Tag Archives: Splendor

Essen 2017

It is that time of year again when the gamers’ minds turn to Essen and – The Internationale Spieltage.  To Gamers worldwide, Essen is synonymous with the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world.  The fair runs Thursday to Sunday in mid/late-October every year and is the one of the biggest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions with many new releases and timed to coincide with the end of October.  This year the first day will be this Thursday, 26th October and games, publishers and their wares are all making their way to Germany for four days of fun and games.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag-en.com

Last year several of the group went, and they came back with a lot of expansions for well-loved games like Istanbul, Colt Express, and Orléans and picked up some new games like Key to the City – London, Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails and Cottage Garden.  This year, new games include Queendomino, Indian Summer, Altiplano and Keyper, with expansions to old favourites like Isle of Skye, Imhotep, Ticket to Ride, Terraforming Mars and Splendor as well.  Once again, several locals are going and they are sure to bring back some interesting toys to play with over the coming months.

Keyper
– Image used with permission of designer Richard Breese

19th September 2017

After more discussion that it really warranted, we started the evening with a quick game of Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen).  Given the choice of this, No Thanks! or 6 Nimmt!, Red chose “the Goat Game”, but was disappointed to find it wasn’t what she was expecting.  Bokken Schieten is a very simple trick-taking game based on Blackjack.  Players choose a card from their hand and play it face up in front of them – the person who plays the highest card takes the trick and with it all the cards played in the round.  The player who plays the lowest card draws a Goat Island card and places the goat-meeple on one end, choosing which end will start Goat Island and the value of the number to contribute to the limit.  The game continues with players playing cards and winning tricks, and the player who plays the lowest numbered card adding to Goat Island, choosing whether to add a large or small amount to the total.  At the end of the game players count the number of goat heads on their cards and the winner is the player with the highest total that does not exceed the limit given by the sum of the numbers on Goat Island.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine was the player who had most recently seen a goat, so he went first.  It quickly became apparent that several players were struggling:  Burgundy had all the low cards, while Magenta had only one card below twenty-four and consequently went bust quite quickly.  Blue also had few low cards, but was so paranoid about going bust she ended up winning no tricks at all.  Goat Island finished with a value of fifteen which immediately put two players out of the running and with Blue taking no tricks it was between Burgundy and Pine.  It turned out that having so many low value cards gave Burgundy the edge as he finished with eleven goat heads, four more than Pine.  It was about this point that Red pointed out that Green, Black and Purple were pariahs because they were the only ones who weren’t wearing blue.  Everyone looked a bit mystified until Red explained that she was celebrating Dublin beating Mayo in the final of the All Ireland Gaelic Football Chamionship, and Dublin played in blue.  Green and Purple quickly demonstrated they did have something blue on (socks and scarf respectively), which just left Black.  He looked shifty and commented that he was also wearing blue, but didn’t think anyone really wanted him to prove it…

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

The silliness continued as Pine commented that he’d received an email with the subject line, “Show us your knickers”.  Apparently this was something to do with recycling and they wanted new undies or “slightly used bras”.  Pine’s well-endowed colleague had commented that none of her bras were “slightly used” and Pine looked to the girls round the gaming table for opinions precipitating a discussion as to what constituted a “slightly used bra”.  With the nonsense continuing into the discussion of games, there were only two games people were keen to play.  Some of the group had played Roll for the Galaxy a few weeks earlier and felt it needed to be played more so everyone could get to grips with it better.  Green was particularly keen to give it another go, and Black and Purple were happy to join him, leaving place for one more.  Burgundy actively rejected it and Red was keen to play the “Feature Game”, Battle Kittens which left three people to sort themselves out.  In the end, we went with seating positions and Pine, although he was a little skeptical and hadn’t played it before, joined the Roll for the Galaxy group leaving Blue and Magenta play Battle Kittens with Red and Burgundy.

Battle Kittens
– Image by boardGOATS

Battle Kittens is a quick-playing card drafting game with a ninja-cat theme.  The idea is that each player is one of the Cat King’s Royal Cat Herders, who starts with seven cat cards, taking one passing the rest on.  As each player receives a new hand, they take another card and keep passing the ever-diminishing hands on until there are no cards left to circulate.  Once this drafting phase has been completed, players divide up their packs of kittens into three groups which will contest the three different battle arenas.  Each arena will be contested on the basis of one of the four traits:  cuteness, strength, wisdom, and agility.  The squads with the three highest point totals in a battlefield are awarded a number of fish tokens in accordance with that particular battlefield’s allotment for first, second and third place.  The key thing is that some kittens have special powers allowing players to pick up “King” cards or add points to other cat cards.  King cards are mostly good, but the King can be fickle sometimes takes out his ill-temper on an unsuspecting squad of kittens.  The game is played over three rounds and the winner is the player with the most fish at the end of the game.

Battle Kittens
– Image by boardGOATS

It took everyone a round to really appreciate what they were trying to do, but by the second round, the gloves were off and the ninja kittens were attacking with everything they had.  It was a hard fought close series of battles as the piles of fish gradually grew and grew.  With the game quickly all done bar the counting, which was very close, but Blue’s Brave Moggies took first place, two fish ahead of Burgundy in second place.  The other table were still underway, so with time for something else, there was another decision to be made.  With time now a factor, there were fewer options and it wasn’t long before a decision was made and players were getting out Sheep & Thief.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

Sheep & Thief is a strange little “point salad” of a game.  Each player has a board divided into a four by four grid, and starts with their home card and two sheep in the top left hand corner.  each round is played in two halves: first players draft cards then they play them, taking it turns to place one card per turn.  There are lots of different elements to the game: players are trying to connect their home card to the other three corners while trying to keep their sheep safe and trying to catch other players sheep with their fox, meanwhile, they are also attempting to navigate their black sheep to the bottom left right corner of their board.  With points for sheep captured, sheep retained, long rivers, connecting the home card to the other corners of the board as well as for moving their black sheep as far from home as possible, it is hard to see who has the most points and get an idea of who is in the lead.  Blue and Burgundy had both played the game before and both said it was very hard to do everything.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue didn’t have many sheep and most of them got stolen by Burgundy and particularly Red who really engaged with the thief aspect of the game.  Meanwhile, Magenta didn’t quite follow the rules surrounding the rivers so we had to re-write things a bit to work round it.  Although Blue had almost no sheep and her black sheep got itself sent back to the start right at the end so scored nothing, Blue did manage to pick up lots of points for a long river and and connecting her home to the other corners, giving her a quite respectable score of twenty-eight.  In contrast, Burgundy hadn’t managed to build a route to any of the corners and only had a short river.  With all the sheep he had stolen and his travelling black sheep (who nearly made it all the way to the far corner), he also scored twenty-eight.  It was quite a surprise when Magenta, who had lots of sheep, but was a little low in the other areas, also scored exactly twenty-eight points.  With a three-way tie, it was with bated breath that everyone waited while Blue added up the scores, but sadly, Red had only managed twenty-three.  This seemed a little low to Red, however, and on the recount, it turned out she had, not twenty-eight, but thirty-three, making her the winner and the best sheep thief!

