Tag Archives: Takenoko

Boardgames in the News: What Britain Buys

The Channel 4 series “What Britain Buys” has turned its attention towards our hobby with a ten minute piece by Mary Portas.  Episode two includes interviews with Ben Drummond and Dean Tempest, founders of Big Potato (which produced John Lewis‘ top selling game last year, Linkee), as well as a visit to Oxford’s own boardgame café, Thirsty Meeples.  There they speak to some of the customers and “Games Sommeliers” as well as the owner, John Morgan.  There are lots of shots of gaming goodness including people playing Settlers of Catan, Riff Raff, Star Wars X-Wing, Takenoko and much more besides.  The program is available to watch on demand from channel4.com and the interesting bit starts 37:15 mins in.

Mary Portas
– Image from channel4.com

19th April 2016

Our “Feature Game” was to be Colosseum, which several people were keen to play, but there were two issues:  it plays better with four than three, and always seems to take a lot longer than it should so we wanted to get going.  We knew that Green was going to be late, but we didn’t know how late and that made a huge difference to our game plans for the evening; with six present already, should four get going and risk leaving two to play on their own all night if Green couldn’t make it at all in the end, or should we play something short together first and risk not having enough time for Colosseum?  Texts were sent and there was much discussion including the inevitable mention of 6 Nimmt!, but aside from that we seemed to have few genuinely short fillers that would play six.  Before we could actually make a decision, Green turned up and solved the problem for us and Burgundy and Blue started setting out Colosseum eventually joined by Blue, Pine and Magenta.

Colosseum
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

The idea of the game is that each player is a Roman impresario, producing great spectacles in his or her arena in the hopes of attracting the most spectators.  As such, the game comprises elements of auction, trading and planning with the ultimate goal of set collecting, where the sets represent groups of performers that have to match the program chosen.  A complete program will attract its maximum number of spectators, where an incomplete program can cost players severely.   There are several unusual aspects of the game, but the most obvious is the scoring; rather than summing the points during the game, a player’s final score is the number of points they scored for their most successful production, i.e. their most successful of the five rounds.  Each round is broken down into several phases.  First players can invest capital in improving their production, by for example, buying season tickets (which give a guaranteed five additional spectators for each subsequent round) or perhaps investing in a more expansive program which might increase the number of points available if it is completed successfully.  Once all the players have improved their infrastructure, next they attend the market and bid for performers.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

The auctions are unusual in that each player has an opportunity to initiate an auction (i.e. choose which of the five sets are going to sold) and if they win, then the market is restocked, otherwise the next auction is chosen from fewer options.  We decided to play what we thought was the original variant where each player can only win one auction; once they have won, they are then not able to bid on any later sales.  However, on later inspection we discovered that thanks to the different variants available we had scrambled it slightly.  Rereading the rules indicates that if a player loses an auction they initiated, they have the opportunity to try again, but with a smaller pool to choose from.  In our auctions, each player was able to initiate just one auction, and if they won, the market was restocked and the next player had a go, whereas if they lost, they had to fight it out in a later auction.  Auctions lead to all sorts of interesting dilemmas: is it better to bid and try to force someone to pay more, or is the risk of ending up with unwanted tiles too great?  With our variant, we found that it was also sometimes better to let the initiator win because a better batch of tiles might come out, but failure to win an auction after initiating it was also a problem as it risked getting left with a choice of paying for unwanted tiles or getting nothing, which really added pressure.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

Given the relative shortage of tiles in the game, coming away with nothing is not really an option, but with a minimum bid of eight, the wrong tiles can be expensive.  That said, the next phase is an opportunity to trade, and occasionally trading away something that is highly prized by others can turn out to be particularly productive.  Like Settlers and Bohnanza, trades do not have to be symmetrical and must go through the active player, but in addition to trading tiles, money can also be used to sweeten a deal, or even buy an unwanted tile outright.  Finally, players take it in turns to produce their spectacle.  In order to do this, they roll a die (annotated with Roman numerals, obviously) which they can use to move one of the dignitaries, the Emperor, two Senators and three Consuls.  These increase a players total for that round if they are in the arena when it is scored.  If on the other hand, a player can move one of these characters onto a special “resting space” they get an “Emperor’s medal” as a reward. These can be traded in for money, the chance to move a dignitary forwards or backwards up to three spaces, three extra spectators or two can be used to get an extra investment opportunity at the start of the round.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

