Tag Archives: Ticket to Ride

23rd July 2019

It was a quiet, if hot night; Blue and Khaki were the first to arrive closely followed by Pine and Burgundy, and all four settled down to eat and discuss the very British subject of The Weather.  Just as they were finishing eating, Ivory turned up toting his copy of the “Feature Game”, Wingspan.  Then he started something when he ordered a desert, specifically ice cream.  Everyone else, who had struggled to finish their supper and had hitherto been replete watched with envious eyes as Ivory tucked into his two scoops, one each of Baileys and Toblerone.  Only Burgundy held out and it wasn’t long before another food order was placed, including two grown-up orders of a single scoop of raspberry sorbet and one childish order of a scoop each of chocolate orange and Toblerone.

Ice Cream
– Image from horseandjockey.org

While waiting for the second round of deserts to arrive, the group decided to play something, and, given that the Spiel des Jahres awards had just been announced, decided to give L.A.M.A. a go. L.A.M.A. was nominated, but did not win (despite Reiner Knizia’s amazing outfit), however, for our group it was a much better fit than Just One, the winner.  Just One, is a word guessing game in a similar vein to the previous laureate, Codenames, which was extraordinarily unpopular with our Tuesday night group.  Word games are similarly unpopular, so Werewords was never likely to go down well either, making L.A.M.A. our group’s pick, even though we had not hitherto played any of the nominees to form a real opinion.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

As Ivory commented, L.A.M.A. has a reputation of being a bit of an “UNO killer”, that is to say, it is a similar game to UNO, but perceived to be better.  L.A.M.A. is an abbreviation for “Lege alle Minuspunkte ab”, which roughly translates as “get rid of your negative points”, and indeed this is what players do, in a similar way to UNO.  The deck contains coloured cards numbered one to six, and some Llama cards.  Players take it in turns to play a single card, the same number or one higher than the last card played.  Llama cards can be played on sixes, and one’s can be played on Llamas.  If they cannot play (or choose not to), players can draw a card from the deck, or stick with what they have, and not play for the rest of the round.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

When either everyone has passed, or someone has played out their hand, everyone scores points equivalent to the face value of their cards in their hand, and Llama cards score ten.  There is a catch though, in a mechanism faintly reminiscent of No Thanks!, any duplicate cards do not score, thus, a two fives and a six will only score eleven.  Players receive tokens for their score, but if a player checks out with nothing they can return a token to the pool.  Since white tokens are worth one and black worth ten, and players can return either, the advantage can  sometimes be with the player with a higher score.  For example, someone with nine points can only return one white token leaving them with eight, while someone with a single black ten can return everything they have.  The game ends when someone reaches forty.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue started badly, by picking up a massive twenty-four points on the first round.  Burgundy did slightly better, although the size of his total was largely thanks to Pine who repeatedly stepped up the current card value upsetting Burgundy’s plans.  This became something of a running joke, with Pine playing a one and thus preventing Burgundy playing his Llama cards.  Pine and Ivory started well remaining in single digits for several rounds, but in the end it was surprisingly close.  Fairly inevitably though, it was Blue who hit the magic forty first with Burgundy and Ivory just behind with thirty-nine each.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

Khaki took a very creditable second place thanks to winning one round and ditching ten points as a result.  It was Pine who won the game, however, as the most consistently low scoring player, finishing with eight points fewer than Khaki, a total of only twenty.  With the ice cream desserts and the llama aperitif dealt with, it was time to move on to the main course, the “Feature Game”, Wingspan.  Ivory commented that he’d been really looking forward to this and described it as, “an engine builder like Terraforming Mars, but much prettier”.  While we set up, Pine explained that his curious order of “Yardbird” was not a reference to the game, but the IPA.  It turns out the beer is not named after the the rock group (that featured Eric Clapton among others), but actually Charlie Parker, the jazz saxophonist.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The players are bird enthusiasts seeking to discover and attract the best birds to their network of wildlife reserves.  The game itself is fairly straight forward: there are two main types of actions, introduce a new bird card, or carry out an an action and activate the associated birds.  In order to introduce a new bird card into their reserve, a player needs entice them by spending food.  Each bird is played in one of the three habitats: woodland, grassland or wetland.  Some birds, like the Common Raven, can be found in any habitat so players can choose where to play them, others birds like a Green Heron are only found in one or two habitats (in this case, wetland), so  can only be placed in those habitats.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

