Tag Archives: The Game

29th May 2018

Two of our more sporadic members arrived early and were keen to get as many games played as possible, so the first game was squeezed in between ordering food and its arrival.  As something quick was required and Turquoise hadn’t played it before, NMBR 9 was the perfect choice.  A quick rules explanation was necessary, but there isn’t much to explain so it didn’t take long:  one player turns over the card deck, one at a time and everyone takes the indicated card and adds it to their tableau, ensuring that the edge touches one of the other tiles.  Once a few tiles have been placed to form a base layer, then tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile; the higher the tiles are placed the more they score.  It was a  tight game, well, tight between three players, but Pink romped away with it, twenty points clear, thanks to building one more level than everyone else.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Food was a little delayed, so there was time for another short game, this time an old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.   This is a game that gives players the illusion of control while everything is going well, and then shatters that illusion when it all goes wrong.  It is one of those games that is more difficult to explain than to play, but essentially players simultaneously choose a card from their hand, then simultaneously, everyone reveals their card.  Beginning with the lowest, each card is added in turn to the end of one of the four rows of cards on the table.  If a card is the sixth to be placed in a row, the first five are “won” and the card becomes a new starting card.  The player with the fewest “nimmts” is the winner, though almost as much kudos goes to the person for whom the game goes most wrong  and ends up with the most “nimmts”.  As usual, we played two rounds, and Magenta won the first with a duck, while Purple top-scored with twenty-six.  Purple picked up more “nimmts” than anyone else in the second round too and bravely took the wooden spoon, but the winner is the lowest over two rounds, and when Magenta picked up thirteen in the second round, she left the door open for Turquoise who finished with a very creditable total of six.

– Image by boardGOATS

While Pink, Blue, Magenta and Turquoise munched their pizzas, and Burgundy was attacked his ham, egg and chips, there was just time for those not eating to play a quick game of Love Letter. This game is very, very simple and can be as long or as short as necessary, in fact we hardly ever actually play it to the bitter end (three wins for one person).  Players start with a one card in hand and, on their turn draw a second, then choose which to play.  Each card has a special action and the aim of the game is to be the last player remaining or, in the case of more than one player left standing, to finish with the highest value card.  The first round went to Ivory came out on top, but in the second, Green made a lucky guess and knocked out Ivory in the first turn.  Then Green lost on a comparison, leaving Black and Purple to battle it out to the last card, with Purple the victor.  The third (and as it turned out, final) round ended up in a very unusual situation of being a tie between Green and Purple who both had the same high card.  While checking the rules, Blue shouted across that the winner was the one who had the highest total in front of them, which gave victory to Green.  With one-a-piece (except for Black) it was declared a three-way tie, though Purple was able to claim a moral victory with one win and a lost tie-break.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy was still wading through his ham, egg and chips, but everyone else was finished, so it was time to negotiate who was going to play the “Feature Game”.  This was to be Taluva, a game we’ve played before, but this time it was to include the Extension.  The base game is a fairly simple tile laying game with a surprising amount of depth.  The idea is that on their turn, players place their tile, then place a building then replenish their hand.  This procedure is to that of Carcassonne, but that is where the comparison ends.  The tiles are a strange dodecagon made of three hexagonal regions or fields, one of which is always a volcano.  When placing tiles, they can be adjacent or on top of other tiles so long as the volcano sits on top of another volcano (the tile must also cover more than one tile and there cannot be an overhang).  Buildings can be placed anywhere, provided that they obeys certain rules. Unfortunately, although the game is beautiful, the theme is a bit sparse making these rules appear very arbitrary which has the consequence that they are quite difficult to remember.

Taluva
– Image by boardGOATS

A hut can be built on any unoccupied level one terrain that isn’t a volcano. On the other hand, an existing settlement can be expanded by placing huts on all adjacent terrains of one type, with more huts placed on the higher levels (two on the level two etc.). There are also three temples and two towers to place which can only be added to existing settlements: temples must be added to settlements covering at least three fields, while towers must be placed on a level three field adjacent to a settlement of any size.  The game ends when there are no tiles left and the winner is the player to have placed the most temples at the end of the game. In case of a tie, the number of towers built counts and then the number of huts. However, if a player succeeds in building all buildings from two out of the three different types before the game end, then he immediately wins the game. On the other hand, any player who squanders his building pieces and is unable to build any more is immediately eliminated.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

Adding the Extension adds four optional modules:  pieces for a fifth player; two ships per player; a small number of double-hex tiles (rather than triple-hex tiles), and a board that provides a boundary for the building area.  We added all four modules, though we used the largest boundary area so it had only a small impact on the game.  The double-hex tiles are laid out face up and each player can only use one during the game, but as all tiles must be used unless a player checks-out early, the decision when to take play one can be quite important as nobody wants to be left with a tile they can’t use effectively.  Perhaps the most interesting module, though, is the ships.  These are played on “lagoons”, but critically, there is  a limit of one ship per lagoon, and the ships do not connect other areas.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

From the very start, everyone seemed to get carried away with the idea of trying to build lagoons and place their ships.  Everyone that is except Burgundy, who got his first settlement illegally removed by Blue and spent most of the rest of the game trying to catch up.  Meanwhile, Pink stalled as his computer overheated, trying to come up with a strategy to compete with Ivory’s ever-growing empire.  It quickly became apparent that it would require everyone else cooperating to bring it down.  Burgundy and Blue tried to hatch a plan, but Black couldn’t see a way to prevent Ivory placing his last ship, and wasn’t prepared to spend as long thinking about things as Pink.  And with that, Ivory brought the game to an end; definitely far more “thinky” than such a simple little game really had a right to be.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, those who did not want to play long or heavy games chose a light game of Best Tree House, an easy game to learn (or so we thought).  This is a fairly simple little card drafting game, but with the rules in German, it was down to Purple to try and remember how to play it and Magenta to attempt some translation.  Players start with a hand of six room cards, and simultaneously choose one to add to their tree, passing the rest of their hand on to their neighbour.  There are some rules about building: firstly, treehouses must be built in such a way that each new level has one more card than the last (giving the tree its shape).  Each card represents a type of room and these are colour-coded to one of six colours. When a player is adding a card of a colour they don’t have in their treehouse yet, it can go anywhere, but if a player is placing a colour that already exists in their treehouse, it must connect to at least one card of matching colour. In this way players have to consider their card placements over the course of the game and try to avoid locking themselves out of options as play develops.  The clever part is the Balance Marker which limits the placement options.  It has three positions and when it is not central, the player cannot build on that side of their treehouse, indeed, they have to build to the other side of center in order to move their Balance Marker back to open up their placement options again.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of
nonsensicalgamers.com

At the end of each round, players score their treehouse based on the trophies on display.  We stumbled through the first game not entirely sure who should chose the scoring alteration cards after each round.  It wasn’t till the end of the game, when Black had found a copy of the English rules online for us that we realised we had made a few mistakes in the way we played. Some of us had also re-used a colour that should not have been used as it had already been blocked by other rooms.  Although the game was a tie between Purple and Turquoise on thirty-four each, we felt we had made such a mess of it that we needed to try again, but properly this time—it was only a short game after all.  The second time round, the game made more sense and everyone made better choices. The choosing of the score alteration cards was certainly trickier this time, but that felt more like a game challenge.  This time the victory went to Magenta, but everyone felt better after the second try and the game seemed a lot fairer too.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

Although time was getting on, it still wasn’t that late, and the “Feature Game” looked like it might be drawing to a close soon, therefore we picked another short one, Dodekka.  This is a simple little push-your-luck card game, with five different suits, Fire, Earth, Air, Water or Ether each with cards numbered 0-4. The game starts with three random cards placed in a line from the draw deck.  On a player’s turn they can either take a card from the deck and add it to the end of the row of cards, or take the card nearest the deck.  If the total of the face values of the cards in the row exceeds twelve, then the player has to take the whole row.  At the end of the game, players choose a scoring suit and add up the face value for that colour, then they subtract the penalty points – one for every card not in their scoring suit.  Purple and Green are old hands at this one, but Turquoise and Magenta had not played it before. Green made a good show of demonstrating how not to play this game as he managed to collect a vast array of cards of all colours.  His positive score was not bad, but he had a shockingly high negative score giving an overall minus one.