There are lots of components to the score of each production.  Firstly there is the basic score associated with the program:  this has a maximum potential value with points deducted for missing performers.  To this, bonuses are added for season tickets, podiums (obtained for winning a round), star performers, dignitaries, previously completed event programs and Emperor medals.  If this score is higher than the player’s previous highest total, their marker is moved to this new maximum and they receive that total in money.  Once every player has completed their spectacle, a podium is handed out to the player who is in the lead and the player who is at the back takes a performer of their choice from the leading player’s pool.  Finally, every player discards one performer token used in the round as “natural wastage”.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player begins the game with two programs, a small one and a larger one.  Pine started out with no performers that matched either of his and some that weren’t even available in the market, but everyone else had at least a small degree of overlap.  The first round was a little tentative and Blue ended up as start player, so went first and invested in a season ticket.  The early investments are critical as they continue to have an effect throughout the rest of the game.  Magenta decided to do something different and expanded her arena, while Pine also picked up a season ticket and Burgundy opted for an Emperor’s Loge (pronounced “Lowj”).  The Loge is an interesting investment as it doesn’t directly yield points.  Instead, it allows the player to roll two dice and move one or two dignitaries just before producing their spectacle, potentially enabling players to gain more points that way.  Burgundy had another plan though and forfeited the opportunity to take extra points, taking an emperors medal instead.  As the most experienced player, he was of the opinion that the medals are really important.

Colosseum
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Blue was forced to produce the larger of her two programs in the first round which gave her a podium to add to her arena, but also cost her one valuable performer – a mistake she decided not to make again.  The other consequence was that she was forced to produce the lower value production in for the second round as her arena wasn’t large enough (she had bought a season ticket in the first round rather than enlarging her auditorium).  In the second round, one of the market stalls unusually had two of the rare “wild” tiles in it.  These are very powerful as they don’t need to be assigned as a particular artist giving players much more flexibility and two was very enticing.  In the first round Blue had got herself into a real mess having gone first and not won her own auction resulting in a messy scrabble to get tiles at the end of the round (a consequence of the rules change).  Having seen this, everyone else decided to play safe and opted to choose a market they needed and then won largely uncontested leaving Blue to go last and take the wilds very cheaply.  Despite this, Pine took the lead which he retained for the next couple of rounds as well.  It was at about this point that Pine commented that he thought there would have been more “gladiatorial fighting”, to which Burgundy replied that there would be plenty of that by the final round…

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

In the third and fourth rounds everyone was trying to get in a position for a big push in the final round. Magenta bought a season ticket instead of expanding her auditorium in the third round and therefore ended up in the same pickle that Blue had found herself in at the start.  With only the one medal Magenta was unable to buy an extra investment opportunity which mean she was forced reproduce a medium event in the final round rather than buy a new large event.  She went into the final round with the most money though which had the potential to guarantee her a good auction.  Blue eschewed a new program in the fourth round, opting for another season ticket instead to try and set herself up for a big final round.  Pine was very keen for a trade with Blue in the penultimate round, but as she had completed her program and still didn’t know what she was going to do in the final round she declined much to his disgust.  Repeating a lower value production in the fourth round also ensured that Blue just finished last and was able to add insult to injury taking a valuable token from Pine who was well in the lead with a massive fourty-nine.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

With one round to go, Blue questioned whether Burgundy thought the Emperor’s Loge had been worth buying in the first round.  He replied that the wisdom on boardgamegeek.com is that the medals are essential and because the Loge allows players to roll two dice they really help with that strategy.  By this time, the value of the medals was becoming very obvious as trading in pairs enabled both Burgundy and Blue to make an extra investment which enabled Blue (start player again in the final round), to buy the most expensive, largest program (No. 30). Pine promptly followed by taking No. 28 and with his star performers and having so many podiums from the earlier rounds he looked in a good position, though he needed a lot of acts to complete his show.  Blue was in a slightly better position with three “wilds”, but had very few bonuses.Blue went for the market she fancied most and Magenta decided to bid against her.  Having not bought a large program in the final round, Magenta had far more money than anyone else and therefore the upper hand.  Eventually, as money is only significant in a tie-breaker, Blue bid everything she had.  Magenta, seeing other options of at least as great an interest to her decided to let her have it and Magenta took what she fancied, uncontested.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

