Tag Archives: Splendor

Boardgames in the News: What is Asmodee’s Grand Plan?

Four years ago, Eurazeo bought a small French games company called Asmodee from the investment firm, Montefiore.  Asmodee were a small company hitherto primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble.  With the financial might of their parent company behind them, over the next few years, Asmodee proceeded to gobble up many larger, well-established companies, including Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games and most recently, Lookout Spiele.  Those companies produced some of the best known modern games including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola and Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.  Not content with that, they also acquired the rights to the English language version of the Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and all the related Catan games as well as gobbling up a number of smaller and/or newer companies like Space Cowboys (producers of Splendor and Black Fleet) and Plaid Hat Games (producers of Dead of Winter and Mice and Mystics) and entering into a distribution agreement with many others.  There are now very few games companies of any substance that are not somehow tangled in the Asmodee web.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

The last major purchase was F2Z Entertainment in 2016, and since then it has been relatively quiet.  With the new year comes a new wave of acquisition, however, so at the end of January Asmodee announced that they were in exclusive negotiations with Rebel.  Rebel is a relatively small, Polish company responsible for games like K2 as well as Polish editions of many popular games like 7 Wonders and Codenames.  Perhaps more importantly, Rebel also produces the Polish language versions of many of the Asmodee games and is the largest distributor in Poland.  And Poland is a big country, smaller than France or Germany, but bigger than Italy and the UK,  globally Poland is the thirty-forth largest country by population.  That is a lot of Poles and they do like playing board games in Poland.

K2
– Image used with permission
of boardgamephotos

This announcement was almost immediately followed by the bombshell that Asmodee had acquired all the residual assets from Mayfair and with it, Lookout Spiele. Although this is by far the largest deal in recent months, Asmodee have not been resting on their laurels and there has been a lot going on behind the scenes.  In December last year they announced that Esdevium was to be renamedAsmodee UK” bringing them in line with the “Asmodee North America” and “Asmodee Canada” brands.  At around the same time, Eurazeo announced that French publisher Purple Brain Créations would be joining the Asmodee Group.  Furthermore, they have also been streamlining their distribution network in North America.  Having reduced the number of distributors they deal with to five in 2015, in June last year Asmodee North America announced an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors, effectively creating a monopoly of supply within the USA.  This coupled with their Minimum Advertised Price policy (or MAP) gives them a stranglehold on the US market in a way that would never be allowed in Europe.  Whether they are planning to take that one step further and acquire Alliance themselves still remains to be seen, but that looks like a real possibility.  Finally, they have been pushing in a new direction, developing electronic versions of some of the most popular games through their studio, “Asmodee Digital“.

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

So what is Asmodee‘s Grand Plan?  Where will it all end?  Well, there are still a couple of other large manufacturers out there that are not yet part of Asmodee.  Looking at the companies they have already absorbed there is a clear trend: they typically have one particular feature that Asmodee are interested in.  In the case of Days of Wonder, that was the Ticket to Ride series, with Z-man Games it was Pandemic and Carcassonne, and with Rebel, it was probably their distribution network that caught the eye of the executives at Asmodee.  Going forward, the most obvious targets are probably Rio Grande Games, Czech Games EditionQueen GamesHans im Glük and maybe 2F, or Pegasus Spiele (who have just announced a partnership with Frosted Games).  For example, it would be surprising if Rio Grande Games have not been approached given the popularity of games like Dominion and Race/Roll for the Galaxy.  Similarly, Czech Games Edition are a small company with some very juicy morsels including Galaxy Trucker, Dungeon Lords/Petz, and the hugely successful Spiel des Jahres winner, Codenames.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately they may or may not add some or all of these to the Greater Asmodee Empire, but it is clear that at some point, eventually, there will be nothing left worth taking over and growth of the company will plateau, so what happens then?  And this is the crux of the matter. Some have speculated that the aim is to add Hasbro to Asmodee’s ever growing dominion, but Hasbro has a market value of $11.9 billion—Asmodee are mere minnows in comparison.  On the other hand, the parent company, Eurazeo are worth approximately $5.7 billion, which at least puts them in the same ball park, although even they are small by comparison.  According to the “Vision” page on the Eurazeo website:

The purpose of Eurazeo is to identify, accelerate and enhance the transformation potential of the companies in which it invests, even long after its exit. An active and committed shareholder, Eurazeo assists its holdings in the long term – 5 to 7 years – with control over exit timing. An extensive role enabling it to combine business development and corporate social responsibility.

