Tag Archives: Terraforming Mars

23rd July 2019

It was a quiet, if hot night; Blue and Khaki were the first to arrive closely followed by Pine and Burgundy, and all four settled down to eat and discuss the very British subject of The Weather.  Just as they were finishing eating, Ivory turned up toting his copy of the “Feature Game”, Wingspan.  Then he started something when he ordered a desert, specifically ice cream.  Everyone else, who had struggled to finish their supper and had hitherto been replete watched with envious eyes as Ivory tucked into his two scoops, one each of Baileys and Toblerone.  Only Burgundy held out and it wasn’t long before another food order was placed, including two grown-up orders of a single scoop of raspberry sorbet and one childish order of a scoop each of chocolate orange and Toblerone.

Ice Cream
– Image from horseandjockey.org

While waiting for the second round of deserts to arrive, the group decided to play something, and, given that the Spiel des Jahres awards had just been announced, decided to give L.A.M.A. a go. L.A.M.A. was nominated, but did not win (despite Reiner Knizia’s amazing outfit), however, for our group it was a much better fit than Just One, the winner.  Just One, is a word guessing game in a similar vein to the previous laureate, Codenames, which was extraordinarily unpopular with our Tuesday night group.  Word games are similarly unpopular, so Werewords was never likely to go down well either, making L.A.M.A. our group’s pick, even though we had not hitherto played any of the nominees to form a real opinion.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

As Ivory commented, L.A.M.A. has a reputation of being a bit of an “UNO killer”, that is to say, it is a similar game to UNO, but perceived to be better.  L.A.M.A. is an abbreviation for “Lege alle Minuspunkte ab”, which roughly translates as “get rid of your negative points”, and indeed this is what players do, in a similar way to UNO.  The deck contains coloured cards numbered one to six, and some Llama cards.  Players take it in turns to play a single card, the same number or one higher than the last card played.  Llama cards can be played on sixes, and one’s can be played on Llamas.  If they cannot play (or choose not to), players can draw a card from the deck, or stick with what they have, and not play for the rest of the round.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

When either everyone has passed, or someone has played out their hand, everyone scores points equivalent to the face value of their cards in their hand, and Llama cards score ten.  There is a catch though, in a mechanism faintly reminiscent of No Thanks!, any duplicate cards do not score, thus, a two fives and a six will only score eleven.  Players receive tokens for their score, but if a player checks out with nothing they can return a token to the pool.  Since white tokens are worth one and black worth ten, and players can return either, the advantage can  sometimes be with the player with a higher score.  For example, someone with nine points can only return one white token leaving them with eight, while someone with a single black ten can return everything they have.  The game ends when someone reaches forty.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue started badly, by picking up a massive twenty-four points on the first round.  Burgundy did slightly better, although the size of his total was largely thanks to Pine who repeatedly stepped up the current card value upsetting Burgundy’s plans.  This became something of a running joke, with Pine playing a one and thus preventing Burgundy playing his Llama cards.  Pine and Ivory started well remaining in single digits for several rounds, but in the end it was surprisingly close.  Fairly inevitably though, it was Blue who hit the magic forty first with Burgundy and Ivory just behind with thirty-nine each.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

Khaki took a very creditable second place thanks to winning one round and ditching ten points as a result.  It was Pine who won the game, however, as the most consistently low scoring player, finishing with eight points fewer than Khaki, a total of only twenty.  With the ice cream desserts and the llama aperitif dealt with, it was time to move on to the main course, the “Feature Game”, Wingspan.  Ivory commented that he’d been really looking forward to this and described it as, “an engine builder like Terraforming Mars, but much prettier”.  While we set up, Pine explained that his curious order of “Yardbird” was not a reference to the game, but the IPA.  It turns out the beer is not named after the the rock group (that featured Eric Clapton among others), but actually Charlie Parker, the jazz saxophonist.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The players are bird enthusiasts seeking to discover and attract the best birds to their network of wildlife reserves.  The game itself is fairly straight forward: there are two main types of actions, introduce a new bird card, or carry out an an action and activate the associated birds.  In order to introduce a new bird card into their reserve, a player needs entice them by spending food.  Each bird is played in one of the three habitats: woodland, grassland or wetland.  Some birds, like the Common Raven, can be found in any habitat so players can choose where to play them, others birds like a Green Heron are only found in one or two habitats (in this case, wetland), so  can only be placed in those habitats.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

