Tag Archives: The Settlers of Catan

29th October 2019

Blue and Pink were first on the scene, armed with special deliveries from Essen and some new exciting toys to play with.  Burgundy, Pine, Lime and Green weren’t far behind and soon those that hadn’t eaten earlier were tucking in.  Inevitably, the conversation was all about the games fair in Essen and how much it had grown – this year, according the organisers, there were over 209,000 participants, ten percent more than last year.  There were also one thousand two hundred exhibitors from fifty-three nations, occupying six large halls, around twice the hall space when Green last went.

Essen 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

As people arrived, they received their consignments.  Purple and Black got their sadly rather squished copy of the new release, Fast Sloths complete with Expansion and Chameleon promo, a copy of the new portable set of Settlers of Catan (“Catan Traveller“) and a several bags of German lebkuchen biscuits.  Burgundy got his annual Concordia expansion (the Balearica/Cyprus map) and the European Birds expansion for Wingspan.  This last game was one of the sell-out games at Essen, and Blue and Pink had been at the front of what became a very long queue to get it.  That said, the length was probably more to do with the fact that it was also the queue to get a hand on one of the fifty English language copies of Tapestry at the show. Given the fact that Wingspan is very popular at the moment and it would need very little learning, the new expansion was “Feature Game” for the night.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is relatively simple, with players collecting birds for their reserves.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions/habitats, and then starting with the card furthest to the right in that habitat, activating each card in turn.  The actions associated with the habitats are spending food to play cards; getting food; laying eggs, and more drawing bird cards.  Players start with eight possible actions per turn, which gradually reduces to five over the course of the four rounds of the game.  All the bird cards in the game have actions that fit with their real-life behaviour.  For example, the food needed to play cards closely resembles their diet, the number of eggs each bird has in their nest is proportionately correct and bonus actions are associated with birds that flock and birds of prey.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The European Expansion adds more birds that mostly do more of the same thing, but includes birds that have new end of round powers.  There were enough copies for everyone to play, so we set up two games in tandem.  Blue, Green and Pink helped Burgundy christen his new copy, while Black, Purple, Ivory, Pine and Lime gave Blue and Pink’s copy it’s first outing.  After making sure all the new cards were thoroughly shuffled into the deck, Burgundy’s group were first to get started.  The end of round objectives were particularly awkward as the final round rewarded players with the most birds without eggs on nests (one of the new objective tiles).

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue started off very well, but then her game stalled as she struggled to find useful cards.  Burgundy wasn’t far behind and his very hungry Griffon Vulture seemed to be very effective when it came to catching mice.  Blue’s Barred Owl was also successful on almost every occasion it went hunting while Green’s Northern Harrier repeatedly went hungry.  Meanwhile, Pink was building a very fine reserve with lots of high value birds, although he felt they didn’t give him such effective actions.  With Blue struggling to get anything she could play and Green muttering about not understanding the game, it was left to Pink and Burgundy to fight it out.  In the end, although Pink had far more interesting birds, Burgundy did much better with his personal objectives and end of round objectives, giving him a total of seventy-three points, nine more than Pink in second place.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

On the neighbouring table, everyone started off slowly.  Black grabbed one of the new European birds that allowed him to steal food which he used to great effect.  Black and Lime also took one of the new end of round bonus cards each which allowed them both to tuck cards.  Pine played a Long-tailed Tit, one of the new double space birds, allowing him to get lots of food. Ivory focused on cards with activation powers and in the second round, he and Lime built egg laying engines, with Lime making good use of his Fish Crow which allowed him to exchange eggs for food. Purple struggled due to the lack of fish, clearly having an eye on the last round objective (most birds in wetlands).

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Both Pine and Lime struggled seeing and understanding the cards, but despite this, both managed to get effective engines going, particularly Lime.  By the end, Black had lots of valuable birds and did well on his objectives and Pine missed out on a seven point objective bonus by just by one corn eating bird (getting three points instead). Black also did well on tucked cards, as did Lime.  Everyone drew for the first end of round objective (most birds in any row), with Ivory followed by Lime for the second (most birds with “brown powers”).  Lime managed to win the third round objective battle (most grassland birds), edging Ivory into second place, but the final round (most wetland birds), was a three-way tie between Ivory (again!), Pine and Purple who all had the maximum number of birds in their wetland.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Although he did well on objectives, in the final round Ivory’s primary focus was on getting as many eggs laid as possible and he finished with a massive twenty-seven, a significant contributor to his final, winning score of seventy-nine, seven more than Black in second place and ten more than Lime in third.  There was the inevitable comparisons between the two games, and when Ivory asked whether people felt the expansion had made much difference to the game, opinions seemed divided.  Having birds he could see in his garden had made a big difference to Pine, though to those people who were less interested in our feathered friends and more interested in the game play, the expansion had made less of an impact.  For those that have it though, the European expansion will no-doubt remain a permanent feature.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The four-player game including Burgundy, Pink, Blue and Green finished first by some margin, giving them time to play something else.  With Blue and Pink having exchanged last year’s variant on the 2018 Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul (Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra), for this Essen’s latest model, Azul: Summer Pavilion, this seemed a good time to give it an outing.  All three games are based round a clever “market” mechanism:  players take all the tiles of one colour from one of the stalls and put the rest in the central pool, or take all the tiles of one colour from the central pool.  In the original game and in the second iteration, these are placed straight away in a tableau, with the original representing a mosaic and the second a stained glass window.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