While Pine and Burgundy were trying to work out which markets to take in order to do themselves the best favours, Blue looked at her options and Magenta’s.  Since she Pine and Burgundy’s discussions were getting complex and could not involve her, Blue got bored and decided to see if Magenta would be interested in trading one of Blue’s “wilds” and an otherwise superfluous lion for one of her “green men” and a chariot.  This would give both players one extra performer overall, and complete Magenta’s program, so she agreed.  Thus, when Pine and Burgundy had finished thrashing out all the options, Blue and Magenta’s trade went through on the nod and it was only when Pine and Burgundy came to trying to further optimise their situations that they realised that Magenta had things they wanted, but nothing to offer her in return.  Pine tried his best to get Magenta to trade, but she was steadfast that she wasn’t going to help him without getting something useful in return.  Burgundy’s offer of two horses initially looked promising as he thought it would enable Magenta to take the star-turn bonus from Blue, but it would only give a tie, so ultimately, that trade was also unsuccessful.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue moved a Senator into her arena and scored a total of eighty-two setting the bench-mark for everyone else.  Although it sounded a lot, Blue didn’t think it would be quite enough and indeed it was very, very close, much closer than anyone had thought it would be.  In the end, the Blue just had enough to finish four points ahead of Burgundy who was just two ahead of Pine who came in third.  With the scores so very close, we had the inevitable review of the game and concluded that the the key moment was probably Blue taking the two wilds so cheaply in the second round, which would not have happened without the unintended rules revision.  The other key moment was in the final round of negotiating when Blue and Magenta agreed their critical trade.  Pine was verging on indignant that after playing for two and a half hours, it was essentially up to Magenta to choose the winner and suggested that should be the learning outcome for the week.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Black and Purple had persuaded Green to join them playing one of their old favourites, Vikings.  This is a fast economic game, but despite the nominal “Viking” theme there is  none of the usual Norse Gods, exploration or pillaging involved.  Black and Purple had come across it again recently after a long break and fancied giving it another outing. It is a game that we’ve not really played before in the group and Green was new to it too, but was willing to give it a ago. It is one of those games where the gameplay is not complicated and yet the explanation took ages.  In summary, the game consists of six turns and on each turn, twelve tiles and twelve meeples are randomly drawn, paired together around a rondel. in each round, players take turns selecting a meeple/tile combination until they’re all taken.

Vikings
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

The tiles are pieces of islands and there are left ends, right ends and middle pieces.  As players acquire these tiles, they are considering which sort of meeple would be placed on that tile, as each tile can hold only one meeple.  The rules for placing these tiles are fairly straightforward, for example, a partial island can’t connect directly to open water, etc.  The meeples come in five different colors and these colors denote their function in the game. For example, the yellow meeples are miners and they bring in money every turn; the red miners are nobles and they bring in two points apiece every time you score points, and so on.  Once the tile selection and placement has been carried out, all the yellow meeples will make the players some money. On even turns, VP will be scored. At the end of the game, players can gain bonus points for completing the most islands and/or completing the largest island.

Vikings
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

It took Green a couple of rounds to work out how it all worked and ended up making a couple of little errors when laying out of his islands, which included not having an island space to place his gold Viking on and which meant he was able to get income, which was compounded by the bonus tile he had picked up which would enable him to gain an extra two coins for each gold Viking.  In the meantime, Purple had a fair few noblemen who would not only score her well, but also enabled scoring for the large number of gold Vikings and fishermen below. She managed to avoid any ships in the first couple of rounds and so gained all the bonuses available to her.  Black did have a number of ships, but he also had the warrior Vikings placed to combat them, so also gained a healthy bonus income.  Green had a ship and a warrior, but both his scoring and income were low.

Vikings
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

After the first couple of rounds, the game progressed in pretty much the same pattern, except this time Green had sussed out what he was trying to do and regularly collected boatmen to redistribute his Vikings in time for scoring.  However he was hampered by a lack of funds in the middle rounds, but when he finally got the gold guys out, he suddenly started to rake in the cash.  This meant he was able to buy just what he needed in the final round, much to the others annoyance.  By the end, Purple had a very red and yellow looking board and the longest island (six tiles long giving her five bonus points). Black had a huge fleet of ships, but most were covered by warriors and those that weren’t were not powerful enough to do much damage. He also had the most complete islands (seven which gave him a seven point bonus). Green had a relatively low scoring board, but he did have the most boatmen (giving ten bonus points). It had been a very poor game for fishermen, in fact, almost all the Vikings left in the bag were fishermen, so everyone was underfed, but Purple was less underfed than Black and Green.

Vikings
– Image by BGG contributor dinaddan

So in the final scoring Black had won through, beating Purple into second place (the first time she had not won this game for some time) and Green came in third, though much closer than he thought he would be.  It was then that Black realised that Purple had forgotten to score her bonus island tile, which gave her a massive extra nine points, and with it, the win!  We discussed the bonus tiles after the game and although the rules were not clear, we felt we had probably played it wrong. We only replaced the tiles that had been taken each round, rather than swiping them all and laying out a new lot. Since there were four tiles per round for six rounds and we had two piles of twelve, it looked like what was meant to happen was a new set each round.  This would have made more choices available (and more bonus fishermen which would have been handy).  Green decided that he liked this game very much and would be happy for Black and Purple to bring it again.