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

With Red and Magenta heading off and the other game still going on, there was just time for Blue and Burgundy to play something short.  It was hard to decide what, as Splendor was the obvious choice, but last time Blue and Burgundy had played, Blue had finally won after two years of trying and was reluctant to start another losing streak.  The game is a simple one of chip collecting and engine-building with a very loose gemstone theme. Basically, on their turn, players can take gemstone poker chips, or use chips to buy a card. Some cards have points on them and all can be used like the poker chips to buy cards (but without having to return them). The cards also give players access to “Noble tiles” which also give points. The winner is the player with the most points after someone reaches fifteen points.  This time, although Blue started well, Burgundy soon wore her down eventually finishing with seventeen points to Blue’s eleven by take two points and a Noble to end the game.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, on the next table a tight fought battle was underway in Roll for the Galaxy.  Black, Purple and Green had all played it before several times and relatively recently too, so it was only Pine who needed a detailed rules explanation.  In summary, players roll the dice in their cup in secret, behind their player screen. They then distribute the dice according to their symbols, matching them up to each of the five phases, Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship. Players then, still in secret, re-position one of their dice to use it to choose one action they would like to activate. Players can also put a die to one side for a turn to “Dictate” the symbol on another die, i.e. reassign it to a different phase. Once everyone has positioned all their dice, the player screens are removed and players simultaneously carry out the phases that have been chosen in order.  In general, if a phase is chosen by anyone, it will happen for everyone.  Thus, players can look at what others are doing and try to decide whether someone else will activate a particular phase and then they can activate another.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each die is used to carry out an action once, so if a player has multiple dice assigned to the same phase, the action may be carried out several times. Any dice that were not used because the phase did not happen or because the player chose not to use them are returned to the players’ cups.  Dice that have been “spent” to carry out an action must be placed in the player’s “Citizenry” and must be transferred back into the player’s dice cup at a cost of $1, before they can be used again.  The aim of the game is to get points which come through Trading goods and Settling and Developing Worlds.  These actions have corresponding phases which players must choose during the game.  Worlds broadly come in two different types:  Production and Development.  Production Worlds come with extra dice in different colours and as the different colours have different distributions of symbols, they have different advantages and disadvantages.  The dice can be “spent” in exchange for victory points or money; all dice have the same value when used to get victory points, but different values when acquiring money.  Development Worlds do not provide dice, but instead give special powers and/or extra points at the end of the game.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Players draw World tiles from a bag during the Explore phase and one of the key parts of the game is controlling these piles and manipulating the worlds built in order to steer a particular strategy.  Another important part of the game is controlling which dice that go into the player’s cup.  In this sense, the game could be compared with deck building games like Dominion or bag-building games like Orléans, where players build the contents of their deck/bag in an effort to control luck.  Perhaps the most important part of the game is choosing which Worlds to build and trying to get a synergy between them.  This is quite hard to get to grips with on the first try as it’s not always easy to identify which Worlds are god ones to keep.  That said, players essentially draw one tile from the bag at a time, so the only decision to be made is which side to use.  On the other hand, one of the options is throwing tiles out, in which case, several tiles may be drawn from the bag simultaneously which is more powerful, but makes the decision much harder.  The game end is triggered when one player has built twelve worlds or the pile of victory point chips is consumed.  It is a game that takes a bit of getting used to and everyone usually struggles a bit at the start, which is what Black and Green were so keen to try it again quickly after they last played.  This time everyone seemed to build their strategies round slightly different approaches.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Green started with a green “Genes” World which is valuable when Trading, however, he was able to he was able to pair it with a Development world that gave him a Production bonus making it very lucrative.  With this and a couple of other Production Worlds he was able to engage in a lot of Shipping.  Black began with a red, Military die which has a distribution that encourages Settling and Developing.  It wasn’t until right at the end of the game though that he was able to Develop some of his most valuable Worlds.  Pine began quite tentatively as it was his first time, but quickly got the hang of Producing and Settling and managed to Develop Worlds that gave him bonuses which eased things along.  Purple, on the other hand,  struggled to get to grips with the game, largely thanks to the worlds she picked up at the start.  In the end, she just built as much as she could and triggered the end of the game when she built her twelfth world.  The others weren’t far behind her though and their better combination of Worlds gave them more points.  It was the victory points from Shipping that really made the difference however, but it was very close at the top with just two points in it.  Had Green ended the game a round earlier (as he’d had the chance to do) he might just have kept his nose in front.  As it was, allowing Black to Develop in the final round was a crucial error and gave him the victory by just two points.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The evening was nearly over, but after a quick update on Richard Branson and Hurricane Irma, there was just time for a little bit more “Trash Talk” – quite literally as it happens, as the conversation moved onto the subject of “drive-through litter-bins” on motorways.  This is now apparently a thing, which led to a discussion with everyone expressing their disgust at the laziness of people who seem incapable of taking their littler home with them and recycling it.  It was in response to one such comment on this subject from Blue that Pine, much to everyone’s astonishment pronounced, “That is because you’re intelligent…”  And on that note, it was definitely time for home!

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Black wears blue underwear and Pine thinks Blue is “intelligent” (well, sometimes).

25th July 2017

The evening began with Burgundy and Blue playing a non-Extreme version of The Game: ExtremeThe Game was one of our more popular games, but seems to have been somewhat neglected of late.  It is one of those simple games that we really enjoy as a group, and is unusual because it is a cooperative game, which we generally avoid.  The game consists of a deck of cards numbered two to ninety-nine, which are shuffled and everyone is dealt a hand (seven in the two player game).  On their turn, the active player must play at least two cards onto the four piles following a handful of simple rules.  Two of the piles start at one and every card there after have a higher number than the card on top; the other two start at 100 and the cards that follow must have a lower number.  The aim of the game is for all the cards to end up on the four piles, so timing is everything – play a card that is too low and someone could get shut out and be unable to play one of their cards.  This makes communication important: players can say anything they like, but must not give specific number information about the cards they hold.  There is one “get out of gaol” rule, sometimes known as “The Backwards Rule”, where players can play a card on the wrong deck, but only if the card is exactly ten different to the top card.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

The Game: Extreme is just like the The Game, except that some of the cards have extra icons on them which limit the number of options available and consequently make being successful even more difficult.  Although we have played the full version, we have found that the basic game is usually quite challenging enough for us, so we chose to stick to the original game this time and ignored the extra symbols. Blue and Burgundy had just started when Pine turned up so he grabbed six cards (the number of cards in hand for three players) and joined in.  It was just as well that it was only the base game, because after Blue had an excellent start, everyone else thereafter had very middling cards, that is to say, they were all in the thirty to seventy region.  Then things got worse, because having been forced to move to the middle, everyone drew single digit cards and cards numbered in the nineties.  Everyone blamed Burgundy because he shuffled, but he had some of the worst timed cards of all.  Remarkably, the draw deck was eventually exhausted and there was a moment’s respite as layers only had to play the one card.  It wasn’t long before it was all over though, with Blue stuck with a large number of unplayable cards.  In the end there were eleven cards left unplayed – a lot worse than our best (we have beaten it in the past), but not so bad considering our truly dismal start.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone who had been expected arrived, we moved on to the “Feature Game”, which, following it’s entirely predictable Spiel des Jahres win last week, was Kingdomino.  The game consists of dominoes featuring two terrain “tiles” with some tiles also depicting one or more crowns.  When the dominoes are placed, one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or connect to their starting tile (which can be considered to be “wild”).  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space and if one or more dominoes cannot be placed according to these rules, then they are discarded. At the end of the game, each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region and adds them up together with any bonuses to give their score.  We’ve played this a lot since Expo, and found it very enjoyable, so everyone was happy to give it another go.  With a total of seven people we split into two groups, the first was a group of three consisting of Black, Purple and Green.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

With only three playing a dozen dominoes were removed and it was not until the end of the game that it became apparent that over half were pasture tiles.  As a result, it was unsurprising that Green managed to corner the market in pastures with four squares and two crowns leaving Black and Purple with only one tile and no crowns. In contrast, Purple ended up with all the swampland (with two squares and three crowns), while Black and Green only managed only a couple of tiles and no crowns.   Black’s wheat, woodland and water provided good solid scoring, while Green added two woodland areas and a small strip of water to his.  In a very close game with just four points between first and third, it was Purple’s extensive wheat field that made up the bulk of her winning score of forty-nine.  On the next table, with four players, none of the dominoes were removed, but that didn’t stop fate getting involved.  In this game, all the high numbered (and therefore valuable) dominoes came out at the start, making it very obvious who wanted what later in the game.  In the first game everyone had managed a perfect five-by-five grid with the castle in the middle so they all picked up the bonus points.  In the second game, Burgundy failed on both counts so started fifteen points adrift.  Despite this, he still finished with a very creditable fifty points and was only beaten by two points by Blue in what was also a very close game.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Both games finished more or less together and there was just time for a little chit-chat before we moved onto the next game.  Inevitably, people were interested in how Keyper had gone, when the group had been fortunate enough to participate in a play-testing session with the designer.  As a group, we love Keyflower and were keen to see how this one plays out.  Although the game is quite deep, it isn’t actually as complex as it seemed at first and the novel game boards that change throughout the seasons were described as “Genius” by Black while they simply fascinated Blue, reminding her of a Moomin toy she had picked up in Helsinki airport ten years before.  Pink on the other hand was captivated by the individual art on the MeepleSource Character Meeples in the deluxe edition.  The general consensus seemed to be that everyone was looking forward to playing it again on its release, which will probably be in a couple of months time.

