Tag Archives: Splendor

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

19th March 2019

Yet again, the evening began with a discussion of everyone’s ailments: Pine had spent the last fortnight visiting Swindon for a daily dose of intravenous antibiotics; Green’s absence was explained by his contagious skin condition, and Blue was feeling particularly blue thanks to a nasty cold (a present from Pink).  The general itchiness of the group was increased by the addition of everyone’s favourite nit-nurse stories.  Perhaps it was the general malaise, but there seemed to be a lot of food eaten, including several helpings of ice-cream, but eventually we got down to playing games, beginning with the “Feature Game”, Botswana (aka Wildlife Safari).  Unusually, this was very, very popular, and Mulberry drew the short straw, so she was promised a chance to play it soon.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

Botswana is deceptively simple:  Players have a hand of cards and take it in turns to play one card onto central set piles and then take any one of the plastic animals.  There are five “animal suits” and six cards in each, numbered zero to five.  At the end of the round, players multiply the number of plastic animals they have in each suit by the face value of the last card played in that suit.  Thus, a player with three plastic elephants where the last card played was a four would score twelve for that suit.  The game is played over as many rounds as there are players.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

It took a round for people to get a feel for the game, but it quickly became clear how clever it is.  A bit like 6 Nimmt!, Botswana has a feeling of luck about it, but it is also very tactical.  Players want to make sure they play the high value cards that they have and get as many animals as possible in those suits, but play them early and someone else may subsequently play a zero making them worthless.  On the other hand, waiting to the end to play high cards risks someone else ending the game and failure to maximise the score.  So the game is all about timing and second guessing everyone else.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Pine took the first round, and while the second and third were more level, going into the final round, Black commented to Burgundy that it was clearly a two horse race.  Blue’s answer that it was surely a “two zebra race”, was met by Pine’s response that he’d rather ride an elephant as they are generally better tempered and can be trained to carry people.  After a  discussion about whether the plastic, model elephants were African or Asian, the appearance of the leopards and their spots, and the collective noun for rhinoceros, the game continued.  Like a crush of rhino, Pine could barely contain his pride as he trampled over the rest of the herd in his stubbornness.  In a bit of a dazzle, Blue came in second with a late leap.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Ivory, Mulberry and Purple were playing Splendor. Although we’ve played this very extensively, somehow Mulberry had missed out.  The game is very simple however:  on their turn, players either take three different coloured gem-chips or use gem chips to buy cards.  The cards are effectively permanent gems that can be reused without loss, but some of them give victory points as well.  The other source of points are Nobles: players who collect a given number of cards featuring certain gems get a visit from a noble and a bunch of points as a result.  Despite Burgundy being occupied with the safari on the next table, it was still a bit of a landslide.  Diamonds were scarce, and Purple had a bit of a melt-down.  With Mulberry new to the game, the way was clear for Ivory who took two of the Noble tiles and finished the game with an unassailable sixteen points.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone was feeling a bit washed out, and nobody was particularly enthusiastic about suggesting games to play.  Ivory was the most proactive suggesting Altiplano, Dice Forge, Dinosaur Island and Bohnanza, but nobody looked terribly interested.  After a discussion about which throat sweets people preferred (where Fisherman’s Friends were equated to “Toilet Duck Pastels”, eventually the inevitable happened and the whole group settled down to a  game of Bohnanza.  This is one of our most popular games when everyone’s a bit tired and can’t be bothered with anything more complex, and often gets an outing when everyone wants to play together.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is quite simple and everyone in the group knows it well now, but the game always starts with everyone chorusing “Don’t rearrange your cards!” as the habit is so ingrained.  On their turn, the active player must play the first bean card into a field in front of them, playing a second if they wish.  Two cards are turned over from the central deck which can also be planted or traded, but must be planted by someone before the active player can trade cards from their hand with anyone else round the table and finally draw cards into the back of their hand.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

As a group, we usually “play nice”, that is to say, players trade positively rather than negatively and gratefully accept freebies if offered (by players keen to get unwanted cards out of their hand).  With a full compliment of players, the game is always tight, often coming down to luck and this was no exception, and no less enjoyable as a result.  With only three points between first and sixth place it looked like it was going to be a three way tie between Pine, Purple and Ivory who all finished with eleven points.  Suffering with a think head though, Blue was slow counting and they were all disappointed when, after a couple of recounts (just to check) she pipped them to first place.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

With Ivory and Mulberry wanting an early night, we were looking for something short before they went.  Not many games play seven well, but 6 Nimmt! is always popular and this was no exception.  People often claim 6 Nimmt! is a game of luck, but in reality it is one of walking a tightrope of perfect timing:  get it wrong and everything falls apart, but get it right and with Lady Luck in support a perfect round is possible.  Indeed, Ivory managed just such a perfect round, not once, but TWICE, last time we played, and everyone was determined he wasn’t going to manage the same this time.  Ivory’s “ivory tower” quickly fell, as he picked up nine points; Pine and Blue did well  taking a single point each, but Mulberry managed to keep a clean sheet.  We play over two rounds, so the question is usually not so much who manages to do well in the first round as who manages to sustain it over both rounds.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory’s game went completely to pot in the second round when he top scored with twenty-five, leaving him to fight for the dubious honour of the Wooden Spoon.  That was close between Purple, Burgundy and Ivory, but this time, Burgundy won the race for the bottom with forty-three.  Black managed a clear round at the second attempt, but it couldn’t make up for his fourteen in the first round.  It was very tight at the front, with all three of the lowest scorers maintaining their timing for the second round; Mulberry followed her clean sheet with five, but Pine went one better finishing with a total of four.  Normally either of these scores might have been expected to be enough to secure a win, but Blue, despite her lurgy, added a second single point round to her first, ending with the lowest score, with just two.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Once Ivory and Mulberry had said their farewells, the rest of the group were looking for something light that would play five.  Coloretto was an option, but …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (aka Piece o’ Cake) was on top and hadn’t had an outing for a while and with general laziness and lethargy the order of the day it was inevitable that Coloretto was going to lose out this time.  …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne is just about the simplest game to use the “I divide, you choose” mechanic, but simple is sometimes simultaneously very clever and in this case, it is also very well rendered.  The game consists of a pile of fifty-seven pieces of “cake”, each one an eleventh of a complete cake, randomly shuffled to form five stacks (with two left out).  As well as artwork showing the type of cake, each piece also has a number on it (the number in the deck), and some have a blob of cream as well.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, the “Master Baker” take one of the piles of face down pieces and turns them over one at a time to make a complete cake.  They then divide this into “slices”.  The player to the Master Baker’s left chooses a slice, and for each individual piece they can either keep it, putting it face up in front of them, or eat it, turning it face down and putting it to one side.  At the end of the game, each player scores points if they have kept the most slices of a particular type, and scores points foe each blob of cream they have eaten.  It was quite a cagey game and was very close as a result.  Blue was the only one not to eat any of her cake, not due to any dairy or low fat diet, simply because her head was too fuzzy to deal with the extra option.  Somehow though, she got lucky and nearly everything she kept scored her points.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It’s possible to win, even with a bad cold.

Boardgames in the News: How to Spot Fake and Counterfeit Games

Over the last few months, there have been increasing numbers of reports of fake or counterfeit games.  The quality of these forgeries is extremely variable and a huge range of games appear to be affected, from popular gateway games like Ticket to Ride: Europe, 7 Wonders or Dominion to more complex games like Terraforming Mars.  Card games like Codenames might be thought of as an obvious target due to how simple they are to reproduce, however, one of the most affected games is Azul, and reports suggest that it is the cardboard components that are poor quality—the plastic tiles are indistinguishable from the genuine articles.

