Tag Archives: The Settlers of Catan

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.

Boardgames in the News: The Consequences of Losing Catan—The Demise of Mayfair

The dramatic growth of Asmodee has been the subject of much comment over the last few years, but more recently it appeared to have slowed a little.  It would seem that perhaps the consequences are now beginning to kick in though.  Nearly two years ago, Asmodee acquired the rights to the English Language edition of the Catan series of games from Mayfair Games.  At the time there was some speculation as to the effect this would have on Mayfair as the Catan range had dominated their catalogue and provided a high proportion of their revenue.  The loss of such a large part of their portfolio inevitably led to major restructuring particularly as the then CEO of Mayfair, Pete Fenlon, left to become the CEO of the new Asmodee owned “Catan Studio” taking a bunch of other people with him.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, Mayfair not only lost the Catan franchise, but also their entire development team and graphics department. Essentially, they were left with Alex Yeager as lead developer, head of acquisitions, and marketing manager and a catalogue of about a hundred games including some of the popular 18xx series, Martin Wallace’s Steam, Caverna: The Cave Farmers, Lords of Vegas and Nuns on the Run.  Mayfair also had a controlling influence in the German company, Lookout Games which they had acquired back in 2013, and this partnership had produced games like Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King, Costa Rica and Patchwork. The Mayfair strategy was primarily to focus on the partnership with Lookout while continuing to support their existing catalogue, and then, once that was stable, further develop the Mayfair-exclusive products.

Mayfair
– Image from twitter.com

Questions were first asked when Mayfair didn’t exhibit at PAX West or PAX Unplugged, despite featuring in the exhibitor list, though they did present as usual at BGG.CONAt the beginning of November, however, Alex Yeager announced that he had left Mayfair, and this, together with the earlier departure of Julie Yeager and Chuck Rice indicated that the chairs were being shifted on the deck of the Titanic, and there were rumours that Mayfair was in trouble.  Mayfair had not independently produced a new title since the loss of the Catan franchise, but they still had their controlling stake in Lookout Games and producing the English language version of the popular Lookout range of games seemed like the basis for a strong partnership.

Lookout Spiel
– Image from lookout-spiele.de

Lookout Spiele was a highly successful German company responsible for developing games like Agricola, and more recently Bärenpark and Grand Austria Hotel.  At Spiel in October, Mayfair and Lookout shared an extremely popular booth, and it seemed so successful that there were rumours that another merger was on the cards. Sadly however, this was not the case, and on Friday it was announced that Mayfair had sold its three remaining assets (their games inventory, the IP, and their 74% stake in Lookout GmbH) and was closing their doors after thirty-six years.  Simultaneously, Asmodee acquired the remaining 26% of Lookout from the original owner, Hanno Girk and on Friday announced their take-over of Lookout.  With that, one of the most productive and popular of the German board game companies joined the likes of Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Space Cowboys, Z-man Games, Pearl Games, Ystari, Plaid Hat Games and of course Catan as yet another “Studio” in the great Asmodee Empire.

Asmodee
– Image from lookout-spiele.de

Boardgames in the News: Radio 2 and Online

Over the last few years there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence that modern boardgames are becoming less of a niche activity, with a large number of reports in local and national media.  Last month alone, there was a prime-time article on BBC Radio 2‘s flagship Breakfast Show, where Chris Evans interviewed Dicky Duerden, Head of Games at the Chance & Counters Games Cafe in Bristol.  The interview took place shortly before 9am (2hrs 13 mins into the show) and discussed classic games like Connect Four and Kerplunk as well as their most popular games, Scrabble and Jenga.