Keyper
– Image from kickstarter.com

With drinks refilled there was the inevitable debate as to who was going to play what and eventually, Pine joined Black, Purple and Green for a game of Jamaica.  This was the group’s first ever “Feature Game” and as such is an old favourite; quick to learn and fun to play, but oh so difficult to do well in. Pine was new to it, so a run-down of the rules was in order.  Essentially a race game, the board depicts the island of Jamaica surrounded by a water race track where each space is a Port, a Pirates’ Lair, or “Deep Sea”.  For the most part, there is just one route, but there are a couple places where players can choose to cut a corner to get ahead, but there are always consequences.  Each player has a ship, a player board representing their ship’s hold a starting amount of food and gold together with a deck of action cards from which they draw three.  At the start of each round, the Captain rolls the two dice and places them in the middle of the board – one on a “morning” spot and the other on the “evening” spot. Each player then chooses one of their three action cards and places it face down in front of them.  Staring with the Captain, players then take it in turns to carry-out the two actions on their card, applying the number on the morning die to one of them and the number on the evening die to the other.

Jamaica
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor Punkin312

The actions vary from sailing (forwards or backwards) to taking food, gunpowder or doubloons, and in each case the number of spaces or the amount of resource depends on the morning and evening dice.  When sailing the player must move their ship the exactly amount and then carry-out the action according to the space they land on: in Deep Sea, they must discard food; at a Port, they must discard gold; at a Pirate’s Lair they get to take any treasure that may be there (and they aren’t all good).  More seriously, if there is another ship on the space, there is a battle which is resolved with dice and gunpowder.  The game ends when one player makes it all the way round the island and back to Port Royal and players score points for how far they got, the number of treasures they stole and the amount gold they collected.  Random role meant he was the starting captain, but he was happy to go first.  The flotilla started slowly, but Pine and Purple soon found a little wind to get started, while Green and Black remained in port for a while longer.  Inevitably, Pine and Purple were soon fighting it out with Purple winning the first melee.

Jamaica
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Purple also managed to steal the first treasure, which everyone quickly realised was a stinky one when she beat Black in battle and passed it along.  Black kept his ship smelling sweet by fighting and beating Pine soon after and passing it on again… From then on, even though Pine had managed to gain more bonus cards, no-one dared take one as booty, just in case!  By this time, Purple was full-sail ahead and also gained the “roll again in battle” card, Black found the luxury of an extra card in hand, and Green remained lingering far behind the others.  This soon changed within a couple of rounds, when a quick reverse for Green resulted in the plus-two cannon card and double high scoring forward brought him back into the fray.  With his eye on the treasure in the Pirate’s Lair as he sailed past, he knew he didn’t have enough to pay the harbour tax at the Port and would therefore be “forced” to go back a space to the Pirates’ Lair.  First he had to deal with Purple who was ominously lurking at the entrance to the harbour.  He bravely took her on and won, taking some gold as his prize, but then realised his mistake – now he could pay the tax and would not have to reverse to the unclaimed treasure!

Jamaica
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Purple and Pine continued their tit-for-tat squabbling and Purple’s boat got heavier while Pine’s got lighter.  Black tactfully mostly avoided too many fights, leaving his hold almost empty for much of the middle of the game.  Green, on the other hand, took on Purple once again, and lost and with it went his plus-two cannon. Purple was beginning to look invincible with both fighting bonuses and a hold full of cannons to boot, but she did not do much fighting after that, since everyone else tried their hardest to avoid her!  Pine then came within a whisker of landing in Port Royal, which was just six spaces away, so everyone knew the end was nigh and every round was about maximising points. A six was rolled and everyone thought that would be it, but Pine decided to stay put and claim some more gold, then promptly lost some to Purple who joined him in Port.  With a three and a six rolled the end was triggered when Green just struggled across the line, gaining seven points, but losing five gold in duty at the Port.  Black stayed put and just piled in more gold while Purple and Pine both raced across the line.  It was close at the front, but Pine romped home with just enough bonuses to pip Purple by two points.

Jamaica
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor The_Blue_Meeple

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Burgundy and Blue were introducing Ivory to Orléans.  This is one of Burgundy’s favourite games and he was almost purring as he was setting up while Blue explained the rules.  The idea is that each player has a bag and, at the start of the round they draw workers from it.  Players then place their workers on it their market which has a maximum of eight spaces, before moving as many as they want onto their personal player board which dictate the actions they can carry out.  Once everyone has placed their pieces, players take it in turns to carry out their actions.  There are a variety actions, but a lot of them involve taking another worker that is added to the bag along with any workers that have been used.  Thus, the game is mechanically very simple: draw workers from a bag, plan which actions to do and then do them with points awarded at the end of the game.  This simplicity belies the depth of the game and the complexity that comes as a result of combining the different actions though.

Orléans
– Image by BGG contributor styren

In addition to taking a worker, the most actions come with a bonus; some of these help players manage their game, while others give players scoring opportunities.  For example, going to the Castle will give a player an extra “Knight”, but will also enable them to take an extra worker out of the bag on subsequent turns and so on.  Each of the Character actions has an associated track on the communal player board and the players move one step along these tracks each time they carry out an action receiving a bonus as they go; in general, the bonuses increase the further along the track players are.  Probably the biggest source of points, however, comes from a combination of traveling around France building Trading Stations, collecting “Citizens” and traveling along the development track.  This scores heavily because the total awarded is equal to the product of the number of Status Markers achieved along the development track, and the sum of the Trading Stations and Citizens.  This is not the only way to score points though, something that was very evident in this game when it came to scoring.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

The game started slowly, with everyone trying to fill their bag with useful characters.  Blue began by going to University which gave her a good start along the development track, though of course this meant nothing without Citizens and/or Trading Stations to act as a multiplier.  It also gave her a lot of grey Scholars, which she mostly put to good use in the Cloister to get yellow Monks, and before long her bag was a veritable monastery!  This meant she was forced to neglect other areas though.  Meanwhile, Burgundy had started by looking at the map of France and the lay out of resources and had noticed that there was a lot of wool and cloth on the eastern border, so he began moving and collecting resources with a vague plan to add a Tailor’s Shop or Wool Merchant to add more, though things didn’t work out quite like that when Ivory got in on the act and his blue Sailors decided to hide in his bag.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory had begun by building the basics, starting with his Castle which gave him lots of red Knights and allowed him to draw more people out of his bag, then moving on to brown Craftsmen adding automation and then blue Sailors that provided lots of money.  This meant his development track was sorely neglected and he looked like he was going to be in trouble as places at the University ran out.  He had a plan for that though, and added the Observatory to his board which allowed him to move large distances along the Development track, something he used to great effect.   As the game drew to a close, event tiles continued to be drawn in pairs with the same event occurring in consecutive rounds – something Burgundy got the blame for again.  The fates got their revenge however, and Burgundy’s shy Sailors continued to hamper his plans while Blue headed down the west coast of France to build her final score.  In the final rounds there was a flurry of building and sending people to the Town Hall to pick up those few extra citizens.  The final score was close, very close, with everyone scoring in different areas:  Burgundy and Ivory had large piles of cash, while Blue was cash poor and made the majority of her points through the development track and Trading Stations.  Similarly, Ivory scored highly for his cloth, while Burgundy scored for his wool and Blue had the most cheese.  There were only eleven points between first and third, but Blue finished just ahead of Ivory in second place.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Jamaica had come to an end, so with Burgundy tied up in the battle for France, Pine, Black and Purple fancied their chances at Splendor.  The game is very simple: players collect chips to buy gem cards which can, in turn, be used in lieu of chips.  More expensive cards are also worth points and the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points (and the round is completed to give everyone the same number of turns).  Points are also awarded for “nobles” which go to the first player to get a specific combination of gem cards and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.  This time, although it started as a tight game, Black quickly got his nose in front and there he stayed.  Pine picked up a noble, but that was matched by Black and the writing was on the wall long before Black triggered the end of the game, finishing with a total of sixteen points, five more than Pine in second.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

