Tag Archives: Terraforming Mars

4th August 2020 (Online)

Blue and Burgundy got going early to set up the game on Tabletop Simulator, but were progressively joined by Pink, Black and Purple and eventually, everyone else.  Mulberry dropped in to say “Hi!” but was suffering from her recent change in time-zone, so soon waved goodbye.  There was a bit of chit-chat about people returning to work and how it interefered with thier social lives, but once everyone had settled down, we started the “Feature Game” which was Finstere Flure (aka Fearsome Floors).

Finstere Flure
– Image by boardGOATS

Finstere Flure is a relatively simple race type game, where players are trying to get two of their family of pieces from one side of Prince Fieso’s Fortress to the other.  Unfortunately, the pillared dungeon is occupied by a not over-bright monster that is trying to eat people.  Finstere Flure only plays seven and the resolution of the web cameras we’ve been using means that it wouldn’t be possible for people to see very well.  For these reasons, people were playing in household teams and we used Tabletop Simulator on the Steam platform, piped through Microsoft Teams to display the game (which worked quite well when we played both Camel Up and Tsuro).

Finstere Flure
– Image by boardGOATS

This was more complicated than most of the “Roll and Write” type games we have played recently, but we felt a bit of variety would be a good thing.  In Finstere Flure, each player/household team have three double-sided pieces that they are trying to move from one side of the dungeon to the other.  On their turn, players move one of their pieces and then flip it over.  Each side has a number on it with the total summing to seven.  However, in a similar way to Echidna Shuffle, some pieces alternate slow movement with quick movement (six on one side and one on the other for example) while others move at a more steady pace (alternately moving three and four spaces).

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Players continue to take turns until all their pieces have been moved and turned over, after which the monster moves.  All the monsters move in the same way, but the one we chose was “Slenderman” because he was most visible when viewed from above using the simulator.  Slenderman has a deck of eight cards which dictate how far he moves.  When he moves he looks ahead, left and then right and if he sees one person, he turns towards them and takes one step before looking again and moving.  If he sees two or more people, he turns towards the closest and moves towards them.  If he the people he sees are the same distance away, he carries on moving straight ahead.  He never looks behind, and he cannot see diagonally (there are pillars in the way).

Finstere Flure
– Image by boardGOATS

Sometimes, the monster moves a given number of steps and others he keeps moving until he catches a set number of pieces.  During the game, the monster works through his deck twice—during the first pass, any pieces he catches are returned to the start, on the second pass, they are removed from the game.  There are a couple of other little rules however.  For example, there are obstacles in the dungeon, namely boulders and pools of blood (or jelly, whichever players think might be more slippery).  Players can push boulders about and use them to mess with each other’s plans, or slip on the jelly to move further on their turn.

Finstere Flure
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can only move boulders when the space behind it is unoccupied, however, and although they can pass through a space occupied by another player, they cannot finish their turn sharing a space.  The monster, Slenderman, on the other hand, is bigger and stronger, so can move more than one boulder at a time.  Also, if someone gets trapped between a rock and a hard place, he can squash them, or even pulverise rocks if he isn’t minded to change direction when pushing them into a wall.  He can also teleport from one side of the dungeon to the other if he walks into a wall.  This can spell disaster for players who thought their pieces were safe, a long way away from him.

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Team Purply-Black (owners of a hard copy and thus most experienced) went first, bravely moving one of their clerics into the unknown.  They were followed by Burgundy.  It was at this point that we realised something specific to the Tabletop Simulator that we hadn’t spotted during testing:  the reverse, “dark sides” of the pieces are all black and they are almost impossible to distinguish.  So, Blue made a quick modification to some of the pieces, making some hexagons and some squares to make them easier to identify.

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Play was a little slow with people having to describe which piece they wanted to move and where they wanted to move it to.  Fortunately, the original, individual artwork on the pieces on the hard copy of the game had been included in the electronic version, so we had something to describe.  It was about this time that we discovered that Burgundy knew the names of all the Addams Family characters played by Team Slightly-Lilacy-Green.  Clearly Burgundy has hidden depths!

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Lime was the first to get one of his pieces eaten, and also the second.  He wasn’t alone however, as almost everyone had at least one piece eaten at some point and most had several munched.  In fact, it turned out that Slenderman was very hungry; when he ate five pieces in one turn, Pine commented that he was in danger of becoming “Porkyman”!  The chaos was fun, so much so that at one point, Ivory was heard to say, “What can I do to get more carnage?”

