Tag Archives: Splendor

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.

21st February 2017

We started the evening setting up the card games, The Golden Sails and 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!, but as more players arrived and time was getting on, we abandoned them in favour of the “Feature Game”, Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen or Cliff Hanger).  This is a game that that arguably should be come the group’s signature game as it is very simple little trick taking card game all about goats.  As the rules were explained, Grey (on one of his rare, but much valued appearances), commented that it was like Blackjack (aka Pontoon or Vingt-et-Un) – i.e. play to a limit, but exceed that limit and you are bust.  The idea is that 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 plays draws a Goat Island card.  These have two ends with different numbers on them, so the first “loser” takes a card and places the goat-meeple on one end, choosing which end will become part of Goat Island.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

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, the total of the four cards that make up the island define the limit and players who exceed that value are out.  The catch is that players are not summing the face value of the cards (which go from one to fifty), instead, a little like 6 Nimmt!, they are counting goats head symbols which have little relation to the face value of the cards.  We played the game twice through, since we made a bit of a mess of it the first time.  After a long discussion about whether completed tricks should be placed face down or not, Red who led first misunderstood and thought the cards were played face down, so that screwed up her first turn and lumbered her with a pile of cards she didn’t want.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

This led to Grey’s comment that the game was poorly designed as once a player is bust their game is over.  In fact though, the game is so short that effective player elimination doesn’t matter that much and in any case, players who are out can still try to take as many others with them as possible.  After the first hand (taken by Grey), we gave it another try.  By this time, Blue had managed to find out who leads after the first trick so instead of passing the honour round the table, we played correctly and the winner led.  The second game went to Red, and was definitely more fun as we began to see what the aim of the game was and how to screw up other people.  We were just beginning to get the hang of it, but felt we should move on to something else now everyone had arrived.  It was genuinely very quick though, so we’ll probably play it again and it might be worth trying some of the variants too.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

With such a short “Feature Game” and everyone being far too polite, we spent a lot of time deciding what to play next.  Orleans, Terraforming Mars, Viticulture and Agricola were all on the table, but nobody wanted to commit in case something better came along, or perhaps because they genuinely didn’t really mind and were happy to fill in once those who did mind had made a choice. Eventually, Magenta said she would like to play Isle of Skye and several said they’d be happy to play that if others wanted to play something else.  Ivory on the other hand said he was quite happy to play Agricola (which had been brought with him in mind, then Green walked in, making things slightly more complicated as with nine players one game would have to be a five-player which might make it long.  In the end Red got fed up with people being indecisive and started to direct people:  first she made a three player game of Agricola, then she found two to join Magenta playing Isle of Skye which left Blue, Burgundy and Red to find something else to play, which ended up being Imhotep.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep is a very simple game that we’ve played a few times since is was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres last year.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions:  procure new stones; load stones on a boat; sail a boat to a monument; or play an action card.  Players can only store a maximum of five stones and when they procure stones they can collect a maximum of three.  Stones are loaded onto ships one at a time, but which of the five possible destinations the boats end up at and the order they are unloaded in is vital, so timing and planning is everything.  What makes it particularly tricky is that the best plans in the world can be crushed by opponents with one small action: when they take a boat to the “wrong place” or “at the wrong time”.  There are four ships and five building locations, so one doesn’t get visited and the round ends when all four boats have sailed.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The building locations are double sided so the game can be played with the less complex Side A, the slightly more confusing Side B, or a mixture of the two.  Red had struggled last time she had tried Imhotep since she ended up playing with two people who had tried it before and wanted to play with Side B without fully appreciating how much more complexity it adds.  This time, therefore, we stuck to the simpler Side A, but instead added the Stonemason’s Wager Mini Expansion to give it just a little extra interest.  This little promotional item allows players a one-off, extra option:  the chance to bet on which monument will have the most stones in it at the end of the game.  Otherwise the game is unchanged and there are six rounds in total, as usual, with points scored in different ways for the different buildings; the player with the most points at the end is declared the best builder in Egypt.