With Orléans over, Ivory headed home leaving just enough time and people for one last quick game, another old favourite, Bohnanza.  The original bean trading game, the clever part of the game is that players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand and must play them in the order they arrive.  Thus, on their turn, the active player first plays the first card in their hand with the option of playing the second if they desire.  Once they’ve been planted, two cards are drawn which can be traded, but must be planted by someone.  The game is very free flowing with lots of table talk, which perhaps explains why it took a lot longer than planned.  Burgundy once again got the blame when cards grouped together, that didn’t stop Blue from getting in a tangle with Garden and Cocoa Beans, harvesting them only to draw one straight away.  Despite this, was a close game and finished in a three-way tie for first place, with Pine just one point behind in second.  Unusually, Burgundy trailed a long way behind, capping a hard fought evening that went unrewarded.  As he commented on the way out of the door though, while it had been an unsuccessful evening, it had still been enjoyable.

– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Losing can be fun, but don’t let Burgundy shuffle.

13th June 2017

Purple and Black were first to arrive and were finishing off their supper when Burgundy joined them.  While Burgundy waited for for his dinner to arrive, he joined Purple and Black in a quick game of Kingdomino.  This is a fairly light little game that has recently been nominated for this year’s Spiel des Jahres Award.  Kingdomino is a simple little tile laying game with elements borrowed from other games, in particular, Carcassonne and Dominoes.  These are combined to make a well presented family game that is in with a great chance of winning the award.  During the game, players taking it in turns to add to their kingdom by placing dominoes that depict different terrains types.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The dominoes comprise two squares each featuring one of six different terrain types: pasture, cornfield, woodland, sea, swamp and mountain.  Some tiles also depict one or more crowns.  When the dominoes are placed, one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or connect to their starting tile (which can be considered to be “wild”).  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space and if one or more of dominoes cannot be placed according to these rules, then they are discarded.  At the end of the game, each player multiplies the number of tiles in each continuous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region and adds them up to give their score – the player with the highest score wins.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

There are a couple of interesting little quirks.  Firstly, the dominoes are chosen by players in a very elegant way.  Each domino has a number on the reverse with the higher numbers roughly correlating to the more valuable ones.  At the start of the game four dominoes drawn at random are placed face up in ascending order and each player puts a coloured meeple on one of them.  These dominoes are played in ascending order, so the more valuable ones are played later.  At the beginning of round, another four dominoes are placed face up in number order creating a second row.  When a player carries out their turn, they take the domino under their meeple and add it to their kingdom and moving their meeple to the next row, choosing which domino to place it on.  In this way, players can choose a more valuable tile for the coming round but that is offset by having a later choice of tiles for the following round.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

There is also matter of the distribution of the tiles.  Some terrains types, like cornfield, are quite common with few crowns available, however others (like mountain) are very scarce, but have most have more than one crown on them.  This is quite critical because a player could build up a very large area, which fails to score because it has no crowns.  Alternatively, a couple of squares of mountain (or marsh) can score relatively highly.  This effect was critical in this game as both Burgundy and Purple built up large areas of cornfield, but Burgundy managed to add four of the five crowns available to his which gave him substantial score. He had very little else though, and Black had built up areas of sea and woodland and Purple had added several small terrains to her large cornfield.  Largely thanks to his massive cornfield, Burgundy finished with a massive forty-two, almost twice that of Black in second place.  With Kingdomino over and Burgundy and Blue’s pizzas having arrived, the group split into three, with one group playing a new game, “London Meerkats”, one group playing the pizza making card game, Mamma Mia! and the last group eating pizzas (far too serious to be a game).

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

We first played Mamma Mia! about a month ago, and it went down so well, that Red fancied giving it another go this week prior to perhaps making a little purchase herself.  The idea is that players are trying to fulfill pizza orders by first putting topping cards in the “oven” and then sneaking their order cards in on top before another player does the same and claims the toppings for their order. So, each player has a deck of personal order cards and a random hand of toppings. On their turn, each player must place at least one topping card in the oven pile (all the same type) and may follow it with an order card if they choose.  The winner is the player who manages to complete the most orders.

Mamma Mia!
– Image by boardGOATS

Red and Pine had played Mamma Mia! last time (with the Double Ingredients mini expansion) and introduced Magenta and Turquoise to it.  Unfortunately, it is a slightly strange game and some of the rules didn’t quite make it somewhere along the line, not that it mattered though and Burgundy and Blue were thoroughly entertained by some of the snippets that drifted across the room. It seemed Pine in particular had strong opinions on what should go on a pizza, “How can you have four pineapples and one mushroom on a pizza?  That’s disgusting!”  On the other hand he was clearly less revolted by chili and  pineapple commenting, “That’s a nice combination!”  In the final round with Blue and Burgundy now spectating, Pine was clearly getting frustrated at being asked for the third time whether he had a card to add to his order, as he grunted, “No, I still don’t have one; why on earth would I want pepperoni – I’m a vegetarian!”

– Image by boardGOATS

With all the fun and a close game, the winner was almost a incidental, but once again, it was the Red, the “Pizzza Queen” who managed to complete all eight orders, one more than Magenta who finished with a highly creditable seven.  With pizzas cooked and eaten it was time for the “Feature Game”, Between Two Cities with the new Capitals expansion.  We’ve played Between Two Cities quite a bit, and when the expansion was available as a pre-release at the UK Games Expo at the start of the month, it was inevitable that we’d be keen to give it a go.  That said, Pine (clearly still suffering from a surfeit of pineapple and pepperoni), commented, “Here’s where an expansion takes a good game and makes it a worse.”  So it had a lot to live up to.

– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, Turquoise had not played the base game before, however, of all games Between Two Cities is one game where a novice can get a lot of help due to its inherent nature.  The game is very simple as players draft buildings tiles, keeping two tiles each round and passing the rest on.  The novel part of the game is that instead of adding these tiles to one’s own city, the tiles are added to two cites, one on each side, each shared with a neighbour.  The winner is the player with the “best” second city (i.e. the player with whose lowest scoring city is the strongest). This peculiarity of the scoring means players are trying to balance their two cities and ensure the buildings they require a complementary.  The semi-cooperative nature meant that Red and Burgundy could help out Turquoise, and in fact, everyone could help eachother dealing with the complications of the expansion.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

There are three components to the Capitals expansion.  Firstly, each city now starts with a three-by-three starting tile with some pre-filled spaces and others that can  be filled by players.  This adds a tweak to the start of the round that we all agreed we liked, as well as making the game slightly longer as the cities occupied a slightly larger space.  The other two modules were slightly more controversial.  The new tile type, Civic buildings, might have been more popular if the icons hadn’t been so small that they were almost impossible to see in the slightly subdued lighting in the pub (which was worse than normal due to a blown bulb in exactly the wrong place).  Even those who could see them well though, were playing them in a very negative way.  These tiles give three points if placed near one specific type and six if next to two specific types, but one if not adjacent to either or if adjacent to a third specific type.  Unfortunately, the icons were too small to distinguish for anyone over about twenty.  Finally, there were district awards given to the largest districts i.e. contiguous areas of a pair of tile types.  Most people ignored these, largely due to the fact they were concentrating on trying to work out what to do with the Civic buildings.

