Tag Archives: The Speicherstadt

20th March 2018

Unfortunately, ordering dinner was delayed due to a birthday party on the other side of the room, so Blue, Pine and Burgundy decided to get in a quick game of NMBR 9 while they waited.  Despite the fact that it isn’t a top game for anyone and takes up a lot of room in the bag, it is is rapidly becoming a very popular filler.  This is because it is nice and short, has a enough bite to keep everyone interested for the duration and, as it has almost no set-up time, the activation energy barrier is particularly low (find and open the box, take out the deck of cards and turn over the top one…). The game is a bingo-type tile-laying game where each person plays a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice. The deck of cards dictates the order they appear in and 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 of the tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one. So, a five on the third tier scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This time, everyone started off with the same placements albeit in a different orientation.  It wasn’t long before first Burgundy and then the other two diverged though, with slightly different strategies.  There is a bit of knack to the game with two basic competing requirements: getting strong continuous layers without gaps, and placing numbers, ideally high numbers, on the highest tiers possible so they score more.  Blue and Burgundy concentrated on getting a really solid zero level with Burgundy even sacrificing his first “nine” to the cause.  Pine on the other hand, succeeded in placing both his “eights” on his third tier scoring a thirty-two points for those tiles alone.  It was a very close game, but the difference was when, towards the end of the game, Burgundy managed to squeeze a “three” onto the fourth layer.  This gave him nine points and victory with a total of sixty-three points, just five points ahead of Blue and Pine, who tied for second place.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

By the time NMBR 9 was finishing, everyone else was arriving and the group split into two, with one group playing the “Feature Game”, Boomtown and the other playing Yokohama, a game which Ivory had been hankering after playing since he first saw it long before Christmas.  With food due for Blue and Burgundy at anytime, Ivory had to wait another twenty minutes or so, and to try to keep his mind off the delay, the trio decided to squeeze in another filler, Coloretto.  This is a light set-collecting card game that everyone in the group is familiar with: on their turn, players can either pick up a chameleon card from the face down deck and add it to a truck, or take a truck (passing for the rest of the round).  The innovative part of the game is the scoring which uses the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.), with positive points for three sets and negative for the rest.

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

We’d  just started when food arrived and it quickly became apparent that Blue was concentrating more on her pizza than the game as she just stared collecting almost anything that came her way.  Everyone started collecting light blue/white cards and this was a mistake because it meant that everyone was going to struggle to get lots of them.  In the end, three things made the difference: the jokers that Blue picked up;  the bonus point cards that Blue and Ivory collected, and the negative points that Burgundy ended up with.  As a result, despite her lack of concentration, Blue finished with forty-four points and a sizeable lead, with Ivory in second place.  Meanwhile, the next table had started the “Feature Game”, Boomtown, which is a fairly light card game where players are mining moguls and each round is divided into three parts, auction, selection, and production.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the round one card is drawn per person and placed face for bidding. Players then, in clockwise order, take turns bidding for who gets to choose a card first. Bidding continues round the table; when a player passes then they are out of the bidding and the auction continues until there is one person left.  While the auctions are fun, the real twist in the game is what happens as a result of the auction.  Winning the bidding has two consequences:  first pick from the cards available, but also payment of the bid to the other players.  So, the winner of the auction pays his winning bid to the player on his right who then gives half of that sum to the player on his right who, in turn, gives half of that amount to the player on his right, and so on in anticlockwise order, stopping just before the player who won the bidding.  The winning bidder chooses first and selection then passes to the player on his left and continues in clockwise order (i.e. opposite to the order of the money route).

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

There are two types of cards in Boomtown, mine cards and special cards.  The special cards typically provide a one off action that must be used straight away while others can be saved for later in the game.  Some help the owner, but most target one, several or all of the other players destroying or stealing mines, changing dice rolls or the order of a result of an auction.  Mine cards provide victory points and can also be a source of income throughout the game (especially valuable as  money enables players to take control during the auctions).  Each mine card has a number of gold coin symbols on it as well as a number between two and twelve. The gold coin symbols correspond to the number of victory points the card is worth at the end of the game and the number of chips a player will receive should the card’s number be rolled during the production phase (like in The Settlers of Catan).

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

Each mine card also has a colour and these can be critical as the player with the most cards takes the mayor who is worth five points at the end of the game.  Perhaps more importantly, the player who owns the mayor receives payment from the other players when they take (build) a mine of that colour.  Mayors can also be a deciding factor in how one bids for first choice in a round and some of the special cards can provide an edge in the contest for mayors, as well.  This means that fights over mayors can get very, very nasty indeed.  The game ends when the deck is exhausted and everyone then adds their number of chips to the value of their mines and any mayor bonuses, the player with the highest total wins.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

It was a slow start with no-one really bidding very high. Most people were not sure quite how the game would work so did not want to commit too much at this early stage. In the very first round, the “aggressive” nature of the game quickly reared its ugly head when four of the five cards in the auction were mines and one was Dynamite.  Green won the bid and since Red was sitting on his right, she was left with the final card, the Dynamite.  There was really only ever one choice as to who’s mine would go…the person who had played it many times before, Green.  A couple more rounds on and the players were still only tentatively feeling their way. Red had chosen to diverge from the other player’s tactics slightly by going for a Saloon rather than mines and before long she was able to add the Saloon Girls to double its effect.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