There are three other actions, collect food, lay eggs or acquire more cards.  In each case, players place one of their action cubes (or fluffy little birds in our pimped out copy), in the space to the right of the right most card in the associated habitat.  The more birds there are in a habitat, the better the action.  So, for example, if a player has no woodland birds and decides to take food, they can only take one food die from the bird-box dice tower receiving one food in return.  On the other hand, a player that has four bird cards in their woodland habitat can take  three food if they activate their woodland habitat.  Once the action has been completed, the player activates each bird in that habitat, in turn.  The grassland action, laying eggs, and the wetland action, taking cards work in a similar way.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Eggs can generally be placed on any bird card as long as it has sufficient capacity.  Eggs, aside from looking a lot like Cadbury’s Mini Eggs, are very useful as they are needed when adding cards to habitats—after the first card in a habitat, in addition to food, there is a cost of one or two eggs per bird.  They are also worth points at the end of the game.  Activating the wetland action, allows the player to take a face up card from the three available, or draw blind (similar to Ticket to Ride games).  In both cases, any birds in the habitat are also activated after the action has been taken.  Some birds have a special power on activation, while others give a bonus when they are originally played and some give an advantage when other players do  a particular action.  These special actions include providing extra food, laying extra eggs or acquiring extra food.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Some actions dictate where the food goes, so in some cases, the food is left on the bird card and cannot be used by the player, instead scoring a point at the end of the game.  Similarly, some cards are tucked under other cards, simulating flocking birds, or the prey caught by predators, and these score a point each at the end of the game.  Eggs on cards also score, and there are interim challenges, and the most successful players at these also score.  Finally, each bird is itself worth points, and each player starts with a choice of two bonus cards which provide points if that player is successful in a given category.  The game lasts four rounds with each player getting eight actions in the first round, but only five in the final round.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Aside from the gorgeous artwork, there are a lot of very nice little touches in this game.  For example, although the egg capacities for the birds aren’t correct, they are proportionally right with the American White Pelican only holding one egg, while the Mourning Dove holds five.  Similarly the food requirements and habitats are correct.  Sadly, the cards are all North American birds, but there are plans in the pipeline for European birds and even Australian, African and Asian bird expansions in due course.  At the start of the game each player gets two bonus cards and keeps one of them.  These can reward players with two points for every predator they have, or give points if the player has, say, four or more birds with a large wingspan, but the probability of these is given on the card which is a nice feature too.  So, all in all, it is a very well produced game.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory started very quickly, luring a Barn Owl to his woodland, and it quickly started hunting, with any prey caught being stored on the owl card and worth points later in the game.  He quickly followed this with two cards that allowed him to draw extra bonus cards, and looked to be set up for a strong game.  Next to him, Pine was struggling—the game is not complicated, but it is a little different to anything else we’ve played.  He got the hang of things eventually though, and his Canada Goose looked a very nice card as it allowed him to tuck two cards underneath it (each worth a point at the end of the game) for the cost of one wheat when activated.  Khaki was helping everyone out though, as his Ruby-throated Hummingbird kept everyone supplied with food.

– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy just quietly got on with things, but as he and Khaki had the most eggs in nests on the ground at the end of the first round, they took the end of round bonus points.  Meanwhile, Blue’s Yellow-Billed Cuckoo was giving her useful eggs whenever someone else laid eggs, as long as she remembered to activate it.  With Burgundy and Khaki taking the end of round bonus for the most wetland birds at the end of the second round, it was starting to look ominous.  Ivory had his eye on a bigger prize however.  The end of round bonuses increase in value throughout the game, so he was clearly after the bonus at the end of the third round, which rewarded the player with the most grassland birds.  Burgundy had his eye on that too though, as did Blue and as the number of actions decreased the game became increasingly difficult.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue’s Eastern Bluebird proved very useful as it allowed her to play to birds for one action.  So in the end Burgundy, again took the points, this time tying with Blue, with Ivory just edged out.  As the final round came to a close, it was too late to improve the engines and everyone just had to concentrate maximise their points.  And after that, all that was left was the counting.  The game is a little bit “multi-player solitaire”, so nobody was sure who was going to win, though Burgundy was high on most people’s list.  Indeed, it was very close with just five points separating the podium positions, and only one point between the rest.  In the end, Burgundy on eighty-six tied for second place with Khaki, who had a lot of high value birds and had been determined not to disgrace himself (and definitely didn’t).  Blue just had the edge however, largely thanks playing her Inca Dove which allowed her to lay a lot of eggs in the final round.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Tempt a hot group of gamers with ice cream and most will give in.

28th May 2019

While Pink, Blue and Khaki finished their pizzas, the other early arrivals played a quick game of Coloretto.  This is a relatively short game of set collecting which is very popular with the group; it was new to Lime though so needed a quick rules explanation.  The idea of the game is that on their turn, players can either pick up a chameleon card from the face down deck and add it to a “truck”, or take a truck (passing for the rest of the round).  The innovative part of the game is the scoring which uses the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.), with positive points for three sets and negative for the rest.  Thus, players need large sets in three different colours and small sets in all the rest.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With five players, it was relatively hard to make trucks particularly unappealing to everyone, so the negative scores were kept to a minimum.  It was quite close at the top as a result, with Black, Lime and Mulberry all in the running.  Lime finished with the highest score for his sets totalling thirty, with Mulberry a handful of points behind, but Black had four bonus points and no negatives.  In the end, Lime pipped Black by a single point with Mulberry just a couple of points behind that.

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

With Coloretto over, everyone finished with their supper and the stragglers all arrived, there was the usual discussion over who would play what.  The “Feature Game”, Viticulture with the Tuscany expansion, was always likely to take most of the night, so the question was really who was going to play that and what else was on offer.  One of the options suggested was Ticket to Ride with the India map, which was described by Pine as an game where you “just pile people on top of the trains and pack the inside with goats!”  Clearly none of our GOATS fancied the inside of a hot carriage and the discussion continued as Ivory, Pink and Blue started setting out Viticulture and Mulberry (having spent some time as a oenologist) dragged Khaki along for the ride.

Viticulture
– Image by boardGOATS

Viticulture is a worker placement game where players plant and harvest grapes then make and trade wine.  Although there is nothing especially innovative about the game itself, it is an exceptionally good example of its type and is considered bit of a modern classic as a result.  There are two editions, the original Viticulture, and the “Essential Edition“.  We usually play with Essential Edition which includes some of the smaller expansions from the original Tuscany (like the Mama and Papa set up cards), and, as the revised edition, is considered to be the definitive version.  In this base game, the actions are split into two seasons, Summer and Winter, with visitor cards arriving in the Autumn and extra cards arriving in the Spring.  Visitor cards come in two varieties, yellow Summer and blue Winter cards which are played in the different seasons as a special action.

Tuscany
– Image by boardGOATS

The Tuscany expansion messes about with this arrangement with actions in all four seasons, so players have to eke out their meagre supply of workers to last the whole year.  In addition to the larger, “expanded” and restructured board, the Tuscany expansion also adds an extra deck of building cards that players can use to create a personal action space or increase the effectiveness of other actions.  These can be very powerful if used effectively.  Additionally, there is a “influence” board that depicts the regions which players can place “Star-eeples” on to get an instant bonus.  If they have the majority in a given region at the end of the game, they also get a small number of bonus points. Finally, Tuscany also adds workers with a special ability, these cost a little more to train, but if used efficiently can more than pay for that over the course of the game.

