Tag Archives: The Voyages of Marco Polo

21st March 2017

As usual, we started with a debate about who would play what.  Green picked out a load of games he fancied, including The Voyages of Marco Polo which he had only played the once before and fancied playing again.  Blue commented that it was the sort of game that Ivory would probably enjoy and with Black having spent quite a bit of time playing it online, he joined the others to make a trio.  The Voyages of Marco Polo, won the Deutscher Spiel Preis in 2015 and was designed by the same pairing that put together Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, another game we have enjoyed recently and is a game we should play more often.  The game is played over five rounds with players recreating Marco Polo’s journey to China via Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road”.  Each player has a different character and special power in the game.  Each round, the players roll their five personal dice and can perform use them to perform one action each per turn.  The actions include:  gathering resources, gathering camels, earning money, buying purchase orders and travelling.  The game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most purchase orders, and having visited the cities on secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Last time he played, Green had been very successful with Kubilai Khan.  This time, after dice rolling to see who started, Green got to go first, but although he had the opportunity to take Kubilai Khan again, he decided to go for a different challenge.  So this time Green went for Matteo Polo giving him the white dice and the extra contract every round.  Ivory was next and went for Mercator ex Tabriz, a potentially powerful character which would give him an extra resource every time anyone else got one from the favour track or resource selection track. Black, having played often online, opted for Kubilai Khan and starting from Beijing with the immediate ten point bonus, but no other advantage. The fourth character that was rejected by all, was Wilhelm von Rubruk who allowed the player to place houses on cities they passed through without the need to stop (Black commented afterwards that this was a a very difficult character to be successful with).  Next, each player received four destination cards from which to choose two.  With many groans of dismay everyone quickly discarded one card they felt was all but impossible to complete and then had to choose the worst of the remaining cards for the second discard. No one felt very happy with their selections, but the cards dictated the strategies.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

For Green the strategy was simple, get as many contracts completed as possible and not worry too much about travelling.  However, some of the contracts provided extra free movement on completion, so with minimal travelling some of the cities could be completed.  For much of the game Green and Ivory laboured under the false understanding that only one contract could be completed per round. This meant that after he had secured the resources he needed for his one contract, Green was left with some “spare” actions, which he decided to use for travelling and money collection. It was only at the end of the penultimate round that Black corrected their misunderstanding and that although only one contract could be completed per turn, several could be done per round!  It was all a little too late for Green though. The extra free contract he got in the last round was a doozy, giving him another new contract when completed, but only yielding three points. Unfortunately the new contract released was also low value at only two points (although it was then easy to complete).

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Meanwhile, Black quietly got on with his game, regularly choosing the six camel resource and buying black dice to travel slowly from Beijing, down the board, and releasing the three action city. He used this to good effect gaining lots of purple resource bundles for contracts. It was while activating one of these city actions he revealed that the number on the die used indicated the number of times it could used. Cries of foul play came from Green and Ivory. Green had used a four spot on the “coins for houses” action before and Ivory would have used his six die on it this round instead of the five coin action space. Black scurried to the rules and discovered that for this “coins for houses” action, it was the number of houses which could be claimed for by the die. In other words, he could use a die of two to claim only two houses even if he had three.  A player would need a three spot die to claim for all.  So in the end, nothing changed for Ivory and Green, though it was something to try to remember for next time.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Ivory decided that money was important and regularly placed his die in the purse and the “five coin” action. He was able to do because he was gaining so many resources from Black and Green’s actions, thanks to his special character.  This kept his contracts ticking over and he managed to travel around the board and complete all but one of his cities and get to Beijing. This left him with with a dilemma in the final round:  he needed a high value die and used his spare camels to provide a black, but only rolled a one.  Green gave him another camel (thanks to his resource collection).  So Ivory placed in the favour track for two more and bought another black die, this time rolled a three…  In the end he decided to just take coins to try to get an extra point.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

It was moot in the end.  Green managed seven contracts in all, one more than Ivory and two more than Black, so Green got the seven point bonus after all. With twenty-nine coins at the end he was one short of an extra bonus point, though it wouldn’t have been enough.  Black had made a mistake in his travelling and not got the cities he meant to – he failed to get one of his cards and only built two houses.  Despite this, his ten point bonus for Beijing and several high value contracts gave him second place.  Ivory had had a great game though, picking up six contracts, taking second place in Beijing, completing one city card and taking a full 10 points from four cities in total.  It was more than enough to give him a three point lead and win the game. Ivory decided that Blue was right, he had really enjoyed The Voyages of Marco Polo.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor bovbossi

On the neighbouring table, Blue, Burgundy, Purple and Pine had started off with the “Feature Game”, Habitats,  This is a very light tile laying game, which comes with small ceramic animals instead of the more usual wooden player pieces.  There are a lot of tile laying games available, but there are a couple of things that make this one a little different.  Firstly, tiles selection:  there is an array of tiles and on their turn, players move their ceramic animal one step forward, left or right and take the tile it would have landed on and add it to their park.  Players can add their tile almost anywhere they want, so long as it borders at least one other tile.  The second unusual aspect of the game is the scoring:  tiles feature an animal and a terrain, but to score they most be surrounded by a set number of other given terrain tiles.  The game is played over four rounds with bonuses after the first three and final scoring at the end of the game.  Pine, with his orange Camel started out very strongly making him a bit of a target, however, although there is plenty of interaction, it is quite difficult to interfere with their plans a lot.  Burgundy started a little slower, but soon got his “extremely correct little Zebra” picking up tiles he wanted (as Pine said, “All zebras have a Hitler moustache and pink ears, don’t they?”).

Habitats
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Purple and her Penguin got a little trapped in the early stages, but got herself out of the mess quite quickly.  The bonuses were for the most different landscape tiles in the first round, different numbers of areas in the second and for a small compact park in the third.  They didn’t really seem to add much to the scores though, and with hindsight, some players might have done better ignore them completely as it is possible they were more of hindrance than a help since the most anyone got was five points (Pine and his orange Camel).  That said, the final scores were quite tight, with Blue and her yellow Leopard finishing just five points ahead of Pine who took a solid second.  On reflection, the difference was Blue’s effective use of Diagonal Tower tiles which allowed her to double score a lot of her animals.  Interestingly, the most recent edition of Spielbox had had a review of Habitats and they had been decidedly unimpressed.  While we agreed that it was quite a light game and certainly wasn’t long, the over-riding view was positive and Burgundy, summed it up when he commented, “Quite liked that”.