When Pine won a bid and started the next round of bidding, he did not know what to choose, not really wanting to win the bid at all. So he bet one, When nearly everyone had passed and he looked like he would win the bid on one, he commented that it seemed unfair that he would be forced to pay some money, thinking that if everyone passed he would be the winner anyway.  A quick check of the rules confirmed that indeed the player starting didn’t have to bid and could pass, and in the unlikely event that everyone passed, they would win.  So everyone agreed to start the round again. Pine passed, Red Passed, Green, with an eye to the main chance then bid one—Oh the shouts of disgust that followed—he had passed last time so why bid this time?  Well, it wasn’t worth two, but it might be worth one, and with that he won the auction.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

About a third of the way through the game, there were a couple of Mayors out and Red’s yellow Saloon was bringing in some income from Pine’s growing number of yellow mines.  It was about this time when Pine decided he’d had enough and took the next dynamite card and, much to her disgust, blew up Red’s Saloon, taking the girls with it!  In the meantime, Purple was trying to corner the green and red mines, while Black was settling himself strongly into purple mines.  At this point Red decided that she was so far behind in the mining stakes there was little point in switching to that route so decided to stick to the “money by other means” strategy. She managed to get a second saloon and this time chose Black’s purple mines to be the target for her custom.  This seemed to regularly provide income, but without the girls it was only two gold at a time, barely enough to cover costs.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game drew to a close, it was looking like a two horse race between Green’s extensive pile of cash and Black’s almost as large pile and growing number of mines.  Pine decided he wanted a piece of the action and chose to hold up Black opting for a 50/50 and said he’d try to roll a seven or higher.  He failed, as did Red when she tried the same thing, with Black again the target.  As everyone tallied up the scores, it became apparent that the failed hold-ups had had a significant impact on the outcome. Red’s strategy had totally failed and Purple had been unlucky with the mine production rolls, but it was quite close between the other three.  In the end, Black finished just five points ahead of Pine who pipped Green to second by two points—if Black had lost those hold-ups the game could have gone to Pine…

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Yokohama had barely started, so the group found something a little longer to play in Jórvík.  This is a viking re-themed version of The Speicherstadt, which was a very popular game with the the group a few years ago.  Last time we played the expanded version (corresponding to the original game with the Kaispeicher Expansion), but this time we did not want it to go on too long, so played the base game rather than the fully expanded one.  Pine remembered it as the game where Vikings queue up, and called it “The Queuing Game”, and that sums it up pretty well.  Players take it in turns to place their meeples in queues next to the laid out cards.  Once everyone has placed their cards, each card is “sold” and the first player who placed their meeple next to the card has first dibs.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

The snag is that the cost depends on the number of players who joined after them.  So, if the queue consists of three people, the first player can pay two for it, but if they turn it down, the next player can pay one.  This makes the game evil.  It is an auction game in which players can increase the value and, once the other person drops out, can drop out as well, no strings attached. A kind of, “Well, I didn’t want it, but I just didn’t want you to have it…”  This lack of control didn’t go down well with Ivory, who saw the game and commented, “If we were playing “Snog, Marry, Avoid”, that would definitely be “Avoid”!”  Curious, Blue asked him whether Yokohama would be “Snog” or “Marry”, to which Ivory emphatically responded, “Snog” and added, “”Marry” would require investment…”

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards come in varying types, starting with contracts and goods – contract cards give victory points, but only if they have been fulfilled by collecting the correct goods.  On the other hand, Market Cards allow players to sell goods and get a better return than usual, enabling the owner to build a supply of cash giving them power in the “auctions”.  One of the most important cards are the viking fighter cards.  When the “Attack of the Picts” come up at the end of each season, the player with the most viking fighters gets a bonus, but woe betide the player that has the fewest viking fighter cards as they will lose points in a “Devil take the hindmost” mechanism.  The game ends when all the cards have been auctioned and the player with the most points is the winner.  It only took one round for everyone to take up their differing strategies.  Red, having not played the game before, had gone for a couple of market cards, enabling her to sell goods for one coin each rather than the usual two goods for one coin. Green had started a collection of Viking fighters to ward off the Pict raiders, Black collected the only artisan card, Purple went for the feast and Pine wasn’t really sure where he was going so had taken another market card.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

By the end of the second round Red had acquired three of the market cards, Green another fighter, Black and purple both had artisans, and Pine had taken the valuable warehouse.  Black was dubious of Red’s strategy for so many market cards, as experience had shown that these cards were generally not that valuable as you did not often have the required resource to sell. Green was reserving judgement thinking that with three she could almost guarantee being able to sell something.  Then  the goods started to arrive.  Everyone seemed frustrated at what they could actually get and money soon ran very low, except for Red however, who always seemed to have more than anyone else; those markets were beginning to prove useful.  Pine’s warehouse seemed pretty empty however and although Green’s defense of the Picts was mighty, there wasn’t a lot he was defending in the early stages.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game wore on, Green inched up the score track as Pine, Purple and Red slipped back, due to Pict raids.  By the last round, almost everyone was spent up with no more than one or two coins each, except Red who seemed to have a stash of seven or eight. This meant that she was able to hoover up both the end game scoring bonus cards (the ships and the coins) and this left an odd position that didn’t seem to be covered in the rules.  The very last card in the Winter deck was the attack of the Picts card, which meant that all the other cards had been out and selected, and only two cards remained, both attack of the Picts cards.  Normally, the Attack of the Picts card would have been enacted as soon as it was revealed and then discarded, which is why the cards fit the slots perfectly.  Pine felt the game should end there without activating them, but since we did need to have the final attack card everyone else felt that the game probably meant both attacks should happen, one after the other.  Considering that there is a one in fifteen chance of this happening, it really should have been mentioned in the rules.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