Imhotep: The Stonemason's Wager Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Blue and Burgundy started out visiting the Market picking up statues, but with both in the same market it was always going to be a struggle.  Meanwhile, Red stole an essentially insurmountable lead in the Obelisks.  Blue took a green card that would yield a point for every three stones in the Burial Chamber at the end of the game, so she tried to encourage boats to go there.  Unfortunately, because she also nearly picked up a significant score on the Burial Chamber, but Burgundy was first forced to obstruct her plans and then Red and Burgundy started sending boats to the Temple instead.  In general, it was quite a cagey game with everyone concentrating on not letting anyone take too many points rather than trying to make a killing themselves.  Going into the final scoring, it was all quite close.  Red took the points for the Stonemason’s Wager, and Burgundy took points for statues, but Blue had a lot of bonus points from a range of sources, giving her first place, ten points ahead of Burgundy in second.

– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep finished, but next game was not far behind, so Blue, Red and Burgundy played a couple of quick hands of Love Letter while they waited.  With its quick play, this micro-game is one of our go to fillers.  The idea is that each player has a single card in hand, and on their turn they draw a second and choose one of the two to play.  Each card has an action and a number, one to eight.  Players use the actions to try to deduce information about which cards others are holding and, in turn use that to eliminate them.  The winner is either the last player standing or the player with the highest ranking card at the end of the game.  In the first round, Blue was caught holding the Princess leaving Burgundy to take the round.  The second played out to the final card.  With just two possible cards left and the Princess still hiding, Red took a chance and played the Prince, forcing Blue to discard her hand.  This meant she had to pick up the set-aside card, which was, of course, the Princess, making it a two-way tie.

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Magenta, Purple and Grey had been playing a game of Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King.  This won the Kennerspiel des Jahres last year, and has proven to be quite popular with our group.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with the added feature of an auction at the start of each round and scoring at the end of each round.  The scoring is one of the interesting parts of this game as the four scoring criteria change from game to game and, and each one scores three times during the course of the game.  Choosing how to prioritise these to drive a strategy is one of the keys to playing well.  This time, with points available throughout for completed areas (lakes and mountains), this was a clear target, however, identifying a strategy and making it work are two different things.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, Purple was unlucky that she was unable to get any tiles with cows on roads until the final round, which meant she struggled to build a score early in the game.  Although this meant she picked up the bonus money for being at the back, she still struggled to get the tiles she wanted.  Similarly, Grey was unlucky in that he placed a tile that later became an real obstacle making it difficult for him to place tiles later and get points.  It was Magenta though who had been able to build an early lead, and kept it throughout picking up points every round.  A couple of lucky tile draws gave her good tiles that both Grey and Purple wanted making it a sellers market, and leaving Magenta with lots of cash to spend towards the end of the game.  Going into the final scoring, Magenta had a sizeable lead, but Grey had a large pile of cash which yielded a tidy eight points and very nearly gave him the game.  Magenta managed to fend him off though with the one point she took for her remaining seven coins, making the difference between first place and second.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

With the games on the first two tables complete, Red, Magenta and Grey went home leaving Purple, Blue and Burgundy to play yet another in the long running campaign to beat Burgundy at Splendor.  This simple set collecting, engine builder has proved to be quite intractable.  Blue and Pine in particular have had several attempts to get the better of Burgundy, but so far he has just had the edge.  Sadly this this game was no exception, though the game was very, very tight. There was a shortage of Opals cards available, despite the presence of lots of cards needing them.  Emeralds were also quite scarce at the start, but Burgundy managed to build a substantial collection of Diamonds to keep the threat alive.  Blue thought she had finally got Burgundy trapped but in the final round Purple took a card and the replacement was a sapphire that Burgundy could take and gave him eighteen points, one more than Blue (who was last in the turn order).  Yet another very, very close game – we’ll get him in the end…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, all evening, Ivory, Black and Green had been engaged in an game of Agricola.  This had started out with an extensive effort to disentangle the cards for the base game from the myriad of expansions Blue had somehow crammed into the box.  Once this was sorted though, and the game was set up, a rules explanation was necessary as Ivory hadn’t played it before.  The archetypal worker placement game, players star out with a farming couple and a shack and during the game try to build up their farmstead, livestock and family, the winner being the player with the most successful farm. Actions available include things like upgrading the farmhouse, ploughing and sowing fields, enclosing areas, taking livestock, and, of course, procreating.  One of the clever parts of the game is that each round, an additional action become available, but the order of these is not known in advance.  The stress is provided by harvests that occur at intervals during the game and require players to have enough food to feed their family, or resort to begging (which yields negative points at the end of the game).