Habitats
– Image by BGG contributor styren

The Voyages of Marco Polo was still underway on the next table, so the group decided there was time for something else.  Pink had wanted to play Cottage Garden at the last Didcot Games Club meeting, but the number of players had been all wrong, so he had played it with Blue over the weekend.  Since it was fresh in her memory, there was a good chance of getting the rules right.  In any case, like Habitats, it is a fairly light tile-laying game, basically the boardgame equivalent of Tetris.  Cottage Garden is similar to the earlier, two-player game, Patchwork, but with a slightly different front-end and scoring mechanism.  The idea is that at on their turn, the active player chooses a tile from the appropriate row of the square “market garden”, and add it to one of their two flower beds.  If they have completed one or both of their flower beds by the end of their turn, then they are scored.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Scoring is a little unusual:  each flower bed (and some flower tiles) feature plant pots and cloches these are scored separately using players personal score tracks.  Each track ends at twenty and each player has three cubes they can use for scoring.  Placing tiles is facilitated by pussy-cats;  each player starts with two sleeping moggy tiles which they can place at any point on their turn to fill up odd spaces and keep the game moving.  The “market garden” is really quite interesting, though with four it can feel a little random.  The gardener moves round the board so that players choose tiles from successive rows, the idea being that players try to take a tile and plan what they might get next time.  This planning is quite difficult with four though as there is a high chance that a player’s next tile will have to be taken from a row diagonal or orthogonal to their previous one which means it is highly likely that someone will have taken what they want.  So, for the most part, the game is quite simple, with a lot of depth.  However, the final round is a little more tricky and jars a bit.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

To ensure that anyone who has just started new flower beds doesn’t have a large advantage (due to the number of extra moves they would otherwise get), any beds with two flower tiles or fewer is discarded, and from the start of the final round players painfully lose two points per turn until they finish their final bed.  Again, Pine made the early running picking up two bonus beehive points for being the first player to get one of his markers to twenty points.  Blue wasn’t far behind though and just pipped Purple and Burgundy to the other beehive bonus.  One of the really nice things about this game is its rendition and we all had a good time playing with the little wheelbarrow.  Although Purple had played Patchwork quite a bit, spacial awareness is not really her thing and she and Burgundy struggled a little.  Blue on the other hand, works a lot with symmetry and with the extra experience she soon began to catch Pine and by the end of the game had pushed him into second place.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The most recent edition of Spielbox had also included a review Cottage Garden which had received similar treatment to Habitats.  Although we enjoyed the latter more, weconcluded that Cottage Garden wasn’t a bad game, but the penultimate round dragged a little and the final round felt a bit odd.  There’s also no development of the game over it’s duration, i.e. each player is just trying to fill as many beds as possible doing the same thing over and over again, which can make it feel a little repetitive.  That said, Blue felt she had enjoyed it more as a two-player game over the weekend as there is more scope for planning, so it is possible that four is too many players.  Indeed, nearly 70% of voters on Boardgamegeek are of the opinion that the game is best with three, and that could be a fair conclusion.

Cottage Garden
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

With The Voyages of Marco Polo coming to an end as well and lots of people quite tired, there was just time for Blue to have another go at beating Burgundy at Splendor.  This has become and almost fortnightly grudge match, with Burgundy proving to be almost impregnable.  This simple set collecting, engine builder is often derided as boring and trivial, yet it is the simplicity coupled with the subtitles that seem to make it so compelling.  As is so often the way, Blue started off OK, but this time very quickly fell behind.  Burgundy quickly picked up a noble, and although Blue took one as well, and had plans for picking up points, the writing was on the wall long before Burgundy took the third noble and announced he had fifteen points.  Blue will have to bring her A-game if she is ever to beat her “Splendid Nemesis”.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning outcome:  Spielbox isn’t always right.

5th April 2016

Despite a few regulars being away, there were still enough people for two games and the first group opted for the “Feature Game”, Agricola, a highly regarded game about medieval farming.  Agricola is a worker placement game where players take it in turns to deploy the members of their farming family in activities.  At the start of the game there are very few actions and each  player only has two members of their family, but as the game progresses the number of possible actions increases, but players also have the opportunity to expand their families. Each player has a farm which consists of a three by five grid of spaces and at the start of the game two of them are occupied by a two-room wooden hut.  During the game, players can expand their hut, upgrade their wooden shack to a brick or stone house, they can plough fields, enclose land to keep animals and grow vegetables and wheat.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor BeyondMonopoly

The game is played over fourteen rounds with harvests at intervals after which the family must be fed.  Failing to feed the family results in them going hungry and having to beg for vittles which costs points at the end of the game.  Points are awarded for almost everything, but the most successful players are usually those with a thriving farm that makes full use of all the available land and sustains a large family living in a big farmhouse.  The game can be played as a family game, or, for more experienced players, occupation and minor improvement cards can be added.  It had been quite some time since some of us had last played Agricola, and others had never played it, but those of us who were familiar with the game were keen to play with the cards.  When playing with cards it is common to “draft”, i.e. use the primary mechanism found in games like 7 Wonders, Sushi Go! and Between Two Cities where each player chooses a card from their hand before passing it on and choosing the next card from the hand they receive (passing that on until there are no cards left).  The advantage of this approach is that no single player gets all good (or bad) cards by chance, but the disadvantage is that it is very hard to choose cards when players are new to the game and unfamiliar with which cards might work well.  For this reason, drafting wasn’t really an option.  The copy of the game had been “pimped” with shaped wooden resources to replace the original cubes and discs from the base game.  This, combined with three different decks of minor improvements and tight space enhanced our initial confusion, but we did eventually get ourselves sorted and chose the basic “E” Deck.

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

Green started off by learning a new occupation: Reed Collector; reeds are important for house building.  Having looked at his cards in hand, he had a plan:  he also had the Renovator which would reduce the cost to upgrade his farmhouse, so he thought he could expand his wooden house and then upgrade it on the cheap. He also had the Chiefs Daughter who would give him an additional three points if he successfully upgraded his house to stone. Meanwhile, the others set about collecting resources as a base from which to build their farms.  Indigo quickly learnt the second occupation of the game: the Hedge Keeper which would enable her to build three additional fences each time she built at least one – impressively powerful we thought at the time, especially at end game for filling unused spaces.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor lolcese

The first rounds were a lesson in frustration as resources and actions were limited and we all found ourselves unable to get what we needed and do what we wanted, a problem compounded by only having two farmers each.  Progress on the farms seemed slow; Green, Pine and burgundy seemed more interested in home improvements than actual farming and at one point it looked like we should have renamed the game, “Yuppy-ville”.  Green then invested in a canoe and went fishing a lot:  was the price of farming so high he was going into retirement before he got into a financial mess?  Despite her highly prized hedge making ability, it wasn’t Indigo who fenced in their first field but Pine, which he promptly filled with the four sheep that no-one had been able to find a home for previously.  This was especially funny since, as the vegetarian of the group, he had planned to make his and arable farm rather than a pastoral farm.  Still sheep are good for wool, so his moral stance was intact, for the moment, at least. Released from Market, Pine’s sheep quickly produced a nice spring lamb for our intrepid veggie farmer, to keep as a pet in his farmhouse.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy meanwhile had made use of his special ploughing skills to turn over two fields in one go, but that was about as far as they went for many rounds.  Although he was forced into a fallow strategy (not one that scores any points or subsidies in this game), he wasn’t complaining. That was reserved for anyone else who took the available wood before he could reach it.  This forced Burgundy into becoming a bit of a clay specialist which meant he was able to build an oven before anyone else, something he desperately needed to feed his family since there was so little actual production going on on his farm.  In keeping with his non-farming, farming strategy, Burgundy was also the first to renovate his home, twice in quick succession to a give him a grand two room stone cottage.  Pine and Green followed and extended their wooden shacks. This gave Green room to grow and he became the first player to gain an extra farmer.  Pine quickly followed suit, but his attempts to grow vegetables was being scuppered by everyone else taking the one available “Plough & Sow” space before him. So, with a tear in his eye, he was forced to build an oven and take some of his precious sheep to the abattoir.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor HRune