In the new, Summer Pavilion variant, tiles taken from the market are put to one side for the second phase when players take it in turns to place them on their personal player board.  Where the tiles in the first two versions are square (opaque and clear plastic respectively), in the new edition, they are rhombus-shaped.  Instead of rows, each player’s tableau consists of stars made  up of six rhombi.  In this game, as they add pieces players score points for the size of the block.  For example, adding a piece to an existing partial star consisting of two pieces gives three points.  Thus, increasing the size progressively yields increasing amounts of points.  Although this is an obvious difference, the biggest difference in the game play is the cost of placing tiles and the use of “Wilds”.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Each space on a player’s tableau has a number on it: one to six.  This is the cost to place a tile in that space.  So, placing on a six-space means they place one tile on the board and five in the tile tower.  The tiles must all match the colour being placed, however, every round, one of the six colours is “Wild” and this can be used as a substitute.  The Wild colour affects the tile drawing phase too:  Wilds cannot be chosen from the market, however, if there is are Wilds present in the market, one (and only one) must be taken as well.  For example, if there are two blue tiles, a red and a green (which is Wild), the player can take the two blues and the green, or the red and the green, but cannot take the green alone.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

There are several bonuses, both in game and end game.  Players who surround certain features on their tableau get to take extra tiles from a second, special market.  This helps grease the wheels and makes the decision space a little more interesting too.  At the end of the game, players get bonus points for completing stars and for covering all the “ones”, all the “twos” etc..  The stars give different numbers of points depending on the colour.  Each tableau has one of each colour available and one central multicolour star in which every tile must be a different colour.  At the end of the game, the player with the most points is the winner.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Blue had found time to punch the pieces in advance, she had not been able to read the rules properly so did it on the fly – the rules are not long, nor are they complex.  That said, this version certainly adds strategic depth compared with the original, without the fiddliness of the second version.  Without any experience, there were no clear strategies.  Blue targeted the bonus points for the must lucrative, purple star and the central star as “low hanging fruit”, while Pink went for the in-game bonus tiles and picked up the extras for completing all the “ones” and “twos”, but didn’t quite make the “threes”.  Burgundy played for some of the less valuable stars and Green struggled to get anything to work at all.  It was really close, with only one point between Blue and Burgundy, and Pink just a handful of points behind him.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

This was a brand new game, never played by anyone round the table, so inevitably, something got missed in the rules.  In both the base game, Azul, and the follow-up, Stained Glass of Sintra, the first person to take tiles from the central pool in each round takes the first player marker and a penalty for doing so.  The same is true here, but unlike the base game, the size of the penalty depends on the number of tiles taken with the first player token.  Everyone played by the same rules, so nothing was “unfair” and nobody noticed any balance issues, however, in such a close game it is very likely to have made a difference.  We’ll get it right next time!

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Essen is Awesome!

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

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

UKGE 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Foothills
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Horticulture Master
– Image by boardGOATS

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

UKGE 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

5th March 2019

The evening started with lots of chit-chat including discussions about the smell of weed (the cheap stuff is called skunk for good reason apparently), a Czech bloke who was eaten by his illegally kept lion and the fact that Pine was feeling very poorly (which ultimately turned out to be a nasty case of cellulitis rather than man-flu). Meanwhile, lots of pancakes were eaten and there was a mix-up between Blue’s and Green’s leading to much hilarity.  The return of Ivory after a a couple of months on “sabbatical” heralded the long awaited Key Flow, as the “Feature Game”.  Key Flow is a card game version of one of our favourite games, Keyflower, and before Ivory left we promised we would save it for his return.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple and Black quickly excused themselves from playing Key Flow, and with Blue, Burgundy and Green joining Ivory, the group divided into two with unusual alacrity.  Blue and Burgundy explained the rules, which though related to Keyflower (and by extension, Key to the City: London) with familiar iconography and similarly played over four seasons, give the game a very different feel.  Key Flow is a very smooth card drafting game, so players start with a hand of cards and choose to one to play and hand the rest on to the next player.  The cards come in three flavours:  village buildings, riverside buildings and meeples.  Village cards are placed in a player’s village, in a row extending either side of their starting home card.  Riverside tiles are placed in a row below, slightly off-set.  Meeple cards are used to activate Village cards by placing them above the relevant building.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