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, instead of playing the family game, we played the full version which includes occupation and improvement cards.  The challenge with this game is to use the cards effectively, but not to get carried away and try to force the strategy to use cards to its detriment.  Green started with occupations and used them to quickly fenced a large padock for sheep (building one gave him three extras).  He then ploughed and got three fields up and running before going back to enclosing pasture for cattle. Despite only having two family members, he struggled to have enough food until he eventually managed to nab a cartload of clay and used it to build a an oven, which proved invaluable at keeping hunger at bay.  Towards the end, he finally managed to develop his family and added a pig for a total of twenty-nine.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Black played a quiet game, also didn’t grow his family and farm developed only slowly too.  As he often does, Black instead concentrated on home-making and upgraded his house to clay and then stone in quick succession.  Somehow he didn’t struggle at harvest time as much as Green, probably because he went into building ovens which provided his food.  This was at the expense of his farm, which remained stubbornly small, right until the end.  The unused spaces cost him though, as did his lack of pigs, and he finished with a fine house, but only one child and a score of twenty-three points.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory went for a different strategy, starting by going for lots of food, and support for getting food later.  In particular he made good use of his Mushroom Picker.  Building his food engine so early enabled him to grow his family early in the game giving him extra actions.  These he used to quietly collect lots of resources, which enabled him to build a large field for sheep.  He then enclosed second pasture and just swiped a field full for boar before Green got them. He only ploughed late (perhaps it was the snowy landscape that delayed him), but his early food strategy really paid off.  All his extra cards were valuable too and added ten points to his score, giving him a total of forty-one points and victory by a sizeable margin, despite Green’s inadvertent cheating!

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as Agricola came to an end, Splendor finished too.  So, after helping to shoe-horn the miriad of little pieces back into the boxes, Ivory and Green headed off leaving Black to join the others.  The ever dwindling numbers were boosted with the arrival of Pine, who had been two-timing us with the WI – he said they had the lowest average age of any WI he’d ever come across, so maybe that was the appeal.  The remaining five gamers felt there was time for one more game, as long as we could keep it to about forty-five minutes.  We are not the quickest at playing, or choosing and time was beginning to get tight, so we opted for Bohnanza as it played quicker than other suggestions and it wouldn’t need any rules reminders (like 11 Nimmt! and Port Royal).  The game is one of our old staples, is quick to learn and keeps everyone involved throughout.  The key to 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.  This can lead to free gifts, but also players being nasty and refusing to take even the apparently most lucrative trades.

– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Pine was making up for lost time, and the well-known good nature of the WI hadn’t rubbed off.  He accused Burgundy of just about everything he could think of, in an effort to persuade everyone else not to trade with him. Black had one of his worst games for a long time with all the wrong cards coming up at the wrong time giving him nothing to work with.  Otherwise it was a very tight game. In the dying turns, despite Black’s protestations, Purple and Pine both gave Blue exceptionally favourable trades (possibly in an effort to square things from earlier, but more likely to ensure that Burgundy didn’t win – again).  Much to Pine’s surprise, that left him in joint first place with Blue, one coin ahead of Burgundy (possibly the most important factor to him).  Feeling she had been gifted a joint win by Pine’s generosity at the end, Blue offered to concede to Pine, but on checking the rules he won anyhow on the tie-breaker, as the player with the most cards in hand at the end.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Learning Outcome:  Cheating doesn’t pay.

7th February 2017

It was a very quiet night, with work and family commitments and illness decimating our numbers.  In fact, for a long time it looked like there might only be two of us, but we were saved that indignity when Ivory turned up, quickly followed by Green.  After we had cheered Burgundy through his Hawaiian, we settled down to the “Feature Game”, Roll for the Galaxy.  This is a re-implementation of an older card game, Race for the Galaxy, with the addition of dice.  One of the common complaints about Race for the Galaxy is the complexity of the iconography, which was used to limit the amount of text on the cards.  This has been significantly reduced in Roll for the Galaxy (and largely replaced with text), but in its place there is a complex dice economy.

Race for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

In summary, players roll the dice in their cup in secret, behind their 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, 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 are not used (or were used for the Dictate action) are returned to the players’ cups whereas dice that are used must be placed in the player’s “Citizenry”.  Dice in the Citizenry must be transferred back into the player’s dice cup before they can be used again, and this costs $1 per die.

