Tag Archives: Splendor

2nd October 2018

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

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Cupcakes!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Splendor
– Image by BGG contributor zapata131

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

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

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

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

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

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

4th September 2018

Blue, Red, Burgundy and newcomer, Mulberry, were finishing their food when Pink arrived after a long drive from the north-east.  While he was waiting for his food he opened a very special present Red had brought back from Spain for him.  Pink and Blue have quite a few games and for various reasons there are one or two that they have multiple copies of.  However, there is one game that they have many, many copies of.  Ironically it is a game Pink doesn’t even like playing very much, and yet, it has become a bit of “a thing” that every time Pink goes to Essen he comes back with yet another copy (ideally in a different language, but often just another German copy).  Red has strong opinions about this particular game though, and believes that by far the best language to play it in is Spanish, so kindly brought Pink a copy back from Spain to add to his burgeoning collection.  As he began to unwrap it, Pink took a few moments to realise what it was, but was really touched by this very special gift of Bohnanza.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

There wasn’t time to play it before food arrived, then everyone else was turning up and the “who’s going to play what” debate began.  The “Feature Game”, Keyflower with the Farmers expansion had been Pink’s request and Keyflower is one of Blue’s favourite games, so they were a bit of a foregone conclusion.  They were quickly joined by Burgundy who is also very fond of the game, and Ivory who was keen to see if the expansion changed the balance and the strategies available.  Since that was likely to be the long game, they got on with it while everyone else sorted themselves out.  Keyflower itself is not a complicated game mechanistically, though it has an awful lot of depth.  Over four seasons, players are simply taking it in turns to bid for tiles to add to their village or use tiles available in the villages or the central display.  The clever part is that bidding and using tiles are both done with meeples as currency and players must “follow suite”, that is to say, use the same colour if the tile has already been activated.

Keyflower: The Farmers
– Image by boardGOATS

In Keyflower, the depth is generated by the actions available on from the tiles and their interaction, added to the fact that except when playing with a full compliment of six, only a subset are used, and these are drawn at random.  This means that one of the most important aspects of game play is to keep as many options open as possible since everything is likely to change in the final round.  This is not only because some tiles don’t appear, but also the fact that there is always someone who will make it their business obstruct even the best laid plans.  Thus it is vital to have at least two ways ways out.  Adding The Farmers expansion exacerbates this as it introduces lots more tiles so each one is less likely to be revealed.  This is a potential problem when trying to “play with the expansion” as it is perfectly possible that none of the Farmer tiles are introduced into the game.  To prevent this, some tiles were drawn explicitly from the Farmers set.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

The Farmers expansion doesn’t change game play much, it just adds depth by the addition of farm animals as another means to score points.  The idea is that animals are kept in the fields that are formed by the roads in a village.  Each field that is occupied scores points depending on the type of animal or animals in it.  Thus each field with sheep in it scores one point, each field with pigs scores two and each with with cows scores three points.  These scores are increased for villages with special tiles, like the Weaver, which increases the sheep score to three per field.  Animals in a field another of the same type breed at the end of each season and can be moved in a similar way to resources.  The expansion also introduces Corn to the game, which allows players to enhance their movement actions.  Otherwise, the game with the expansion plays in much the same way as the basic Keyflower game, takes a similar amount of time and requires a similar blend of tactical decision making and strategic planning.

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

Meanwhile, everyone else had divided themselves into two groups of three and had begun to play.  Pine joined Red and Mulberry in a game of Finca.  Pine had played it before, but a long time ago so Blue took time out from setting up Keyflower to explain how to it worked.  It’s a very simple game of set collection with beautiful wooden fruit that’s now nearly ten years old.  At its heart is an interesting rondel mechanism.  On their turn, players choose one of three possible actions:  move around the rondel and collect fruit; use a donkey cart to deliver fruit; or carry out an action with one of the special, single use tokens that each player starts the game with.  There are some lovely features about the game.  For example, players move as many spaces round the rondel as there are workers on the space they started on and the number of fruit they get depends on the number of workers on the space they finish on.  As players have four workers each, there are lots of factors to consider when choosing which worker to move.