There are three other actions, collect food, lay eggs or acquire more cards.  In each case, players place one of their action cubes (or fluffy little birds in our pimped out copy), in the space to the right of the right most card in the associated habitat.  The more birds there are in a habitat, the better the action.  So, for example, if a player has no woodland birds and decides to take food, they can only take one food die from the bird-box dice tower receiving one food in return.  On the other hand, a player that has four bird cards in their woodland habitat can take  three food if they activate their woodland habitat.  Once the action has been completed, the player activates each bird in that habitat, in turn.  The grassland action, laying eggs, and the wetland action, taking cards work in a similar way.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Eggs can generally be placed on any bird card as long as it has sufficient capacity.  Eggs, aside from looking a lot like Cadbury’s Mini Eggs, are very useful as they are needed when adding cards to habitats—after the first card in a habitat, in addition to food, there is a cost of one or two eggs per bird.  They are also worth points at the end of the game.  Activating the wetland action, allows the player to take a face up card from the three available, or draw blind (similar to Ticket to Ride games).  In both cases, any birds in the habitat are also activated after the action has been taken.  Some birds have a special power on activation, while others give a bonus when they are originally played and some give an advantage when other players do  a particular action.  These special actions include providing extra food, laying extra eggs or acquiring extra food.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Some actions dictate where the food goes, so in some cases, the food is left on the bird card and cannot be used by the player, instead scoring a point at the end of the game.  Similarly, some cards are tucked under other cards, simulating flocking birds, or the prey caught by predators, and these score a point each at the end of the game.  Eggs on cards also score, and there are interim challenges, and the most successful players at these also score.  Finally, each bird is itself worth points, and each player starts with a choice of two bonus cards which provide points if that player is successful in a given category.  The game lasts four rounds with each player getting eight actions in the first round, but only five in the final round.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Aside from the gorgeous artwork, there are a lot of very nice little touches in this game.  For example, although the egg capacities for the birds aren’t correct, they are proportionally right with the American White Pelican only holding one egg, while the Mourning Dove holds five.  Similarly the food requirements and habitats are correct.  Sadly, the cards are all North American birds, but there are plans in the pipeline for European birds and even Australian, African and Asian bird expansions in due course.  At the start of the game each player gets two bonus cards and keeps one of them.  These can reward players with two points for every predator they have, or give points if the player has, say, four or more birds with a large wingspan, but the probability of these is given on the card which is a nice feature too.  So, all in all, it is a very well produced game.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory started very quickly, luring a Barn Owl to his woodland, and it quickly started hunting, with any prey caught being stored on the owl card and worth points later in the game.  He quickly followed this with two cards that allowed him to draw extra bonus cards, and looked to be set up for a strong game.  Next to him, Pine was struggling—the game is not complicated, but it is a little different to anything else we’ve played.  He got the hang of things eventually though, and his Canada Goose looked a very nice card as it allowed him to tuck two cards underneath it (each worth a point at the end of the game) for the cost of one wheat when activated.  Khaki was helping everyone out though, as his Ruby-throated Hummingbird kept everyone supplied with food.

– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy just quietly got on with things, but as he and Khaki had the most eggs in nests on the ground at the end of the first round, they took the end of round bonus points.  Meanwhile, Blue’s Yellow-Billed Cuckoo was giving her useful eggs whenever someone else laid eggs, as long as she remembered to activate it.  With Burgundy and Khaki taking the end of round bonus for the most wetland birds at the end of the second round, it was starting to look ominous.  Ivory had his eye on a bigger prize however.  The end of round bonuses increase in value throughout the game, so he was clearly after the bonus at the end of the third round, which rewarded the player with the most grassland birds.  Burgundy had his eye on that too though, as did Blue and as the number of actions decreased the game became increasingly difficult.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue’s Eastern Bluebird proved very useful as it allowed her to play to birds for one action.  So in the end Burgundy, again took the points, this time tying with Blue, with Ivory just edged out.  As the final round came to a close, it was too late to improve the engines and everyone just had to concentrate maximise their points.  And after that, all that was left was the counting.  The game is a little bit “multi-player solitaire”, so nobody was sure who was going to win, though Burgundy was high on most people’s list.  Indeed, it was very close with just five points separating the podium positions, and only one point between the rest.  In the end, Burgundy on eighty-six tied for second place with Khaki, who had a lot of high value birds and had been determined not to disgrace himself (and definitely didn’t).  Blue just had the edge however, largely thanks playing her Inca Dove which allowed her to lay a lot of eggs in the final round.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Tempt a hot group of gamers with ice cream and most will give in.

Deutscher Spiele Preis 2019 – Time to Vote

Like every other sphere, boardgames also receive awards, the best known of which is probably the Spiel des Jahres.  The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize, is slightly less well known, but arguably better reflects the slightly more advanced, “Gamers Games”.  There is usually quite a lot of overlap with the recommendations, nominees and winners of the Spiel des Jahres Awards, but the Deutscher Spiele Preis typically rewards a slightly heavier game, often more in line with Kennerspiel des Jahres category.  This is especially likely to be true this year as the family Spiel des Jahres award, or “Red Pöppel” nominees, are particularly light.  The most recent winners of the Deutscher Spiele Preis include, Azul, Terraforming Mars, Mombasa, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Russian Railroads and Terra Mystica, with only Azul, last year’s winner, featuring strongly in the Spiel des Jahres awards (the first game to win both awards since Dominion in 2009).

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Game weight is not the only difference between the two awards:  The Spiel des Jahres nominees and winners are selected by a committee with a clearly defined list of criteria, whereas the Deutscher Spiele Preis (which is awarded at the International Spieltage, in Essen), is selected by a general vote which is open to anyone, players, journalists and dealers alike.  The incoming votes are evaluated by an independent institute and only votes with details of the full name and address are valid (any duplicates are removed).   All votes are treated the same with games placed first receiving five points, those placed second receiving four and so on.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Only new games from the previous year are included in the ranking, so this year that’s games released since May 2018.  Thus anything new at Essen last year or the Spielwarenmesse (Nürnberg) this year, is eligible.  This includes Architects of the West Kingdom, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra (the sequel to last year’s winner Azul), Dice Settlers, Endeavor: Age of Sail, Everdell, Key Flow, Newton, Reykholt, Solenia, and Teotihuacan: City of Gods, as well all the nominees and recommendations for the Spiel des Jahres award, like L.A.M.A., Wingspan and Carpe Diem.

Deutscher Spielepreis 2019
– Image from spiel-messe.com

Voting is open until 31st July and there are hundreds of free games and tickets for the International Gamedays at Essen to win.  It’s not necessary to submit a full list, so why not take the opportunity to vote for your favourite release of the year?

Boardgames in the News: How to Spot Fake and Counterfeit Games

Over the last few months, there have been increasing numbers of reports of fake or counterfeit games.  The quality of these forgeries is extremely variable and a huge range of games appear to be affected, from popular gateway games like Ticket to Ride: Europe, 7 Wonders or Dominion to more complex games like Terraforming Mars.  Card games like Codenames might be thought of as an obvious target due to how simple they are to reproduce, however, one of the most affected games is Azul, and reports suggest that it is the cardboard components that are poor quality—the plastic tiles are indistinguishable from the genuine articles.

Codenames
– Image from czechgames.com

So, how does one spot a counterfeit board game?  The answer is basically the same as for anything else.  Firstly, look at the quality.  This is probably the strongest indicator and if the quality of the fake is particularly high the buyer might not mind so much, or even notice.  Things to look out for include:

Splendor
– Image from imgur.com by BGG contributor ceephour

Some counterfeits are very high quality however.  This can be due to the so-called third shift work“, where a game is made in a factory that is nominally closed overnight, but the workers gain access and create bootleg copies with stolen material or off-cuts. Some of these are very good, but in some cases they also use parts that failed the quality control tests.  In such cases, the seller maybe more of an indication.  If buying on ebay or Amazon market place, beware if the seller has a strange name, claims to be located in the UK but isn’t, and has a very long delivery time.  In such cases, the scam is often to get payment a long time in advance, so that by the time the item is delivered (if at all), they are long gone.