Between Two Cities: Capitals
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the nicest parts of the Capitals expansion is that it includes a list of all the wooden monument meeples with their names, allowing players to identify better with their two structures.  Burgundy and Turquoise filled their shared city, the “Red Pagoda”, with lots of houses, parks and shops.  Since Burgundy was struggling to see the Civic buildings they completely eschewed them in favour of factories which they mostly managed to avoid placing next to any houses.  On Turquoise’s other side was the “World War Monument”, shared with Magenta.  This city scored less well, partly because it was competing with the “Red Pagoda” for park and factory tiles.  Magenta’s second city didn’t do much better, though at least it wasn’t in competition with her first city.  Sharing with Pine, the “Rialto Bridge” city combined offices with leisure and housing.

– Image by boardGOATS

Pine’s second city, the “Sydney Harbour Bridge” was shared with Red, and the profile almost exactly mirrored his first city.  It scored much better though partly thanks to the addition of a few Civic buildings and a couple of extra leisure facilities.  Red’s second city, “St. Basil’s Basilica” was shared with Blue and also featured several Civic buildings (as did Blue’s other city, well, someone was going to end up with them).  Despite completely missing out on shops which dented its housing score, “St. Basil’s” still scored quite well due to a lot of houses and parks.  The final city, the “Geekway to the West”, was shared by Blue and Burgundy and featured lots of shops, leisure buildings and houses as well as the Civic buildings, scoring well.

Between Two Cities: Capitals
– Image by boardGOATS

All the scores were a little moot, however, as the District Bonus scores were still to be allocated.  Only Blue had really paid attention to these at the start, and she had infected Burgundy and Red who she had been sharing cities with.  It was perhaps no surprise then that the “Red Pagoda”, the “Sydney Harbour Bridge”, the “Geekway to the West” and “St. Basil’s Basilica” all picked up bonus points which put them in first, second third and fourth place respectively.  That still left the winner to determine.  Blue, Burgundy and Red all had an interest in two of the top four cities.  Burgundy participated in the first and third placed cities giving him first place, and Red and Blue shared “St. Basil’s Basilica” in fourth so Red took second place on the tie-break.

Between Two Cities: Capitals
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, the next table had been playing London Markets (or “London Meerkats” as we  have taken to calling it).  This game was released at Essen last year following a KickStarter fund-raiser and is a re-themed revision of Dschunke, which was originally nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2002.  Green, Black and Purple had tried to play it at Didcot once before, but the set up and rules explanation had taken so long that they had only managed a few opening rounds before running out of time.  This meant they were all keen to try it properly, especially as it seemed to have an interesting and unusual mechanic.  In this, they were joined by Ivory who is always keen to try something new, especially the slightly more complex games.  Although “London Meerkats” is not actually that complicated, being a little different it takes a bit of time to understand how the components fit together.  At its heart, “London Meerkats” is an auction game, where players use goods to make a concealed bid for one of four options with the ultimate aim of having the most money at the end of the game.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

In general, there are four items available in each auction, usually three giving a monetary reward and the fourth providing a special power card.  In a four player game, it is possible that each player bids for a different option and everyone moves onto the next round happy.  More often than not though, more than one person bids for one of the options, in which case at least one person is going to be disappointed and not just because they didn’t win, but also because all bids, even losing bids, go to the bank.  Worse, in the case of a tie, the winnings are split and rounded down, so when this is not possible, again, everyone involved comes out with nothing.  If there are items than nobody bid for, these are auctioned again, but it is even more risky this time as there are the same number of participants, but fewer targets.  They are also the items nobody bid for at the first attempt, so may be less desirable, leaving players with another difficult decision.  The interesting part of the game is how players acquire the goods to use in the bidding in the second part of the round.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

The first part of each round is played on the board featuring London and five of her markets, Brixton, Borough, Portabello, Covent Garden and Petticoat Lane.  Each market exclusively provides textiles, soaps, coffee, porcelain apart from the last one which provides access to one of the others.  There are also three merchants who each start at one of the markets and two assistants who occupy locations on the banks of the river.  Players start by taking it in turns to select a merchant or one of the assistants and activating them, turning the token over so that only one person can carry out each action per round.  The merchants allow players to stack goods crates of their own colour in the market, collect goods cards (which are used for bidding) or collect money from the bank.  The latter number of cards or the amount of money depends on the number of crates visible when the action is used.  Since crates come in bars and are stacked, the number of crates visible changes throughout the game.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

The merchants carry out the activity in the market they are in, whereas players who activate the the assistants can choose which of the two markets to carryout the action in with the action dictated by the assistant’s position on its riverside path.  Once everyone has carried out an action in the London Markets, players get two extra cards of their choice (or more if they have the right power cards) before the auction phase.  With almost everyone having recently played it (or at least a bit of it), the group relied largely on memory, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake, as part way through the game it became apparent that people had mis-remembered the rules in a number of small ways, which did distort the game in very unhelpful manner.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

Black began by targeting the auctions for bonus cards, with Ivory going for the high value coffee, Green for low value cloth while Purple cornered the market in cheap lavender soap.  As the first few rounds went on, Ivory continued to pursue coffee and added a bonus card strategy too, claiming several extra pounds for having crates in a multiple markets. Green continued to do well in the auctions, Purple too, but with the lower value goods. Black seemed to miss out several times.  In round three, the first mistake reared its ugly head.  At several intervals during the game, there is an extra mini-action, the first of which is during round three.  We assumed the person who chose the first assistant would also get a bonus card on top of his action which Ivory used to great advantage. It was only after the half way mark that we realised the symbol on the board actually meant that everyone gets a bonus card that round.  Unable to fix this retrospectively with only one bonus card marker left we chose to continue as before. This would mean that Purple got the chance first and only Green didn’t get the bonus.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

After round four, that we realised our second mistake. The two assistant actions are only supposed to be used in the two unoccupied markets, but we had played them as being available in all.  Since the first player marker had made one full rotation, we felt it had been fair and playing that rule properly hereafter would not penalise anyone unduly.  The game continued, Black managed to get the tie-breaker bonus card, meaning he would win any tied auctions and Ivory began to use his bonus cards to good effect.  Green was switching his auction goods quite well, winning several at high and low values, while Purple often found herself taking the short straw, losing a few.  By the half way money check mark, it was all very close with Green narrowly in the lead with £21 just £1 ahead of Ivory had £20 and Black and Purple just behind.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

In the second half of the game, Black was finally able to start making good on his tie breaker, often to the demise of Green and Purple. Ivory was also able to really start building his position as he could now take four cards before each auction and exchange two more, meaning he could acquire a set of six of any type under almost any circumstances. It was about this that the third big mistake became apparent – some of the bonus cards could be held and cashed in later rather than having to be used as an immediate cash injection.  This meant players could work to get crates positioned in the appropriate market before cashing in a card, which would have helped those floundering quite a bit.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

By about three quarters of the way through, it was obvious who the winner would be because he was raking in the cash and everyone else barely got a look-in.  Black had had a better second half, nearly doubling his score, while Green and Purple struggled, although Green fared worse of all as he barely managed a third of what he had taken in the first part of the game.  It was Ivory though that finished with £56, nearly £20 clear of Black in second, a huge margin of victory in what had seemed like a close game at half-time.  It was clear that the incorrect rules had a big impact on the outcome though, and as a result, and as we played it, it really meant that gaining an advantage would result in a increasing circle of benefit so maybe another try is in order, with all the correct rules.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