Dodekka
– Image by boardGOATS

It was much closer between the other three.  Turquoise got to grips with the idea quite quickly and managed to amass a high positive score of 16, but ended up with a few too many other colours.  In a game that is often won with a score of two or three, her score of nine was excellent and remarkably tied with Purple who scored.  Eclipsing them both, however, was Magenta, who scored positive thirteen like Purple, but amazingly had avoided the traps and ended up with only two other cards to give an unheard-of total score of eleven.  By this time, Taluva had finished, and that group had moved onto another quick game that we’ve not played for a while, The Game.  This was played with the blue cards from The Game: Extreme, but we just ignored the additional extra icons.  In this game, players must try to cooperatively play every card from the deck (numbered two to ninety-nine) onto four piles.  On their turn, the active player must play two cards from their hand on any of the four piles:  for two of the card must be of higher value than the current top card, while for the other two it must must be of lower value.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can discuss anything they like so long as nobody discloses any specific number information and they can play as many cards as they like on their turn so long as they play at least two (until the deck has been depleted, after which they must play one).  To help eveyone out, there is also the so called “Backwards Rule” which allows players to push a pile back so long as the difference between the card they are playing and the card they are covering is exactly ten.  Once the active player has played their cards, they replenish the missing cards.  The game ends when all cards have been played or the active player is unable to play a card.  This time, a lot of players started with mid-range cards, but once those had been cleared, things progressed quite satisfactorily.  Inevitably, when Burgundy was forced to trash a pile, things began to go wrong, but once he’d played all his cards, with a bit of careful organisation all of a sudden it looked possible, and indeed, as Ivory played his last cards, a four and a three, we beat The Game for the first time in a very long while.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

While all this excitement was going on, Green had left for an early night and the last three decided to give NMBR 9 another go.  This time, all three players only managed two scoring layers, and, as a result, there was just one point between second and third.  It was Turquoise, however, who had really got a handle on the game this time though, and finished more than ten points ahead of the others with a creditable score of sixty-four.  There was still time left for something shortish, and with six people there wasn’t an awful lot to choose from, so in the end, we went for an old favourite, Bohnanza, also known as “The Bean Game”.  Because most people have played this a lot, in general, it was only a few minor points that really needed clarifying though reminders are always helpful:  hands must NOT be rearranged; active players MUST play the first card from hand and may play the second; the two cards turned over from the deck must be planted before any other trading can be done; fields with only one bean in them cannot be harvested unless all fields only have one bean in them; draw FOUR cards at the end of players turns, and third bean fields cost only TWO coins…

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was very close.  Purple was clearly doing well with lots of lucrative Soy beans, while Black-eye beans were unusually popular.  Black was stuck with a precession of coffee and wax beans, while Blue kept digging up stuff just before she acquired more of them. Burgundy kept complaining that he had a very small pile, but by the end it looked just as healthy as anyone else’s.  Blue bought herself a third bean field at her first opportunity, and, controversially, Ivory followed about two thirds of the way through the second round.  This drew lots of surprised gasps and sucking of teeth, as the received wisdom is that with large numbers of players, the extra field is rarely worth it.  It was impossible to tell whether Ivory would have done better without it, but it was a game of small margins.  In the end, it was a tie, with Blue and Purple both finishing with thirteen points, largely thanks to a very dodgy trade on the final turn.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Learning Outcome:  Great games can come from a simple rule set.

Spiel des Jahres Nominations 2018

Almost every time we’ve played Azul, the topic of conversation has moved on to the Spiel des Jahres and how it would be a travesty if it did not receive at least a nomination. It was with this in mind that we read the Spiel des Jahres nominations when they were announced this morning.  There are three nominees in each of the three awards:  a children’s game award (Kinderspiel des Jahres), the “Advanced” or “Expert” Kennerspiel des Jahres, and the main Spiel des Jahres (often interpreted as the “Family Game” award).  In addition, for the first time since 2010, there is also a special award for Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 by Matt Leacock & Rob Daviau, reflecting Pandemic, Forbidden Island and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 that were all nominated, but failed to win a prize, and have had a significant influence on cooperative and legacy games as a whole.  The other nominees are:

  • Kinderspiel des Jahres
    Kinderspiel des Jahres 2018Emojito! by Urtis Šulinskas
    Funkelschatz (aka Dragon’s Breath) by Lena & Günter Burkhardt
    Panic Mansion (aka Shaky Manor) by Asger Harding Granerud & Daniel Skjold Pedersen
  • Spiel des Jahres
    Spiel des Jahres 2018Azul by Michael Kiesling
    Luxor by Rüdiger Dorn
    The Mind by Wolfgang Warsch

Firstly, more than half of the nominees were designed by either Wolfgang Warsch, or Michael Kiesling, so huge congratulations to them.  In our view, Azul richly deserves it’s nomination and it would be no surprise if it ultimately wins the award.  Of the other two nominations for the “red pöppel”, The Mind has received quite a lot of attention, and is a bit like a cross between Hanabi and The Game (both of which have been acknowledged by the Jury in the past, in 2013 and 2015 respectively).  Luxor has a good pedigree as it is designed by Rüdiger Dorn (also designer of The Traders of Genoa, Goa, Istanbul, and one of our group favourites, Las Vegas), but it is a bit more of an unknown as it has only just come out.  Usually the Kennerspiel Prize winners are a good fit to our group, but this year they are also largely unknown to us, so there is clearly a lot to discover before the winners are announced in Berlin on 23rd July (Kinderspiel des Jahres winners will be announced in Hamburg on 11th June).

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

 

14th November 2017

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

– Image by boardgoats

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

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Flamme Rouge
– Image by BGG contributor mattridding

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

Flamme Rouge
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor zombiegod

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

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

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

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

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

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

– Image by BGG contributor damnpixel

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

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

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

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

25th July 2017

The evening began with Burgundy and Blue playing a non-Extreme version of The Game: ExtremeThe Game was one of our more popular games, but seems to have been somewhat neglected of late.  It is one of those simple games that we really enjoy as a group, and is unusual because it is a cooperative game, which we generally avoid.  The game consists of a deck of cards numbered two to ninety-nine, which are shuffled and everyone is dealt a hand (seven in the two player game).  On their turn, the active player must play at least two cards onto the four piles following a handful of simple rules.  Two of the piles start at one and every card there after have a higher number than the card on top; the other two start at 100 and the cards that follow must have a lower number.  The aim of the game is for all the cards to end up on the four piles, so timing is everything – play a card that is too low and someone could get shut out and be unable to play one of their cards.  This makes communication important: players can say anything they like, but must not give specific number information about the cards they hold.  There is one “get out of gaol” rule, sometimes known as “The Backwards Rule”, where players can play a card on the wrong deck, but only if the card is exactly ten different to the top card.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