Codenames
– Image from czechgames.com

So, how does one spot a counterfeit board game?  The answer is basically the same as for anything else.  Firstly, look at the quality.  This is probably the strongest indicator and if the quality of the fake is particularly high the buyer might not mind so much, or even notice.  Things to look out for include:

Splendor
– Image from imgur.com by BGG contributor ceephour

Some counterfeits are very high quality however.  This can be due to the so-called third shift work“, where a game is made in a factory that is nominally closed overnight, but the workers gain access and create bootleg copies with stolen material or off-cuts. Some of these are very good, but in some cases they also use parts that failed the quality control tests.  In such cases, the seller maybe more of an indication.  If buying on ebay or Amazon market place, beware if the seller has a strange name, claims to be located in the UK but isn’t, and has a very long delivery time.  In such cases, the scam is often to get payment a long time in advance, so that by the time the item is delivered (if at all), they are long gone.

Terraforming Mars
– Image from imgur.com

Thirdly, don’t imagine that Amazon is safe either:  there are three types of transaction, “Shipped from and sold by third-party seller”, “Sold by third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon” and “Shipped and sold by Amazon”.  Amazon only “sells” authentic items, however due to “commingling“, their stock can become contaminated by fakes.  This is because when an item is sold by a third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon, the third-party seller ships their item to Amazon who add it to their pile in their warehouse before they ship it on.  If the third-party is dodgy, the person buying from them may get lucky and get a copy from Amazon’s stock which means someone else will be unlucky…

Finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is—caveat emptor: Buyer Beware!

19th February 2019

Blue, Black, Purple, Burgundy and Mulberry were just trying to squeeze in a quick game of No Thanks! before eating, when Green arrived with his parents.  They were quickly followed by the first round of food, so it wasn’t until they had finished that the carefully counted piles of chips finally got put to use.  The game is very simple:  players take it in turns to either take the card on the table or pay a chip to pass the problem on to the next player.  If they don’t have any chips left they must take the card when it is their turn (and any chips that are on it).  The game ends when the deck has been depleted and everyone scores the sum of the face value of the cards minus any remaining chips—the player with the lowest score is the winner.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Last time we played this, Pine dropped a chip, but a thanks to the kind generosity of the people at  Amigo Spiele, it had not only been very swiftly replaced, but they had kindly sent spares in case the something similar happened again.  And they were almost required straight away, when Black managed to send a couple of chips flying.  Having learnt our lessen from last time, we immediately took a quick intermission to play “Hunt the Game Piece”, finding one quickly, while the other perched precariously over the same large gap that the had been so disastrous last time.  The rogue chip was rescued without further calamity, but for the avoidance of other mishaps, we might have to put tissue paper down the hole for next time…

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game of No Thanks! was a bit incidental around all that excitement.  Burgundy took the first card in an effort to get ahead, but it wasn’t the best card to build from.  Purple and Blue were forced into trying to build runs from the ends, which is always risky, but can yield huge rewards.  This wasn’t going to be one of those times though and Purple’s problems were compounded by the fact that she only discovered the twenty-three in the middle of her long run was missing when it came to scoring.  Mulberry was very tempted by some if scoring cards, but despite the fact she was pushed to her last chip, she managed to avoid getting herself into a mess.  Black played a very canny game building a small medium value run, not tempted to take a chance on gaps.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone finished eating, it was time to decide what to play.  Black had suggested that Dixit might be suitable for Green’s parents.  However, Green was keen to play the “Feature Game”, Celestia (a remake of the older game, Cloud 9), and as Black was the only one who knew the rules, that meant he was up for that too.  Burgundy was less keen, so in the end, as Celestia is better with more players, and to avoid too much shuffling of seats, Blue, Mulberry and Burgundy left everyone else to board the airship.  In this game there is no board, instead there are nine city tiles making a path.  Players then take on the roles of adventurers exploring the cities of Celestia by airship.  At the beginning of each journey a new captain is identified and they begin by rolling the dice to discover the challenges they will face.  Before the Captain faces these challenges, however, however, each player must decide whether to stay on board, or leave the airship.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

At each city there is a pile of treasure cards (mostly just victory points) which get better as the journey progresses.  When a player leaves the ship, they take a treasure card at that city, forfeiting the potential riches to come.  Once everyone has made their decision, the Captain has to deal with the challenges by playing equipment cards.  If the Captain is successful, the airship moves on to the next city where a new captain is identified who rolls the dice and so on.  If the Captain is unable to deal with the challenges they face, the airship crashes, returning to the first city and none of the passengers on board get any treasure.  Those passengers who left the ship then get back on board for the start of the new journey.  When one  player has a total of fifty points the game ends.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the group added the A Little Help expansion which adds cards that players can use to help out the Captain.  There are a few extra cards like The Bandit and The Mooring Line as well, which players who are not on the ship can use to make life harder for those trying to get to the next city.  The group also added the lifeboat from the A Little Initiative expansion, which enables players to continue on their journey alone.  One of the key parts of Celestia is hand management as cards are scarce.  Players start with a hand of cards, six cards in a four or more player game and only get to draw a card when the journey ends, either due to a crash or arriving at the ninth city.  With the inclusion of the expansion cards, there seemed to be quite a bit to remember when learning the rules, but as ever, once underway the game flowed and the rules became clearer. Even so there was still a lot of double checking of which cards could be used when. Black and Purple had both played the game before and knew how quickly things could get difficult.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

So Black and Purple cashed in their travel tickets early in the first round and hopped off the airship quite early on, leaving everyone else wondering if they were missing something as they sailed onwards. In contrast, Green and his parents (who had not played before) stayed on board and as a result took a lot of points.  This all seemed a little too easy and on rechecking the rules it became apparent that something was wrong. Players had been drawing cards after arriving at each city as the Captain changed rather than after it crashed, which meant everyone was awash with cards.  From then on the group played correctly, but the damage had already been done.  The balance of cards had been destroyed, and Green and his mum had an unassailable lead.  Green came out he victor with some canny play that allowed him to hop on and off the airship, but it was a hollow victory as those first twenty-five points were not fairly won.  The game definitely deserves another try though as it is a clever and fun game when played correctly.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

While the airship was being filled, Blue, Mulberry and Burgundy debated what they were going to play.  Orléans was very tempting, but as Celestia was supposed to be relatively quick, the trio decided to play the shorter Tokaido instead.  This is a simple, but very clever game where players are traveling the East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo), meeting people, tasting fine food, collecting beautiful items, discovering great panoramas, and visiting temples and wild places.  The winner is the player who discovers the most interesting and varied things and is the most initiated traveler.  The really clever part of the game is the turn order, because the player at the back goes first.  Although this is an unusual mechanism, it is not unique and is also seen in Glen More, an out of print game that is getting a face-lift and reprint this year as Glen More II: Chronicles.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that each location on the road can only be occupied by one player.  Players only ever move forward and the player at the back has a free choice of which empty location they move to.  They can choose to stop at the first empty location which means they will be able to maximise the number of locations they can visit, or they can choose to skip a few locations potentially gifting these to their opponents, but ensuring they stop at the locations they will profit most from.  Thus the game is all about optimising movement, compromising visiting the best locations, visiting the most locations and preventing opponents visiting the locations they want by getting there first.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts with a character card which gives them a different start condition and a special power.  Burgundy was positioned at the front playing Yoshiyasu enabling him to draw a second card whenever he encounters someone, and choose which one to keep Encounter cards give a one-off bonus, so being able to choose instead of relying on random draw is a nice advantage.  Mulberry started in second position on the track and as Kinko, was able to pay one Yen less for her food at mealtime.  There are several stops for food along the way and money is always scarce so anything that saves money is always good.  Blue began at the back (and therefore started), playing Sasayakko who gets the cheapest souvenir for free whenever she buys two or more when visiting the Village.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