As in Keyflower, buildings provide resources, skill tiles, transport and upgrades.  They also provide meeple tokens which can be used to increase the power of meeple cards or activate a player’s own buildings at the end of the round.  Arguably the clever part is how the meeple cards work.  At the centre of each card there are a number of meeples which dictate the power of the card.  A single meeple card can be played on any empty building; a double meeple card can be played on an empty building or one where one other card has already been played.  If two cards have already been played, a triple meeple card is required to activate it a third and final time.  Alternatively, a lower power meeple card can be played with one of the meeple tokens, which upgrade a single meeple card to a triple meeple card.  Double meeple cards can also be upgraded, but each building can only be activated a maximum of three times per round.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

The really clever part is that the meeple cards have arrows on them indicating where they can be played:  in the player’s own village, in the neighbouring village to the right, the village to the left, or some combination.  In the four player game, this means everyone has access to the buildings in three of the villages, but not the fourth (located opposite).  And in this game that was critical for Blue.  As in Keyflower, players begin the game with a small number of winter scoring tiles (cards in Key Flow), which can be used to drive their strategy.  In Key Flow, each player additionally chooses one at the start of the final round, so they know they are guaranteed to keep one of these and can invest more deeply in one strategy.  As a result, Blue was caught in a difficult situation.  As the game developed, Burgundy and Ivory both collected a lot of skill tiles; Blue was also interested as she had received the Scribe winter card at the start which gives seven points for every set of three different skill tiles.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for Blue, she could only get pick-axe skill tiles and Green sat opposite, had the Hiring Fair which would have allowed her to change some of them, but the seating position meant she couldn’t use it.  Ivory had other plans, however, and was busy picking up pigs and sheep.  Burgundy was producing gold and Green was producing wood.  Everyone was hampered by a paucity of coal as the Key Mine and miner cards were among those removed at random at the start of the game.  The game progressed through the seasons, and the game is very smooth, with more restrictions on the decisions and less of the negative, obstructive bidding that often features in Keyflower, making it a bit quicker to boot, though the setup is a little tedious.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Green were not in the running which was notable as they usually both do well with Keyflower, but both had struggled to get the cards or skill tiles they needed for their strategies.  In truth, though the theme is similar and the iconography and some of the mechanisms are the same, the two games are really very different, so perhaps it was not so surprising after all.  It was very, very close between Ivory and Burgundy at the front though, with just two points in it.  Ivory had no points from autumn cards, but a lot of upgrades and lots of points from his winter tiles.  In particular he scored well for his Truffle Orchard, which rewards players for having a lot of pigs and skill tiles, that he coupled with the marvelously named Mansfield Ark which allows pigs to be replaced with sheep.  In contrast, Burgundy had fewer upgraded buildings, but a lot of autumn cards that scored points for him, especially his Stoneyard.  It wasn’t enough though, and despite Green dumping his winter tile to try to limit Ivory’s scoring options, Ivory just beat Burgundy into second place—Welcome back Ivory!

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

While Blue and Burgundy explained the rules to Key Flow and set up the decks of cards, the other debated what to play.  Auf Teufel komm raus came out of the bag and then went back into the bag when Purple decided she didn’t want to play it, only for it come back out again in response to the chorus of protests, and this time make it onto the table.  This is a game we played for the first time a few weeks ago and enjoyed though we struggled with constantly making change due to a shortage of poker chips that make up the currency.  Thanks to the very kind people at Zoch Verlag, now furnished with a second pack of chips, it was time to play again.  The game uses “push your luck” and bidding in combination to make a simple but fun game.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone simultaneously places bets on the maximum value of coal that will be drawn out of the fire by one player in the round. Players then take it in turns to draw coals, either stopping when they choose or going bust if they draw a piece.This time, despite her reluctance to play it, Purple started very quickly and held the lead for most of the game.  Like last time, Mulberry skulked at the back, and abused this position to overtake Pine at the end by making a pact with the Devil.  Black stayed hidden in the pack for the majority of the game and then, in the final round pushed the boat out and gambled big.  In this game going large can lead to a spectacular win or equally spectacular loss.  This time, the gamble paid off and Black raked in a massive three-hundred and eighty points taking him just ahead of Purple in the dying stages of the game.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