The Game: Extreme is just like the The Game, except that some of the cards have extra icons on them which limit the number of options available and consequently make being successful even more difficult.  Although we have played the full version, we have found that the basic game is usually quite challenging enough for us, so we chose to stick to the original game this time and ignored the extra symbols. Blue and Burgundy had just started when Pine turned up so he grabbed six cards (the number of cards in hand for three players) and joined in.  It was just as well that it was only the base game, because after Blue had an excellent start, everyone else thereafter had very middling cards, that is to say, they were all in the thirty to seventy region.  Then things got worse, because having been forced to move to the middle, everyone drew single digit cards and cards numbered in the nineties.  Everyone blamed Burgundy because he shuffled, but he had some of the worst timed cards of all.  Remarkably, the draw deck was eventually exhausted and there was a moment’s respite as layers only had to play the one card.  It wasn’t long before it was all over though, with Blue stuck with a large number of unplayable cards.  In the end there were eleven cards left unplayed – a lot worse than our best (we have beaten it in the past), but not so bad considering our truly dismal start.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone who had been expected arrived, we moved on to the “Feature Game”, which, following it’s entirely predictable Spiel des Jahres win last week, was Kingdomino.  The game consists of dominoes featuring two terrain “tiles” with some tiles also depicting one or more crowns.  When the dominoes are placed, one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or connect to their starting tile (which can be considered to be “wild”).  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space and if one or more dominoes cannot be placed according to these rules, then they are discarded. At the end of the game, each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region and adds them up together with any bonuses to give their score.  We’ve played this a lot since Expo, and found it very enjoyable, so everyone was happy to give it another go.  With a total of seven people we split into two groups, the first was a group of three consisting of Black, Purple and Green.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

With only three playing a dozen dominoes were removed and it was not until the end of the game that it became apparent that over half were pasture tiles.  As a result, it was unsurprising that Green managed to corner the market in pastures with four squares and two crowns leaving Black and Purple with only one tile and no crowns. In contrast, Purple ended up with all the swampland (with two squares and three crowns), while Black and Green only managed only a couple of tiles and no crowns.   Black’s wheat, woodland and water provided good solid scoring, while Green added two woodland areas and a small strip of water to his.  In a very close game with just four points between first and third, it was Purple’s extensive wheat field that made up the bulk of her winning score of forty-nine.  On the next table, with four players, none of the dominoes were removed, but that didn’t stop fate getting involved.  In this game, all the high numbered (and therefore valuable) dominoes came out at the start, making it very obvious who wanted what later in the game.  In the first game everyone had managed a perfect five-by-five grid with the castle in the middle so they all picked up the bonus points.  In the second game, Burgundy failed on both counts so started fifteen points adrift.  Despite this, he still finished with a very creditable fifty points and was only beaten by two points by Blue in what was also a very close game.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Both games finished more or less together and there was just time for a little chit-chat before we moved onto the next game.  Inevitably, people were interested in how Keyper had gone, when the group had been fortunate enough to participate in a play-testing session with the designer.  As a group, we love Keyflower and were keen to see how this one plays out.  Although the game is quite deep, it isn’t actually as complex as it seemed at first and the novel game boards that change throughout the seasons were described as “Genius” by Black while they simply fascinated Blue, reminding her of a Moomin toy she had picked up in Helsinki airport ten years before.  Pink on the other hand was captivated by the individual art on the MeepleSource Character Meeples in the deluxe edition.  The general consensus seemed to be that everyone was looking forward to playing it again on its release, which will probably be in a couple of months time.

Keyper
– Image from kickstarter.com

With drinks refilled there was the inevitable debate as to who was going to play what and eventually, Pine joined Black, Purple and Green for a game of Jamaica.  This was the group’s first ever “Feature Game” and as such is an old favourite; quick to learn and fun to play, but oh so difficult to do well in. Pine was new to it, so a run-down of the rules was in order.  Essentially a race game, the board depicts the island of Jamaica surrounded by a water race track where each space is a Port, a Pirates’ Lair, or “Deep Sea”.  For the most part, there is just one route, but there are a couple places where players can choose to cut a corner to get ahead, but there are always consequences.  Each player has a ship, a player board representing their ship’s hold a starting amount of food and gold together with a deck of action cards from which they draw three.  At the start of each round, the Captain rolls the two dice and places them in the middle of the board – one on a “morning” spot and the other on the “evening” spot. Each player then chooses one of their three action cards and places it face down in front of them.  Staring with the Captain, players then take it in turns to carry-out the two actions on their card, applying the number on the morning die to one of them and the number on the evening die to the other.

Jamaica
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor Punkin312

The actions vary from sailing (forwards or backwards) to taking food, gunpowder or doubloons, and in each case the number of spaces or the amount of resource depends on the morning and evening dice.  When sailing the player must move their ship the exactly amount and then carry-out the action according to the space they land on: in Deep Sea, they must discard food; at a Port, they must discard gold; at a Pirate’s Lair they get to take any treasure that may be there (and they aren’t all good).  More seriously, if there is another ship on the space, there is a battle which is resolved with dice and gunpowder.  The game ends when one player makes it all the way round the island and back to Port Royal and players score points for how far they got, the number of treasures they stole and the amount gold they collected.  Random role meant he was the starting captain, but he was happy to go first.  The flotilla started slowly, but Pine and Purple soon found a little wind to get started, while Green and Black remained in port for a while longer.  Inevitably, Pine and Purple were soon fighting it out with Purple winning the first melee.

Jamaica
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Purple also managed to steal the first treasure, which everyone quickly realised was a stinky one when she beat Black in battle and passed it along.  Black kept his ship smelling sweet by fighting and beating Pine soon after and passing it on again… From then on, even though Pine had managed to gain more bonus cards, no-one dared take one as booty, just in case!  By this time, Purple was full-sail ahead and also gained the “roll again in battle” card, Black found the luxury of an extra card in hand, and Green remained lingering far behind the others.  This soon changed within a couple of rounds, when a quick reverse for Green resulted in the plus-two cannon card and double high scoring forward brought him back into the fray.  With his eye on the treasure in the Pirate’s Lair as he sailed past, he knew he didn’t have enough to pay the harbour tax at the Port and would therefore be “forced” to go back a space to the Pirates’ Lair.  First he had to deal with Purple who was ominously lurking at the entrance to the harbour.  He bravely took her on and won, taking some gold as his prize, but then realised his mistake – now he could pay the tax and would not have to reverse to the unclaimed treasure!

Jamaica
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Purple and Pine continued their tit-for-tat squabbling and Purple’s boat got heavier while Pine’s got lighter.  Black tactfully mostly avoided too many fights, leaving his hold almost empty for much of the middle of the game.  Green, on the other hand, took on Purple once again, and lost and with it went his plus-two cannon. Purple was beginning to look invincible with both fighting bonuses and a hold full of cannons to boot, but she did not do much fighting after that, since everyone else tried their hardest to avoid her!  Pine then came within a whisker of landing in Port Royal, which was just six spaces away, so everyone knew the end was nigh and every round was about maximising points. A six was rolled and everyone thought that would be it, but Pine decided to stay put and claim some more gold, then promptly lost some to Purple who joined him in Port.  With a three and a six rolled the end was triggered when Green just struggled across the line, gaining seven points, but losing five gold in duty at the Port.  Black stayed put and just piled in more gold while Purple and Pine both raced across the line.  It was close at the front, but Pine romped home with just enough bonuses to pip Purple by two points.

Jamaica
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor The_Blue_Meeple

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Burgundy and Blue were introducing Ivory to Orléans.  This is one of Burgundy’s favourite games and he was almost purring as he was setting up while Blue explained the rules.  The idea is that each player has a bag and, at the start of the round they draw workers from it.  Players then place their workers on it their market which has a maximum of eight spaces, before moving as many as they want onto their personal player board which dictate the actions they can carry out.  Once everyone has placed their pieces, players take it in turns to carry out their actions.  There are a variety actions, but a lot of them involve taking another worker that is added to the bag along with any workers that have been used.  Thus, the game is mechanically very simple: draw workers from a bag, plan which actions to do and then do them with points awarded at the end of the game.  This simplicity belies the depth of the game and the complexity that comes as a result of combining the different actions though.