In this game, it is essential that players make the most of their special powers, so Blue visited as many Villages as she could, collecting as many sets of souvenirs as she could.  To do this though, she need lots of money and money is not easy to come by.  Similarly, Burgundy stopped to make as many encounters as he could and coupled this with visiting the Hot Springs.  Hot Springs simply give a two or three point card drawn at random from a deck, with the three point cards depicting monkeys playing in the spring.  Somehow, every time Burgundy drew a Hot Spring card, it featured monkeys, while Blue and Mulberry received no monkey-love; after his fifth card it was something they really began to resent.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was the first to score points and Burgundy wasn’t far behind.  Blue was slowest off the mark, but eventually caught up and overtook the others, romping into the lead, helped by Burgundy who persisted in moving Blue’s token when he scored points.  That wasn’t the full story, however.  At the end of the game points are awarded to the players with the most Hot Spring cards, the most Encounter cards, the most Souvenirs, for donating money at the Temples, and for the player who spent the most on food.  With Burgundy taking the vast majority of these points, he caught up and, after several recounts, both Blue and Burgundy finished on eighty-one points with Mulberry not far behind.  With more achievement cards, Burgundy was the clear winner, but he’d tried to be generous with his points throughout the game and insisted on sharing victory with Blue (to go with the lack of sleep they shared).

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Celestia was still going and wasn’t looking like it was going to be finished very soon, so Blue,  Burgundy and Mulberry decided to try something else.  After a bit of discussion, they opted for a new game by the producers of the Spiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis winner, Azul, that had been brought back from Essen late last year.  Blue had played Reef with Pink, Black and Purple after The Gallerist during a recent “Monster Games” session, but otherwise it hadn’t made it to the table.  It isn’t a complex game though and is very quick to teach:  on their turn, players can either take a card from the pool of face up cards, or play a card, adding the pieces of coral depicted in the top half to their reef and then scoring the pattern shown in the bottom half of the card.

Reef
– Image by boardGOATS

The reefs are a three by four grid and the pieces of coral can be played anywhere and can stack up to a maximum height of four.  Scoring the patterns is as viewed from above, and each one can be scored several times with different patterns worth different numbers of points.  This means there are two approaches to the game, scoring low but frequently, or building to one large score.  Mulberry opted for the first approach and facilitated this with single colour piles of coral.  Blue tried the alternative strategy, building to a large twenty-plus point score, while Burgundy tried a mixture.  As a result, Mulberry quickly built up a healthy lead, and the question was whether the others would catch her or not.  It was close, very close, with just four points covering all three players.  This time though, little and often was the winner, and Mulberry finished with forty-two points, one more than Burgundy.

Reef
– Image by boardGOATS

Celestia was still going, so Mulberry stayed to play one last game, San Juan.  This is an old game from the Alea Small Box Series that is sometimes referred to as the card game of Puerto Rico.  The idea is that on their turn, the active player chooses a role, Builder, Producer, Trader, Prospector, Councillor and then everyone takes it in turn to carry out the associated action.  The person who chose the action gets to use the privilege of the role (pay one less for building, trade or produce one extra item etc.).  One of the clever things about the game is that cards have multiple purposes, similar to Bohnanza where cards can be money or beans.  In San Juan, each card can be played onto the table as a building, but when in hand they can be used as payment, and during the game they can be used as produce as well.  Each card has a value when built and there are a small number of special buildings whose score depends on the other buildings in play.  The game ends when a player builds their twelfth building.

San Juan
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was tired and really struggled, so Blue and Burgundy tried to help explain what she could do, certain she’d get the hang of it.  They stressed the importance of not getting left behind on the building, a message Mulberry took to heart, building at every opportunity.  Blue made life difficult for everyone though, building a Guardhouse reducing everyone else’s hand limit to six.  Burgundy saw one of the valuable six point plus violet building cards early in the game, but that was it, so he ended up building lots of production facilities.  Blue on the other hand built lots of violet buildings and with it a City Hall giving her one point per violet building.  In the meantime, Mulberry kept building so when Blue failed to spot she had eleven buildings she accidentally triggered the final round.  It was very, very tight, but somehow, Blue just kept her nose in front finishing with twenty-three points, one more than Burgundy and two more than Mulberry.

San Juan
– Image by boardGOATS

In the meantime, Celestia had finally come to an end.  With Green and his parents wanting to leave and Pine finally putting in an appearance after a long day bird watching in the West Country, the group we went for a very short game, one about birds: Pick Picknic.  This game combines simultaneous card selection with bluffing and a slice of luck.  The idea is that there are six farm  yards of different colours, if someone plays the only chicken card of a given colour, they get all the grain at that coloured farm.  If multiple players go for the same coloured yard, then players can either agree to share the corn in any way that is mutually acceptable or roll the die for all of it.  Foxes don’t eat corn, however, they only eat chickens, so if someone plays a fox card, they will eat any chicken cards of that colour.  This time there seemed to be a lot of hungry foxes, and lots of fighting birds.

– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

These were accompanied by the usual exclamations as people realised that their attempt to grab a pile of corn was stymied by someone else’s decision.  It was a close game, with four players within four points of each other.  It was tight at the front too with just a handful of points between first and second place, but it was Purple who just edged Green’s father into second place.  With that over Family Green headed off and, as Burgundy was still occupied playing San Juan, everyone else felt it was a good opportunity to play Splendor as someone else would have a chance to win.  Splendor is a game we’ve played a lot and it is ideal for late in the evening when everyone is tired because it doesn’t need too much thought.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Splendor is very simple:  players take it in turns to take gems (chips) or use the gems to buy cards from the display.  Cards can be used to buy other cards, but some of the cards also give points, and collecting certain combinations of cards allows players to claim a Noble tile giving more points.  Essentially, it is a race to fifteen points, though as players finish the round (so everyone gets the same number of turns), it is the player with the most points who wins.  This time the game started with everyone evenly matched.  There was a lot of overlap in the colours required to claim Nobles tiles, so they were claimed at much the same time.  Then Black took the lead and although both Purple and Pine were close to adding to their respective totals, Black’s score of nineteen was unassailable.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Close Games are Good Games.

22nd January 2019

Green was delayed, so once food had been dealt with, we started with the “Feature Game”, Auf Teufel komm raus.  This is a fun, push-your luck game with a betting element, in the vein of games like Incan Gold.  “Auf Teufel komm raus” literally translates as “On Devil come out“, but roughly means “by hook or by crook” or according to rule book, “The Devil with it” (as the title is officially translated).  None of these really give any information about the game though they inspire the lovely artwork.  The game itself is fairly straight-forward though:  everyone simultaneously places bets on the maximum value of coal that will be drawn out of the fire by one player in the round.  Players then take it in turns to draw coals, either stopping when they choose or going bust if they draw a piece.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

The player who draws the highest total value coals without going bust gets a fifty point bonus, as does the player who draws the most pieces of coal without drawing a Devil token.  Everyone whose bet was exceeded by the maximum value keeps their stake and wins the equivalent value from the bank.  If the player with the highest bid was successful, they win double their stake money.  This is key as it means the largest stakes are very lucrative making it in everyone else’s interest to stop once their stake has been met, unless they are in the running for the largest total or the most coals of course…  The game ends when one player passes one thousand six hundred at the end of the round and the winner is the player with the highest score.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is beautifully produced with lovely poker chips, nice wooden coal tokens, a colourful board and chunky score tokens, but it is the little things in the game play that make it enjoyable.  Bizarrely though, it took the group several rounds to really get the hang of what decisions they were making.  Firstly, players had to work out what a reasonable level for bidding was.  There are approximately the same number of tens, twenties, twenty-fives, fifties and Devil coals with a smattering of seventy-fives and hundreds, but it took a round or so for people to get a feel for the statistics.  Then there was an understanding of the tactics when drawing coal—it took most of the game for players to realise that once the highest bid had been matched, players might as well keep drawing until they win something as there was no penalty as long as nobody had “made a pact with the Devil”.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