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Since we were forced to focus on the characters (especially when they were showing their “dark side”, there was a lot of chit chat about them and some of them were even given names, like Team Purply-Black’s “Roger the Chorister” and Pine’s “Geeky-boy”.  Team Slightly-Blue-but-mostly-Pink were playing with the “Three Ages of Elvis”: “Young Elvis”, “Prime Elvis”, and “Burger Elvis” (or “Elvis on the toilet” given his pained expression).  We always have fun picking on Green, but the largely solitaire games we’ve played recently don’t lend themselves to it.  This game gave everyone a much missed opportunity, and with him playing as Team Only-a-Slightly-Lilacy-Shade-of-Green, everyone grabbed the chance with both hands.

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

It was just as Morticia was about to be “din-dins” (again) that the program crashed.  When we first started holding online games nights we worried a lot about the “tech” and whether it would hold up.  Aside from a few issues with Ivory and Lime struggling to stay in the same Teams Meeting together a few weeks back, mostly it has been fine though.  This crash looked like it might be game over though and, according to the chat, we were not alone.  Burgundy had played a few games with another group (including Terraforming Mars) and said Tabletop Simulator did that from time to time and that it usually came back after a few minutes.  So we waited.

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from
Tabletop Simulator on Steam

And we waited some more.  People took the opportunity to get drinks etc., and we continued to wait.  Nothing happened so eventually we decide to restart the Server and see if it continued where we’d left off, only to find the game had been auto-saved a couple of moves before the crash.  So we were off again getting in each other’s way.  Despite picking on Green as much as we could, nothing could stop him getting Gomez out of the dungeon first.  Morticia and Wednesday were a very long way from giving him a second though.  In fact, it looked like Team Purply-Black were going to take it.  They had “Roger the Chorister” and “Parson Snows” very close to the exit with the ability to escape on the next turn, and “Paul Wicker the Tall Vicar” not far behind.  It was then that everyone independently decided that it was the duty of all gamers to make life as difficult as possible for those winning.

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

So, first Burgundy used one of his geeks to push a boulder in “Parson Snows’ ” way and then parked the geek in the exit space.  In response to Pine’s cry of, “It’s now or never!”, “Young Elvis”  moved another boulder and effectively sealed off the exit until the next round.  This gave everyone an opportunity to gather in the corner ready to pounce should the opportunity arise.  Inevitably (since he had a piece camped on the exit space), Burgundy was the next to get someone one out, and then the flood gates opened.  “Young Elvis” was quickly followed by Pine’s Dog and “Roger the Chorister”. Eventually, the inevitable happened and Burgundy got his second Geek home bringing the end of the game.  People didn’t seem keen to stop, and Pink was pleased to be able to announce “Elvis has left the building!” next.

Finstere Flure
– Image by boardGOATS

It was clear that from there it all really depended on turn order and that was no fun, so we finished at that point.  It had been a long game with a lot of downtime, but it had been fun too, and quite different to the “multiplayer solitaire” games we’ve played a lot recently (i.e. Noch Mal!, Second Chance and Cartographers), which made a nice change.  Tabletop Simulator takes a lot of practice though and even then definitely has the “Marmite factor”.  Indeed, Burgundy dislikes it so much that he’s stopped gaming with another online group that use it exclusively, which is very sad.  We are using it in a different way, and very occasionally, so it is probably just about manageable, but it will definitely be a while before we try it again.

Chess on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

With Finstere Flure taking a long time, Ivory and Lime took their leave, leaving seven for one quick game of 6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena.  This is now our most played game, beating other favourites like Bohnanza and Splendor, and if the situation doesn’t change, it will likely get the chance to build up a healthy lead.  Although we’ve not tired of it, last time we tried the “Professional Variant” on Board Game Arena and that definitely added new interest.  Although we all said six was the maximum we’d want to play this crazy version with, everyone who had experienced it before wanted to try again and we all wanted to share our new-found fun with Green who had missed out last time.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic game is very simple:  Players simultaneously choose a card then, starting with the lowest, in sequence, they are added to the four rows on the table.  If anyone’s card is the sixth in a row, instead they take the pre-existing cards and their card becomes the first in the new row.  In the “Professional Variant”, cards can be added to both ends.  Again, if this card is the sixth, the other cards are added to that player’s scoring pile and that forms a new row.  It might be thought that this would be predictable so nobody would do this.  However, if a player tries to play low (or is forced to) and is undercut by another, this is exactly what happens.  And when it does, it causes complete chaos for everyone.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

