Tag Archives: Tetris

UK Games Expo 2019 – Not as Hot as Last Year, but that’s a Good Thing…

Last weekend was the thirteenth UK Games Expo (sometimes known as UKGE, or simply Expo), the foremost games event.  Every year it grows bigger, and this was no exception. Historically, Expo is focused on gamers playing games rather than publishers selling new games, however, the exhibition aspect has been growing, and this year there were two halls full of vendors selling games and demoing wares.  Last year, there was an issue with the air conditioning on the Friday which, combined with the thousands of “hot water bottles” walking about looking at games, made it unbelievably hot.  This year, working facilities and a little more space made it much, much more pleasant, although Saturday was busier than ever!

UKGE 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

This year the hot games included Wingspan, copies of which were flying off the slightly wobbly shelves following it’s recent Kennerspiel des Jahres nominationFoothills, a two player Snowdonia game by UK designers Ben Bateson and Tony Boydell (designer of the original Snowdonia, Ivor the Engine and Guilds of London) was another extremely popular game.  Foothills is produced by Lookout Spiele, but there were sixty copies available from the designer’s Surprised Stare stand, which sold out in less than forty minutes (though there were a small number of copies to be had elsewhere for those that kept their eyes peeled).

Foothills
– Image by boardGOATS

Surprised Stare were also demoing Foothills and another Snowdonia-based game, Alubari, which is due for release later in the year (hopefully).  There was a new Ticket to Ride game available (London) as well as another instalment in the Catan series (Rise of the Inkas); the new expansion for Endeavor: Age of Sail was also available to see (coming to KickStarter later in June) and “old” favourites like Echidna Shuffle were there to be played and bought too.  There were some very good deals to be had from some of the third party sellers as well, including some of the Days of Wonder games for just £15.

Horticulture Master
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the reasons for attending conventions is the opportunity to see and play games that are not available elsewhere.  One example was Horticulture Master, a cute little Taiwanese game with beautiful artwork, which combined card collecting elements from Splendor with Tetris-like tile laying from games like Patchwork and Bärenpark.  Another cute little game was Titans of Quantitas from Gingerbread Games, a clever two player strategy game based round the old fashioned digital rendering of the number eighty-eight.  What really made this game special though was the fact that the stall was guarded by a fiberglass goat!  Not everything was quite as wholesome though, as one Games Master was thrown out and banned for life for including content in a role-playing game that allegedly involved sexual violence and played on the shock factor.  This is definitely the exception rather than the rule, however, and UK Games Expo is a great place for family and friends to spend a weekend.

UKGE 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

2nd October 2018

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

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Cupcakes!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Splendor
– Image by BGG contributor zapata131

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

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

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

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

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

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

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.

21st March 2017

As usual, we started with a debate about who would play what.  Green picked out a load of games he fancied, including The Voyages of Marco Polo which he had only played the once before and fancied playing again.  Blue commented that it was the sort of game that Ivory would probably enjoy and with Black having spent quite a bit of time playing it online, he joined the others to make a trio.  The Voyages of Marco Polo, won the Deutscher Spiele Preis in 2015 and was designed by the same pairing that put together Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, another game we have enjoyed recently and is a game we should play more often.  The game is played over five rounds with players recreating Marco Polo’s journey to China via Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road”.  Each player has a different character and special power in the game.  Each round, the players roll their five personal dice and can perform use them to perform one action each per turn.  The actions include:  gathering resources, gathering camels, earning money, buying purchase orders and travelling.  The game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most purchase orders, and having visited the cities on secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Last time he played, Green had been very successful with Kubilai Khan.  This time, after dice rolling to see who started, Green got to go first, but although he had the opportunity to take Kubilai Khan again, he decided to go for a different challenge.  So this time Green went for Matteo Polo giving him the white dice and the extra contract every round.  Ivory was next and went for Mercator ex Tabriz, a potentially powerful character which would give him an extra resource every time anyone else got one from the favour track or resource selection track. Black, having played often online, opted for Kubilai Khan and starting from Beijing with the immediate ten point bonus, but no other advantage. The fourth character that was rejected by all, was Wilhelm von Rubruk who allowed the player to place houses on cities they passed through without the need to stop (Black commented afterwards that this was a a very difficult character to be successful with).  Next, each player received four destination cards from which to choose two.  With many groans of dismay everyone quickly discarded one card they felt was all but impossible to complete and then had to choose the worst of the remaining cards for the second discard. No one felt very happy with their selections, but the cards dictated the strategies.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