Vikings
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The shows were still going on on the next table, so we needed another medium weight game and decided upon the cute Panda game, Takenoko.  While setting up there was a short discussion on the evolutionary dead-end of the Panda and how on earth did such a creature ever evolve in the first place. Although since they are such cute creatures, we were glad they did and they had led to the clever little game.  The play area starts with one single hexagonal “pond” tile with two characters on top:  the Imperial Gardener and the Panda.  On their turns players first determine the weather by a roll of the weather die, then perform their two actions.  These actions must be different and the player can choose freely from the five available:  add a new bamboo plot; take an irrigation channel (which can be played or stored for later use); move one of the characters (either the Imperial Gardener or the Panda), or draw an objective card and add it to their hand.  The aim of the game is to earn points by completing objectives.  When a player completes one of their objectives, they show everyone and the card is placed face up in front of them.  Players can complete as many objectives as they like on their turn and end of the game is triggered when one player full-fills a set number of objectives.

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor nad24
and nonsensicalgamers.com

This game was a slightly unusual one as we all placed tiles in such a way that there was only ever one large field of each of the three colours and by half way, we all had mostly stopped laying tiles at all. In typical British style, the weather was mostly awful; wind; cloud; and rain. It was ages before the sun came out, but thereafter it made enough of an appearance to keep us all happy. Purple was the first to complete a mission card and Green wasn’t far behind, both tile pattern cards. The Panda and Gardener were mostly travelling between the pink and yellow fields, leaving the largely un-irrigated green fields untouched.  This enabled Green and Purple to get some tower and bamboo chomping bonus cards, but Black was beginning to fall behind. His problem was that all his bonus cards were low scoring. He kept using his actions to take more bonus cards, but they always seemed to be low scoring, and unless he could get more points out of it he wasn’t going to win.  He completed a few objectives on the way, but didn’t want to fill all of his eight with low scoring objectives so held back on claiming some.  In the meantime, Green was rapidly claiming bonuses, mostly towers giving a healthy haul of points. Purple made a few miscalculations on which bamboos would grow and by how much and thus failed to get a card or two that she had planned.

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

As the game approached the end, Green and Purple both had claimed six bonus cards and Black still only had four.  But then with a flourish, suddenly Black finished the game.  He had given up on getting higher scoring objectives and decided the best bet would be to get the ones he had got down and stop Green winning any more points, also picking up the two point bonus for finishing first in the process.  Everyone else got one more go which was enough to give Green a seventh and Purple her eighth objectives.  Totalling up the scores showed that Black had been right about not winning with low scoring cards.  That honour went to Green, who finished nearly ten points ahead, with Black just taking second place.  In the post game discussions, Blue commented that although she had always wanted to like the game she felt it just lacked something.  Black said that he had always felt that the game was very Luck based, although Green did point out that if Black had just gone with the low scorers he would not to have wasted as many actions gaining the cards and could have finished the game earlier, before Green was able to amass all his points. However, Green and Burgundy both agreed that the tile layout bonus cards were the weakest as the points were usually low and yet did not seem any easier to get. This debate will probably run and run, much like the one about the Panda’s evolutionary dead-end…

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ObeyMyBrain

Learning Outcome:  Even after playing for two and a half hours, sometimes Magenta still gets to choose the winner.

Boardgames in the News: The Best Games Featuring Maps

The “Brilliant Maps” Blog recently listed what it considered “The 28 Best Map Based Strategy Board Games You’ve Probably Never Played“.  Leaving aside the fact that most dedicated gamers will have played many of them, how valid is this list?  On closer inspection it turns out that the list is really just the top twenty-eight games listed on BoardGameGeek.com (BGG) that happen to have a map for the board.  As such, it makes no subjective judgement on the quality of the map and is simply a list of the best games according to BoardGameGeek that feature a map.

Twilight Struggle
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor killy9999

For example, the game with the highest rating on BoardGameGeek.com is Twilight Struggle which is a Euro/war game hybrid and is therefore played on a map.  The map is not particularly picturesque, however, though for those old enough to remember, its spartan nature is strongly evocative of the Cold War setting.  Is it a great map though?  It certainly captures the theme of the game and perhaps, as such, it is indeed a great map.

Terra Mystica
– Image by BGG contributor Verkisto

Unsurprisingly, many of the games mentioned are war games.  There are a fair number of Euro games too though:  high on the list are Terra Mystica at number two, Brass at four and Power Grid at six.  Number ten on the list is Concordia and eleven is El Grande – a game that is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year.  Further down are Tigris and Euphrates, Steam, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Carcassonne and finally, just sneaking onto the list, The Settlers of Catan (or Catan as we are now supposed to call it).  All these games indeed include maps of some description, but overwhelmingly, they are also all well-established “classic” games.  Are they the best maps though?