Our farms were slowly growing.  Green still only had one ploughed field and no pastures, but he had learnt several trades, built a number of improvements to his farm and extended his modest cottage to four rooms.  In one move, he upgraded his house to brick and built a clay oven (the one that Indigo had just returned after trading it in for a better model), which enabled him to bake bread and get enough food to feed his burgeoning family.  By this time, Pine had turned into a hardened livestock farmer, his earlier heartache a mere distant memory.  He enclosed his massive second pasture, moved his sheep around and expanded into cattle.  The Master Hedge Maker, Indigo, still had only one pasture and no animals, but the arable part of her mixed farm was very healthy, overflowing with wheat.  The failure of her livestock attempts did not last long either, and she emulated Pine enclosing a large second pasture and captured a couple of wild boar to place in it.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor sufertashu

Back on Green’s farm, he had decided that maybe he should do a little farming and finally having got some wood, he built some fences and acquired some pigs. His skill in ceramics had enabled him to get a free pottery and started turning the now unwanted clay into some strange tasting food.  Green then turned his clay house into a stone mansion and quickly fenced in another pasture and got some cattle.  With the game rapidly drawing to a conclusion he had four farmers to work with, but he was still hampered by the availability of resources and actions, often taken by others.  For example, his plans for a third pasture and some sheep were stymied by Pine who nabbed them to add to his ever growing flock.  Meanwhile, Indigo’s farm was flourishing and when she finally got some sheep, it seemed all she needed to to to be able to say she had a finger in every pie was get some some cattle – one was available and she was so keen on it that she let it live with her in her own house.

RedAgricola
– Image by boardGOATS

In contrast, Burgundy’s whole game seamed to have constantly been scuppered at every turn.  Even taking the start token usually only lasted one round and invariably he then seemed to find himself choosing at the end of the round once more. We don’t quite know how he did it, but somehow by the end of the game he had filled every space on his board – clearly he got that wood and fencing in the end.  With only two rounds left, Pine finally moved into wheat and vegetables.  Discussing the game afterwards he commented that he’d been dealt a poor set of cards at the start and on reflection they did look like a very difficult set to work with.  On the other hand, Black on the next table piped up that the cards were not really all that important.  While that may be the case, in this game Green was the winner primarily thanks to having played a great set of cards. In fact, of his forty-three points, he scored twelve from his cards, which was seven more than anyone else.  In contrast, Indigo’s balanced farm netted her a solid second place, just six points behind.  Were the cards that important?  We’ll play it again sometime soon and maybe find out.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor nolemonplease

On the other table, meanwhile, The Voyages of Marco Polo was getting a second outing after its introduction at our last meeting.  The game is played over five rounds with players recreating Marco Polo’s journey to China via Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road”.  Each player has a different character and special power in the game.  Each round, the players roll their five personal dice and can perform use them to perform one action each per turn.  The actions include:  gathering resources, gathering camels, earning money, buying purchase orders and travelling.  The game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most purchase orders, and having visited the cities on secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor bovbossi

Purple (who also played last time) decided to try the teleporting trader, Johannes Caprini again and work more on getting contracts.  Last time, we realised that taking an action first was a huge benefit because it avoided the problem of having to pay to take actions.  So, after that, Black chose Berke Kahn which would allow him to choose actions already taken without having to pay.   Scarlet, who was new to the game, opted for Wilhelm von Rubruk (played by Black last time) for the extra trading stations.  Also new to the game, Pink, felt that having an extra die and contract each round would give her the edge, and chose with Matteo Polo.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Despite her teleporting ability, Purple was unable to get to Beijing, but she was the only one who hadn’t made it across the board for the extra points by the end of the game.  It seemed her extra experience could not help her make full use of her special power as she failed to complete her second destination card as well.  Reading opinion of this character on BoardGameGeek, it seems Purple’s fondness of this character is rather misplaced, as it seems to be universally felt to be a poor one to get to work.  Scarlet had done rather better with his choice it seems, although he just failed to get his extra houses out, which is a tough ask in this game.  Others who play this character seem to get varied results, though perhaps for people that can make it work, it can do really well, but otherwise it can trip players up.  The general opinion on Matteo Polo also appears to be good; sometimes it can work really well, but it is never a hindrance.  Pink, however, just struggled to get the game to work for her and it just didn’t seem to fire her enthusiasm. She failed to complete either of her destinations and only managed to place three “houses” and generally found the game difficult all the way through.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Looking back at the last time we played, as well as Johannes Caprini and Wilhelm von Rubrukand, we used Mercator ex Tabriz and Kublai Kahn.  Mercator ex Tabriz (who gives the player a free resource when others use the market) seems to be widely regarded as the best character, however, Pine really struggled with him. In contrast, Kublai Kahn appears to be seen as a middling character, who is very reliant on how the city bonuses fall – last time they fell well for Green who made good use of them, but the character could be a lot less effective if the bonuses were less favourable.  There are two characters we have not yet played, Raschid-ad-Din Sinan and the pairing of Niccolo and Marco Polo.  Even though Raschid-ad-Din Sinan looks good (he allows the player to choose their own dice values), it seems most players only rate him average.  Maybe it’s because poor dice rolls can be compensated for and turn into good ones, so the actual values rolled are of less consequence to the game than might be thought initially.  The pairing of Niccolo and Marco Polo can be difficult to make work as two characters does not mean twice the resources, quite the opposite and they can get stuck in a city, although with less players it is felt they might do better (as there are less opponents to steal the city bonuses first).

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

So clearly, although some characters might have a tendency to be more useful than others, ultimately success depends on circumstances and how well the player uses that character.  This was also the case for this, our second game where Black finished first with a massive fifty-eight points, a combination of a good character played effectively. On the geek there seems to be a general consensus that Berke Khan is one of the top characters in this game, demonstrating others appreciate the power of not having to pay for actions. With Agricola still a few rounds from finishing, there was time for a quick game of Click & Crack, a game of simultaneous action selection game in which the players control two penguins each, walking around on a big ice floe – a cold arctic game to contrast with the heat of the eastern deserts.

