Tag Archives: Take it Easy!

6th February 2018

With seven of us and the “Feature Game”, Ave Caesar, only playing six, we started the evening with a small problem.  The general consensus was that the game is more fun with more people, so splitting into two small groups didn’t feel right.  Blue offered to sit out as she was still eating, as did Burgundy and almost everyone else as well, but in the end, Purple and Black teamed up so we could all play together.  An older family game dating from 1989, Ave Caesar is also a fairly simple game.  The idea is that each player has a deck of movement cards, a chariot, and a coin, and the aim of the game is to be the first player to cross the line after completing three laps of the track.  On the way round each player must pay tribute to Caesar on the way by pulling up in front of the Emperor in his dedicated pit lane, chucking their Denarius into the game box and crying “Hail Caesar!”.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There are some nasty, unforgiving little features about this game.  For example, the track is generally a maximum of two lanes wide.  Worse, players can only use each of their cards once and don’t have lot of spare moves, so the outside lane should be used sparingly otherwise they may run out of moves before they complete their final lap.  Even worse than that, each player starts with a hand of three cards and plays one, then refreshes their hand.  The snag is that players cannot jump or move through occupied spaces and must use every space on the card they play, in other words, they cannot play a five for example if there are only three spaces they can move.  These “nasty features” can make the game very frustrating, but are also the clever part as they provide the challenge.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There have been several editions of the game, but the original Ravensburger is widely believed to be the best because it has slightly longer tracks which makes for a tighter game as players have fewer moves to spare.  It is well understood that the newer version that we were playing with could be improved by removing a five card from each player’s deck.  So we started sorting and counting cards, and finding a five to remove from each deck.  With this done, all those eating had also finished and Burgundy started with a modest two.  Blue was second and, with two sixes in hand felt that it was a good idea to get rid of one of them nice and early.  The problem with sixes is that you can’t play them when you are in the lead, but they can be quite difficult to play from the back as there has to be enough space in front to play them.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy’s two proved to be a mistake as everyone else promptly overtook him and left him stuck at the back for most of the rest of the lap.  In fact, he was so stuck, that he ended up missing three turns on the first lap alone.  In contrast, Blue had broken away from the pack and was looking at lapping Burgundy, but this had its own problems as she needed to get rid of her sixes, which she couldn’t do while in the lead.  Blue went to hail Caesar on her first lap to give people a chance to catch up.  After a bit of moaning that he hated Bank-holiday traffic, Pine finally managed to break away from the log-jam and take the lead giving Blue a chance to ditch a six, and everyone else a chance to make some progress too.  Everyone else that is, except Burgundy who was doing an excellent job of bringing up the rear.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

During the second lap, Pine just managed to nip in and pay his dues to Caesar, while Green followed and then reduced his chariot speed to a crawl and “Hailed” three times successfully causing a queue behind.  It was the third lap where things started to get interesting though with everyone jockeying for position to try to make sure that they didn’t have to waste moves.  Blue had a bigger problem though, she was miles in front, but still had to draw her final six from the deck and then play it.  She tried hanging back, reluctant to give away the size of her problem, but that card stayed in the pack.  Finally, as she drew her last card, she found her final six, but it was too late and Team Black and Purple cantered past and pipped her to the finish.  Green trotted in taking third place and leading the rest of the pack home.  Ironically, had she not suggested removing the fives at the start of the game, Blue would have won easily, but that would have been boring.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