Making a pact with the Devil is not something one generally chooses to do; it is simply a catch-up mechanism, but significantly changes the dynamic of the game.  Basically, a player alone at at the back is given fifty points by any player who draws a Devil token.  This prevents the “devil may care” attitude once the maximum bid has been met.  It only happens rarely though (especially with six), as players don’t reveal their precise score, only the range of their score.  As Black put it, players only know the rough size of each other’s “wad”.  The aspect that makes the game fun though, is the encouraging, discouraging and general barracking as players try to manipulate others to their own ends.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

With the “wad” scoring and everyone feeling their way, it wasn’t entirely clear how people were doing to begin with, but Mulberry suffered from a huge unsuccessful overly optimistic bid in the first round.  Making a pact with the Devil helped Mulberry catch up, while Pine pulled away at the front.  Burgundy, Black and Blue weren’t going to let him get away with that and started pushing the boundaries with their bids and their draws.  As players began to get a feel for what was a safe bid and what was a risky bid, everyone joined in with lots of “Ooos” and “Aaahhs” as coal was drawn from the Devil’s cauldron.  Purple seemed to have an unerring knack of finding Devil tokens, but despite languishing at the back, the fact she had Mulberry for company meant neither of them could benefit from making a pact with Lucifer (maybe something that could be “House Ruled” in future).  In the final round everyone put in large bids, but Blue’s was the largest, a hundred and fifty.  Purple had gone bust while trying to meet Blue’s target, but the slightly more modest bids from Burgundy, Pine and Black had all been achieved, leaving all or nothing for Blue as the last player to draw.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

When the first token Blue turned over was one of the scarce hundreds, Black commented in jest that Blue had “marked it”.  The reason for Blue’s slightly indignant reply of “Hardly!” became clear in the post-game chit-chat.  There are several online reports of the coal tokens being identifiable.  Blue had therefore looked carefully at the tokens that had arrived covered in tiny specks of white paint which she had spent an hour scraping off.  This wasn’t entirely successful leaving some small scratch marks, so she had then carefully spent another hour inking the backs to try to homogenise them.  This had left the coals with a wide variety of glossy sheens, so she had carefully spent another hour rubbing them all with carnuba wax to try to make them all similarly shiny.  Unfortunately, the grain meant the pieces looked more even more varied with white wax deep inside the grain for some tokens and others smooth and glossy.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue had then spent another hour rubbing all the tokens with oil which finally had the desired effect – there was still variety in the pattern of the grains, but there wasn’t an obvious trend.  Once Blue had explained that she’d spent most of Sunday evening on the exercise, trying hard not to identify any of the pieces while getting inky, waxy, oily, numb fingers, the Irony of Black’s comment was appreciated by everyone.  With Blue having drawn a hundred, everyone was on tenterhooks to see if she could draw the fifty she needed to make her bid successful.  Pine’s successful bid meant he had just exceeded the sixteen hundred needed to end the game; draw a Devil and Blue would lose a hundred and fifty and finish some way down the rankings.  It wasn’t to be though, with a flourish she produced a fifty, giving her three hundred points for the bet plus a fifty point bonus and with it, the game.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone had enjoyed the game though all were agreed that they’d start differently next time.  It had been a lot of fun once we’d got going though, so it will probably get another outing soon.  Poor Green had missed out, arriving about half-way through.  That left us with seven though, and a conundrum as to what to play next.  Time was getting on, but Green was keen to play something a little meatier.  Although Burgundy was happy to join him in Endeavor: Age of Sail with the new Exploits, nobody else was in the mood and it is a game that really needs at least three.  Blue was tempted, but with her fuzzy, “fluey” head wasn’t up to something new (she hadn’t played with the Exploits before) and Black was of a similar mind.  Inevitably Bohnanza got a mention, and as Mulberry hadn’t played it before, it was looking a likely candidate.  Pine wasn’t enthusiastic, but was even less keen on Endeavor.  In the end, the group split into two with Blue, Burgundy and Purple opting to teach Mulberry “The Bean Game”, while Pine and Black joined Green in a game of Marrakech.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

Strictly speaking, Marrakech is a game about selling Rugs, but the group just couldn’t stop themselves calling them Carpets.  The game itself is a very clever little abstract game made all the better by the addition of fabulous fabric “Carpets”, wooden coins, a large chunky bespoke die and a cool salesman who goes by the name of Assam.  The idea of the game is that players take it in turns to roll the wooden die and then turn Assam zero or ninety degrees and move him the given number of spaces.  If Assam finishes on an opponent’s coloured piece of Carpet (or Rug), the player must pay rent equal to the size of the contiguous area.  Finally, the active player places on piece of Carpet covering one square adjacent to Assam (and one other square as the Rugs are rectangular), before passing the problem on to the next player.  The player who ends with the most money and visible squares of Carpet combined, is the winner.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

After the first few placements it felt very obvious which direction the seller would have to be facing and then it was luck of the die.  Green quickly built a nice large area in one corner of the board, but thereafter game-play resolutely remained in the other areas of the board.  This was a bit of a mixed blessing as it meant Green kept his high Rug count, but did not receive any earnings from it.  This was compounded when he made a tactical error, turning the faceless Assam into the path of everyone else’s Rugs. From there on, Pine and Black made regular visits to each others Rug areas, although Pine seemed to be coming off slightly better from the exchange.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, with the Green and Black down to their last three Rugs in hand, for some reason Pine had an extra and still had four left.  The group decided that he must have failed to place one at some point, so let him to place two on the next turn.  It wasn’t clear how much that affected the outcome, but on final count, Pine had just one more Rug visible than Green, but had a advantage in coins so was declared the winner.  With Bohnanza ongoing on the next table, the group looked for something short-ish and familiar and settled on Splendor, but decided to add The Orient module (from Cities of Splendor expansion), for no better reason than the fact that one of Pine’s favourite football teams is Leyton Orient.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Splendor is a very simple game: on their turn, players take gems (rubies, sapphires, opals, diamonds and emeralds, in the form of special poker-like chips), buy a gem-card, or reserve a gem-card taking a wild, gold chip as a bonus.  When taking chips, players must take three different chips, or, if there are enough chips in the stack, they can take two the same.  Each card features a gem which acts as a permanent chip (i.e. where chips are spent when buying cards, gem-cards remain in the player’s display).  Some cards also give points, and the first player that achieves a set combination of gem-cards also gets points for “attracting a Noble”.  The winner is the player with the most points at the end of the round where one player reaches fifteen.  The Orient expansion module adds an extra three decks of cards (one for each tier), which have special powers, like double bonus cards or joker cards which help players entice Nobles to their store.