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

The next natural question is, how do players get money?  Money comes from Trading goods:  during the Ship phase.  Goods are placed on Production Worlds during the Produce phase and can either be Traded for money (where the value depends on the type of World that produced them) or Consumed for victory points (where bonuses are received if the dice colours match that of the Worlds that produced them) during the Ship phase.  There are three types of World on double sided square tiles:  one side is a Development World and the reverse is either a Coloured Production or a Grey Non-Production World.  Worlds are all “built” by spending dice during either the Development phase or Settle phase (for Production and Non-Production Worlds) and the cost is returned in Victory Points at the end of the game.  Players draw World tiles from a bag during the Explore phase.  They choose which side they are going to try to build and therefore which stack to place them in, either the Develop or the Settle pile.

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

In general, Development Worlds give special powers and or extra points at the end of the game.  In contrast, Production and Non-production worlds give more dice and, in the case of the coloured Production Worlds can also provide Victory Points and/or money.  The clever part is controlling these piles and manipulating the worlds built in order to steer a particular strategy.  The game ends when either one player builds more than twelve Worlds, or the Victory Point chip pile is exhausted, in this way, it is a race and controlling the game length is one important aspect of play.  Inevitably in a dice game, the most important part of the game, is managing and working with luck.  The different dice colours have different distributions of the phase symbols, for example, while red (Military) dice have two Develop and two Settle symbols, blue (Novelty) dice have two Produce and two Ship symbols.  Thus, the game could be compared with a game like Orléans, where players build the contents of their bag in an effort to control luck, rather than the symbols on the dice in their cup.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

It is a game that takes a bit of getting used to and everyone struggled a bit.  Unusually though, it was Burgundy who struggled the most which made a change for the rest of us.  It was all made worse by the inevitable rules confusions though.  Before we started, Green had questioned whether it was compulsory to place one die to choose the phase or whether it was optional.  Only Blue had played before and then only with two players which made it a quite different game, and on that occasion, they had played that it was optional.  It was not glaringly obvious from the rules, though eventually we came to the conclusion that it should not be optional, so we proceeded with the game along those lines.  As the game progressed, it became apparent that this led to a logical inconsistency.  The rules specifically stated that if a player had no dice in their cup after recruiting (i.e.at the end of the round) they must recall any dice left on worlds as goods or in the process of Developing or Settling.  The problem with this was that if a player was then forced to use this die to choose a round, without dice to actually carryout the action they would be forced to spend any assets, but with no way of turning them into anything useful.

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

For this reason, we returned to playing that choosing an action was optional, which allowed players to take a chance that others would choose the action they wanted.  About half way through the game, Green, who had been fiddling with his phone looking up specifics of a World he’d built, had an “Aha!” moment when he found something on the rules forum.  The thread explained that the die that use to select a phase acts as a worker of that type during the chosen phase.  This is in “Frequently Overlooked Rules”, but somehow the use of the the term “worker” didn’t make it clear.  If the die used to select the action could also carry out that action though, not only did it prevent “single die jeopardy”, but it also meant that players were effectively guaranteed one completely unconstrained move (because the symbol on the die used to choose the action does not have to match the phase).  Even better, a player with three dice, could use the “Dictate” option to give them any two (potentially different) actions.

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

Although this clarified everything, it had the potential to make such a huge change to the game we decided to carry on playing as we had been.  We could all see how this made much more sense though and would also speed the game up.  By this time it was very clear who was going to win in any case though.  Green had started with the Genetics Lab which turned out to be extremely powerful as it gave him an extra $2 every time there was a Produce phase.  After checking the rules forum (again) it became clear that this was regardless of whether he initiated it, so long as he left his green die on a production world he had an income which effectively meant that he didn’t really need to worry about money.  Eventually, he put us out of our misery by building his twelfth World bringing the game to an end.  Totting up the scores gave a surprising result. Green was inevitably miles in front with forty-four points, but everyone else was caught in a three-way tie on twenty-two points.

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

It was clear that playing correctly would have a huge impact on game play and, although Green and Ivory had to leave everyone was keen to give it another go in a few weeks time.  Blue had the chance sooner, however.  On Sunday afternoon we had the third of our “Monster Games” sessions, and after a game of Roads & Boats, Blue, Pink, Black and Purple gave it another go.  Black and Purple were completely new to it, and Purple struggled a bit with the dice economy while Black was not sure how to control the worlds available to him.  It was clear to Blue and Pink though that playing by the rules as written, unsurprisingly, made the game work much better.

