Tag Archives: Snowdonia

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

Boardgames in the News: Essen Cancelled

This has been a bad year for boardgame conventions, but today Friedhelm Merz Verlag GmbH have finally made the long expected announcement that the 2020 edition of Internationale Spieltage in Essen has fallen to Covid-19.  The next SPIEL will now be 14th to 17th of October 2021.

Essen 2021
– Image from spiel-messe.com

 

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