It quickly became clear why Pine wasn’t keen on activating the Pict cards:  he had seven points to lose and Green had seven to gain!  It didn’t matter though, because in the final scoring Red trounced everyone, proving that some cards are more powerful than we could ever imagine. Black and Green were tied in second place, much to their chagrin, as both had thought it would be one of them in first place; checking the tie breaker, it was Green took a somewhat Pyrrhic victory.  While all this was going on, after some four or five months, Ivory was finally getting personal with Yokohama, and it seamed he was finding that it had been worth the wait.  It had taken quite a while to set up and was quite a “table-hog”, but it looked much more complex than it appeared to the players on the neighbouring table.

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Yokohama has a lot in common with Istanbul—although it is unquestionably a deeper game, the principle is very similar.  In Istanbul, players take it in turn to move their Merchant around the bazaar to locations where he can carry out specific actions.  Merchants can only carry out actions at locations where there is one of their Assistants or where they can drop off one of their Assistants.  Yokohama has a similar travelling Merchant mechanism, but before he moves, the active player places Assistants, three in different locations or two together at the same location.  The difference is that in Istanbul the distance the Merchants can travel is limited, whereas in Yokohama, they can travel as far as they like, but can only travel through locations that are occupied by one or more of their Assistants.

Yokohama
– Image by BGG contributor cmarie

One of the most significant differences between the two games is that the action a player can take depends on the “Power” they have at their Merchant’s location.  The Power is the sum of the number of number of Assistants, Stores and Trading Houses present, plus one for the Merchant.  The nature of the locations are more complex too, some just provide resources or money, but others provide opportunities to get Contract cards, victory points or even technology cards that can be used during the game.   Another key difference is that each player is provided with a small number of Assistants at the start of the game.  Although any Assistants are returned when their Power is used to carry-out out an action, players inevitably need more, which they must obtain by visiting the Employment agency (where players can also buy Stores and Trading Houses).

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Despite the similarities, the games have a very different feel about them, though they are both very smooth to play with very little down-time.  Yokohama has a number of end conditions, including drawing the last contract card, filling a given number of spaces in the Church, or Customs locations, or if one or more players has built all their Trading houses or Stores.  In this way, it is up to the players how long the game goes on, which was definitely something that affected the way Blue, Burgundy and Ivory played.  The game began with Blue picking off the highest scoring Contracts while Ivory decided to build some technology, in particular the ability to place a fourth Assistant, something that proved it’s worth as he used it extensively throughout the game.  Burgundy followed Blue with the Contracts, but was generally beaten to the most valuable cards.

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

As the game developed, all three players began to get into their stride a bit more, and when pine looked on in horror at all the pieces and commented that it definitely looked like an “Ivory sort of game”, all three agreed that it was no where near as complex as it looked.  And that was just as well, because Yokohama has a lot of fiddly pieces and does look especially complicated.  Up to this point though, everyone had been hitting the Contract cards quite hard, when Burgundy suddenly pointed out that there weren’t many left and if we continued that way, the game would be over quite soon. Clearly nobody wanted that, because everyone switched their attention to other sources of points.  It quickly became clear that all three players had spotted the value the Customs house could provide, and since everyone was beginning to build up a small stack of valuable “Import” crates, it became a race to get there first.

Yokohama
– Image by BGG contributor Roger_Jay

Inevitably, Ivory got to the Customs house first, followed by Blue and Burgundy.  Blue had more Import crates though and was able visit several times and hold the majority.  Ivory spotted that there were points to be had by visiting the Church, which the others had completely neglected and Burgundy took one of the achievement bonuses for having built in three commercial and two production areas.  This was something that everyone had tried to go for, but had been sidetracked from.  Ivory snaffled the bonus for being the first to achieve six bundles of silk with an extremely clever move, while Blue who had always had more money than anyone else picked up the bonus for being the first to have ten Yen.  It was clear that the game wasn’t going to go on much longer, but everyone was concentrating on trying to eke out those last few points in what felt like a close game.

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

It was about this point that Red asked to borrow Blues car keys, only to return a few minutes later, much to everyone’s amusement, asking how to use them as she had been pushing the car boot open button without success.  Obviously that wasn’t the right button, so with new instructions she tried again, only to return after another couple of minutes still defeated.  In the end, Green went to her rescue, though even he took several tries to get it to work.  On their return Yokohama was coming to a close and the players were working out the final scores.  It was close, but despite Blue’s obstructive tactics at the end, Ivory still finished five points clear with one-hundred and twenty-two.  It was clear that everyone had enjoyed the game:  Burgundy’s comment was that he’d struggled from start to finish, but loved every minute.  Ivory had clearly enjoyed it too, and was making appreciative comments about variable setups as he helped pack away, though it remains to be seen whether he will invest in an engagement ring…

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome: Some games are worth the wait.