This time, Pine started off leading with Black just behind in second.  In fact, Black was within one point of taking the lead until the cat came in and he started picking up cards.  The wheels dropped off for Pine too and he went from the lead to the back in only a couple of rounds, leaving others to fight for the lead.  Green (now playing on his own as Lilac had gone to bed), was somewhat taken aback by the new version and had much the same initial response to the new variant as everyone else had last time.  It isn’t random chaos though, it is definitely predictable, but it is certainly much, much harder to predict.  As a result, players need a sort of sixth sense and a lot of luck to surf the madness successfully.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Pine managed to stabilise his game and, having gone from the front of the pack to the back was working his way back up the field when Purple brought the game to an end.  It had always looked likely that she would win the “race to zero”, especially when she managed to pick up sixteen nimmts in a single turn—possibly a record for us.  So, when Purple picked up five with her final card, that gave her what is likely another new record of minus thirty-five.  In this game the winner is largely incidental, but it was close with Blue taking it, just three nimmts clear of Pink in second and eight ahead of the “almost always there or there abouts” Pine, in third.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone was quite tired so we just chatted starting with the Beirut explosion, news of which had come in while we’d been playing, and with footage that was quite remarkable.  As the mood shifted from buoyant to sombre, Pine said he was time for him to leave as he had a meeting in the morning.  Green interrupted, “Before you go, can I ask a recycling question?  How do you recycle the wax from cheese?”  That lightened the mood again and it was brightened further by Pine’s reply of, “How do you think?  Or you can make candles…!”  Somewhat from left of field, Purple then added, “But if you make candles, don’t light lots of them then leave the house to burn down while you go and propose to your girlfriend!”  Everyone was very bemused wondering what Black had done when he proposed, but eventually it became clear that it wasn’t personal experience, just a news story…  With that, Pine left and everyone else chatted about options and games for the coming weeks as people drifted off to bed.

Lots of Candles Make Fire
– Image from bbc.co.uk

Learning Outcome:  Slender monsters can eat an awful lot and retain their sylphlike figure.

Deutscher Spiele Preis 2020 – Time to Vote

Although the convention season has been severely disrupted this year, the awards are carrying on as usual.  The best known of these is probably the Spiel des Jahres: this year’s nominations were announced earlier this week.  The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize, is slightly less well known, but arguably better reflects the slightly more advanced, “Gamers Games”, with the results usually more in line with Kennerspiel des Jahres category rather than the family Spiel des Jahres award, or “Red Pöppel”.  Recent winners of the Deutscher Spiele Preis include Wingspan, Azul, Terraforming Mars, Mombasa, and The Voyages of Marco Polo.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The Deutscher Spiele Preis (which is awarded at the Internationale 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.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Only new games from the previous year are included in the ranking, so this year that’s games released since May 2019.  Thus anything new at Essen last year or the Spielwarenmesse (Nürnberg) this year, is eligible.  This includes:  Alubari, Maracaibo, Point Salad, Tiny Towns, Isle of Cats, Wavelength, Jaws, In the Hall of the Mountain King, Azul: Summer Pavilion, Fast Sloths, or any of the games nominees or recommended for the Spiel/Kennerspiel des Jahres awards.

Deutscher Spiele Pries 2020
– Image from spiel-messe.com

Voting is open until 31st July; it’s not necessary to submit a full list, so why not take the opportunity to vote for your favourite release of the year?

3rd March 2020

After a short, but sweet battle over who wasn’t going to have the last lamb pie and mash, Burgundy and Blue settled down to eat.  They were soon joined by Pine, Lime, and then Black and Purple bringing news of their new black and purple car.  When Ivory and Green arrived, the key players were in place for the for the “Feature Game”, the Hellas map from the Hellas & Elysium expansion to Terraforming Mars.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

