Tag Archives: Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries

21st January 2020

Over the last three years we’ve spent a lot of Tuesday evenings discussing Brexit and following events in the House of Commons as they occured.  Since this was going to be the last games night with the UK in the EU, and as a predominantly pro-EU group, we wanted to mark the occasion and show our support for our European friends and all those who have campaigned against Brexit so valiantly.  For this reason, we decided to make the “Feature Game” “European Ticket to Ride“, in other words, European editions of one of our favourite games, i.e. the Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Netherlands and of course, Europe games/expansions.  Unfortunately, Blue (and therefore most of the maps) was late arriving, and then, nobody could decide what they wanted to play; the only one who expressed any strong opinion was Lime who wanted to play the France map.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 6 – France & Old West
– Image by boardGOATS

With nine players, three groups of three looked good, but the debate as to who would play what rivaled the Brexit negotiations, not helped by the number of people who were enticed by the Japan map on the reverse of the Italy map.  In the end, Ivory and Green took themselves off to play the new Poland map, and, after a lot of discussion, Lime, the only one who had a strong opinion ended up forgoing his choice of France and joined the Poles to even up the numbers.  With Black, Purple and Pine starting on France, that just left Blue, Burgundy and Mulberry to decide, and eventually they decided to play the Italy map using the Germany base game components.

Ticket to Ride: Germany
– Image by boardGOATS

Ticket to Ride is a very well-known, well-loved game that has now become something of a “gateway game”, that is, a game that starts people unfamiliar with modern boardgames along the slippery slope.  The game is popular with casual gamers because it is simple to play, with few options and a little bit of luck, but not too much.  The game is played on a map with cities connected by train routes each made up of anything from one to nine spaces (depending on the map).  On their turn, the active player can do one of a small handful of things:  firstly, they can take train cards from the market or use the train cards to place plastic trains on the map and score points.  To place trains on the map, players spend coloured cards to match the route they are claiming.  As well as coloured train cards, there are also multi-coloured locomotive cards which are wild; a face up Locomotive can only be drawn as the first card and ends the turn, making them more expensive as well as useful.

Ticket to Ride: Germany
– Image by boardGOATS

Most cities have only a single route between them, but some are double or even triple, though these can only be used with higher player counts.  Instead of taking train cards or placing trains on the map, players can also draw tickets.  These are a sort of personal objective that give players points for connecting two cities—the further apart, the more points the ticket is worth, but the larger the risk, as failure gives negative points.  Players start the game with a handful of these and can choose which ones to keep.  They can also draw more during the game, keeping some and discarding others, but the specific conditions depend on the map used.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 7 – Japan & Italy
– Image by boardGOATS

This is the basics of the original 2004, Spiel des Jahres winning game, with a USA map, Ticket to Ride, but each variant provides a different map and some slight modifications to the rules.  For example, Ticket to Ride: Europe adds Ferry routes which require a certain number of locomotive cards to be played in addition to the coloured train cards. It also adds Stations, which can used to help players complete tickets where a route has been blocked.  For some different maps players get different numbers of trains, Poland is one of the smaller maps, with only thirty-five trains, compared with the forty-five in the Europe and US versions or the three German editions (Germany, Deutschland and Märklin).

Wsiąść do Pociągu: Polska
– Image by boardGOATS

The other thing that makes the Poland expansion map stand out (aside from the fact that it is Map Collection Volume “6½” and goes by the name of “Wsiąść do Pociągu: Polska”) is that routes that connect to the countries bordering Poland give points directly.  Unusually, the routes that cross the border include some triple routes and even a quadruple route, all of which can be used regardless of the number of players.  Each country then also has a small deck of three or four cards, each card giving a different number of points.  The first player to connect to two countries through Poland takes the cards with the highest value, the next takes the next most lucrative and so on.  Adding more countries to a player’s network adds more cards and more points for that player.

Wsiąść do Pociągu: Polska
– Image by boardGOATS

Green was particularly keen to play the Polish expansion because of the “Czech connection”, and Ivory also wanted to try it as it was a new map for him; Lime went along to make up the numbers.  They were quick to get going and started off laying out routes without interfering with each other very much at all.  Ivory was first to link two countries (Czechia and Slovakia), which was annoying to Green as he joined the the same countries on the very next turn.  However, Green got his own back by getting in Ivory’s way and linking Germany into his network first.  Lime was late to join the country network party, but concentrated on the Poland’s eastern borders. Ivory and Lime started taking new tickets about midway through the game, but Green instead continued to concentrate on linking more countries into his network.

Wsiąść do Pociągu: Polska
– Image by boardGOATS

It was only in the last couple of turns that Green finally turned to tickets when it looked difficult to add any more countries to his already substantial, four country network.  While Ivory and Green had been fighting over routes, Lime had quietly travelled the entire width of Poland and also linked several countries into his network, rivalling Green.  In the final scoring it was Lime who had charged ahead, scoring well with tickets and country cards, finishing with ninety-six points—deserved since he gave up his preferred choice of the France map.  It was very close for second though, with Green just three points ahead of Ivory with seventy-nine.  Meanwhile, on the next table, Black, Purple and Pine were setting up the game Lime had missed; a much longer game, that had barely started as the Poles were finishing.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 6 – France & Old West
– Image by boardGOATS

France is one of the more complex expansions as the map mostly only depicts the track-bed, and players choose what colour a line will be.  So, every time a player takes carriage cards, they also take a coloured tile of their choice and place it somewhere on the board.  Thereafter, any player can claim that route by spending the appropriately coloured cards and placing the correct number of train pieces.  Some of these track-beds overlap, but once a tile has placed any track-beds under it are no-longer available.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 6 – France & Old West
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start, nobody really knew how to play with the track-bed tiles: placing them somewhere near one’s own route telegraphed probable plans, potentially giving others an opportunity to obstruct.  On the other hand, progress could not be made at all until tiles had been placed.  The map is very, very large so to begin with everyone could get on with their own thing.  Purple monopolised the Loire, Auvergne and Burgundy regions while Pine occupied the north coast and eastern borders.  Pine had competition from Black in the Normandy, Picardy and Champagne regions, but other than that, Black took himself off to the west and south and everyone got on with their own thing.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 6 – France & Old West
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately, the game was very lopsided.  Pine kept drawing tickets and kept getting lucky; he repeatedly got tickets along similar routes so needed minimal addition to his already substantial network.  As a result, he not only took the longest route bonus, but also the Globetrotter points for the player with the most successful tickets, with eight.  Had Black been successful with all his, things would have been closer, but failing two meant it was a tie for second place with both Black and Purple finishing with eighty, exactly half Pine’s massive victory.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 6 – France & Old West
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, further down the table Burgundy eschewed Netherlands, so the group went instead for Italy, played with the Germany base game, in which the pieces have an unusual colour set.  This gave Blue a slight quandary as to which she should play with, as blue wasn’t available.  Instead Blue opted for purple, only for Purple on the next table to offer to swap pieces as she had chosen blue because purple wasn’t available.  Sadly there was already enough confusion of pieces with Pine, Black and Purple playing with Burgundy’s base game and Blue’s France expansion so swapping pieces just seemed likely to make the chances of all the bits going back into the right boxes that bit smaller.  So in the end, both suffered with the “wrong colour”.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 7 – Japan & Italy
– Image by boardGOATS

