Tag Archives: The Settlers of Catan

20th July 2021 (Online)

Since last time, there had been quite a bit of debate about returning to the Horse and Jockey, but there was a little hesitancy and with the extremely hot weather, staying at home this week turned out to be the right choice all round.  As the decision had been just a little bit last-minute, we chose to keep the “Feature Game” simple and opted for the Skills Mini Expansion for Cartographers.  We have played Cartographers several times and everyone has really enjoyed it.  With the Spiel des Jahres winners announced this week, this was also the nearest we could get to playing a game to mark the occasion (it received a nomination for the Kennerspiel award last year).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

Cartographers is a “Roll and Write” type of game, but one with more of a “gamery” feel than most.  It is based on Tetris, with shapes revealed on the flip of a card in a similar way to other games we’ve played this year like Second Chance and Patchwork Doodle.  However, the thing that makes Cartographers more “gamery” than these is the addition of terrain and players usually have to make a choice, either of the shape or the terrain.  The terrains are tied in with goal cards, four of which are revealed at the start of the game.  Two goals are then scored at the end of each of the four seasons, in a similar way to another game we like, Isle of Skye.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

There are lots of other little aspects of the game that make it interesting—the presence of Ruins and Ambush Cards in the deck, for example, deliver a curved ball, just when players feel they are in control.  Players can also build their income by surrounding mountain ranges and choosing to play certain shapes; this gives more points at the end of each round.  The Skills expansion gives players a way to offset this income for special actions which potentially give players other ways of achieving their goals, further adding to the decision space.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the most impressive things about Cartographers is the amount of variety that is built into the game, which means every play feels different and the game stays remarkably fresh.  So, there are two different player maps and four of each type of goal card.  This variety is carried through to the Skills expansion; there are eight cards of which three are chosen at random.  This time we chose the B side of the map (with empty “wasteland” spaces marked) and drew the Greenbough, Mages Valley, Wildholds and Borderlands goal cards together with the Search, Negotiate and Concentrate skills cards.  These skills cost anything from free (like Search) to three (like Concentrate), and each can be played multiple times per game although only one can be played each Season.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

We quickly realised that the expensive skills like Concentrate are only likely to be played in the final round, as the cost is in “income” and that income is generated at the end of every round.  So, playing Concentrate at the start of the game will ultimately cost a player twelve points, while playing it in the final round will cost three just three points.  For this reason, the free Search skill was always likely to be used by almost everyone in almost every season (and so it proved).  Of course, the higher tariff reflects the increased power though:  Search allows players to increase the size of the shape they are drawing by a single square; Negotiate (which costs one) allows players to draw a two-by-two shape, and Concentrate allows players to draw the shape a second time.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

As well as the skills which we had not played with before, several of the goal cards were new to us as well, including Greenbough (which rewards gives players one point per row and column with at least one Forest square in it) and Mages Valley (which gave points for each space next to a Mountain—two points for each Lake and one point for each Arable).  We’d played with the Wildholds goal before though (which gives six points for each Village of six or more spaces) and, although Borderlands was new to us (which give points for each completed row or column), we’d played The Broken Road goal which is similar (giving points for completed diagonals).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The game began much as usual, and Pink, who was watering the tomatoes in the “mini-market-garden”, commented that he could hear Burgundy muttering, sighing and generally sounding stressed from outside.  Although we had played with “Wastelands” before, we had all focussed on how the fact some of the spaces were already full would help.  We had all forgotten how much the Wastelands obstruct plans and generally make life considerably more difficult.  Blue made a bit of using the ruins spaces to give her more flexibility later, but had forgotten that it would reduce the number of spaces she would be able to fill later in the game.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

It was clear after the first round that Ivory was going to be tough to beat, a feeling that was cemented after the second round.  Unusually, Burgundy was the first to post a score, with a total of one hundred and forty-one.  Although this was high enough to earn him second though, when Ivory’s score came through he was a massive twenty-five points ahead.  Once again, it had been a very enjoyable game, and as we tidied up there was a little bit of chit-chat about the skills and what they added to the game.  Since they are not compulsory, the consensus  was that we should add them every time, though it was clear that they had been widely used because of the presence of the free Search skill, which everyone had used, and some in every round.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