For Green the strategy was simple, get as many contracts completed as possible and not worry too much about travelling.  However, some of the contracts provided extra free movement on completion, so with minimal travelling some of the cities could be completed.  For much of the game Green and Ivory laboured under the false understanding that only one contract could be completed per round. This meant that after he had secured the resources he needed for his one contract, Green was left with some “spare” actions, which he decided to use for travelling and money collection. It was only at the end of the penultimate round that Black corrected their misunderstanding and that although only one contract could be completed per turn, several could be done per round!  It was all a little too late for Green though. The extra free contract he got in the last round was a doozy, giving him another new contract when completed, but only yielding three points. Unfortunately the new contract released was also low value at only two points (although it was then easy to complete).

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Meanwhile, Black quietly got on with his game, regularly choosing the six camel resource and buying black dice to travel slowly from Beijing, down the board, and releasing the three action city. He used this to good effect gaining lots of purple resource bundles for contracts. It was while activating one of these city actions he revealed that the number on the die used indicated the number of times it could used. Cries of foul play came from Green and Ivory. Green had used a four spot on the “coins for houses” action before and Ivory would have used his six die on it this round instead of the five coin action space. Black scurried to the rules and discovered that for this “coins for houses” action, it was the number of houses which could be claimed for by the die. In other words, he could use a die of two to claim only two houses even if he had three.  A player would need a three spot die to claim for all.  So in the end, nothing changed for Ivory and Green, though it was something to try to remember for next time.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Ivory decided that money was important and regularly placed his die in the purse and the “five coin” action. He was able to do because he was gaining so many resources from Black and Green’s actions, thanks to his special character.  This kept his contracts ticking over and he managed to travel around the board and complete all but one of his cities and get to Beijing. This left him with with a dilemma in the final round:  he needed a high value die and used his spare camels to provide a black, but only rolled a one.  Green gave him another camel (thanks to his resource collection).  So Ivory placed in the favour track for two more and bought another black die, this time rolled a three…  In the end he decided to just take coins to try to get an extra point.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

It was moot in the end.  Green managed seven contracts in all, one more than Ivory and two more than Black, so Green got the seven point bonus after all. With twenty-nine coins at the end he was one short of an extra bonus point, though it wouldn’t have been enough.  Black had made a mistake in his travelling and not got the cities he meant to – he failed to get one of his cards and only built two houses.  Despite this, his ten point bonus for Beijing and several high value contracts gave him second place.  Ivory had had a great game though, picking up six contracts, taking second place in Beijing, completing one city card and taking a full 10 points from four cities in total.  It was more than enough to give him a three point lead and win the game. Ivory decided that Blue was right, he had really enjoyed The Voyages of Marco Polo.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor bovbossi

On the neighbouring table, Blue, Burgundy, Purple and Pine had started off with the “Feature Game”, Habitats,  This is a very light tile laying game, which comes with small ceramic animals instead of the more usual wooden player pieces.  There are a lot of tile laying games available, but there are a couple of things that make this one a little different.  Firstly, tiles selection:  there is an array of tiles and on their turn, players move their ceramic animal one step forward, left or right and take the tile it would have landed on and add it to their park.  Players can add their tile almost anywhere they want, so long as it borders at least one other tile.  The second unusual aspect of the game is the scoring:  tiles feature an animal and a terrain, but to score they most be surrounded by a set number of other given terrain tiles.  The game is played over four rounds with bonuses after the first three and final scoring at the end of the game.  Pine, with his orange Camel started out very strongly making him a bit of a target, however, although there is plenty of interaction, it is quite difficult to interfere with their plans a lot.  Burgundy started a little slower, but soon got his “extremely correct little Zebra” picking up tiles he wanted (as Pine said, “All zebras have a Hitler mustache and pink ears, don’t they?”).

Habitats
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Purple and her Penguin got a little trapped in the early stages, but got herself out of the mess quite quickly.  The bonuses were for the most different landscape tiles in the first round, different numbers of areas in the second and for a small compact park in the third.  They didn’t really seem to add much to the scores though, and with hindsight, some players might have done better ignore them completely as it is possible they were more of hindrance than a help since the most anyone got was five points (Pine and his orange Camel).  That said, the final scores were quite tight, with Blue and her yellow Leopard finishing just five points ahead of Pine who took a solid second.  On reflection, the difference was Blue’s effective use of Diagonal Tower tiles which allowed her to double score a lot of her animals.  Interestingly, the most recent edition of Spielbox had had a review of Habitats and they had been decidedly unimpressed.  While we agreed that it was quite a light game and certainly wasn’t long, the over-riding view was positive and Burgundy, summed it up when he commented, “Quite liked that”.