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

There are some stunningly beautiful games that haven’t made the list, for example, Amerigo is played on a beautiful seascape and Lancaster includes a lovely map of the England.  How do we define “map-based game” however?  Clearly, a map is is a two-dimensional play space so that excludes games where the play-area is predominantly linear i.e. “a track”.  But what about games where the map is produced as the game is played?  If Carcassonne is considered a map game, other games where the board is built during the play should also be included, like Saboteur and Takenoko.  What about one of our favourite games at boardGOATS, Keyflower?  In this game, players buy tiles and then use them to build their own personal little village map.  Should this be included too?

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately, none of this really matters of course:  a game is a game and it all comes down to how much people enjoy playing it.  One thing is clear though, while a game can be good in spite of the rendering, playing with beautiful components can only enhance the boardgame experience.

Carcassonne
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Topdecker

boardGOATS: 200 Posts

This is the 200th post on our website!

Fireworks
– Image from giphy.com

We are only a little club with a small web presence, but here are a few of our statistics:

  • Since our first post on 6th September 2012, we’ve had 6,746 views;
  • Our best month was January 2015 when we had 646 visits and 382 visitors;
  • Our best day was 5th February 2015, the day after we shared an amusing flow-chart which has since become our most popular page;
  • We have 148 followers through Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, email and WordPress;
  • Google is our most frequent referrer with 687 transfers so far this year alone;
  • Most search terms that have led to our site are hidden by the searcher’s browser, though it is reassuring to find that variations on “boardGOATS” are the most common;
  • Some of the curious search strings that have led people to our site include,
    horse racing dice lagoon group” and “jeff takenoko“;
  • We get 17% of our views on a Tuesday which presumably reflects that we meet on a Tuesday evening, however, the intersection of that group and the 11% who view the site at around 10pm must be sorry to find out they’ve missed most of it!

Boardgames in the News: Are Asmodée Taking Over the World?

Asmodée is the French translation for Asmodeus, and according to Binsfeld’s classification of demons, Asmodeus is the demon of lust and is therefore responsible for twisting people’s sexual desires.  In the boardgame world though, Asmodée (originally known as Siroz) are a small French game publishing and distribution company, specialising in the family market. For example, they are well known for Dobble, Dixit, Time’s Up! and Ca$h ‘n Guns, but they also publish some more challenging games including Snow Tails, Mr. Jack, Formula D, Takenoko and 7 Wonders.

Jungle Speed
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Asmodée was started in 1995 by Marc Nunès, a self-trained entrepreneur developing role-playing games, but quickly became France’s foremost games publisher and distributor.  One of the big early successes was Jungle Speed, launched in 1998, which has since gone on to be one of the top-selling titles in France, rivalling Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Pay Day.  The real turning point came in 2003, however, when Asmodée obtained the French licence to distribute Pokémon collector cards, which opened up the mass retail sector.  This development led to an 18% investment from Naxicap in 2005.  Naxicap’s stake was bought out two years later by Montefiore who acquired 60% of the company as part of a deal with management worth €40-50 million.  Montefiore invested €120 million to finance Asmodée’s international growth, funding the acquisition of the Belgian game distributor Hodin in 2008, the Spanish games developer Cromola and the German Proludo in 2009, followed by the purchase of a 60% stake in the UK-based distributor, Esdevium Games in 2010.  Asmodée also strengthened it’s portfolio with the acquisition of Abalone and partnership with Libellud (leading to the distribution rights for Dixit) in 2010.

Abalone
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

In 2012, Asmodée branched out further, setting up a subsidiary in Shanghai, China,  with the intention of expanding “into a new market taking advantage of Asmodee’s extensive line-up of games and the existing relationships with partners, thus promoting the brand in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan”.  This ambition brought Asmodée to the attention of the Eurazeo, a European investment company and a deal was announced in November 2013 that valued Asmodée at €143 million.   In January, 2014, almost exactly a year ago now, Eurazeo bought 83.5% of Asmodée through an equity investment of €98 million while Asmodée’s management team and original founders reinvested €14 million of their own money.

Ticket to Ride
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

With the backing Eurazeo provided, Asmodée then went big:  in August last year it was announced that Days of Wonder would be “merging into the Asmodée Group of game companies”.   Days of Wonder are one of the biggest names in modern boardgaming, and are often credited with the growth of the modern boardgame industry, thanks largely to their flagship Ticket to Ride games, which have sold well over two million copies to date.  This is not the only “big game” in their catalogue either, they are also responsible for Memoir ’44 and Small World, both of which are popular games, demonstrated by the number of expansions they support and which take Days of Wonder’s total number of games sold to over five million since their founding in 2002.