With Cartographers over, we had a bit of a discussion about moving back to our much loved and greatly missed, Horse and Jockey.  We’d conducted some anonymous surveys over the preceding week to try to gauge opinion trying to ensure that nobody felt under pressure to do anything they weren’t comfortable with.  Some of the group had been back on occasional Thursdays, playing old favourites like The Settlers of Catan, Wingspan, and Roll for the Galaxy and new games like Red Rising, Mercado de Lisboa, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam, Tapestry (with the Plans and Ploys expansion), Ginkgopolis, Everdell, and Draftosaurus (aka “Sushi Go with Dinosaurs”).  Others, however, had not been to the pub for nearly eighteen months.  After some discussion, we decided that we’d schedule a trial visit in ten days time, so that those who had not been out could see how they felt without committing, and those that went could report back to those that were feeling a little more reticent.

The Horse and Jockey
– Image by boardGOATS

After that, we moved onto Board Game Arena.  It was a quiet night without both Pine and Lime, and once Green and Ivory had left as well, we were down to five which gave us a lot of options.  Coloretto was one, but in the end we chose Niagara, a game we’ve all played quite a bit, but never online, and we were keen to see the new Board Game Arena implementation and whether losing the tactile moving river would leave the game lacking.  A strong element of the game is the element of simultaneous play, however, and this was a large part of the appeal this time.  Players simultaneously choose a Paddle Tile which dictates how far their canoe will move in the round.  Then, in turn order, players move their canoe up or down the river, paying two movement points to pick up a gem from the bank (or drop one off).

Niagara
– Image by BGG contributor El_Comandante
adapted by boardGOATS

The winner is the player to get four gems of the same colour, five gems of different colours, or any seven gems safely home and into the shallows.  On the face of it, this is relatively simple, but the really clever part of the game is the movement of the river.  In general, the river moves at the speed of the slowest boat—if the lowest numbered Paddle Tile is a two, then the river moves two spaces and all the boats move with it.  However, one of the Paddle Tiles is a weather tile which enables players to increase or decrease the rate to make life harder or easier.  Since everyone has to play all their Paddle Tiles before they can recycle them, the timing of their weather tile is critical: players who leave it to the end run the risk of the river running fast and losing boats over the cascade because they can’t do anything about it.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

And it wasn’t long before that’s exactly what happened, when both Blue and Black got their timing wrong and lost boats over the falls, so had to pay hard earned gems to get new ones.  Then, to add insult to injury, Pink sneakily crept up on Blue and stole another gem from her.  Players can only steal if they land on the same space as another boat while travelling upstream, and even then it is a choice.  There was much ill feeling especially from Blue, but she wasn’t the only one.  And with that, the gloves came off and everyone tried to redress the balance and ensure that such bad behaviour would not go unpunished.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Pink was abreast of that though and had a plan.  Knowing his bad behaviour would make him a target he collected gems in one boat letting others take them while he stole the gems he wanted and got them to shore quickly.  Much to everyone’s disgust, he soon had five different gems and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him getting them home.  Burgundy actually had more gems giving him a nominally higher score, but his set of six did not include five different colours and Blue’s set of five included three nuggets of amber.  The victims of Pink’s grand larceny were unimpressed with his terrible behaviour, and as it was getting late, we decided to call it a night.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

Learning Outcome:  Theft is totally unforgivable.

Spiel des Jahres Nominations 2021

The nominations for the Spiel des Jahres have been announced.  There are three categories, the Kinderspiel (children’s game) , the Kennerspiel (“expert’s” game) and the most desirable of all, the family award, the Spiel des Jahres.  The nominees for this year’s awards have been announced as:

  • Kinderspiel des Jahres
    Kinderspiel des Jahres 2019Dragomino by Bruno Cathala, Marie Fort and Wilfried Fort
    Fabelwelten (aka Storytailors) by Wilfried Fort and Marie Fort
    Mia London by Antoine Bauza and Corentin Lebrat

Last year, the winner of the Spiel des Jahres was Pictures, a game where players model the picture on their card using the available components, e.g. shoelaces, coloured cubes, etc.; players get points for correctly guessing other players images and for other players guessing their image.  This is considerably lighter than some of the earlier winners, notably, Tikal and El Grande, or even some of the best known winners like The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride.  As the main award winners have become lighter over the years, we have found the Kennerpiel des Jahres better fits to our tastes.  The Kennerspiel nominees are not especially complex games, but are typically a step up from the light, family-friendly games of the main prize, the Spiel des Jahres.