10th January 2017

A new year, a new log book, and a shortage of people thanks to sickness, work and problematic cars.  Pine, Magenta and Blue were the first to arrive, so while they were waiting for food they decided to get in a quick game of No Thanks!.  This used to be one of those games that got played a lot, but for some reason it fell out of favour and was replaced by games like Love Letter, 6 Nimmt! and Om Nom Nom.  No Thanks! is a very simple little game where players have to make the binary decision to take a card or pay a chip and pass the problem on to the next player.  At the end of the round, players add the face values of the cards together and offset this with any remaining chips to give their total – the smallest value is the winner.  The really clever part is that if a player has a run of consecutive cards, then only the lowest counts.  Spice is added by the removal of nine cards from the original thirty-two consecutive cards in the deck.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

We first introduced Pine to No Thanks! over Christmas, when he had done rather well at it, this time was a bit different, however, with Blue coming in first with twenty-five in a generally high scoring game.  As food arrived, so did the other gamers, with Ivory first and, just as we were explaining the rules to him, Green rolled up as well.  The second hand began with Ivory picking up cards.  As it went on, he picked up more cards, and more and more.  This was excellent for everyone else until it started to look like he might be able to make them into one very long run.  In the end, Ivory’s massive gamble didn’t pay off and he finished with ninety points, a massive  eighty more than anyone else.  It was Magenta who took the round though, her enormous pile of chips offsetting all her cards leaving her with minus one.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With food over and everyone who was expected present, we decided to move onto our “Feature Game” will be Jórvík.  This is a Viking retheme of a game we have played a few times and enjoyed called The Speicherstadt.  The game is card based and driven by a novel auction mechanism that somehow doesn’t really feel like an auction.  The idea is there is a row of cards and players use their meeples to bid with.  They take it in turns to choose which cards they would like to have the option of buying, by placing their meeples in rows below the cards they want.  The cards are then “auctioned” in turn with person who who placed their meeple below a card first getting first refusal.  The clever bit is that the cost of the card is the same number of coins as there are meeples below the card.  When it is their turn, the active player can choose not to to buy the card, but then they must remove their meeple which makes it cheaper for the next player in line.   Thus, placing first can be a good thing if you have enough money to back it up, but money is scarce, very scarce.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards could be contracts (that give points at the end if fulfilled), ships containing goods (that enable players to fulfill contracts), defenders (which help score points if there is an attack of the Picts), craftsmen (which enable players to sell goods for a better price), feasts (which give points the more you have), journey cards (which just give points) or, towards the end of the game, skald cards (which yield points for some other condition).  The deck of cards is broken into several batches which ensures that while cards don’t come out in a  fixed order, early cards are less powerful than cards that appear later in the game.  The basic Jórvík game is quite light, but the new rendition includes the original Kaispeicher expansion.  This provides extra cards, though more importantly, it also adds a whole new mechanism that still has the same flavour, but turned on its head.

Jórvík

The new expansion adds a second method for players to get cards:  at the start of each round a second row of cards are displayed and, instead of using their turn to place a meeple in the auction, they can use it to reserve a card.  This card (and its meeple marker) are then moved to a new row.  At the end of the round, after the cards in the usual “auction” have been dealt with, the reserved cards are paid for in the order that they were reserved.  The snag is that the cost depends on how many cards were reserved after it.  Thus, players who reserve early have the best selection of cards to choose from, but will end up paying if they choose to buy it.  This means that players often end up reserving a card, as much as anything else, to stop the other players from getting it.  This led to Pine commenting that the game was a bit like window shopping with players standing hopefully next to items they had no hope being able to afford!

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

Only two of us had played the game before (mostly in its original form as The Speicherstadt), and nobody had played with the expansion at all.  Everyone tried different strategies, with Magenta trying to collect feasting cards (largely unsuccessfully) and Green beginning by trying to collect defender cards in the hope of being able to scoop up all the points for repelling the Picts.  Ivory, Blue and Pine were slower to settle on a strategy, though Ivory was ominously collecting what looked like some very powerful cards.  Then, Pine began collecting pink resource cubes, the valuable cloth and successfully used them to fulfill a couple of lucrative contracts.  For a long time this looked like it was going to be a winning strategy, until Blue changed tack.  She had started by trying to pick up contracts and fighting with everyone else for resources, but it was gradually becoming clear to her that this wasn’t working.  Although Blue had fallen foul of the Picts in the first round, since then she had been trying to avoid losing points.  This strategy had kept her in the running, and she decided to to actively pursue the points.  In the end she finished with thirty-six points, just three ahead of Pine in second place.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

Despite winning, Blue wasn’t sure about the expansion.  She felt it added a largely random element that players had no control over.  She felt the that the fact players were reserving cards that only they could buy meant that once someone had selected a card nobody else had a chance to contest it.  The only thing they could do was force the price up.  Green, on the other hand, said he really liked it and thought it was really clever, though he agreed that with five players it probably wasn’t at its best.  In the end, we concluded that it would likely add a lot to two and three player games, which encouraged Blue to get out her copy of The Speicherstadt with Pink to try it with KaispeicherJórvík had taken longer than expected and for Ivory and Magenta it was home time.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