The Italy map is a more conventional expansion than France, with the only significant differences being a tweak to the Ferry rules and a new bonus scoring opportunity.  Instead of needing Locomotive cards, these Ferry routes include some carriages with a round wave-icon on them.  These can be satisfied either using special Ferry cards, or Locomotive cards.  The special Ferry cards are in a separate deck and one of these can be taken instead of drawing train cards, up to a limit of two at any one time.  Each of these special Ferry cards then count as two “wave” cards.  This makes them better value than Locomotive cards drawn face up from the market, but less versatile.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 7 – Japan & Italy
– Image by boardGOATS

The bonus is potentially extremely lucrative, giving points for having a network that connects different regions of Italy.  This starts with one point for five connected regions and increments according to the “Lazy Caterer’s Sequence” to give a massive fifty-six points for a network connecting fifteen or more regions.  The layout of the map itself has a lot in common with the Nordic map in that it is quite long and thin with what feel like a lot of north/south routes running the length of the country, in the middle of the board and a lot of short, east/west routes available in the north and the south.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 7 – Japan & Italy
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue kept all her starting tickets and Burgundy jettisoned just the one, but in contrast, Mulberry kept the minimum she could.  As a result, it wasn’t long before Mulberry was picking up more tickets, and then more and then even more, much to Burgundy’s and Blue’s horror.  When questioned, Mulberry said, “Just Nickels and Dimes, Nickels and Dimes…”  This didn’t calm Burgundy and Blue in the slightest, as they were still struggling to complete their starting tickets.  Eventually though, they also took more tickets, with Burgundy keeping a lot of his, while Blue was less fortunate.  Burgundy supplemented his tickets with a couple of very long Ferry routes netting him eighteen points each.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 7 – Japan & Italy
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game came to an end, Blue was still struggling to get the yellow carriage cards she needed to complete her final ticket.  So when Burgundy brutally ended the game it cost Blue some forty points, though in truth she was a couple of turns away from getting them even if she had somehow managed to get that one final yellow card.  It was clear that unless Burgundy had a lot of incomplete tickets, he would probably be able to defend his already substantial lead.  Mulberry’s tickets may have been “Nickels and Dimes”, but she had an awful lot of them; as the phrase goes, “Take care of the pennies and the pounds take care of themselves.”  With just regional bonus to add, Burgundy was out of sight and although Blue and Mulberry made a dent in the gap it wasn’t enough.  It was close for second place though, but in the end a couple of extra regions gave it to Blue.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 7 – Japan & Italy
– Image by boardGOATS

The Poland game was finished first and with France only just started and Italy only halfway through the Poles toyed with the idea of trying another European Ticket to Ride Map, but instead opted for a quick game of the 2017 Spiel des Jares Winner Kingdomino.  This is a light little game with a very clever market mechanic.  The idea is that players take it in turns to take a tile from the market and add it to their kingdom.  Each tile comprises two “squares” (like a domino), each showing a terrain.  At the end of the game, players score points for each area of terrain in their kingdom gaining points equal to the number of “squares” multiplied by the number of crowns in that region.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part of the game is the market which consists of two columns of tiles, each tile having a rank reflecting their value based on scarcity of the terrain(s) it depicts and the number of crowns.  The tiles in each row are placed, and taken, in descending order.  When a player takes their tile from the current column, they choose which tile they want from the next column, thus a player taking a less valuable tile gets a wider choice on the next round.  Unfortunately, as each column has to have the same number of tiles as players, the game can be a bit unbalanced with three, because some of the tiles are removed at random.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

As well as scoring for terrain, players also score bonus points for placing all their tiles in a five-by-five array with their castle in the centre.  This time, Ivory managed a full kingdom with his castle in the centre, and a large wheat field with a healthy number of crowns. His score was also assisted by a not inconsiderable lake (although with only a couple of crowns) and a small but valuable mountain.  Lime, fresh from his stunning Polska victory, realised too late that his castle was not central in his kingdom and his last couple of tiles were unplaceable.  Green managed a complete kingdom with his castle in the middle, though his was made up largely of forest.  Pasture, wheat and sand also featured and gave what was a winning score of sixty-three, some ten points ahead of Ivory in second.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

With the Italian map players just finishing, the group decided to join them and see what else was on offer. There were three options: For Sale (best with it’s a maximum of six), Century: Spice Road (plays a maximum of five) and World’s Fair 1893 (maximum of four).  Mulberry decided to get an early night, leaving five players and Century: Spice Road.  This is a resource management game with deck building at it’s core.  Neither Lime nor Green had played it before so there was a quick run down of the rules first.  These are simple enough though.  The central area consists of two markets: one for action cards and one for contracts.

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, the active player can take an action card from the market, if they take the card at the end of the row (the one that has been there longest), it is free, otherwise they have to pay resources dependent on the card’s position.  This card goes into the player’s hand where, on a later turn, they can use it to get spices, upgrade spices or convert spices into other spices.  When used, a card is placed on the player’s personal discard pile, and they can also spend a turn picking up all their discarded cards.  The spices, turmeric, saffron, cardamom and cinnamon are then used to fulfill contracts, giving points.

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

The contract cards that have been around for longest get a bonus, in this case a coin is worth one or three points at the end of the game.  The challenge, or at least part of the challenge is storing the spices: each player has a caravan card which will hold a maximum of ten spice cubes, so converting cubes into other cubes and buying contracts has to be done efficiently otherwise spices are wasted.  The game end is triggered when one player has five contract cards.  There are a couple of minor details, like the number of cards in the markets and the values of the coins, but Burgundy clearly knew these without needing to check the rules.

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

The engine-building nature of this game has a lot in common with Splendor and as Burgundy is invincible at that the writing was on the wall before the group even started.  It was no surprise therefore that when Ivory picked up the first contract, Burgundy was immediately behind him.  Green, new to the game, wasn’t far behind either.  Blue had a complete nightmare, but Lime, after a slow start suddenly seemed to get the hang of it and then made rapid progress.  It wasn’t long before Ivory took his final card though.  Taking the maximum number of cards is always key, and when he said he had sixty-seven points it looked like he might have been successful, however, Burgundy, managed to take one last card in that final round as he was the last to play, and ultimately, he managed to take first place by just three points.