With Auf Teufel komm raus over and Key Flow still underway, Purple was able to choose a game she wanted to play, and picked Hare & Tortoise.  This is an old game, the first winner of the Spiel des Jahres award, forty years ago. The game is a very clever racing game where players pay for their move with Carrots, but the further they move the more it costs.  The icing on the cake are the Lettuces though:  each player starts with a bunch of Carrots and three Lettuces—players cannot finish until they have got rid of all their Lettuces and nearly all of their Carrots.  On their turn the active player pays Carrots to move their token along the track; each space has a different effect including enabling them to eat Lettuces, but each will only hold one player’s token at a time.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Competition for these Lettuce spaces is always fierce, but that’s not the only stress, as efficiency is key, players who move too fast consume their Carrots too quickly and have to find a way to get more, which slows them down.  The winner is the first player to cross the finishing line, but that’s only possible if they’ve eaten all their Lettuces and almost all of their Carrot cards.  Last time we played Hare & Tortoise, it was six-player mayhem and a real scrabble as a result.  This time with just four, it was still a scrabble, but not quite as intense.  Black got his nose in front and managed his timing very effectively so was first to cross the line.  Pine and Mulberry were close behind, the latter just two turns from crossing the line herself.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Hare & Tortoise finished at about the same time as Key Flow; Pine had looked like death all night and Mulberry had an important meeting in the morning so both left early.  Ivory, on the other hand, said he would stay for another game so long as it was short, so the rump of the group settled down to an old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.  Everyone knew the how to play: players simultaneously choose a card, then simultaneously reveal them before playing them in ascending order placing each on the row ending with the highest card that is lower than the card being played.  When the sixth card is added to a row, the first five are taken and the number of heads contributes to the player’s score, lowest score wins.  We tend to play a variant over two rounds with half the deck in each round and not resetting the table in between.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Blue continued her poor run of form and top-scored in the first round with twenty-six, closely followed by Purple with twenty-two.  With a round to go, Burgundy, Ivory, Green and Black were all still in with a shout though.  Unusually, the second round went very similarly to the first, with Purple top-scoring with thirty-one (giving her a grand-total of fifty-three), Burgundy and Ivory getting exactly the same score as they had in the first round, and Green finishing with a similarly low score.  Only Black and Blue had significantly different scores, and while Black’s second round score destroyed his very competitive position from the first round, nothing was going to put Blue in with a chance of winning.  It was Ivory, again, who was the winner though, with a perfect zero in both rounds—two games out of two on his return (while we are very pleased to see him back again, we’ll have to put a stop to this run!).

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory decided to quit while he was ahead, leaving five to play Sagrada with the expansion.  Sagrada is a similar game to Azul, using dice instead of tiles and with a stained glass theme (which was slightly controversially also used in the recent Azul sequel, Stained Glass of Sintra). In Sagrada, each player has a grid representing a stained glass window.  At the start of the round, a handful of dice are rolled, and players take it in turns to choose one and place it in their window.  Once everyone has taken one die, everyone takes a second in reverse order (a la the initial building placement in Settlers of Catan).  This leaves one die which is added to the Round Track—the game ends after ten rounds, i.e. when after the tenth die has been placed on the Round Track.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

When players place dice, they must obey the restrictions on the window pattern card selected at the start of the game.  This time we played as well as two cards from the main decks (Gravitas for Purple and Firmitas for Black), we also used three promos: Vitraux (Blue), International Tabletop Day (Burgundy), and Game Boy Geek (Green; ironic as he’d never had a Game Boy in his life!).  This doesn’t score any points they come from the objectives:  public, which are shared and private which are personal.  This time, the public objectives awarded points for columns with different colours, rows with different colours and columns with different numbers.  The original game only included enough material for four players, but the recent expansion provided the additional pieces for the fifth and sixth, and four of the five private objectives came from there, giving those players the total face value of dice played in specific places.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to the private objectives, the group also decided to use the private dice pools.  When these are used, players only take one die from the draft (instead of two), taking the second from a pool rolled at the start of the game.  The final part of the game is the tool cards, three of which are drawn at random.  These can be used by players to help manipulate dice after they’ve been rolled or placed.  This time the tools were the Grinding Stone, Lens Cutter and Tap Wheel which enabled players to rotate dice to the opposite face, swap a drafted die with one from the Round Track and move two dice of the same colour that matches one of the dice on the Round Track.  To use these Tools, players must pay in tokens that are allocated at the start of the game according to the difficulty of their window pattern card.  Any of these left over at the end of the game is worth a point, but otherwise, points can only be scored by completing the objectives, and any dice that cannot be placed score negative points.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