In Terraforming Mars, each person takes the role of a giant corporation, sponsored by the World Government on Earth to initiate projects to make Mars habitable.  This is by raising the temperature, increasing the oxygen level, and expanding the ocean coverage.  The Hellas map presents a new areas of Mars to explore, in particular, the Mars south pole and the enormous seven-hex Hellas crater that just begs to become a giant lake.  Building around the pole gives placement bonuses in the form of heat and possibly even water.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of each round, players draw four cards, keeping as many as they like, but paying 3M€ per card.  Since the cards are so critical to the game-play, there is a variant where the cards are drafted, letting players see more of the cards available, but making the decisions more critical.  Players then take it turns to take one or two actions from seven possible actions.  At the end of the round, players simultaneously produce, turning any energy into heat, taking finance according to the combined total of their Terraforming Rating and their M€ production level, and finally receiving all other resources according to their production levels.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends once all three Global Parameters are met:  all of the Ocean Tiles have been placed, the Temperature has reached 8°C, and the Oxygen Level is at 14%. The game is driven by the cards, but the guts of it are the actions.  These include: play a card; use a Standard Project; use an Action Card; convert eight plants into a greenery tile and raise the Oxygen Level; use eight Heat to raise the Temperature; claim a Milestone, and fund an Award.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

Each card has a set of requirements, for example, Grass cannot grow at very low temperatures, so the Grass Card can only be played when the Temperature is above -16°C.  Other cards may require the player to spend energy, or other resources.  They also have a financial cost, though some can be paid for using Steel and/or Titanium as well.  There are three types of cards: red Event Cards, Green Automatic Cards and Blue Action Cards.  Green and Blue cards have an effect that occurs when they are played.  Red Event Cards have  an action that takes place once and are turned face down once they have been played.  Blue Action Cards also give the player a special ability that can be activated many times during the game, but only once per round.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to the actions on the cards, players can also carry out actions associated with Standard Projects.  These can be used several times per round and mostly involve spending money to increase the Temperature, add tiles to the board, or increase the player’s Energy Production.  Players can also sell cards at a rate of 1M€ per card, an expensive option as it’s less than they cost to buy, and it costs an action, but needs must when the Devil drives.  Finally, players can claim milestones (if they have played enough cards with Tags that qualify) or fund an award.  These cost money, but give Points at the end of the game.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

This is the basic game play, but there are a lot of expansions and variants, so setting up was slow as the group tried to figure out which cards came from which expansion and what bits they actually needed to use.  They got there in the end and chose to add in a few extra corporations to the standard set. Only Ivory received one of them, but still chose an original corporation, Ecoline, which gave him Plant production and reduced the number of plants he needed for a new Forest tile from eight to seven.  Green went for Inventrix, which gave him three extra cards at the start of the game and reduced the restrictions on the environmental requirements.  Burgundy chose Teractor, which allowed him to play cards with Earth Tags more cheaply.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory made an early play to plant a city amongst the northern green belt. He knew it was an unusual opening move and a bit of a gamble, but one he hoped would pay dividends later.  Burgundy also planted a city in the first round, nearer to the large potential ocean area in the Hellas crater. Green waited a little longer for his first city, but broke away from the others to plant it near the southern polar region, hoping to expand upon the unique scoring potential for this new board.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

Like most games of Terraforming Mars this one progressed gradually and slowly as everyone built their “engines”.  Ivory was clearly working on a Forest growth strategy, and also looking for the bonus end game awards.  Burgundy was trying to build cities next to oceans for bonus money and also keeping the sides of his cities next to Forests for end game scoring.  Green tried to use his relaxed environmental requirements to his advantage by playing cards early, but in the process failed to do anything with his southern city goal.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory made the first Milestone claim, taking the Energizer, for increasing his Energy Production to six.  He was about to claim the second too, Diversifier, for having eight different tags played, but then realised that he couldn’t use the Red Event cards and so couldn’t claim it after all.  Very soon after Green took it instead, much to the annoyance of Burgundy who was also on the verge of taking it, and would have done so on his next turn.  Ivory later claimed the third Milestone, Tactician (five environmentally restricted cards), which both he and Burgundy had noticed Green could have claimed earlier and made noises to that effect, but weren’t specific.  Green, however, had forgotten what it was awarded for and hadn’t noticed he qualified.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

As for the Awards, Ivory again funded the first one to activate the Cultivator, obviously key to his strategy as as it rewarded most Forests.  Ivory also wanted Space Baron in play (for most Jovian tags) and Burgundy paid for the final Magnate Award, which rewards the player with the most green cards.  In the end though, Burgundy won all three awards, with Ivory taking second place in two and Green just pipping Ivory to second by one card for the Magnate Award.  When it came to the scoring, the Terraforming Ratings were quite close with Ivory just ahead of Burgundy as he had been for most of the game.  Burgundy took a lot of points for the awards though and scored heavily for his cities.  The overall winner was therefore Burgundy with eighty-three points, sneaking ahead of Ivory who took second place.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