Click & Crack
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is best to put even the most deep-seated moral objections to one side for the duration of a game…

22nd March 2016

Red, Magenta, Blue, Burgundy and Green were first to arrive and decided to get the evening going with a quick light filler.  After a quick debate, we decided that the best fit to the number of players and the time we wanted to fill was …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (which means “…But Please, With Cream”, though the game is known as “Piece o’ Cake” in English).  This is a cute little set collection game coupled with the “I divide, you choose” mechanic.  The game starts with “The Baker” taking a pile of cake slices showing a selection of different types, and then arranging them in random order to form a wheel of eleven pieces which they then divide into five slices.  Then the idea is that the other players take it in turns to choose which slice to take and how much of it to “eat”.  Points are scored at the end of the game for the player with the most kept pieces of each type of cake and for the number of “blobs” of cream on cake that has been eaten.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

In case of a draw, all parties win the pints, but any set that has been not been eaten and is not the largest scores nothing.  Thus, the player dividing needs to try to make sure that they are left with something useful after everyone else has chosen, but at the same time, they don’t want to give away anything that helps the opposition too much.  After dealing out the piles for each round we realised that we’d inadvertently included the wild card slice from the mini expansion, but Blue couldn’t remember the rules, so we decided to take it out and do it again. In the event, the game itself was quite close with Red and Magenta fighting it out for first place and for the most strawberry gateau.  In the end, Red took first place with thirty-two, three points ahead of Magenta with everyone else some way behind.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

We were just deciding what filler to play next when Black and Purple wondered in, so we decided to get on with playing something with a bit more bite.  First on the table was the  “Feature Game”, Glen More, which is a tile laying game set in the seventeenth century highlands. Black wasn’t keen as he’d played it before and had felt it was very random.  Blue said she hadn’t got that sensation from reading the rules, but she did think that it had some very different elements to it and had no feel for how to go about playing it.  Magenta and Red commented that they weren’t really selling it and wondered what the alternative might be.  Black suggested The Voyages of Marco Polo and Green was torn as he really wanted to play both.  Although Blue was very interested in playing Marco Polo too it has a reputation for being monstrously long and she has a very strong dislike for leaving games incomplete.  Burgundy had read up on Glen More, so was keen to give it a try as was Blue, so despite its poor billing, Red and Magenta joined them to make a four and they quickly got going.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Glen More is a strange mixture of mechanisms and it is initially hard to see how they fit together.  The game has an unusual turn order mechanism (similar to that in Tokaido), where the player at the back goes first moving their token along the circular track, choosing a tile the fancy and replacing it with their marker.  They then add the tile to their village and draw a new tile which is placed at the front of the row of tiles (keeping the number available the same throughout the game).  When a player adds a tile to their village they must obey two basic rules:  any road or river on the tile must connect with their existing road or river and the tile must be next to a clansman.  Tiles cannot be rotated and each player starts with a village tile comprising a clansman, a road running vertically and a river running horizontally.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the tile has been placed, all orthogonally and diagonally neighbouring tiles can be activated.  Each tile gives the village some kind of benefit:  yellow and green tiles provide resources, fairs and the like allow players to trade resources for victory points, village tiles allow the clansman to be moved, while distilleries allow the conversion of grain into whisky.  Resources are essential because, as well as the potential to trade them for points, about half of the tiles also have purchasing costs that has to be payed before a tile can be added to a village. Resources can be bought and sold at any time during a players turn, but any that are bought must be used straight away and the cost will depend on the Market which reflects demand.  When a player buys a resource, they place a coin on the market space and the next player must pay one more than the last up to a maximum of three after which, that resource is no longer available.  A player selling resources takes the last available aliquot until there is no money available, after which they can no-longer sell, making currency circulation a contained system.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Tiles can be activated in any order and then the new “last player” gets a turn.  Since players can move as far forward as they like, jumping lots of tiles if they choose, it is quite possible that a player may have several consecutive turns, alternatively, they may decide to sacrifice turns in order to get a particular tile that is nearer the front of the track.  There are three piles of tiles and interim scoring occurs every time one of the stacks is emptied.  Scoring is also unusual as players score based on the difference between their position and that of the person in last place in that category.  There are three scoring categories:  locations, chieftains  and whisky.  The locations are special tiles which give some special powers that have an impact during the game, but are also a a source of points.  At scoring time, players evaluate how many special tiles they have and then subtract the number of locations held by the weakest player in that category.  This difference is then compared with a scoring table and points are awarded accordingly.  Larger differences return a proportionately larger number of points.  Chieftains and whiskey are scored in a similar way, with chieftains being clansmen that players moved off the board.

GlenMore007
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, in a four player game, if the players have six, five, three and one barrel the “differences” will be five, four, two and zero which translate into eight, five, two and one victory points.  Thus, as the player in last place, picking up a distillery, may actually have a bigger impact on the scores than adding to the scoring category that they are strongest in.  This is because it reduces the number of points held by all the other players, where the difference is large, it can hurt players more efficiently too.  At the end of the game, players also get points for any remaining money, but also lose three points for every tile they have more than than the player with the smallest village.  So, when choosing which tile to take, each one has to earn its keep, in other words, the winning village has to be efficient as well as effective.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Having explained the rules, everyone was still not much the wiser.  We could all see what the mechanics did, but connecting them together was more tricky and we all felt we could only find out more by playing.  Red went first, but as she had no clue what she was trying to do, she picked a nice looking grain tile that was some way down the track and went for it.  Burgundy and Blue queried it as it meant she was likely to miss a couple of turns, but she said she was happiest that way as she didn’t feel she could make a better, more meaningful decision.  By the next turn she wasn’t  much wiser, but added a distillery to her village, no doubt making her clansmen very happy indeed as she started her whisky production.  Meanwhile, Magenta’s village was already very resource rich and Burgundy had a couple of valuable Fair tiles that he could use to convert resources into points.  Blue had no idea what she was doing, but was certain she wasn’t doing it very well whatever it was.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

By the first scoring round, Red was way out in front with a handful of whisky barrels and a very small village full of very merry Scotsmen.  The lean nature of her village meant that everyone else was feeling the pressure to make every tile count as they knew it would cost them three points at the end.  Despite her huge number of resources, Magenta was  struggling to score points and Burgundy and Blue weren’t doing much better, slightly mesmerised by Red who appeared to be winning by miles despite spending most of it watching everyone else make bad decisions.  Things hadn’t changed much by the end of the second round though it was clear that Burgundy was starting to make his Fairs count by activating them frequently and buying the resources he needed if he didn’t have them.  Blue had picked up a couple of Special Location tiles and had distilled a couple of barrels of whisky, but with nothing like the efficiency of Red.  In the third and final round, Magenta now had the maximum number of resources on most of her tiles and had finally started picking up a brown tiles so that she could make use of them.  Blue managed to get herself in a mess, wanting to pick up a Special Location, but not being able to place it because her clansmen weren’t in the right place.  In trying to fix the problem she tried to be clever and discard a tile, but quickly realised she should have played it instead.  People were starting to run short of money as Magenta starved everyone else of cash by selling only the resources that were in highest demand.  In the corner, Burgundy had finally got his engine working, but it still looked like it was too late to challenge the efficiency of Red.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

