Tag Archives: Ticket to Ride: London

20th September 2022

Blue and Pink were the first to arrive to the news that The Jockey was under new management.  Pine soon followed and after a bit of chatter, the three of them settled down to the first “Royal Themed” game, Love Letter.  This is a very quick little game played with a deck of just sixteen cards.  The idea is that players have a hand of one card and, on their turn draw a second and choose which one to play.  The cards each have a special action and a number—the actions allow players to eliminate each other and the player with the highest number at the end is the winner.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Powerful cards can lead to early gains, but are risky as they make players targets, however, relying on weaker cards for too long will give a guaranteed loss.  This time, Pink was taken out twice in consecutive rounds by Guard cards with Pine and Blue sharing the spoils.  In the third round, it was down to Blue and Pine again and Pine ran out the winner.  Although with three players the winner is usually the first to win five rounds, as Green and Lilac arrived with Orange and Lemon, the trio called it a halt there.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory, Black and Purple turned up as well and as they arrived, everyone remarked on the new smart table decor.  We were only waiting for Lime, but when Pine suggested he might not be coming, his text enquiry was met with the response, “OMG, it’s Tuesday not Monday, will be there in twenty minutes!”  So, while the group were waiting, they decided to start with the “Feature Game“.  To mark the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, this was Corgi Dash, a re-theme of the 1986 Spiel des Jahres winner Heimlich & Co..  Corgi Dash was published as a “Jubilee Souvenir” earlier this year, by Tony Boydell; although we had a copy picked up at the UK Games Expo, as it was a special occasion we had enlarged the board to make it easier to play in a large group.

Corgi Dash
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is very simple:  on their turn, players roll a die and distribute the pips amongst the “corgis” to move them round the board.  When one of the corgis reaches the throne (either in the Throne Room or the Kennels), each dog scores with the one that triggered the scoring getting nothing.  The Throne then moves to the next location, and the corgis continue to dash towards the Throne.  Each player secretly “owns” one of the dogs and after one dog reaches a score of thirty, everyone secretly guesses which dog belongs to which player.  The game ends when one dog reaches forty points.  Players then score for their dog and receive five additional points for each identity they guessed correctly.

Corgi Dash
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue, Pink, Ivory, Purple and Pine got going first.  In their game, the blue dog (well, meeple actually) got picked on early which marked it out as the dog with no owner.  Unfortunately, the blue dog turned out to belong to Pine and it was the grey dog who had no owner, which became more apparent towards the end when everyone concentrated on their own hounds.  The black dog was the first to get to thirty and then the only one to get to forty too.  Ivory was the only one to guess more than one owner correctly, but it didn’t make any difference as the black dog’s score was twenty more than any other, making it’s owner, Pink, the clear winner.

Corgi Dash
– Image by boardGOATS

On the neighbouring table, Green (who had played Heimlich & Co. a very long time ago, explained the rules to Lilac, Orange, Lemon and Purple. They finished their game early, guessing after two scoring rounds and scoring after the third.  Green’s dog did by far the best picking up thirty-two points, twelve more than any other hound.  Orange did exceptionally well at guessing who had each dog, getting three right, but it wasn’t quite enough to take the lead and he finished two points behind Green, both some way clear of the field with Lemon a distant third.

Corgi Dash
– Image by boardGOATS

Corgi Dash was very quick to play leaving plenty of time for other games.  With all the happenings around Buckingham Palace and Westminster over the last week, “London themed” games seemed appropriate, so while everyone else played Ticket to Ride: London, Ivory, Blue and Lime took themselves off to the other side of the room to squeeze in a game of Key to the City: London.  This is a reimplementation of one of Blue’s favourite games, Keyflower.  Lime, however, had not played either game, so Blue and Ivory had to explain the rules first.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Like Keyflower, Key to the City: London is based on an a series of tile auctions where players bid with meeples.  The rules for bidding are simple:  players can bid on any tile, but if there is already a bid, they must follow with the same colour and increase the value.  In addition to bidding for tiles, players can also activate a tile in their Borough, a tile in someone else’s Borough or even a tile that is currently up for auction.  Again though, players must follow colour if the tile has already been activated or has an active bid, further, every time it is activated it costs one additional meeple.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of each round, all meeples in winning bids return to the bank and players take any tiles they’ve won and add them to their Borough.  All meeples on tiles in a player’s Borough go back to that player, and any meeples used to activate tiles up for auction go to the winner of the tile.  Tiles are worth points at the end of the game.  Some are just worth points out-right while others are dependent on tiles they are connected to and all are worth more if they are upgraded.  Connections are acquired by activating specific tiles; tiles are also upgraded by activating them and paying any associated cost.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

The winner is the player with the most points at the end of the game.  While the mechanics of the game are fairly straight forward, like Keyflower the art of the game is combining them to score well.  The Connections are the main difference between Key to the City and Keyflower, but there are several other smaller differences like the round endings, for example.  In Keyflower, players bid for boat tiles which dictate how many meeples they get at the end of each round, but in Key to the City, when players choose to end their round place their boat in a position on the river.  The earlier a player “checks out”, the earlier they can place their boat and the more meeples they can get—and meeples are scarce, very scarce, in both games.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Ivory with the Buckingham Palace player screen and start tile, went first.  He began by winning Paddington Station which gave him telecoms (black) and electricity (grey) cable connections.  He went on to couple this with St. Pancras, Kings Cross and the Royal Academy which gave points when connected with electricity cables and Marble Arch and Monument which gave points for telecoms cable connections.  Lime understood the fundamentals, but was struggling with how to fit them into the game, so when he picked up Battersea Power Station which provided water (blue) and gas (yellow) pipe connections, he was encouraged to pick up the London Eye and Canary Wharf to go with it which ultimately proved good choices.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue lost out in a couple of early bidding wars, so ended up with the Barbican instead, giving her underground tunnels (red) and waste pipe (brown) connectors and later Charing Cross (more underground tunnels and grey electricity cables).  Maybe she’s spent too long with Pink, but she mostly chose to eschew sewage pipes and electricity pylons, instead focusing on trains, using them to make connections with the Royal Opera and the Globe Theatre.  Unfortunately, there was a little “rules malfunction” in the early part of the game with a misunderstanding of one of the scoring icons.  Instead of players scoring for connectors of the colour indicated connected directly or indirectly to a tile, players should only score for each tile connected to the scoring tile.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

The “rules malfunction” was spotted quite early, so although it added a little to Lime’s confusion, everyone had enough time to correct things before scoring took effect.  In the final round, Ivory bid for the Natural History Museum which gave him points for monuments, and London Zoo giving him two points for each blue meeple he was left with at the end of the game.  He then activated a few last tiles and set sail.  Lime engaged in making lots of utilities connections, and bid for the British Museum and the Royal Festival Hall (giving two points for each tile won in the final round and three points for each tile connected by all six utilities respectively).

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue took the V & A Museum (giving points for sets of skills tiles) and the Science Museum (giving points for tiles with six connections).  Then she made a mistake:  with Ivory out and Lime running low on meeples, she had the opportunity to either out bid Ivory for London Zoo, or compete with Lime for the British Museum and in a fit of stupidity went for the latter.  Blue’s error might have proved critical though as winning the zoo would not only have given her twelve points, but also taken twelve from Ivory.  As it was, in the final count, Ivory took victory with a hundred and seventeen to Blue’s ninety-six and Lime’s seventy-eight.

Key to the City - London
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room two games of Ticket to Ride: London were underway.  Ticket to Ride is one of our current favourite games and the London variant, being one of our “local” editions is particularly popular.  The game plays in the usual way with players taking cards from the market, using them to pay to place trains on the map and claim routes, or taking Tickets which give points at the end of the game if the two destinations are connected.  Each map has an extra rules “tweak” and in case of the London edition players get bonus points if they visit all the places in a borough.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

When Pink asked Pine who the people were on the box there was a general aura of shock when he claimed not to recognise Emma Peel (though he did correctly identify Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II).  Their game with Purple and Black started off very confrontationally in the centre of the board and carried on in much the same vein as the game developed from there.  Pink took Pine’s dubious advice to take more tickets, but failed to score them.  Pine got his comeuppance though when Black just pipped him to the line beating him into second place by a single point, while Purple took third.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

The other group managed to rattle through the game really quickly too as everyone knew what they were doing.  Orange completed all his Tickets and triggered the end of the game.  For everyone else it was a more frustrating game. Lilac was convinced she was going to lose as she had failed to complete one of her tickets finding herself blocked, but in the end finished second, significantly ahead of Green and Lemon.  Green had tried the “gamers tactic” (espoused by Black on previous occasions) said all the best Ticket to Ride players do, namely  collecting more tickets at the start of the game.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

This went OK until about half way through when he got blocked on his best route, then while trying to re-route got blocked again, forcing him to try a third option. This was blocked too and he was locked out of his key station, finishing with three incomplete Tickets.  Lemon had tried the same strategy (collecting tickets first), but also ended up with a couple not completed.  As a result, Orange wiped the floor with everyone else finishing with a score nearly three times that of his nearest competitor: a convincing victory.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Key to the City: London was still underway, so, given Her late Majesty’s well known love of the gee-gees, the two groups got together to play Turf Horse Racing.  It was a while since anyone in the group played it, so Green reminded everyone of the rules.  The idea is very simple, players have three counters to use for betting, two small and one large, double weight one.  In the first stage, players take it in turns to use these counters to bet on horses.  In the second stage, players take it in turns to roll the die and move a horse to determine the outcome of the race.

Turf Horse Racing
– Image by boardGOATS

The game works because the die has three horses heads with one of each of the other icons, and each horse moves a different amount depending on what is rolled.  Since each horse has to move before a horse can be moved again, players can choose to make a positive move for one of their own horses, or nobble someone else’s.  Although the rules as written give the maximum number of players for Turf Horse Racing as six, the group thought it would stretch to more due to the way it is played.  And given the hilarity that ensued, that seemed a really good decision.

Turf Horse Racing
– Image by boardGOATS

It was decided that due to there being so many players, perhaps three bets per player would create too many horses with multiple bets, so it was house-ruled to two bets only each: one big and one small.  The extra bet tokens needed were taken from Ticket to Ride: a scoring disc and a bus.  Pine was the sole “investor” in Roamin’ Emperor’s fortunes.  Pink, trying to get his revenge for being misled in Ticket to Ride, cajoled everyone to choose this purple horse to move only one space, much to Pine’s annoyance.  Pink got his way, but then got his comeuppance when someone made his chosen horse, Lagoon Lady, also move only one.

Turf Horse Racing
– Image by boardGOATS

After the first round it was Silver Blaze blazing a trail up front, closely followed by Mostown Boy and Raven Beauty.  This theme kept repeating with Lagoon Lady and Roamin’ Emperor moving only one space a turn, until finally Pine struck gold and was able to shoot his horse forward by a massive fifteen spaces and get it into the leading group.  It was a close race, and eventually Silver Blaze was overhauled and brought back into the pack.  As the race entered it’s final furlongs Lagoon Lady was still languishing behind.  Although it had made up some ground, Roamin’ Emperor was making better progress but also starting to fall back.  One more “mega surge” would have been enough to put it within spitting distance of a win, however, that was not to be.