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

With Green and Ivory gone, Burgundy was keen to play something a little shorter and lighter and Blue fancied having another go at beating Burgundy at Splendor.  We play this game a lot and beating Burgundy at this game has become something of a Group Challenge, but somehow he always just gets the rub of the green.  This is a game of chip-collecting and card development where players collect chips to buy gem cards which can then 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.

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

This time, the Nobles were opal, diamond & ruby; opal, ruby & emerald; sapphire, emerald & diamond.  At the start of the game rubies were scarce, but sapphires and emeralds in particular were scarcer.  This was not too much of a problem initially as opals and diamonds were needed for the Nobles, but it gradually became more of an issue as the game went on.  Blue and Burgundy were pretty much neck-a-neck for the first half of the game with both players picking up nobles on the same turn.  It was very tight though and the pressure from Burgundy forced Blue to reserve cards giving helpful Gold (which is wild), but is a very inefficient approach.  In the end, the game was painfully close.  Burgundy finished his turn and began re-counting his points.  It was only as Blue claimed seven points (one card and a Noble) to give her a total of sixteen points that he commented that actually he already had fifteen.  Since Blue started, that meant she wasn’t able to claim her final turn.  Normal service resumed then!

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

Learning Outcome:  Playing by the correct rules can improve a game no end…

24th January 2017

Food was a little delayed, so as it was a relatively quick game (and one that we felt we could play while eating if necessary), we decided to begin with the “Feature Game”, Bohemian Villages.  This is a fairly simple tactical dice-rolling game.  The idea is that on their turn, the active player rolls four dice and uses them to assign their meeples to buildings in the villages of Bohemia.  The dice can be used as two sets of two, a group of three (with one forfeit) or in their entirety as a group of four.  These values correspond to the different types of buildings which appear with different frequency and give different rewards.  For example, if a player rolls a six, they can place their meeple on a Flour Mill.  When the last of the Flour Mills is occupied, everyone gets their meeples back, together with two coins for each one.  Similarly, rolling a seven allows the active player to place their meeple on a Glass Factory, however, when they get them back they get three coins instead of two.

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

Other buildings work differently though, for example rolling a two, three, four or five allows players to put their meeple on a Shop.  There are four different types of Shops and players are rewarded increasingly large amounts of money for the more different Shops they occupy at the end of the game.  A set of four is very valuable, but the snag is that the number of Shops available is very small.  So, once they are all occupied, if another player rolls the right number they can bump someone else off costing them a lot of money in the process.  Players rolling a twelve, place their meeples on Manor Houses which give an immediate reward whereas inns (nine) give a regular income at the start of the active players turn, so long as they remember to claim it!  Farms also provide income during the game with the active player collecting one coin for each farm owned when they add a new one (i.e. roll another eight).  Churches and Town Halls (ten and eleven) provide money at the end of the game with players rewarded for occupying the most Churches or for occupying a Town Hall in a fully occupied village.

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends when a player runs out of meeples and the winner is the player with the most money.  We were just about to start a five-player game when Green and Ivory pitched up, so Red joined them, leaving Blue, Pine, Magenta and Burgundy to start.  With food arriving just as we started, Blue began by claiming the most lucrative Manor House with all four of her dice before turning her attention to her pizza.  Magenta started collecting Shops, but soon faced competition from Pine.  Meanwhile, Burgundy was sidetracked by his supper, Blue tried to get a regular income stream from a chain of Inns and Pine went into the church.  Somewhere along the line during her rules explanation, Blue had commented that Farms could be quite lucrative, so Magenta took the hint and before long she was engaged in a massive land-grab.  It took everyone else a while to notice, so it was very late before they attempted to reduce her income.   In what was a very close game it just played into Pine’s hands and he finished two coins ahead of Magenta when Burgundy brought the game to a slightly unexpected end.