– Image by from spiel-des-jahres.de

Last year the Kennerspiel award went to The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine a game we have still been unable to play thanks to the global pandemic.  The Crew beat our preferred choice, Cartographers.  In contrast to The Crew, as a “Roll and Write” game, we have played Cartographers a lot.  So far, we are unfamiliar with the nominees this year and likely won’t get the chance to play any of them until some time after the winners have been announced (19th July in Berlin for the Kennerpiel and Spiel des Jahres Awards; 14th June for the Kinderspiel des Jahres).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

 

Boardgames in the News: Fake Games from a High Street Name

As reported previously, fake and counterfeit goods are not uncommon online, especially with purchases from certain auction sites.  Even companies like Amazon are not immune though, thanks to co-mingling of stock with that from other third-party sellers and returned items.  More recently, however, there have been lots of reports of issues with copies of Pandemic, Dead of Winter, Carcassonne, Catan, and Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle bought from Zavvi.  This is of note, not because of the games (which have been targeted before), but because Zavvi is a reputable high street name.

Pandemic
– Image by BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Zavvi is owned by The Hut Group (aka THG), along with a range of other companies that sell everything from lipstick to language services.  The Hut Group also own I Want One of Those (aka IWOOT) who have recently been selling quite a lot of games at a good price including Sagrada, Horrified, and Ticket to Ride: London.  There doesn’t appear to be any question of the authenticity of these games, but IWOOT have been selling copies of Dead of Winter, Pandemic, Carcassonne and Hogwarts Battle too and these also seem to be fakes, presumably from the same, communal supply as the Zavvi games.

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
– Image by BGG contributor zgabor

Both Zavvi and IWOOT have been reluctant to acknowledge that the games are fake insisting to customers that they “do not handle fake goods”, they “source all stock direct from the brand suppliers”, and “items sold by ourselves are not counterfeit”.    Neither Zavvi nor IWOOT are known for selling counterfeits.  So, assuming it is against company policy, how their supply chain became contaminated is an interesting question and it is possible that they themselves have been the subject of a deception.  It seems unlikely that these fakes were supplied through the usual UK distribution channels, but it is possible they were bought in good faith from another supplier.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image by BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Perhaps the biggest issue here is the poor Customer Service people have reportedly received, including standard unhelpful replies or an offer of only a partial refund.  It seems persistence is the only answer, though reporting the company to the Trading Standards and/or the finance handling service (credit card company or PayPal), can help.  For those struggling with IWOOT, suggesting to Customer Services that they look at “ISM ticket 1195382” can also help (ISM is the Ivanti Service Manager ticketing system).

Boardgames in the News: Carcassonne Catches Catan

Board Game Geek (BGG) is arguably the foremost website for information on board games.  It includes a forum for discussion, but also an extensive database currently comprising nearly a hundred and twenty thousand games with associated reviews, photos, publication details and rules clarifications.  There are over two million registered users of the site, many of whom use the BGG to record the games they own, log each time they play, and register their ratings of games in the database.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

For many years, the most rated game according to the BGG website was The Settlers of Catan but it has now been overtaken by Carcassonne (95,496 and 95,499 ratings respectively as of 1am BST on Sunday 19th July).  Over the coming weeks the numbers will fluctuate and the tide will ebb and flow, but it looks like Catan, which was released in 1995 (five years before Carcassonne), has been caught.  The race is not over, however, Pandemic is not far behind…

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

Boardgames in the News: The Great Escape?

Over the last decade, Asmodee has swallowed most of the big names in modern family board games, including the likes of Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, 7 Wonders, Dominion, Agricola, and Pandemic amongst others.  This has been through the relentless acquisition of the companies that produce these titles, in particular, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, Lookout Spiele, and Repos Production.  This monopolising of the market cannot be a good thing for gamers, indeed the effects are already being felt with the introduction of Minimum Advertised Pricing (MAP) and now the loss of customer servicing for all Asmodee products.