Turf Horse Racing
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end it was The Red Baron who crossed the line first, with Silver Blaze second and Desert Prince third. Adding up the betting totals, Lemon took home the biggest winnings with eight, with Lilac just one behind in second and Black a comparatively distant third.  The conclusion was that Turf Horse Racing can definitely be played with eight, but maybe a little more tinkering is needed. Perhaps keeping the three bets, but with seven horses, the start player moved around the table very slowly—something to think on and investigate further perhaps.

Turf Horse Racing
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Her Majesty had a point—dogs and horses can be a lot of fun.

28th June 2022

When Blue, Pink, Orange and Lemon rolled in (late thanks to the delights of the Oxford traffic and garden watering), Plum was already there.  A gamer with Gweeples in Didcot, Plum was a friend of Burgundy’s that members of the group first met at his funeral about six months ago.  While she finished her tagliatelle, Blue and Pink waited for their supper to arrive, and everyone admired Pink’s Pornstar Martini, the group revisited Tsuro, which Orange and Lemon had enjoyed so much on their first visit, last time.

Tsuro
– Image by boardGOATS

While setting up, Pine arrived and needed a quick reminder of the rules, but that only took a moment:  players have a hand of three tiles and, on their turn place one of them in front of their stone and extend it’s path, moving their stone (and any others) to the end of its path.  Players are eliminated when their stone goes off the board or collides with another stone—the last player on the board is the winner.  First blood went to Blue, who took out Lemon and Pine, but that was collateral damage as she had no choice and went off the board herself at the same time.

Tsuro
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink was next, being trapped and left with no option, and then just Plum and Orange remained to duel it out.  There was very little space left on the board and the writing was already on the wall when Plum went off.  That left Orange a worthy winner, especially as he had a tile to spare too.  Teal arrived and while Blue and Pink fed, he led everyone else in a game of No Thanks!.  This is a game we’ve played a lot in the group and is a very clever design but like all the cleverest games, has very simple rules.  Played with a numbered deck of thirty-two cards, the idea is that on their turn, the active player can take the card in the middle or pay a chip to pass the problem on to the next person.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The next person has the same decision:  they can take the card and the chip, or pay a chip, and so on.  At the end of the game, a player’s total score is the sum of the face value of the cards they took and the player with the lowest number wins.  There are two key points that make the game, however.  Firstly, if a player has consecutively numbered cards, only the lowest card in the run contributes to their total, which means cards have different values to different players.  Secondly, nine cards are removed from the deck, which adds jeopardy on top.  The game can play out in several different ways.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The player or players with the most chips are always in control, until one player is left with so few chips or runs out completely, that they are forced to take cards even when they don’t want them.  This can prevent players, even those with lots of chips, from getting the cards they need to close runs causing the strategy to back-fire, and leaving those with the most chips with the most points as well.  This time, Orange and Teal amassed a huge pile of chips each, but both managed to avoid ending up with multiple high scoring runs.  Then someone dropped a chip on the floor giving Pine the opportunity to recount the tale of how he dropped a chip between the floor boards and how it is still there despite everyone’s best efforts.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the dropped chip was recovered successfully and the game ended without further mishap.  Orange and Teal took first and second respectively, giving Orange two in two games to match Lemon’s achievement at the start of last time.  By this time, the feeders had finished feeding and everyone else had arrived, so it was time for the “Feature Game“.  To mark the start of the Tour de France later in the week, this was to be the Peloton expansion for the cycling game, Flamme Rouge.  Flamme Rouge is a fast-paced, tactical bike-racing game where each player controls a team of two riders: a Rouleur and a Sprinteur.  The aim is to manage the first rider to cross the finish line.

Flamme Rouge
– Image by boardGOATS

Each rider has a deck of cards, and Players move their riders one at a time, by drawing four cards from the rider’s deck, choosing one to play, and recycling the rest.  Once every player has picked cards for both their riders, players simultaneously reveal their cards and, starting with the cyclist at the front, each rider is moved in turn.  After all the riders have moved, slip-streaming takes effect, with groups that have exactly one space between them and the group in front moving forward to remove the gap.  Finally, every rider that still has an empty space in front of them is deemed to be riding into the wind and takes an exhaustion card which goes into their deck—these are bad because they are slow cards and block up plays’ hands.

Flamme Rouge
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the race, everyone’s Rouleurs have the same cards, and everyone’s Sprinteurs have the same cards.  The Rouleurs have lots of cards with a similar face value, where the Sprinteurs have some cards that are faster and have a higher value, which are offset by others that are slower and have a lower value.  Players have to balance how they manage their riders and make the most of the slip-streaming opportunities.  The game is modular with the option to add hills to the base game.  The Peloton expansion adds extra riders (so that the game plays up to six players), cobbled sections (aka “Pavé”), Feed Zones, and rules to set up a break-away.

Flamme Rouge
– Image by boardGOATS

Unusually with so many people, rather than splitting in to three groups playing three different games, we split into just two with both playing the same game.  Since the Grand Départ was due to take place in the essentially flat Denmark this year, both groups largely played without hills, but included cobbled sections (à la Stage 5, from Lille to Arenberg, a week later).  Cobbled sections change width frequently and are generally narrower than normal road, but perhaps more importantly, riders can no-longer benefit from slipstreaming but still get exhaustion cards.  The slightly larger group, led by Ivory and Teal also decided to start with a break-away.

Flamme Rouge
– Image by boardGOATS

Their chosen route was Stage 11 of the stage race and took in three sections of Pavé.  The first of these was shortly after the start, the second after the first hairpin and a short slight up-hill ramp, and the third was after a second hairpin and a little chicane.  Teal and Lime made it into the breakaway and they stayed away for most of the game.  Being at the front “pushing air out of the way” all the time is tiring though, and inevitably, they picked up a lot of exhaustion cards.  That meant that as the Peloton was bearing down on them, just as the finish line was in sight, they didn’t have the energy fend them off.

Flamme Rouge
– Image by boardGOATS

As a result, Black and Pink, who had been sheltering in the middle of the group slid across the line just ahead of the gallant breakaway, who were definitely candidates for the day’s combativity award.  Black took first place, having spent most of the race doing as little as possible and saving it all for the final sprint.  While saving energy is a good tactic, Purple took it to a different level picking up no exhaustion cards at all, though she wasn’t able to turn on the burners in time to take advantage of it.

Flamme Rouge
– Image by boardGOATS

The smaller group, led by Blue and Plum rode a simpler route based on the Avenue Corso Paseo ride, with a cobbled section in the middle between the two hairpin bends.  With most people in this group new to the game, they decided to keep things simple and eschewed the complexities of hills completely, sticking to a pan-flat course, and kept to the standard roll-out used in the base game.  First Orange and then Lemon rode off the front while Pine and especially Blue were repeatedly under threat of being spat out of the back of the peloton.  Most rounds seemed to end with Blue breathing a sigh of relief as she managed to hang on and Lemon laughing as she picked up yet another exhaustion card.

Flamme Rouge
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the riders had passed the Pavé the speed picked up and Blue and Pine started to try to move forward in the field.  Lemon who had led most of the way “bonked” and “hit the wall”, and as a result, was unceremoniously dropped.  It was tight, but Pine’s Rouleur was first over the line just holding off Plum’s first rider who took second followed by Pine’s Sprinteur who took third.  It had been a close and quite attritional race, but despite the fact there were fewer riders with a shorter parkour, the race finished at much the same time as the other one.  So races were compared and there was a bit of chatter about other options as people packed away.

Flamme Rouge
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory took himself off for an early night, as did Teal, but those that were left were keen to play on, albeit not for long in some cases.  Inevitably there was a lot of discussion about what to play, but when Ticket to Ride got a mention, Pine and Lime were keen to give the London version a run out, and were quickly joined by Pink and Purple.  Ticket to Ride is one of our favourite games and we play a lot of different versions, short and long.  They all have the same basic structure, but different layouts on different maps, and often with a little rules change.  In summary, in the original game, players are connecting cities across the USA.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

They do this by collecting coloured cards and then spending those cards to place trains.  Players score points for placing trains and also for completing “Tickets” by connecting two cities together by any chosen route—the further apart the cities, the more points they are worth.  The game end is triggered when one player has only two train pieces left and at the end of the game, the player with the most points is the winner.  The original game takes around an hour to play with the full compliment, but more recently, there have been a number of smaller, lighter versions available.  They have the same rules, but players have fewer pieces and the maps are more congested, based on cities like New York, Amsterdam and later this year, San Francisco.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, however, the version chosen was London.  In this edition, players are placing buses to mark routes, and in addition to scoring points for claiming routes and Tickets, players also score points for connecting all the places in the same district. Pine won the “name the people on the front of the box” competition and went first.  Lime crossed the city travelling from Baker Street to The Tower of London while both Purple and Pink did the same but from Buckingham Palace to Brick Lane, and via different routes. Pine had a northern route and a south route that looked like they would join up in the middle, but didn’t quite make it.  He did manage to claim a district though, the only player to do so for a district of any significant size.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

It was very close between first and second, though there was a bit more distance to Pink in third.  In the end, Lime just pipped Pine to victory by two points.  Meanwhile, there had been some debate between the other five as to what they would play.  Blue suggested introducing Orange and Lemon to one of our old stalwarts, 6 Nimmt!, but it wasn’t one of Plum’s favourite games.  So instead, Blue and Black introduced everyone else to …Aber Bitte mit Sahne, a clever but simple little “I divide, you choose” game.  The idea is that one player is The Baker who divides the cake into pieces and then everyone else takes it in turns to take a one of them.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Each slice of cake has a type, a number on it and a some cream.  When a player takes cake, they can choose to eat it or store it.  For all eaten cake, players a point for each blob of cream.  For stored cake, however, the player with the most of each type will score the number of points associated with that type.  The clever part is that the number of points is equivalent to the number of slices of that type in the game, so the more common types which are harder to get a majority in are worth more, but they also have the most cream, tempting players to eat them straight away.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

It is always difficult for the first couple of players to take the role of Baker, but this is exacerbated with five players.  Blue went first, then Black.  It was only a couple of rounds in, that the twinkle appeared in Plum’s eye as she realised how clever the game was and expressed her approval.  It was quite tight in the early stages with players staking their claims to different sorts of cake.  There was competition for kiwi and redcurrent, but others went largely un-stored (and therefore eaten).  After everyone had been the Baker it was time to see who had the most of each and add up the scores.  Black got lucky with the chocolate as everyone else was greedy and ate theirs.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, there was a rules misunderstanding and Orange thought he would get points for every slice he kept if he had the most of that type, so we’ll have to play it again soon so he can try again.  This time though, Black who had been very abstemious and eaten none of his cake, ran out the clear winner with thirty-five points to Blue’s twenty-nine and Plum’s twenty-seven for second and third place respectively.  Ticket to Ride: London was still underway on the next table, so as Orange and Lemon had not played it before, Blue got out Dobble.  We’ve not played this in the group for years, but it is a fantastic little Snap-based filler.

Dobble
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that every card has several pictures and each card shares exactly one match with every other card in the deck and using this principle, there are five possible Snap-based games.  Black decided discretion was the better part of valor and opted to spectate while Plum had a significant drive so headed off, leaving just Blue, Orange and Lemon.  They started with a pile of cards each and the winner the first to shed their pile onto the central one.  The game was all very well, but there was a vocabulary check as, although Blue said they could play in Ukrainian, Orange and Lemon were game to give English a go.  Once the items had been identified, the mania started.