Chris Evans
– Image from bbc.co.uk

The interview included a couple of nice little anecdotes, for example, Dicky Duerden explained that Battleship began life as a French game called “L’Attack” and was renamed twice, changing to “Salvo”, then “Broadside” before finally becoming “Battleship”.  He was also asked whether they have problems with players having temper tantrums and whether people lose pieces or walk off with them.  Apparently, Chance & Counters has heavy unflippable tables with shelves to store the games and cup-holders to help prevent spillage.  So, the most damage they’ve had to a game was when someone stole all the marbles from Hungry Hungy Hippos—presumably the thief couldn’t stand the noise!

Hungry Hungry Hippos
– Image from medium.com

Modern boardgames have also featured in print and other media channels.  For example, the literary and cultural commentary magazine, The Atlantic, recently reported how U.S. sales of boardgames grew by twenty-eight percent between spring 2016 and spring 2017.  They put this increase down to the rise in popularity of card games like Cards Against Humanity, Secret Hitler, and Exploding Kittens as well as what they initially refer to as “hobby” boardgames.  Although the article is written from a US perspective, it includes a nice commentary from Phil Eklund, head of Sierra Madre Games and designer of Pax Porfiriana, Greenland and Bios: Megafauna amongst others.  The interview with Phil Eklund is excellent and well worth a read; it includes discussion of Essen and Spiel des Jahres as well as discussion of a wide range of games including Power Grid, Biblios and El Grande rather than just the usual Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride.

Biblios
– Image by BGG contributor Schaulustiger

Every report about the growth of modern boardgames hides something less cheerful:  the number of stores that have closed in recent time.  As demand for modern games increases, so does their availability at places like Amazon, and that increases the pressure on an already squeezed niche.  In the last year or so, several excellent and well established stores have closed including Shire Games and Northumbria Games.  With prices continuing to rise—a new big-box game is rarely below £50 these days—and the growth of crowd-funding, more and more gamers are looking for discounts where they can.  The boardGOATS are lucky to have three excellent outlets locally, Eclectic Games (in Reading), Thirsty Meeples and The Gameskeeper (both in Oxford).  Perhaps the Chris Evans interview will encourage more people to pay them a visit.

Money
– Adapted from Image by Petras Gagilas (flickr.com)

31st December 2017

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

PitchCar Track 31/12/14
– Image by boardGOATS

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

PitchCar
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor kilroy_locke

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

PitchCar
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

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

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Black Fleet
– Image by BGG contributor spielemitkinder

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

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor The_Blue_Meeple

Meanwhile on the nearby table Black, Pink, Blue and Azure we trying out a new game, Sagrada.  This is a relatively new game, that we’ve only played once in the group before, as part of a “Monster Games” session some months ago.  A bit like Terraforming Mars, it is a game that has proved very popular, but was produced by a very small company who did not have the infrastructure or commercial clout to satisfy the demand which vastly exceeded expectation.  In the case of Sagrada, however, the game is one of those games with simple rules, but lots of complexity.  Players build a stained glass window by building up a grid of dice on their player board. Each board has some restrictions on which colour or shade (value) of die can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to rearrange some of the dice, either during “drafting”, or sometimes those already in their window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.  Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window.  The public objectives are much more complex though.  In this case, the three objectives were:  six points for every row with all five colours; two points for every pair of dice showing one and two; four points for every set of five different colours in the final window.  Black quickly spotted the synergy between two of the objectives, noting that each row that contained all five different colours would score a massive ten points.  Meanwhile,  Blue had drawn starting grid cards that were very challenging and was forced to make the best of it, and Pink and Azure, struggled to get to grips what they could and couldn’t do.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Image by boardGOATS