The problem with this game is that it is extremely easy to get into a pickle and end up placing dice illegally.  Blue, who was a bit all over the place due to a night shift on Monday thought she would be the culprit, but it was Black who fell foul of the rules, and several times too.  Each mistake only cost him one point though, and in some respects it is better to have to remove dice than compromise plans.  Although she didn’t make any mistakes, Purple was concentrating so hard on placing all her dice she completely forgot to work on the objectives.  Misplaced dice tend to be indicative of other problems though and Blue was absolutely determined not break the rules this time, having made a complete pig’s ear of the game just over a year ago at New Year.  As a result she concentrated so hard that she gave herself a headache.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end, arguably it was worth the sore head as Blue not only avoided any illegal die placements, but also managed to get sets of different colours for all five columns in her window. Green managed four out of his five columns though and did well on some of the other objectives too.  Burgundy hadn’t done so well on that objective, but had done better on others, especially his own private objective.  It was very close for second, with Burgundy just one point behind Green’s sixty six, but Blue, headache and all was well in front with over eighty.  As they packed up, the group discussed the inclusion of the private dice pools and the effect of the extra player.  Blue felt the dice pools gave a better chance to plan, while Black felt they made the decision space more complex and slowed the game down.  Certainly, with five there’s a lot of thinking time and it can be very frustrating to see others ahead in the turn order take all the “best” dice, something that seemed worse with more players.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It’s great to welcome people back when they’ve been away!

Boardgames in the News: Who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?

A couple of months ago, Reuters reported that according to un-named sources, investment bankers had been hired to run the sale of Asmodee.  The claim was that the sale “could value the company at over €1.5 billion”, but there was no credible information as to who the potential buyers were.  This mystery has now been solved with the announcement that PAI Partners have entered into exclusive discussions to acquire Asmodee, a company with an enterprise value of €1.2 billion.  So, who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?  Well, PAI is a European private equity company, that grew out of the merger between the French banks, BNP and Paribas in 1993, with a management buyout completed in 2001.  They have invested in a wide range of companies covering everything from yoghurt (Yoplait) to tyres (Kwik Fit) to cargo handling (Swissport).  Obviously PAI are interested in making money from Asmodee, but at this time there is no evidence to suggest that would by by asset stripping.  Price increases would be almost inevitable however, as the Studios would be under pressure to provide a good return on the investment.

PAI Partners
– Image from paipartners.com

Boardgames in the News: Asmodee For Sale‽

Over the last few years Eurazeo have developed Asmodee from a small French games company primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble, into an industrial conglomerate swallowing up the likes of Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, and Lookout Spiele.  In the process, Asmodee added some of the most high profile modern boardgames to their portfolio, including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, SplendorDead of Winter, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and as of this weekLove Letter.  Speculation as to the end result has been rife, here and elsewhere.  Indeed, three months ago we raised the question:

…it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Eurazeo going to make their “controlled exit”?

Reuters now reports that according to un-named sources, the answer is, “Sell Asmodee”.  Apparently, investment bankers have been hired to run a sale process which they claim could value the company at over €1.5 billion (quite a return for Eurazeo who originally paid €143 million for Asmodee in November 2013).  As yet, there is no credible information as to who the potential buyers may be, but if the news that Asmodee is to be sold is true, there will no doubt be plenty of speculation over the coming weeks and months.  Possibilities range from a major toy manufacturer like Hasbro or Mattel wanting to add expand their range of boardgames, to venture capitalists companies going for maximum short term profits, leading to reduced quality and increased prices.  No doubt, time will tell…

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

Boardgames in the News: What is Asmodee’s Grand Plan?

Four years ago, Eurazeo bought a small French games company called Asmodee from the investment firm, Montefiore.  Asmodee were a small company hitherto primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble.  With the financial might of their parent company behind them, over the next few years, Asmodee proceeded to gobble up many larger, well-established companies, including Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games and most recently, Lookout Spiele.  Those companies produced some of the best known modern games including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola and Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.  Not content with that, they also acquired the rights to the English language version of the Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and all the related Catan games as well as gobbling up a number of smaller and/or newer companies like Space Cowboys (producers of Splendor and Black Fleet) and Plaid Hat Games (producers of Dead of Winter and Mice and Mystics) and entering into a distribution agreement with many others.  There are now very few games companies of any substance that are not somehow tangled in the Asmodee web.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

The last major purchase was F2Z Entertainment in 2016, and since then it has been relatively quiet.  With the new year comes a new wave of acquisition, however, so at the end of January Asmodee announced that they were in exclusive negotiations with Rebel.  Rebel is a relatively small, Polish company responsible for games like K2 as well as Polish editions of many popular games like 7 Wonders and Codenames.  Perhaps more importantly, Rebel also produces the Polish language versions of many of the Asmodee games and is the largest distributor in Poland.  And Poland is a big country, smaller than France or Germany, but bigger than Italy and the UK,  globally Poland is the thirty-forth largest country by population.  That is a lot of Poles and they do like playing board games in Poland.