With just enough tiles left for one turn each, Blue promoted most of her clansmen to chieftains, Magenta managed to use her Fair to trade five resources for a massive twelve points, Burgundy picked up yet another Special Location and Red asked whether she should have been scoring three points every time she placed something next to her Tavern (which she should, and so should Blue…).  Before the final end of game scoring, Burgundy was some way out in front, but as he also had the largest village he was going to lose an awful lot of points.  Surprisingly, Blue wasn’t far behind, so it all came down to how many points people were going to lose.  In the end there was just one point between Burgundy and Blue, but Burgundy took it with forty-four points.  In the end, Red was some way behind, but as we discussed the game, we felt she had left a lot of points on the table in the final few turns, and it was certainly possible to make a lean village strategy work.  Similarly, if Magenta had been able to activate her Fair just once or twice more, she could have been way out in front.  Nobody disliked the game, but we all felt a little bit non-plused about the experience, as we’d really struggled finding a path through the maze on the first visit (though we didn’t feel it was the luck-fest that Black had described).  In the end, we decided that it definitely needed to be played again now we had a better idea of what was going on and it certainly was different to most other games we play.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, the other group had settled down to play The Voyages of Marco Polo, which won the Deutscher Spiel Preis last year and was designed by the same pairing that put together Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar.  It took a while to set up and explain the rules, especially as Black was the only one that had played it before, and even that was on-line. The game is played over five rounds with players recreating Marco Polo’s journey to China via Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road”.  Each player has a different character and special power in the game.  Each round, the players roll their five personal dice and can perform use them to perform one action each per turn.  The actions include:  gathering resources, gathering camels, earning money, buying purchase orders and travelling.  The game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most purchase orders, and having visited the cities on secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Eventually we were all kitted out with merchants, camels, currency, houses, a contract and a couple of city (mission) cards; all that was left was to choose a character. There are eight different characters to choose from providing a range of different benefits, all relating to different strategies. Black gave a quick run-down of the character abilities, quickly dismissing two of them:  Kubilal Kahn who starts in Beijing as opposed to Venezia where everyone else starts and Raschid ad-Din Sinan who can set the dice to whatever numbers he chooses at the start of the round instead of rolling them.  He dismissed Kubilal Kahn, because he does nothing else for the player, although he does guarantee ten points for placing the first house in Beijing. Raschid ad-Din Sinan was dismissed as Black explained it “broke the game”.  By that he meant that half the fun of the game is based on dealing with the dice players roll, not only must choosing the dice numbers take an age to decide, it also removes an element of luck and challenge.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor bovbossi

Pine, the start player, got to choose first and went for Mercator ex Tabriz, who we had all made positive, “Oooh! That’s nice!” noises about when it was explained.  This would give Pine one resource every time someone else collected something in the market, quite handy. He thought that this would push him to a contract completing strategy.  Green was next and went for Kubilal Kahn, despite Black’s dismissal. He felt that being on the other side of the board to the others would mean he was not in competition for the bonuses, and the neighbouring city would give him a free choice bonus at the beginning of the round, a handy one to have at the start of the game. He wasn’t too sure about his plans, but placing would help gain the city-mission bonuses, so a bit of travelling looked likely.  Purple decided that the ability to teleport across the board from oasis to oasis would really help her complete her city missions and took Johannes Carprini. Since the board layout is very much east/west with very little north/south crossovers, all the pairs of cities on the mission cards were on different east/west tracks so being able to jump around the board almost at will looked to be very very useful for this strategy.  In addition, the extra three coins at the beginning of each turn was a nice little sweetener.  The experienced Black felt he was up for a challenge and chose Wilhelm von Rubruk which would allow him to place houses in every city he crossed (normally players have to finish in a city to place a house there).  As an additional goal this gave him two extra houses to place after he had exhausted his personal supply for an extra ten points, if he could manage it.  Clearly Black was also going to be doing quite a bit of travelling.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Finally the game got underway with the satisfying sound of twenty dice being rolled, then studious silence as we each tried to work out what actions we could do with the different combinations we had rolled.  A reasonable first goal seemed to be to gain the resources necessary to complete our starting contracts.  The first dice placements were benign affairs. Pine was happy as collecting resources from the market proved popular and he quickly completed his first contract. Green also made use of his “free choice” bonus for reaching the small city to enable him to complete a contract.  It was about half way through the first round that the true heart of this game revealed itself:  how to place all your die actions on spaces already occupied by others.  There is cost involved in placing second, and suddenly it seemed that money (or rather the lack of it!) could be a key factor.  In most games, rolling a set of five’s and sixes would be met with squeals of pleasure – not this one.  High dice rolls might unlock some tasty options, but at a price. Finding that you had only a four and a five to place down on the travelling track when you only wanted to move once, was very annoying.  Such a move increases the cost from four (or three if you’re lucky enough to go first) for placing a single pip die to seven, and if you did decide to make use of the extra moves, that will be sixteen in total, and we’ll not consider the cost of three movements!

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the early rounds Black and Purple kept rolling fewer than fifteen in total, which gave them extra camels and/or coins to make up the difference, but it did also mean that their outlay was much less than Pine and Green who kept rolling, fours, fives and sixes.  This meant that when there was something they wanted to do, they could at least afford it. While Pine and Green were left scratching their heads as to how on earth they were to use their remaining six. Pine often just placed it “in the purse” for a measly three coins. Although Green was having similar issues, he did at least have the advantage of gaining some decent first visit bonuses, to keep his game alive. Black and purple were making rapid progress across the board, although perhaps not quite as rapid as their respective characters might suggest was possible. Pine and Green, meanwhile, kept a steady pace on wrapping up the contracts to roar into the lead on the points track.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Black commented how we did not seem to be using the black dice very much. In the online games they disappear very quickly (there are only five per turn). It was only during the last part of the last round that we realised that we had not fully understood the implications of the black dice rules. We had thought players could only have one black die per round (i.e. a maximum of five all game distributed over the five rounds), but they could actually have one per turn making them a good way of increase the number of action choices. The camel cost associated with them would reduce the ability to travel, but there are plenty of other ways to trade your way to victory in the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

In the last round or two, Black and Purple really wound up their travelling elastic bands and went flying round the board, ultimately completing both of their city-mission bonus cards, which neither Pine nor Green could manage. Green did eventually complete one, but Pine had barely moved at all, preferring to concentrate on completing contracts.  When the final tally came, Green had romped away, proving Black wrong about the Kahn character. Black’s final speed-demon dash across the board netted him enough bonuses (although not his extra two house bonus) to bring him home in second place. Purple was just behind, proving that the teleportation device of the ancient east was a good way to get your presence felt, but she had neglected the contracts and did not manage to net quite enough extra points to sneak past Black. Pine’s contract strategy hadn’t been as successful as he’d hoped and we realised that his special bonus of receiving a resource every time someone else bought in the market, dwindled in later rounds as we all found other ways to get resources.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