Finca
– Image by BGG contributor kneumann

Investing wisely is the key to the game, and Pine went for variety while Mulberry specialised more, particularly in figs and oranges.  It was the figs and oranges that won the day with Mulberry finishing with fifty-one points, just four ahead of Red who’d had lots of fruity fun with Finca.  With that finished, Red spotted Yardmaster in a bag, one of her favourite games, and decided to introduce Mulberry to it.  It is quite a simple game and was described by Mulberry as “UNO with trains”.  Players are building a locomotive by drawing cargo cards and using them to buy railcar cards from the four face up cards in the middle.  The game was very close, but it was Red’s experience that was key, giving her a two-point winning margin over Mulberry in second place.  With that done, they moved onto another old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor moonblogger

6 Nimmt! gets played a lot, but it’s unusual that we play it with so few players.  The idea is that everyone chooses a card and then players add them to one of the rows, in ascending order adding them to the row ending in the highest card that is below the card they are playing.  The catch is that when a sixth card is added to a row, that player picks up the first five cards.  The game really is at its best with more players where the simultaneous card selection adds mayhem.  They just played the one round; perhaps Mulberry misunderstood and thought the idea was to collect “nimmts”, but either way, she top scored with twenty-one – quite an achievement with only three players and only one round!  Red did rather better and finished the winner with just two “nimmts”.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

On the neighbouring table, Green had joined Black and Purple and they started out with this year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul.  This is a really an abstract game with only a loose theme of tiling a palace, but unusually, nobody seems to mind and we’ve played the game a lot with multiple copies in the group.  The game is really just a set collection game, similar to Finca and Yardmaster, but with an added spacial factor as tiles have to be placed to score points.  Tiles are chosen from “factories” with those that aren’t taken going into a central pool.  Since players can only take one colour at a time and must always take all the tiles of that colour in that location, they can easily end up with not quite enough, or even too many scoring negative points. Although it is not really an aggressive game, it is remarkable how much damage players can do to each other.  Landing too many tiles is bad, but it is arguably worse to get “not quite enough” as it inhibits options in the next round too and therefore can affect the whole game.  As we’ve played it a lot, we all have a good understanding of how to play, so unless someone gets things very wrong, games are often close, making them quite tense affairs.  This was no exception, with Purple just taking the honours with sixty-three points.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

To alleviate the stress of Azul, the trio moved on to play Om Nom Nom, a light “dice-chucker”  This needs a similar sort of double think to 6 Nimmt!.  The idea is that the board is seeded with dice populating the lower levels of three separate food chains.  Then players simultaneously select an animal card to play, populating the higher levels of the food chains.  The idea is that cards played at the top of a food chain will eat those immediately beneath it.  So if there is a juicy bunch of carrots rolled, is it best to play the rabbit and risk getting eaten by a fox, or is it better to play a fox and gamble on everyone else being tempted to play rabbit cards?  Often the wisest move is not to get involved, but if everyone adopts that approach, the carrots get left and everyone is now playing in the more confined space of two food chains.  Sometimes the game is very tight, but this was not one of those times.  Black took five cheeses in one round and finished some twenty points ahead of everyone else.

Om Nom Nom
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

The other games were still going and nobody fancied anything particularly taxing, so after a brief hiatus, Splendor got the nod.  Yet another set collecting game, it is also very simple and surprisingly popular in our group.  There is a remarkable amount of thought necessary for the apparently simple choose three different tokens or buy a card.  Many people seem to think it is a trivial game, but for us, it has the right balance of strategy and tactical thinking to make it the perfect game when people are tired but still want something that provides a little bit of interest.  We’ve played it a lot, and almost inevitably, Burgundy wins.  One of the factors in choosing the game was the guarantee that he wouldn’t win this time as he was engaged elsewhere.  In the event, it was another close game, with Green and Black very close to finishing, but Purple just getting to fifteen points first and ending the game before they could catch her – her second win of the night.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

We were about an hour into our respective games and Blue was concentrating deeply on her next turn in Keyflower, when her village was suddenly and unexpectedly improved by the addition of a very fine chocolate cake complete with candles.  Much to her embarrassment, it was also accompanied by singing.  There was a brief interlude while Blue blew out her candles and cut up the cake, admired her quite a-llama-ing card, everyone consumed the really rather delicious cake (Waitrose finest no less), and Burgundy made sure there wasn’t even a pattern left on his plate.  And with all that done, the games continued.