    Cities of Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

This time all the randomly drawn Noble tiles required ruby cards; three of them also needed opals and three needed diamonds as well.  When laying out the Level One cards, all four came out as white diamonds and a quick check on the rest of the deck showed this was no fluke, and the deck really did need shuffling further!  Once the cards had been randomised, the usual cat and mouse game ensued until Green took one of the Level Two Orient cards.  This meant he was able to reserve one of the Nobles, much to Black’s chagrin, as he then had to change tac.  The extra gold and additional gems that the Orient cards gave were used a few times to add a new twist to the classic game and Pine managed to use the ability to choose any Level One card he wanted to good effect as well.  When Green managed to reserve a second Noble, the writing was on the wall.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

With only two Nobles remaining for Pine and Black to fight over, Pine decided that he would also go the reserve route and took the third, leaving Black floundering with just the high scoring cards as targets.  Green managed to get his first Noble to take a one point lead, and very soon after completed his second reserved Noble to jump to a very good score of nineteen. Neither Black nor Pine could reach the fifteen in their final turns, although Pine was only a turn or two away from completing his Noble.  Although we’ve played this expansion has been before, the question arose as to whether the ability to reserve a noble is to powerful.  The conclusion was “possibly”, and there was some discussion about a “House Rule” to limit players to holding one Noble in reserve at a time.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Mulberry was learning the delights of “Bean Farming” in Bohnanaza from Blue, Purple and Burgundy.  The game is really simple, but very engaging as players are involved even when it isn’t their turn.  The really key part of the game is that players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand, playing them in the order they draw them.  Thus, at the start of their turn, they must “plant” the first card in their hand into one of the two fields in front of them, and may plant the second if they choose.  Two cards are then turned over from the central draw deck, which these must be planted, but not necessarily by the active player.  These cards can be traded or even given away, but must be planted in one of the fields on the table.  Once these cards have been dealt with, the active player may trade some (or all) of their cards with others round the table, before they draw cards to refill their hand.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Fields can only hold one type of bean at a time, but can be harvested at any point.  Harvested beans give money according to the “Beanometer”, and the rarer the card, the more money it yields when harvested.  Thus for Garden beans (of which there are only six), three beans will earn three coins whereas it will require ten of the twenty-four available Coffee beans to give the same return.  The coins are taken from the harvested beans (the card is turned over to show the coin on the reverse), so the number of common cards reduces as the game progresses, but the rare cards become ever more scarce.  The winner is the player with the most points after three trips through the deck.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

The game followed the usual flow with some players trying to persuade others to take unfavourable trades.  Blue spent much of the first part of the game alternately drawing Green bean and Wax bean cards; with two substantial fields and a hand full of them she then benefited from lots of donations and nobody else fancied grubbing their plantations when Blue already had the majority of the cards.  All in all, it was a very generous game with everyone giving away cards left, right and centre.  Everyone benefited; Purple did particularly well with her Garden beans, but Burgundy got a couple of cheap Soy beans and Mulberry did well too.  It was Blue who benefited the most though and it showed in the final scores…

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Splendor was still on-going, so Blue persuaded Mulberry to stick about for one more short game, NMBR 9.  This was another one she’d not played before and Blue felt it would appeal to her natural spacial awareness.  The idea is that one player turns over cards in the deck one at a time, and everyone takes the indicated card and adds it to their tableau, ensuring that the edge touches one of the other tiles. Once a few tiles have been placed to form a base layer, then tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile and it shares an edge with at least one other tile on that level.  The higher the tiles are placed the more they score (tile value multiplied by the “floor” number).

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

It was late, and Mulberry got into a bit of a tangle with the higher levels, but the generosity of spirit from Bohnanza lingered and everyone else let her rearrange her tiles so they conformed to the rules.  And quick as it is, it wasn’t long before everyone was adding up their scores…  With that over, Mulberry headed off while everyone else chewed the cud, discussed “Monster Games” at the Weekend (Food Chain Magnate or a repeat of The Gallerist) and whinged about Brexit.  When the Landlord suggested we moved away from controversial subjects and tried Religion and Politics instead, we knew it was home time.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Some combinations of games and groups benefit from “House Rules“.

13th Movember 2018

There was a bit of a delay for food, so after Blue had handed over an exciting box of echidnas to Pine and given Burgundy and Green a selection of Splendor, Orléans, and Zooloretto promo cards from Essen, we decided to play something quick.  As there were a lot of hungry people, we decided to start with a quick game of Om Nom Nom.  This is a fabulous little double think game based on critters eating other critters further down the food chain.  The game is set up with a large handful of dice which are rolled to give either items from the bottom of the food chains (flies, carrots and cheese) or animals from the middle of the food chains (frogs, rabbits and mice).  Players start with six cards representing animals from the middle of the food chain and the predators from the top of their food chains (hedgehogs, wolves and cats).  Players simultaneously choose a card to play and then everyone reveals them and they are placed on the appropriate space on the three central player boards. before and the animals begin to feed starting at the top of the food chain.  For example, wolves eat frogs and any surviving frogs then eat flies.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

If only one card of any type is played, the predator feeds and the player takes their card back with any cards/dice their animal has eaten placing everything in their scoring pile.  Where more than one card of the same type is played and there is enough food to go round it is shared equally and everyone eats (taking their cards back with their share of the prey).  If there is not enough food for everyone to get a share, they all starve and lose their cards going home with nothing.  This is repeated until there are no cards left.  Food at the bottom of a chain is worth two points at the end of the game and food from the middle of a chain and any cards are worth one point.  The game is played over three rounds and the winner is the player with the most points.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue won the first round with eleven, more than twice the points anyone else managed to gather.  Om Nom Nom is one of those games where a high score in one round is usually balanced by a dreadful score in the next, so everyone expected Blue to fail to score at all in the second round.  Burgundy’s twelve points in the second round looked really good, but contrary to the usual run of things, Blue somehow managed to improve her score picking up eighteen points—one less than the record for a single round in our group.  The third round was a little bit of a dead rubber, but Burgundy was keen to see Blue get her bad round and if she did, fancied his chances.  It was a much more even final round and with lots of points available, things looked good for Burgundy, but unfortunately for him, everyone else chose this round to get it together.  In the end it was all about second place, which Burgundy just managed to take ahead of Black and Mulberry as food arrived.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

While Burgundy, Blue and Mulberry ate their belated supper, everyone else carried on the food theme, playing a little Japanese game picked up by Black and Purple at Essen called くだものフレンズ or Fruit Friends.  This is a little card drafting and set collecting game where players are collecting different types of fruit using the “I divide, you choose” mechanism.  There are a surprisingly few games that use this idea, but two of the best are …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (aka Piece o’ Cake) and San Marco.  …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne is relatively unusual as it works well with players dividing the pie into more than three.  In contrast, San Marco is a three to four player game, but plays much better with three than four because the “I divide, you choose” mechanism generally works best when the pile is divided into three.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

In Fruit Friends, each player starts with a random start or “seed” card, dealt face up.  Players are then dealt seven cards which they divide into three piles of two (discarding the final card).  Beginning with the player who was dealt the apple start card, players offer the three piles to the player on their left who takes one pair; the next player then chooses from the remaining two piles leaving one pair for the active player.  Play continues in this way until everyone’s cards have been taken.  The second round is played the same way except cards are offered anti-clockwise and the player with the grapes start card goes first.  The final round is clockwise again, and the player with the kiwi start card begins.  At the end of the game, each player has eighteen fruit cards, with each type scoring differently.