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Europe has a very extensive (and exciting) rail network.

Boardgames in the News: GOATS on the Radio

Christmas is a very special time for families, and what could be better than spending time playing games together.  To discuss some of the options, on Christmas Eve, representatives of boardGOATS and Didcot Games Club were invited to chat to James Watt at Radio Oxford’s Summertown Studio.  The interview started shortly after 2pm and lasted around twenty minutes.

Radio Oxford 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

Time was very limited, but PitchCar, Dobble and Ticket to Ride (specifically the festive Nordic version) were all discussed, and a game of Boom Boom Balloon was played live on air.  These are all all great fun family-friendly games, but there are many more available:  we listed ten of our favourite games to play with family a few years ago, and recently added another five.

Radio Oxford 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

The interview can be found online for a few weeks, and starts at 2:10:50.

10th December 2019

The evening started with people arriving in festive attire and snow, glitter and other detritus all over the table, as people pulled crackers and party poppers.  While we waited for food everyone amused themselves writing “Secret GOAT Christmas Cards” and contemplating the voting possibilities for the Golden GOAT Awards (by far the most enjoyable poll of the week).  In the interlude between courses, people completed and submitted their voting papers and Blue and Mulberry conducted the count.  As the results came in, it was clear that there was only going to be one winner.

"Un-Christmas Party" 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Key Flow put in a very strong showing to come second, Wingspan, already winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis, took the most coveted award of the year, the coveted Golden GOAT.  The GOAT Poo Prize was less clear cut – almost everyone said that for them there wasn’t a stand-out game deserving of the award.  In the end it went to 7 Wonders, which is a bit of a Marmite game among the GOATS – some people are very fond of it, but nearly a third of the group nominated as the least enjoyable game of the year.  Eventually, everyone finished dessert, but everyone was in festive mood and nobody seemed desperate keen on playing anything.

Golden GOAT - 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime threatened to head off without playing anything as he had a long drive in the morning, but after some discussion about perhaps playing the Winter Edition of Carcassonne or repeating the snowy Nordic version of Ticket to Ride that we played last year,  eventually, he joined Mulberry, Blue, Pink and Ivory to play the “Feature Game”, Christmas Penguins.  This is a cute little game, with some interesting ideas, but proved to need more development and more complete, precise rules.  The premise is that players are naughty penguins trying to steal gifts from under the Christmas Tree, while trying to avoid being captured by Santa.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

The rules for the second edition were only available in German and had been translated by Blue, so some aspects might have been missed, but the idea is that the round is started by Santa who rolls his die and moves accordingly, trying to catch one of the naughty Penguins. Then each Penguin takes their turn trying to get to the Christmas Tree to steal one of the presents under it.  If they manage to steal a pressie, Santa moves the tree to another location.  Penguins cannot pass through a space occupied by another Penguin, instead, playing a sort bumper-car game, they push the occupant onto an adjacent unoccupied space.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

If a Penguin lands on a space with an Event Stone, by design or because they were pushed onto it, they take the stone and keep it until they need it.  Event Stones come in different colours which have different effects, but these primarily involve swapping places with other characters. To use an Event Stone, the player can call “Stop!” at any time and then carries out the action by spending the stone.  Rolling a one, has the additional effect of invoking the Polar Bear, who moves one space at a time, but if he ends on a space with a Penguin it drops a parcel and runs away to an unoccupied adjacent space.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the clever ideas is that when Santa captures a Penguin, the owner of the Penguin takes over the role of Santa and the player who had been Santa places their Penguin in Santa’s workshop.  The turn order was a bit of a problem, however, and may have been one of the things that didn’t make it from the German translation, certainly it was one of the things that mean the game didn’t really gel for us.  Another thing that our group found lacking was the fact that there was no mechanism for the Event Stones to return to play, which was a shame; perhaps we would house rule it that every time the Christmas tree was moved a stone would be left in its place.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory started out at Santa and we went at it with a will.  Ivory quickly caught Lime, who looked most unimpressed.  Unfortunately, thereafter, every time Santa caught a Penguin, the upset it caused to the turn order confused everyone.  There was one other aspect of the game that we completely failed to use, which was the rivers—each player can place or remove one river piece per turn.  These cannot be crossed by Penguins, Polar Bears, or even Santa himself and are clearly designed to add an element of strategy to the game.  In practice though we just forgot they existed, only using them very occasionally.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends when the final parcel is taken from under the tree, in our case, by Blue, which just left the scoring.  Even this was a little more complex than it needed to be: players get one point for each present they’ve stolen and bonus points are awarded in a Point Salad way to the player with the most parcels of each colour and the player with the most different colours.  It is almost as if this game doesn’t know what it is meant to be, silly fun or strategic, which is a great shame because it feels like it should be a good seasonal game. So, over the Christmas period, we’ll have a go at house-ruling it to try to improve it for our group.  This time, in the end, Blue and Ivory got a bit of a lead and Blue eventually put everyone out of their misery.

Christmas Penguins
– Image by boardGOATS

It wasn’t clear how bonus points should be awarded in the event of a tie.  In our first attempt, we decided that bonus points would only go to the person with more than anyone else, but this led to a three-way tie which was about as unsatisfying as the game.  So we decided to try friendly ties, which did at least give us a winner, with Lime just sneaking into the lead.  With that, Lime and Mulberry took themselves off leaving Ivory, Pink and Blue to play Christmas Lights, the game that was going to be the “Feature Game” until Pink had commented that he didn’t like it.

Christmas Lights: A Card Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Christmas Lights is a set collecting card game with a memory element.  The idea is that players have a hand of cards that are “reversed” so players can see everyone else’s hand, but not their own, like Hanabi.  Players are tying to make a string of lights by playing coloured light bulb cards in the correct order to match their cards.  On their turn, the active player first trades a card of their choice with one from any other player.  They then play one card, adding it to their string of lights.  This can be the card they’ve just swapped, or one they’ve had in hand, but if it does not match their pattern card, they must discard it.

Christmas Lights: A Card Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Once they have played a card, the active player then turns over the top two cards and then either adds one to their string, or can trade one of the cards for the one-word answer to a question of their choosing.   With just two players, it feels like the game plays itself, but with three or four players, its sweetspot, there is a more interesting interplay between planning, memory and navigating the event cards which can help or hinder.  This time, Pink was first to complete his first target string, but found it difficult to play the plug card that he needed to connect his first string with his second.  This was made worse by Blue, who stole his once he’d found one, and the fact that he had played a lot of broken bulb cards that needed replacing before he could continue.