In the end, despite our initial opinions we concluded that the characters are more balanced than we first thought.  Our first game also called into question the widely held BGG opinion that contracts are a better way to gain points than travelling, though we will have to see if this opinion holds over time.  Overall it was a really interesting game, with much variety in it from play to play and the dice action mechanism was also really clever and satisfying.  It did take a long time to play, but next time should be quicker, and there will certainly be a next time as we all enjoyed its first outing and others are also keen to give it a go.  Meanwhile, Glen More had long since finished, so rather than condemning Blue and Burgundy to a two player game, Red and Magenta suggested playing something quick.  Near the top of Blue’s bag was 11 Nimmt!, a game so far only released in German that Blue had picked up last year at Essen.  Designed by Wolfgang Kramer, the same person who brought us one of our favourite, 6 Nimmt!, we were keen to see if this really was five nimmts better…

11 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played with a deck of cards numbering one to a hundred, each also with some number of bulls heads, or Nimmts on it (much like 6 Nimmt!, though the distribution is different).  Each player starts with a hand of ten cards and the aim of the game is to be the first person to get rid of them all, or (since the game is played over several rounds) at least finish with a low scoring hand, i.e. as few Nimmts as possible.  In contrast to 6 Nimmt!, the game is played in turns rather than simultaneously and the game starts with one card pile.  On their turn, the active player must discard a card that is above the top card on the pile, but within ten of its face value.  If they do not have a suitable card (or choose not to play it) then they must take the stack into their hand and replace it with two new face up cards drawn from the draw deck making two new piles.  If a player takes a stack comprising three or more cards, then the player also takes a Bull Card which allows that player to play more than one card at a time on one stack so long as they are all within ten of the top card.  Should they end up with a second Bull Card, then they can play on more than one pile, and this is where it becomes an advantage to pick up lots of cards, because with several Bull Cards, players can discard a lot of cards very quickly and have more control over the game.

11 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

From the start it was apparent that 11 Nimmt! is very different to our much loved 6 Nimmt!.  There is a lot less gratuitous glee at other people’s misfortune when they are forced to take fists full of cards, but this is replaced by strategy and planning.  The lack of simultaneous play also makes it feel a lot more solitaire than 6 Nimmt! and, though there was plenty of opportunity to scupper someone else’s plans, without knowing the contents of their hand it was hard to do it in a constructive way.  It took us a few rounds to get the hang of it, but before long we were starting to see the strategic advantage of picking up cards as well as getting rid of them.  The rules suggested playing the same number of rounds as there are players, but we ended up playing six rounds just to fill time.  Despite Red and Blue both winning rounds, Magenta was the clear winner after four rounds thanks to her consistency and she added just one to her total in the extra rounds compared to everyone else’s ten and, as a result, she finished the clear winner.  Although we all enjoyed it and could see that it was probably a better game with lower player counts, we all felt that it hadn’t usurped 6 Nimmt!, which would retain its special place thanks to its fast play and generally chaotic fun.

11 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes subtle changes to a game make a huge difference.

20th October 2015

While Burgundy, Magenta and Blue waited for their supper to arrive, they began a quick game of Bellz!, the “Feature Game”.  This is a very simple manual dexterity game, albeit one that is very well presented.  The pouch opens out to form a soft bowl containing bells in four different colours.  Each colour includes bells in three different sizes; the aim of the game is to be the first person to have picked up all the bells of just one colour using the stick which has a magnet in each end.  On a player’s turn they can pick up multiple bells or chicken out and stop at one, but if they pick up any bells that don’t match the colour of those they have already collected then that turn is forfeit.

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

It is certainly more difficult than it looks and there is a little bit in the way of tactics as the magnetism gets weaker further away so with skill it is possible to daisy chain bells and only pick up certain bells.  There is also a strong magnet one one end of the “wand” and a weaker one on the other.  Th rules are not completely clear (and are completely in German in any case!), and gamers inevitably ask whether the bowl can be moved and how much shaking is allowed, which were things we house-ruled.  We had had about two turns each when Green arrived and joined in.  Food arrived and we were still struggling so we carried on as we ate.  Burgundy ran out the eventual winner with Blue following close behind leaving Magenta and Green to fight it out for the last bell.  Grey and Cerise promptly turned up and, as it is an eye-catching game, also had a go with Cerise taking the honours.

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This was followed by a discussion of the Essen game fair including some of the games seen and purchased by Blue and Pink.  By far the majority of the toys they picked up were expansions for games we’ve played before including:

Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor sdetavern

There were several new games too though, in particular:

There were also older games, some of which we’ve been interested in for a long time.  For example Rockwell was a big game at Essen two years ago, and Green and Blue have expressed an interest in both at the time and since.  Somehow either the price wasn’t right or it wasn’t available at the right time, until now when a good deal beckoned. Blue and Pink picked up a number of small games as well.  These are often hard to get hold of except at places like Essen and are sometimes a hit, and sometimes not so popular, but as they are relatively inexpensive and take up little space in the luggage, they are what makes the fair special.  Finally, there were the promotional items, extra copies of which Blue handed round.

Rockwell!
– Image by BGG contributor Rayreviewsgames

Eventually we decided it was time for a game, and with six the decision is always whether to split into two groups or not.  Green suggested Eketorp for six, but Blue really wasn’t keen, so eventually we opted for Codenames, a new social deduction team game based on the meanings of words which had received a lot of good reports before Essen.  Green pulled a face at the idea of “a word game” and Burgundy commented that social games were not really his thing, even Blue who bought it wasn’t terribly keen because it had sounded un-promising when she read the rules.  Cerise was almost enthusiastic though and Magenta pointed out that it shouldn’t take long, so we gave it a go.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The idea is that there is a grid of twelve cards and the players split into two teams, with even numbers of male and female, we did the childish thing and played boys vs. girls.  The leader of each team is the Spymaster, and as Grey had popped out for a second, we volunteered him to be one so it was natural that Cerise should be the other.  The Spymasters’ job is to get their team to reveal the cards/words that correspond to their team of “agents”, by giving clues.  The clue must be a single word followed by a number which reflects how many words are indicated by that clue.  For example, the clue, “trees: three” could be used to indicate the words “oak”, “ash” and “elm”.  Members of the team then touch cards that they think are their agents; they must indicate at least one, but may try up to one more than the number in the clue.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor aleacarv

The Girls started off badly finding a neutral and the Boys started off well quickly getting a three card lead.  Before long, the Boys started to get a bit stuck with movie clues and the Girls began to catch up.  As Magenta pointed out afterwards, it was important to listen to both the clues and the discussion of the other team as you can get extra clues.  And so it proved in the end.  With the teams tied, the clue was “Regents; two”.  Blue and Magenta misheard and thought Cerise had said “Regions”.  The Boys struggled on their turn too though, and suddenly the Girls had another chance.  When Green had repeated Cerise’s clue during the Boys’ discussion, Blue had suddenly realised the Girls’ mistake and they were able to find “Park” and close out the game.  Although it is not really our sort of game, everyone was very complimentary about it and as a group we enjoyed it much more than we thought we would.  We could all think of people who would like playing it and now that we know how it works, it would be much quicker to play next time too, making it a surprisingly fun filler with the right group.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With that done, we had to decide what to to play next and, with too many for Cosmic Encounter, inevitably Eketorp was raised again.  Grey was very enthusiastic, but Blue really wasn’t keen, especially as it can drag with six players.  Much to Blue’s delight and eternal gratitude, Magenta tactfully suggested that, despite being a Viking, she could play something else with Blue and Burgundy.  With that, Green happily started explaining the rules.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Ceryon