Orléans
– Image by BGG contributor styren

In addition to taking a worker, the most actions come with a bonus; some of these help players manage their game, while others give players scoring opportunities.  For example, going to the Castle will give a player an extra “Knight”, but will also enable them to take an extra worker out of the bag on subsequent turns and so on.  Each of the Character actions has an associated track on the communal player board and the players move one step along these tracks each time they carry out an action receiving a bonus as they go; in general, the bonuses increase the further along the track players are.  Probably the biggest source of points, however, comes from a combination of traveling around France building Trading Stations, collecting “Citizens” and traveling along the development track.  This scores heavily because the total awarded is equal to the product of the number of Status Markers achieved along the development track, and the sum of the Trading Stations and Citizens.  This is not the only way to score points though, something that was very evident in this game when it came to scoring.

Orléans
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

The game started slowly, with everyone trying to fill their bag with useful characters.  Blue began by going to University which gave her a good start along the development track, though of course this meant nothing without Citizens and/or Trading Stations to act as a multiplier.  It also gave her a lot of grey Scholars, which she mostly put to good use in the Cloister to get yellow Monks, and before long her bag was a veritable monastery!  This meant she was forced to neglect other areas though.  Meanwhile, Burgundy had started by looking at the map of France and the lay out of resources and had noticed that there was a lot of wool and cloth on the eastern border, so he began moving and collecting resources with a vague plan to add a Tailor’s Shop or Wool Merchant to add more, though things didn’t work out quite like that when Ivory got in on the act and his blue Sailors decided to hide in his bag.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory had begun by building the basics, starting with his Castle which gave him lots of red Knights and allowed him to draw more people out of his bag, then moving on to brown Craftsmen adding automation and then blue Sailors that provided lots of money.  This meant his development track was sorely neglected and he looked like he was going to be in trouble as places at the University ran out.  He had a plan for that though, and added the Observatory to his board which allowed him to move large distances along the Development track, something he used to great effect.   As the game drew to a close, event tiles continued to be drawn in pairs with the same event occurring in consecutive rounds – something Burgundy got the blame for again.  The fates got their revenge however, and Burgundy’s shy Sailors continued to hamper his plans while Blue headed down the west coast of France to build her final score.  In the final rounds there was a flurry of building and sending people to the Town Hall to pick up those few extra citizens.  The final score was close, very close, with everyone scoring in different areas:  Burgundy and Ivory had large piles of cash, while Blue was cash poor and made the majority of her points through the development track and Trading Stations.  Similarly, Ivory scored highly for his cloth, while Burgundy scored for his wool and Blue had the most cheese.  There were only eleven points between first and third, but Blue finished just ahead of Ivory in second place.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Jamaica had come to an end, so with Burgundy tied up in the battle for France, Pine, Black and Purple fancied their chances at Splendor.  The game is very simple: players collect chips to buy gem cards which can, in turn, be used in lieu of chips.  More expensive cards are also worth points and the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points (and the round is completed to give everyone the same number of turns).  Points are also awarded for “nobles” which go to the first player to get a specific combination of gem cards and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.  This time, although it started as a tight game, Black quickly got his nose in front and there he stayed.  Pine picked up a noble, but that was matched by Black and the writing was on the wall long before Black triggered the end of the game, finishing with a total of sixteen points, five more than Pine in second.

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

With Orléans over, Ivory headed home leaving just enough time and people for one last quick game, another old favourite, Bohnanza.  The original bean trading game, the clever part of the game is that players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand and must play them in the order they arrive.  Thus, on their turn, the active player first plays the first card in their hand with the option of playing the second if they desire.  Once they’ve been planted, two cards are drawn which can be traded, but must be planted by someone.  The game is very free flowing with lots of table talk, which perhaps explains why it took a lot longer than planned.  Burgundy once again got the blame when cards grouped together, that didn’t stop Blue from getting in a tangle with Garden and Cocoa Beans, harvesting them only to draw one straight away.  Despite this, was a close game and finished in a three-way tie for first place, with Pine just one point behind in second.  Unusually, Burgundy trailed a long way behind, capping a hard fought evening that went unrewarded.  As he commented on the way out of the door though, while it had been an unsuccessful evening, it had still been enjoyable.

– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Losing can be fun, but don’t let Burgundy shuffle.

18th October 2016

Magenta arrived first, and after a short delay while she fiddled with her phone she was joined by Blue (armed with lots of “Mammy Sheep” for Red and a pile of other bits from Essen for everyone else). Burgundy, Pine, Red and Cerise followed together with food.  We were nearly done when Black and purple turned up and ordered their food, so while we were waiting we started a pair of parallel games of the “Feature Game”, The Game: Extreme.  We’ve played the original version, The Game, quite a lot, so were keen to see what this added.  The Game is very simple:  as a group, players must try to to play every card from the deck (numbered two to ninety-nine) onto four piles.  On their turn, the active player must play two cards from their hand on any of the four piles:  for two of the card must be of higher value than the current top card, while for the other two it must must be of lower value.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can discuss anything they like so long as nobody discloses any specific number information and they can play as many cards as they like on their turn so long as they play at least two (until the deck has been depleted, after which they must play one).  To help eveyone out, there is also the so called “Backwards Rule” which allows players to push a pile back so long as the difference between the card they are playing and the card they are covering is exactly ten.  Once the active player has played their cards, they replenish the missing cards.  The game ends when all cards have been played or the active player is unable to play a card.  The game is often compared with Hanabi, as it is a cooperative card game, but for Hanabi to work really well it needs to be played in total silence and with poker faces – anything less and clues are given away unintentionally and the level of “cheating” becomes arguable, but playing like this is very stressful.  In contrast, we find that The Game is much more relaxed and “fun”, which is why we like it.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

The Game: Extreme differs from the original in that the cards have a different colour scheme and twenty-eight of them are marked with special “command”.  There are seven different commands, three that take effect immediately and only directly affect the active player, and four that continue to affect every player on their turn until they are covered by another card.  These commands are all nasty and vary from “play three cards” to “pick up only one card”, or “no talking”.  It was very quickly apparent that the commands make The Game: Extreme much more difficult than The Game.  What was less obvious was that it becomes much more stressful and, as a result, less fun.  After both groups had endured two terrible rounds getting barely half way through the deck, Magenta, Blue and Burgundy came to the conclusion that a large part of the problem was that it felt like the game was playing the players rather than the players playing the game.  Blue commented that it hadn’t felt like that with two players when , so maybe an extra card each would help?  So Magenta, Blue and Burgundy gave it another try with seven cards apiece.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, it was much better – everyone felt like they had meaningful choices instead of no choice, but it was still difficult.  Clearly with the extra cards The Game was much easier, but still not trivial and the group finished with a creditable three cards remaining.  Meanwhile, Pine, Red and Cerise had got bored with dispiriting losses and had moved onto Port Royal Unterwegs.  This is supposed to be the travel edition of Port Royal, though how it is the travel edition, Heaven only knows as the box is the same size as the full version, which itself is big enough to include the expansion as well!  Perhaps it is in reference to the number of cards, which is considerably less than half the number in the full game and, as a result it plays a maximum of four rather than the five in the original.  The cards are different and the rules slightly more succinct too, which make the game play a little more streamlined.

Port Royal Unterwegs
– Image by boardGOATS

Port Royal is a very simple game:  on their turn the active player turns over the top card of the deck and either takes the card if it is a Ship that they want; repels the Ship if they don’t want it and have sufficient cutlass cards to do so; buys the card if it is a Character card that they want and can afford, or places it face up in the display in front of the draw-deck and draws another card.  They continue to do this until they have bought/taken a card, or a Ship is drawn that is the same colour as a ship already in the display and cannot be repelled, in which case, they go bust.  The game uses the same dual use cards trick as Bohnanza where the cards have one meaning when face up and are coins when face down.  In general, each Character card has a special power, but is also worth victory points at the end of the game.  Port Royal Unterwegs is very similar except the characters are generally less complex and the game ends when someone gets to eight points instead of the usual twelve.