K2
– Image used with permission
of boardgamephotos

This announcement was almost immediately followed by the bombshell that Asmodee had acquired all the residual assets from Mayfair and with it, Lookout Spiele. Although this is by far the largest deal in recent months, Asmodee have not been resting on their laurels and there has been a lot going on behind the scenes.  In December last year they announced that Esdevium was to be renamedAsmodee UK” bringing them in line with the “Asmodee North America” and “Asmodee Canada” brands.  At around the same time, Eurazeo announced that French publisher Purple Brain Créations would be joining the Asmodee Group.  Furthermore, they have also been streamlining their distribution network in North America.  Having reduced the number of distributors they deal with to five in 2015, in June last year Asmodee North America announced an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors, effectively creating a monopoly of supply within the USA.  This coupled with their Minimum Advertised Price policy (or MAP) gives them a stranglehold on the US market in a way that would never be allowed in Europe.  Whether they are planning to take that one step further and acquire Alliance themselves still remains to be seen, but that looks like a real possibility.  Finally, they have been pushing in a new direction, developing electronic versions of some of the most popular games through their studio, “Asmodee Digital“.

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

So what is Asmodee‘s Grand Plan?  Where will it all end?  Well, there are still a couple of other large manufacturers out there that are not yet part of Asmodee.  Looking at the companies they have already absorbed there is a clear trend: they typically have one particular feature that Asmodee are interested in.  In the case of Days of Wonder, that was the Ticket to Ride series, with Z-man Games it was Pandemic and Carcassonne, and with Rebel, it was probably their distribution network that caught the eye of the executives at Asmodee.  Going forward, the most obvious targets are probably Rio Grande Games, Czech Games EditionQueen GamesHans im Glük and maybe 2F, or Pegasus Spiele (who have just announced a partnership with Frosted Games).  For example, it would be surprising if Rio Grande Games have not been approached given the popularity of games like Dominion and Race/Roll for the Galaxy.  Similarly, Czech Games Edition are a small company with some very juicy morsels including Galaxy Trucker, Dungeon Lords/Petz, and the hugely successful Spiel des Jahres winner, Codenames.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately they may or may not add some or all of these to the Greater Asmodee Empire, but it is clear that at some point, eventually, there will be nothing left worth taking over and growth of the company will plateau, so what happens then?  And this is the crux of the matter. Some have speculated that the aim is to add Hasbro to Asmodee’s ever growing dominion, but Hasbro has a market value of $11.9 billion—Asmodee are mere minnows in comparison.  On the other hand, the parent company, Eurazeo are worth approximately $5.7 billion, which at least puts them in the same ball park, although even they are small by comparison.  According to the “Vision” page on the Eurazeo website:

The purpose of Eurazeo is to identify, accelerate and enhance the transformation potential of the companies in which it invests, even long after its exit. An active and committed shareholder, Eurazeo assists its holdings in the long term – 5 to 7 years – with control over exit timing. An extensive role enabling it to combine business development and corporate social responsibility.

So, it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Eurazeo going to make their “controlled exit”?  With this in mind it seems unlikely that acquiring Hasbro is on the agenda, but making Asmodee attractive to Hasbro just might be…

Hasbro
– Image from twitter.com

6th February 2018

With seven of us and the “Feature Game”, Ave Caesar, only playing six, we started the evening with a small problem.  The general consensus was that the game is more fun with more people, so splitting into two small groups didn’t feel right.  Blue offered to sit out as she was still eating, as did Burgundy and almost everyone else as well, but in the end, Purple and Black teamed up so we could all play together.  An older family game dating from 1989, Ave Caesar is also a fairly simple game.  The idea is that each player has a deck of movement cards, a chariot, and a coin, and the aim of the game is to be the first player to cross the line after completing three laps of the track.  On the way round each player must pay tribute to Caesar on the way by pulling up in front of the Emperor in his dedicated pit lane, chucking their Denarius into the game box and crying “Hail Caesar!”.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There are some nasty, unforgiving little features about this game.  For example, the track is generally a maximum of two lanes wide.  Worse, players can only use each of their cards once and don’t have lot of spare moves, so the outside lane should be used sparingly otherwise they may run out of moves before they complete their final lap.  Even worse than that, each player starts with a hand of three cards and plays one, then refreshes their hand.  The snag is that players cannot jump or move through occupied spaces and must use every space on the card they play, in other words, they cannot play a five for example if there are only three spaces they can move.  These “nasty features” can make the game very frustrating, but are also the clever part as they provide the challenge.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There have been several editions of the game, but the original Ravensburger is widely believed to be the best because it has slightly longer tracks which makes for a tighter game as players have fewer moves to spare.  It is well understood that the newer version that we were playing with could be improved by removing a five card from each player’s deck.  So we started sorting and counting cards, and finding a five to remove from each deck.  With this done, all those eating had also finished and Burgundy started with a modest two.  Blue was second and, with two sixes in hand felt that it was a good idea to get rid of one of them nice and early.  The problem with sixes is that you can’t play them when you are in the lead, but they can be quite difficult to play from the back as there has to be enough space in front to play them.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy’s two proved to be a mistake as everyone else promptly overtook him and left him stuck at the back for most of the rest of the lap.  In fact, he was so stuck, that he ended up missing three turns on the first lap alone.  In contrast, Blue had broken away from the pack and was looking at lapping Burgundy, but this had its own problems as she needed to get rid of her sixes, which she couldn’t do while in the lead.  Blue went to hail Caesar on her first lap to give people a chance to catch up.  After a bit of moaning that he hated Bank-holiday traffic, Pine finally managed to break away from the log-jam and take the lead giving Blue a chance to ditch a six, and everyone else a chance to make some progress too.  Everyone else that is, except Burgundy who was doing an excellent job of bringing up the rear.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