Dobble
– Image by boardGOATS

As it was a trial game, the piles weren’t carefully measured, but Orange quickly got the hang of it and in spite of the language differences, managed to shed his pile first for yet another victory.  From there, the group did the reverse and started with one card and grabbed progressively matching cards from the middle.  This can be quite savage, which is why Blue opted for the gentler game first.  Still, everyone was well-behaved and nobody got scratched.  The tension and concentration was palpable though and Ticket to Ride finished and Lime and Pine left with only a a cursory grunt from those playing Dobble, before Blue just edged it to win the final game of the night.

Dobble
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Tour de France coverage is available on ITV4.

10th February 2022

It was just Blue and Pink for food, so while they waited, they killed time with a very quick game of Ticket to Ride: London.  The little, city versions of Ticket to Ride make great appetisers, and this one is no exception.  The game play is essentially the same as in the full-sized versions (collect coloured cards and play them to buy routes), except they have fewer pieces, a much smaller map and take a lot less time to play.  In terms of strategy, there usually isn’t really time to do much, so it’s typically a case of doing one thing and doing it well.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Blue decided to really challenge herself.  The London game gives bonus points for connect for players that collect certain locations together.  Blue worked out that if she managed to complete her longer ticket (Buckingham Palace to Brick Lane), going via the “ring road”, she could also complete her shorter ticket (Hyde Park to St Paul’s), and pick up lots of bonus points too, with just one bus left over.  Unfortunately for her, Pink managed to end the game just one turn too soon, leaving her with a gap between Regent’s Park and King’s Cross, no bonuses, no tickets and almost no points.  When it came to sparing her blushes, food couldn’t arrive too soon.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

With Green bringing his parents (Saffron & Sapphire), the “Feature Game” was a light, hand-management, double-think fox and chickens game that we’ve played a few times before, called Pick Picknic.  It looked like three games were going to be needed, so Pink suggested Altiplano (in lieu of Orléans which didn’t quite make it last time), and took it to the other side of the room along with Ivory, Sage and Teal.  Pick Picknic plays six, but with eight foxes to fight over the chickens, two games of four seemed the best way to set things up.  Green suggested breaking up his family unit, so Blue instigated a trade and swapped Lilac and Sapphire for Lime and Purple.

Pick Picknic
– Image by boardGOATS

So, after a quick game of Musical Chairs, Green, Saffron, Lime and Purple settled down to play Pick Picknic.  At the start of each round, the six coloured farm yards are seeded with a random corn (worth one, two or three points).  Players then simultaneously choose a card from their hand and play it.  If their card is the only card of that colour and is a chicken, it gets all the corn.  If there is more than one chicken of that colour, they can either come to an agreement to share the corn, or fight for it.  If there is a fox amongst the chickens, the fox has a good feed and the corn remains till the next round.  If someone plays a fox card and there are no chickens, the fox goes hungry.

Pick Picknic
– Image by boardGOATS

The game started in an amicable manner sharing out the corn instead of fighting for it when the need arose, until half way through when Lime decided he no longer wanted to share. He won, but the scene was now set and squabbles broke out over corn more often.  In the meantime, Lime’s foxes were getting fat from eating everyone else’s birds and corn was building up, uneaten.  The others’ foxes were usually not so lucky, and Purple’s foxes were hungriest of all.  Towards the end of the game peace finally broke out once again and sharing was order of the day once more.  In the final tally, Lime proved the wiliest of us finishing first with fifty points and Saffron and Green close behind with forty-four and forty-five respectively.

Pick Picknic
– Image by boardGOATS

On the neighbouring table, Blue, Lilac, Black and Sapphire were a little slower to get going as they had to choose a game, but eventually decided on Coloretto.  While we’ve played it a lot, it was new to both Lilac and Sapphire so there was a recap of the rules first.  Blue explained that on their turn players have a simple decision:  turn over the top card in the deck and choose a “cart” to add it to, or take the cards from one of the carts.  Lilac commented that it was similar to Zooloretto, which of course it is, as Coloretto was it’s predecessor and they share the same basic mechanism.

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

Players are trying to collect sets of the coloured chameleon cards, but there are two clever features.  Firstly, the largest three sets score positively and scores for the others are subtracted from a player’s total.  Secondly, for each set, the first card is worth a single point, but the second is worth two, the third is worth three and so on (up to a maximum of six cards).  Thus, it is better to get six cards of one colour, rather three in each of two suits.  Sapphire, took this to heart, focusing solely on red and green, and often taking nearly empty trucks as a result.

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

Lilac was more adventurous and pushed her luck a bit, ending up with a bit of a rainbow, but with a couple of strong suits and a few bonus point cards.  Blue commented that, although players need to avoid negative points, players who don’t take cards generally don’t do well, and promptly took lots of cards and ended up with lots of negative points as a result.  Black, very experienced at this game, played smart and took an early lead which he held right until the last round when Blue got lucky and drew cards in her longest suit and with it, took victory, pushing Black into second.  Lilac and Sapphire were not far behind and separated by a single point.

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

Pick Picknic and Coloretto finished at much the same time.  Purple then requested a game of Azul, so we preceded it with another quick game of Musical Chairs as Blue swapped places with Green.  Then, after a little discussion, Green, Lilac, Black and Sapphire chose to play Draftosaurus.  This is a fun little drafting game like Sushi Go!, but instead of drafting cards, players are drafting little wooden dinosaurs.  The dinomeeples are placed on the player’s board with different areas on the board scoring points in different ways.  For example, the “Meadow of Differences” can only hold one of each type of dinosaur, but will score twenty-one points if it contains all six (using the same scoring scheme as Coloretto).

Draftosaurus
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over two rounds (drafting clockwise and then anti-clocwise), before all the parks are scored.  Players also score an extra point for each Tyrannosaurus rex they have in their park, as well as extra points if they have if they have the most dinosaurs of the type they put in their “King of the Jungle” pen.  Everyone knows there is only one King of Jurassic Park and Black was looking like the winner with his T-rex strategy. He not only got several bonus points for pens with T-rex’s he also got seven points for having the most T-rexes too.  However it was Green’s more general approach to his dinosaur park that pipped Black to the post.

Draftosaurus
– Image by boardGOATS

All the scores were close though: Green finished with thirty-seven with Black in second with thirty four, and Lilac and Sapphire were just behind.  As everyone else was still playing, the group carried on together and moved on to the fun little push-your-luck game, Port Royal.  This (like its little cousin “Unterwegs“) is a very simple game: on their turn, the active player chooses to “twist” and turn over the top card of the deck, or “stick” and keep the current card set.  The deck of cards consist of coloured ship cards and character cards.  The first decision is to decide whether to risk a “twist” because if second ship card of a colour is drawn the player goes bust and their turn ends.

Port Royal
– Image by boardGOATS

If a player “sticks” they can take a ship and add its treasure to their stash, or they can use their gold to buy the support of characters.  These give players victory points and special powers, but also can be used to claim contracts and give more points.  The cards are double-sided like those in San Juan or Bohnanza, so in the same way, keeping an eye on the discard pile and the money in players’ hoard is key.  Once the active player has taken a card, players round the table can take a card too, but they must pay the active player for the privilege.  The game ends when one player has twelve points or more, that triggers the end of the game and the winner is the player with the most points.

Port Royal
– Image by boardGOATS

Black, once again, got off to a fighting start, collecting arms to help him ward off the pirates while Lilac had her eye on the contract symbols. Sapphire went for the Admiral, which gave him a bonus for drawing at least five cards and would give others an increased chance to buy and pay him even more.  Green started out with Green Trader bonus, but then got consistently hit by the black pirates before he could barely draw any cards, so his game was hampered from the very start.  With his fighting force at strength, Black was able to haul the cards out and start raking in the points.  Lilac managed to convert high value contracts before anyone else, gaining her more coins to buy more cards.

Port Royal Unterwegs
– Image by boardGOATS

Sapphire built up a “Jack of all Trades” hand, but it only steadily gained him points.  Green managed to finally rid himself of the scourge of the black pirates by stopping draws early, and started collecting symbols, but it was too late as Black reached the twelve points before anyone else. Everyone had one more turn, and Lilac was able to convert her final contract to also reach twelve. Both Lilac and Black managed one more purchase to finish on thirteen points each, but Lilac won took the tie break by virtue of having one more coin left than Black.  Sapphire and Green were also tied on points (on nine-points), but Sapphire completed the podium places with four coins more.

Port Royal
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Blue, Saffron, Purple and Lime were playing Azul.  We’ve enjoyed the recent versions of these (Stained Glass of Sintra and Summer Pavillion), but this time the original was the game of choice.  All three use the same market mechanism where players either take tiles of one colour from one of the small markets and put the rest in the central pool, or take all the tiles of one colour from the central pool.  In this original version of Azul, players add these tiles to the channels on the left of player board, and at the end of the round if any of these are full, they move one tile to their mosaic and recycle the rest.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

Players score points for placing tiles such that they are part of a row and/or a column in the mosaic and at the end of the game, players score bonus points for completed rows and columns and also for placing all five tiles of any one colour.  There is a catch, however.  When a player takes tiles, all the tiles must go into a single tile channel, and must be of the same colour as any that are already there.  Any left overs score negative points and, as the more left over tiles a player has, the more negative points each one will score.  This has the potential to leave one player picking up lots of tiles and scoring lots of negative points.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, that player was Lime.  Having scored a few points during the first round, he was unimpressed when all his negative points at the end of that round pushed him straight back to zero.  This wasn’t the only time that happened though, to the point that it became a bit of a running joke, especially as he made it a point every round to take the first player token (which counts as another negative tile).  One of the key tactics of the game is to try to complete tile channels at the end of the round because these are then emptied leaving the maximum amount of flexibility for the next round.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

And this is exactly what Saffron did.  Despite never having played the game before, by focusing on completing her tile channels she was always able to dig herself out of any difficulties.  Although the game was longer than Draftosaurus, it didn’t seem like very long before Purple triggered the end of the game by completing a row, the only one to do so.  It was quite close, but Blue just edged it from Saffron who took an excellent second.  With that, Lime headed off (before the drawbridge was raised) and Blue left Purple and Saffron chatting while she went to watch the last few rounds of Altiplano on the other side of the room.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

Altiplano is a much longer game and one that we are very fond of in the group.  Indeed, it was the first winner of the Golden GOAT award (in 2018), though we haven’t really been able to get it to the table since then.  For a while, it had been in the plan to play The Traveler expansion, however, we wanted to play the base game again first and with both Teal and Sage new to the game only the Sunny Days mini expansion was included.  The basic mechanism of the game is quite simple:  on their turn, players carry out the action based in the location their meeple is in, and optionally, moves their meeple either before or after, if they can.

Altiplano
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is a “bag building” game, so a bit like its predecessor, Orléans, or even deck builders like Dominion, players need the correct resources to be available when they carry out the actions.  So, at the start of each round, players draw resource disks out of their bag and place them on their player board to be used in the locations they plan to visit.  Mostly the game trots along quite merrily as this stage of the game is carried out simultaneously and everyone does their planning at the same time so the action phase is quite rapid.  Pink explained what all the different locations did and that there were two main sources of points:  Contracts and Resources.