Cake!
– Image by boardGOATS

Keyflower continued after cake and the strategies were beginning to become clear.  Ivory, Blue and Pink were going for animals, while Burgundy’s plans had been undermined by both Blue and Ivory and was trying to make something from his very, very small village.  With the arrival of Winter, players had to put in their choice of the tiles they’d been given at the start.  Much to Ivory’s disgust, someone had put in the Dairy which increases the score for fields with cows in them.  Since neither the Cow Shed tile nor the Ranch tile had been drawn in Autumn, nobody had any cows so the Dairy was a waste of a Winter tile.  This meant there was even more competition for the other tiles, and there weren’t many of those as players can put only one tile into the mix.  Burgundy got his Key Market which nobody else had any real interest in, Blue took the Hillside, but lost out on the lucrative Truffle Orchard to Pink.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory took the Mercer’s Guild and the Scribes after a brief tussle with Blue.  It was quite tight with everyone getting points from different places and it was clear the tiles everyone picked up in the final round made all the difference.  Ivory, Blue and Burgundy had spread their points about, while Pink put all his eggs (or rather pigs) in one basket, but it paid off, giving him a massive forty points and seventy-three points overall, four more than Blue in second place.  Everyone had enjoyed playing with the expansion, particularly Ivory who felt it had added more depth.  Although Ivory had to go, there was just time for a quick game of 6 Nimmt!, so Pine took his place and the foursome played a couple of hands.  In the first round Burgundy and Pine competed for the highest score with twenty-five and twenty-seven points respectively.  In the second round, Pine picked up what might be a record score of forty-five.  At the other extreme, Blue managed to keep her score down to eleven, and added to the three in the first round that gave her a clear victory—just in time for her birthday at the end of the week.

An Empty Plate!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes a pig strategy brings home the bacon!

Boardgames in the News: Who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?

A couple of months ago, Reuters reported that according to un-named sources, investment bankers had been hired to run the sale of Asmodee.  The claim was that the sale “could value the company at over €1.5 billion”, but there was no credible information as to who the potential buyers were.  This mystery has now been solved with the announcement that PAI Partners have entered into exclusive discussions to acquire Asmodee, a company with an enterprise value of €1.2 billion.  So, who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?  Well, PAI is a European private equity company, that grew out of the merger between the French banks, BNP and Paribas in 1993, with a management buyout completed in 2001.  They have invested in a wide range of companies covering everything from yoghurt (Yoplait) to tyres (Kwik Fit) to cargo handling (Swissport).  Obviously PAI are interested in making money from Asmodee, but at this time there is no evidence to suggest that would by by asset stripping.  Price increases would be almost inevitable however, as the Studios would be under pressure to provide a good return on the investment.

PAI Partners
– Image from paipartners.com

15th May 2018

As Blue and Burgundy finished their dinner, everyone else arrived and we began the “Who wants to Play What” debate, and particularly, the “Who wants to play the “Feature Game” tonight” discussion.  The “Feature Game” was to be Caverna: The Cave Farmers, a game that is so similar to Agricola, that it is often referred to as “Agricola 2.0”.  In Agricola, the idea of the game is that players start with two farmers, a large field and a wooden hut and try to build a farm, by planting wheat and vegetables, buying and breeding animals, extending and upgrading their hut, and expanding their family.  It is a worker placement game which takes place over a set number of rounds and in each one, each family member takes one action.  The actions that are available are very limited at first, but more are added as the game progresses.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor MisterC