Terraforming Mars
– Image from imgur.com

Thirdly, don’t imagine that Amazon is safe either:  there are three types of transaction, “Shipped from and sold by third-party seller”, “Sold by third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon” and “Shipped and sold by Amazon”.  Amazon only “sells” authentic items, however due to “commingling“, their stock can become contaminated by fakes.  This is because when an item is sold by a third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon, the third-party seller ships their item to Amazon who add it to their pile in their warehouse before they ship it on.  If the third-party is dodgy, the person buying from them may get lucky and get a copy from Amazon’s stock which means someone else will be unlucky…

Finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is—caveat emptor: Buyer Beware!

31st December 2017

Green and Burgundy were the first to arrive, and were stood on the doorstep at 7pm on the dot.  This was possibly just because they were punctual, but may have been because they knew the first people to arrive would get the chance to set up the track for the evening’s “Feature Game”, the gorgeous, dexterity car-racing game, PitchCar.  Everyone had played it before except Azure, so he had a quick run of the track while Blue put out snacks and Pink sorted everyone out with drinks.  Like last year, Green and Burgundy designed a single, long, winding path with the idea being that it was a simple sprint to the finish rather than several circuits.

PitchCar Track 31/12/14
– Image by boardGOATS

Building the track is always a challenge, but Green and Burgundy had decided to maximise the difficulty by trying to use every piece of expansion in the box, including both crosses and the new double jump.  This made the track really quite complex, featuring a wide bridge/tunnel and a couple of jumps (for those brave enough to give them a go).  Rather than the usual “flying lap” to see who starts, each player had a single flick with the longest going first.  Blue took pole, but didn’t make it as far on her second attempt and within a few turns was in the lower half of the placings.  Similarly, Purple who had started second on the grid quickly began to move backwards too.  In contrast, Pink and Green who had started at the back of the grid, began a rapid rise through the field.  There were some really spectacular flicks, some that were successful, others that were almost successful, and a few that were horrific failures and received suitable opprobrium.

PitchCar
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor kilroy_locke

The final bridge proved to be one of the greatest sticking points though as it was built from pieces that weren’t really intended to be used in that way, making joins quite difficult to traverse.  Blue, who had gone from the front to the back and back to the front, was the first to get stuck, but was forced to watch as Pine cruised past her showing her how to do it.  She proved a slow learner, however, as Green and Pink followed a couple of rounds later, while she struggled to make it over the step.  With the bridge so close to the finishing line, it turned out to be the discriminating factor in the race, and Pine finished the clear winner, with Green finishing a short nose ahead of Pink.  Meanwhile, the rest of the field passed Blue who by now had finally made it onto the bridge, but who seemed to have run out of fuel and limped home in last place, a couple of flicks behind Burgundy, who had been convinced no-one would be challenging him for the wooden spoon.