Altiplano
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of the game, the resources give points with the amount depending on what it is: primary resources score one point (wood, stone, fish etc.) while advanced processed materials (like cloth and glass) can score up to three or four points.  These will score even more points if they are stored in the Warehouse.  When a resource is used it is places into the players recycling box and goes back into their bag when their bag is empty.  In this way, instead of relying on probability/luck as in Orléans where used resources are returned straight to the bag, all resources are used before they are recycled.

Altiplano
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can leave unwanted resources on their player board, but this can obstruct their plans, so another option is to move them to the Warehouse.  Once in the Warehouse, they cannot be removed, but each full shelf (which can only store one type of resource), gives more points at the end of the game.  Only completely full shelves score in this way, which cost Pink some valuable points when he realised Ivory had pinched the last available fish just before he got there.

Altiplano
– Image by boardGOATS

The other main route to scoring points is through completing Contracts.  Players can only have one on the go at any one time, but when complete, they are worth points and also provide the player with a corn which goes straight in the warehouse and can act as a space-filler too.  As well as getting resources from the Wood, Mines, Seafront etc., players can also buy Contracts, build Carts (to provide them with additional travel options), build Boats or Huts (which provide resources and increase their resource scoring), or buy Board Extensions which give them enhanced abilities.  These Extensions also act as a timer triggering the game end.

Altiplano
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was really tight and despite the fact that all four protagonists employed different strategies, a postage stamp would have covered the final scores.  Pink, despite having carefully explained the importance of Contracts as a means to get points, decided to see how he could do by avoiding them completely—the only one to do so.  He concentrated instead on getting resources, especially high value ones, and storing them in his Warehouse.  Teal’s strategy was driven by the fact he started with the Woodcutter which allowed him to turn food into wood, so he concentrated on building Canoes, lots of Canoes.  This was not a strategy anyone had seen before, but it provided him with a lot of resources.

Altiplano
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory went for Contracts in a big way, taking a massive fifty-five points for them alone.  Since resources on Contracts don’t score in and of themselves, however, this meant he scored fewer points elsewhere.  Sage went for a more “all round” strategy, picking up a lot of points for his contracts too, but also building a lot of Huts to enhance his resource score.  As the game came to a close there was the inevitable checking what the final Extension tiles and then everyone took their shoes and socks off for the complex final scoring.  The winner, on his first time out was Teal, his unconventional Canoe strategy netting him eighty-six points.  Pink finished second with eighty-three and Ivory was just one point behind that, in what had been a very tight game.

Altiplano
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome: Teach a man to fish, and he’ll swap them for a pile of stones.

23rd September 2021

Burgundy and Blue were just finishing their supper when Teal introduced himself.  The three were chatting when Lime, who hadn’t been able to come for over a month, also joined the group.  It was expected to be a quiet night with Green and Lilac away on holiday, Pine working late, and Pink stuck somewhere on the Warwick bypass.  So, there was a lot of chat, but eventually, the group decided to play something and settled on Love Letter.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

This is a very simple little game that we’ve played a lot, but somehow Lime had missed out.  So, there was a very quick rules explanation:  players start with a hand of one card, draw a second and choose one to play and do the action on the card.  The cards are numbered and the aim of the game is to finish the round with the highest card, or more commonly, avoid being knocked out.  There are only sixteen cards in the deck (and one of those is removed at the start of the round), so it doesn’t take long.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

The group were only three rounds in when everyone else turned up (including Pink who had escaped the roadworks), so Lime was declared the winner with two tokens and everyone else was introduced to Teal and started to discuss what to play.  In the end, Burgundy took matters into his own hands and started a game of Wingspan, so while Pink waited for his pizza to arrive, Blue explained the “Feature Game“, Mini Rails.

Mini Rails
– Image by boardGOATS

Mini Rails is a very simple little stock-buying and track-laying train game that compresses a lot of the game play of long and complicated games like the 18xx series into under an hour.  Players have two turns in each round, on one they buy shares in one of the companies and on the other they extend the “track” of one of the networks.  If it is built on a white space, players with holdings in that colour increase their value by the marked amount.  If the network is built on a red space, the stocks in that company are decreased in value.

Mini Rails
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is very simple, but there are a couple of clever little tweaks.  Firstly, there are two “tracks”, one is the turn-order track, while the other holds train disks drawn at random from a bag.  On their turn, players choose one of tokens and decide which action to use it for, “build track”or “buy shares”.  The position of the token that is taken dictates where they will be in the turn order in the next round.  Manipulating this turn order is one key aspect of the game, as is deciding whether to buy and then build, or build and then buy.

Mini Rails
– Image by boardGOATS

Perhaps the most complicated aspect of the game is the end-game scoring.  At the start of each round train discs are drawn from a bag; one more than there are turns.  This means everyone always has a choice, but the token the last player does not use is put to one side indicating they have paid “taxes”.  For the companies that have “paid taxes” any negative dividends are erased and positive dividends are counted.  For those companies that have avoided paying their taxes the reverse is true and negative points will be scored while positive points are lost.

Mini Rails
– Image by boardGOATS

This means it is in the interest of players with both large positive or significant negative scores to forgo building track or buying shares and leave a potentially valuable token as taxes.  Similarly, if a player is left with a choice of two tokens, it may be in their interest to buy/build a relatively unfavourable track to deprive other players of points.  With three players, the game doesn’t take too long to play, and with more it would likely become quite random.

Mini Rails
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime took an early lead, though of course lots of early points are… pointless, if the company doesn’t pay taxes.  In the end it was extremely tight, but in the end, Blue just pipped Lime by a single point.  With just three there isn’t much downtime and the game rocks along nicely with plenty of interaction, though as Pink said, “That’s one hell of an abstraction for a train game.”  Blue pointed out that this was what a lot of gamers thought of when someone said “Train Game”.  Pink felt disappointed at the lack of actual trains and tracks so to make it up to him, the group moved on to play Ticket to Ride Demo.

Ticket to Ride Demo
– Image by boardGOATS

Ticket to Ride Demo is one of the small games based on the Spiel des Jahres winner, Ticket to Ride Europe.  The Demo game has an interesting history—it was designed as a sales tool and had only a small print run.  It was so popular though, that it ultimately spawned a new range of small “City” games, New York, London and Amsterdam.  These games are essentially played the same way as the full-sized versions, but with fewer pieces on a smaller map which means they typically take less than half the time.

Ticket to Ride Demo
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn players can do one of three things:  take cards from the market, spend cards to place trains or take tickets.  Players score points for placing trains, but also for connecting the places on their tickets.  The catch is that any tickets that are not completed score negative points.  The small versions of the game are much tighter with less room for error.  Unlike the others, Ticket to Ride Demo has a double sided map, one USA and one Europe.  This time the group played the Europe map.

Ticket to Ride Demo
– Image by boardGOATS

Compared to the full-sized equivalents, all the little games are like a knife-fight in a phone-box, and this game was no exception.  Lime only completed three of his four tickets as Blue brought the game to a quick and sudden end.  Pink completed all four of his tickets and they were high-scoring too.  Blue’s tickets were less lucrative, but she managed to place all her trains and took the European Express bonus points for the longest continuous route, and with it victory, by just two points.

Ticket to Ride Demo
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table an epic, five-player game of Wingspan was underway.  We’ve played Wingspan quite a bit since it came out and always found it very enjoyable.  We’ve played it enough that we’ve also explored the European expansion, but thanks to the restrictions over the last year or so, this was the first opportunity to play the new Oceania expansion.  The base game is a reasonably light, card-driven, combination building game.  On their turn, players can place a bird card from their hand in one of the three habitats, or activate all their cards in one of the habitats and carry out the associated action.

Wingspan: Oceania Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

The habitats are Woodland, Grassland and Wetland and the actions associated with them are collecting food, laying eggs or collecting cards (respectively).  Once the action has been carried out, the active player activates each card in the habitat in turn.  The game is played over four rounds, with a decreasing number of actions per round as the game progresses.  At the end of each round there are goals and each player also starts with a personal bonus card which is evaluated at the end of the game.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The European expansion really only adds extra cards, though this includes a number of birds with abilities that are activated at the end of rounds, and others that increase player interaction.  The new Oceania expansion also adds more cards, but additionally mixes things up a little more with the addition of a new food type, nectar.  Nectar can be used as wild food type, although some of the new bird cards have nectar specified in the cost.  Whenever players spend nectar though, they don’t put it back in the supply, instead they store it in the habitat they spent it on.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of the game, the player with the most nectar stored in each habitat scores five points at the end of the game with the player coming second scoring two points.  Nectar is therefore a very important resource giving a potential fifteen points at the end of the game, although it requires some skill to use it effectively as it can’t be carried over between rounds.  Burgundy and Black really invested in nectar and managed to make good use of it during the game as well as take the lion’s share of the nectar points at the end of the game.

Wingspan: European Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy and Black also prioritised valuable birds and tried to ensure they stayed in the running for the end of round bonuses.  Three out of the four of these involved eggs, which fitted with Ivory and Teal’s strategies which focused on an end-of-game egg rush.  Ivory also picked up a lot of points from his Common Starling which enabled him to discard up to five bits of food and tuck a card for each one.  With a maximum of twenty points, Ivory did well to take eighteen during the game, but it was only enough for third place this time though.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

It was very close at the top between Black and Burgundy.  Burgundy had four bonus cards one of which proved quite lucrative.  The big difference was in the value of the bird cards, however, while Black edged it in many departments Burgundy had a ten point head start.  This wasn’t simply because he had high value birds, more that he had lots of them.  In the end, Burgundy finished five points ahead of Black with ninety-five, in a good game that had been enjoyed by everyone round the table.

– Image by boardGOATS

Wingspan was still only on its third round when Ticket to Ride Demo came to an end.  At around the same time, Pine pitched up, so the, now foursome settled down for something else which ended up being a game of Reiner Knitzia’s Botswana (aka Wildlife Safari).  This is an unusual auction-like game made all the better by the inclusion of plastic animals.  Played over several rounds, players are dealt a hand of cards and on their turn play a card and take an animal of their choice.  The cards are numbered zero to five and come in five different animal suits.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards are played in the centre of the table in suits and the game ends when all six cards of one suit have been played.  The top card in any suit is the current value of that animal.  Thus, if the top zebra card is a five, a player that has three zebras will earn fifteen points for them if the game ends.  However, if the zero just before the game ends, the zebras will become worthless.  It is a deceptively simple, yet fun little game.  Blue thought she’d won until a recount docked her ten points and she finished just two points behind a delighted Pink.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

As Botswana came to an end, so did Wingspan, and although time was marching on, and Lime and Ivory took an early night, there was still time for everyone else to play one last game.  After a little discussion, we settled on 6 Nimmt!, a game we all know and love.  Players simultaneously choose a card and these are sequentially added to the end of four rows of cards, specifically the row with the highest number that is lower than the card itself.  If the card is the sixth card in the row, instead, the player takes other five and adds them to their scoring pile.  The player with the lowest score at the end of the game is the winner.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

We’ve all played this a lot online over the last year, but doing the maths ourselves was a little daunting, so we decided to go back to playing the non-professional version.  We play over two rounds using half the deck in first and the other half in the second.  This time Teal top-scored in the first round with nineteen, while Burgundy kept a clean sheet with Pink just behind.  Blue’s killer thirty-three in the second round gave her a total of forty-eight, but the winner for the second time in the evening was Pink with just four points.  And with that, it was bedtime.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Today’s railway industry is no longer about trains and tracks. ☹

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

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

Pandemic
– Image by BGG contributor kilroy_locke

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

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
– Image by BGG contributor zgabor

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

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

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

Boardgames in the News: Gaming at a Distance

With so many people tucked up at home there has been some debate as to whether this will encourage people to play games more.  Among gamers, there has been a lot of discussion about solo games where players compete against the game, but this loses the social aspect.  Online gaming is also an option; this can enable playing with real people, but loses the tactile element of gaming that so many people love.  In most cases though, people are not “home alone”, they are with family, so perhaps this is an opportunity to play games with them?