Christmas Lights: A Card Game
– Image by boardGOATS

While Pink was struggling to sort out his plug, Ivory and Blue had both caught up and started work on their second string of lights.  With two cards played per turn, it wasn’t long before all three were threatening the end of the game, but Blue got there first, just.  Pink couldn’t quite finish his string and as Ivory had started first, he didn’t get another turn, leaving Blue to take victory without another tie-break.  Meanwhile, on the next table, Green, Black, Purple and Pine were playing a slightly more conventional, tie-break free game in one of our old favourites, Snow Tails.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Snow Tails is a husky sled-racing game where players have a deck of cards from which they draw a hand of five, playing one to three of these each turn so long as the cards played all have the same value.  Each player also has a dog sled with two dogs and a brake.  Forward movement is the sum of the dogs minus the value of the break, with a drift sideways of the difference between the two dog speeds (in the direction of the faster, stronger dog).  Using this, players have to navigate the course avoiding colliding with obstacles including other sleds, saplings and, of course, the wall of the track.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Corners are also a hazard, and players traveling too fast into them or hitting things they shouldn’t, pick up dent cards.  These are added to the players’ hand and stay there for the rest of the game obstructing their planning and management reducing the number of cards they can draw.  The track is modular and there is a “menu” players can choose from.  This time, Lime, on the next table chose the board layout, and picked one of the two double hairpin tracks, albeit one without the sledge destroying saplings.  It took us a couple of attempts to get the track right though, having to make sure there weren’t two red speed limit lines next to each other and adding a couple of saplings either side of the gorge to make it just a little more interesting.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Using a random selection, Pine was in pole position, followed by Black, then Purple with Green starting last.  There was a nice easy run to the first half bend, but those starting last had to make sure they did not crash into the back of the sledges in front.  Within a couple of turns Green had nudged from last to be alongside Black and on the inside of the track so theoretically in the lead.  Over the next few turns Green and Black vied for the lead while Pine and Purple were scrapping for third.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Green got a good position for the first hairpin and pulled into the lead.  Although could have let the brake off at this point hurtle forward, he decided that the inevitable dents for breaking the speed limit would not be worth it, so instead slammed on the brake. This allowed Black to catch up, but his track position was not so good and soon found himself boxed in on the outside unable to get across the track fast enough, as a result picking up his first dent.  At about the same time, Pine also found himself sliding too wide at the hairpin also taking a dent, while Purple was taking it slow and steady, avoiding damage.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

At the front Green used his inside track position to start to pull ahead of Black, and continue round the second hairpin, cutting in tight to the opposite half bend, for an easy dodge through the canyon and round the tree towards the finish line.  Black in second place had to manage his damaged sledge through the last corners, but had a good lead on Pine and Purple and was able to easily slide home in second, taking one of the trees with him to the line.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

In the meantime, Pine found himself going too fast into the second hairpin and not only crossed the speed limit line too fast, he also crashed in the same accident black spot that had caused Black problems earlier.  Pine’s sledge was so badly damaged that everyone else took pity on him and allowed him to only take a single dent card, although he insisted he should take the lot.  At this point it looked like an easy third place for Purple, but she suddenly began to struggle as she didn’t have the right cards to do what she needed to do.  As a result she was crawling along so slowly that Pine caught her up. It was looking like it might be rather tight for that third place, until Pine’s impossibly damaged sledge finally got the better of him and Purple crossed the line for third.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  GOATS love a good party!

11th December 2018

Since this was the last meeting before Christmas, we did what we did last year and arranged to eat a little earlier so we could all share an “Un-Christmas Dinner” together, complete with festive crackers and party poppers.  Plans were nearly derailed by gridlock in Oxford that delayed Blue (and by extension the crackers, party poppers, cards and the “Feature Game”), and motorway traffic that slowed Pink in his long trip from the frozen north.  Between their arrival and food appearing, there was just time to play a little game of “Secret Christmas Cards” – the idea being that everyone got a suitably festive goaty card and a name, and write the card to that person signing it on behalf of the group.  Once we’d got over the lack of pens, the “game” seemed to go very well, though a lot of people didn’t open their card, saving the excitement for later.  Green arrived and his announcement that his divorce had come through was greeted with a round of applause.

Pizza at the Horse and Jockey
– Image from horseandjockey.org

Once the cards, pizza, “half a side of pig with egg and chips”, burgers and ice-cream had been dealt with, it was time for crackers.  We had been just about to pull them when food arrived, and knowing what was in them, Blue suggested they’d be better left till the end of the meal as people might not want cracker contents as a topping to their pizza!  It was just as well, because when everyone finally grabbed a couple of cracker ends and pulled, there was an explosion of dice, mini-meeples, wooden resources, tiny metal bells, bad jokes, party hats and festive confetti that went everywhere.  The table went from mostly ordered to complete devastation at a stroke, to which party popper detritus was quickly added.  It was immediately followed by everyone trying to work out where the bits from their cracker had ended up and as some people ferreted under the table, others began to read the jokes (which turned out to be quite repetitive).  While the table was being cleared, subject of the “Golden GOAT” award came up.  This had first been mentioned a few weeks back by Ivory who had suggested we should have a game that we’d played during the year that deserved an award (presumably he was completely unaware that “Golden Goat” is also a strain of marijuana).

"Un-Christmas Party" 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine suggested that there should also be an award acknowledging the worst game of the year, which eventually became the “GOAT Poo” award.  Unfortunately there wasn’t really a plan for how to go about doing this.  In the end, Ivory and Green tore up some slips of paper and passed them round with the book so everyone could “vote”.  The rules were quite simple, only games played at a GOATS games night in 2018 (i.e. appear in the log book) could be nominated and everyone got just one vote. There was real concern that we were just going to end up with a list of different titles and two nine-way ties, but surprisingly, that did not happen.  As the votes were read out, it became clear from the appreciative noises round the table that many of the picks were very popular choices, including Yokohama and Keyflower: The Farmers.  A couple of games managed the feat of appearing in both lists winning the unofficial “GOAT Marmite-factor” Award, namely Endeavor and Yardmaster.  The winner of the “2018 Golden GOAT” however was AltiplanoQueendomino took the “GOAT Poo” award with a third of the group nominating it (remarkable since only four of the people present had actually played it).

Golden GOAT - 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

There was also a special award for “possibly the best and worst moments of the year” which went to Purple and Green’s inability to play Rock-Paper-Scissors (during Walk the Plank! a few weeks back) and Burgundy, the perennial Saboteur name last time.  Eventually, the table was cleared and the inaugural “Golden GOAT” awards had been announced, so people’s thoughts turned to playing games.  This year Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries was a hot choice and with two copies, two games were quickly underway.  This is a variant of the very popular train game, but with a nice tight map designed specifically for two or three players and featuring a snowy festive theme.  The game play is almost exactly the same as the other versions, with players taking it turns to either draw carriage cards, or spend sets of carriage cards in appropriate colours to place plastic trains on the map.  There are a couple of things that really make the Ticket to Ride games work:  firstly, the longer the route, the more points it gets.  This often makes the longer routes very enticing, but this has to be set against the desirability of tickets (the second thing).