There are three main differences between the Caverna and Agricola, and the first (and most obvious) is the theme.  Instead for medieval farmers, players are dwarves living in the mountains, building a dwarfish community with dogs and donkeys.  This means players are developing their cave system (rather than their hut) and cultivating forest land rather than pasture.  The game play is very similar though with players taking it in turns to place one of the dwarves from their community on one of the action spaces and then carrying out that action.  Again during the game, the number of actions available increases.  Many of the actions are different though as players cultivate the forest in front of their cave and dig into the mountain, furnishing caves for their clan as well as mining for ore or ruby.  This leads to another obvious differences:  Expeditions.  In order to go on expeditions dwarves need ore to forge weapons, and the better armed the dwarf, the more exciting the adventures they can go on and the better the rewards.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

These features are largely cosmetic though, and the real differences are in the game play.  In the advanced game of Agricola, each player is dealt a hand of fourteen cards at the start, which are used to add variety and interest to the game.  There are hundreds of possible cards available and players can either choose from their starting hand, or to make the game fairer, they can be drafted.  The problem with this is that for players who are unfamiliar with the game, choosing which cards might be useful or will work together is a very painful process.  In Caverna, the depth is introduced by the addition of forty-eight different buildings tiles which laid out so players can see what the options are throughout the game.  Critically, there is one set of tiles and they are all used in the advanced game.  This means Caverna doesn’t have the infinite variety of Agricola, but the buildings deliver a more balanced game with a lot of options that are available every time.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

The games also feel very different:  with Agricola the game is always a struggle, with players fighting to balance feeding the family and developing the farm.  At the end of the game, a large proportion of players scores come from fulfilling a checklist of animals and vegetables.  This means that there are one or two main strategies and successful players are generally those who are most efficient in these. In Caverna, there is more variety in the strategies available, but without the feeding mechanism and associated peril of starvation, there is a lot less stress in the game.  All in all, it is generally a lot easier to build a productive engine and more difficult to make a total mess of it in Caverna, while still providing a lot of the same sort of challenges.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Both Agricola and Caverna take up a lot of table space and a while to set up. As Ivory had never played it before, and even Burgundy, Magenta and Green had not played it in nearly four years, we decided to play the introductory game.  It turned out that this was just as well, as it still took the best part of three hours to play.  By random selection Burgundy got to go first and effectively choose his own strategy, while Green went last and was more or less forced to let his strategy be dictated by what was left over.  The first few turns were the inevitable resource grab—anything and everything that players could get hold of.  Being a cave based game, stone and ore were particularly popular to such an extent that Green found he was struggling to get any by the time his turn came round, which pushed him towards a more Agricola-style farming strategy.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Although Magenta had played Caverna once before she had little recollection of it as it had been at 3am one Christmas Holiday.  As a result, the game was all a bit of a mystery at the start.  Nevertheless, she got into sheep farming early, but did not neglect her mountain either, regularly chipping away giving her ample opportunities for rooms and mines.  She was struggling outside though:  she managed to get some more animals, but couldn’t get the pastures to keep them in, and without crops she was constantly struggling for food.  She was able to build an oven, but this meant that as fast as her flock grew she had to slaughter them to keep her hungry dwarves fed.  With her lack of outdoor enclosures though, this might actually have been a help.  In the end, it was her mining and interiors that helped give her the best scores and she did eventually manage to cover her whole player board by the end of the game to avoid negative points.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Ivory and Green were the first to grow their families and, fed up with being last in the turn order, Green used his larger family to good effect and nabbed the start player marker. So the very next turn he was able to grab a wheat and veg while planting a field and pasture at the same time.  Then, with his second dwarf he immediately planted another field and pasture to plant that self same wheat and veg, and thus started his crops growing. He then supplemented this with an improvement tile which enabled him to convert a wheat and a veg into five food which meant he was never short of food to feed his family and was free to expand whenever he was able to mine the mountain and build extra rooms. With crops aplenty, he then set about acquiring animals and fencing in fields, leaving his mining for the last few turns in a frantic dash to increase his final score.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