While the Terraforming Mars group began setting up, everyone else took a slightly more relaxed look at the options available, and after some discussion, the group settled on Isle of Skye.  This won the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2016 and is a game most of the group have played before and really enjoyed.  The best way to describe it is a bit like Carcassonne, but with individual play areas and a very clever auction for the tiles.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that players start with three tiles drawn randomly, and place them in front of their screen.  Behind the screen they use their own money decide the price of two of the tiles and choose one to discard.  Once everyone has revealed their prices and discards, the first player chooses a maximum of one tile to purchase from the offering.  They cannot choose one of their own, and they pay the amount shown to the owner of the tile.  Once everyone has made their purchase, players then buy any remaining tiles in front of them, paying with the money the used to indicate the price.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

This auction is very clever for lots of reasons. Firstly, the player with the best tiles, does not necessarily get them.  If they think they have something valuable, then they can give it a high price and will either end up keeping it (paying the money to the bank), or end up getting a lot of money for it.  For this reason, the key thing is getting the value right—over-pricing a tile risks it failing to sell and getting landed with it at a heavy cost.  This was Ivory’s comment from the next table.  There is a more subtle aspect to the auction, however.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Although they have the widest choice, if the first player prices their tiles too high, they may not have sufficient funds to buy anyone else’s, worse, nobody else will buy their tiles which means they will end up having to pay for them themselves, leaving them short of cash in the next round as well.  On the other hand, because the money paid for tiles and the money used to indicate their cost go straight into the seller’s hand, players later in the turn order, may have less choice, but will likely have more available cash.  In this way, the advantage of turn order is self-correcting and everyone has difficult decisions to make and probabilities to consider, though the decisions are different for each player.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the tiles have been bought and paid for, players add them to their kingdom.  Like Carcassonne, the terrain type on the edges of the tiles have to match up (though roads do not), and the tiles have features that are used for scoring.  There are more different features than in Carcassonne, however, and the scoring is very different.  In each game there are four scoring conditions, and each one is used three times during the game (five rounds for the five player game).  Additionally, there are also tiles that feature scrolls which are personal scoring conditions that take effect at the end of the game.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

As Lime was new to the game, the group decided not to include the main components of the Journeyman or Druid expansions.  All the tiles went into the bag though, including those from both of the large expansions and the several mini expansions (the Adjacency Scrolls, both Tunnelplättchen, the Themenplättchen and the Kennerspiel des Jahres Promo), and anywhere the main feature required one of the main expansions were just rejected when they were drawn.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine got a flying start in the first round getting five points for his Broch/Lighthouse/Farm combo and a couple of points for a completed mountain range.  As the game progressed, more buildings fell into his lap and the points kept coming.  Black tried to collect Broch/Lighthouse/Farm sets, but couldn’t get any Brochs, so gave up and concentrated on getting diagonals instead.  This is not as easy as it looks because every tile added to a diagonal requires the fixed placement of two tiles.  Each round, players get a maximum of three tiles, so this is very restrictive.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

It was a hard game:  Lime failed to complete and score any mountains and Purple struggled as there were two rounds when she failed to get any points at all.  Blue started off trying to build in a diagonal, but ended up picking up points for Barrels connected to her Castle by road, mostly at Lime’s expense.  She was aided when Pine drew a Barrel tile that Lime really fancied and had lots of money to pay for.  Not wanting to give away his plans, Lime told Pine he didn’t want the tile, so Pine, who believed him, chucked it away, leaving Blue a clear run.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine maintained and grew his lead, though the others did threaten to catch up towards the end.  His Brochs and enclosed scroll giving him two points for each one made all the difference though and he finished with sixty-nine points ten ahead of second place.  The battle for that was much closer with three players within six points of each other.  It was Blue who sneaked in front though, just ahead of Lime who put in a very creditable performance on his first attempt.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Terraforming Mars was still going on the next table, so although it was getting late the group decided to play something short, and considered Coloretto, but in the end settled on No Thanks!.  This is a really quick and simple “push your luck” reverse auction game.  Everyone starts with eleven chips and on their turn, either takes the card on offer (and any chips on it) or pays a chip to pass the problem on to the next person.  The aim of the game is end up with the lowest card total, subtracting any chips they have left.  The catch is that if a player has a run of cards, only the lowest is counted, however, at the start of the game nine cards are removed from the thirty-three in the deck…