Port Royal Unterwegs
– Image by boardGOATS

These changes make Port Royal Unterwegs quite a bit quicker than its parent, but it helps a lot if players have an idea of what they are trying to do and what chances they need to take as there isn’t time for them to come round again.  It turned out that of the group of players only Pine had actually played it before and he had scant recollection of it.  Blue did her best to remind him from the next table, but as there were slight changes to the rules and she didn’t want to let the side down in The Game: Extreme, she couldn’t give them the help they really needed.  After the event, Blue asked Pine what happened and he replied, “Just record it as three people who didn’t know what they were doing…”  Red was similarly vague and aside from the fact that Cerise won and Pine came second, everyone seemed very keen to forget the whole experience.  Maybe one to try again sometime.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of
nonsensicalgamers.com

While all this was going on, Black and Purple on the next table were struggling with one of their Essen acquisitions, Best Treehouse Ever.  This is a card drafting game where players spend three weeks (rounds) building themselves a tree-house.  Similar to games like Between Two Cities, 7 Wonders and Sushi Go!, players start with a hand of cards (in this case six) and then everyone simultaneously chooses one room card and places it face down in front of them before passing the rest of the cards on to their neighbour.  Once everyone has passed their cards on, everyone simultaneously adds their room to their tree-house.  There are very few building restrictions, but it is these that make the game interesting.  For example, tree-houses must be no more than six levels high and each room must be supported by two branches from the room below (except on the outside).  The first room of any colour may be placed anywhere, but those that follow must touch a room of the same colour.  If at any point a room card cannot be placed, it must be discarded, reducing the final magnitude of the tree-house and ultimately the number of points it can score.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

The really clever bit is the “Balance Marker” – a wooden cube at the bottom of the tree.  Everyone knows that when building a tree-house it must be balanced if it is not to collapse.  So, rooms cannot be built on the same side of the tree as the balance marker, which shifts throughout the game based on the players room placement.  Thus, the building restrictions require constant awareness of the position of rooms in a players tree as well as those in the trees of the opposition.  While the ability to start a new set of coloured rooms gives flexibility, players must be cautious not to cut off existing colours too early.  Once all cards have been played or discarded, the round is concluded by a scoring session where players choose one of the four game changer cards, which either multiply the score of one room colour or completely prevent a room colour from scoring.  After three complete rounds there is a final scoring round where players with the majority of one or more room colours at the end of the game will score an additional point per room of that colour.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

With just two players, the scoring s simplified – the multipliers are removed and players have one “this room doesn’t score” card each instead.  As ties don’t score at all in the final round, these become quite critical in a head-to-head game.  This time, both players had level five treehouses, though this was probably largely because it was the first time Black and Purple had played the game and they played too many rounds.  In the final scoring, Purple dominated the red and brown rooms while Black had the majority in yellow and purple rooms.  It was very tight, but Purple took the game by a single point.  Best Treehouse Ever was a game that Black and Blue had discussed getting.  Sadly, it was clear that Black was disappointed that it wasn’t at its best played with two, however, it will doubtless get another outing in the near future with more of us involved.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

With Black and Blue suffering from “German lurgy” and Burgundy still recovering from his last bout, everyone was keen for an early night.  Once Red, Cerise & Magenta had headed off, everyone else settled down to go through the rules of Kerala, a simple little tile laying game with beautiful presentation, while Purple multi-tasked and wrote an essay about her favourite tree-house. In Kerala, each player starts with a single tile in their own colour with two wooden elephants perched precariously on it.  On their turn, the active player draws the same number of tiles from the bag as there are players and then chooses one before everyone else takes it in turns choosing one.  Players then simultaneously place their tiles next to a tile with an elephant on it and move the elephant onto the new tile.  The tile can be placed in an empty space, or on top of a tile previously laid.  Thus, over the course of the game players’ elephants ponderously move over their play-area with players messing with the player to their left by leaving them with tiles they don’t want.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

Tiles come in the five different player colours:  red, green, blue, black and purple.  At the end of the game players require precisely one contiguous region of each colour (with two allowed for their own colour); if they are missing a colour they lose five points and if any regions appear more than once, tiles must be removed with a penalty of two points per tile.  There are three types of tiles, Elephant tiles, Edge tiles and Action tiles.  Elephant tiles score points at the end of the game with players receiving one point for each elephant visible. “Edge” tiles have one side with a different colour; if these are adjacent to the correct colour the player scores an additional five points otherwise they can be ignored.  There are also two sorts of action tiles, which score no points but allows the player to move either a tile or an Elephant.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

After a few slight rules queries, everyone got on with the gentle action of choosing tiles and moving elephants, but gradually everyone became aware of the game’s “Tusks” as Blue left Pine with something he really didn’t want for the second time and what had initially seemed like multiplayer solitaire suddenly wasn’t.  As their areas expanded, players gradually got themselves into difficulties and then struggled to get themselves out of them again.  Although nobody pulled their punches when choosing tiles to leave, everyone offered genuine assistance and friendly opinions, especially to those unfortunate players left with rubbish at the end of the round.  Predictably, having played it before, Blue finished some way ahead of the pack, though Black, with a veritable troop of Elephants in a very tidy array joint top-scored with forty-five, eight ahead of Pine in third.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Essen is Awsome, and Blue needs cloning.

26th July 2016

To celebrate Codenames winning the Spiel des Jahres Award, this week it was our “Feature Game”.   Although the game seems to be very, very popular, it definitely has the “Marmite Factor” amongst our group.  It also really needs a group of a reasonable size.  Since it is relatively quick, even the most reluctant agreed to give it a go, especially as Cerise had made it for the first time in ages and it was a game she had really enjoyed last time we played it.  It was also Turquoise’s first visit, so a team game seemed a good way of starting.  The idea of the game is that there are two rival teams of Spies, each with a leader or Spymaster.  The Spies are trying to locate their Agents, but these are only known by their Codenames, and only the Spymasters have the key to who is on which team.  The Codenames are laid out on the table in a five by five array where everyone can see them together with some innocent bystanders and an Assassin.  The Spymasters then take it in turns to give clues to their team so that the Spies can identify their own team’s Agents by pointing at them.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

Clues are of the form “word; number”, where “word” is a clue that connects several cards and “Number” is the number of connected cards.  For example, the clue “bird; three” might connect “sparrow”, “beak” and “Naomi Campbell”.  The team then discuss the clue and point to code cards, one at a time.  If they get it wrong, their turn ends straight away, so ideally they should start with the answers they think are most obvious.  If the Codename corresponds to one of their agents, then the team can guess again, and keep trying until they have exhausted their theoretical maximum number cards that match the clue (three in the example).  Importantly, the only measure of “correct” is whether the Codename is one of the Agents, the agent chosen does not actually have to match the current clue.  So, a team who can’t make sense of a clue or identify all the Codenames may decide point to a Codename that matches a clue given earlier in the game.  For this reason, when a team get all their theoretical maximum number of Codenames for that turn right, they also get one extra chance.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

So, the trick is for the leader to come up with clues that cover multiple correct answers so that the rest of the team can identify the complete set before the opposition identify all theirs. Unfortunately, we had a particularly unconnected set of words and two Spymasters, Blue and Burgundy, who were particularly useless at this sort of thing.  Consequently there were lots of clues like “continent; one”, and when Blue got adventurous and went for “music; two” she totally confused her team and was perilously close to a hint that could lead to the Assassin (Codename “Snowman”) and bring the game to an abrupt end.  “Zooloretto; two” also fell on stony ground since nobody on Blue’s team had actually played it (where everyone in Burgundy’s team had).  The game remained finely balanced as Blue continued to try to give slightly more adventurous clues which her team didn’t always get, while Burgundy played safe with smaller clues that his team understood.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