PitchCar
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

While everyone else participated in the game of cooperative Tetris that is packing the track back into its case, Blue put the finishing touches to the supper of Cheesy Pasta Bake with fresh vegetables and a side order of Christmas trimmings.  These included “Pigs in Blankets” (or rather “Boars in Duvets”), “Devils on Horseback” and home made crackers that went off spectacularly and sent a shower of tiny pieces all over the room. With food finished, there was a quick game of “Musical Chairs” before everyone settled into two groups for the next round of games.  The first group, Green, Pine, Purple and Burgundy, fancied a bit of piratin’ and went for Black Fleet, a fairly simple, but thematic game.  The idea is that each player has a fleet consisting of a Merchant ship and a Pirate ship; there are also two Naval ships which players also control.  So, on their turn, players choose one action card which enables them to move their two ships round the archipelago depicted on the large and sumptuous board.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Before, during or after moving, ships can carry out an action.  Merchant ships can can load or sell goods at an appropriate port, while Pirate ships may attack an opposing Merchant vessel in a neighbouring space and steal one cube of cargo (earning two Doubloons for its trouble) or bury some cargo they’ve stolen.  Ships can only carryout one action on their turn, so Pirates can only steal or bury on their turn, not both.  And they must avoid the Navy frigates as they do it because they can sink Pirate ships (also earning two Doubloons).  In addition to the Action cards, players can also play as many fortune cards as they like; these break the other rules of the game and and make play a little more unpredictable.  Finally, there are the Development cards, which both give players extra powers and act as the game timer, with the game finishing when one player has paid to activate all their Development cards.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There was much piratin’, tradin’ and policin’ of the ocean waves. Purple was an unfortunate early target simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Green tried to target Burgundy, but a wily Merchant, he maintained his distance. Initially a lot of action took place on the western side of the board, and while Green began to bring in the money, Pine and Purple struggled to gain traction. Green was the first to activate a Development card, but he was followed by Burgundy on the next turn. By now Purple and Pine were complaining loudly that they were being picked upon, but that’s the trouble with this game, it tends to reward the leaders. Green and Burgundy activated their second cards in the same turn, but Green’s was of a higher value, meaning that he then activated his third card (the one with the lowest value) the following turn.

Black Fleet
– Image by BGG contributor spielemitkinder

By now the action had shifted to the east, Purple and Pine had finally managed to earn enough to activate a card, but by this time they were so far behind their chances of winning were almost zero and so their tactics changed to “get Green and Burgundy”. Unfortunately for Burgundy his ships were closer to Purple and Pine than Green’s were so he bore the brunt of their attack. His merchant ship was attacked and raided by both their pirates in the same turn and his path was blocked. Burgundy abandoned his plans to move it and opted to becalm his ship instead taking compensation for his lack of movement.  Green and Burgundy activated their fourth cards in the same turn, but Green had eight Doubloons left while Burgundy only had two. The next turn played out as expected with Green landing a load, activating his final card with four Doubloons left. Burgundy could gain nothing on his final turn, so couldn’t activate his final Development card. Unfortunately, the reward mechanism of gives bonuses to those who activate their Development cards first, which often leads to a runaway winner that the others are unable to catch.  That said, it is a fun game and doesn’t last overlong, so is a good game when players are in the mood.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor The_Blue_Meeple

Meanwhile on the nearby table Black, Pink, Blue and Azure we trying out a new game, Sagrada.  This is a relatively new game, that we’ve only played once in the group before, as part of a “Monster Games” session some months ago.  A bit like Terraforming Mars, it is a game that has proved very popular, but was produced by a very small company who did not have the infrastructure or commercial clout to satisfy the demand which vastly exceeded expectation.  In the case of Sagrada, however, the game is one of those games with simple rules, but lots of complexity.  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.  The public objectives are much more complex though.  In this case, the three objectives were:  six points for every row with all five colours; two points for every pair of dice showing one and two; four points for every set of five different colours in the final window.  Black quickly spotted the synergy between two of the objectives, noting that each row that contained all five different colours would score a massive ten points.  Meanwhile,  Blue had drawn starting grid cards that were very challenging and was forced to make the best of it, and Pink and Azure, struggled to get to grips what they could and couldn’t do.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each round, players draw two dice from the pool in “Settlers starting order” (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2, 1).  This was something we really struggled with for no very good reason, and things weren’t helped by Blue who got herself into a mess, aggravated by the fact that she kept knocking the dice in her window with her sleeve.  Through it all, Black sailed serenely, finishing with a perfect set of five rows, each with five different coloured dice giving him a massive starting score of fifty which he went on to top up to a final total of sixty three.  Nobody was going to catch him, but Azure finished in second place with a highly creditable fifty-six, some way clear of Blue and Pink.  Both games finished almost simultaneously, and just in time to toast the New Year in and admire the spectacular fireworks in the general direction of our erstwhile gaming home, The Jockey pub.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With the festivities over, it was time to choose our first game of 2018, and we picked Ca$h ‘n Guns.  This is a great party game, that we’ve played at the last couple of New Year parties.  This game combines gambling with a little chance and a dash of strategy, based round the theme of gangsters divvying up their ill-gotten gains by playing a sort of multi-player Russian Roulette.  Although we used some of the standees from the Expansion, this time we didn’t use the special powers and stuck to the game play of the base game.  This is very simple:  on the count of three, each player points their foam gun at one other player; the Godfather can then ask one player to change their choice before there is a second count of three giving players a chance to withdraw from the confrontation.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