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Black won a relatively uneventful first round with twenty, while Purple “top scored” with fifty-three.  It was quick and Terraforming Mars was into another round, so Lime suggested another round and everyone else concurred.  This was more remarkable.  Blue was first to take card.  Since the player who takes a card then has first dibs on the next card, when the next was close the the first, she took that too.  This continued with only a couple of breif interludes for cards she really didn’t want.  In the end, she had a remarkable run of fifteen cards from the twenty-four in play.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for her, as they were mostly low value cards and cards she needed, she had been unable to milk them to get chips from the others.  So she finished with a very reasonable thirteen, but in forth place behind Lime with twelve and, remarkably, Black with minus three and Pine who took the game with minus four, winning by virtue of the fact he played later in the round.  The Terraformers were just finishing, so the cards were shuffled for a third and final time.  This time, Lime tried the collecting cards trick, but he was not as lucky as Blue and ended with a card total of ninety-nine (and twenty-three chips).  Black and Blue both finished with a more normal nine, and tied for the win.  With everyone finished, but time was marching on, so everyone decided to say “No Thanks!” to another game and went home.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Getting a lead is good, but you have to be able to keep it.

Next Meeting – 3rd March 2020

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 3rd March, at the Horse and Jockey pub in Stanford-in-the-Vale. As usual, we will be playing shorter games from 7.30pm as people arrive, until 8pm when we will start something a little longer.

This week, the “Feature Game” will be the Hellas map from the Hellas & Elysium expansion to Terraforming Mars. In Terraforming Mars, each person takes the role of a giant corporation, sponsored by the World Government on Earth to initiate projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment on Mars is habitable.  The Hellas map presents a new areas of Mars to explore: the Mars’ south pole and the enormous seven-hex Hellas crater that just begs to become a giant lake. Building around the pole gives placement bonuses in the form of heat and possibly even water.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

And speaking of Mars…

Jeff got off the space ship to start the first day of his holiday on the red planet.  Looking around he decided he could really do with a drink, so headed for the nearest bar.

Waiting in the queue to be served, he picked up a bar towel and started chewing the corner. The barman looked a bit concerned, so asked, “Are you all right sir?  Maybe I could get you a beer instead…?”

“Oh,” replied Jeff, “That’d be great”.  And he ordered a pint, found a table, and sat down to enjoy his beer.

After a bit he started gnawing on the back of one of the chairs. Eventually, the barman came to the conclusion he had to do something; after all, Jeff was beginning to worry the other customers. He approached Jeff and asks what on earth (or perhaps Mars) he thought he was doing?

Jeff looked bemused.  “I’m really sorry,” he said, “I thought this was a Mars Bar…”

4th February 2020

Blue and Pink were first to arrive and, while they waited for others and their pizzas to arrive, they tried to squeeze in a quick game of Ganz Schön Clever (a.k.a. That’s Pretty Clever).  This is a “Roll and Write” game, that is to say, players roll dice and use the values they roll to fill in spaces on their score sheet.  So, it is an abstract game where the active player, rolls all six coloured dice and chooses one to keep and use, discarding all dice with lower pip values.  They then roll any remaining dice, again keeping and using one and discarding the rest before rolling the rest one last time keeping and using one final die.  The other players can then use one of the discards, before play passes to the left.

Ganz Schön Clever
– Image by boardGOATS

Filling in some of the boxes gives a bonus action, enabling players to fill in other boxes or gain the opportunity to re-roll their dice or even use an extra die.  The player who wins is therefore the player who makes the best use of the dice they roll and usually, the player who manages to build the most combinations to take advantage of the bonuses available. This time both Blue and Pink started off slowly, but as they were coming to the last couple of rounds, both food and people arrived and their focus drifted a bit.  Pink managed to keep it together better though and as a result finished with a nice round hundred and fifty, some twenty more than Blue.

Ganz Schön Clever
– Image by boardGOATS

As they finished eating, Green, tried to organise players in an effort get a group together to play Terraforming Mars.  It was quickly clear that it was not going to happen, as Burgundy, Black, Pink, Pine and Mulberry expressed an interest in playing the “Feature Game”, Fast Sloths.   This is a race game where players are sloths travelling around a holiday resort on the backs of other animals.  The rules are quite straight forward:  on their turn the active player takes cards from the face up piles that make the market; optionally play cards, and then discard down to conform to the hand-limit (which varies depending on how players are progressing).  When taking cards, they must all be different animals, and the number they can take depends on their position in the race.