Burgundy and Ivory, both decided to bet heavily on arming their dwarves and sending them on expeditions to bring back lots of exciting goodies. Several times, Ivory exchanged a precious ruby to play his fighting dwarf out of turn and grab the four-goods expedition before Burgundy could. This strategy served them both well, especially as they were able to keep mining in order to locate more and more ore to help weaponise more dwarves.   Burgundy held on to his gems and managed to build a special room to help them score him more points. He also managed to also cover his whole area and “discovered” two ruby mines.  Ivory neglected his farming and failed to plant anything till right at the end of the game.  Ultimately, that counted against him as he was left him with empty spaces that lost him six points.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers
– Image by BGG contributor saksi

The last two harvests were both interrupted by the special tiles which caused everyone a few problems and in the end it was really quite close. It was Burgundy who took the glory though, a handful of points ahead of Green who was a single point ahead of Ivory.  It was a good game though and everyone enjoyed it—Burgundy professed to prefer it over Agricola too, a game where he reckons he always struggles to do well in.  Meanwhile, the next table started with a big debate about what to play.  Several games were considered, but Black made the mistake of mentioning Keyflower, which is one of Blue’s favourites and thereafter, there was only one game she wanted to play.  Other games were suggested, but for the most part, there was a good reason why these were not ideal, and, in the end, Black pointed out Blue’s interest in Keyflower, and everyone else agreed to play it.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone had played the game before, but it was a while ago and Pine had little recollection, so a rules run-through was necessary first.  The rules of the game are not terribly difficult to understand, but combine to make a complex game.  Played over four rounds (or Seasons), players bid on hexagonal tiles which are added to the winners’ village at the end of the round.  Bidding is carried out with coloured meeples (or Keyples as they are known in this game), and counter-bids must follow colour, usually red, blue or yellow.  Most tiles are action spaces, so as well as currency for bidding, Keyples can also be used to activate spaces.  Any space can be activated at any time by any player when they place one of their Keyples on a tile, any tile, one in their own village, one in someone else’s, one still being auctioned.  At the end of the round, Keyples used in winning bids are lost, while those involved in losing bids return to their owners and any used to activate tiles are adopted by the tile owners.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Essentially, that is really all there is to the game, but there are lots of consequences of this simple mechanism and a lot of complexity underlies what players can do with the actions on the tiles.  In Spring, most of the tiles available provide resources of some description, in Summer there are more advanced resource and related tiles, while in Autumn the first of the scoring tiles arrive.  The majority of the scoring comes from the Winter tiles though, and these are selected by the players, who are dealt a small number at the start of the game and choose which to introduce at the start of the final round.  This is particularly clever as it provides players with possible strategies if they choose to follow them.  Invariably, though, the best laid plans go completely awry and players are left choosing which of their tiles will be the least useful to their opponents and hope that others will be forced to play something more helpful.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Once we’d run through the rules, we laid out the Spring tiles and began.  Keyflower plays two to six players and unusually, it plays well acrioss the whole range, but is different at each number due to the fact that different numbers of tiles are used during the game.  With two players nearly half the possible tiles are removed from play, so the game becomes very tactical rewarding players who can keep their options open and change their plans like a politician changes policy, when they find the tiles they need are not available.  With six players, all the tiles are available, however, with so many opponents lots of competition is guaranteed.  Black pointed out that Keyflower is particurly good with four though as almost all tiles are in play, and there is lots of competition as well.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There are other consequences of changes in player number.  For example, at the start of each Season, ships arrive delivering Keyples and Skill tiles; players bid to have first choice of these.  The number of arrivals is dependent on the number of players, however, no matter how many arrive it is never enough, worse, as the game year progresses the number of Keyples arriving steadily decreases.  This is because players are spending less on buying tiles and instead are reusing workers that have been activating tiles.  Regardless, having a means to get extra Keyples is invaluable and it was with this in mind that Black began bidding for the Ale House.  This tile generates another Keyple, each time it is activated, two once it has been upgraded.  Largely on the principle that if someone else wants something, they should not be allowed to have it, Blue started a bidding war.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Unfortunately for her, Blue won, but at a cost.  This was very much counter to her usual strategy, as she usually avoids overpaying at all costs, often leaving her with the fewest tiles at the end of Spring, sometimes none at all.  Pine on the other hand, fancied the Pedlar, a tile that turned yellow Keyples into green ones, and green ones are Special.  Green Keyples behave in exactly the same way as red, yellow and blue Keyples, except there are none in the game at the start so their extreme scarcity means they are very powerful, especially when bidding. Pine also went for gold and Purple took the Keywood, which gave her substantial wood producing capability and the Workshop which allowed her to produce any resources she wanted.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Summer and Autumn proceeded in a similar fashion, except that everyone started out much more careful with their Keyples, which meant everyone ended Summer with lots of stuff they didn’t want.  Black finally got his Keyple generating tile when he took the Brewer, however, that needed Skill Tiles and he didn’t have a source of them.  Blue was worse off finishing Summer with a random assortment of boat tiles she didn’t really need.  Pine and Purple did slightly better, taking tiles that convert Skills into resources and transport/upgrade tiles and adding to their gold producing ability.  Autumn saw the advent of round two of the bidding war when Blue started bidding for the Sculptor and Sawmill and Black decided to join in.  It ended with honours even, but there was more to follow.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the final round, some of the strategies became clearer, when the Jeweler, Craftsman’s Guild and the Windmill appeared.  Everyone was hustling for the tiles they wanted, trying to maximise their points for the end of the game.  It was then that Black finally finished the bidding war, taking the Sea Breese boat tile, which gave him only one point, but cost Blue nearly twenty points.  Pine who had struggled throughout the game suddenly found he had lots of points, sixty in total, just two behind Black who finished in first place, thanks largely to the vast number of Keyples he finished with.  On the next table, Caverna still had some way to go and there was still time for one more game, so Pine dipped into Burgundy’s back and brought out Splendor—at least with Burgundy occupied elsewhere, everyone else had a chance of winning for a change…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