At this point, everyone still in the round who has a target who has not backed out, reveals whether they chose to load their gun with a blank or a bullet.  The game is played over eight rounds and each player starts with three bullets and five blanks, all of which cannot be reused.  Anyone who gets shot is out of the round and anyone who receives three wounds is eliminated from the game.  We were all quite cagey at the start, so the loot was shared out among the whole group.  This didn’t last of course, and it was amid much hilarity that Azure decided to brave the three guns pointed at him only to take three bullets and retire from the game.  It was a few more rounds before the next casualty expired, when Black took his third shot and gracefully slid down the curtain to join the choir invisible.  Meanwhile, Green and Blue were somewhat hampered by being repeatedly targeted, leaving Pink to collect a large pile of artwork and Purple a huge pile of diamonds.  The only real question which of the two was worth the most.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Despite picking up the bonus for the most jewels, giving her a total of $122,000, Purple had to settle for second place behind Pink who finished with a fortune of $175,000.  Pink, highly satisfied with his success decided to do some washing up, and Green who had to prepare a roast for the next day decided it was time for him to go to leave.  Nobody else wanted to go though, so it was only a question of what we would play.  It was gone 1am, and nobody was in the mood for anything deep, so we decided it was a good time to introduce Azure to 6 Nimmt!, one of our favourite light, filller games.  A very simple “Cards with Numbers” game, 6 Nimmt! gives players the illusion of control while everything is going well, and shatters that illusion when it all goes wrong.  We usually play the game over two rounds and it is remarkable how differently they can go.  In this case, Azure and Blue came off worst in the first round, however, Purple and Black did particularly badly in the second round, so Azure finished joint second with Burgundy, just two points behind the winner, Pine.  By this time, the rain was pouring down, but it was definitely “late”; it had been a great way to say goodbye to 2017 and welcome in 2018.

– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It is a great way to start the year, with a foam gun in hand and a group of friends to point it at.

Deutscher Spiele Preis – 2017

In 1990 the German magazine “Die Pöppel-Revue” introduced The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize, which is now awarded annually at the International Spieltage, Essen.  While the Spiel des Jahres rewards family games and is awarded by a panel of judges, the Deutscher Spiele Preis is awarded based on votes from the industry’s stores, magazines, professionals and game clubs.  For this reason the Deutscher Spiele Preis tends to reflect “gamers games” and is usually more in line with the Kennerspiel des Jahres.  This year the award went to Terraforming Mars with the winner of the International Gamers Award, Great Western Trail, as runner up.  The 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner Kingdomino was joint sixth with the Kennerspiel des Jahres nominee Raiders of the North SeaIce Cool, winner of the this years Kinderspiel des Jahres, also won the Deutsche Kinderspielepreis.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In Terraforming Mars, players take the role of giant corporations, sponsored by the World Government on Earth, to initiate huge projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment on Mars is habitable. Players then buy project cards into their hand and later, when they have the resources needed, they can play the cards and ultimately place tiles on Mars itself. There are three different types of cards: Red cards provide actions that have an instant effect and are then discarded until the end of the game; Green cards have a one-off effect but their “tags” are retained, and Blue cards have an ongoing effect and/or an action that can be activated once per round. It is building these card combinations that is at the core of what we have found to be an interesting game.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