Tuscany
– Image by boardGOATS

The other major difference between Viticulture and Tuscany is that the game tends to start slower, with players building their vineyard getting all the pieces of their engine together.  The game is not terribly complicated in terms of taking actions, but planning is tough and as people new to the game, Mulberry and Khaki struggled a bit to get going.  Blue, on the other hand, was out of the traps like a rabbit and got vines planted and harvested with remarkable speed, but then promptly stalled as she desperately needed money, more contracts, and more space in her wine cellar.  In contrast, Ivory and Pink were slower to get going because they were carefully planning their strategies.

Viticulture
– Image by boardGOATS

In the early part of the game, nothing much seemed to happen.  Blue’s simple, but fast start, got her well in front, while Khaki began by actually going backwards, sacrificing victory points to try to build up his team of workers.  Everything else was pretty quiet though, as Ivory was collecting cards and Mulberry concentrated on building.  Pink started with the intention of building an irrigation tower and no trellis (to save money), but that was quickly scuppered when every vine he draw after the first required a visit from “Mrs. Trellis of North Wales“.  There were plenty of sarcastic comments from the next table as they felt they were well on the way to finishing, while it looked like nobody had made any positive progress except Blue, despite playing for well over an hour.

Tuscany
– Image by boardGOATS

Then suddenly, things began to happen.  Pink had sorted out the vine situation, and had purchased a large cellar (to go with the medium cellar he’d started with) which meant he could fulfil some valuable contracts, increasing his residual payments at the end of the round giving him a substantial income in a game where money is always very tight.  Then Ivory began his charge for the finish, setting his Wine Press and Guest House to work.  He was particularly adept at leveraging his Guest House for points, finding ways to take Visitor cards from other players and turn them into points, and then playing other Visitor cards that enabled him to repeat the action.  Mulberry built an Academy that would give her money whenever another player trained a worker, but it was too late in the game as most people had finished training by that point.  Khaki’s Fountain was more effective though giving him money every time someone else gave a tour.

Tuscany
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game approached the end, the question was whether Blue was going to get over the line before Pink and Ivory, really started raking in the points.  With her trained Salesman who enabled her to full-fill two contracts as part of one action, but had proved fairly useless for most of the game, it looked like she might just make it.  Pink was coming up fast and screwed up Blue’s plans on the influence board just for good measure.  Khaki and Mulberry suddenly started to make real progress as well, with Khaki making a rapid shift from negative points to lots of points over just a couple of turns.  It was Ivory though, who stormed ahead, full-filling several orders in the final round as well picking up an extra five bonus points from the influence board.  He finished with a grand total of forty points, ten more than Blue in second place who, in turn, was a single point ahead of Pink.

Viticulture
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, the second group were playing Maya, an older game where players are taking part in the construction of pyramids in places like Chichen Itza and Palenque.  The game is a combination of semi-blind bidding mechanics, special actions, and building up “influence” by building pyramids in the ancient Mayan civilization.  The greater the influence, the more gold players get from the Mayan leaders and the aim of the game is to have the greatest pile of gold.  Each player starts with an identical hand of cards, ranging from three to eight, representing workers.  Players start by using their worker cards to bid for actions.  These actions come with a pile of stones, and this is one of the clever parts of the game – players must have enough workers left to move the stones they win or forfeit some of their prize.

Maya
– Image by boardGOATS

Players then take turns placing them on the different pyramid locations, placing one stone at a time and starting on the lowest levels.  In general, players can only place a single stone per turn, though they can place a second stone if they discard a third stone back into the supply (quarry).  When a player completes a level of a pyramid and has the majority of stones on that level, they get a free stone from their supply to place on the next level of that pyramid, thus, clever players can discard a stone to play two, and then receive that discarded stone back immediately to place it higher.

Maya
– Image by boardGOATS

Once all the stones have been placed, the pyramids are evaluated. Each level of a pyramid is scored separately, and only those in first and second place receive gold. Where there is a tie, all players get the gold as if they had placed first.  At the end of the round, the pyramids decay, and all players who scored gold on any level of has to return one block from that level back to the supply. If this leaves a player with no blocks on a level, all of that player’s stones on higher levels also go back to the supply. The game ends after three rounds.