We’ve played Splendor a lot within the group, an awful lot, and have just begun exploring the Cities of Splendor expansion, but after the last game, everyone wanted something they were very familiar with, so we stuck to the base game.  And it is a simple game 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

The game play was very unusual this time, because the black Opals came out very late, and on the odd occasion that they did appear Blue pounced on them and immediately reserved them.  This had two effects as it both prevented anyone else from getting them and also ensured that she had a plan each time she had to pick up gemstone poker chips.  The problem was made worse by the fact that three of the Nobles required Opals.  With the strangle-hold she had on the game, it was not surprising that she was the only one to get any Nobles and quickly brought the game to an end finishing with eighteen points, well clear of Pine in second place.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes winning a bid can be worse than losing.

Boardgames in the News: Asmodee For Sale‽

Over the last few years Eurazeo have developed Asmodee from a small French games company primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble, into an industrial conglomerate swallowing up the likes of Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, and Lookout Spiele.  In the process, Asmodee added some of the most high profile modern boardgames to their portfolio, including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, SplendorDead of Winter, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and as of this weekLove Letter.  Speculation as to the end result has been rife, here and elsewhere.  Indeed, three months ago we raised the question:

…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 Eurazeo going to make their “controlled exit”?

Reuters now reports that according to un-named sources, the answer is, “Sell Asmodee”.  Apparently, investment bankers have been hired to run a sale process which they claim could value the company at over €1.5 billion (quite a return for Eurazeo who originally paid €143 million for Asmodee in November 2013).  As yet, there is no credible information as to who the potential buyers may be, but if the news that Asmodee is to be sold is true, there will no doubt be plenty of speculation over the coming weeks and months.  Possibilities range from a major toy manufacturer like Hasbro or Mattel wanting to add expand their range of boardgames, to venture capitalists companies going for maximum short term profits, leading to reduced quality and increased prices.  No doubt, time will tell…

Asmodee Logo
– Image from
escapistmagazine.com

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 Logo
– Image from
escapistmagazine.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 Eurazeo 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 Logo
– Image from stickpng.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.