So, it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Asmodee going to make their “controlled exit”?  With this in mind it seems unlikely that acquiring Hasbro is on the agenda, but making Asmodee attractive to Hasbro just might be…

Hasbro
– Image from twitter.com

23rd January 2018

Once the inevitable pizzas were dealt with, we settled down to the “Feature Game”.  This was Cities of Splendor, the expansion to Splendor, a splendid little game that we’ve played quite a lot since its release in 2014. The base game is really quite simple, but although a lot of groups apparently find it very dull, our group seem to find quite a lot of mileage in its subtlety and trying to get the better of Burgundy who mostly seems pretty unbeatable.  According to the rulebook, players are Renaissance merchants trying to buy gem mines, transportation methods and artisans in order to acquire the most prestige points. The most wealthy merchants might even receive a visit from a noble, which will further increase their prestige.  Despite all this, the game itself is, in truth, really quite abstract.  Players have essentially have three options on their turn: they can pick up gem tokens; buy a development card, or reserve a development card (and take a Gold token).

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

When picking up tokens, the active player can either take three different gems, or, as long as there are four or more available, two the same, with a hand-limit of ten.  These are then used to buy development cards which provide the player with a permanent supply of gems of a given colour and sometimes, some prestige points. The development cards come in three decks, and the Level Three cards as significantly more difficult to obtain, often requiring many gems.  Sometimes it can be a good idea to reserve a particular card, preventing another player from taking it and getting a Gold token in return, which can be used in place of any gemstone when buying a development card.  At the start of the game there is a small number of noble tiles each with with a requirement (e.g. four opals and four rubies); the first player to fulfil this requirement gets the noble and the associated number of prestige points.  The first player to fifteen prestige points is the winner.

Cities of Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The expansion, Cities of Splendor, consists of four small modules:  Trading Posts; Strongholds; The Orient, and the eponymous Cities.  We were a little concerned that these expansions were going to take a game we enjoyed largely because it is so very simple, and make it unnecessarily complex (a phenomenon we had experienced previously with some parts of the Between Two Cities expansion, Capitals).  However, unusually, these modules must be used independently of each other, each providing a really very small tweak to the game, but potentially changing the dynamics quite dramatically.  For example, Strongholds provides three little plastic towers for each player, which can be moved by the active player whenever they take a development card.  The active player can either place or move one of their own strongholds, or remove someone else’s, thus providing another way to reserve a development card.  Alternatively, this effectively provides a way for everyone to “gang up” on one player, so this module has been renamed the “Get Burgundy” module…