Eketorp is a game where players attempt to gather resources to build their Viking stronghold on the Swedish island of Öland.  In this game players try to second guess which resources the others don’t choose, with a battle and a potential extended stay in the hospital as the reward for failure.  The game itself is played in several rounds.  First material is distributed across the board according to the card revealed at the start of the round.  The players then decide, in secret (behind their player screens), which areas to send their Vikings to.  Vikings can either go to one of the seven resource or brick areas, reinforce the defence of their own village, or attack one of the other players’ villages.   Players then reveal their choices  and place their Vikings on the central board.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

Depending on how the various Vikings meet, peace may be preserved or battles may ensue.  Vikings on a material field live in peace if there are sufficient building bricks, i.e. there is the same number of building bricks (or more) than there are Vikings wanting them.  If there are insufficient bricks available, then there will be a battle.  Battles also take place on a siege field in front of a player’s castle for the right to lay siege if several Vikings are positioned there.  Battles always take place in a particular order. Firstly, the starting player engages in a battle, then everyone else takes turns until all battles and sieges have been resolved.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor helioa

Battles are fought using cards chosen from a starting hand of four.  Each player choses a card in secret and then they reveal them simultaneously with the highest card winning.  The difference in value between the two cards determines the battle difference which indicates which area of the hospital the loser ends up in.  In the case of a tie, both parties go to the hospital.  The clever bit is that once a battle has been fought, players swap cards and place the new card face down in front of them.  Once a player has played all their cards in battles, they take the cards in front of them to form a new hand.  In this way, the game is self-balancing so that a player who has a bad card draw at the start will have a better hand later in the game and vice versa.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

If village siege is successful, then the attacker gets to pillage bricks from the village wall.  Bricks may only be taken from the walls that are two bricks high and the  total point value of the bricks taken may not exceed the battle difference.  Bricks can only be removed from top to bottom and the attacker can then take one of these bricks home (with the remainder going back into the reserve).  Once all battles have been resolved all the winning Vikings can take their bricks home and add them to their village wall.  Each wall comes in six parts and a maximum of three bricks can be stacked in each giving a maximum of eighteen in total.  Once a brick has been used, it cannot be moved at a later date.  The bricks are nominally made of different material and are worth different amounts at the end of the game (green, or grass is worth one whereas grey or stone is worth four for example).  The end of the game is triggered when one player reaches the maximum of eighteen bricks.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

At the start, with no village walls to attack or defend, and all Vikings fit and healthy, the central resource pools were particularly busy places.  After many attacks and counter attacks, eventually all were either victorious and claimed resources, or were licking their wounds in differing levels of the Viking hospital (talk about a beds crisis!).  Green took the early lead at this point. Round two was much quieter, with less than half the Vikings available to go brick hunting, so everyone was relatively successful with their choices.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor DrGrayrock

Over the course of the next couple of rounds, the game board became more crowded and there was even the odd cheeky raid on a village.  By this time, Grey had managed to create a nice evenly built village wall, one or two bricks high made up of both grass and wooden bricks (worth one and two points respectively) – easy pickings in a fight, but less threatening too. Green was a bit lopsided, concentrating on building with a range of brick colours mostly on one side in order to limit the attack directions.  Cerise however had quietly managed to built quite a good wall round a large part of her village with a lot of clay and stone bricks (worth three and four points).  So, the next two rounds were characterised mostly by Grey and Green attacking for Cerise’s wall.  The first attack by Green was successful, but only enough to nab the top green brick, hardly a dent at all and netted only one point.  Grey’s attack was a stalemate.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Garry

In the final round, Cerise found herself surrounded on all sides with Green and Grey attacked from one side each.  Again only Grey was successful enough to break down part of the wall though.  Then for the final battle of the game, Grey and Green had to go head to head for the right to attack Cerise from the third side – it was a draw and Cerise was safe!  As Cerise was the only one who had managed to build a wall at least three high all the way round she picked up the five point bonus and proved herself the superior Viking with a score of forty-four leaving Green and Grey some way behind, fighting it out for the wooden spoon.  In the end, Grey decided he didn’t like the game after all, because had Cerise beat him!

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

Meanwhile Blue, Burgundy and Magenta conducted a brief audit of the games available and Burgundy’s eyes lit up at the idea of trying out the new Ticket to Ride Map Collection as he had played a lot of Ticket to Ride and prided himself on being quite good at it.  Magenta is also no slouch either however, and was also keen as she had won her last three games of Ticket to Ride: Europe.  Similarly, Blue has slightly unjustly acquired a reputation for beating people at Ticket to Ride, and although she hadn’t played it much recently, she had won her demonstration game at Essen and had enjoyed it too, so was very happy to give it another try.  Although everyone was keen to try the UK map, to avoid giving Blue an unfair advantage, the Pennsylvania side was chosen.

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic Ticket to Ride game is really very simple.  On their turn the active player can do one of three things:  pick up two coloured train cards from the face up display or the face down draw deck; place plastic trains on the map using cards to pay and scoring points; or draw ticket cards, which name two places and give points at the end of the game if the player has built a route between them, but score negatively if not completed.  From there, each different version makes small changes to the rules, for example, some editions include tunnels and/or ferries and sometimes there are extra cards or bonus points etc..  So, the first problem was trying to remember which of the specific rules are applicable to the base game and then integrate them with the new rules for the Pennsylvania map.  In particular, this was whether we should be using the double routes and how many points the different routes should be worth since there was no score table.  Eventually, we decided to use single tracks (ala three player Ticket to Ride: Europe) and scored routes as follows:

  • Single car:  One point
  • Two cars:  Two points
  • Three cars:  Four points
  • Four cars:  Seven points
  • Five cars:  Ten points
  • Six cars:  Fifteen points
  • Seven cars:  Twenty-one points

The seven car route from Cumberland to Baltimore engendered a lot of discussion, as there aren’t any routes of that length in Ticket to Ride: Europe.  Burgundy was fairly sure they were worth eighteen points in Märklin, but the increase in points from six to seven cars seemed very uneven compared with the change from five to six cars.  In the event, it didn’t make much difference, but checking the rules online later confirmed that Burgundy was right and it should have been eighteen.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy was quite pleased with his starting tickets getting three east-west routes that he thought could largely be coincidental.  His delight faded to despair, when in the first turn, Blue took the route from Altoona to Johnstown and quickly followed it by adding the Altoona to Dubois, in quickly completely scuppering his plans.  Magenta was equally unimpressed that double routes were not in use when Burgundy and Blue quickly completed all the connections to Johnstown rendering one of her tickets impossible within the first few turns.  From there, the game quickly descended into a knife-fight in a phone box with everyone scrabbling to make their starting tickets and it looking very much like nobody was going to succeed.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