Fast Sloths
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is a pick-up-and-deliver type of game, but unusually the sloths are the cargo being delivered.  Movement on the central board is the heart of the game and each player must try to optimize their movement to win.  When playing cards, they must all be of the same animal – the player then moves the animal corresponding to the cards played towards their sloth, so they can pick it up and drop it somewhere else on the map.  Each animal has their own characteristics, the type of terrain they can cross and how they move etc..  The aim of the game is to collect leaves and the first sloth that can gather eight leaves wins.

Fast Sloths
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy got off to a flying start – by both playing first and (even though he was last to pick) securing a good corner tree as his starting location, with a ready-made parade of ants he could bounce over on his way to the next tree.  It was a very tight game, which, after the first few turns while people built up their hand of cards, progressed rapidly with players aiming for a new leaf every turn, or at worst every two turns.

Fast Sloths
– Image by boardGOATS

There was much discussion about the accuracy of the terrains allocated to each transport animal. Donkeys, for example – in Fast Sloths they can’t travel in the mountains or through water, but surely the reasons why donkeys make such good pack animals is that they are great at climbing mountains and wading rivers?  Pink suggested that as this was a “game” perhaps such comparisons weren’t relevant?  However, this suggestion was not received well and went down like a donkey in a river…  Attention then turned to “how true to life” was the representation of unicorn transport.

Fast Sloths
– Image by boardGOATS

The game carried on, with only an occasional call of “Summon the Eagles!” from Mulberry (just imagine Brian Blessed in the film Flash Gordon).  Despite being the first time most people had played the game, all players had clearly got to grips with the mechanism and made speedy progress through the forest – a compliment to the designer it was felt.  In the end, with everyone so closely matched, it came down to marginal differences and Burgundy, after his initial flying start, stayed out in front to win after collecting eight leaves. Hot on his heals were Mulberry, Black and Pine with seven.

Fast Sloths
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Green and Ivory had settled on Wingspan, and were eventually joined by Purple and Blue.  Since it won the Kennerspiel des Jahres award last year, this has proved a very popular game within the group.  The copy belonged to Burgundy, and he had integrated the European Expansion and Swift-Start Cards, as well as “pimped his bits”; the artwork on the cards is beautiful and the additional pieces just add to the aesthetics.  The game is  functionally very simple, though playing well requires planning and just a little bit of luck.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, the active player can place an action cube to do one of two things:  pay food to play a bird card from their hand, or activate one of their three habitats and all the birds in it.  The three habitats, allow players to collect food, lay eggs or add more bird cards to their hand.  At the end of each round there are bonus points available for players who are most successful with the targets set out; at the end of the game players score points for each bird card they’ve played (value dependent on the bird), food and eggs on their cards, and flocking birds.   The difficult part is to efficiently build combinations of birds with synergistic special powers that will ultimately yield the best score.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Blue started by playing a White Wagtail in her Wetland, which gave the opportunity to place a bird card at the end of the round so long as she had activated all three habitats and placed a card during the round.  She still had to pay the food needed, so she concentrated on making sure she had all the bits required to make it work for her every round.  Ivory focused on first playing his Savi’s Warbler and then using it to acquire a lot of cards, many from the face-down draw pile, hoping to draw something good.  Green struggled a bit from the start, partly because he was arguably the player with the least experience, but the fact he was distracted by a bird of a different sort tweeting by phone certainly didn’t help.  Purple on the other hand, quietly concentrated solely on her game, and made excellent use of her Double-Crested Cormorant which allowed her to tuck two cards in exchange for one fish.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game progressed, Green increasingly needed prompting to take his turn, and explained that he was getting side-tracked because Blue, playing immediately before him, was taking so long on her turn.  While it was true that Blue’s turns were getting longer, this was almost entirely because the number of birds in her reserve was increasing faster than anyone else’s, largely thanks to her White Wagtail which she was busy putting to good use.  The contrast was quite stark Green’s rather meager reserve and Blue’s, although by this time, both Ivory and Purple, also had a good sized reserves.  As the game entered the final round, Fast Sloths was coming to an end and those players wondered over, so the last few turns were played with an audience.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