Cities of Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We only had one copy of the expansion, but with several copies of the base game we decided to split into two groups, each playing different modules.  The groups were split along the lines of who wanted to get beaten by Burgundy and who didn’t.  The first group to get going contained Black and Blue, who were optimistic that the changes introduced by the expansion might upset Burgundy just enough to give someone else a chance to win.  As they don’t normally get the chance to play with them, they started with nobles drawn at random from the 2016 and 2017 Brettspiel Advent calendars and the promotional set and then had to decide which expansion module to use.   Rather than opting for the “Get Burgundy” module, they decided it would be fairer to choose something else and opted for the Trading Posts module.  This provides an additional small board with five “Posts” with specific requirements, which if fulfilled give players extra options.  For example, a player with one diamond and three ruby development cards is allowed to collect a single token every time they buy a development card.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although Splendor is normally quite a thoughtful game, it usually moves along quite quickly. However, the addition of the expansion, slowed the normal fast pace quite noticeably as everyone spent more time working through the options for each turn, especially at the start.  It wasn’t unpleasantly slow though, particularly as everyone had plenty to think about during the down time. Burgundy grabbed lots of diamonds and quickly began to claim some of the special powers available from the Trading Posts, making particularly good use of the first one which allowed him to collect a token every time he picked up a development card.  Black tried to go for the last two Trading posts, one of which gave him two a point for each other Trading Post he had claimed and another which gave him a straight five points.  Blue had started well, but was finding that all the diamond cards had evaporated which brought her game to an abrupt halt.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It wasn’t long before Burgundy was picking up his second noble, and with Black two turns away from finishing the game himself, the game came to an end as Burgundy claimed his fifteenth point, six more than anyone else.  Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, they were playing with The Orient Module.  This provides ten extra development cards at each of the three levels, a total of six of which are placed face up (two from each level).  These red-backed, “Orient” cards have interesting and unusual powers.  For example, there is a level one card which acts as a single use, pair of gold tokens which can be used at any time during the game.  The other card available from the level one deck is an “Association” card which is immediately associated with one other card and increases the yield of that card by one.  There are also some double gem cards and one that enables players to reserve a noble.  Everyone made good use of the double gold cards and the “money bag” Association cards (aka “onion” cards) in the first row of Orient cards.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The second row expansion cards remained in place for quite some time. Purple took a lot of development cards using gold tokens, Green plodded away with opal and sapphire development cards, while Red was trying to hold on to her double gold cards to use on those difficult to get top row cards.  Eventually Green claimed a level two Orient card, a double red gem, which got him to within a whisker of getting the first noble, but Red had other plans.  An Orient card swiftly enabled her to reserve the noble, take from under Green’s nose and thus preventing him from taking a commanding lead.  Before long, Green was back, however, having built up his opals and diamonds which enabled him to claim Isabelle of Castile (with four opals and four diamonds). Then it was only a matter of time, Red claimed her noble, but couldn’t stop Green taking a top row card to finish the game with sixteen points leaving Purple, who had started, very frustrated—she was just one turn from claiming her reserved card which would have given her the last noble and fifteen points.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Red had really enjoyed the extra challenge and had felt that the higher level expansion cards hadn’t really come into play and fancied giving it another go.  So, unusually for the group, rather than packing up, it got a second game.  There was a brief debate whether going first in Splendor is an advantage or not and the discussion spread to the next table.  It seems to be perceived wisdom, but there was a debate about whether the fact that players at the end of the round can get an extra turn (and so play for more points) might offset that.  Ultimately, no-one felt it made much of a difference and since Purple had started last time, it was between Green and Red, so they played Rock-Paper-Scissors to decide. With the excitement building, the count began, 1, 2, 3!  Round One was a draw: both had paper.  With the tension so tight you could cut it with blunt knife they started across the table at each other and prepared for the second round; a switch from paper was likely, but which way: Green went Scissors, but Red took the game with a well timed Rock and started the second game of Splendor.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Playing for a second time did not change the amount of thought that went into each turn; it always felt like a conundrum, one where several moves looked like good ones.  Perhaps the Orient cards hadn’t been shuffled very well, but all the level one “Onion” Association cards came out first and the double gold cards seemed to be stuck at the bottom of the pile. Red claimed to not know what she was doing, but made efficient use of her “Onions” nonetheless.  Purple continued her gold token strategy making sure she took whatever looked useful to Green while Green ironically, just couldn’t get any green emerald cards.  In fact the emerald development card handicap became quite a problem, especially since the other two were holding on to their green tokens and while an “Onion” card might have helped, he still needed one emerald card to start with! Eventually, Green was forced to change his strategy and picked up a level two expansion card to reserve the noble he was after before someone else had the chance to pinch it—all the more critical since it was the only one he could get under the circumstances.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Red took the lead when she gained her first noble, but she said it wouldn’t last long, and she was right. Purple was next and was able to reserve a noble for herself, then Green claimed his reserved noble. The game continued to be quite tight and even though Green managed to claim a second noble, it wasn’t enough to end the game. That privilege fell to Red who finished with seventeen points. Purple was left with nothing she could do to increase her score, but that led to a debate as to what Green might be able to do. With twelve points, green needed five to draw level with Red and there was a five point card he could claim on the table. However, if Purple took that he would then only be able to claim a three point card, unless the card purple took was replaced with another five point development he could claim.  Purple decided to play king-maker and took the card leaving an unhelpful replacement card leaving him two points behind Red, the winner.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Since Red, Green and Purple had gone onto a second game, Blue and Black decided to do likewise and have another pop at Burgundy.  This time, Blue went on the offensive and decided that black opals were essential to her game plan and a couple of rounds in, suddenly realised that she had almost all the black tokens and there were no attainable opal development cards available.  With the others in dire straights, Blue was able to completely strangle the game.  The problem with this strategy is that holding all the tokens of one colour is a very powerful position to be in, but that power is useless unless those tokens are spent and then the power is gone.  Additionally, the other players will inevitably build up their cards in other colours and eventually this will lead to accessible cards for the rare gem turning up.  So, timing is critical and there is a lot of luck involved as well.  Perhaps the key part is to ensure that the amount of effort put in to controlling the game doesn’t exceed the value obtained.  Inevitably, Blue didn’t have the perfect timing required and eventually Burgundy broke free, finishing the game with a massive twenty points, leaving the others standing.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dotkeller