Small World
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor crosenkrantz

According to Forbes, Days of Wonder generates between $10 million and $20 million in revenue annually, not bad in such a niche market.  From Eurazeo/Asmodée’s point of view, such an acquisition makes sound financial sense, not just because of the commercial value, but because they already provided a lot of the distribution for Days of Wonder games.  This wasn’t enough for Asmodée however, and three months later, they acquired the U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

This was a bit of a change of direction for Asmodée:  hitherto, all the acquisitions had been firmly in the family boardgame and distribution markets.  Fantasy Flight games are a very different animal and their headline games, Twilight Imperium and Arkham Horror are much less family friendly.   Even their X-Wing Miniatures Game which is very popular with fathers and sons, is a long way outside the normal scope of Asmodée, since it is essentially a two-player war game with a Star Wars theme.  However, there are considerable benefits for both parties, since the merger will enable Fantasy Flight to improve its distribution in Europe, while simultaneously giving the growing Asmodée Group access to Fantasy Flight’s North American sales and marketing teams.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission BGG contributor Toynan

Asmodée weren’t stopping there, however, with Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games also becoming “part of the Asmodée family” late last year.  The link with Ystari Games almost certainly comes from their mutual interest in Space Cowboys.  Space Cowboys is a game creation studio created in 2013 by Marc Nunès (who started Asmodée way back in 1995, remember?), Philippe Mouret and Croc (both of Asmodée), Cyril Demaegd (Ystari) and Sébastien Pauchon (GameWorks).  Space Cowboys is a very small outfit, but already has one Spiel des Jahres nomination under its belt in Splendor and looks to be trying for a second with Black Fleet, the gorgeous pirate game released at Essen last year.

Eurazeo
– Image from eurazeo.com

So, what are Asmodée up to?  The concern is that gamers generally like the current diversity in the market and fear that this succession of mergers and partnerships will mean a homogenisation of the games available.  The November 2014 Eurazeo “Investor Day” report spelled out the current state of Asmodée in detail and the good news is that this does not seem to be Eurazeo/Asmodée’s intention.  The report states, “Each studio has its own DNA,” and goes on to say, “Repeated success lies in the full independency granted to these studios, to keep innovating.”  So it seems the diversity is valued, however, by acquiring mid-sized publishers like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight, Asmodée is positioning itself to compete more effectively with multinational toy giants like Hasbro and Mattel, who publish top board game brands including Monopoly and Scrabble.

Eurazeo
– Image from eurazeo.com

So, is it a good thing that Asmodée are setting themselves up to rival the big boys?  Well, Asmodée is not the only company to engage in mergers:  in 2011 Filosofia purchased the U.S. publisher Z-Man Games, and U.S. publisher FRED Distribution (which releases games under the Eagle Games and Gryphon Games brands), acquired U.S. publisher Face2Face Games.  More recently, in late 2013, Mayfair Games (the U.S. partner for Catan) bought a controlling interest in Lookout Games (the company who first brought Agricola, Caverna, Le Havre and Ora et Labora to the market).

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

Clearly a large stable company provides security for designers, as well as providing support for the individual studios who know that one poor decision is no-longer likely to bring about the end of the company, both of which have to be A Good Thing.  However, companies like Eurazeo invest for only one reason:  financial return.  With an effective monopoly, Asmodée are now in a position to squeeze the market, indeed we may already be seeing the evidence of this in the price rises announced at the start of the year.  With this in mind, it will become clear in due course whether Asmodée is good for boargaming in the UK or whether it is genuinely the demon of lust responsible for twisting our gaming desires…

10th February 2015

Getting into the mood for Saturday (St. Valentine’s Day), we started out with just a couple of quick hands of the old favourite, Love Letter.  Blue took the first hand and Grey the second, however, we were still expecting a few more, so we decided to play another quick game and after a little discussion, we went for Coup.

Love Letter
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

This is a light little card game with a lot of similarities to Mascarade, which we played last time:  on their turn, players declare they are going to take an action and other players can either claim they are a specific character and counter or challenge the active player to prove that they are who they say they are.  Basically, the actions are either: take money in various different amounts (with different risks); spend money to assassinate or perform a coup, or trade a card with the deck.  Players have two character cards face down in front of them, and when challenged correctly or assassinated/subjected to a coup, they turn one face up.  When both of a player’s cards are face up, they are out;  the winner is the last man standing.