1 card 2 card 3 card 4 card 5+ cards
Apples 0 points 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points (max)
Grapes 2 points 5 points 8 points 11 points 11 points (max)
Kiwis 2 points 6 points 0 points 12 points 18 points (max)
Bananas 3 points 7 points 12 points 0 points 0 points
Peaches 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points 20 points (max)

There are some catches, for example, peaches come in two colours, yellow and white, but only one of them scores.  Oranges score one point per apple card and similarly melons score one point per grape card (both up to a maximum of four points). The scoring intervals also offer some quirks, so while almost everyone scored twelve points for their bananas at the end of the game, Ivory went “Banana Bust” by over-shooting.  Otherwise it was close at the top and you could fit the first four players in a fruit-basket with only five points between them.  It was Purple, the “Kiwi Queen”, who just had the edge, “pipping” Green by a single point with Pine and Black finishing in joint third.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

By the time the game came to an end, the eaters had mostly finished, so Black started getting out the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium (also described previously as “the one with the elephant on the box”).  Burgundy and Ivory were quick to stake a claim to play it and Purple was equally quick to opt out.  Mulberry and Blue made up the five, so Green started to collect together the games he thought the rest might play, which Pine pointed out just made it look like he was playing Jenga with boardgames.  It took a while to come to a conclusion, but eventually the trio went for Echidna Shuffle.

Jenga
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is a game that we first discovered at the UK Games Expo back in June and since then, has been very popular with everyone who has played it.  This is partly because of the fabulous, over-produced pieces, especially the lovely echidnas with cute smiley faces.  The game is very simple:  Players have to get their bugs to their tree-stumps by moving echidnas around the board.  On their turn the active player rolls the die, and moves echidnas a total of that number of spaces.  The clever part is that players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine moves.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

There are two sides to the game board:  green “Summer” and snowy “Winter”.  There was some discussion as to which to play.  Pine thought the Summer side of the board rather than the Winter side was more of a challenge.  He explained that it was more confusing on the snowy side and that it is not so easy to block people.  On the other hand, the first time it was played with the Summer side, the game had become something of an epic marathon as everyone worked together to stop everyone else winning.  So this time the group started with the “advanced” Winter board and ended up with a very short game indeed.  After only about three rounds, Purple had got one of her bugs home and Green had managed two.  Then Pine surprised everyone and with a roll of seven managed to complete all three of his bugs and the game was over, almost before it had begun.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is really meant to be a children’s game, so perhaps it should not have been a huge surprise that it ended quite so quickly.  Maybe Pine had had a point though, so unusually the game got a second chance, this time with the Summer board.  This second game, did indeed last longer, but was still relatively quick and before too long everyone had just one bug remaining each. Green was first to get to this point, but Purple and Pine managed to successfully block his route while they also got their second bug home.  In the end Pine became the “Kingmaker” as everyone knew how many moves each player would get and he found himself in the position where he could either move the echidna out of purples way and into Green’s or do something else entirely. Either action (or inaction) would result in win for either Green or Purple and in the end he inevitably chose to open the door for Purple.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

It maybe that as a bunch of adult gamers, we have found the limit of this very pretty and lovable game.  On the other hand, the number of players also has quite an impact—the full compliment of six seems to have the effect of dragging out the Summer board, but the combination of a small number of players and the complexity of the Winter board appears to make the game too open.  Hopefully the company will bring out some new expansions or different board layouts that will give us more to explore, in the meantime, the game may get fewer outings in the weeks to come.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Because of the late start and the fact that Green wanted an early night, there wasn’t enough time for another medium-weight game, but it was still early enough for a short game. After some discussion, the trio agreed upon Walk the Plank!, a cute little programming game with a hefty dose of “take that”.  In programming games players choose the cards they are going to play before the round starts and then action them during the round, usually taking it in turns to reveal one card and then carry out the associated action.  One of the classic games of this type is Colt Express which won the Spiel des Jahres a few years ago, but Walk the Plank! is a quicker and simpler game.  The idea is each player has three pirate meeples on a ship and the last one remaining is the winner.  Players start each round by simultaneously choosing three cards and laying them face down in front of them.  On their turn, players turn over the top card and action it.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards allow players to do things like “shove” one of the meeples belonging to the player on their left, or to the player on their right.  When this is played a meeple that shares a space with one belonging to the active player is moved one step along the plank and thus closer to falling into the depths.  There are lots of other actions including “drag to ship”, “drag to sea” and “Charge!”, but the most exciting cards are probably the “retract the plank” cards.  At the start of the game the plank comprises three pieces, but usually at least one player removes one of these at the start of the game, heightening the stress levels. We usually play with a couple of house-rules too, firstly we play to the last meeple standing (the rules say the last two share victory) and we allow the plank to be completely removed (the rules say there is always one piece left).

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

We’ve loved the game for years and have several different editions within the group—this time we played with the “limited edition” which includes some optional extra cards.  This time two of the extra single use cards were added to each player’s deck:  “Parlay”, which gives a player a chance to turn the tables via a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, and “Dynamite”, which pushes everyone on one tile one space closer to the sea.  After a little shuffling about, Green played his “Dynamite”, but succeeded in sending two of his own men closer to the water as well as the others.  Then Purple played a “Charge!” card to try to push Green into the sea.  Green used his “Parlay” to see if he could to prevent it, but this ended up in hysterics thanks to a total inability to play the game correctly.  It started with Green playing on the count of three as agreed and Purple after the count of three (i.e. on four).  After multiple attempts including one where Purple ended up just pointing vaguely at Green everyone was in fits of giggles, but it didn’t look like the tie was anywhere nearer being resolved.

Rock-Paper-Scissors
– Image from theguardian.com

Pine suggested that perhaps they should try after the count instead.  Green duly obliged, but Purple had finally worked out how to play on the count of three and still the problem persisted.  Then Green chose stone and Purple also chose stone changing to paper at the last second, but this was spotted by Pine who ruled a “Let” and so they had to try yet again.  By this time everyone was laughing so hard that in a fit of confused giggles Purple then chose “none of the above” by using a single finger.  Pine suggested Green and Purple put their hands behind their backs, but this time it was Green’s turn to make a mess of things and he just couldn’t get the hang of it.  In the end, in an effort to stop Purple from soiling the furniture, Pine suggested they remove the counting element and play with closed eyes which was finally successful.  It was largely immaterial by this time, but Green won, so one of Purple’s pirates went charging off the plank into the sea.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Getting back to the game seemed tame by comparison. Everyone ended up back on the boat and then started moving forward again.  With the plank retracted, Green found himself with all three of his pirates on the end when Pine played his dynamite and Green was out in one go taking one of Purple’s and one of Pines own with him.  So Green became the Ghost and with two pirates versus one, it looked to be Pines game.  Two rounds later, though the Ghost shoved one of Pine’s pirates off the ship to level things up until Purple played her “Dynamite” and managed to get both dumped into the water, bringing the game to a shuddering halt, and on that note, Green headed home.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Imaginarium was still underway with no sign of finishing soon, so Pine and Purple decided to give Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra a go as Pine had missed out last time.  As in the original game, Azul, players take all the tiles of one colour from a “factory” and put the rest in the middle, or they take all the tiles of one colour from the middle. Tile placement and scoring is rather different however. All the tiles taken in a turn are placed in a single column of the player’s personal player board. This board is modular with the double-sided strips laid out at random so everyone has a different starting setup.  Tiles must be placed in the strip immediately below the Glazier meeple, or in a strip to its right.  The Glazier is then placed above the strip the tiles were placed in.  Instead of taking tiles, players can choose to reset the Glazier’s position, moving him back to the left most strip.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Players get points when strips are completed scoring the sum of the score depicted below the strip and any strips to the right that have already been completed.  There is also a colour bonus—each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game, and any tiles that match the colour for the round score extra.  Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed.  Any left over tiles that cannot be placed yield a penalty with players moving along a negative score track which has small steps at the start that get larger.  There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