The fact that both tables wanted to give their module another go says a lot about what we thought of them.  Clearly, the changes to the rules were not enormous but added a nice little bit of variation to a game we’ve played and enjoyed a lot.  Inevitably, we felt some of the Trading Posts some seemed much more powerful than others.  For example, the second Post enabled a player to take an extra gem of a different colour when taking two gems of the same colour.  The problem with this is that taking two tokens of the same colour is only possible if there are at least four tokens available in that colour.  In the two and three player games this is relatively unusual until later on when players have a lot of cards and no-longer need tokens, by which time it is too late.  In the four player game, we felt this would become much more valuable though.  On the other table, the players still felt they had been unable to use the high value Orient cards, even after a second attempt.  This led to a lot of discussion, in particular whether raising end-game trigger from fifteen to twenty, might encourage their use.  Certainly it could be an interesting variant to try on another occasion, either way, Cities of Splendor is certainly going see the table again for lots of reasons: it has breathed new life into the old game, we have two the other two modules to try, and Burgundy went straight out and bought a copy as well!

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

While Burgundy was finishing beating Black and Blue black and blue, the other group were looking for something to play.  Red had started the evening relating her failed attempts to acquire Kingdomino for less than a fiver.  She had been keen to get hold of it even though she had not played it, so this seemed an opportune moment for Red to be properly introduced to the game.  It’s such a simple game that the rules explanation was quickly done:  Players take a domino which they add to their kingdom and then place their meeple on one of the dominoes on display for the next round.  There are a couple of really clever bits to this game though.  Firstly, since the dominos have a numerical value and are set out and taken, from low to high, players going for the more valuable tiles are trading this value against their position in the turn order.  Secondly, the two ends of the dominos depict terrain and when placed one end must connect to terrain of the same type already in the kingdom (or connect directly to the start tile).  Since all dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space (or be discarded) keeping options open is an essential part of the game.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Finally, some tiles also depict one or more crowns, which are the key to scoring as each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region.  This means that no matter how big an area is, it is worthless without any crowns.  Although it is a simple little game, it is easy to make a fatal mistake, and that’s exactly what happened this time.  Somehow, Purple messed up her grid patterns, but worse was to come.  She had been targetting mountains and pastures, while both Red and Green were looking to forests and lakes to fill their kingdoms. With only three playing a dozen dominoes were removed and it was not until the end of the game (face down).  It was only at the end of the game that it became apparent why Red and Green had found it so much easier to fulfil their plans—the high scoring mines and lots of pasture (including three of the crown tiles) had been removed. The odds had been heavily stacked against Purple this time.  With the others both getting a full set of bonus points, it was very close between first and second despite the fact that Green had played the game several times.  In the end there was only two points  in it, with Green the narrow victor.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