Since “London Meerkats” finished before Between Two Cities, Purple and Black fancied another go at Kingdomino, this time with four players and Ivory and Green instead of Burgundy as the opposition.  There are also a couple of variants, in particular the option of adding a ten point bonus for finishing with the castle in the centre of the five-by-five grid as well as a five point bonus for players who successfully add all twelve dominos to their kingdom, so for a little variety, these were added to the final scoring.  This time Black’s Kingdom started out with a lot of woodland as he struggled to get anything very much, but kept his options open and managed to work in some other regions and get them scoring. He also managed to get his Castle in the middle and complete the whole set for a full fifteen point bonus.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Green started out with cornfields and meadows, soon adding woodland, swamp and water.  Although he kept it tidy with the castle in the middle, he was left with a terrible final double swamp tile that he just couldn’t place.  Purple was trying to play for the high value swamp and mountain tiles, but failed to maintain her five-by-five grid. She had misunderstood the rules and thought that she would score the bonus as long as the castle was surrounded by tiles. In the end her regions were generally small, but with lots of crowns.  Ivory, the “London Meerkats” Meister, went for a wet kingdom and produced a massive scoring lake and a couple of other regions, got his castle in the middle and completed the grid for a full set of bonuses and his second win of the evening.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

With time getting on and people beginning to leave, there was just still time for another game and with Burgundy, Blue and Pine left, Splendor was always a likely target.  Burgundy had had an unbeaten Tuesday night run since January 2015 – well over two years and at least eight games, during which time both Pine and Blue had made several attempts to beat him.  The game is a simple one of chip  collecting and engine-building with a very loose gemstone theme.  Basically, on their turn, players can take gemstone poker chips, or use chips to buy a card.  Some cards have points on them and all can be used like the poker chips to buy cards (but without having to return them).  The cards also give players access to “Noble tiles” which also give points.  The winner is the player with the most points after someone reaches fifteen points.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

This time the nobles required three each of sapphire, opal and diamond; three each of sapphire, emerald and diamond; three each of sapphire, emerald and ruby; and four each of diamond and opal.  Pine started, but Burgundy was quick out of the traps, collecting diamond cards as there were a lot about at the start and they featured on three of the four Noble cards.  Blue followed quickly and went for sapphire cards as they were also strongly represented on the Noble tiles.  Pine was a little slower, but not far behind picking up opal cards.  Burgundy was first to take a Noble taking the sapphire, emerald and diamond Noble, just beating Blue to it.  He was working on the sapphire, emerald and ruby Noble, but Blue had her eye on that and it with both layers having three sapphire and three emerald cards, it was all down to who would be first to get three ruby cards.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It was neck-a-neck, and it was Blue’s turn.  She only needed the one ruby card and there was one in the display,but unfortunately, although Burgundy could afford it, she couldn’t.  Grudgingly, she reserved the card for herself, hoping that she wouldn’t turn over another ruby card.  Sadly, she did reveal a ruby card, and since Burgundy loads of cards and lots of chips, he could afford it.  It was Pine’s turn first though and he could also afford the ruby card so he decided to add it to his tableau.  It was with bated breath that Pine reveled the replacement card.  Unfortunately for Burgundy it was not a ruby card which left the road open for Blue to take the Noble on her next turn.  It wasn’t all over though, there were two Nobles still available, and Burgundy went for the next one, however, Pine had other ideas and took both in quick succession.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

During the game, both Blue and Burgundy had been picking up a few point bearing cards, however, Blue also had two high scoring cards reserved and was looking to play one of these, a four point card requiring seven sapphires.  Knowing Blue’s habit of spotting what other players want and reserving it to obstruct them, Burgundy reserved a four point level three card that he could play next turn.  Unfortunately for him, this revealed a five point card that Blue could afford.  As the last player in the round, taking the card gave her fifteen points which immediately ended the game, and with it, Burgundy’s unbeaten run, finally.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

There was still time for a quick game of that “nasty card game”, 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!.  This game is very simple:  there are three rows of cards (zero to thirty, thirty to sixty and sixty to ninety) and on their turn, the active player chooses a numbered card and adds it to the appropriate row.  If there are five cards in the row the active player must pick up cards: if the card added is the highest card in the row, the active player takes the card with the lowest number, otherwise they take all cards higher than the card added by the active player.  The cards all have a colour as well as a number, and the aim of the game is to get as close as possible to two of each colour, while three is one too many…

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

About half way through the game, Pine asked whether the card marker was included in the five cards.  This prompted a quick rules check with the inevitable discovery that we had been playing it wrong.  We finished the game with our rules and although nobody managed a full set of seven cards, Blue and Pine both managed very creditable scores, with Blue five points clear.  Since the game is reasonably quick and we all wanted to know what difference the rules change made, we gave the game a second go.  We all felt it was different this time and maybe a little less prone to catastrophic card collections, not that that helped Burgundy.  For the second game on the trot he scored just seven, while Blue and Pine scored more but were even closer this time with Blue taking the second win, by just one point.

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Games are generally better when everyone plays by the same rules, ideally the right ones…!

UK Games Expo 2017

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

Dice
– Image by boardGOATS

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

UK Games Expo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

UK Games Expo
– Image by boardGOATS

4th April 2017

As we we arrived, we were all a little thrown by the fact that we weren’t on our usual table.  We coped though (just about) and, while we waited for our food, inspired by Red’s “smiley sushi” top, we felt there was only one suitable game, Sushi Go!. This is one of the simplest, “purest” card-drafting games.  Card drafting is a mechanism that is the basis of a number of well-known and popular games including 7 Wonders and one of our favourites, Between Two Cities.  It is also a useful mechanism for evening out the vagaries of dealing in other games.  For example, a round of drafting is often added to the start of Agricola to ensure that nobody gets a particularly poor hand.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Basically, each player starts with a hand of cards, chooses one to keep and passes the rest onto their neighbour.  Everyone receives a new hand of cards, and again chooses one and passes the rest on.  This continues with the hands getting progressively smaller until all the cards have been chosen and there are no cards to pass on.  In Sushi Go!, players are collecting sets of cards with the different sets scoring points in different ways, for example, a player who collects a pair of Tempura Prawns gets five points at the end of the game.  In the first round Blue and Burgundy went for Sashimi – collecting three gives ten points; unfortunately there were only four in the round and both got two which failed to score.  We were playing with the Soy Sauce expansion, and Burgundy made up for his lack of Sashimi by taking the Soy bonus,  it was Pine who made a killing though taking the first round with a massive twenty-two points.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The second round was very confused pizza arriving and hands losing cards somehow.  Blue won the round with seventeen, but it was a much closer affair which left Pine in the driving seat going into the last round.  As they only score points at the end of the game and since the player with the fewest losing six points, everyone went for Puddings.  There were a lot in the round and Red managed to collect most of them, and the end of the game six point bonus with it.  It was a sizeable catch and with Pine in line for the penalty, it looked like Red might just have enough to snatch victory.  In the end, Pine shared the penalty with Burgundy, however, and that was just enough to give him the game, finishing three points ahead of Red.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