Habitats
– Image by BGG contributor styren

The Voyages of Marco Polo was still underway on the next table, so the group decided there was time for something else.  Pink had wanted to play Cottage Garden at the last Didcot Games Club meeting, but the number of players had been all wrong, so he had played it with Blue over the weekend.  Since it was fresh in her memory, there was a good chance of getting the rules right.  In any case, like Habitats, it is a fairly light tile-laying game, basically the boardgame equivalent of Tetris.  Cottage Garden is similar to the earlier, two-player game, Patchwork, but with a slightly different front-end and scoring mechanism.  The idea is that at on their turn, the active player chooses a tile from the appropriate row of the square “market garden”, and add it to one of their two flower beds.  If they have completed one or both of their flower beds by the end of their turn, then they are scored.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Scoring is a little unusual:  each flower bed (and some flower tiles) feature plant pots and cloches these are scored separately using players personal score tracks.  Each track ends at twenty and each player has three cubes they can use for scoring.  Placing tiles is facilitated by pussy-cats;  each player starts with two sleeping moggy tiles which they can place at any point on their turn to fill up odd spaces and keep the game moving.  The “market garden” is really quite interesting, though with four it can feel a little random.  The gardener moves round the board so that players choose tiles from successive rows, the idea being that players try to take a tile and plan what they might get next time.  This planning is quite difficult with four though as there is a high chance that a player’s next tile will have to be taken from a row diagonal or orthogonal to their previous one which means it is highly likely that someone will have taken what they want.  So, for the most part, the game is quite simple, with a lot of depth.  However, the final round is a little more tricky and jars a bit.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

To ensure that anyone who has just started new flower beds doesn’t have a large advantage (due to the number of extra moves they would otherwise get), any beds with two flower tiles or fewer is discarded, and from the start of the final round players painfully lose two points per turn until they finish their final bed.  Again, Pine made the early running picking up two bonus beehive points for being the first player to get one of his markers to twenty points.  Blue wasn’t far behind though and just pipped Purple and Burgundy to the other beehive bonus.  One of the really nice things about this game is its rendition and we all had a good time playing with the little wheelbarrow.  Although Purple had played Patchwork quite a bit, spacial awareness is not really her thing and she and Burgundy struggled a little.  Blue on the other hand, works a lot with symmetry and with the extra experience she soon began to catch Pine and by the end of the game had pushed him into second place.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The most recent edition of Spielbox had also included a review Cottage Garden which had received similar treatment to Habitats.  Although we enjoyed the latter more, weconcluded that Cottage Garden wasn’t a bad game, but the penultimate round dragged a little and the final round felt a bit odd.  There’s also no development of the game over it’s duration, i.e. each player is just trying to fill as many beds as possible doing the same thing over and over again, which can make it feel a little repetitive.  That said, Blue felt she had enjoyed it more as a two-player game over the weekend as there is more scope for planning, so it is possible that four is too many players.  Indeed, nearly 70% of voters on Boardgamegeek are of the opinion that the game is best with three, and that could be a fair conclusion.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

With The Voyages of Marco Polo coming to an end as well and lots of people quite tired, there was just time for Blue to have another go at beating Burgundy at Splendor.  This has become and almost fortnightly grudge match, with Burgundy proving to be almost impregnable.  This simple set collecting, engine builder is often derided as boring and trivial, yet it is the simplicity coupled with the subtitles that seem to make it so compelling.  As is so often the way, Blue started off OK, but this time very quickly fell behind.  Burgundy quickly picked up a noble, and although Blue took one as well, and had plans for picking up points, the writing was on the wall long before Burgundy took the third noble and announced he had fifteen points.  Blue will have to bring her A-game if she is ever to beat her “Splendid Nemesis”.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning outcome:  Spielbox isn’t always right.