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

30th May 2017

While we were waiting for  food to arrive, we decided to play a quick game of the “nasty card game we finished with last time“, 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!.  This is a nasty little variant on one of our old favourites, 6 Nimmt!.  It doesn’t have the simultaneous play and there is a little more strategy or at least, there is more of the same “illusion of control”.  The idea is that there are three rows of cards, zero to thirty, thirty to sixty and sixty to ninety.  On their turn, the active player chooses a card and adds it to the appropriate row.  If there are five cards in the row the active player must pick up cards: if the card added is the highest card in the row, the active player takes the card with the lowest number, otherwise they take all cards higher than the card added by the active player.  The cards all have a colour as well as a number, and the aim of the game is to get as close as possible to two of each colour, while three is one too many…

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

The rules state that each player starts with eight cards and a face down deck of twelve cards.  After six turns, each player has two cards remaining and restores their hand to eight by taking six from the deck, which happens a total of three times.  The game plays a maximum of four, so there are a number of cards left unused.  We started with three players, Pink, Blue, Burgundy, but then Green & Violet turned up, so we fiddled the rules to make the game play five, by reducing the number of cards each player had in their deck, such that each player would draw six, five and four cards, rather than six each time.  This worked quite well, though Pink felt that it made the game much more difficult to play. The game was quite tight in the early stages, with different players trying different strategies, but in the final accounting it turned out that Pink had more pairs than anyone else as well as both ten point bonuses giving him a sizeable winning margin of twelve, pushing Green into second place.

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

With the food and the “gaming starter” over, it was time for the main course, our “Feature Game”, Terraforming Mars.  Almost everyone was really keen to play, so, since we had two copies available, we decided to split into two groups and play two parallel games.  This began a big debate about who would play in each group. It made sense for Green and Violet to play in the same group, but Blue wanted to play with Pink as she doesn’t see much of him.  There were also gaming considerations as we wanted to make sure there were people who knew what they were doing on both tables but nobody wanted to move about too much. In the end Black swapped seats with Violet and we were ready to start, though since we were nearly all new to it, we had to go through the rules first.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The idea is that players take the role of giant corporations, sponsored by the World Government on Earth, to initiate huge projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment on Mars is habitable. Players then buy project cards into their hand and later, when they have the resources needed, they can play the cards and ultimately place tiles on Mars itself.  There are three different types of cards:  Red cards provide actions that have an instant effect and are then discarded until the end of the game; Green cards have a one-off effect but their “tags” are retained, and Blue cards have an ongoing effect and/or an action that can be activated once per round.  It is building these card combinations that is the interesting part of the game, but also the part that some players struggle most with.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each round (or Generation as they are called in the rules) begins with drawing four cards.  In order to keep these cards, players must pay three M€, the currency used in the game.  Next, players take it in turns to carry out one or two actions and continue to do so until every player has passed.  At the end of the round everyone gets resources according to their Terraform Rating and production ability.  Everyone starts with the same Terraform Rating which increase when players raise one of the three global parameters (temperature, oxygen level, and ocean coverage) – this forms the basis of players’ end game scores as well as their income at the end of each Generation.  Each player also has their own production track for the six key resources, M€, Steel, Titanium, Plants, Energy, and Heat.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Each resource has a primary use in addition to any uses that project cards may make of them.  For example, M€ are generally used to buy cards into players’ hands and then to pay to activate them.  On the other hand, Steel and Titanium can be used to activate specific types of cards in place of M€; although they can be much more efficient than the currency, their use is much more restricted.  Plants can be used to provide greenery on the surface of Mars which in turn gives oxygen.  Energy can be used by in conjunction with projects and all residual energy is turned into heat at the end of the round which in turn can be used to warm the planet.  The guts of the game are the actions. Players take it in turns to carry out one or two actions and continue carrying out actions until every one has passed. In this way, players can ultimately have take as many actions as they like, though they will be limited by the resources they have.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The actions are:  play a card, paying any costs and carrying out any associated actions if appropriate;  use the action on a Blue card played previously, or carry out a standard action.  The standard actions mostly involve paying for things at a very high rate.  Typically it is much more efficient to do these actions by playing cards, however, sometimes it is worth paying the inflated price because of the way the actions combine.  In the introductory game, every player starts with the same amount of money and project cards, however, despite the lack of experience, both groups decided to play with the Corporation cards. These have delightfully imaginative names like, “Interplanetary Cinematics” (Green), “Inventrix” (Violet) and “Republika Tharsis” (Burgundy). These potentially give players a bit of a steer as to what project cards to buy and later, hopefully, play. With almost everyone new to the game (though several had struggled to read through the rules), it was a steep learning curve that started straight away when we had to choose which cards to pay to keep from our starting hand of ten. This is one of the big challenges of the game as keeping cards costs money and money is scarce.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Ivory (who had played before, albeit solo) got his table going first, but fairly quickly, they discovered it was generally better to do one action at a time, unless a second relied on a first and there was a chance it might not be possible to play it if someone else got there first.  This was slightly counter to the other table where players started out trying to take both actions, though they also quickly decided that since the last player can keep going at the end, sometimes it is better not to force that second action.  One standard action is to claim a Milestone.  Claiming these costs M€, but can be a good way to add points.  Players can also pay to activate Awards which will give points to the most effective players in certain fields. On Ivory’s table, the Milestone and Award points were fairly evenly spread and it was the Terraform Rating that had the largest influence on the placings, with Ivory finishing three points ahead of Green.  On the other table, the opposite was true with players’ Terraform Ratings very even and Milestones as the key battle-ground.  Burgundy just pipped Blue to almost all of them so she countered funding a couple of awards and winning them.  It was the cards that made the difference though, and Blue picked up a massive fourteen points leaving her seven points clear.  The battle for second was more interesting though, with Burgundy and Pink finishing level.  On reflection both players felt they had missed scoring points on the table with Pink certain he had forgotten to add to his Puppy Farm on at least one occasion.  We let the points stand though and Money-Bags-Burgundy took second on the tie-break.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