This is definitely a game that takes a at least one play to understand how it works and what the best way to score points is.  For example, the way the score builds, it is imperative to complete the furthest right strips early as then they score again and again.  However, they are relatively low scoring, so this is not the only important strategy. So while Pine started off well, Purple scored more later, especially when she picked up colour bonus point as well.  Early in the game, the penalty for picking up the first player token or for having left-over tiles is small, but it quickly increases, and with Pine taking the first player token more than Purple, he finished with more negative points too.  All the little extras combined to make it a bit of a landslide in Purple’s favour, but then Purple had the advantage of having played the game several times, so next time will surely be different.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

While these games had been going on, the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium was getting an outing.  Subtitled “The Dream Factory”, this game is a worker-placement, engine builder with a Steam Punk theme where players are building machines in a factory.  Beautifully produced with remarkable artwork, players first take it in turns to choose a position on the factory conveyor-belt.  They select either the broken machine card that they are going to buy or a position to collect charcoalium.  These are then carried out in “action” order which then also becomes the selection order for the next round.  At the end of the round any unused cards move long the conveyor-belt and the early positions are populated with new, exciting cards.  As the game progresses, the broken machine cards generally become more expensive, but the machines become more useful, producing more and/or higher value resources.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

On a player’s turn, their existing “machines” first produce resources, then the player must buy the broken machine card they had chosen. The active player finally carries out two actions dictated by an unusual clock mechanism:  each player has a board with the six possible actions arranged in a circle and the hands of the clock are fixed such that players are unable to take actions that are adjacent.  As the clock hands must be moved every round, players are only able to take repeat one action in consecutive rounds.  Possible actions include hiring a character, trading resources, extracting charcoalium, repairing broken machines and reorganising or dismantling existing machines.  When a machine card is taken from the conveyor-belt, it is broken, they must be repaired before they will work and produce resources.  Once repaired, machines can be combined to make them more efficient, or dismantled to give points, the game ends when one player gets to twenty points.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

One of Ivory’s questions before playing a new game is always, “Where are the points going to come from?” In addition to dismantling machines, points are also available for completing “projects” i.e. satisfying goals drawn at random at the start of the game, or by trading charcoalium.  There are also two points available for players who have the most of one of the four resources at the end of the game.  As the game was late starting, the group decided to end the game at fifteen points instead of twenty, though to begin with it didn’t look much like anyone was going to get to fifteen points before midnight.  Black assured everyone that people would pick up speed as the game progressed and eventually, Ivory got going completing the first of the projects and then Black and Blue followed.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is mostly multi-player solitaire, except when it’s not.  There are some machine cards that take resources from the other players.  In a game where resources are very tight and players are very reliant on resources for their plans this can be crucial.  The game also has a distinctly mean streak, as a player that is unable to pay for the card they have chosen, doesn’t get the card, but also loses all their resources, completely upsetting their plans and forcing them to start again from scratch, potentially losing them the game.  This is exactly what happened to Blue—Ivory went earlier in the turn order and bought and then repaired a machine that took all her charcoalium which meant she lost the card she was going to buy and all her resources.  She vowed to get her revenge, but the opportunities for that are few and far between.  As she waited for her chance, she gathered charcoalium to ensure she would be able to buy the right card when it came up.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Sadly for her, interaction in the game is minimal so there she never really got her chance.  Amassing large amounts of charcoalium wasn’t totally without use though as it enabled her to fulfill one of the projects and as they were playing to a smaller total, she started trading them in for points in an effort to avoid coming last.  Meanwhile, Ivory kept amassing points and Mullberry kept doing “the weird goat-head thing” which ensured she always had plenty of charcoalium and was starting to build a productive engine.  Black and Burgundy had also just got their engines going and were planning to score heavily when Ivory announced that he’d passed the fifteen point mark.  With Blue still to take her turn, she maximised her points and everyone added up their scores.  Sadly, for Black, Burgundy and Mullberry this wasn’t a long process as shortening the game had had the unforeseen consequence that the game ended just before their plans had come to fruition.  Much to her surprise, Blue had done rather better as she had stuck to short-term targets that lent themselves to the short game.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

There was only one winner though and Blue’s fourteen points flattered her position as the scores did not tell the true story of the game.  It’s definitely a game to try again sometime, though perhaps with fewer people which would give players a bit more control over their own destiny.  The artwork is somehow both amazing and very disturbing at the same, and it certainly had an unforeseen effect on Blue.  She is not normally one to remember dreams or one to design games, but when she awoke the next morning she had a fleeting recollection of dreaming about playing a card only version of Om Nom Nom that she had designed called “Yum Yum Tum”.  We will have to see if that ever comes to fruition.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  When gamers are hungry they play games about eating.

2nd October 2018

Blue was the first to arrive with Pink, who had come specially to celebrate our sixth birthday.  While they were waiting for food they managed a quick game of NMBR 9.  This is a very simple game, almost like Tetris where players try to tessellate tiles, building layers on top of layers, with the higher layers scoring more points.  It is almost a year since Blue and Pink picked it up at Essen, and since then it has been played repeatedly, an average almost once a month (or every other games night).  Mostly we aren’t so keen on multiplayer solitaire games like this, but NMBR 9 is the exception largely because it is so very fast to set up and games are quick to play too making it a great filler.  It is a shame it only plays four, because there is no real reason that it couldn’t play a few more.  Food arrived really quickly, and we were still placing the final tiles.  It was quite close with similar values for the “first floor”, but Blue edged it with a four and a nine on the next layer compared with Pink, who only managed a six.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy arrived soon after, and attacked his ham, eggs ‘n’ chips, eventually followed by Pine, Ivory, Green, and Cobalt (a friend of Green’s who will be moving into the village in a few weeks time).  As it was exactly six years since the first games night, we couldn’t let the night pass without some sort of small celebration.  So this year we had chocolate brownie cupcakes adorned with meeples to go with the now traditional, the “Birthday Feature Game”, Crappy Birthday.  This is a very silly game that we now play exactly once a year at the beginning of October, with some house rules to make it slightly more palatable as it really isn’t our sort of game at all.  Strangely though, everyone seems to really enjoy playing it once a year on our birthday.  The idea is very simple:  everyone has a hand of gift cards, and everyone takes it in turns to “celebrate their birthday”.  On a player’s “birthday” they receive a gift from everyone else.  These are shuffled, and the “birthday boy” picks the best and worst – the players who gave these get a point and after one year (i.e. after everyone has had a “birthday”), the player or players with the most points win.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

It is the cards that “make” the game for us:  they are brilliant with fantastic comments.  For example, Pink was tickled, well, pink, by the “pet vulture” that he gave to Pine, which was “very friendly, but stares at you while you are sleeping”.  Pine was quite taken with it too and picked it to be his favourite gift, to go with the “fresh turkey” which was always going to be unpopular with a vegetarian (though might have given him something to feed to the vulture).  Burgundy showed an unexpected desire for a set of fluffy dice (thought that might have been more due to the nature of the other gifts than their actual desirability), and Ivory returned the “thoughtful gift” of a set of “camera scales”, which he felt would have been off-putting.  Despite his love of Star Wars, Green decided he’d rather have “a suit of armour” than a complete collection of memorabilia .  Star wars wasn’t in favour with Cobalt either as he unceremoniously returned the gift of “a Star Wars themed wedding” (though it wasn’t completely clear whether it was the Star Wars theme or the wedding that he was rejecting).

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

There was a brief hiatus while Ivory entertained everyone with a complete rendition of Rod Campbell’s “Dear Zoo” story.  Despite being written over thirty-five year ago, nobody else seemed very familiar with the story and everyone was spell-bound as Ivory explained, “I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet.  They sent me an elephant, but he was too big, so I sent it back.”  A very long list of animals later, we established that the puppy was just perfect and Crappy Birthday continued.  The game finished with Pink who fittingly received a real birthday card (it really IS his birthday soon).  Blue then tried to persuade him that Chernobyl was now a safe place to visit and full of lots of interesting wildlife, but he wasn’t convinced and much to everyone’s surprise, rejected a visit (and possible nuclear suntan) in favour of “twenty tanning sessions”.  With Crappy Birthday done and people just licking the last of the icing off the meeples from the cupcakes, it was time to decide what to play next.