Maya
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone started off building in Tikal, while Pine and Lime developed Copan and Black and Purple struggled in Uxmal.  Palenque was all but ignored by everyone except Purple until the last round when everyone joined her because they were unable to build in the other areas.  It was a very tight game and the nature of it meant nobody knew who was wining until the totals had been calculated.  There was just six points between first and last, but it was Pine who came out on top this time, one point ahead of Lime who took second place.

Maya
– Image by boardGOATS

Viticulture was still going on, so after enjoying a bit of heckling about how the scoreboard hadn’t changed, the group decided to re-visit Bohnanza, this time with an English deck, to reduce Lime’s confusion.  This is one of our most played games, with almost everyone very familiar with it.  The key part of the game is that players must plant their bean cards in the order they receive them.  The only way this fundamental rule can be violated is by trading bean cards with other players.  As everyone knows the game so well, it is often very tight with frequent multi-player ties.  This time it was also very close, but there was more spread than there often is.  On this occasion, the tie was for first place, and it was Black and Pine who finished top with a total of twenty.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes slow and steady wins the race.

UK Games Expo 2019 – Not as Hot as Last Year, but that’s a Good Thing…

Last weekend was the thirteenth UK Games Expo (sometimes known as UKGE, or simply Expo), the foremost games event.  Every year it grows bigger, and this was no exception. Historically, Expo is focused on gamers playing games rather than publishers selling new games, however, the exhibition aspect has been growing, and this year there were two halls full of vendors selling games and demoing wares.  Last year, there was an issue with the air conditioning on the Friday which, combined with the thousands of “hot water bottles” walking about looking at games, made it unbelievably hot.  This year, working facilities and a little more space made it much, much more pleasant, although Saturday was busier than ever!

UKGE 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

This year the hot games included Wingspan, copies of which were flying off the slightly wobbly shelves following it’s recent Kennerspiel des Jahres nominationFoothills, a two player Snowdonia game by UK designers Ben Bateson and Tony Boydell (designer of the original Snowdonia, Ivor the Engine and Guilds of London) was another extremely popular game.  Foothills is produced by Lookout Spiele, but there were sixty copies available from the designer’s Surprised Stare stand, which sold out in less than forty minutes (though there were a small number of copies to be had elsewhere for those that kept their eyes peeled).

Foothills
– Image by boardGOATS

Surprised Stare were also demoing Foothills and another Snowdonia-based game, Alubari, which is due for release later in the year (hopefully).  There was a new Ticket to Ride game available (London) as well as another instalment in the Catan series (Rise of the Inkas); the new expansion for Endeavor: Age of Sail was also available to see (coming to KickStarter later in June) and “old” favourites like Echidna Shuffle were there to be played and bought too.  There were some very good deals to be had from some of the third party sellers as well, including some of the Days of Wonder games for just £15.

Horticulture Master
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the reasons for attending conventions is the opportunity to see and play games that are not available elsewhere.  One example was Horticulture Master, a cute little Taiwanese game with beautiful artwork, which combined card collecting elements from Splendor with Tetris-like tile laying from games like Patchwork and Bärenpark.  Another cute little game was Titans of Quantitas from Gingerbread Games, a clever two player strategy game based round the old fashioned digital rendering of the number eighty-eight.  What really made this game special though was the fact that the stall was guarded by a fiberglass goat!  Not everything was quite as wholesome though, as one Games Master was thrown out and banned for life for including content in a role-playing game that allegedly involved sexual violence and played on the shock factor.  This is definitely the exception rather than the rule, however, and UK Games Expo is a great place for family and friends to spend a weekend.