HeidelBÄR Games Logo
– Image from twitter.com

There is perhaps a glimmer of hope, however.  Three years ago, the German publisher and distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag was acquired by Asmodee, with the publishing part splitting off to form the Asmodee Studio, HeidelBÄR Games.  Last year, however, ownership and with it the nucleus of the HeidelBÄR team, was transferred back to the previous manager, Heiko Eller-Bilz.  The resulting enterprise is much smaller than it was, but the most important asset, the people, are in a position to develop new titles.

Plaid Hat Games Logo
– Image from plaidhatgames.com

More recently, Plaid Hat Games have made a similar, slightly slower, journey.  Around five years ago, Plaid Hat Games was bought out by Canadian company F2Z Entertainment, then the parent company of Z-Man Games, Filosofia Éditions and Pretzel Games (now known as Asmodée Canada).  However, earlier this year it was announced that Plaid Hat Games had been reacquired by Colby Dauch, the original founder, albeit without the rights to some of their biggest products, including Dead of Winter, Aftermath, and Mice and Mystics, which remain with the Asmodee Group.  Plaid Hat Games retained the rights to Summoner Wars though, and are currently developing a new product, Forgotten Waters, which will be the first game released by Plaid Hat after their Great Escape.

Forgotten Waters
– Image from plaidhatgames.com

Boardgames in the News: Withdrawal of Customer Service by Asmodee

One of the characteristics of modern boardgames is the number of pieces in the box:  generally the more complex the game, the more pieces there are, and the more it costs.  For many, part of the fun of acquiring a new game is checking, sorting and otherwise caressing these, often bespoke, pieces.  It is very easy to lose or break a piece and an estimated 1-2% of new purchases arrive damaged or with something missing.  One of the truly special things about the boardgame industry has been the general understanding of the sadness caused by a missing piece, and the support the manufacturers give when a game has become incomplete, even if it is not the manufacturers fault.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, just over a year ago, one of the boardGOATS dropped a counter for No Thanks!.  After an extended session of “Hunt the Game Piece”, we eventually found it nestling in a cushion of dust, just out of reach, exactly where it fell, having cleanly dropped through the gap between the pub floorboards.  The game is inexpensive and readily available, but our copy is much played and much loved, and replacing it for the sake of one token seemed wasteful.  Of course the missing token could be substituted with something else, a penny say, but that would have made us sad every time we played it.  So, a quick email to AMIGO Spiele offering to purchase a couple of spares, and one week later a small handful of red counters arrived in the post—exceptional Customer Service from a superb company.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The remarkable thing is that this is not the only example:  similar service has been received from Zoch Verlag (Auf Teufel komm raus), NSKN Games (Snowdonia: Deluxe Master Set), Queen Games (Kingdom Builder), Ferti Games (PitchCar), Tactic (Nollkoll), Z-man (Le Havre), Rio Grande Games (Torres) & Splotter (The Great Zimbabwe), to name but a few, sometimes their fixing a problem of their making, sometimes just helping out.  This superb service (sometimes with a fee, but often without charge) builds a good relationship with the customer and encourages more sales—so not so much “No Thanks”, as “Yes Please”!

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Last week, however, Asmodee USA closed its Customer Services Department to the public, and announced that all games with missing pieces should be returned to the vendor (as yet there is no comment on who should pay for returns of online purchases, or what happens with gifts that arrive with a piece missing).  Worse, the FAQ adds that when buying a second-hand copy, they “encourage you to make sure that all components of a game are present and intact before purchasing” as they “cannot offer replacements for products that were not purchased directly from our USA retail partners or webstores”.  Their justification for this is:

“With the number of quality titles in Asmodee USA’s growing library, maintaining an independent stock of elements of each game becomes more difficult. We believe offering the customer service through the store they have purchased the game from will be a better experience.”

It was initially thought that this would only affect USA customers, however, it seems that is not the case.  Asmodee UK have passed the buck:  according to their website, for replacement pieces for Asmodee, Fantasy Flight Games, Days of Wonder, Catan, Plaid Hat Games or Z-Man Games, “please visit http://parts.asmodeena.com/”, which in turn simply says:

“As of February 18, 2020, if a game is purchased in the US that has damaged or missing components, please return to where you originally bought the game for assistance.”

This change in policy may or may not make business sense in the short term, but for the gamer it is a very sad loss of what always felt like friendly support, and something that made boardgaming special.

UKGE 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

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