Cupcakes!
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink was very keen to play either Altiplano or Clans of Caledonia and Ivory and Burgundy were very keen to join them.  Time was short and the games are similar lengths, however, Blue, Pink and Burgundy had all played Altiplano, and with it’s similarity to Orléans, it was felt that it would be easier for Ivory to pick up quickly.  On the next table, everyone else was trying to decide what to play.  With Cobalt new to the group and not able to stay late, they needed a short game that was quick and easy to explain that might be a good introduction to gaming, so in the end, the group settled on Coloretto.  The game is very simple, with players drawing a card and adding to one of the available “trucks”;  each truck can take a maximum of three cards.  Instead of drawing a card players can take a truck and the round is over when everyone has taken a truck.  The aim of the game is to collect sets of cards, but while the three largest sets score positive points, everything else gives negative points.  The really clever part is the score which is based on the triangular number series, so sets score increasingly well as they get larger (or badly if they score negative points of course) .

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Cobalt  quickly got to grips with the game, but played it safe by taking the bonus score cards. Pine went for a specific set of colours and Green ended up with several that he could build on.  As the game progressed, Cobalt continued to play cautiously and kept the number of colours he had small. Green had several colours, but a few sets were building to a significant number.  Meanwhile Pine’s attempt to keep to specific colours was failing and although had lots of one colour, just couldn’t get the others he wanted.  The final round featured a golden joker which took a little while to work out the rules for.  Despite being very pretty, it turned out that it wasn’t such such a good thing after all, especially at the end of the game. Pine ended up with it and took another random card, which didn’t help him, but didn’t hurt him either.  It was very close, but in the final scoring, Cobalt’s cautious approach kept his negative points down to just one, but his positive score had also suffered. It was Green that topped the podium though, with five points more than Pine.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Cobalt and Green were chatting while Pine was side-tracked by the eye-catching alpaca on the neighbouring table.  Eventually Cobalt called it a night, and Green and Pine contemplated playing something and had just decided to play a quick game, when Black and Purple arrived. They were delighted to find that cakes had been saved for them (with suitably coloured meeples), and the foursome settled down to a game of Splendor.  This is another light, set collecting game that we’ve played a lot.  With simple choices, we find it a relatively relaxing game to play and perfect in the circumstances.  The idea is that players use gem tokens to buy cards, which in turn provide permanent gems that can be used to buy other cards.  Some of the high value cards also give points and players who collect enough of the right gems may earn a visit from a Noble giving them more points – first player to fifteen points is the winner.

Splendor
– Image by BGG contributor zapata131

Everyone followed their own strategy, but it looked like opal (black) and diamond (white) gem cards were the ones that everyone would need due to the Nobles and very few blue sapphires and green emeralds. Purple managed to corner the market for diamonds causing everyone difficulties.  Green was building up red rubies and opals and also going for high scoring cards and Black was managing to gain lots of opals and was quietly beavering away. Pine seemed to find himself in all sorts of trouble as he just couldn’t get the cards he needed with everyone else nabbing them just before him.  It was beginning to look like Black was going to win, but suddenly Purple’s hoarding of diamond gems paid dividends as she was able to grab nobles one after the other and reached the magic fifteen points before anyone else, and exactly one turn ahead of Black as it turned out.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Altiplano had been going for some time.  It had been the “Feature Gamea few weeks back and everyone had really enjoyed it as it gave a new spin on the “bag building” mechanism used in another game we are very familiar with, Orléans. The games are similar in that each player has their own player board, draws “workers” out of their bag and then plays them onto their board before everyone takes in it in turns to carry out the associated actions (one at a time).  The biggest fundamental difference between the two games is that in Altiplano, when tokens are used, they don’t go straight back in the bag as in Orléans, instead, they go into a separate box.  The tokens then only go back into the bag once everything has been used and the bag is empty.  This reduces the lottery element and as a result the game is a lot less forgiving to a poorly controlled bag, but players have much more control if they can find a way of using it.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

The games are visually very different too, with everything set out on a central player board in Orléans, which also features a map which players are trying to navigate and build on.  There is no map, in Altiplano, but there is still a spacial element to the game:  the central play area is made of locations arranged in a circle and only certain actions can be carried out in each one.  For example, if players want to sell goods, they must be at the Market, and must have the relevant goods placed in the Market spaces on their player board.  Before or after their action, players can move, but movement is very restricted.  Players begin with one card that can move up to three spaces in either direction, but they can also “buy” additional moves. And this is where we got the rules wrong.  The correct rules are that players can place a food token onto one of the movement spaces allowing the player to travel just one space (recycling the food into their box).  When these spaces are upgraded with carts, there is still a cost of one food, but now players can move up to three spaces. The rules error was that players couldn’t use the extra movement spaces until they had got a cart, and then they could only travel one space.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Blue was sure something wasn’t right, but was too busy checking other things and answering questions that she didn’t get to find what the problem was until the game was nearly finished.  At this point, Pink informed everyone that he hadn’t been listening to the rules outline and had just been “playing correctly”.  The problem with this is that in a game as tight as Altiplano, even the smallest of changes can have unpredictable consequences.  Last time, Green had been taking a token when he bought Cottage Cards (in effect using them as Canoe Cards); although he had only benefited from a couple of extra tokens, he would have been able to use them several times, and as one of them was Stone it would have helped him to get extra tokens out of his bag, and taking the last Glass token ended the game prematurely etc.  Thus, in this game in particular it is impossible to unravel mistakes and try to work out what effect it might have had, though both Blue and Burgundy felt they would have benefited hugely had they been able to take those extra moves.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Aside from that, the game was mostly played according to the rules.  Pink went for a warehouse strategy concentrating on trying to obtain high value goods, in particular Silver and Wool. Burgundy really struggled at the start and in the end just tried to get hold of any resources he could, and then send them off to his warehouse.  Blue started off really well, but her game stalled in the second half when she ended up with a lot of stuff in her bag that ended up blocking spaces she wanted to use and slowed down the rate she was drawing the tokens she wanted.  While trying to sort out the mess she commented, “I’m going to stuff my whorehouse,” which gained a lot of sniggers from the neighbouring table.  The game was a bit of a mystery to Ivory and he kept saying that he could see how the game worked, but not where he was going to get any points from.  That said, he managed to get nearly a hundred of them giving him a very creditable score for a first try especially given the rules error and the haste they had been explained in.  He probably raised the biggest laugh of the night as well when he sighed deeply and announced, “I think I’m just going to have to get my wood out!”

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Blue had fulfilled more contracts than anyone else and had the vast majority of the glass, but it wasn’t enough.  It was very tight between Pink and Burgundy in first and second place though—Burgundy had more goods in his warehouse, but Pink’s were generally of a higher value.  In fact it was so close that it called for a recount, just in case.  It turned out that the scores had been correct though and Burgundy’s hundred and fifty-two, just edged out Pink who finished three points behind.  Comparing the totals to those achieved last time showed how much everyone has improved since the winning score for that game was a hundred and three.  The reason for that is probably largely the fact that everyone is getting better at controlling the contents of their bag.  As Pink pointed out, it really is critical to get rid of things that aren’t wanted, otherwise you end up in the mess Blue got herself into.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Don’t put wooden meeples on cakes, they are too chewy…