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the game everyone chooses from a handful of ticket cards each depicting two cities and a value: players who manage to join routes together to connect the two cities get the depicted number of points at the end of the game.  The catch is that any tickets that players keep that are not completed successfully score negatively, and the swing can be quite devastating.  Ticket to Ride is a game everyone knows well and although we don’t play it often it is always enjoyable (perhaps because we don’t play it too frequently).  The familiarity means that everyone always fancies their chances at it though, which tends to make for very competitive games and the group really benefits from the variation that the different maps and versions offer.  On the first table, the game started out in much the same way as all Ticket to Ride games.  Ivory placed trains first, but Mulberry and Green followed soon after.  It wasn’t long before Ivory was drawing more ticket cards (instead of taking carriage cards or placing trains) and Green soon followed with Mulberry taking a little longer.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

As is usual, the colour cards that players wanted, just seemed to refuse to come up and everyone’s individual hand of cards grew even as the board filled with more tickets taken at regular intervals.   In the early stages the trio were fairly well matched.  Green was starting to pull ahead and then for some reason abruptly stopped and his hand of cards grew and grew.  He had said that he was going for it and it would either pay off or he would lose abysmally. Mulberry and Ivory had nearly twice as many points as Green when he finally laid a train:  the nine-carriage route giving him twenty-seven points and propelling him into the lead by more than his previous deficit.  Everyone still had lots of trains left though, so the game was far from over.  Eventually, Mulberry brought the game to a sudden halt when she placed her last three trains, catching the others by surprise.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

With their last turn they scrabbled for the longest route they could manage.  Since Green still had a handful of cards he was able to take a six-carriage route for a healthy fifteen points, however, that meant he had to abandon his twenty-four point ticket as he still needed two, very small routes to complete it.  The group decided to forgo recounting the points for placing trains and decided to assume they had kept on top of the scores during play.  Green was ahead in points for train placement by quite a margin, but Ivory and Mulberry had completed more tickets and Green was crippled by the forty-eight point swing caused by his incomplete ticket.  Mulberry took bonus for the the most completed tickets (by only one) and ended just one point behind Ivory.  With the score at the top so close they decided they had to double check all the scores and after a complete recount, there was a reversal and Mulberry edged Ivory out by one solitary point.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table the story was a little different, with Pink, the “Prophet of Doom” goading Pine offering him advice to give in before he’d even started as he was in for a torrid time playing against Blue and Burgundy.  Pine didn’t see it like that however, and as he likes the game, he really fancied his chances.  Fortune favours the brave, and he was out of the blocks like a greyhound with a fifteen point placement in just his second turn.  From then on, it was fast and furious with players fighting to secure the routes they needed to complete their tickets.  Blue and Pine kept fairly level and began to pull away from Burgundy, but neither of them dared to get complacent as he usually has a master-plan that he’s waiting for the perfect moment to enact.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine drew more ticket cards and Blue followed, keeping pace every step of the way while Burgundy kept drawing carriage cards.  Eventually Blue drew ahead in the “taking tickets” race, but it was one set of tickets too far for her as she drew three moderate to high scoring cards that were all unplayable.  Fearing she’d pushed her luck one step too far, she kept the lowest scoring card (i.e. the one with the fewest negative points) and pondered her options.  Pine took tickets and it was clear he had hit a similar problem though at least two of his were playable, if difficult.  In the end, he took a twenty-one point ticket that needed a little work, giving Blue an interesting choice.  In addition to the unplayable ticket, she had one low-ish scoring ticket left that she only needed one card to complete.  She’d been waiting for that single yellow carriage for a while though and persisting could allow Pine time to complete his new ticket.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Although she didn’t know the value or difficulty of Pine’s final ticket Blue felt sure it was high scoring and that he would need a few turns to complete it.  With a large set of pink cards and not many trains left, it gave her a chance; by placing a largely arbitrary route she triggered the end of the game.  Burgundy squeaked, although it had looked for all the world like he was trying for the long route, in fact he was really hunting for a locomotive (wild) card or a single orange carriage to complete his route into Narvik (though he came very close to getting nine cards necessary for the long route by accident).  The irony was that Blue had picked up loads of locomotive cards in her hunt for the single yellow, but hadn’t wanted them and had been unable to find yellow cards because Burgundy had them all!  In his penultimate turn, Burgundy had finally drawn his last orange card enabling him to finish his final, long ticket on his very last go.  Pine on the other hand was less fortunate and fell short, taking a swing of forty-two points which more than off-set Blue’s incomplete tickets.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

The group recounted the train points and found a few extra points for Blue, but it was still very close and all down to the tickets.  Blue had mostly low-scoring cards; where Pine had one fewer, they were more valuable.  In the end, Blue finished twenty-three points ahead of Pine, but she had managed to complete one extra ticket which had given her the ten point bonus – had it gone to Pine there would have been a twenty point swing and the second group might have had a recount too.  Both Ticket to Ride games finished at much the same time and while the third game was finishing off, the two groups compared notes.  It was then that the first group realised they had not played quite correctly, as there is a rules change in this version that means locomotive cards can only be used as wilds on tunnel and ferry routes, not on ordinary routes.  This explained why Green had managed to succeed at his long route when Burgundy had failed. While playing correctly would have changed the game, there was no accusation of cheating as Ivory and Mulberry who had been playing that game had played by the same rules.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, while the two ends of the table were playing with their train-sets, the trio in the middle were decorating their Christmas Tree.  This game is a cute little card drafting game that originated in Hungary.  The game takes place over three rounds during which Christmas decoration cards are drafted. After each card is chosen, the player puts it anywhere they like on their tree.  After seven cards, the round ends and the trees are evaluated.  Decorations include gingerbread men, glass ornaments in different shapes, wrapped sweets and, of course, festive lights.  The gingerbread men have different markings on their hands and feet and the more that match the adjacent decorations, the more points they score.  Some glass ornaments and all the sweets score points directly; lights only score if both halves match.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

The decorations only score at the end of the game though;  objective cards are evaluated at the end of each round.  At the start of the game each player receives four objective cards and at the start of each round everyone chooses one; these are shuffled and before the round begins.  The trees are therefore evaluated at the end of each round according to these objectives.  and then decorations score at the end.  One of the things about this scoring mechanism is that it’s often not obvious who is in the lead during the game as there are so many points awarded at the end.  This game was no exception, and was ultimately very close as a result.  It is one of those games that benefits from experience, and Black and Purple’s who had both played before took first and second, in that order.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