It hadn’t been Ivory’s sort of game, so to placate him we offered him Yokohama, a game he’s been angling to play since before Christmas, but there wasn’t quite enough time for that, so he went for Sagrada instead and was joined by Pine and Blue.  This is a very pretty little game with many features in common with one of our current favourites, Azul.  It has simple rules, but lots of complexity and is essentially an abstract with a very thin theme, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to matter.  In Sagrada, players build a stained glass window by building up a grid of dice on their player board. Each board has some restrictions on which colour or shade (value) of die can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to rearrange some of the dice, either during “drafting”, or sometimes those already in their window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.  Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window. There are also three public objectives which everyone can use to score points; in this case we were scoring for coloured dice diagonally adjacent; complete sets of one to six and pairs of five and six. The game starts with each player choosing a window from two double-sided cards dealt at random.  The hard ones come with a lot of favour tokens; this time almost all the options available seemed to be the difficult ones, which made Blue especially wary given the dogs’ breakfast she made of the game at New Year playing a challenging window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Everyone seemed to go for different strategies this time.  Blue went for the public “diagonals” goal, making a pretty Battenburg pattern, but only managed to get one five, so struggled with the other objectives.  In contrast, Ivory did well getting pairs of five and six, but only got one three, so couldn’t score so well for the sets.  Pine completely ignored the diagonals and really concentrated on his private goal and getting complete sets of one to six.  It was a really tight game and Blue and Ivory were to rue those dice they’d failed to get as Pine finished with forty-three points, just two ahead of Ivory and three clear of Blue.  Despite finishing second, Ivory was much happier with this game than Ave Caesar and was up for giving something else a go.  Pine was keen to play Animals on Board again, and it is a nice enough little game and not long so Ivory was happy to give it a go too.  The idea is that players are collecting animals to go in their cardboard ark.  Each set of animals in the game is numbered from one to five and a selection are drawn at random and placed face up in the centre of the table.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

On their turn the active player either divides one of the groups in the middle into two parts (and takes a box of fruit for their pains) or takes the animals from one of the groups, paying for them with boxes of fruit at a rate of one per animal.  At the end of the game (triggered when one player picks up their tenth animal) Noah claims any pairs of animals and the remaining animals are scored: singletons score their face value and sets of three or more score five per animal.  It was quite tight, Ivory collected four rhinos and Pine managed three hippos.  Blue brought the game to a sudden and unexpected end when she unexpectedly found herself with a large set she could take profitably, leaving her with two sets of three, foxes and zebras, and with it, the she took the game.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Black, Pink, Burgundy and Green were playing the classic, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”).  Despite being over twenty years old now, it still holds up as a good family game in a way that some other games of the same vintage do not.  The game is played on an iconic variable tile game board on which players build settlements and cities on the nodes and roads along the edges.  One of the things that makes the game so popular is the lack of down time: a turn consists of rolling dice, trading and then buying and/or building.  Each hexagon on the board is numbered and rolling the dice gives resources to every player with a settlement on the hexagon on the number rolled.  Since each node is on the corner of three hexagons, players frequently get resources during other players’ turns.  Everyone is potentially involved in the trading of course, so the only part of anyone’s turn that is not shared is the buying and building phase, but this is usually quite short.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the random layout of tiles gave an even spread, but the number tokens placed on them had an unusual symmetry:  both eights were on the mountains (giving stone), both threes were on the fields (giving wheat) and both nines were on the clay beds (giving brick).  Green started and inevitably chose the choice spot with that would give him wool, wood and clay, much to Burgundy’s chagrin. Black was last to place and decided to connect his two roads and settlements, so by the time it Green got his second turn, he had very little option and ended up with a port location which would yield only two cards to everyone rather than three.  The dice seemed to be rolling according to the predicted distribution with the red numbers (six & eight) coming up often.  This gave Burgundy a lot of stone and wood, but due to his lack of brick he quickly converted a settlement to a city which only increased his supply of stone.

– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for him, all these extra resources counted against him as the other number to come up regularly was seven, so meaning the robber was moved and everyone had to reduce the number of resource cards they were holding to seven.  Burgundy often was higher due to his regular double productions, but to make it worse he frequently seemed to because of his own demise since he was the one who kept rolling the sevens—three times in succession at one point! With that kind of luck he really began to wonder if he should just pack it in right then and go play something else.  While Burgundy was struggling with his own security though, Purple and Green were steadily building their kingdoms. Purple gained another settlement and converted one of her others into a city. Green had spread out from his choice spot to build another settlement on the port side of the value eight mountains and in the other direction to another port with more clay, giving him the longest road, and with it two bonus points, for the moment at least.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Black seemed to be languishing, unable to get traction and the cards he needed for expansion. Catan requires investment for growth, but he had barely two coins to rub together to invest with at all.  Once Green had built on the mountain-side the eight rolls seemed to dry up and he struggled to get enough stone or wheat to convert his settlements to cities.  Purple’s hidden development card made everyone think she had an extra hidden point, and possibly the lead. Certainly the early rolls went in her favour and it was beginning to look like this could be her game. Green’s long road brought him into the running, and the power of Burgundy’s cities meant he wasn’t far behind. The production Burgundy’s cities provided meant he was able to go after longest road and take it from Green, thus starting a little road building war between the two.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

With nowhere else on the board worth building on, Burgundy decided on an alternative strategy and started trading for development cards. He managed to place two knights and was about to take the Largest Army, until everyone else reminded him he three army cards for that. It only delayed the inevitable though, as one round later he played a third knight card, claimed the Largest Army and two points with it. He easily built two more roads and with it retook the Longest Road card for a second time simultaneously revealing he had a one point development card in his hand.  This meant he went from five points on the board to a total of ten points in one turn and with it finished the game.  Purple and Black revealed they also had a one point development card to give them both six points and joint second place.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Both tables finished at about the same time and, as Ivory headed home, Burgundy commented that he’d like to give NMBR 9 a go.  Everyone else chimed in that they’d be happy to join him , but Pine and Purple got there first and with no set up time got started quickly.  The game is very simple: one player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau.  All the tiles are roughly number-shaped and each player will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice.  Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile. Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile. At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one. So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Unlike a lot of games, it is very difficult to tell who is winning, as the largest scores come late in the game when adding tiles to the higher layers.  However, the lower layers must be able to  accommodate the later tiles as and when they come out, otherwise a player can’t take advantage of the opportunities they may offer.  This time Burgundy “got lucky” and was able to squeeze a seven, an eight and a nine onto his third level giving him a massive forty-eight points for them alone and a bit of a land-slide victory.  We’ve played this game a few times now as a group and all the previous games have been quite close.  Other Bingo-type game like Take it Easy!, Das Labyrinth des Pharao or Karuba, have been relatively unpopular with the group as they feel like multiplayer solitaire, but somehow, in our group, everyone gets involved helping everyone else out, which makes this game much more enjoyable.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The other three chatted for a few minutes before deciding to play a quick game of Kingdomino as it is a game we know well and can play quickly and without committing too much thought.  It  consists of dominoes featuring two terrain “tiles” with some tiles also depicting one or more crowns.  Players are building their kingdoms by placing dominoes where one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or to the 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.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was really tight with each player capitalising and building on different terrain types:  Black took forests, Green took pasture and Blue took sea.  There were three points between first and third, but it was Black who finished at the front, just one point ahead of Blue.  With three players, some tiles are removed from the game at random.  Like last time, almost all the tiles removed were  the high-scoring mountain and marshland tiles, but at least this time nobody’s game plan depended on them.  It did encourage some discussion, though with Black commenting that he didn’t like the game with three because of this uncontrolled randomness, and Blue commenting that perhaps the tiles that are taken out should be turned face up and displayed so that players can at least see what won’t be available.  Maybe a variant for another time.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Some games stand the test of time, others not so much.

14th November 2017

While Blue and Burgundy finished their supper, everyone else played a quick game of The Game, played with cards from The Game: Extreme.  The game is a very simple cooperative game: played with a deck of ninety-eight cards the group have to play all of them to win.  Each player starts with a hand of cards and must play at least two of their cards on one of the four piles. The first rule is that cards added to two of the piles must be higher face value than those previously played, while cards on the other two must be lower.  The second rule is “the backwards rule”, which says that if the interval is exactly ten the first rule is reversed.  The third and final rule is that players  can say anything they like so long as they don’t share specific number information about the contents of their hand.  The Extreme version has blue cards instead of red ones, but also has additional symbols on the cards which add further restrictions and make playing cards more difficult.

