces placed in the center of the board.  Each player starts their turn with three wooden totem pieces.  To place a piece, all totem pieces it touches must abide by the color wheel.  So, for example, a purple block may be placed on its own or adjacent to purple, red or blue blocks; the more blocks it touches, the higher its score.  There are also several blocks with two feathers on top which are totem toppers and cannot be placed on the bottom level. In addition, no other totem piece can be placed on top of them.  Players can only place one totem piece per turn unless they land on a space seeded with a bonus marker.  At the start of the game, several bonus markers are placed round the board – landing on these enables the active player to place another block, up to a maximum of three.

Totemo
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of their turn, the active player replenished their set of totem blocks.  Each round, the start player moves the round marker until it gets closer to the tee-pee indicating the last round. Alternatively, the game can also end if there are no more totem blocks in the bag.  With apologies for not ironing the playing cloth and quick recap of the rules, the game was under way.  The first rounds were, typically, feeler rounds with players just trying to do the best they could.  Black and Purple had played the game many times before while Green, had played it only once and that was a few years ago.  Black and Purple managed to make use of the bonus markers by landing on the correct space on the scoring track and began to pull away from Green who was stuck with red bricks he could only place on their own since there was a predominance of blue bricks on the board.

Totemo
– Image by boardGOATS

This forced Green to change his strategy from simply trying to get the highest score possible to getting the exact score to land on a bonus tile and go again each time.  He started this new approach with a bang, placing all three of his blocks in one go and shot into a healthy lead.  Throughout the game players were each left with one or two blocks they couldn’t easily place, either because they were the wrong colour or were “toppers”.  The game took longer than it should have as everyone was guilty of over analysis at different times, but Black and Purple slowly caught up with Green, and going into the final round were both in the lead once again. Unfortunately neither could quite reach their respective bonus spaces and just added a modest amount to the final score. Green however, placed all three of his blocks and took the lead by more than ten points, with it winning the game.

Totemo
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finishing together and nobody up for a late night we decided to opt for a large group game, and prompted by Magenta, we quickly settled on Las Vegas.  This is a very simple game where players begin their turn by rolling their dice, then they assign some of them to one of six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  Players must use all the dice of one number to bet on the casino of that number.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card. The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of barracking.  This time we included the Slot Machine from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar.  This is like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We also added the extra dice for more players from the Boulevard expansion, as well as “bigguns”, large dice which count as two in the final reckoning.  Green kicked off the first round, which turned out to be very unproductive for both Blue and Burgundy who struggled to get anything of any value.  Burgundy struggled in the second round as well, as did Black and their problems were compounded by the small number of high value notes that were repeatedly drawn.  Meanwhile, Red was struggling to keep her eyes open, so while everyone else was playing the long game, she was played her dice as quickly as she could then dozing while everyone else finished the round without her.  The problem with everyone playing small numbers of dice in the early part of the game and hanging on to dice for as long as possible was that it slowed the game down considerably, not that anyone really minded on this occasion.  It wasn’t until the last round that we began to realise that this strategy didn’t really work, a conclusion that was reinforced by the fact that a slightly embarrassed Red won the game, some $50,000 ahead of Magenta and Blue in second and third.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Sometimes sleeping through a game isn’t a disadvantage.

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.