There was time for something else.  Inevitably, we threatened Pink with Bohnanza (he has possibly the smallest amount of love for the game per copy owned), but it’s lack of festiveness, meant it was a hollow threat.  We still had the “Feature Game” to play anyhow, which was Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey.  This is a mad game by a local gamer and member of the Didcot Games Club, Rob Harper set in a world that is a sort of cross between Downton Abbey and the Adams Family.  The artwork is suitably gruesome, though it was very clear from the start who the Countess D’Ungeon was a caricature of!  Played over several short rounds, each player takes the role of one of the various eccentric and unpleasant family members grasping for whatever feels like the best present.  To this end, players begin with a character card and a couple of gift cards, all face down on the table in front of them.  On their turn, the active player may either swap one of their face-down cards with one elsewhere on the table, or turn a card face-up, possibly activating a special action on the gift cards.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

The round ends when all a player’s cards are face up at the start of their turn or a bomb is revealed, at which point everyone scores points if they have collected the gifts wanted by their characters.  With six people playing nobody had a clue what was going on and mayhem reigned.  Ivory and Pine jointly took the first round giving them a point each, but after that, the gloves were off.  Purple took one round and Pine and Ivory took another each, so it was all down to the last round.  Green had spent most of the game trying to furnish Little Eugenia with two bombs, so when Blue realised he had the cards he needed to win the round, she made it her business to try to obstruct his plans.  Needless to say he spent the round getting his cards back.  With Blue and Green playing silly beggars in the corner, everyone else fought it out, but there was nothing everyone else could do to stop Ivory taking the point he needed to win.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

There was still time to play something else, but nobody was really in the mood so, instead, Blue and Ivory drooled over the fabulous pink dinosaurs from Ivory’s new arrival, Dinosaur Island.  Blue had nearly KickStarted the second edition, but had withdrawn when she’d heard Ivory was already committed to the project.  Needless to say, Ivory had brought his copy to show it off at the earliest opportunity, including plastic goats as well as dinosaurs.  And of course it will undoubtedly be a “Feature Game” sometime in the new year.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Christmas Crackers can make an awful lot of mess.

9th February 2016

Blue was delayed by washing machine shenanigans and Green by pancakes, so while Burgundy, Black and Purple were entertained by food, Red and Magenta distracted them with a few quick rounds of Love Letter.  Magenta took the first two rounds winning the second by drawing the princess as the penultimate card; the third round went to Black when he played a Prince and asked Purple to discard her card which turned out to be the Princess.  With the arrival of Green and Blue had finishing her pancakes, we decided to play our “Feature Game” which was Ticket to Ride and its variants.

Love Letter
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Which variant was the subject of some debate as we had all played different versions and everyone wanted to try a different one.  For example, Blue had never played the original USA version, but all those that had didn’t want to play again; similarly while Green was interested in playing Märklin, Black and Purple weren’t keen; they were interested in Switzerland or Nordic Countries, but Magenta, Blue and Green were unenthusiastic about that.  And so it went on, in fact, the only thing everyone agreed on was that we should split into a three and a four and nobody wanted to play Europe edition (as everyone had played that a lot). In the end, the group of three was based round Black and Purple who wanted to play with the Switzerland map and setup, and were joined by Burgundy who was fairly flexible.  That left the group of four who decided to go for Nederland as none of them had played it before.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic Ticket to Ride game can be summarised as follows:  players take it in turns to carry out one of three possible actions and when one player has two pieces left or fewer, everyone gets one more turn before the game ends and points are tallied.  The first action is to lay trains on the map, but in order to do this, they must spend train cards in the colour featured on the map.  Thus, if a player wants to claim a four car route, they must play four cards of the corresponding colour and finally place four of their plastic carriages on the board in the correct location scoring points as they do so.  If they do not have cards to claim the route they want then they can, instead, choose two cards, either from the five face up cards next to the board, or from the face down draw pile.  “Laying trains” scores points, but a large number of a player’s points are scored at the end through tickets which give points to players that have connected several short routes together to connect two more distant cities.  Each player starts the game with some tickets (chosen from a larger number), but on their turn may, instead of drawing cards or claiming routes, draw more tickets.  At the end of the game, tickets which have been successfully completed score points, while unfulfilled tickets score negatively.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by BGG contributor stormrover

Although this is a fairly complete summary of the rules for the original base game, each different version has slight modifications and variations that change the game slightly.  The “Swiss trio” got under way first as Burgundy was quite familiar with the rule modifications:  tunnels, ferry routes and country-to-country tickets; locomotive cards can only be used for ferries and tunnels, but can be drawn from the face-up cards without penalty.  The game was very close with Purple trying to make a long route from east to west, Black travelling north to south and Burgundy doing a bit of both. The tunnels were a bit of a hindrance with everyone struggling to get through the Alps without paying extra.

Ticket to Ride: Switzerland
– Image by boardGOATS

As the ticket scoring came to a close, Burgundy had his nose in front and looked to have the win in the bag, but carefully counting up the trains gave Black the bonus for the longest route and with it, the win by just two points.  Burgundy was particularly cheesed off as he had attempted to claim a tunnel on his final turn that would have given him the longest route, but the fates conspired against him.  It was only later that we realised that there hadn’t been a recount for the points awarded as trains were placed on the map and as, invariably points tend to get missed out, a recount is generally sensible.

Ticket to Ride: Switzerland
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Blue, Green, Red and Magenta had worked out the rules changes applicable to Nederland.  There are no ferry routes or country-to-country tickets and obviously, no tunnels, however, in this low-country with countless canals and rivers, there are bridges instead. and these have a toll.  Each player starts with “toll tokens” to a total value of thirty.  Most of the routes are double routes, so can be claimed by two different players, this feature is common with all other versions of Ticket to Ride when playing with the maximum number of players, but in this game they are used for all games.  The first player to claim a double route pays the marked toll to the bank, but the second player to claim that route pays the toll to the player who got there first.  These tolls become quite critical in the end game as there are bonus points available for players who manage to conserve toll tokens, and these bonuses are sizable with fifty-five points going to the player with the most tokens at the end of the game and thirty-five and twenty for second and third.  Players who can’t afford to build, can borrow from the bank, but that removes them from the race for bonus points as well as costing points at the end of the game.

Ticket to Ride: Nederland
– Image by boardGOATS

As is traditional, everyone began by moaning about where their starting tickets were.  Beyond that, nobody really knew quite what to expect, but it was clear that this wasn’t a game where players could ill-afford to hoard train cards and wait as they were likely to find themselves paying tolls to other players and giving them bonus points.  As such, everyone got going quickly and Red led the way placing several long routes giving her an early lead.  Everyone else caught up, and as players started to run low on trains, they realised they had to watch the number of toll tokens they had left else they would have to begin to borrow and that would put them out of the running for the bonuses.  Blue picked up extra tickets first, but they left her with a really tough decision as most of her track was in the north-west and the tickets she had were pretty much everywhere else.  After a very long time thinking, she decided to keep them all and go for broke.  The others soon followed, picking up more tickets, and Green had several goes with some corresponding to routes he had already claimed.  It was only a couple of turns after she had drawn her extra tickets that Magenta counted her trains and started to make some uncomfortable sounding noises suggestive of possible problems ahead.