– Image by boardgoats

By ignoring the extra symbols the original version of The Game can be played with cards from The Extreme version.  As is often the case, the game started badly with almost everyone starting with cards between thirty and seventy.  There are two problems with this, firstly it forces players to progress the decks faster then they wanted.  Secondly, the very high and very low cards are still waiting to be revealed which causes the same problem a second time later in the game.  And this is exactly what happened.  Pine for example started with nothing below forty and only one card above sixty, and ended the game with a lots of cards in the nineties.  With such an awful hand before everyone else was ready, he ended up just playing everything and was the first to check-out.  By this time Burgundy and Blue were finished with pizza and had discovered that watching the others struggle was strangely compelling.  It wasn’t long before Purple was unable to play though, which brought the game to a close with a combined to total of seven cards unplayed.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

With food finished and The Game over, the group split into two with the first group playing the “Feature Game”, Flamme Rouge.  This is a bicycle game that Blue and Pink played at Essen in 2016, but actually picked up at the fair this year.  The game is quite simple, bit even then we managed to get it slightly wrong.  The idea is that each player has two riders, a Sprinteur and a Rouleur, each of which has a deck of cards. Simultaneously, players draw four cards from one of their the rider’s deck and choosing one to play, before doing the same for their second rider.  Once everyone has chosen two cards, the riders move, starting with the rider at the front of the pack, discarding the used cards.  Once all the riders have moved, then the effect of slip-streaming and exhaustion are applied.  Exhaustion is simple enough – players simply add an exhaustion card to the deck for any rider without cyclists in the square in front of them at the end of the round.  The slip-streaming is slightly more complex, but the idea is that every pack of cyclists that has exactly one space between them and the pack in front, benefits from slip-streaming and is able to catch up that one space.

Flamme Rouge
– Image by BGG contributor mattridding

Slip-steaming is applied from the back, which means riders may be able to benefit multiple times.  The problem was, Blue had played incorrectly at Essen: they had played that a pack had to comprise at least two riders and would move forward regardless of how many spaces there were in front of them.  Ironically, the person to suffer most from this rules mishap was Blue as her Sprinteur was dropped from the pack early in the race and, although he got on to the back of the pack again, the exhaustion caused by all the early effort meant he struggled for the rest of the race and was soon dropped completely.  All the other riders managed to stay in the Peloton and, as the race drew to a close, there was some jockeying for position.  Black’s Sprinteur made a dash for the line, but got his timing very slightly wrong and didn’t quite make it.  Pine’s Sprinter on the other hand, timed his dash to perfection and pipped Black to first place.  In fact, Pine rode such a canny race, his Rouleur came in third.

Flamme Rouge
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor zombiegod

Meanwhile, on the next table, Burgundy, Purple and Green were giving Azul a go.  This is a brand new release that Pink and Blue picked up at Essen this year and played back at their hotel while they were in Germany.  It has such nice pieces and is such a clever, yet simple game, that Blue tipped it for the Spiel des Jahres award next year (or at least a nomination if something even better comes out).  The idea of the game is that players are tile laying artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora with “azulejos”.  On their turn, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory display (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles in one of the five rows on their player board.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Each row can only contain one colour, but players may have more than one row with any given colour.  The catch is that each player only has five rows, each with a set number of spaces, one to five.  Players can add tiles to a row later in the round, but once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row.  Once all the tiles have been picked up, players evaluate their board, and, starting with the shortest row, one of the tiles from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored. Players score one point for a tile that is not placed adjacent to any other tile, whereas tiles added to rows or columns score the same number of points as there are tiles in the completed row (or column).  The game continues with players choosing tiles from the factory displays and then adding them to rows, the catch is that as the mosaic fills up, it is harder to fill the rows as each row can only take each colour once.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