10th March 2015

Since Blue was late ordering her pizza we were late starting our first game.  It was a relatively quiet evening, but we began splitting into two groups, the first of which played the “Feature Game”, Dominion.  This is a card drafting game where the players are monarchs, ruling a small pleasant kingdom of rivers and evergreens trying to build a bigger and more pleasant kingdom, with more rivers and a wider variety of trees – a Dominion in fact.

Dominion
– Image by BGG contributor Filippos

Basically, each player starts with an identical, very small deck of cards from which they draw a hand of five.  On their turn, players do three things:  play an action card, buy cards, then discard any cards they have left and draw an new hand of five cards.  The aim of the game is to have the most points at the end.  Experience is clearly a big advantage, as the balance of the deck is critical to a player’s success.  It was no surprise, therefore, that Burgundy and Green were fighting it out for first place.  Green squeaked in ahead having picked up a lot of duchy cards in the last few rounds.

Dominion
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

Meanwhile, Purple and Black played Patchwork.  This is a cute little two-player game that was first played on a Tuesday in January.  The idea is that players compete to build the most aesthetic (and high-scoring) patchwork quilt, buying Tetris-like patches with buttons.  The last time Black won, so Purple was hoping to redress the balance, but sadly, it was not to be.

Patchwork
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor greetingsfrombergen

Both games finished pretty much simultaneously, leaving us with the decision: play one six player game, or two three player games.  There was only one real six player option and that was Keyflower.  Green offered the decision to Grey who, much to Blue’s obvious delight, opted for the large group game.  We’ve played Keyflower an awful lot (especially considering it is one of the heavier games that we play), but only once with the full six players.  On that occasion, Blue had managed to squander a winning position when she misjudged Green’s strength – something she was determined not to do again.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Winter tiles were handed out and Green announced that he was just going to play what came up rather than play to a strategy.  Everyone else said that that was what they always did because there was always someone else who broke any strategy they had.  And that is pretty much exactly what happened  to most players this time too.  Grey went for the Green Keyples in a big way and Black went for tiles.  Purple tried to control the game with the start meeple while Burgundy ended up with a glut of yellow Keyples so decided to try to do something useful with them by turning them into more Keyples.  Green meanwhile was struggling to do anything and Blue, who was the only person with any supply of iron, managed to pick up the Blacksmith to go with it and quietly began producing iron and moving it onto the Blacksmith tile.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

As we moved into winter, everyone was so mesmerised by Grey who managed to completely exhaust the supply of green Keyples and Burgundy who was amassing a huge number of points, that nobody spotted Blue and her Blacksmith or Black and his tile collecting.  Eventually, Burgundy stopped pulling Keyples out of the bag and we moved into scoring, and it turned out to be a surprisingly close game.  Blue’s iron meant she finished six points clear of Burgundy who took second place with Black and Grey close behind.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ilogico

Learning Outcome:  If you usually win, don’t be surprised if you lose when you change the way you play.

27th January 2015

We started off with our “Feature Game”, which was the card game, SaboteurWe’ve played it a few times before, but basically the idea is that the group is split into two teams:  Dwarves and Saboteurs.  The aim of the game for the Dwarves is to lay cards forming a tunnel that leads to the gold, whereas the Saboteurs job is to stop them.  So players take it in turns to play cards.  These cards could be tunnel cards, which are added to the play area and, although they generally extend the tunnel, there are also dead-ends which can be used by Saboteurs to upset the Good Little Dwarves’ plans.  Alternatively, there are action cards, which come in several types.  There are broken tool cards, which allow players to prevent other players from laying path cards (useful if you suspect there is a Saboteur about); mended tools which are used to repair broken tools (useful when a Saboteur has been trying to slow everyone down by smashing up their tools); map cards (useful when a nasty Saboteur has been misleading everyone telling them the gold is in the wrong place), and rock-fall cards which can be used to remove tunnel cards (useful when an evil Saboteur has been causing havoc).  The round ends when the draw deck is depleted and gold cards are allocated to the winning side.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

As people arrived, Blue explained the game to the people unfamiliar with it and pointed out that, despite his protestations, Green was always a Saboteur.  At which point, in walked Green, commenting, “Whatever Blue may have said, I’m NOT always the Saboteur…!”  Needless to say, it quickly became apparent that Green was very definitely a Saboteur, but despite his best efforts (assisted by Yellow and Cerise), the dwarves found the gold, though it was pretty close at the end, coming down to the last few cards.  The second round was under-way with Burgundy indicating that the central target card was gold (a fact disputed by Grey) when Black and Purple arrived.  Since they’d missed the start they began a game of Patchwork.  This is a recently released two-player game where players compete to build the most aesthetic (and high-scoring) patchwork quilt, buying Tetris-like patches with buttons.  The patches are laid out in a circle round the central time board, with a cotton reel marking the start.  On their turn players can purchase one of the three patches immediately following the cotton reel; they then pay the cost in buttons shown on the patch, and then add it to their personal “quilt board”.  In addition to the cost in buttons, the player must also advance their time token on the central time track: if the active player’s time token is behind or on top of the other player’s time token, then they take another turn, otherwise play passes to the opponent.