On the other table, Cities of Splendor had finished and the group were looking for something to play.  Inspired by the nearby game of Kingdomino, Black spotted Queendomino which he had not yet played.  Blue commented that she was happy to play it and be proven wrong, but that she felt it took all the good things in a great little game and broke it.  In her mind, the comparison was similar to that of Tsuro and Tsuro of the Seas.  The former is a short, light game that plays lots of people and despite player elimination is still great fun with minimal downtime.  On the other hand, playing Tsuro of the Seas at the Didcot Games Club had, on one notable occasion, ended up with Burgundy getting knocked out a couple of turns in and spending the next hour and a half as a spectator.   In Blue’s eyes, Queendomino’s first offence was the fact that instead of the tidy little box that Kingdomino came in, it had a huge, Ticket to Ride sized box, mostly because there was a tile-tower included.  This offended her sense of efficiency, but wouldn’t have been so bad, if it had worked properly.  Although the magnetic closing mechanism was cool, Blue in particular had repeated difficulties getting the tiles out of the bottom, a problem that was exacerbated as the stack got smaller and the reduced mass pressed less on the tile being drawn out, making it increasingly difficult.

Queendomino
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

As for the game, the basic mechanism is the same as Kingdomino, however, there is an extra tile type: red building plots.  These act exactly the same as the other terrain types, except that there are a number of building tiles on display that payers can buy and add to their kingdom.  This building display is only refilled at the end of the round which can make being late in the turn order more of a problem.  This can be compounded if someone chooses to bribe the dragon to burn down one of the buildings.  Amongst other things, these buildings provide knights and turrets that players can use to collect taxes and score more points.  While this has the potential to make the game deeper, the downside is that it can make the already slightly mathsy scoring even worse.  Despite all this and Blue’s really rather appalling rules explanation, everyone was surprisingly keen to give it a go.  Burgundy inevitably, tried to profit from the new components and eagerly started collecting wooden turrets.  Blue and Black were a little more circumspect, though both of them picked up a few knights and used them to good effect to collect enough in taxes to ensure they were able to build a couple of nice buildings.

Queendomino
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

In the end, it surprisingly close, and after several re-counts, Black was deemed the winner, six points ahead of Burgundy in second place.  Looking at the scores, it turned out that both Black and Blue had made most of their points on the original terrain, and it was arguable how much the new buildings had really helped.  Burgundy’s entire game plan had revolved around the new buildings, but somehow, although it looked like he was running away with it, the game hadn’t quite panned out like that.  Blue asked what the others thought of it and Burgundy commented that he’d be happy to give it another go, but that was in complete contrast to Black, who’s one word answer, summed up Blue’s feelings, “Terrible”.  At some point point during the game, Red had asked whether Blue would feel better about the game if it didn’t have the tower, to which Blue replied that it wasn’t the tower per se, it was more that the tower was a metaphor for all all the stuff they had added to the original Kingdomino game:  it was nice to look at, but fiddly, totally un-necessary and overall made the whole experience much less enjoyable.  With that, she had removed the tiles from the tower and immediately felt better about the whole thing, but not enough to save the game from being sold at the earliest opportunity.  So, Burgundy might not get his second chance to play it after all.

Queendomino
– Image used with permission of
boardgamephotos

Meanwhile on the next table, everyone was feeling a little tired, but as the hugely complex game of Queendomino, was still going on, Red and Green decided not to leave Purple relegated to observer, and chose to play one more short game.  The game in question was Battle Kittens, primarily because it’s got kittens in it, but also because it’s quite quick.  This was a game Blue picked up on a trip to Reading with Green, and, as he had enjoyed it more than she had, he’d received it as a little gift at the GOATS New Year Party.  At it’s core, it is a card drafting game where players draft their hand of kitten cards and then send them off to battle.  Each of the three arenas will contest three of the four kittenny attributes: agility, strength, wisdom and cuteness.  Players decide which kittens they want to put into each arena and then resolve any special cards with the highest total running out the winner.  At various times, both Purple and Red had a victory cruelly snatched away from them to the benefit of Green. The first time this happened was to Red who had a high score with three kittens and had it ended there she would have won that battle.  Unfortunately, she was forced to take a King card first, and lost all her other kittens and ended up losing the battle. Similarly, in the second round, Purple managed to get some really good Crown cards and won a couple of battles quite convincingly, but they either gave more fish for coming second or gave an equal number for first and second place and thus did nothing to dent Green’s growing pile of fish as his kittens gambolled their way to victory.

Battle Kittens
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Some expansions really add to the game, others can take a great game and make it “terrible”.

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 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