UKGE 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

30th April 2019

For a while, it looked a lot like the “Feature Game”, Lewis & Clark , wasn’t going to happen – it’s a longer game and one that requires a specific type of gamer.  Of the usual candidates for this sort of game, Burgundy had given notice that he was feeling under the weather, so wouldn’t be coming; Blue was in attendance but was feeling a bit off-colour too; Black wasn’t in the mood for something heavy; Mulberry was recovering from jet-lag so needed an early night, and Green and Ivory hadn’t arrived by 8pm.  Inevitably though, we were just deciding what else to play when Green and Ivory turned up and looked keen to give Lewis & Clark a go.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

With Blue joining them, that left Black, Purple, Mulberry and Pine (who was celebrating coming off his antibiotics again), to come up with something to play.  While everyone played musical chairs, suggested games and admired Blue’s shiny new copy of Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry (freshly muled from the US by Mulberry), the foursome decided to play Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra.  This is the new implementation of last year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul, which features the same market, but with glass pieces instead of ceramic tiles.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

The differences are more than cosmetic though – instead of placing their pieces in a row and moving them onto a grid, pieces are placed directly into the player’s window.  This is modular consisting of the double-sided strips laid out at random so everyone has a different starting setup.  There are restrictions on how the pieces can be placed though:  tiles must be placed in the strip immediately below their Glazier meeple, or in a strip to its right.  The Glazier is then placed above the strip the tiles were placed in,, so he gradually moves to the right. Instead of taking tiles, players can choose to reset the Glazier’s position, moving him back to the left most strip.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Players get points when strips are completed scoring the sum of the score depicted below the strip and any strips to the right that have already been completed. There is also a colour bonus—each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game, and any tiles that match the colour for the round score extra. Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed. Any left over tiles that cannot be placed are placed into the glass tower and yield a penalty with players moving along a negative score track which has small steps at the start that gets larger. When the market is empty the round ends and the round indicator tile is also dropped into the glass tower which is emptied when the .  There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was new to the game and had not even played the original Azul, despite it having been so popular within the group.  Pine, Purple and Black had, of course, played the original game many times, but were less familiar with the Stained Glass of Sintra variation and Pine at least had played it just once.  It was a tight game and it wasn’t clear who was going to win until the end of the sixth and final round when it became apparent that Black was in a good position to make a killing and probably take an insurmountable lead.  Unfortunately, for him, he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by putting his red glass pieces in the wrong place.  Pine meanwhile had made  a bit of a mess of things elsewhere which left him a score of minus ten for his unused tiles, but this wasn’t enough to knock him of the top of the podium where he sat two points ahead of Black in second and a few more ahead of Mulberry in third.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry needed an early night to help with the jet-lag and Lewis & Clark was still underway, so the remaining three decided to play a recently released game, Gingerbread House.  In this game players are witches in the Enchanted Forest, building their gingerbread house and attracting hungry fairy tale characters with colorful gingerbread.  Each player has a player board showing a three-by-three grid of building spaces with a symbol on each space.  They also have a pile of rectangular tiles each featuring two squares showing two symbols, a bit like dominoes, which are placed face-down in a stack with the top three turned face up (a little like the train cards in Ticket to Ride).  On their turn, players draw one of the face up tiles and place it on their player board, then carry-out the effect of the symbols they covered up.  The most likely symbol is one of the four different types of gingerbread, which means they collect a token of that type.

Gingerbread House
– Image by boardGOATS

Sometimes a player wants to cover two squares on different levels, in which can “stair” tiles can be used as a spacer; players can also receive these as an effect of placing tiles, or they receive two stair tiles if they forfeit their turn.  Other effects include the opportunity to swap one type of gingerbread for another or cage a fairy tale character.  If the two symbols covered are the same, the player gets the effect three times instead of twice adding a positioning element to the tile placement.  Once a tile has been placed, the active player can use some of their gingerbread tokens to capture fairy-tale characters, either from the face up character line or from their “cage” trap near the gate of their cottage.  If placing tiles completed a level, the active player may take a bonus card (up to a maximum of three).

Gingerbread House
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, who had not played the game before went for a very tall house combo, taking a “Chimney” bonus tiles which reward players with eight or more levels (complete or incomplete) and a “Treasure Chest” bonus which would give points if his had at least four complete levels.  Black started off capturing the most valuable fairy tale creatures and then added the “Magic Wand” bonus card which gave him even more points.  Purple meanwhile, also concentrated on the characters she was capturing, taking the “Cauldron” bonus, which rewarded her for catching non-human characters.  Black’s strategy was very effective and, although the characters are hidden once they are taken, so it was no surprise that he was well in front, scoring as many points for his characters alone as Purple and Pine scored in total.  It was really close for second place, however, but Pine just pipped Purple by a single point.