The game is much more complex to explain than to actually play, and as such is just the sort of game we really appreciate.  There are also end game bonuses which keep everyone guessing right up to the end.  So, although fairly simple to play, it is very clever and gives players a lot to think about.  Blue had played it with Burgundy, Black and Purple at the Didcot Games Club and everyone had enjoyed it, so Burgundy and Purple were keen to share it with Green.  The previous game had been very tight between first and second, with a tie for third, but this time, the game seemed quite tight throughout the game.  In the end, Burgundy finished the clear winner with seventy-eight points.  It remained tight for second place though, but Purple’s extra experience showed and she pipped Green by four points.  Both games finished at about the same time, so with Black, Ivory and Green keen to play 7 Wonders, and Purple and Blue not so keen, it was musical chairs while everyone else decided which group to join.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

7 Wonders is a card drafting game similar to games like Sushi Go! or Between Two Cities.  Each player starts with a hand of cards and, simultaneously, each player chooses a card to play, a card to keep and then a passes the rest to the next player. The cards are played with various different aims:  players might try to build up their city and erect an architectural wonder, or attempt to have a superior military presence to neighbouring players. The game consists of three rounds, the first and third passing cards to the left, with the middle round passing cards to the right.  Black and Green went down the military route taking points from both Ivory and Burgundy and picked up additional victory points from blue cards.  Ivory and Burgundy, on the other hand, went for science points, but Ivory managed to take the most squeezing out both Burgundy and Black.  It was a close game with just five points between first place and third place, but it was Green who just finished in front.

7 Wonders
– Image by BGG contributor damnpixel

On the next table, Blue, Purple and Pine played a game of another Essen acquisition, Animals on Board.  This actually belonged to Pink, but Blue still had it in the bag from Didcot Games Club a few days before.  It is a very simple game of set collecting, with elements from Coloretto and 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!.  Totally over produced, the game comes with fantastic cardboard arcs and thick card animal tiles.  There are five of each animal, and each set includes animals numbered from one to five and a selection are drawn at random and placed face up in the centre of the table.  On their turn the active player either divides one of the groups into two parts (and takes a box of fruit for their pains) or takes the animals from one of the groups, paying for them with boxes of fruit at a rate of one per animal.  At the end of the game (triggered when one player picks up their tenth animal) Noah claims any pairs of animals.  The remaining animals either score their face value if they are singletons, or score five if there are three or more.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor chriswray84

Blue began collecting pandas and zebras, while Purple and Pine fought over the tigers, foxes and crocodiles.  It was Blue who triggered the end of the game and everyone counted up their totals in whst turned out to be a very close game.  Everyone had at least one set of three and Purple had managed to take four foxes.  Blue had managed to pick up a total of eleven animals and that extra critter made the difference giving, her the win.  Since it had been so close and 7 Wonders was still going, they decided there was just enough time to play something else and see if revenge could be had.  Since NMBR 9, another game that came back from Essen, needs no setting up, they decided to give it a go.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

NMBR 9 is a Bingo-type game like Take it Easy! or Karuba, where  one player calls a number and everyone plays their tile that corresponds to that number.  NMBR 9 takes the number theme one step further, since all the tiles are roughly number-shaped.  The idea is that players will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice.  One player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau.  Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile.  Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile.  At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one.  So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Blue started off well, which was unsurprising as she had played it before with Pink.  She quickly got herself into a bit of a tangle though, with the plaintive cry, “I’ve got a hole in the wrong place!”  Pine was steadily making up ground, but concurred, muttering, “There are too many sticky out bits on a four…”  With 7 Wonders finally coming to an end, Black and Burgundy found their curiosity piqued by the strange shaped tiles and tried to work out what was going on.  It wasn’t long before the last cards were turned over though and everyone had to take their shoes and socks off to work out the scores.  Pine’s smart second level placement had yielded success and he finished with score of sixty-one, a comfortable lead of five over blue in second place.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Some games, make surprisingly good spectator sports.