With food finished and our usual table now empty, we split into two groups with the first foursome moving back to our normal table to play the “Feature Game”, Viticulture.  This is a worker placement game where players take on the roles of beneficiaries in rustic, pre-modern Tuscany who have inherited meager vineyards. Each player starts with a few plots of land, an old crushpad, a tiny cellar, and three workers.  Using those workers and visitors, players can expand their vineyards by building structures, planting vines, and filling wine orders.  At first glance, Viticulture appears very complicated with lots of possible actions, but in practice it is a much simpler game than it looks.  Viticulture is broken down into years or rounds with each subdivided into seasons, each with a specific purpose.  In the first round, Spring, players choose the turn order for the rest of the year.  The start player picks first and can choose to go first and pick up a meager reward, or sacrifice position in the turn order for something more enticing, in the extreme case, going last and getting an extra worker.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Then, in the turn order decided in Spring, players take it in turn to choose an action and place a worker.  All the action takes place in Summer and Winter and it is up to the players how they divide their workers between the two.  Each action has three spaces, but only two are in use in the four player game.  The first player to take an action gets an additional bonus while the second allows the basic level action only.  Each player has a large worker, their “Grande”, which they can  use as a normal worker, or to carry out any action, even if both spaces are already occupied.  In Summer, players can add buildings to their estate; plant vines; show tourists round (to get money); collect vine cards, or play yellow Summer Visitor cards (which generally give a special action).  In contrast, in Winter, players can harvest grapes from their vines; make wine; collect wine contract cards; fulfill contracts (which is the main way to get points), or play blue Winter Visitor cards.  Sandwiched between Summer and Winter, is Autumn, where players get to take an extra Visitor card.  Game end is triggered when one player gets to twenty points.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We were very slow to start as only Ivory was familiar with the game.  Pine in particular felt out of his depth and moaned about how this was not his sort of game.  Despite this, Pine was the first to get points on the board and he retained his lead for more than half the game thanks to the Windmill that he built at the start.  This gave a him a point each time he planted vines and, since that is an essential part of the game he was collecting points from the start where everyone else was concentrating on trying to build up the framework of their vineyard.  As the game progressed, everyone else’s grapes began to mature yielding points and the chase began.  We were into the final quarter of the game before Blue, then Ivory and eventually Green caught Pine though.  Going into the final round it was clear it was going to be close as Ivory moved ahead of Green, Blue and Pine, and triggered the end game.  Blue just managed to keep up and it finished in a tie, with both Ivory and Blue on twenty-four, four points clear of Green.  Money is the tie breaker followed by left over wine, and since Blue had more of both she claimed the victory.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, at the other side of the room, Red, Purple, Black and Burgundy, had been playing Ulm.  This is a game Purple and Black picked up from Essen last year and has had a couple of outings since.  The game play in Ulm is simple enough.  It is played over ten rounds, during each of which players get one turn in which they can do three actions that help them to gain points.  Ultimately players are collecting cards, city coats of arms and descendants, all of which can give them points during the game or at the end. This, in combination with the position of their barge and the number of sparrow tokens owned give the end game score, and the player with highest score wins.  The novel part of the game is the Cathedral – a three by three grid of action tiles.  On their turn, the active player slides a new action tile, randomly drawn from the bag, from the outside into the grid sliding another tile out. That tile stays in its spot on the outside of the grid and no other player can use that row or column until the tile is removed. The three tiles left in that row or column (two old ones and the new one, just added), represent the active player’s three actions for their turn.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

The game play in Ulm is simple enough.  It is played over ten rounds, during each of which players get one turn in which they can do three actions that help them to gain points.  Ultimately players are collecting cards, city coats of arms and descendants, all of which can give them points during the game or at the end. This, in combination with the position of their barge and the number of sparrow tokens owned give the end game score, and the player with highest score wins.  The cathedral area is a three by three grid of action tiles.  On their turn, the active player slides a new action tile, randomly drawn from the bag, from the outside into the grid sliding another tile out. That tile stays in its spot on the outside of the grid and no other player can use that row or column until the tile is removed. The three tiles left in that row or column (two old ones and the new one, just added), represent the active player’s three actions for their turn.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, players get one random action (drawn from the bag) and choose the other two.  There are five different actions represented by tiles in different colours.  These are:  clear tiles on one of the four sides of the cathedral area (making more options playable), place a Seal, buy or play a card, move the player’s barge, or take money.  Points are scored during the game through Seals and Coats of Arms, and at the end of the game for any sparrows and for the position of their barge on the Danube.  The largest source of points though is through cards.  These can be acquired by exchanging tiles for cards or as a byproduct of buying Seals.  When played, the active player can either discard the card for the card bonus which they can use during the game, or place the card in front of them, to obtain the points bonus at the end of the game.  A set of three different trade cards gets a bonus of three points while three the same gives a six point bonus.  Cathedral cards are the most profitable, however, with a complete set of three cathedral cards netting a massive eighteen points, but they can be correspondingly difficult to get.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Red and Burgundy were new to the game so there were some blank faces during the explanation and they were totally over-awed by the two epic rules books.  It wasn’t helped by the cluttered nature of the board, though everyone agreed that the Cathedral action grid movement is very clever.  The downside of it though is that it regularly locks up leaving difficult choices, especially for Red who seemed to come off worst.  Black commented that it was very busy with four and that meant the game was very different to the two-player experience.  Purple moved furthest at first and picked up some early shields to give her a good start.  Despite her difficulties with the action grid, Red also picked up quite a lot of shields and generated a huge number of sparrows gave her lots of bonuses and the lead during the game.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy is well known in the group for sighing and moaning about how badly the game is going, shortly before pulling a master stroke that gives him a massive number of points and usually, an unassailable lead.  This game was no exception as he produced a massive eighteen points halfway through by trading lots of goods.  As he pointed out later, however, it didn’t stop him from coming last this time though.  In the event, it was quite close between first and second.  Black who made his fortune as an art collector and scored the most from the his River position, demonstrated the value of experience, just pushing Red into second place.  Finishing first, the group enjoyed a long postmortem and chit-chat, before the goings on with Viticulture piqued their interest and they wandered over to spectate and enjoy the drama of the final round.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

With an early start the next day, Black, Purple, Ivory and Green then headed off, leaving Blue, Red and Pine to have yet another go at wresting Burgundy’s “Splendor Crown” from him.  Splendor is a really simple engine-building game that we’ve played a lot of late.  The idea is that players collect chips and use them to buy cards.  These cards can, in turn, be used to buy other cards and allow players to earn Nobles and victory points.  People often claim the game is trivial and highly luck dependent, but there has to be more to it otherwise Burgundy would not be as seemingly unbeatable as he is.  This time, there were relatively few ruby cards available in the early part of the game, and Red took those that were available.  Similarly, Blue took all the emerald cards she could as these were needed for the Nobles.  Given the lack of other cards, Burgundy just built his business on onyx and diamonds instead.  The paucity of other cards slowed his progress and prevented Burgundy from taking any Nobles.  It didn’t stop him taking yet another game though, finishing on fifteen, four ahead of Blue with eleven.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Board layout is very important – it can make an easy game appear complex or a difficult game seem straightforward.

21st March 2017

As usual, we started with a debate about who would play what.  Green picked out a load of games he fancied, including The Voyages of Marco Polo which he had only played the once before and fancied playing again.  Blue commented that it was the sort of game that Ivory would probably enjoy and with Black having spent quite a bit of time playing it online, he joined the others to make a trio.  The Voyages of Marco Polo, won the Deutscher Spiel Preis in 2015 and was designed by the same pairing that put together Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, another game we have enjoyed recently and is a game we should play more often.  The game is played over five rounds with players recreating Marco Polo’s journey to China via Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road”.  Each player has a different character and special power in the game.  Each round, the players roll their five personal dice and can perform use them to perform one action each per turn.  The actions include:  gathering resources, gathering camels, earning money, buying purchase orders and travelling.  The game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most purchase orders, and having visited the cities on secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Last time he played, Green had been very successful with Kubilai Khan.  This time, after dice rolling to see who started, Green got to go first, but although he had the opportunity to take Kubilai Khan again, he decided to go for a different challenge.  So this time Green went for Matteo Polo giving him the white dice and the extra contract every round.  Ivory was next and went for Mercator ex Tabriz, a potentially powerful character which would give him an extra resource every time anyone else got one from the favour track or resource selection track. Black, having played often online, opted for Kubilai Khan and starting from Beijing with the immediate ten point bonus, but no other advantage. The fourth character that was rejected by all, was Wilhelm von Rubruk who allowed the player to place houses on cities they passed through without the need to stop (Black commented afterwards that this was a a very difficult character to be successful with).  Next, each player received four destination cards from which to choose two.  With many groans of dismay everyone quickly discarded one card they felt was all but impossible to complete and then had to choose the worst of the remaining cards for the second discard. No one felt very happy with their selections, but the cards dictated the strategies.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

For Green the strategy was simple, get as many contracts completed as possible and not worry too much about travelling.  However, some of the contracts provided extra free movement on completion, so with minimal travelling some of the cities could be completed.  For much of the game Green and Ivory laboured under the false understanding that only one contract could be completed per round. This meant that after he had secured the resources he needed for his one contract, Green was left with some “spare” actions, which he decided to use for travelling and money collection. It was only at the end of the penultimate round that Black corrected their misunderstanding and that although only one contract could be completed per turn, several could be done per round!  It was all a little too late for Green though. The extra free contract he got in the last round was a doozy, giving him another new contract when completed, but only yielding three points. Unfortunately the new contract released was also low value at only two points (although it was then easy to complete).