Cities of Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

The occasional board game column in The Guardian has published a list of twenty family games including some modern family classics like, Ticket to Ride: London, Splendor, Kingdomino, Dobble and (inevitably) Pandemic.  It also includes a few, more recent games, like Wingspan, and Just One, as well as some less well known games like Patchwork Express, Legacy of Dragonholt and Blue Lagoon.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

There has some suggestion that there has been a flurry of buying games to play with their families, but is there any real evidence of this?  Anecdotally, there have been comments that prices of games have increased on Amazon.co.uk which could indicate an increase in sales.  The website camelcamelcamel.co.uk tracks prices on Amazon, and it seems to indicate that prices for many popular light games have increased in the last week.

Ticket to Ride: Europe on camelcamelcamel.co.uk (23/03/20)
– Image by boardGOATS from camelcamelcamel.co.uk

There is another possible reason though: Amazon has suspended warehouse services (storage and shipping) of non-medical supplies and “high-demand” products for third party sellers.  This would have the effect of pushing prices up.  A lot of Friendly Local Games Shops sell online though, and many of these have sales on at the moment, so why not support one of the small businesses that are struggling at the moment, and leave Amazon to deal with toilet rolls and hand sanitiser?

18th February 2020

Food was a little delayed, so we decided to start playing something.  Food was clearly on our collective minds though, because we opted for a starter of Point Salad.  This is a very simple set collecting game where players take cards from the market.  The cards are double sided with brightly coloured vegetables on one side and scoring conditions on the other.  The market consists of three piles of cards showing the scoring condition sides, and six cards showing the reverse, the vegetable side.  The number of cards a player can take depends on where they take it from:  one scoring card or two vegetable cards.

Point Salad
– Image by boardGOATS

Each pile of cards feeds one pair of vegetables.  So, when a vegetable is taken, a scoring condition card is turned over to reveal its vegetable side, and that scoring condition is no longer available.  Players can also, once per turn, turn over one of their scoring cards so it becomes a vegetable, but they may never turn over a vegetable to make it a scoring card.  The game is over when all the cards have been distributed, and the scores have been totaled.  One of the more unusual things about this game is that both vegetable and scoring cards can be used more than once.  So, a player with a card giving points for sets of onion, cabbage and carrot (i.e. coleslaw), can score it as many times as they have sets.  Furthermore, if they also have a card that scores for pairs of carrots and lettuces (i.e. rabbit food), they can reuse the carrot cards and count them a second time.

Point Salad
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine began collecting lettuces, an obsession with green things that ended up lasting the whole evening.  Burgundy was more obsessed with red things, specifically tomatoes, so Mulberry, Black and Purple took great delight in snaffling them first, even when they didn’t help.  Blue only needed mayonnaise for her coleslaw as she collected onions, cabbages and carrots and generally made a nuisance of herself with Mulberry, sat to her left.  Food arrived before the game finished, and with people getting distracted by pizza and chips (always more appealing than salad) it is possible there were some missed opportunities.  It was tight finish at the front with only six points between the winner and third place.  Sadly, despite everyone else’s best efforts, Burgundy top-scored with fifty-six, ahead of Mulberry and then Blue.

Point Salad
– Image by boardGOATS

Once everyone had finished eating, it was time to decide who would play what.  The “Feature Game” was The Isle of Cats, a tile-laying game where players are rescuing cats and packing them onto their ship.  There were a lot of takers, none of which were keen to back down (even though Mulberry misunderstood and thought it was called “Pile of Cats” which, on reflection, does sound very exciting).  The game is not terribly complicated though we did make a bit of a meal of it. It is played over five rounds, each of which starts with card drafting.  Players are dealt seven cards and keep two passing the rest to their neighbour; this is repeated until they receive only one single card.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards come in five different colours: blue, green, yellow, brown and purple.  Blue cards are Lesson cards which are really just Objective cards, but these come in two types, personal and public.  Yellow cards depict some combination of “Boots”, “Cat Baskets” and “Broken Baskets”.  Boots are useful because they dictate where you come in the turn order, while Baskets are needed to used to “pay” to rescue Cats.  Yellow cards are treasure cards, brown cards are special “Oshax” cat cards and purple cards are instant effect cards that can be played at any time.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of every round, each player receives twenty Fish which are used to pay for both cards and Cats.  So, once the cards have been drafted, players choose which ones they want to buy. with prices varying from free to five Fish.  The rest are discarded.  It is imprudent to over-spend, as Fish are also needed later in the round to lure cats off the island and onto the players’ ships; some cats are easier to lure than others, with cats on one side of the island costing three Fish and others costing five Fish.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Once everyone has paid for their cards, they must play any blue Lesson cards they kept in the round.  Any Public Lessons are revealed while Private Lessons are kept to one side face down.  Players then play their green cards—this is the guts of the game.  Players do not have to play all their green cards straight away, some can be kept for later rounds.  The number of Boots played are counted up, and the turn order is adjusted according to the number of Boots played so that the player with the most goes first and so on.  Player then take it in turns to spend one of their baskets and the appropriate amount of Fish to take one of their Cats and place it on their ship.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts the game with one “Permanent Basket” which they can use once per round, aside from this, the other Baskets usually come from the cards played or other Permanent Baskets acquired later in the game.  The Cats come in five different colours and are depicted on polyomino tiles which are placed on the players’ Ship-player boards.  At the end of the game players score points for grouping Cats of the same colour together in Families:  the larger the Family the more points.  So, a group of three Cats of the same colour will score eight points, while a Family of ten Cats scores a massive forty points.  In addition, players lose one point for each rat they have failed to cover with a cat, and lose five points for each room they fail to fill.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, perfectly tessellating Cats is the aim of the game, but additional points are also available from the Lesson-objective cards.  It would be quite a challenge to perfectly tessellate tiles while keeping cats of the same colour together and conforming to the arbitrary objectives given in the Lessons, however, there are a couple of things to help grease the wheels.  Players who cover Scrolls on their Ships with a Cat of the same colour can add a Treasure tile to their ship for free—these are small tiles that are very useful for filling in holes.  There are only five scrolls though, one of each colour.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Additionally, however, once everyone has run out of Baskets, they can also play their Rare Treasure, yellow and brown cards.  The yellow cards enable players to place more Treasure tiles while brown cards allow players to place the very rare Oshax Cats (or “Oh, shucks!” Cats as we mostly called them).  These are very friendly Cats and will join any Cat Family of the player’s choice, though they have to pick the colour when they place it.  The cards are quite rare and very expensive, but a couple of these can be a really good way to boost the size of a Family.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to Baskets on cards, each player starts with one Permanent Basket which they can use once per round.  Blue started the game quickly, by playing two lesson cards followed by a special card which enabled her to swap them for a second Permanent Basket.  Everyone looked on agog, envious of the advantage that would give, however, it had cost a  lot of Fish, and she spent the rest of the game trying to recover. Mulberry struggled to get some useful cards, but eventually managed to get a Permanent Basket of her own while Burgundy managed to get a couple of his own and he concentrated on trying to make sure there were no gaps round the edge of his boat to fulfill Lesson 113 to give him twelve points.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine meanwhile, continued his obsession with green and hogged all the green cats.  Since cards are drafted most of the cards are seen by some of the other players, so when he said he wasn’t sure how one of his Lesson cards worked, Blue and Burgundy knew exactly what his problem was.  The Lesson in question was Card 222 which gave ten points for each row of twelve containing at least twelve cats of the same colour.  Green’s queries concerned whether the row had to be continuous or whether they could be broken up by treasure, and whether Oshax cats counted.  We said they didn’t have to be continuous and Oshax cats counted so long as they were the right colour.  As a result, Pine’s green car family continued to grow, now forming long rows, lots of them.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

It was in the final round that Mulberry turned nasty playing Public Lesson Card 235 which meant anyone  who didn’t have seven treasures would lose five  points, which inconvenienced Blue quite a bit.  When it came to scoring, it turned out that we weren’t quite right with the rule for Card 222—the rows should have been continuous.  That might have cost Pine ten or even twenty points, though of course had he known that, he would likely have been able to offset that a little.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyhow as finished with ninety points and a huge lead.  Over thirty points behind, it was close for second, but Burgundy, who just managed to ensure there were no gaps at the edge of his boat, pipped Blue, by two points.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

There are a number of really nice things about The Isle of Cats.  Firstly the production quality is stellar and there are some really, really nice touches.  The cat artwork is fantastic and the fancy screen-printed cat-eeples from the deluxe upgraded version are quite special.  Unquestionably, we made a mistake playing with five the first time round—we were slow, with a lot of people spending a lot of time checking whether tiles would fit and that made the game even slower.  Mulberry commented that she disliked variable turn order as a mechanism:  it is common in lots of games, but tends to encourage a lot of pauses followed by queries about whose turn it is.  The are other little things like the fact the purple and brown cards could have been more distinct.  Overall, it definitely deserves another chance, but it might be hard to get some of the players from the first time to give it a second try.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Ivory, Black and Lime, started off with Key Flow.  This was particularly sad for Blue to see, because Key Flow is a sort of card game of Keyflower, one of her favourites.  That said, Key Flow had been played at our sister group, the Didcot Games Club, just a few days previously, so she consoled herself with the memory of that and concentrated on The Isle of Cats.  Although Key Flow has a lot in common with Keyflower, it has a very different feel.  Where Keyflower is really an auction game (using meeples as currency), Key Flow is a card drafting game.  So, in Key Flow, players start with a handful of cards, simultaneously choose one and place it face down, passing the rest on.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Players then simultaneously reveal their card and add it to their village before picking up the hand they’ve just been given, selecting another card and so on.  Like Keyflower, the game is played over four seasons, and like Keyflower players receive some of the Winter offerings  at the start of the game which they can then use to drive their strategies.  The iconography is very similar too, so a player who is familiar with Keyflower generally feels at home with Key Flow.  The cards come in three flavours:  village buildings, riverside buildings and meeples.  Village cards are placed in a player’s village, in a row extending either side of their starting home card.  Riverside tiles are placed in a row below, slightly off-set.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Meeple cards are used to activate Village cards by placing them above the relevant building.  As in Keyflower, buildings provide resources, skill tiles, transport and upgrades.  They also provide meeple tokens which can be used to increase the power of meeple cards or activate a player’s own buildings at the end of the round.  Arguably the clever part is how the meeple cards work.  At the centre of each card there are a number of meeples which dictate the power of the card.  A single meeple card can be played on any empty building; a double meeple card can be played on an empty building or one where one other card has already been played.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

If two cards have already been played, a triple meeple card is required to activate it a third and final time.  Alternatively, a lower power meeple card can be played with one of the meeple tokens, which upgrade a single meeple card to a triple meeple card.  Double meeple cards can also be upgraded, but each building can only be activated a maximum of three times per round.  The really clever part is that the meeple cards have arrows on them indicating where they can be played:  in the player’s own village, in the neighbouring village to the right, the village to the left, or some combination.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Black began the game by adding the Key Mine to his village which provided him with iron (wooden, black octagonal prisms).  In summer he added the Smelter which added more iron producing capacity (converting skill tiles), but he quickly upgraded this to give gold instead as it is more versatile and can be used instead of any other resource and any left overs are worth a point each at the end of the game.  Ivory also had resource providers in the shape of the Workshop which provided him with a wood, an iron and a stone every time it was activated.  He then added an Apprentice Hall which generated skill tiles.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Lime built a village strong in gold production, with the Gold Mine and Brewer and potentially the Carpenter too if he could upgrade it.  To his village, Black added a flock of sheep on his river bank while Ivory added a heard of pigs; Lime was more of a mixed farmer though with a bit of everything.  As the game progressed into the scoring rounds, Ivory added a Truffle Orchard which gave him four points for each pig and skill tile pair, allowing him to put all his pigs to good use netting twenty-four points.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime and Black pulled in similar points tallies with their Emporium (four points for each green meeple and gold pair) and Traveller’s Lodge (points for transport and boats) respectively.   With similar points for their upgraded buildings as well, it was close and the smaller contributors became really important.  Ivory’s Trader which scored him fifteen points for stone and axe skill tiles, while both Black and Lime scored ten points for their Autumn stores (Stone and Timber Yards respectively).