Coup
– Image by BGG contributor jerome75

Unfortunately, Blue, who had played it quite a bit in the past got horribly muddled with the rules, largely due to the similarity between this and Mascarade, so consequently, forgot a small but quite critical rule:  when a challenge is made and the challenge is unsuccessful, the player should exchange their card with one from the deck.  Although this obviously had an impact, since everyone was playing by the same rules, it wasn’t too drastic.

Coup
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Before long, Cerise and Grey were outed as Dukes and Indigo was claiming to be a Captain and was stealing from Cerise.  “Burgundy the Brave” kept challenging, but unfortunately was wrong more than right and was soon out of the game.  When Cerise claimed to be the yet another Duke nobody believed her.  Meanwhile, Indigo was building up quite a store of cash, so Green decided it was imperative that her money supply should be cut off and assassinated Cerise proving that she had been holding two Dukes at the start.  Green’s unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Blue (who was the Contessa) left just Indigo, Grey and Blue in the game.  Indigo’s successful coup was rewarded by a prompt assassination of her final character by Blue, leaving just Blue and Grey.  Grey, as a captain was trying to collect enough money for a coup, while Blue needed just one more coin for the assassination.  So, Blue kept taking two coins in Foreign Aid and Grey immediately stole them.   It looked like Grey had it, but since Blue still had two character cards, that gave her an extra chance to collect money the game ended when she mercilessly stabbed Grey’s captain in the back.

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor nad24
and nonsensicalgamers.com

We then split into two groups with the first playing the “Feature Game”, Takenoko.  The back-story for this game is that a long time ago, the Chinese Emperor offered a giant panda bear as a symbol of peace to the Japanese Emperor.  Since then, the Japanese Emperor has entrusted the members of his court (the players) with the difficult task of caring for the animal by tending to his bamboo garden.  So the players have to cultivate the different plots of land, irrigate them and grow one of the three species of bamboo (Green, Yellow and Pink) with the help of the Imperial Gardener.  The winner is the player who grows the most bamboo, managing his land plots best while feeding the Panda.

Takenoko
– Image by BGG contributor woodenbricks

The play area starts with one single hexagonal “pond” tile with two characters on top:  the Imperial Gardener and the Panda.  On their turns players first determine the weather, then perform their actions.  The weather is determined by a roll of the weather die, which give the active player some sort of bonus.  For example, when the sun shines, the payer gets an extra action, and rain stimulates the bamboo of their choice to grow.

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

Once the weather has been determined, the player can perform two actions.  These must be different and the player can choose freely from the five available.  Firstly, the player can add a new bamboo plot, by drawing three hexagonal tiles from the face down stack and choosing one to place.  This tile must be placed next to the starting “pond” tile or adjacent to two plots already in play.  There are also “improvements” which are sometimes built into the plot, but can also be obtained by rolling the weather die and can be played at any time.  The second option is to take an irrigation channel.  These can be played straight away or stored for later use, but bamboo only grows on irrigated plots.  The main way to irrigate a plot is by connecting them to the pond via channels.

Takenoko
– Image by BGG contributor woodenbricks

Alternatively, a player can move one of the characters, either the Imperial Gardener or the Panda.  Both move over any number of plots, in a straight line, but when they reach their destination, their action is different.  The Panda cannot resist bamboo, so will eat one segment of bamboo from the plot he lands on (the pieces are stored on the player’s individual board); the Imperial Gardener encourages the bamboo to grow, and the bamboo on the plot he lands on grows by one segment as does every adjacent tile growing bamboo of the same colour (as long as they are irrigated).

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor lacxox

Finally, the active player can draw an objective card and add it to their hand;  there is a hand-limit of five and these are the only way to score points.  There are three types of objectives, those related to Plots, the Gardener and the Panda.  Plot objective cards yield points to players when certain plot configurations are irrigated; Gardener cards are achieved when bamboo of given height are grown in the right spaces and points for Panda cards are awarded when a player has managed to encourage the Panda to eat the requisite number of coloured bamboo segments.

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ObeyMyBrain

When a player completes one of their objectives, they show everyone and the card is placed face up in front of them.  They can complete as many objectives as they like on their turn and end of the game is triggered when one player full-fills a set number of objectives, after which, everyone gets one last turn.  The game was really tight from start to finish and every time one player got a nose in front, the others seemed to catch up and over-take, only to be leap-frogged themselves.  The game finished with just three points separating first and last place, with Burgundy just pipping Indigo.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

While half the group were Playing with Pandas, Green persuaded everyone else to give Lancaster another go.  This is a longer game which embodies a few very clever ideas and that we played for the first time a few weeks ago.  The basics of the game are that players take it in turns to place their knights in the shires, in their castle or send them off to war.  They then vote on and evaluate “the Laws” which give players a benefit.  They then get their their rewards for knight placement.  After five rounds, the player with the most points wins.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