Living more locally, Green, Pine and Blue had time for a quick game and chose Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.  This pretty little tile-laying game was a Christmas present chosen with the group in mind, so this seemed like a good opportunity to give it a go.  The game is very simple:  players have a hand of tiles and take it in turns to add one to the central “lake”.  Each tile has up to four coloured sections and if the tile is placed in such a way that some of these match the tiles they are next to, the active player gets a lantern card of that colour.  In addition, every turn, each player gets a card that corresponds to the colour on their side of the tile placed.  At the start of their turn, players can make a devotion and trade sets of lantern cards for points tiles.  There are three stacks of points tiles, with values decreasing from top to bottom.  Each stack corresponds to different sets, with one each for three pairs, a set of seven different and four of a kind.  There are also special platform tiles that give players favour tokens.  These grease the wheels a little as pairs can be spent to allow players to swap a card for one of a different colour.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The winner is the player with the most points once all the tiles have been played.  This means that there are two competing factors, players want to make as many dedications as they can, but higher value dedications are better.  Tile placement was cagey at the start, but before long Green and Blue began making dedications, quickly followed by Pine.  It was Green who managed to maintain the highest frequency of dedications though Blue’s early tiles were generally slightly higher in value.  Frequency was important and his later tiles were also higher value which meant Green finished ten points clear with fifty one.  With bed calling, there was just time to discuss a new idea:  “Monster Games” sessions.  The idea is that as a group we have quite a lot of games that are too long to play on games nights, so the plan is to arrange ad hoc games afternoons in private residences, with the first one planned for 14th January.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is better to stop others than make a purchase yourself.

Essen 2016

It is that time of year when, the leaves fall from the trees and gamers visit Germany.  No, Oktoberfest isn’t the draw (that happens in September anyhow), this is an altogether different annual German “festival” – The Internationale Spieltage, which is held in Essen.  To Gamers worldwide, Essen is synonymous with the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world.  The fair runs Thursday to Sunday in mid-October every year and is the one of the largest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions.   As such, many of the manufacturers plan their biggest releases for October with their debut at the Fair.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag.com

Last year there was a bit of a paucity of new games and it seemed to be all about expansions.  This year, while there are still plenty of expansions for well-loved games like Istanbul, Colt Express, Orléans and Ca$h ‘n Guns etc., there are also a lot of new games based on old favourites.  For example, there is Key to the City – London (which has a lot of elements of one of our favourite games, Keyflower), Jórvík (an update and re-theme of Die Speicherstadt), X Nimmt! (a variant on the popular but chaotic 6 Nimmt!), and the latest incarnation of the Ticket to Ride series, Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails.  There will be plenty of other interesting original games too though, including The Oracle of DelphiA Feast for Odin, Cottage Garden and The Colonists.  Several members of the group are going this year, and they’ll no doubt bring back lots of exciting new toys to share with everyone.

Essen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Gonzaga

22nd September 2015

It was a quiet night and, like last time, while we were waiting for people to arrive, we started off with the cooperative card game, The Game.  This time it was only a three-player game and we had a terrible start when Blue’s initial hand had nothing below forty or above sixty.  Things got worse when, a few rounds later she was left with little between ten and ninety.  We struggled on manfully, but we finished with a total of twelve unplayable cards left at the end – we were not even close to matching our recent success.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

With the arrival of Black and Purple, we decided to move onto our “Feature Game”, Notre Dame.  This is one of the first games published by the highly prolific game designer, Stefan Feld, who also designed some of our other favourite games including The Speicherstadt and Amerigo.  Feld’s games are often referred to as “point salads” – i.e. games where players can build their score from lots of different sources and Notre Dame is one of these games.  The round starts with the revealing of three character cards which can be hired at the end of the round.  This is followed by drafting three action cards:  each player draws three action cards from a personal deck of nine, keeps one and passes the other two to the player on their left.  From the two they receive, they then choose another one to keep and pass the remaining card on so that everyone finishes with a hand of three cards, one card from each of the two players to their right.

Notre Dame
– Image by boardGOATS

Beginning with the start player, there are then two rounds where each person plays one card, discarding the third.  One way of looking at this is as worker placement where the card drafting is just a novel way of restricting choices.  The actions include things like collecting victory points, collecting money, moving the players carriage and so on.  However, in order to be able to carryout the action, players must place a “worker” (called influence cubes in this game) on the corresponding sector of their map.  The clever part is that the reward yielded (i.e. how many victory points they get, how much money they receive or how far the carriage can move etc.) depends on the total number of influence cubes in the sector.  Thus, for placing the first cube in the banking sector, a player will get one coin, but if they later add a second cube, they get two coins, and so on.