As Burgundy pointed out though, tickets were not going to be so important in this game as there were a lot of points available from the Shares.  This is a new feature specific to this map.  The idea of these is that most routes also have one or more company logos shown next to them on the map.  When these routes are completed, players choose which company they would like to take a share certificate for.  The companies are different sizes with some companies having a lot of certificates available while smaller company others have fewer.  At the end of the game, each player’s stock holdings are evaluated and points awarded.  The bigger companies are worth more points, however, it is harder to get the majority stake in these.  In the case of a tie, the share certificates are numbered and the points go to the person with the one taken first.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

The shares certainly did have a massive impact on game play.  Normally in Ticket to Ride, players achieve their first routes and then start picking up tickets, trying to maximise the number of longer routes as these give the best points return for the cards and trains, but, that wasn’t how this game went.  Although Blue bravely picked up some more tickets and was promptly followed by everyone else, this was the only time anyone did this as everyone got in everyone else’s way so much it was just too risky.  Since achieving tickets was proving so challenging, everyone started trying to pick up share certificates which meant building small routes as these were the cheapest and easiest way to get them.  Then suddenly, Burgundy declared he was out of trains and the game came to a quick end which only left the scoring.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Burgundy had moaned about how badly he had done, neither Magenta nor Blue realised just how badly until it came to scoring tickets.  It’s true that the first ticket scored him ten points, but all the others were incomplete losing him nearly all the points he had accrued from placing trains.  Magenta also had a ticket she had failed to achieve, but it hadn’t cost her nearly so dearly.  Blue on the other hand had somehow managed to make all her connections and therefore also picked up an extra fifteen points for the Globe Trotter Bonus.  Unfortunately for Burgundy, although he had done well on the shares, the horror-show that had been the tickets had put him right out of contention and he was nearly lapped (though not quite!).  Although Magenta had shares in more companies, the combination of the extra tickets and the fact that Blue had managed to hang on to the majority in a couple of the larger companies made the difference.  Blue finished on one hundred and ninety eight, just over thirty points ahead of Magenta in what was a very tough game.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

With Grey and Cerise gone, that left us with time for a quick filler to finish.  11 Nimmt! and Deep Sea Adventure were both in the frame, but Green liked the sound of Qwixx, which had been nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2013, but was beaten by Hanabi.  The game sounded interesting though there was very little to it.  On their turn, the active player rolls six dice, four coloured and two white.  Each player has a score sheet with four tracks:  the red and yellow tracks go from two to twelve and the blue and green tracks go from twelve to two.  Once the dice have been rolled, all the players may cross off a number of any colour that corresponds to the sum of the white dice, if they choose.  The active player may additionally cross off one number corresponding to the sum of one of the coloured dice and one of the white dice.  They can choose which of the white dice they are going to use, but the die colour must match the colour of the track.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

The snag is that players must progressively cross off numbers to the right, i.e. once they have crossed out the red five for example, they cannot go back and cross out the red four.  Also, while all the other players can freely choose whether or not to use the white dice, the active player must cross out something on their turn or take a penalty (minus five at the end of the game).  Finally, if someone wants to cross out the last number on any track (twelve for red and yellow, two for green and blue), they must first have crossed out at least five other numbers on that track, at which point the die corresponding to that colour is locked and the colour is closed for all players.  The game ends when two dice have been removed from the game or when one player has accrued four penalties.  Scores are awarded for the number of crosses in each row according to the triangular number sequence also used in Coloretto (one, three, six, ten, fifteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight, etc.), so every additional cross is worth an ever increasing amount.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game started with everyone being very cagey and not taking the option of scoring the white dice as they were too high, but eventually, some people were braver than others and different patterns began to emerge.  Initially, the game looked very promising with the potential interplay between different effects, like the probability distribution for two dice, balancing the high scoring potential with not getting stuck and picking up penalty points.  Blue was even wondering whether it would be necessary to get another scoring pad.  However, being gamers, we all played to a very similar strategy and, before long, the inevitable happened, with everyone stuck waiting for the most unlikely dice rolls (two and twelve).  As a result, Burgundy who got there first started picking up penalties closely followed by Green.  The game ended when Burgundy picked up his fourth penalty point and we added up the scores.  Magenta, who had only taken the one penalty finished five points ahead of Blue with Burgundy and Green nearly twenty points behind thanks to all their penalties.  And then the inquisition began.

Qwixx
– Image by boardGOATS

We all really like the game at first because of the way the probability interacted with the constraints on number selection, however, we quickly found that it felt very random because the game was self-balancing.  As their game finished, each player was going to be hoping for lucky dice rolls.  Since twelve and two are relatively unlikely which would have a delaying effect, during which time, anyone who had not got quite as far was going to be able to grab a couple of extra crosses.  The random nature of rolling dice meant that ultimately, the effect of any strategy or tactics applied during the game were vastly outweighed by the randomness of the dice at the end.  Although we felt it was probably a good game for children to have fun with, as a game, it was very surprising it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is good to play games outside your comfort zone.

Deutscher Spiel Preis – 2015

In 1990 the German magazine “Die Pöppel-Revue” introduced The Deutscher Spiel Preis, or German Game Prize, which is now awarded annually at the International Spieltage, Essen.  Whereas the Spiel des Jahres rewards family games, the Deutscher Spiel Preis is awarded based on votes from votes from the industry’s stores, magazines, professionals and game clubs, so it tends to reflect “gamers games” and is usually more in line with the Kennerspiel des Jahres.  This year the award went to The Voyages of Marco Polo with Orléans in second, and this year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Colt Express in third.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The Voyages of Marco Polo is a worker placement type game where players are recreating Marco Polo’s thirteenth century journey to China with his father and older brother via Jerusalem, Mesopotamia and the “Silk Road”, eventually finishing at the court of Kublai Khan.  The game is consists of five rounds where the players roll their five personal dice and choose actions to perform with them.  The game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most orders, and having reached the cities on secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Essen 2015

October is the time of year when a boardgamer’s thoughts turn to Germany, specifically, Essen.  Essen is the ninth largest German city and most people in the UK have never heard of it.  Most people who are not gamers that is.  In German, the word “Essen” means “food”, but to gamers it means “Spiel”:  the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world, The Internationale Spieltage is held every year in Essen.  The fair runs for four days 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.  This year, there are lots of exciting new games, including Richard Breese’s new game, Inhabit the Earth, Favor of the Pharaoh, and the highly acclaimed games Codenames and The Voyages of Marco Polo.  There are also a number of expansions for some of our favourite games including Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Evolution, Istanbul, Colt Express etc.  Only two of us are going this year, however, they will almost certainly bring back lots of exciting new toys to share with everyone.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag.com