Patchwork
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Percatron

Instead of purchasing a patch, players can also pass, in which case, they move their time token to the space immediately in front of their opponent’s time token and take one button from the bank for each space moved.  Players can place their patches anywhere on their quilt so long as it doesn’t overlap any other patches.  This is not the only way to get buttons; in addition to a button cost and a time cost, each patch also features 0-3 buttons.  When a player moves their time token past a button marker on the time track, they sum the number of buttons on their quilt and get this number of buttons from the bank.  The game ends when both players are in the centre of the time track.  Each player then loses two buttons for each blank square on his game board and whoever has the most buttons wins.

Patchwork
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
greetingsfrombergen

Meanwhile, on the first table, the second and final (third) round of Saboteur had both finished with the Saboteurs making almost no impact on Dwarves’ ability to find the gold.  When the teams are drawn, there is always one card more than there are players, so one card is always left out.  The idea is that this introduces an element of ambiguity, however, we felt that this also unbalanced the teams.  For example, with eight players, the teams go from five Dwarves and three Saboteurs to six Dwarves and two Saboteurs, making it almost impossible for even a vaguely competent team of Dwarves to lose.  We discussed the options including whether it would be better to have a set-up phase where the everyone closes their eyes and the Saboteurs open them and look at each other (similar to Werewolf or The Resistance), but we felt this would give a large team of Saboteurs too much power.  In the end, we decided it would be better to remove the spare card and ensure there was the maximum number of Saboteurs.  Since Black and Purple were still going, we decided to play one extra round.  This worked much better, and thanks to a horrid distribution of cards for the Dwarves and some brilliant play by the team of Saboteurs led by Burgundy, there was nothing the Dwarves could do.  It was fitting therefore, that Burgundy finished one gold ahead of his closest competition.  On reflection, we decided there were definitely a couple of House Rules we would implement next time we play.  Firstly, we would remove the extra card when allocating players to teams, this definitely seemed to create a much more balanced game.  Secondly, we would probably also play several separate rounds and not worry about allocating gold at the end of the game.  This way, we could play one or two rounds and stop when the game had outstayed its welcome, rather than feeling that we should play to the end.

Saboteur
– Image by BGG contributor ckhiew

Patchwork was also coming to a close; scores there were quite close until the final scoring, when it turned out that Purple had more “gaps” in her quilt which lost her more points, leaving Black to take the victory.  With both games finishing we had a slight shuffling of seats, with the first group playing Mascarade.  This is a “micro” game, albeit with big cards.  The idea is that each player begins the game with a character card, but after a brief spell with them face up, everyone turns them face down and that’s the way they remain for the rest of the game.  So, the game is all about deducing which player everyone is, while trying to collect enough money to win the game.

Mascarade
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

After some initial trading, on their turn, each player can do one of three things.  Firstly, the active player can declare that they are a particular character, say, The King.  If nobody objects they can then carry out the action associated with The King, unmolested (in this case, take three coins).  On the other hand, another player may protest and claim that they are actually The King, in which case all players claiming to be The King must show their cards and whoever is correct, gets to take three coins from the bank, and all the others pay a fine of one gold coin.  A player’s second option is to “swap” their card with that of another player; since the actual exchange is done under the table, it is possible that there is no swap at all, and only the active player will know either way (or not, since everyone always seems to immediately forget which card is which).  The final option a player has, if all is complete confusion, is to look at their own card.