Notre Dame
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of the round, players can then hire one of the characters for the fixed cost of one coin.  Finally, once everything else has been dealt with, everyone increases their rat population according to the number of rats shown at the bottom of the character cards (which were first displayed at the start of the round).  If a player exceeds nine rats, then nasty things happen including loss of influence cubes and victory points.  Every third round, the cathedral is scored.  This is an area of the board that everyone can place an influence cube in, in exchange for a donation to the church.  When it is scored, a set number of points is divided amongst the players depending on how many influence cubes they have in the Cathedral area.  For example, in a five-player game, twelve points are up for grabs; when four of the players each have one cube in the cathedral, they will get three points a piece, but if there is only one player with a presence in the cathedral, that player will take all the points.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Like most good worker-placement type games, players always want to do more things than they can.  For example, if a player does not have sufficient cubes in their personal supply, then they can move them from somewhere else.  That means the original action has one influence cube less, however, and consequently will yield less reward.  So, one of the actions is to get additional influence cubes.  For this reason, players have to try to make sure that they maintain a sufficient supply of cubes by carrying out the corresponding action.  With only two actions per round though, this is difficult.  Similarly, without money players cannot hire one the characters and at the end of the round, the rat population increases so it is essential that players stay on top of that too.  Meanwhile, the winner is the player with the most points at the end of the game, so players also have to try to collect victory points whenever they can.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Everyone started out a little unsure of what to do, but we got the hang of it quite quickly.  Black started out best, having played before he had an idea of what all the actions could do and how the game would develop.  At the end of the third round, the Cathedral points were shared evenly between Burgundy, Blue, Green and Black.  Meanwhile, Burgundy was trying to collect messages with his carriage with the idea that they would allow him to get points as well as maintain his cube supply and control his rat population.  However, this plan backfired and he got stuck without money which meant he couldn’t hire characters.  Green had a plan to try to alternate between picking up cubes and money, but somehow couldn’t quite make it work.  Blue was just picking up what she could when she could, and then got lucky picking up all the Cathedral points at the end of the sixth round.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor GogTad

Totaling up the scores showed that the game was much tighter than we all thought, but ultimately difference was caused by the Plague.  Blue and Green invested heavily in keeping their rat population under control, ensuring the plague never broke out and did best.  There were only eight points between second and last.  Being the sole beneficiary of the second batch of Cathedral points put Blue eight points clear of Green in second which annoyed him as he felt he could have shared the points if he’d spotted it (or listened to Black who had pointed it out just before his last turn).  We all really enjoyed the game, finding it a bit different with very tight  choices, especially at the end.  Definitely a game to try again sometime soon.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We finished the evening with a quick game of one of our current favourite “push-your-luck -fillers”, Om Nom Nom.  Burgundy won the first round with fifteen by taking a whole bunch of carrots unchallenged. Green declared that he disliked this sort of game because it was far too luck dependent.  The second round was much tighter; Green decided to try a new strategy – choosing two cards playing the one he least liked, but although this sort of worked for the first card or two, it didn’t after that.  Blue was the clear winner of the final round with sixteen, thanks to a swarm of flies.  This gave her a total of thirty-two, eight more than Burgundy in second and a clean(ish) sweep for the evening.  Green finished last – Luck?  What luck…?

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

26th August 2014

We started the evening with a big bowl of chips, some ice-cream and a game of Hanabi.  This is a a co-operative game where everyone works together to try to achieve a common aim.  The idea is very simple:  everyone has a hand of tiles which are turned to face away, so that players can see everyone else’s tiles, but not their own.  On their turn, players then either play a tile, give a clue about the colour or number of the tiles in front of a player, or discard a tile (and recover a clue).  The aim is to lay twenty-five tiles in order within their suits.

Hanabi

Everyone had played the game before, but never together as a group, so we had a quick discussion of conventions.  The game can be played very strictly in complete silence with “poker faces”, but given how hard the game is, we’ve always played it in a fairly relaxed way.  Some groups have a lot of extra ways of giving clues, for example, if a player has three green tiles, they point to them in a prearranged order, say, from lowest to highest, however, within the group we’ve always felt this is a step too far.  We typically play with a conveyor-belt, where new tiles are generally placed at one end and, in the absence of other information,  should it be necessary, the oldest tiles are discarded.  This not only helps the players giving clues ensuring that tiles stick about for as long as possible and makes sure people know which tile is “in the hot seat”, but also helps the owner remember which tile is which.  In the past, we’ve also used some element of the active player talking through their thought process so that other players can learn how people think.  This is nice when learning, but does have the tendency to give away a little too much information, so this time, with more experienced players, we tried to keep that to a minimum.

Hanabi

We started off well with one player beginning with three ‘ones’ all of different colours, but then the trouble set in.  The absence of “twos” meant that nobody could really find any really good clues to give and before long we were forced to discard tiles which led to the inevitable consequence of throwing away both white “threes”.  Although it limited our highest possible score, it had the advantage that people could freely discard white tiles and recover clues.  Doors opened a little and we managed to play complete blue, green and red fireworks.  The total of nineteen gave us an excellent crowd pleasing display, though it would be interesting to see if the same group could do as well, or even better next time, playing a little more strictly.

Hanabi

Meanwhile a couple of other players arrived and, seeing that the game had some way to go, decided to start a quick game of The Little Prince:  Make Me a Planet.  This is a pretty little game based on the book, The Little Prince, by the French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  We’ve not played it before on a Tuesday, though many of us have played it on other occasions.  The idea is that each player is trying to build a planet from a total of sixteen square tiles.  The tiles have one of four different motifs: characters, up edges, down edges and middles and when four of each are combined, they make a picture of a planet with the four corner spaces occupied by the characters.