It all came to a head when, with only two Agents left to find, Burgundy decided to be adventurous and gave the clue “film; two”.  His team quickly got one of them, “Alien”, but the second was more tricky.  Green thought it was probably “forest” (as in “The Forest Moon of Endor”), but could also be several other things.  Cerise, on the opposite team leant a hand and suggested that it could be “wind” as in “Gone with the…”  or maybe “snowman”.  Meanwhile, Burgundy remained stony-faced, in what were very trying circumstances.  Eventually the team ignored Cerise (who had managed to suggest both the correct answer and the Assassin), which gave Blue and her team one last chance.  With only one Agent left to guess, there was only a short pause before they finished the game.  There was a big sigh of relief all round as everyone was put out of their misery, particularly Blue and Burgundy who had found the whole clue-giving experience very stressful indeed.  Unquestionably, with the right crowd Codenames could be great fun, but sadly, we just aren’t it, so it is unlikely to get another outing in the near future – definitely not our group’s Spiel des Jahres this year.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

With that over, we decided to split into two groups.  Black and Purple were keen to give Imhotep a try (one of the other Spiel des Jahres Award nominees), as they had wanted to play it at the UK Games Expo, but it had been constantly booked out of the games library.  Burgundy had played it (also at Expo, with Blue and Pink), had enjoyed it and was happy to give it another go, so Green made up a group of four.  As well as being the key protagonist in the film, “The Mummy”, Imhotep was also a priest and a great architect.  So in this game, players take the role of builders in Egypt who are trying to emulate Imhotep.  The premise of the game is very simple.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions:  procure new stones; load stones on a boat; sail a boat to a monument; or play an action card.  Players can only store a maximum of five stones and when they procure stones they can collect a maximum of three.  Stones are loaded onto ships one at a time, but which of the five possible destinations the boats end up at and the order they are unloaded in is vital, so timing and planning is everything.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Admittedly the lovely big wooden blocks make this game feel like a “junior” board game, but Imhotep is anything but.  It is one of those games that is easy to learn but difficult to master. Although players have a range of options, trying to decide which one is best depends on what has already transpired, what opponents do and how the game will develop.  What makes it particularly tricky is that the best plans in the world can be crushed by opponents with one small action: when they take a boat to the “wrong place”.  It turns out the cubes are large for a good reason:  stacking cubes is a key part of the game and anything smaller would make a very wobbly obelisk.  There are four ships and five building locations, so one doesn’t get visited and the round ends when all four boats have sailed.  There are six rounds in total with points scored in different ways for the different buildings; the player with the most points at the end is declared the best builder in Egypt.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Once everything was set up, the game got under way, but then almost stalled. Nobody had any idea what should be a good opening gambit.  Placing a cube on a ship was the easy choice, but which ship and in which position?  After some head scratching, everyone began placing cubes on boats, making plans where wanted the ships should go, waiting for them to be full, when suddenly, Purple jumped the gun and sent the first boat on its way.  She chose a boat with one cube of each of her competitors and sent it build an Obelisk, catching everyone by surprise.  It wasn’t a particularly bad place to go, but the obelisk doesn’t score until the end and since the highest scores are for the tallest towers, it might not actually be the most efficient use of a cube, especially so early in the game.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The rest of the first round continued to be a lesson in frustration as each of the other boats ended up somewhere other than where players had planned. The next boat went to the Burial Chambers (another scoring at the end of the game), the third to the Wall (scored at the end of the round, but only one point per cube) and the last went to the Market to get cards. As Green was first on the boat he had the first choice of the cards available and based on that first boat he chose the card that gave him an extra point for every 3 cubes in the Obelisk (any three cubes, not just his own).  Now no-one other than Green wanted a boat to go to the Obelisk.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The second round began a little more cautiously.  Everyone had a better idea of how the round would go and began placing their cubes in particular positions on the ships.  The game continued to frustrate everyone as the ships just wouldn’t go where players wanted them to go.  This is frustration is similar to that in Zooloretto where players place animals on trucks, but have to wait until the next turn to collect them, if someone else hasn’t got there first, of course.  In Imhotep, it was usually pretty obvious where players wanted the boat to go, so someone else almost always got there first to send it somewhere else!

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The unusual scoring of the Pyramid (not steadily increasing or decreasing points) meant that everyone tried to position themselves carefully for that optimum high scoring space, but no-one ever managed to get the boat set up quite how they wanted.  As a result, again no boat went to the pyramid.  The obelisks grew, and the pattern of the Burial Chamber was going in Black and Burgundy’s favour and the Wall scored a few more points, mostly for Purple. The Wall was beginning to show its strength as a cube placed there can score round after round until it is covered – potentially scoring well.  The market cards were dolled out, with Burgundy and Black both taking a blue extra action cards for later use. Green wasn’t sure what to take and ended up with a purple end game scoring card which would only come into it’s own if he could collect a few more.  In the third round the pyramid finally got started, in Black’s favour. The game continued in much the same way, individual plans were more and more obvious and as a result became harder and harder to fulfil.  The trouble was, in taking an action to scupper someone else it often helped a different player or upset their own plans.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

By the end of the game nobody was sure who the winner was going to be.   Before adding all the end-game scores, Burgundy was ahead of Black and Purple, with Green trailing behind.  Everyone had managed a couple of areas in the Burial Chamber, but despite best efforts to scupper him, Burgundy still had the largest area.  The Obelisks had become a fraught battle field at the end.  Black had thrown down the gauntlet to take a boat there which only had two of his cubes and pushed him into the lead, but in the penultimate round Green had sailed a sneaky little single cube boat which made his tower equal.  By making sure that he placed a cube in any boat that Black had used, Green then ensuring that he would at least share the Obelisk spoils. The presence of a single cube boat in that last round, was interesting, but no-one wanted to use it as it was guaranteed that the cube would get taken to the least useful dock, so in the end the Obelisk scores for first and second place were shared between Black and Green with Purple and Burgundy sharing the scores for third and fourth place.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

With Black now several points ahead, Burgundy and Green were vying for second with only the the green and purple end-game scoring cards left, though only Black and Green had any.  Black scored points for every three cubes in the burial chamber, which extended his lead and now looked unassailable.  Green got his Obelisk cubes score, which proved to be the same as Black took for the burial chamber, but with three purple cards giving him another six points he leap-frogged over Black to win by one point.  It was an incredibly close game which suggests that where cubes go may not matter as much as it feels like it should.  On one hand, this seems like a good thing as it relieves the pressure of all those boats going to the “wrong place”, but on the other hand it may suggest the game is a little too balanced making strategy play is less important, which would be a great shame.  Everyone really enjoyed it, however, and would definitely play it again especially as it plays quickly and the alternative tile options look as though they would add variety and new challenges to the game keeping it fresh.  For our group, from the nominations list, this would definitely have been our choice of Spiel des Jahres.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, everyone else was engaged in a brutal game of Colt Express, the worthy winner of last year’s Spiel des Jahres.  This is a programming game, where players take it in turns to choose the cards to they will play, but only action them after everyone has chosen.  Since everyone then takes it in turns to carry out their actions, the game is full of unforeseen consequences.  The game has a Western theme and is played on a fabulous three-dimensional train.  The idea is that each player is a bandit attacking the train trying to move about to pick up cash and jewels while avoiding the Marshall and shooting each other.  Although we’ve played this a few times, we had a couple of people who hadn’t played it before so we had a quick run-down of the rules first.  Each player starts with the same deck of action cards and six bullet cards.  A round card dictates how many cards will be played and how (face up or down; in pairs or singly) and players each shuffle their action deck and draw six cards.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Players then take it in turns to play the action cards.  At the beginning of a round everyone can see where everyone else is and it is easy to choose which card to play and predict its outcome.  Before long, however, things begin to become unpredictable and by the time players have to choose a second card it is highly likely that plans will have gone awry, though of course, nobody know this yet.  Once the cards have all been played, the pile of cards is turned over and the cards are actioned in the order that they were played.  It is only at this point that people realise the mistakes they’ve unwittingly made, shooting nobody or the wrong person, trying to pick up jewels that aren’t there or finding they’ve got nowhere to go because the Marshal is in the way and has screwed up their plans.  As the game progresses, things get worse too since shooting someone involves passing them a bullet card.  This is added to their action deck, but is a dead card and gives no possible actions.  Multiple bullet cards means the chance of drawing them increases making the action cards drawn all the more precious and adding pressure to make the maximum use of them.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Colt Express is a light, fun game and inevitably, someone gets picked on.  This time Blue was the victim (playing the character Django).  Magenta (playing the innocent looking Belle) started using Blue for target practice, but Cerise (Doc) was very quick to join in the fun.  Blue did her best to escape and briefly managed to grab the $1,000 strongbox (gold bar in our version of the game) before Magenta biffed her soundly on the nose and nabbed it.  Meanwhile, Cerise and Turquoise were doing an excellent job of gathering up the loot and robbing the passengers blind, before they decided to try to empty their revolvers.  Obviously, this was mostly at Blue’s expense and with so many bullet cards she struggled to do anything, but that didn’t put people off of course.  Before long even the Marshall was getting in on the act and, much to her disgust, Blue finished the game with more bullets than action cards and no money or gems at all.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