At this point, the Wingspan players were putting the finishing touches to reserves.  Green kept commenting how he knew he was coming last and it was clear who had won, but Ivory was not so sure.  In the final accounting every bird in Purple’s reserve had a good point value adding to her points from the tucked birds and Ivory did best in the end of round goals.  Blue had the most birds giving her the same amount of points as Purple (though the individual cards were not as good) and she scored slightly fewer points that Ivory in the end of round goals.  In every other area, however, Blue led the pack giving her the lead overall with ninety-eight points.   Ivory was twenty points behind, and just pipped to second place by Purple.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry, Pine and Ivory Ieft to get an early night, leaving everyone else to play something short;  the game that fitted the bill and was on the top of the pile was For Sale.  This is a very clever property auction game that we played for the first time in years at New Year. The game comes in two parts:  buying properties and then selling them.  So, each player starts the game with $14,000 to spend on property cards.  There are thirty properties, numbered to reflect their relative value and these are auctioned in groups equal in size to the number of players.  The clever part of the auction is that when a player passes and withdraws, they pay half the value of their final bid and take the property with the lowest value; the winner takes the most valuable property, but pays their final bid in full.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

In the second part of the game, cheque cards equal in number to the number of players are laid out, with values from zero to $15,000.  Each player then chooses one property card from their supply and everyone reveals them simultaneously: the highest value property earns the highest value cheque with the second most valuable property earning its owner the second largest cheque and so on.  The winner is the player with the highest total from the sum of their cheques and any left-over cash.  This time, Black took the most valuable property, the space station and with it, on of the $15,000 cheques while Burgundy took the other.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

At the other end of the scale, Pink took both the void cheques, but despite this still managed $33,000 for the rest of his properties.  This was nothing compared to the winner, Green, who finished with $53,000, $2,000 more than Burgundy in second.  The night was still young, however, and there was still time for one of our favourite games, 6 Nimmt!.  Although this is often derided as a game of chance, it is clear that it is not pure luck.  The idea is that everyone has a hand of cards from a deck numbered one to a hundred and four.  Simultaneously, everyone chooses a card from their hand, and, starting with the lowest value card, these are then added to one of the four rows of cards.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Each card is added to the row with the highest end card that is lower than the card they have played.  If the card is the sixth card, they take the five cards in the row and their card becomes the first card in the new row.  Each card has a number of bull’s heads on it—this is the number of points they score.  The player with the fewest points at the end of the game wins.  We play with a variant that half the cards are dealt out for the first hand and the rest for the second, which gives us a score at half-time.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time Burgundy and Black were in the lead at the half-time with a single nimmt, with Blue a couple of points behind.  Pink set the competitive high score of thirty-one.  Black picked up a handful of cards in the second half, indeed, only Purple, Blue and Burgundy managed to keep their second half scores to single figures.  In the end, it was Blue who just had the edge, beating Burgundy by three nimmts.  At the other end, however, Pink had no competition finishing with a very respectable high score of forty-five, not a record, but a substantial total nonetheless, and a good end to a fun evening.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Donkeys are not as versatile as you might think.

Golden GOAT Award Winners – 2019

The second Golden GOAT Award was announced at the boardGOATS 2019 “Un-Christmas Dinner” on Tuesday.  As last year, we also gave an award acknowledging our least favourite game of the year, known as the “GOAT Poo” prize.  Only games played at a GOATS games night since the 2018 Un-Christmas Dinner could be nominated, and, in a slight change to the rules from last year, everyone had three points to hand out for the Golden GOAT Award (plus a bonus if wearing Festive Attire), and everyone could nominate up to two individual games for the GOAT Poo Prize.

Boom Boom Balloon
– Image by boardGOATS

This year there were a number of popular nominees, including Gingerbread House, Lords of Vegas, Villagers and Tokaido, with Boom Boom Balloon getting several honourable mentions for being very silly, but a lot of fun.  There was some surprise that Terraforming Mars, Keyflower and last year’s Golden GOAT winner, Altiplano, had all not been played (we must make sure we rectify  that next year).  This was perhaps a measure of how strong the field was, and many people commented that there wasn’t a stand-out “bad game” for them.  Tapestry was a strong candidate for the unofficial “GOAT Marmite-factor” Award receiving nominations for both prizes and added controversy, with a suspicion that its nomination for the GOAT Poo Prize was based purely on the appearance of complexity rather than any actual experience.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

The winner of the “GOAT Poo” award was 7 Wonders, with nearly a third of the group nominating it; it is clearly another Marmite game though as there were plenty of people keen to jump to its defense.  The clear winner of the Golden GOAT 2019, however, was Wingspan, with Key Flow an equally clear second (the Silver GOAT perhaps?).  Both are excellent games and very deserving choices; we look forward to playing them more next year.

Golden GOAT - 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

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 Internationale 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.