We all felt that the game has high potential for “Analysis Paralysis”, particularly at the beginning, in deciding which cards to keep (a problem made worse for on the first play which is why the Beginner Corporations give players ten cards drawn at random). The game could be won or lost on decisions about which cards to keep.  Miscalculations like paying for that extra card that then didn’t leave enough money to play that one really important card that had been saved for can also prove critical.  There were some nasty actions, too.  For example, Green got caught out in his penultimate turn when two of his plant cubes were snatched which left him short of plants to terraform a tile.  Thus he was unable to gain the additional Steel he needed to pay for the next card he was planning which would have given him more plants for another end of game terraforming tile, as well as extra points.  Since this happened to Green just before his turn, he then spent far too long trying to work out whether he could still do it a different way and if not, then what should he do instead!

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The game is full of such enjoyable but difficult decisions, which perhaps explains why it has been the subject of a lot of chatter online, culminating in its recent nomination for this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres.  It also explains why everyone was concentrating so hard that nobody could really remember what they had been trying to do, what had worked and why.  All that said, the game is a long way from being perfect and bears a lot of the hallmarks of a crowdfunded game, with very difficult rules and variable production values (some over-produced pieces while others could be improved).  In actual fact, the game was originally produced by the Swedish company, FryxGames, a small family run company primarily consisting of four brothers with the rest of their substantial family helping in designing and testing, illustrating and translating.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Although the rules are very difficult to get to grips with and arguably could be better written, the folks at FryxGames have made some exceptional online teaching material available.  One of the other not insignificant issues is the number of small cubes on the individual player boards.  These mean that it is pretty much guaranteed that at some point the table will take a bump and everyone will have to try to remember where everything was.  Unfortunately, these issues and the difficulty producing the game in sufficient quantities to supply the demand it would lead to, probably mean Terraforming Mars won’t actually win the Kennerspiel des Jahres.  We mostly really enjoyed it though, and almost everyone was keen to give it another go.  In fact only Purple wasn’t keen on playing it at the start with and playing it probably didn’t really change her mind, as it’s just not really her sort of thing.

Terraforming Mars
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Difficult decisions almost inevitably lead to Analysis Paralysis, but sometimes it is worth it.