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Perhaps it was the points he got from the meeples (Winter Fair and Craftsmen’s Guild), but there was only two points between first and second in the end. Black finished with a total of seventy-one points, just enough for victory—a couple of points more than Ivory, with Lime not far behind.  It had been a hard fought game, and Ivory was impressed how the Scribe, which in Keyflower he felt was always a winner, had little effect.  For him, this made the game more interesting, though he had really enjoyed the last time the group played Keyflower with the Farmers expansion, as that had also mixed things up.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Given the recent game with the Didcot group it was inevitable that a comparison was going to be made.  This time Black won, but he scored fewer points than he had the previous week when he had come second.  Perhaps the most marked difference was how much quicker the three player game of Key Flow had been than the six player game a few days earlier.  Where the six player game had taken all evening, there was still time for something small, and with Lime taking an early bath, Ivory and Black chose to play a head-to-head of Ticket to Ride: London.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Ticket to Ride is a train game with an inexplicable alure, which everyone in the group loves and we’ve found that the small versions of the game, New York and London make excellent fillers.  The rules and game play are very similar to the full versions, but the take half the time, and with just two players, that makes it a very short game indeed.  On their turn, players take coloured cards or spend them to place their pieces on the map.  Points are awarded for completing tickets, but critically, failing to connect two locations marked on a ticket will score negative points.  The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Ivory built a network connecting Brick Land and the Tower of London in the East with Hyde Park in the West, while Black joined Regent’s Park in the North with Waterloo and Elephant & Castle in the South.  The crunch point came in the area around Covent Garden, but despite this, both players managed to complete all four of their tickets.  This meant it was down to the length of the tickets and the number of pieces placed—Ivory had the edge on both of these.  His revenge for the result in Key Flow was completed by a four point bonus for connecting all four in the St. Paul’s district resulting in a ten point victory.  With that, Ivory headed home, leaving Back to watch the end of The Isle of Cats.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Games take longer with more players.

24th December 2019 – “Unofficial boardGOATS” on Christmas Eve

It being Christmas Eve, with many people away or having other plans and already having held our Christmas Party, we decided to have a quiet, “unofficial” meeting for those who fancied it.  As a result, there was no “Feature Game“, and just four to respond positively to a Doodle Poll. So, Pine and Lime joined Blue and Pink (newly arrived from Radio Oxford) for food and a chat before settling down to play some light games.  The first of these was Azul, winner of the Spiel des Jahres  and Deutscher Spiele Preis in 2018, a game we played a lot when it first came out at Essen in 2017, but has more recently been largely superseded by the newer versions (Stained Glass of Sintra and Summer Pavilion).

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

Azul is very light and simple to play, but with surprising staying power.  Despite Azul being so popular with the group, Lime had somehow missed out so we had a run-down of the rules first.Players take coloured tiles from a central market and add them to rows on their player board next to their mosaic.  The rows are different lengths and can only hold one colour at a time.  For any rows that are complete at the end of a round, one of the tiles is moved into that players mosaic and the row is emptied for the next round.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part of the game is the tile market.  There are a number of “stalls” in the market, each holding four coloured tiles.  On their turn, the active payer can take all of one colour from one of the stalls moving the rest to the central pool, or alternatively, they can take all the tiles of one colour from the central pool.  Once all the tiles are gone, the round ends and tiles in the rows are moved across to the mosaic then the market is restocked from the draw bag.  Scoring occurs during the game when tiles are added to the mosaic, and bonus points are awarded at the end of the game for completed rows, columns and any colours which appear in each row/column.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink put all his efforts into trying to get bonus points for placing a full set of red tiles monopolising them early on and making it really hard for everyone else to get any.  It was a really, really tight game, and Lime put in an excellent show to take second place against much more experienced opposition.  He was just pipped by three points by Blue, who finished strongly taking bonus points for two completed columns.  Lime had enjoyed his first play and likes playing games twice so suggested a replay. With the relaxed atmosphere, everyone else was happy to go along with it.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

The second game wasn’t as tight as the first.  Pink collected more red tiles, annoying everyone else, again, and Blue was forced to take an eight point penalty which she thought was going to put her out of the game.  She made up for it by picking up bonus points for one complete column and a set of blue tiles and once again sneaked ahead of Lime.  Everyone was trampled into the dirt by Pine, however, with an enormous score—his first ever over a hundred.  As we were packing away, we discussed how he did it, and concluded that it was all about the scores from tile placement, and the bonus points really were, just that: a nice bonus, but not really something to aim for.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

The night was still young and everyone fancied playing something else.  In keeping with the relaxed nature of the evening, a pair of comfy slippers seemed in order, in this case, Ticket to Ride: London. This is a trimmed down version of the popular modern classic, Ticket to Ride.  All the game play is much the same: on their turn the active player, takes coloured cards into their hand or plays coloured cards to place pieces on the map trying to complete route cards they received at the start of the game.  In the original game, the cards and pieces were carriages, in this cut down version the cards depict other forms of transport and the pieces are buses, and players have fewer of them.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Points are placing trains on the map with the longest sections scoring more heavily.  In this cut down version, there are also bonus points for connecting stops in certain regions.  The biggest factor is usually the tickets however, as completed tickets score points, while incomplete tickets give negative points.  The active player may forfeit their turn, instead taking additional tickets, which adds an element of jeopardy: taking more tickets can add to the score, but if they aren’t fulfilled by the end of the game, it can be costly.  Pine started the game with two tickets giving long, roughly parallel routes that he thought he would be able to make work.  However, as is often the case with the cut-down versions of Ticket to Ride, the game started fast and Pine quickly realised he would be lucky if he could finish one and end with a positive score, never mind complete both.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

It was really tight around central London, and almost everyone struggled as others upset their plans.  This made for another tight game.  Blue finished the game by reducing her stock of buses to two first, and ended up with a winning score of forty largely thanks to a couple of fortunate tickets picked up late in the game.  Lime likes playing games more than once and suggested a rematch.  Pine, having had a really rough time the first time round was keen to improve on his first attempt and Pink and Blue were happy to go along with it.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine again picked up Regent’s Square to Elephant & Castle, but pairing this with a shorter route made  it much more achievable.  This time, Blue really struggled to place trains, and looked to be in a lot of trouble with only seventeen points when Pink brought the game to an early end.  Both Blue and Lime had nothing they could do on their final turn so were left with a decision: gamble on taking more tickets to try to get one that is already complete, or hope they had enough tickets already.  Both thought about it, but chose to forgo the gamble, which turned out to be the right choice.  In the final accounting, Blue picked up a massive twenty-three points from her tickets, to give her an unassailable total of forty (again—nothing if not consistent), dashing Pinks hopes, leaving him five points behind.  With that, everyone wished each other a Very Merry Christmas and headed home to put their stockings up.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  While GOATS love a good party, a quiet night can also be really enjoyable.

26th Movember 2019

There were lots of people feeding and with a bit of a queue, so the non-eaters, Ivory, Mulberry and Lime, decided to play something while they waited.  There were lots of options, but it was a long time since we’d played The Game and it ticked all the boxes, so unusually, a decision was made really quickly.  This is a simple cooperative card game (in our case, played with a copy of The Game: Extreme, but ignoring the special symbols), but new to Mulberry and Lime.  The team have a deck of cards from two to ninety-nine and they must play each card on one of four piles, two where the card played must be higher than the top card, and two where it must be lower.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

There are just three rules:  on their turn, the active player can play as many cards as they like (obeying the rules of the four piles), but must play at least two cards before replenishing their hand, and players can say anything they like but must not share “specific number information”.  Finally, there is the so-called “Backwards Rule” where players can reverse a deck as long as the card they play is exactly ten above or below the previous card played on that pile.  This time, it went a bit wrong early on, but the trio managed to pull it back.  Lime got stuck with fifty-six and sixty-four that he couldn’t play, and eventually the game came to a halt with six cards still to play.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

By the time The Game was over, the eaters had just about finished as well and the group split into two, one five to play the “Feature Game”, Mississippi Queen.  This is an older game that won the Spiel des Jahres award in 1997, but has recently been re-released in a new edition having been out of print for many years.  In this game, players race their paddle steamers down the Mississippi, picking up passengers along the way.  Onboard, coal supplies are limited, so each ship’s acceleration and manoeuvrers must be carefully planned.  The key to the game are the cool little plastic paddle steamers which have two numbered paddle wheels – one to track coal and the other to record the speed.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

The five riverboats start at jetties and then set sail along the river, which is made up of a hexagonal grid.  At the start of their turn, the active player can adjust their speed by one and then move that number of hexagonal spaces, turning a maximum of once before, during or after the move.  The player can increase or decrease their speed by more or make extra turns by burning coal.  Everyone starts with just six coal though and there is no source of coal during the game, so when it’s gone it’s gone.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

The game has a lot in common with Powerships, a mad spaceship racing game we played about six months ago, but there are a couple of key differences.  Firstly, each player has to pick up two passengers from the islands during the race, which means they must arrive at a jetty at a speed of one.  There is a more subtle difference which is nevertheless important to the way the game plays.  In Powerships, the map is modular, but is set out before the start of the game, where it is built as play progresses in Mississippi Queen.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

In Mississippi Queen, after the first turn, play proceeds according to position in the race (like PitchCar).  The advantage of this is that players at the front don’t obstruct players moving up from behind, however, it can lead to a run-away leader problem instead.  In Mississippi Queen though, the river is “built” as the game progresses; when the leader moves onto the final space, they draw a new river tile and roll the die to determine placement (left, right or straight ahead).  The fact that the player in the lead has less time to plan has the additional effect of off-setting the advantage of less obstruction, helping to prevent the leader running away with the game.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Lime stormed into the lead, but overshot the first island allowing Blue to sneak in behind him and grab a passenger.  There are plenty of islands though, so Lime had plenty of other opportunities.  Unfortunately, he overshot the second island as well as he was going too fast.  By the third island, Lime was starting to get desperate, but hadn’t got his speed and position right and ended up burning almost all his coal and doing a full circuit of the island to rectify things.  This, and almost sinking gave everyone else a chance to catch up and Blue managed to snatch another passenger putting her in a position to make a run for the finish.