Ticket to Ride: Nederland
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue triggered the end of the game and it was all too close to call with less than ten points between first and last before the tickets and bonus points were added on. Green was the first to count up and there was a stunned silence when we found he had a massive one hundred and thirty-seven points from the tickets to add to his train total of fifty-two.  Red had a couple of tickets that she had failed to complete so her ticket total took a bit of a bruising, but her problems were nothing to Magenta’s.  She only realised she didn’t have enough pieces to complete all her tickets when it was too late, so all her hard work to fulfil her initial tickets was almost completely negated as she finished with a ticket total of just one!  Blue had managed to complete all her routes and was pretty much neck-a-neck with Green which, like the other game, left it all down to the bonus points for toll tokens.  Red took the fifty-five points for the most remaining toll tokens, giving her a very respectable one-hundred and fifty-four and third place.  Blue picked up an extra thirty-five points and finished forty points ahead of Green who finished with the fewest toll tokens and therefore didn’t add to his score.

Ticket to Ride: Nederland
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine had appeared towards the end of the game and, after a brief explanation of the rules, had commented on the name of the game in German:  Zug um Zug, which translates to “step by step”, although Zug also means train.  This kind of double-entendre is not uncommon in Euro game titles and prompted a discussion of other games with similar “jokes”.  Blue mentioned Tier auf Tier which literally translates to the English title “Animal upon Animal”, a children’s game where players stack wooden animals, creating “tiers”.  Magenta brought up her favourite game, Bohnanaza, where “Bohn” is the German for bean.  Green chipped in with his offering of Citadels, which is called “Ohne Furcht und Adel” in German which literally means “without fear and noble” (colloquially translated as “without fear and nobility”).  This is actually a pun on “Ohne Furcht und Tadel”, which means “without fear or blemish”.  It is an old-fashioned expression seldom used now except perhaps when describing a perfect performance by Michael Schumacher for example, that refers to somebody being very valiant and chivalrous (ala King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table).  Interestingly, when trying to find the correct literal translation, Green submitted “Ohne Furcht und Adel” to Google and got “Citadels” in return, perhaps a measure of how embedded games are in German life.

Animal Upon Animal
– Image by BGG contributor dr.mrow

With eight of us, and nobody terribly keen to play anything too cerebral, we decided to go for something light, 6 Nimmt got a mention, but we settled on Las Vegas, using the extra dice for more players players and the wild cards from the Boulevard expansion, and the Slot Machine from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar.  This was a Christmas gift and had its first outing in January when it was the “Feature Game”, but as a light dice game that plays a wide range of player numbers it is quite versatile.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

On their turn, players must use all the dice of one number to bet on the casino of that number.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card. The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of barracking.  The Slot Machine is like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  The game was a lot of chaotic fun with with lots of chit-chat and before long we had worked our way through the card deck and spent an hour doing it.  Although there is a lot of down-time with so many players, it didn’t seem to matter very much and it was quite relaxing to chat about things.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We found Slot Machine definitely added a useful extra option to the game, however, the “wild cards” were less interesting.  This inspired a discussion about the value or otherwise of expansions.  In an evening essentially devoted to expansions, it was interesting consider whether the addition of expansions took a simple game that everyone liked and made it unnecessarily more complex, or whether it breathed new life into a game people had become tired of.  In the case of Ticket to Ride at least, it was clear that with a game that players had become almost too familiar with, the extra maps provided a nice alternative.  Meanwhile, the game was providing an interesting background to the discussion and the end results were almost incidental.  Magenta redeemed herself after the disastrous ticket fiasco, finishing with $390,000 and third.  Second place went to Red with $420,000, but with her second victory of the night, Blue took home the bacon with $460,000, more than twice that of last place.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

Learning outcome:  Germans *do* have a sense of humour!

Boardgames in the News: Ten Great Games to Play with the Family at Christmas

With the nights drawing in and the weather becoming increasingly wet and wintery, what could be nicer than an afternoon playing board games in front of the fire?  If you are new to the hobby, here are ten great modern boardgames to play over the Christmas holidays.  These are all readily available online and/or in dedicated boardgame shops.

  1. PitchCar – This superb car racing game is guaranteed to get kids of all ages playing together; the winner is the person who manages to flick their car round the track first. The game plays six people, but you can get more cars from the Ferti website and play a pursuit type game which is also good fun.  You can also get expansion packs to make your track longer and more interesting if you really like it.
    Target Audience: Families & parties; ages 2 to 102…
    Game Time: From half an hour tailor-able to the group, plus time to build the track.
    Price:  Approximately £45 from amazon.co.uk for the base game (also available in a slightly cheaper mini-version for those without a large table).

    PitchCar
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames
  2. Tsuro – Players take it in turns to build a path for their “dragon”, creating a maze for everyone else at the same time. The game lasts just fifteen to twenty minutes and plays up to eight people.  It combines just enough strategy and luck that if you get knocked out early, there is always time to try again.  Don’t be tempted to get Tsuro of the Seas though, it takes all the really good things about Tsuro and makes them slightly less good.
    Target Audience: Friends & Families with ages 8+
    Game Time: 15-20 mins with almost no set up time.
    Price:  £20-25 from amazon.co.uk.

    Tsuro
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv
  3. Bohnanza – This one sounds really uninspiring on reading the rules:  players have to trade beans to make the most money from the biggest and best bean fields.  Despite the unpromising sound, you only need to play it once with a couple of other people and before you’ve gone far you will agree it is one of the best games ever made – never has bean farming been so much fun!
    Target Audience: Older children and adults; ages 10+
    Game Time: 45-60 mins
    Price:  Readily available for around £15-20.

    Bohnanza
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr
  4. Dobble – With five games in the tin, this Snap-inspired game is excellent value.  Since it relies on reactions, it is also one of those games where children are often genuinely better than adults.  And it is so quick to play that it is an ideal game to squeeze in while the kettle is boiling or tea is brewing.
    Target Audience: 3 and up
    Game Time: 2 mins per round
    Price:  Readily available for around £10 or less.