The Little Prince:  Make Me a Planet

On their turn, the active player chooses a motif, draws one tile per player and keeps one.  They then choose another player and pass on the remaining tiles for them to select one, then pass remaining tiles on etc.   The final player gets no choice and gets to keep the last tile, but to make up for that, this player becomes the start player for the next round.  Each tile features a number of items:  lamp posts, sheep stars, strange-looking foxes, elephants, baobob trees, cobras etc. which are used for scoring.  The score for each item depends on the characters, however, and items will score highly for one planet and poorly, or even negatively for another.  The game was tight all the way through, but Purple finished ahead with a lead of seven points.

The Little Prince:  Make Me a Planet

The games came to an end and we decided to start two simultaneous games of The Speicherstadt, our “Feature Game” for the week.  This is an unusual auction card game where players compete for victory points, which come mainly from contracts (sets of resources) and special cards.  The game is set in Hamburg around 1900 where there was a unique complex of storehouses (Speicherstadt) and a network of canals and bridges forming a terminus for spices, coffee, tea and carpets from all over the world.  Players act as wholesaler at the heyday of the Speicherstadt acquiring shiploads for the storehouses and making profits selling selling them.  We played this game quite a bit a few months back, but somehow seemed to have forgotten how to play it.  After a period of staring blankly at the rules, we remembered that each player starts with three meeples which they use for bidding, and bid by placing them above their chosen card (and any meeples already there).  Once everyone has declared their interest, the first card is auctioned:  the person at the front of the queue has the first chance to buy and the price is set by the total number of meeples in the queue.  If they choose to buy at that price, they pay up and the auction is over.  If they choose not to buy (or are unable to), then they forfeit their opportunity, remove their meeple and the next person has a chance (and the cost is reduced accordingly).  The deck is stacked so that contracts mostly come out first, then “schiffs” which carry the goods used to fulfil the contracts.  There are also firemen (or feuerwehrmenn) and a smattering of other interesting and valuable cards.

The Speicherstadt

In the first game, Blue failed to acquire any firemen and was duly punished by losing a total of ten points during the game.  Because Orange and Red had not played before, they had neglected contracts in the early stages, which meant goods were plentiful and were mostly sold.  Blue picked up the most contracts, but it was nowhere near enough.   On the other hand, Orange took all ten points, so the question was whether the contracts and Counting Houses held by Red were enough.  It came right down to the wire and the game finished with just one point in it, in Red’s favour, by just two points.  Meanwhile, the second game was playing in a completely different way.  In contrast to the first where contracts had gone unclaimed and all the “schiffs” were bought and goods sold, in the second game, most of the contracts had been snapped up, but with a shortage of money, some of the ships had not been bought.  In the second game, Green had picked up most of the firemen points and finished thirteen points clear of Black, his nearest challenger.

The Speicherstatd

A couple of people left early and those remaining played decided to play Montego Bay.  This is a game we’ve played a few times before, that features simultaneous card selection, which are then played in a predefined order.  Cards are numbered one to five and each player chooses two to move their big docker and their little docker round a circular track.  If they land on a space that is already occupied, then the piece that was there, moves to the other side of the track if that space is available.  If that space is also occupied, then the active piece moves as far as it can and then stops.  Each space corresponds to a cellar that contains some number of barrels which players then take it in turns to load into boats.   When a boat is full (or if it is the first boat in line at the end of the round), it sails and players score points for having the most barrels in boats when they go.  Beware the broken barrels though, if a player lands on a cellar with some of these they must remove the corresponding number of barrels from the boats rendering the best laid plan in tatters.

Montego Bay

Black started off really well with excellent timing on a couple of boats and catching lots of points as a result.  Then Purple joined in before Green took a commanding lead.   Blue made some in-roads, but proved her own worst enemy when she landed her big man on a cellar with broken barrels and then, to add insult to injury, landed her little man on the same space, moving the big man to the other side where there were even more broken barrels waiting for her.  Green ran out the winner with forty-four points to Blue’s thirty-eight in second place.

Montego Bay

Learning Outcome:  If fire is inevitable, ignore it at your peril.

1st October 2013

As our first birthday is on October 2nd, we decided to make the evening a little bit of a celebration of the year.  The first game we played was our “Feature Game”, which this week was the most popular game that hasn’t been a “Feature Game” and that is Dobble.  So we started out with a couple of quick rounds while we waited for people to arrive.

Dobble

Next up we decided to play another relatively light and quick game, Indigo.  This is a really pretty abstract game, that is extremely easy to teach.  Basically, you have a hand of a single hexagonal tile, and on your turn you play it anywhere on the board that does not already have a tile.  If your tile has a extends the route of one of the coloured glass stones, you move that stone along the path.  The aim of the game is to navigate as many of the stones to your gates.  The clever part is that gates can be owned by one or two people depending on the number of players, so there is a nice interplay between helping yourself and teamwork.  The stones are also worth different numbers of points, so you need to balance the compromise between value and quantity.  The game was quite tight, however, Red managed to extend her unbeaten run with a draw with White.

Indigo

We couldn’t wait any longer and, decided it was time for Cake!  After a quick rendition of “Happy Birthday to Us”, we attacked the really rather excellent chocolate cake and Meeple Biscuits (kindly provided by Tessa Edwards).  Then it was time for the next game…

Cake!