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

Although she was able to move into the lead, Blue was hampered by an inability to plan and was forced to burn some of her carefully hoarded pile of coal.  Mulberry wasn’t far behind, and had the advantage of being able to see slightly further down the river so was better able to plan and could therefore carry more speed.  Purple and Pine got into a tangle over picking up a beautiful lady, delaying them both as Blue and Mulberry puffed off into the distance.  Lime bravely fought his way back, but it was between Blue and Mulberry with Mulberry rapidly eating into Blue’s lead.  Blue just managed to make it to the jetty burning the last of her coal to drift in gently, just ahead of Mulberry.  Lime limped in next, leading the others in.  Meanwhile, on the next table, everyone else was playing one of the archetypal card-drafting games 7 Wonders.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Players start each round with a hand of cards, and everyone simultaneously chooses one and plays it.  The remains of the hands are then passed on to the next player who chooses a card and plays it.  Play continues like this until each player has two cards at which point one is discarded.  The game is distinguished from simpler card-drafting games like Sushi Go! by the civilisation and engine building aspects.  In 7 Wonders, the players are the leader of one of the seven great cities of the Ancient World. They use the cards to gather resources, develop commercial routes, and affirm their military supremacy.  Some cards have immediate effects, while others provide bonuses or upgrades later in the game. Some cards provide discounts on future purchases, some provide military strength to overpower your neighbors and others give nothing but victory points.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor  punkin312

After three rounds (or Ages), the player with the most points has the most advanced city and is the winner.  The player boards are chosen at random at the start of the game.  In this case, Green got Halicarnassus, and chose Side B so would be looking to build extra cards from the discard deck in the second and third rounds. Black got Ephesus and also went with Side B and so was only going for victory points and extra money.  Ivory got Babylon and again Side B was favoured, giving him the second tier bonus of being able to build both his final two cards.  Red received Alexandria and was also going to use Side B which would provide her extra resources and victory points.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Green’s game was one of building resources in order to build the pyramid enabling him to  build the extra cards.  He started building up his military, and although he was joined at the same level by both his neighbours (Ivory and Black), he began to pull ahead of Ivory after the second round and by the end of the third round had amassed an unassailable army. In the process though, he had neglected green science cards and purple guilds.  Building extra cards from the discard pile is perhaps not as helpful as it might seem as the cards in the discard pile are there because they are the least useful cards. Maybe with more players there would be more to choose from and this bonus would work more favourably, on thee other hand, it might just end up with more duplicates.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

On the opposite side of the table was Red.  She, in contrast (and not under threat from the growing armies of Green) mostly ignore the fighting, but still managed to win one battle. With the extra resources available from her pyramid she did not need as many resource cards and decided to concentrate on the other cards.  She invested heavily in the yellow bonus cards and also managed to get a full complete set of science cards.  These she managed to combine with the purple guild which gave her an extra science symbol of her choice.  She also managed to build a second purple guild, which gave her extra points for all brown, grey and purple cards. She also managed to acquire a very large pile of money which netted a fair few points too.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Ivory’s game was built around trying to get to the second pyramid level quickly, so initially he took a lot of resource cards. Unfortunately he didn’t get to the second level until the end of the second round, but having looked at the card he then decided the extra money would be more useful. He managed to build both his last cards in the final round, but like Green found, that extra card is not always that useful. He did manage to collect some high scoring blue cards, but  although he tried, he failed to get a full set of science cards. He did get a couple of purple guilds though with one scoring the yellow cards belonging to neighbours, Red and Green who had both gone quite heavily into those. The other gave him points for every battle lost by his neighbours. He got nothing from Green for this, but scored quite nicely from Red.  His resource heavy early game meant that he was left trying to catch up on the other later cards and abandoned his attempts to build a strong army and just took the beating.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Black’s game was concentrated on the blue victory point cards and his pyramid build.  A smattering of yellow bonus cards aided his end game score because he scored for all the brown cards built by both himself and his neighbours (Green and Red). He collected some science, but not a complete set.  Although beaten by Green in the final battle, he avoided defeat in the first two and took a clean sweep of victories over Red.  So although everyone had had a strong game in one area, these were more than offset by less strong elements elsewhere.  It turned out that the strongest games were had by Black and Ivory who finished level on fifty-one, some way ahead of Red in third.  The tie break was won by Black who had the more money at the end of the game.

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Mississippi Queen was still going, but coming to an end so something quick was needed and Ticket to Ride: London hit the spot.  This is one of the new, smaller versions of the popular route-building game, Ticket to Ride.  These are reduced in size and designed be quicker to play although the game play is very similar.  Players take it turns to draw coloured cards or use them to place pieces, but in this version the Train pieces are replaced by Routemaster Buses.  As usual, players also start with a selection of ticket cards and successfully fulfilling these give more points, but woe betide any player who fails to complete a ticket as the points become negative, which can be very costly indeed.  In addition to these features, this new light version of the game also gives bonus points to players who manage to connect all the locations in an area.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

The action started around central London, (Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar square) as Red, then Black and Ivory laid buses around the area, all concerned that the other may block their paths. Green went further out to Kings Cross and Regents Park.  As the game progressed, Ivory, Red and Black continued to challenge each other around central, East and Southern London. Green happily laid his buses round to the East unopposed.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Black, who had only kept one ticket, was the first to complete his ticket and go for more.  He was closely followed by Red (who had also only kept the one), and then Ivory (who had kept two).  Green never took new tickets, concentrating on his two and connecting all the stations in the five point district. Black, Red and Ivory continued to take new tickets, but it looked like Green might end the game as he was soon down to only three buses.  Ivory checked around the table to see who had buses and how many cards they had left and decided that he had time.  Even though he had missed the fact that Green had only a single card in hand, he still managed to lay his last buses first; one turn too early for Green who had to settle for a two length route instead of the three he was aiming for (and close to getting).

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Black placed one last bus, but Red decided to gamble on new tickets as she had nothing she could claim.  Ivory still had one final turn, but with no more buses to lay, he decided against the ticket gamble.  In the final scoring, Ivory was way ahead of everyone else, due to claiming four “long” routes (threes and fours) and completing some high scoring tickets.  Red, Black and Green were all within two points of each other. Red’s final ticket gamble failed and cost her a clear second place, and Green’s gamble on connecting all the stations in the five point district (and the stations in the two point district as well) did not pay off either.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Some left for an early night and those that were left decided to play one last quick game.  Pine was adamant that Bohnanza and Las Vegas weren’t “quick” so in the end, 6 Nimmt! got the nod.  This is one of our most popular games, and frequently gets played in circumstances like this.  It is very simple and there is something almost magical about playing well:  simultaneously everyone chooses a card from their hand and places it face down in front of them.  Once everyone has picked a card, they are all revealed and, starting with the lowest card, the cards are added to one of the four row, the row where the end card has the highest value that is lower than their card.  The point is that the row a card is played on changes as players place cards.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The player who places the sixth card, takes the five cards and scores the number of bulls’ heads shown.  The winner is the player with the fewest bulls’ heads.  We play the game in two rounds, and this time the first round was mostly pretty even with everyone taking twelve to fifteen Nimmts except Blue who somehow scraped a clear round.  This meant it was all to play for in the second round, especially with the tendency for a good round to be followed by a bad one.  Unusually, nobody had a terrible game:  Pine top scored with forty, followed by Purple with thirty-one, and everyone else was quite closely grouped. Blue’s clear first round gave her a head-start and she finished with fourteen, just two ahead of Ivory and three ahead of Black in what was an unusually close game.  And with that, it was home-time.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning  Outcome:  Neglect end game bonuses at your peril.

12th Movember 2019

The combination of Illness, work and jet-lag meant we were really low on numbers, despite having a new player, Emerald.  Blue arrived first followed by Pine and both ordered food.  Green arrived shortly after and ordered the mushroom tagliatelle as he was suffering with toothache and he thought it would be nice and soft.  Blue’s scampi arrived lightening fast, quickly followed by Green’s tagliatelle, much to Pine’s chagrin.  Despite his head-start, Green was still last to finish, partly due to his toothache making him eat slowly, but mostly because he was busy texting.  When called out on it, he explained that it was important – he was helping some friends at a quiz.

Google
– Image from google.com

Green denied it, but that didn’t stop everyone from was roundly chastising him for aiding and abetting cheaters.  That was until Ivory pointed out that it was strange anyone would choose to ask Green when it would be just as easy to ask “Mr. Google”, and “Mr. Google” would probably be better!  Eventually, as Green mopped up the last of his sauce, Blue suggested people started shuffling seats so games could be started.  Blue, Pine and Lime had all had a fairly long week and fancied an easy night, and the “Feature Game”, The Voyages of Marco Polo which Green was leading, was always going to be right up Ivory’s street, and it turned out, Emerald’s too.  So after a little prompting, the groups sort of formed themselves.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

Although we’ve played The Voyages of Marco Polo a couple of times before on a Tuesday, the last time was over a year ago.  In the game, players recreate the journey from Venice to China undertaken by seventeen year-old Marco Polo, his father and older brother.  During their voyage, they travelled through Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road” until they reached the court of Kublai Khan in 1275.  In the game, each player has a different character and special power. The game is played over five rounds with players rolling their five personal dice and using each one to perform one action per turn with them.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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 the secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.  With only three people playing the group decided not to use the Agents of Venice, but did use the New Characters mini-expansion.  It took quite a while to set up and explain the game as it is one of those where the rules explanation is far heavier than the game itself:  after only a round or two it all becomes quite clear how to play. However, the trick is to work out what are the best actions to take and when.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

The main game board is divided into two parts with the upper part showing a map of Marco Polo’s travels from Venice to Beijing.  On the routes there are oasis-spaces as short stops and fourteen cities.  When a traveller stops at a city, they mark that with a trading post and may use the special action of that city for the rest of the game (these are allocated during setup). The first player reaching a city also gets an additional bonus. Travelling costs a varying amount of camels and money depending on the route taken and whether it is over land or sea.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

The bottom part of the board shows the five main actions, which are triggered by the placing of dice. Each player has five personal dice in their player colour and may purchase one additional black die per turn.  The actions are the guts of the game.  The first action is purchasing Resources/Camels and the table on the board indicates how many dice must be placed for different numbers of a given resource.  Players need Camels to travel, and Gold , Silk and Pepper to fulfil orders.  The first player at each Resource gets them for free, with each subsequent player paying as much as the lowest result he placed next to the table.  For the next action, Players can instead take one Resource of their choice and two Camels, and again, each player sets the cost for subsequent players.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