One of the clever things about the knight placement is the way that players can usurp a knight that has already been placed, by supplementing him with a number of squires.  So, a knight of level two can be replaced by a night of level one with two squires.  However, squires are “single use”, so should the original player decide to respond with a level four knight, the other player’s squires are lost.  This is a very clever way of speeding up the bidding.  For example, in Keyflower, two players can keep bidding in increments of one which means it may take several turns for the outcome to be resolved.  In Lancaster, a failed bid that is repeated at a higher level may turn out to be considerably more costly than bidding higher the first time round.  This encourages players to be a smarter about their bidding and changes the dynamics a little too.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

One of the key parts of Lancaster is “the Laws” and managing them.  On our previous play, we didn’t really get to grips with them at all.  Although it is now clear to us how important they are, we are still only just getting to grips with them.  The game starts with a set of three Laws, with three to be voted on during the round.  Since there is a conveyor-belt system, it is possible that some Laws will remain in place for several rounds.  This means even if a particular Law does not reward a player during the round it becomes active, they may benefit in subsequent rounds.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

This game was quite different to the last:  firstly, as a group, we had a better idea of rules, and secondly, there were only three of us compared with five before.  Blue was too busy worrying about the game on the next table to concentrate on the rule-reminder, and paid for it in the first round when her plan relied on the rewards coming before the Laws.  Green tried to increase his force and then generate benefits by fighting the French, however, with fewer players, it is much more difficult to win the battles which means your knights are tied up for a lot longer.  Having screwed up the first round, Blue didn’t bother trying to increase all her knights to full force and tried to be a bit more canny about how she used them instead and pick up upgrades by other means.  Meanwhile, Grey, who had not played the game before, tried to build up his stack of noblemen and played the laws.  Blue and Green were far too bothered with their own games to notice, but Grey managed to get the eight point Law for having three knights in the shires voted in.  More importantly, he managed to keep it there, and this combined with a respectable number of nobles and a few uncontested visits to Somerset (giving him six victory points each time) eventually gave him the game by a sizeable margin from Blue.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, the Panda Players had finished so Burgundy and Cerise squeezed in a quick two player game of Coloretto.  Cerise and Burgundy had played this last month with Blue and Indigo, but it is not generally thought of as a good two player game.  Nevertheless, they gave it a go and found it much more enjoyable than expected.

Taluva
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Bizowikc

With Grey and Cerise’s departure, that left just time for one last, shortish game, Taluva. This is a fairly simple tile laying game with a surprising amount of depth.  The idea is that on their turn, players place their tile, then place a building then replenish their hand.  This procedure is to that of Carcassonne, but that is where the comparison ends.  The tiles are a strange dodecagon made of three hexagonal regions or fields, one of which is always a volcano.  When placing tiles, they can be adjacent or on top of other tiles so long as the volcano sits on top of another volcano (the tile must also cover more than one tile and there cannot be an overhang).

Taluva
– Image by BGG contributor Purple

Buildings can be placed anywhere, provided that they obeys certain rules.  Unfortunately, although the game is beautiful, the theme is a bit sparse making these rules appear very arbitrary which has the consequence that they are quite difficult to remember.  A hut can be built on any unoccupied level one terrain that isn’t a volcano.  On the other hand, an existing settlement can be expanded by placing huts on all adjacent terrains of one type, with more huts placed on the higher levels (two on the level two etc.).  There are also three temples and two towers to place which can only be added to existing settlements:  temples must be added to settlements covering at least three fields, while towers must be placed on a level three field adjacent to a settlement of any size.

Taluva
– Image by BGG contributor Moviebuffs

The game ends when there are no tiles left and the winner is the player to have placed the most temples at the end of the game.  In case of a tie, the number of towers built counts and then the number of huts.  However, if a player succeeds in building all buildings from
two out of the three different types before the game end, then he immediately wins the game.  On the other hand, any player who squanders his building pieces and is unable to build any more is immediately eliminated.

Taluva
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We played this a while ago as a two player game, so it was interesting to see how it played with more.  As last time, we had a thorough going through of the rules with all the weird exceptions and special cases (e.g. players cannot build a temple in a settlement that already has one, however, it is OK to join two settlements with temples together; you can place a tile on top of huts, but not towers or temples etc.).  The game was very close and it looked like Blue was going to make it, however, Green and Burgundy ganged up on her and Green managed to sneak the win with the last tile.

Taluva
– Image by BGG contributor Moviebuffs

Learning Outcome:  Two three-player games are sometimes better than one six-player game.