…And that was Stimmt So!  This is a game that we’ve been on the brink of playing many times, but with the same basic mechanism as Alhambra, we’ve always ended up playing that instead.  Basically, on their turn, players can do one of two things:  buy shares, or collect money.  Shares can only be bought in the correct currency, however, and if players pay for them with exactly the right amount of money they get another turn otherwise they don’t get any change.  There are two scoring opportunities during the game, and one at the end, and players score for having the most shares in each market.  Blue was too busy shuffling to pay much attention to the rules, so started out just buying everything she could.  Meanwhile, Red and Green tried to carve out a strong position in the most lucrative companies.  At the first scoring round, Green lost out to Red and Blue (who had by now realised what she was supposed to be doing) held her own with a large number of holdings in the less valuable stocks.  By the second scoring Green was still struggling and the situation only got worse in the final round.  Points are given for the lowest value companies first where Blue had the majority and she romped ahead with Green picking up some of the second place points.  As the more lucrative shares were counted Red galloped round the board, but somehow Blue just maintained her lead.

Stimmt So!

The final game of the evening was an old favourite that we’ve played a few times before:   Die Speicherstadt.  This is a really fun auction game, that somehow doesn’t really feel like an auction game.  A number of cards are placed on the board and players have three meeples to bid with.  They take it in turns to choose which cards they would like to buy, by placing their meeples in rows above the cards they want.  The person who who placed their meeple above a card first gets the first refusal, however, it costs the same number of coins as there are meeples above the card.  Thus, placing first can be a good thing if you have enough money to back it up, but money is very scarce.  The cards could be contracts (that give points at the end if fulfilled), ships containing goods (that enable players to fulfil contracts), firemen (which help score points if there is a fire in the warehouse), merchants (which can sell goods for a better price), or buildings (which give points or occasionally money by some other means).  Blue made a pretty poor fist of it right from the word go paying far too much for the warehouse despite the fact that she had picked up a load of merchant cards in the first round.  White was very late getting contracts, but lost out in a scrap with Purple for firemen cards.  Purple ran out the clear winner with four fulfilled contracts to add to his fire points giving a total of 39 points – almost falling off the end of the scoring track!  White and Blue tied for second, but some way behind.

The Speicherstadt

We ended the evening with a little chat about the Spiel at Essen which some of us are thinking of going to this year, oh, and of course, some more of the really rather tasty cake!

Learning Outcome:  There is only one thing as bad as not going for firemen, and that’s going for firemen and losing.

30th April 2013

Like last time, we again started out with a quick game of Love Letter while we waited for late arrivals.  This time we found that players were winning rounds without getting very deep into the deck, which is strange.  However, one thing that didn’t change was that beginners luck again carried the day…

Love Letter

Next we quickly played a new game, Diavolo. This is a dice rolling game where players take it in turns to roll dice and depending on the outcome of the “Order” die, dive for a cute little imp.  If they fail to grab one (or get the wrong one), the player loses a gem and the last person to lose all their gems is the winner.  We all found this game very stressful so we had one quick round of an old favourite, No Thanks! as the last player arrived and went to the bar.

Diavolo

Once again, our less experienced players were otherwise engaged, so we decided to forego Ticket to Ride and play something we enjoyed a couple of months ago, namely The Speicherstadt.  This is a clever little auction game that is relatively quick to play and easy to teach, but has a lot of strategy.  In short, cards are turned over and players take it in turns to place one of their “Village People” next to the card they would like to buy:  contracts, ships (use to fulfil the contracts), firemen (to protect against inferno) etc..  The first player to bid for a card has first refusal for that card, but the price they must pay is equal to the total number of “Village People” next to the card.  If they decline, then the next player has the choice, and the cost has reduced by one.  Despite the fact that the different players seemed to employ quite different strategies it ended a very close game.  For example, Blue eschewed firemen and ended up taking nearly all the negative points due to fires.  Thus, Blue was some twenty points adrift at the back before the final accounting although they had a couple of valuable contracts and the warehouse.  In contrast, White invested heavily in firemen, and was way out in front, but had less to add in the final reckoning.  White and Blue ended level on points in last place, but only two points behind the winner who had engaged in more trading.

The Speicherstadt

Finally, we just managed to squeeze in a game of Keyflower.  This is a really beautiful resource management and bidding game where players use meeples (or “Keyples” as they are known here) both as currency for bidding and as workers to generate resources.  Played over four Seasons, with new tiles available at the start of each one, players take it in turns to bid for the different tiles.  However, the catch is that once a bid has been made, any subsequent bids for that tile must be both larger and made with the same colour.  In addition to the colour management, there are lots of other really elegant aspects to this game.  For example, players can place workers on tiles and use the products during that same Season, thus, if a player needs red for bidding, they may be able to use a worker to obtain the necessary Keyples.  This means you rarely find you can’t do anything, but you often can’t do exactly what you want. Although it was a new release at the end of last year, we had all played it before, so we just had a quick reminder of the rules as we set up and then launched into it.  In contrast to the last game, this was a bit of a white wash with the leader wining by some thirty points.  What was particularly interesting, however, was that this was based on a skill tile strategy which netted some sixty points at the end of the game.  None of us had ever found them all that useful before, presumably at least partly because the right tiles had never come up.

Keyflower

Learning Outcome:  In some games, you can be quite convinced you are losing and be very, very wrong.