For everyone else, however, the game was quite close.  Magenta had managed to hang onto the gold bar (aka strongbox) and one gem, but it wasn’t enough to compete with Turquoise and Cerise.  Turquoise had picked up a massive five money purses while Cerise added the Sharp Shooter bonus to her one gem and single purse.  Much to our surprise, both totalled $1,850 which meant we had to check the rules for a tie-breaker.  It turned out this was the number of bullets received, which meant that even though she was a long way from competing, Blue had an influence on the result.  As well as being a bullet-magnet, Blue had just about managed to fire a couple of shots in return.  Cerise had been one of the main attackers, so she had caught a few of Blue’s bullets as well as a couple of Magenta’s.  Since Turquoise had rarely fired at anyone, she had picked up just two bullets and with it, her second win of the evening, with Cerise getting her comeuppance.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor lacxox

With it nearing “pumpkin time” for Magenta and Turquoise, there was just time for one last quick game and, almost inevitably, that was 6 Nimmt!.  How this game is still interesting for our group, is a bit of a mystery.  It is short, everyone is always happy to play it and, since it has such a small footprint, it gets brought every week which means it is there when the occasion is right, the mystery though is why people haven’t got bored when other games have long since fallen off the radar.  This time Purple started badly picking up twenty Nimmts in the first round while Turquoise began with a clean sheet.  Burgundy started well with just two Nimmts, but since he always has one good round and one bad, everyone was just waiting for him to start collecting cards in the second round.  Magenta and Blue both had consistently low scores, but they weren’t low enough, and while Purple also made a virtue of consistency, that’s not so good when the scores are both high.  Sadly, Turquoise was forced to pick up a couple of high-scoring of cards while Burgundy, very unusually managed to string two good rounds together.  With a clear round for his second, Burgundy took the game with a total of just two Nimmts, beating Turquoise into second place.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

With Cerise, Magenta and Turquoise heading off, that left a short hour for something else.  Black was keen to play Isle of Skye, the winner of this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres, but Green somehow hadn’t played it and we debated whether it would overrun.  Before long we’d prevaricated enough to definitely rule it out due to lack of time and we started hunting round for something else.  In the end we settled on The Game, a nice little cooperative card game that was nominated for last year’s Spiel des Jahres.  We played this quite a bit for a while, but somehow it has fallen out of favour a little of late, but for no very good reason.  The rules are simple: on their turn, the active player lays a minimum of two cards on any of the four piles following the appropriate trend – two piles must always increase, two decrease; the exception to this is if you can play a card where the interval is exactly ten in the wrong direction (known as “The Backwards Rule”).  Players can talk about anything so long as there is no specific number information given and the aim is to cooperatively get rid of all ninety-eight cards by playing them on to the four piles.

The Game
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The Game started badly and then it got worse.  Before long we were wondering whether we were even going to get through the deck.  Our excuse was that the game is harder with five, but that may or may not actually be the case.  Eventually, we finally managed to exhaust the draw deck, leaving just the cards in hand, but it was inevitable that we weren’t going to be able to place every card as several players had lots of very low cards in a run.  In the end we finished with eight unplayable cards.  We felt we might have been able to place a couple more with a bit more planning, discussion and thought at the end, but everyone was tired and it was home time, so our collective competitive streak had deserted us.  Maybe it will come back for next time…

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Prize-winning games can be a little bit hit and miss and depend strongly on the group too.

23rd February 2016

After another quick game of Love Letter (a resounding win for Magenta), we moved on to our “Feature Game”, Kobayakawa.   This is a simple little Japanese micro-filler game with elements of betting and push-your-luck.  The rules sounded unpromising, but it was much more fun on the table.  The idea is very simple:  from a deck numbered one to fifteen, each player is dealt a single card with one extra one face up in the middle.  Like Love Letter, players draw a card and chose which to keep, but the aim is different as players are trying to set themselves up for the second phase of the game.  In the second phase, players take it in turns in player order choosing whether to pay a token to join the bidding or not. The player with the highest card in hand wins the pot and the winner over all is the player with the most tokens after seven rounds.  There is a catch, however, as the player with the lowest card gets to add the face up card to their total.

Kobayakawa
– Image by boardGOATS

It is at this point that the little bit of strategy comes in:  in the first phase, players can choose to replace the face up card instead of drawing a card into their hand.  It is only a very little bit of strategy though, since play is strictly in player order and at the start of the round you have almost no information.  Thus, a player who has chosen to keep a low card can find their round is trashed when the last player in the round changes the face-up card from a high value to a low one.  That said, the game is not meant to be an intensely deep strategy game, and it was much more fun than it sounded on reading through the rules.  Pine took an early lead with Green crashing out as he ran out of tokens.  Although we enjoyed it, we felt the end-game could do with a little work as the rules say that everyone who has enough tokens must pay two to join in the last round of bidding (instead of one as previously).  This increases the value of winning the final round and means the preceding rounds can be essentially meaningless unless a player has managed to accrue more than half the number of tokens available (and in that case the final round is pointless instead).  We felt that maybe the game would be better with an early target, with the winner being the player to collect, say, three times the number of tokens as players, and if that hadn’t happened by round seven, then play the final round.

Kobayakawa
– Image by boardGOATS

This was followed by a short break during which we discussed what to play next and got side-tracked by an (unusually serious) conversation regarding the upcoming EU referendum.  As the debate disintegrated into general moaning along the lines of European stereotypes Green felt a game of Lancaster was in order, as it is a game where players are directing noble families from the time of Henry V, vying for power and favour amongst themselves, with a side order of fighting the French.  This is a game that has had a couple of outings recently since we first played it just after Christmas, but this time we decided to add the Reward Tiles mini-expansion.  Pine was the only one not to have played it before, so we had a quick run-through of the rules.  Players take it in turns to place their knights in one of three places:  in the shires; in their castle, or in the wars in France.  Once the knights have been placed, players then vote on and evaluate “the Laws” which give players a benefit just before they get their their rewards for knight placement.  After five rounds, the player with the most points wins.