The next action is getting money:  the first player can take five coins in exchange for any die, but the later players must also pay the dice value for doing so.  As an action, Players can also purchase Orders.  These are placed on six “double dice” spaces at the beginning of each round.  The value of one die unlocks the orders up to that number (shown on the spaces) and allows the player to buy one or two of those orders.  The Orders are refreshed and replaced at the beginning of each round. The orders are placed on the player’s individual player board and can be fulfilled at any time as an additional action by returning the resources needed back to the supply.  The completed Order cards are then turned face down and placed in the player’s “drawer”, and the player gets victory points, money, camels, another order, etc. as a reward.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

Finally, players can travel.  To do this, they place two dice are to “unlock” the distance they want to move on the map.  Each traveller starts in Venice and can decide between several possible routes eastward, towards Beijing. Each player also gets two “city cards” with two cities on each of them, which they keep secret. At the end of the game, they get additional victory points depending on how many of these cities they have visited by the end of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

This is one of those games where players want to do lots of things but can’t do everything, need lots of Resources way more than they have, and therefore want to be first to do all the actions, but can’t.  Despite the dice, the luck factor is relatively low; high rolls are usually better, but low ones are also usable in many ways.  With city cards, Orders and attractive special actions in the cities, players usually have clear primary and secondary targets as well as an overall strategy.  At the same time they have the freedom to do what they want.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

The winner is usually the player who makes best use of their character’s special ability, however, so it is this that usually drives strategies.  The characters are very different, for example, with one character the player doesn’t roll their dice, instead turning them to the result they need before each placement.  With another, the player always gets one of the resources from the supply, whenever another player purchases any resource.  As a result of these differing abilities, each player generally follows a totally different path with a very different approach.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

Following the group’s usual policy of the player with the least experience of the game going last, Emerald took that position, but that meant choosing his character first.  Fortunately, he only had four to choose from and they did not take much explaining.  Emerald chose Johannes Carprini which allowed him to jump between oasis points on the travel map; handy to get to those hard to reach bonuses. Ivory then chose Alton Ord (from the New Characters mini-expansion) which gave him extra cumulative bonuses every time he placed a trading station.  This had the potential to become quite lucrative if he could get around the map fast enough.  This left Green with a choice of two. He didn’t favour the extra trading posts, so went for Matteo Polo which gave him a new contract and resource at the beginning of every round; clearly the contract strategy was the way to go for him.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

As ever in this (and many) game resources were tight, camels all too rare and players could never get the dice rolls they needed.  Emerald quickly got the hang of it and was doing his best to move around the travel map while also keeping an eye on completing contracts. Even with the oasis hop, it still took him a few rounds to get to the far side of the board and the triple action city, but once there, he started using the extra actions to his advantage.  Ivory also went travelling and managed to place a number of trading posts and so collect more and more bonuses on the way.  The small city bonus card which allows a player to choose any other small city bonus at the beginning of each round was located near to Venice.  So this was an early target for Ivory and Emerald who both got there early and used it to broadened their options and give them room for manoeuvre.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

Green hardly travelled at all, and found himself somewhat at a dead-end which was compounded by making a free move in the wrong direction, so he only managed to place two trading posts in total.  This wasn’t his game plan anyhow though, and he mostly stuck to the bottom part of the board, hoovering up contracts and hunting down resources to complete them: not bothering with travelling gave him extra dice to do it all with.  He also made use of the favours two or three times and by the end of the game had a huge lead and a pile of completed contracts far higher than either of the other two.  Ivory, in particular, had a lot of bonus points to come from his travels though.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone thought it would be a tight game, and indeed it was.  When all the points were in, Ivory and Green tied on sixty-seven points with Emerald not far behind.  A quick check of the rules for tie breakers gave it to Green thanks to the fact he had two Camels left over.  meanwhile, on the next table, while Ivory and Emerald helped set up Marco Polo and Green began his rules explanation, Pine pointed out the long and unpronounceable title of “Weltausstellung 1893” on the German box.  So, before long Blue was explaining the rules to World’s Fair 1983.

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

This is a fairly simple little game that is now a few years old and flew under the radar a bit at the time.  Reviews generally seemed to be complimentary though, referring to it as a bit of a “Hidden Gem”.  So, having been on the look out for it at a reasonable price for nearly three years, Blue and Pink had finally picked up a German copy at Essen.  The game is a set-collecting dame with an area majority mechanism where players are proposing exhibits for the fair in the five different areas (Fine Arts, Transportation, Manufacturing, Electricity and Agriculture).  The game is played on an eye-catching, modular, Ferris-wheel shaped board surrounded by sections for each of the five areas.

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

The actions are simple enough, making the decisions that players have to take theprimary  focus of the game.  On their turn, the active player places a Supporter cube on one of the five coloured areas, taking all the cards in the area.  They then place three cards drawn from the top of a deck around the wheel, the first going in the now empty area the player chose, and one going in each of the next two areas round the wheel.  There are three types of cards:  Exhibit cards associated with each of the five areas, Medway tickets and Influential People.  The Medway Tickets are the timer, with the Ferris wheel turning one step each time a Ticket is taken.  The round ends after the Ferris wheel has made one full revolution.

World's Fair 1893
– Image from google.com

At the end of the round, the Tickets are cashed in for a dollar each and the player with the most gets a couple of dollars bonus.  Each area is also evaluated, and the player with the most supporters in that area gets a monetary reward worth three dollars in the three-player game.   In addition the winner is also able to exchange three exhibit cards for that area, for tokens.  The player who comes second receives a smaller remuneration and can exchange one card for a token of the same colour/area.  The game ends after three rounds, and sets of tokens scored, with larger sets worth increasing numbers of points.

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

Perhaps the thing that makes the game is the Influential People cards.  These must be played the turn after they are taken, after the player places their influence token, but before they take the cards.  If a player has more than one influential person card on their turn they have to play them all at this point too.  These allow players to mess with the distribution of Supporter cubes slightly, either by adding an extra one in a given space, or moving one.  As a result, these add a thin layer of complexity to the decision space, making it that bit more interesting.  Thought processes go something along the lines of, “Placing a Supporter here will give these cards, but this person card means this Supporter can be moved giving the majority in that area, but there’s little point in winning that without any cards of that colour, so perhaps it would be better to try something else…”

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

Although the game is not terribly difficult, Blue had only played it once and was a bit flaky with the rules, but it wasn’t long before the game got going.  Half-way through the first round, Blue had a pile of tickets, Lime had a pile of Exhibit cards, and Pine had worked through a pile of Influential Person cards.  Blue took the Medway Ticket bonus, but Pine turned a lot of his now substantial pile of Exhibit cards into a significant pile of coloured tokens.  Blue picked up a few, but Lime took a round to really get the hang of things.  The second round when much the same way with Blue and Lime struggling to edge out Pine.

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

The third round was a tight affair with everyone needing certain colours to get full sets of five in order to be even vaguely competitive.  The key was having enough cards as well as gaining the majority in the necessary area.  As the game drew to a close, Lime decided to go for Fine Arts letting Pine place his Supporter in the Electricity area, take a Medway ticket, get the majority he needed, and end the game as well.  In truth, the writing had been on the wall from the start—it was clear this had been a game that had just clicked for Pine and he romped home with eighty-five points leaving Blue and Lime some way behind fighting it out for second.

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

As World’s Fair 1983 was coming to an end, The Voyages of Marco Polo was only just beginning and it was becoming clear that it was going to last most of the night, so Pine suggested a game of Ticket to Ride: New York.  Like the London version played a few of weeks ago, this is one of the new, smaller versions of the popular route-building game, Ticket to Ride.  These are reduced in size and designed be quicker to play although the game play is very similar.  The New York version is set in the city, with players placing Taxis instead of train carriages.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

Players also start with two ticket cards (which they must keep one of) and successfully fulfilling these give more points.  Similar to the original games, on their turn, the active player can take coloured cards from the market or play cards to place Taxis.  There is no end-game bonus for the longest route, most completed tickets or similar, instead, bonus points are awarded for each of the landmarks a player builds a route from.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime started and claimed one of the double track route from The Empire State Building to Gramercy Park.  Pine went next and took the other track leaving Blue stymied before she had even taken a turn, specially given the tiny number of taxis each player had to place.  Not one to give up, she started a detour, very glad that she had decided to keep only one of her starting tickets.  Matched step for step by Pine, she built a route from The Empire State Building to Brooklyn via Chelsea.  Pine on the other hand was building what he later referred to as the “Beckham” route going from Chelsea to Brooklyn.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue was the first to pick up tickets and, after checking she had enough Taxis, decided to gamble, keeping both, as she had only kept the one from her starting pair.  Lime quickly followed and also kept his, as did Pine, who then drew another second set.  Lime claimed two tracks going from Central Park to Gramarcy Park, then suddenly looked crest-fallen having just realised he didn’t have enough Taxis to do what he wanted to.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyhow, as Blue promptly triggered the end of the game.  That only left the scoring.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

These little versions of Ticket to Ride are always really tight affairs where things can go horribly wrong. In this case, Blue scored most for claiming routes.  Pine would have scored most for tickets except he’d just failed to complete an eight point ticket from The United Nations Building to Wall Street giving him a brutal sixteen point swing.  Lime discovered that he’d not made the mistake he’d thought he had, as he’d actually gone from Midtown to Central Park by the long route, via Gramarcy Park.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end, the opening play from Lime and Pine taking the two sides of the single Taxi double route from The Empire State Building to Gramercy Park might have been critical.  In forcing Blue to take a detour, she had been able to visit almost all of the eight tourist destinations giving her a very valuable seven points.  This coupled with completing all three of her tickets (including two long ones) and placing all fifteen of her Taxis gave her a final score of forty-four, five more than Lime in second.

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

By this time, The Voyages of Marco Polo were progressing, but it was clear it wasn’t going to finish soon.  With Pine flagging after his trip up to Edinburgh, and Blue and Lime fending off colds, Blue suggested Coloretto as a light game that didn’t take too long or need a lot of thought.  Although it’s been played a lot within the group, it was new to Lime, so Blue gave him a run-down of the rules while Pine shuffled.  The game is really simple: on their turn, the active player either takes a coloured chameleon card and places it on one of the trucks, or takes a truck.

Coloretto
– Imageby boardGOATS

Each truck has a maximum of three chameleons, and there is one truck per player.  Once a player has taken a truck, they are out of the game until everyone has taken a truck and the next round starts.  At the end of the game (when the deck is mostly depleted and the end of game card is drawn), players score sets of chameleons.  The three largest sets are scored positively and everything else gives negative points.  The clever part is the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.), which means that one more card in a large group is worth a lot more than a singleton or the second card in a pair.

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime picked it up quickly, but not quite quickly enough given that Blue and Pine had played the game many times before.  Served two wild Joker cards by Pine, Blue was able to put together two sets of six, giving her a total score of forty-eight, a healthy advantage over the other two.  Lime had enjoyed playing though, and suggested a second game as it would save getting something else out.  With lethargy playing its part, Pine and Blue were very happy to give it another shot.  This time, Lime was quicker out of the blocks this time, as Blue started to go off the boil.  He wasn’t quite quick enough though, and Pine took the second game with forty-four points, seven ahead of Lime.

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime doesn’t give up easily, however.  As The Voyages of Marco Polo was finally coming to an end, and Coloretto is quite quick, Lime suggested a third game.  This time, Lime started very strongly with obvious determination.  Ultimately Lime made a killing picking up a massive fifty-three points, more than ten points clear of Blue in second.

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: You can never have too many camels.