    Dobble
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari
  5. Escape:  The Curse of the Temple – While most Euro Games don’t use dice, in this game players have five each.  This is a team game that is played against the clock, so has the advantage that everyone wins or loses together.  The team of five players simultaneously roll dice to explore the temple and activate gemstones and then try to escape together before the temple collapses around their ears.  This is also ideal for children to play with adults as they can work in pairs or groups learning communication and team working skills.  If the game seems too difficult for the group, it can also be made a little easier by reducing the number of gems the group have to activate.
    Target Audience: age 5+ as long as there are understanding adults playing
    Game Time: 10 mins per game plus a few minutes setting up
    Price:  approximately £25-30 from amazon.co.uk.

    Escape: The Curse of the Temple
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus
  6. Survive: Escape from Atlantis! – This is good fun and really, really nasty.  Not quite so easy to learn, but really not that difficult either and great fun with four people who have a competitive streak.  Each player has a number of pieces that they are trying to get from the central island to the mainland.  Players take it in turns to move a person or boat, then they take a piece from the island, finally they roll a die to move a whale, shark or sea-monster, with potentially devastating consequences…
    Target Audience: Teenagers; not recommended for children under 12 or people who can’t take getting picked on
    Game Time: 40-60 mins
    Price:  Approximately £25-30 from amazon.co.uk; a 5-6 player expansion is also available which makes things even nastier…

    Survive: Escape from Atlantis!
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman
  7. Dixit – This is a great game to play with the mums and grannies in the family.  Players take it in turns to be the “story teller” who chooses a card from their hand and gives a clue that everyone else tries to match.  Everyone then has to guess which card belonged to the story teller, with points awarded for good guesses as well as cards that mislead other players.  The original base game plays six well, but Dixit: Odyssey plays up to twelve with a slight tweak to the rules.  Extra decks of cards are also available.
    Target Audience: Friendly groups and parties.
    Game Time: 30-45 mins
    Price:  Approximately £15-30 from amazon.co.uk, depending on the version.

    Dixit
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor lacxox
  8. Colt Express – For older children and younger adults, this game is a glorious mixture of controlled chaos.  Players are bandits attacking and looting a fantastic 3D train.  Rounds are broken into two parts, first players take it in turns to choose the cards they will play placing them in a communal pile the centre of the table.  Then, once everyone has chosen, players carry out the action on each card in turn.  The problem is by the time they get to the end, the plans they had at the start have gone terribly awry…  A similar feel can be got from the pirate themed Walk the Plank! which is a cheaper, smaller, easier game that packs a lot of fun into a shorter playing time.
    Target Audience: Young, and not-so-young adults.
    Game Time: 30-60 mins
    Price:  Approximately £25 from amazon.co.uk; Walk the Plank! is available for £15-20.

    Colt Express
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman
  9. Ticket to Ride: Europe – Players are collecting coloured cards and spending them to place plastic trains on map/board with the aim of trying to build routes across Europe.  This game has been around a little while now and is available in several different flavours:  for the typical UK family, the Europe edition is probably best (plays up to five players), but for a couple, the Nordic edition with its gorgeous festive artwork might be more appropriate (only two to three players though).  If it is popular, there are also a number of expansion maps available.
    Target Audience: Age 10+.
    Game Time: 30-60 mins
    Price:  Readily available for available for £25-40 depending on the version and vendor.

    Ticket to Ride: Europe
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke
  10. No Thanks! – A quick and simple little betting game anyone can play.  The game consists of a deck of cards and some red plastic chips.  The first can take the top card, or pay a chip and pass the problem onto the next player.  The aim of the game is to finish with the lowest total face value of the cards, but if woe-betide anyone who runs out of chips as they will be left at the mercy of everyone else.
    Target Audience:  Friends and families; children aged 8+.
    Game Time: 10-15 mins
    Price:  Readily available for approximately £10.

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

14th May 2013

The first game we played this week was our “Feature Game”, the card game, Saboteur which is a little like a cross between two games we’ve played before:  Avalon and Incan Gold. In this game players are dwarves working together mining for gold, with the catch that there could be a saboteur in their midst…  Since nobody had ever played it before, the first round was a bit of an experiment for all of us and we all started out “honest” playing path cards and maps.  However, suspicion arose a when one player claimed to have run out of useful paths and had to play a broken pick-axe, with inevitable reprisals.  Unfortunately, he HAD been honest and there were no saboteurs, but as we just managed to get to the gold, it didn’t really matter.

Since we felt we were starting to get the hang of it, we went went for a second round and this time correctly identified the saboteur and pinned him down with a pile of broken picks, lanterns and wagons while we dug up the gold.  When we picked on the same player for the third time, however, he was understandably distressed and protested his innocence.  Nevertheless, since he had very obviously shut off one of optional tunnels we had been carefully building, the pleading fell on deaf ears and failed to prevent the hail-storm of broken tools, only for it to become apparent that, once again, he was innocent.  When we asked why he had behaved in such a treacherous way, he forlornly explained that he was trying to stop us going the wrong way as he knew where the gold was.  Next time I suppose we might listen to him…

Saboteur

Next, we played the Scandinavian Ticket to Ride, a game we were all reasonably familiar with.  This is a really beautiful edition of “the train game”, but with slight twists to the usual rules.  White and Purple took the first few points, but Black joined in quickly and play continued pretty much evenly.  Black ran out of trains first which stymied Purple’s attempt to get the long track into Murmansk, however, we were all within ten points or so when we went into the final scoring.  Unfortunately, it turned out that Black and Purple had accidentally conspired to block White making her take a sizeable detour.  This had consequences for the number tickets she could complete.  Black and Purple jointly took the Globetrotter bonus with five completed tickets each, but it was the magnitude of the completed tickets that made the difference and Black ran out the winner by some fifty points.

Ticket to Ride:  Nordic Countries

Next we returned to semi-cooperativity with a quick game of The Great Balloon Race.  This is a great little race game (albeit with a ridiculously large box), where players have three different coloured balloons and the first to get them all home wins.  The snag is that nobody knows who owns which colour and it is highly likely that players will share at least one balloon with other players.  We last played this back in October and Blue and Orange got a bit victimised.  This time it was Blue and Pink…

The Great Balloon Race

Finally, we squeezed in a game of Ice Flow.  This is a really pretty strategy game where players direct teams of three explorers that are trying to get from Alaska to Siberia, climbing pack-ice, dodging polar bears, catching fish and occasionally jumping in for a quick swim.  Although this is a new game to boardGOATS, we were all familiar with it, so with a quick reminder of the rules we were off, jumping from ice floe to ice floe.  The game has a bit of a tendency for players to get stuck unable to get fish or rope, but we were wise to this and managed to control the resources quite successfully.  Black got an explorer home first, followed by a couple of Red meeples, however, while Black’s last piece dodged a hungry polar bear, Red managed to get his final one home for the win.

Ice Flow

Learning Outcome:  A clever move can sometimes be mistaken for a guilty one, however much you protest.