Lancaster: Reward Tiles
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Baartoszz

The mini-expansion added reward tiles which are drawn at the start of each round and placed next to a county on the game board.  During the rewards phase, the player who takes control of the county may collect the reward tile instead of the imprinted basic reward (collecting both the nobleman tile and the reward tile if they pay the extras).  Clearly these weren’t going to have a huge impact on the game, though they would make some of the benefits slightly more available during the game, something that had the potential to help out Purple who insisted that she never did very well as Green and Black always knocked her out of the castle improvement counties (something that was not denied).  The first round of knight placement was a benign affair as no-one seemed up for a fight. Black concentrated on beating the French, Purple inevitably went for castle improvements, Green wanted the starting token and Pine thought building up his knights would be a good start.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor kopernikus

Then came the first phase of voting for the Laws. Confusion abounded concerning quite how it worked, and having been fairly unanimous in our votes we prepared to discard two laws and replace them with two more. A quick check of the rules about how we do this indicated that we’d done it all wrong:  we should have voted for the new laws we wanted not the old laws we wanted to keep.  There was a little more discord at the ballot box when we tried again, but we still got two new Laws.  With that, the most complicated part of the game, out of the way for the first time, we went into the rewards round with players counties collecting knights, castle improvements, voting cubes and squires, and awarding points for the victory in France.  It was when we came to the rewards from the Laws that Green realised that all his calculations as to what he would get were wrong since number of squires and money had suddenly changed.  It was only when placing the knights in the second round that Green realised that the rewards from the Laws should be awarded immediately after the vote and before the rewards from the rest of the board.  We changed to follow the rules for the rest of the game, but did think that it could make an interesting variant as it provides an extra level of uncertainty into the game.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Over the next couple of rounds, Black continued his grudge against France, Purple tried to build her castle (largely unsuccessfully), Green gathered voting nobleman around his table and Pine built up his fighting strength.  By round three Purple and Black had both accumulated a lot of squires and Pine and Green found themselves being kicked out of a few counties and having to replace somewhere else and by the fourth round, the knives were really out and the counties were changing hands like “pass the parcel” at a birthday party.  Pine and Green had superior knight strength, but Black and Purple had the upper hand with squires; battles raged across the land and the rivers ran red with the blood of so many faithful soldiers.

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

The battles continued into the final round, however, Black had often swiped the nobleman from under the noses of the other players by judicious use the free nobleman king’s favour and the free nobleman alternative reward from the expansion (the only person to actually take advantage of it in the whole game). Eventually, everyone settled with several sending their knights home to treat their wounds, and the game ended except final scoring.  Black began the scoring several points ahead of the others and it looked like his fighting in France may have paid off, especially as he had managed to gain quite a table of nobleman as well. The superior knights of Green and Pine and the better castles of Pine and Purple brought them a little closer to Black prior to the nobleman scoring.  Black and Purple finished with the same number of nobles giving them fifteen points, but Green finished with two more which he had snuck in right at the end and took him to a near full compliment giving him an extra thirteen points and with it the win, leapfrogging Black in second place with Pine finishing just one point behind in third.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In discussing the game after, Pine said he quite enjoyed it and we ruminated on how weak the castle improvements seemed to be, more because they were so hard to get early on, when they would provide the most benefit whereas later on they were of less use.  This brought in the idea of using the expansion extra reward tokens all at the beginning of the game rather than only one new one out each round.  We also wondered if placing them randomly rather than on specific counties could work, though that might need some thought.

Lancaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, Blue, mindful that Green and Burgundy had been keen to play Endeavour again, had produced that as a her offering for a game about international treaties.  With Green engaged elsewhere, Blue and Burgundy recruited Magenta to the cause and gave her a rules run-down as she had not played it before.  The game felt much less confusing than last time as it was fresh in Blue’s and Burgundy’s minds having played it within a month.  So, despite all the little bits that need to be set out, the perceived complexity of the game and the relative inexperience of the players, Endeavour was actually under way first.  The game is played over seven rounds, each of which consists of four phases:  Building, Population, Income and Action.  The idea is that players have four status tracks which correspond to Industry, Culture, Finance and Politics, which roughly correspond to the four phases and dictate what players are allowed to do at each stage.  The game is actually much less confusing than we made it last time, though there are a number of apparently little rules that have the potential to make a large difference.  For example, last time at least one player had multiple copies of one building which can significantly change the balance of the game as well as potentially making that building unavailable to other players.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players start by choosing a building:  although the choice is very limited at the beginning so everyone begins with only a slight variation in direction, we have a feeling that the choices made very early on in the game are critical.  Similarly, getting the first round of settling and shipping right is vital as this gives both position and a crucial fast start on the status tracks allowing players an early toe-hold in the game.  As such, Magenta was at something of a disadvantage not having seen the game play out before, though with just three players (compared to four last time) there was just a little more wriggle room.  Burgundy and Magenta began by building Shipyards, so Blue decided to do something different (largely just for the sake of it) and built a Market instead.  Although she didn’t plan it that way, it meant that she was first to start picking up cards from the Asset Deck in Europe, giving her an alternative method of building her status tracks.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Magenta and Burgundy were both engaging in shipping though Magenta was having the better of it managed use to build up her Population and Income tracks and quickly took the Governorship of South America.  Somehow, Burgundy had got things very slightly out of kilter and was unable to put them right.  Before long his Income status track had fallen behind which restricted his available population as well as blocking up his action spaces.  Magenta was on roll judiciously shipping, settling and picking up Asset cards, and generally playing a very canny game.  In the previous game, with four players, almost all the board had been opened up in what had been a very tight game.  This time, with only three players, large sections of the board didn’t get explored much at all.  This was exacerbated by Blue only starting her shipping slowly, so Burgundy had to make almost all the running in India, which was hard work, but necessary for him to build a network of settlements.  Matters were made worse for him with Blue pouncing on one of his key targets.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Although everyone finished in much the same place, as before, with nearly complete status tracks and a near full set of cards, it was clear that Burgundy had struggled and Magenta had really done very well.  Blue’s position was less clear as she hadn’t done quite as well as Magenta on the status tracks (especially as she had to discard one of her cards at the end of the final round), but had picked up points elsewhere, in particular on her Asset cards.  In the final count, Burgundy was nowhere near as far back as we had thought and it was clear that if he had been able to increase his income just slightly, earlier in the game, he would have been way out in front.  As it was, Blue finished some twelve points clear thanks to her Asset card victory points and more cities than anyone else.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Lancaster was still under way, so Burgundy, Magenta and Blue decided to play something small and quick that they all knew.  The minimal set-up time and its more relaxed feel commended The Game, and since the decision had to be made quickly, no-one really looked any further.  We’ve played this simple little card-laying co-operative game a lot, so the only thing we needed to check was the number of cards in the starting hand.  Unfortunately, an appalling deal quickly put paid to our “R&R” and the stress levels quickly rose as it looked highly likely that we weren’t going to even get through the deck.  In the event, we just about managed to get to a point where the draw deck was depleted, but that was it and we finished with seventeen unplayed cards.  Lancaster was drawing to a close, but scores still had to be tallied and there were a lot of bits to put away, so we decided to give it another go, with speed.  Not thinking seemed to help (or maybe it was the practice from the previous try), because we made a much better fist of it, finishing with just four unplayed cards.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

With Magenta heading home for an early night, there was just enough time (and people) for a quick game of one of our most popular fillers, Om Nom Nom.  The game is quite simple with players simultaneously choosing animal cards to try to eat as much possible:  for example, a cat will eat mice.  Similarly a mouse can eat cheese, but only if it is not eaten by a cat first.  The board is seeded with dice, after which there is a large dose of double-think as players try to guess whether everyone/anyone else is going to go for the largest tastiest helpings or not.  As usual, Green moaned about how badly he does in the game, and tried his usual array of randomly choosing cards and going for his second choice rather than his first, but for all that, he didn’t do so badly in the end, though he was some way behind Blue who just pipped Pine thanks to a large helping of carrots (which, it turns out score double) in the final round.

Om Nom Nom
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Learning Outcome: Games can be very different when you change even the smallest of rules…