During the second lap, Pine just managed to nip in and pay his dues to Caesar, while Green followed and then reduced his chariot speed to a crawl and “Hailed” three times successfully causing a queue behind.  It was the third lap where things started to get interesting though with everyone jockeying for position to try to make sure that they didn’t have to waste moves.  Blue had a bigger problem though, she was miles in front, but still had to draw her final six from the deck and then play it.  She tried hanging back, reluctant to give away the size of her problem, but that card stayed in the pack.  Finally, as she drew her last card, she found her final six, but it was too late and Team Black and Purple cantered past and pipped her to the finish.  Green trotted in taking third place and leading the rest of the pack home.  Ironically, had she not suggested removing the fives at the start of the game, Blue would have won easily, but that would have been boring.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

It hadn’t been Ivory’s sort of game, so to placate him we offered him Yokohama, a game he’s been angling to play since before Christmas, but there wasn’t quite enough time for that, so he went for Sagrada instead and was joined by Pine and Blue.  This is a very pretty little game with many features in common with one of our current favourites, Azul.  It has simple rules, but lots of complexity and is essentially an abstract with a very thin theme, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to matter.  In Sagrada, players build a stained glass window by building up a grid of dice on their player board. Each board has some restrictions on which colour or shade (value) of die can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to rearrange some of the dice, either during “drafting”, or sometimes those already in their window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.  Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window. There are also three public objectives which everyone can use to score points; in this case we were scoring for coloured dice diagonally adjacent; complete sets of one to six and pairs of five and six. The game starts with each player choosing a window from two double-sided cards dealt at random.  The hard ones come with a lot of favour tokens; this time almost all the options available seemed to be the difficult ones, which made Blue especially wary given the dogs’ breakfast she made of the game at New Year playing a challenging window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Everyone seemed to go for different strategies this time.  Blue went for the public “diagonals” goal, making a pretty Battenburg pattern, but only managed to get one five, so struggled with the other objectives.  In contrast, Ivory did well getting pairs of five and six, but only got one three, so couldn’t score so well for the sets.  Pine completely ignored the diagonals and really concentrated on his private goal and getting complete sets of one to six.  It was a really tight game and Blue and Ivory were to rue those dice they’d failed to get as Pine finished with forty-three points, just two ahead of Ivory and three clear of Blue.  Despite finishing second, Ivory was much happier with this game than Ave Caesar and was up for giving something else a go.  Pine was keen to play Animals on Board again, and it is a nice enough little game and not long so Ivory was happy to give it a go too.  The idea is that players are collecting animals to go in their cardboard ark.  Each set of animals in the game is numbered from one to five and a selection are drawn at random and placed face up in the centre of the table.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

On their turn the active player either divides one of the groups in the middle 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 and the remaining animals are scored: singletons score their face value and sets of three or more score five per animal.  It was quite tight, Ivory collected four rhinos and Pine managed three hippos.  Blue brought the game to a sudden and unexpected end when she unexpectedly found herself with a large set she could take profitably, leaving her with two sets of three, foxes and zebras, and with it, the she took the game.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Black, Pink, Burgundy and Green were playing the classic, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”).  Despite being over twenty years old now, it still holds up as a good family game in a way that some other games of the same vintage do not.  The game is played on an iconic variable tile game board on which players build settlements and cities on the nodes and roads along the edges.  One of the things that makes the game so popular is the lack of down time: a turn consists of rolling dice, trading and then buying and/or building.  Each hexagon on the board is numbered and rolling the dice gives resources to every player with a settlement on the hexagon on the number rolled.  Since each node is on the corner of three hexagons, players frequently get resources during other players’ turns.  Everyone is potentially involved in the trading of course, so the only part of anyone’s turn that is not shared is the buying and building phase, but this is usually quite short.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the random layout of tiles gave an even spread, but the number tokens placed on them had an unusual symmetry:  both eights were on the mountains (giving stone), both threes were on the fields (giving wheat) and both nines were on the clay beds (giving brick).  Green started and inevitably chose the choice spot with that would give him wool, wood and clay, much to Burgundy’s chagrin. Black was last to place and decided to connect his two roads and settlements, so by the time it Green got his second turn, he had very little option and ended up with a port location which would yield only two cards to everyone rather than three.  The dice seemed to be rolling according to the predicted distribution with the red numbers (six & eight) coming up often.  This gave Burgundy a lot of stone and wood, but due to his lack of brick he quickly converted a settlement to a city which only increased his supply of stone.

– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for him, all these extra resources counted against him as the other number to come up regularly was seven, so meaning the robber was moved and everyone had to reduce the number of resource cards they were holding to seven.  Burgundy often was higher due to his regular double productions, but to make it worse he frequently seemed to because of his own demise since he was the one who kept rolling the sevens—three times in succession at one point! With that kind of luck he really began to wonder if he should just pack it in right then and go play something else.  While Burgundy was struggling with his own security though, Purple and Green were steadily building their kingdoms. Purple gained another settlement and converted one of her others into a city. Green had spread out from his choice spot to build another settlement on the port side of the value eight mountains and in the other direction to another port with more clay, giving him the longest road, and with it two bonus points, for the moment at least.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Black seemed to be languishing, unable to get traction and the cards he needed for expansion. Catan requires investment for growth, but he had barely two coins to rub together to invest with at all.  Once Green had built on the mountain-side the eight rolls seemed to dry up and he struggled to get enough stone or wheat to convert his settlements to cities.  Purple’s hidden development card made everyone think she had an extra hidden point, and possibly the lead. Certainly the early rolls went in her favour and it was beginning to look like this could be her game. Green’s long road brought him into the running, and the power of Burgundy’s cities meant he wasn’t far behind. The production Burgundy’s cities provided meant he was able to go after longest road and take it from Green, thus starting a little road building war between the two.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

With nowhere else on the board worth building on, Burgundy decided on an alternative strategy and started trading for development cards. He managed to place two knights and was about to take the Largest Army, until everyone else reminded him he three army cards for that. It only delayed the inevitable though, as one round later he played a third knight card, claimed the Largest Army and two points with it. He easily built two more roads and with it retook the Longest Road card for a second time simultaneously revealing he had a one point development card in his hand.  This meant he went from five points on the board to a total of ten points in one turn and with it finished the game.  Purple and Black revealed they also had a one point development card to give them both six points and joint second place.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Both tables finished at about the same time and, as Ivory headed home, Burgundy commented that he’d like to give NMBR 9 a go.  Everyone else chimed in that they’d be happy to join him , but Pine and Purple got there first and with no set up time got started quickly.  The game is very simple: 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.  All the tiles are roughly number-shaped and each player will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice.  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 BGG contributor punkin312

Unlike a lot of games, it is very difficult to tell who is winning, as the largest scores come late in the game when adding tiles to the higher layers.  However, the lower layers must be able to  accommodate the later tiles as and when they come out, otherwise a player can’t take advantage of the opportunities they may offer.  This time Burgundy “got lucky” and was able to squeeze a seven, an eight and a nine onto his third level giving him a massive forty-eight points for them alone and a bit of a land-slide victory.  We’ve played this game a few times now as a group and all the previous games have been quite close.  Other Bingo-type game like Take it Easy!, Das Labyrinth des Pharao or Karuba, have been relatively unpopular with the group as they feel like multiplayer solitaire, but somehow, in our group, everyone gets involved helping everyone else out, which makes this game much more enjoyable.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The other three chatted for a few minutes before deciding to play a quick game of Kingdomino as it is a game we know well and can play quickly and without committing too much thought.  It  consists of dominoes featuring two terrain “tiles” with some tiles also depicting one or more crowns.  Players are building their kingdoms by placing dominoes where one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or to the 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.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was really tight with each player capitalising and building on different terrain types:  Black took forests, Green took pasture and Blue took sea.  There were three points between first and third, but it was Black who finished at the front, just one point ahead of Blue.  With three players, some tiles are removed from the game at random.  Like last time, almost all the tiles removed were  the high-scoring mountain and marshland tiles, but at least this time nobody’s game plan depended on them.  It did encourage some discussion, though with Black commenting that he didn’t like the game with three because of this uncontrolled randomness, and Blue commenting that perhaps the tiles that are taken out should be turned face up and displayed so that players can at least see what won’t be available.  Maybe a variant for another time.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Some games stand the test of time, others not so much.