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, the absence of Burgundy meant that Red, Ivory and Green fancied their chances at a game of Splendor.  This engine building game is built on a simple set-collection mechanism.  Players collect gem tokens then use them to buy gem cards.  Gem cards can then be used to buy more cards.  Some gem cards are also worth points, and they also enable players to collect Nobles which are awarded to the first player collect certain combinations of gem cards.  Splendor is one of our group’s “go-to” light filler games and in recent months Burgundy has made the game his own.  With Burgundy otherwise engaged though, he was guaranteed not to win.  With Ivory and Red fighting for the same colours, Green made the fastest progress collecting opals and diamonds and building a valuable collection quickly.  Ivory came off best in the tussle between him and Red, and he was able to pick up two Nobles with his pickings.  It was Green that took the honours, however, taking a Noble himself to bring the game to a close.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Bohemian Villages finished first, so after a trip to the bar, Blue, Magenta, Burgundy and Pine played a few hands of Love Letter to kill time.  We play this quite a bit, because with just sixteen cards, this is a great little game to play while chatting or doing other things (like eating).  Each player starts with a card and, on on their turn, draws a second and chooses one of them to play.  Each card has a number (one to eight) and an action; players use the actions to try to eliminated each other and the player with the highest card at the end, or the last player remaining is the winner.  This time, we managed five hands before Splendor finished and it ended in a tie between Blue and Magenta who won two each.  With nobody wanting a late night we fancied something we could play as a group that wasn’t going to run on.

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

After a bit of a discussion, we settled on a big game of Between Two Cities, involving everyone.  This is quite popular with our group as it is both competitive, and cooperative and, as such, is totally different to anything else we play.  The idea is that, instead of each player having a personal player board that they work on in isolation, each player sits between two boards which they share with their neighbours.  The game play is based on card drafting games like Sushi Go! and 7 Wonders with scoring taking elements from tile-laying games like Carcassonne and Alhambra.  The game is played over three rounds with players placing building tiles to construct cities consisting of sixteen tiles in a four by four array.  Each player starts the first round with six tiles, of which they secretly choose two and pass the rest to the left.  Once everyone has chosen their two, everyone reveals their choices and then negotiates with their neighbours to try to to ensure they get the tiles they want in the two cities they have a share in.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

Play continues with each player picking up the hand they were passed and choosing another pair of tiles etc. until there are no tiles left.  In the second round players get three double tiles of which they choose two and discard the third.  These double tiles contain two buildings in a vertical or horizontal arrangement.  This is where things can get difficult, as the final city must form a four by four square and the location of buildings can be critical to their scoring.  For example, a housing estate built in a city with lots of other different types of buildings is worth up to five points at the end of the game, unless it is next to a factory in which case it is only worth one point.  The third and final round is played the same way as the first, except that tiles are passed in the opposite direction.  The winner is the player with the highest scoring second city.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

As well as being a nice balance of cooperative and competitive, it also plays well at a wide range of player counts with little change to the overall game time.  With so many people involved, however, one of the down-sides is the fact that it is very difficult to see what players at the other end of the table are doing and near-impossible to influence their game-play.  Despite this, for the most part every city had it’s own distinct character, for example, Red and Magenta reproduced central London with offices surrounded by lots of pubs and entertainment venues while Blue and Burgundy built a flourishing industrial town and Pine and Ivory managed their own little recreation of Thatcher’s Britain.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

In Between Two Cities, the winner is the player who’s lowest scoring city is the scores most, with their other city used as a tie-breaker.  For this reason, it is usual that the player who finishes with two most closely matched cities that wins.  By rights then, the game should have gone to Green or Red who both finished with both their cities scoring exactly fifty-four points.  This was an unusually close game though, with all cities except one finishing within four points of each other.  In the end, Blue who took second place from Burgundy on the tie-break, but it was Pine, sharing cities with Burgundy and Ivory who finished two points clear giving him his second victory of the night.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

With that, Red, Magenta, Ivory and Green headed off for an early night, but Blue, Burgundy and Pine felt it wasn’t yet late and that there was time for something light before bed.  Since Splendor was still out Pine and Blue decided to have another go at Burgundy and see if together, they could finally dethrone him.  It all started well with Pine and Blue successfully inconveniencing Burgundy grabbing gem cards he wanted just before he could get them.  It wasn’t long, however, before Burgundy managed to collect a large number of diamonds which allowed him to just beat Blue to a couple of nobles.  She was still in the fight though, right until she miscounted how many sapphires Burgundy had, and with it handed him the game. Still, we are definitely getting closer to beating him…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning outcome:  Competition is essential in games, but working together is fun too.