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Meanwhile, Black quietly got on with his game, regularly choosing the six camel resource and buying black dice to travel slowly from Beijing, down the board, and releasing the three action city. He used this to good effect gaining lots of purple resource bundles for contracts. It was while activating one of these city actions he revealed that the number on the die used indicated the number of times it could used. Cries of foul play came from Green and Ivory. Green had used a four spot on the “coins for houses” action before and Ivory would have used his six die on it this round instead of the five coin action space. Black scurried to the rules and discovered that for this “coins for houses” action, it was the number of houses which could be claimed for by the die. In other words, he could use a die of two to claim only two houses even if he had three.  A player would need a three spot die to claim for all.  So in the end, nothing changed for Ivory and Green, though it was something to try to remember for next time.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Ivory decided that money was important and regularly placed his die in the purse and the “five coin” action. He was able to do because he was gaining so many resources from Black and Green’s actions, thanks to his special character.  This kept his contracts ticking over and he managed to travel around the board and complete all but one of his cities and get to Beijing. This left him with with a dilemma in the final round:  he needed a high value die and used his spare camels to provide a black, but only rolled a one.  Green gave him another camel (thanks to his resource collection).  So Ivory placed in the favour track for two more and bought another black die, this time rolled a three…  In the end he decided to just take coins to try to get an extra point.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

It was moot in the end.  Green managed seven contracts in all, one more than Ivory and two more than Black, so Green got the seven point bonus after all. With twenty-nine coins at the end he was one short of an extra bonus point, though it wouldn’t have been enough.  Black had made a mistake in his travelling and not got the cities he meant to – he failed to get one of his cards and only built two houses.  Despite this, his ten point bonus for Beijing and several high value contracts gave him second place.  Ivory had had a great game though, picking up six contracts, taking second place in Beijing, completing one city card and taking a full 10 points from four cities in total.  It was more than enough to give him a three point lead and win the game. Ivory decided that Blue was right, he had really enjoyed The Voyages of Marco Polo.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor bovbossi

On the neighbouring table, Blue, Burgundy, Purple and Pine had started off with the “Feature Game”, Habitats,  This is a very light tile laying game, which comes with small ceramic animals instead of the more usual wooden player pieces.  There are a lot of tile laying games available, but there are a couple of things that make this one a little different.  Firstly, tiles selection:  there is an array of tiles and on their turn, players move their ceramic animal one step forward, left or right and take the tile it would have landed on and add it to their park.  Players can add their tile almost anywhere they want, so long as it borders at least one other tile.  The second unusual aspect of the game is the scoring:  tiles feature an animal and a terrain, but to score they most be surrounded by a set number of other given terrain tiles.  The game is played over four rounds with bonuses after the first three and final scoring at the end of the game.  Pine, with his orange Camel started out very strongly making him a bit of a target, however, although there is plenty of interaction, it is quite difficult to interfere with their plans a lot.  Burgundy started a little slower, but soon got his “extremely correct little Zebra” picking up tiles he wanted (as Pine said, “All zebras have a Hitler moustache and pink ears, don’t they?”).

Habitats
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Purple and her Penguin got a little trapped in the early stages, but got herself out of the mess quite quickly.  The bonuses were for the most different landscape tiles in the first round, different numbers of areas in the second and for a small compact park in the third.  They didn’t really seem to add much to the scores though, and with hindsight, some players might have done better ignore them completely as it is possible they were more of hindrance than a help since the most anyone got was five points (Pine and his orange Camel).  That said, the final scores were quite tight, with Blue and her yellow Leopard finishing just five points ahead of Pine who took a solid second.  On reflection, the difference was Blue’s effective use of Diagonal Tower tiles which allowed her to double score a lot of her animals.  Interestingly, the most recent edition of Spielbox had had a review of Habitats and they had been decidedly unimpressed.  While we agreed that it was quite a light game and certainly wasn’t long, the over-riding view was positive and Burgundy, summed it up when he commented, “Quite liked that”.

Habitats
– Image by BGG contributor styren

The Voyages of Marco Polo was still underway on the next table, so the group decided there was time for something else.  Pink had wanted to play Cottage Garden at the last Didcot Games Club meeting, but the number of players had been all wrong, so he had played it with Blue over the weekend.  Since it was fresh in her memory, there was a good chance of getting the rules right.  In any case, like Habitats, it is a fairly light tile-laying game, basically the boardgame equivalent of Tetris.  Cottage Garden is similar to the earlier, two-player game, Patchwork, but with a slightly different front-end and scoring mechanism.  The idea is that at on their turn, the active player chooses a tile from the appropriate row of the square “market garden”, and add it to one of their two flower beds.  If they have completed one or both of their flower beds by the end of their turn, then they are scored.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Scoring is a little unusual:  each flower bed (and some flower tiles) feature plant pots and cloches these are scored separately using players personal score tracks.  Each track ends at twenty and each player has three cubes they can use for scoring.  Placing tiles is facilitated by pussy-cats;  each player starts with two sleeping moggy tiles which they can place at any point on their turn to fill up odd spaces and keep the game moving.  The “market garden” is really quite interesting, though with four it can feel a little random.  The gardener moves round the board so that players choose tiles from successive rows, the idea being that players try to take a tile and plan what they might get next time.  This planning is quite difficult with four though as there is a high chance that a player’s next tile will have to be taken from a row diagonal or orthogonal to their previous one which means it is highly likely that someone will have taken what they want.  So, for the most part, the game is quite simple, with a lot of depth.  However, the final round is a little more tricky and jars a bit.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

To ensure that anyone who has just started new flower beds doesn’t have a large advantage (due to the number of extra moves they would otherwise get), any beds with two flower tiles or fewer is discarded, and from the start of the final round players painfully lose two points per turn until they finish their final bed.  Again, Pine made the early running picking up two bonus beehive points for being the first player to get one of his markers to twenty points.  Blue wasn’t far behind though and just pipped Purple and Burgundy to the other beehive bonus.  One of the really nice things about this game is its rendition and we all had a good time playing with the little wheelbarrow.  Although Purple had played Patchwork quite a bit, spacial awareness is not really her thing and she and Burgundy struggled a little.  Blue on the other hand, works a lot with symmetry and with the extra experience she soon began to catch Pine and by the end of the game had pushed him into second place.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The most recent edition of Spielbox had also included a review Cottage Garden which had received similar treatment to Habitats.  Although we enjoyed the latter more, weconcluded that Cottage Garden wasn’t a bad game, but the penultimate round dragged a little and the final round felt a bit odd.  There’s also no development of the game over it’s duration, i.e. each player is just trying to fill as many beds as possible doing the same thing over and over again, which can make it feel a little repetitive.  That said, Blue felt she had enjoyed it more as a two-player game over the weekend as there is more scope for planning, so it is possible that four is too many players.  Indeed, nearly 70% of voters on Boardgamegeek are of the opinion that the game is best with three, and that could be a fair conclusion.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

With The Voyages of Marco Polo coming to an end as well and lots of people quite tired, there was just time for Blue to have another go at beating Burgundy at Splendor.  This has become and almost fortnightly grudge match, with Burgundy proving to be almost impregnable.  This simple set collecting, engine builder is often derided as boring and trivial, yet it is the simplicity coupled with the subtitles that seem to make it so compelling.  As is so often the way, Blue started off OK, but this time very quickly fell behind.  Burgundy quickly picked up a noble, and although Blue took one as well, and had plans for picking up points, the writing was on the wall long before Burgundy took the third noble and announced he had fifteen points.  Blue will have to bring her A-game if she is ever to beat her “Splendid Nemesis”.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning outcome:  Spielbox isn’t always right.