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

Game Plan: Rediscovering Boardgames at the V & A Museum of Childhood

Inspired by the recent articles on Saturday Live and the Today Programme, on Easter Sunday, Pink and Blue decided to visit the V & A Museum of Childhood to see their “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered” exhibition.  Catching a train from Oxford Parkway and negotiating the London Underground, they arrived in Bethnal Green.  With its vaulted ceiling and exposed metal work, the Museum building looks for all the world like a re-purposed Victorian Civil building, a train station, swimming pool or maybe some sort of pumping station.  Much to their disappointment, however, after extensive discussion and investigation, it turned out that the building was designed for the purpose, albeit after relocation of parts from “Albertopolis” on Exhibition Road.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The exhibition itself was well presented and occupied a sizeable portion of the overall floor space.  Although it was located in one of the upstairs galleries, the exhibition was well advertised and, from entering the main hall, games were brought to the visitors’ attention with table space and signs offering the loan of games should people want to play.  It wasn’t an idle promise either, as there were several family groups making full use of the opportunity, albeit playing what might be called classic games rather than more modern, Euro games.

Senet
– Image by boardGOATS

A quick look at the model train cabinet and brief spell side-tracked by one or two other exciting toys preceded entry to the exhibition which was shrouded by an eye-catching red screen.  The first exhibit was a copy of Senet, arguably one of the oldest games in the world – so old in fact that we’ve lost the rules and nobody knows how to play it.  This was followed by some traditional games including a beautiful wooden Backgammon set made in Germany in 1685 and decorated with sea monsters and a lot of fascinating Chess sets, old and new.  Next, there were some ancient copies of Pachisi (which evolved into Ludo) and Snakes and Ladders, both games that originated in India and were originally played seriously by adults.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Further round there were many other curious games, for example, The Noble Game of Swan from 1821, which was an educational game for children, itself developed from the much older, Game of the Goose.  Education was a bit of theme and there were a lot of games from the nineteenth and early twentieth century designed to teach geography in some form or another.  These included Round the Town, a game where players had to try to cross London via Charing Cross, and Coronation Scot, a game based on travelling from Glasgow to London inspired by the eponymous 1937 express train made to mark the coronation of George VI.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Education didn’t stop there either:  for those that had been members of RoSPA‘s “Tufty Club“, there was a game promoting road safety featuring Tufty the Squirrel and his mates Minnie Mole and the naughty Willy Weasel.  However, when designing this roll-and-move game, they clearly ran out of imaginative “adventures” with a road safety message, as they had to resort to “Picking and eating strange berries – Go back three spaces…”

Tufty Road Safety Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Progressing through the late twentieth century, there were the inevitable copies of the childhood classic games, including Game of Life, Risk, Cluedo, Mouse Trap, Trivial Pursuit, Connect 4, Scrabble and the inevitable Monopoly, all of which risked bringing a tear to the eye as visitors remembered playing them as children.  The exhibition eventually brought us up to date with modern Euro-style games, presenting copies of Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan.

Pandemic
– Image by boardGOATS

More interestingly, there was also an original prototype of Pandemic supplied by the designer, Matt Leacock, complete with his scribbles and bits of paper stuck over infection routes he decided to remove as the game developed.  One of the final display showed how the influence boardgames have had on the computer gaming industry is sometimes strangely reciprocated, with a copy of the Pac-Man game, including the title figure wrought in sunshine yellow plastic.

Pac Man
– Image by boardGOATS

Leaving the exhibition, there was just one last game – “What’s Your Gameface?“.  This cute flow chart entertained Blue and Pink for far longer than is should have as they tested it out with all their friends, relatives and fellow gamers (nobody came out as “Cheater”).

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

With the exhibition done, there was still time for a wander round the rest of the museum and a quick cuppa in the cafe.  Reflecting on the exhibition, perhaps one of the best aspects had actually been the quotations that adorned the walls.  It seems luminaries from Plato to Roald Dahl have all had something to say on the subject of games.  Perhaps George Bernard Shaw supplied the most thought provoking comment though, when he said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  With this in mind, we did what gamers do when they travel, so tea and cake was accompanied by two rounds of Mijnlieff, the super-cool noughts and crosses game.  With the museum closing, it was time to head home, but there was still time for a game or two of 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel! on the train back to Oxford…

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The Exhibition is only open till 23rd April 2017, so there isn’t much time left and it is well worth a visit.