Mascarade
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

It always takes a little while to get the hang of the characters in play, and with people unfamiliar with the game, it was slow to get going. Orange was happy to be The Queen and collect her two gold each round, as did The King.  After a couple of turns, however, Red realised the power of The Witch and swapped her somewhat diminished fortune with that of Blue, who, as The King had managed to build a reasonably sized pile.  Meanwhile, the fines had built up and then the Judge became of interest and suddenly, the game clicked with everyone around the table, and people tried to manipulate the card they got and call others on their declarations.  Gradually, some of the piles started to get perilously close to the magic thirteen coins, especially since The Cheat was in play (if declared correctly, that player needs only to have ten coins to win).  The game finished somewhat abruptly, when Red declared that she was The Bishop and, as everyone knew she was right, there was nothing we could do.  And then it was home time for some.

Mascarade
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor pan_satyros
and pelnapara.znadplanszy.pl

Meanwhile, the second game was still going.  They were playing Colors of Kasane, one of our “Essen Specials”, but one we’ve not got round to playing until now.  It is a Japon Brand game, and they have a bit of a reputation for creating little, yet interesting games:  as Black commented, “They have a different way of thinking.”  They also have a bit of a reputation for rules that are difficult to understand; even when they seem clear, it often turns out that they aren’t, and we’ve fallen foul of this one before, most noticeably with Secret Moon (the sequel to Love Letter).  Colours of Kasane was no exception in this regard which may go some way to explaining why its taken so long to play it!

Colors of Kasane
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Nevertheless, the game itself is reasonably simple and beautifully rendered with pretty little Japanese fabric buttons used as player markers, reflecting the theme of a festival held at the Emperor’s court for which the players must make their own beautiful robe.  The game play is a mix of hand management and set collection.  The idea is that players take one card from the four available, and then, from their hand the active player may lay cards.  However, the cards can never be rearranged (similar to Bohnanza) and sets can only be laid from the most recent end (i.e. a “last in, first out” system) and may also include the last card laid.  Any cards laid must meet the requirements shown on one of the target cards, which also indicate the amount scored:  the more challenging the target, the more it is worth.  These target or scoring cards allow players to place of groups of even numbered cards, groups of odd numbered cards, melds with the same number, ascending or descending sets of cards, cards summing to ten etc. etc..  The key thing is that once a specific combination has been played, a glass bead is placed on it and no other player can score it.  This means it becomes increasingly difficult to play cards and score points, worse, someone else might claim something you have been building towards and render all the hard-work useless.  This is one way that players can mess with each-other’s plans, another is when picking up cards:  cards are laid out in columns so that players can see all the cards, but only the card at the bottom of each column is available to take.  Since the cards laid must necessarily include the card just picked up, a player’s plans can easily be blown out of the water by an opponent who watches carefully.  The winner is the player with the most points, with bonuses awarded for players who succeed in playing more than eight cards and either used a lot of different colours or who colour coordinated their “robe” and also for any players who managed to play all twelve of their cards.

Colors of Kasane
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game began with everyone groping their way through the the first round trying to get an idea of how the game played and how players and cards interacted and what strategies should be employed.  By the time Blue joined to sneeze and spectate, it was clear that all the best plans had gone horribly awry.  Black, who had brought the game and taught everyone the rules, was struggling, but he was not alone in that.  Green and Purple were also finding other players obstructing their plans, and even Burgundy (the eventual winner) was having difficulty placing the cards he wanted.  The challenges posed by the game were reflected in the fact that nobody got the bonus for playing all twelve cards:  definitely a game that requires a second try.

Colors of Kasane
– Image by BGG contributor matador

We finished with Istanbul, a game we’ve played a couple of times recently, so didn’t require too much in the way of rule revision.  Since Burgundy was the only person who  had not played it before and everyone else had previously played it with the “short track layout”, this time we used the “large number layout”.  This puts all the Warehouses together and a long way from the Mosques, and puts the money making a long way from the Wainwright.  Black started and went straight to the Post Office before expanding his cart with a trip to the Wainwright.  Purple also made several visits to the Post Office, coupled with a few trips to the Warehouses while Burgundy and Blue attempted to improve their success rates with visits to the Mosques.  Green on the other hand, paid several trips to the Caravansary to collect bonus cards in the hope that a few of these would help him out later on.  It is unquestionably a more interesting game with five players and useful things further apart, but that didn’t stop Black delivering the rest of us a sound thrashing.  All of a sudden, he ended the game as he collected his fifth gem when nobody else had more than two.  On inspection, other players were closer than it seemed:  Green collected his third gem on his final turn, Burgundy had loads of Lira and everyone else was well on the way to getting everything they needed, however, they needed several more turns to do it.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

Learning Outcome:  It’s true, Green always IS a Saboteur!