Gingerbread House
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Ivory, Green and Blue had been playing the “Feature Game”, Lewis & Clark.  This is a resource collecting race game, with a deck building element.  Players are explorers trying to get from St. Louis to Fort Clatsop, traveling up the Missouri River over the Rocky and Bitterroot Mountains through Montana and Idaho, and down the Columbia River to the Oregon coast.  Players do this by playing character cards from their hand which provide actions including gathering resources, traveling or converting primary resources into secondary resources.  There are several very unusual things about the game.  Firstly, each card has a power as well as an action.  Whenever a character card is played it must be empowered either by playing a second card and using it’s power rating, using natives, or a combination of both.  This dictates how many times the action is carried out (up to a maximum of three).

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Once a card has been played, either as an action or to activate another card, they are placed on the player’s personal discard pile, so there is also an element of deck-building to the game, with more characters available through the “Journal” .  Of course, the most exciting cards are those with the highest rating, so using them to activate other cards may be efficient, but means that action will not be available until the deck is recycled.  This is another interesting and clever aspect of the game:  each player has their “Scout” and their “Camp”, and they move their scout along the rivers and through the mountains and then, when they “make camp”, they move the camp to join the Scout and pick up all their used cards.  This is a similar mechanism to that used in K2 where players have tents to shelter in, however, in Lewis & Clark the key part is that there are “time penalties” that penalise inefficiencies, like any unused character cards.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

As well as the cost associated with inefficient use of their characters, there are also penalties for hoarding resources.  In order to travel players need buffalo (or bison…?), canoes, and horses, Acquiring canoes and horses require other resources and these must be transported to the new camp by boat—the more resources a player has when their camp moves, the more costly it will be.  Each player’s expedition also has a number of natives, and these also travel by boat.  Players start with five boats three that will hold resources and two for the natives; transporting two resources and one native is free, but the costs increase significantly when more travel.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Another interesting mechanism used in the game is way players gather some of the resources.  Each player starts with action cards that generate the four primary resources, wood, equipment, fur and food (depicted by buffalo, or bison—what’s the difference?  You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo…).  These have a brown, grey, pink or yellow icon associated with them and each character card depicts one of these.  When a player plays, for example, a lumberjack card, they get wood equivalent to the number of visible brown icons visible in front of them, but also those displayed by their each of their neighbours.  Thus, if a player has two wood icons in front of them, and their neighbours have another two each, they would get up to six wood (enough to make four canoes), and if they activated that card three times, that would increase to eighteen.  If both neighbours decided to make camp, however, they would pick up all their cards and playing that lumberjack activated once would then only yield two wood.  Thus, timing is critical and one turn can make all the difference.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Instead of playing a character card, on their turn, players can take a village action by placing a native on the board.  Some of these locations, like the Hunter space, can only hold one native, so the player can only take the action once and nobody else can visit the Hunter to get food and fur until the space has been vacated.  Other spaces like the Canoe Maker, can be visited many times, so a player who has a lot of wood can turn them into up to three canoes.  Natives can also visit the Shaman, which enables players to repeat another player’s Character card.  This turned out to be really important as spaces are only emptied when a player plays their Interpreter card.  The Interpreter calls all natives on the board to a powwow in the middle of the village and then as many of these natives as desired can be recruited for that player’s expedition.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Once per turn, before or after the compulsory action (playing a Character card or deploying a native in the village), players can make camp and recruit new Characters from the face up cards drawn from the Journal deck.  Each character has an intrinsic cost in equipment, as well as a cost in fur dependent on it’s position in the Journal.  There is a potential for hands to become full of unwanted cards, however, it is possible to use one card to pay part of the cost.  Additionally, there is a location in the village, “Farewell” that players can use to discard cards and also refresh the Journal.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Although the game seems to take an inordinately long time to play, it is not actually that complicated.  Essentially, players are trying to gather resources and use these to recruit helpful Characters and acquire secondary resources (horses and canoes) and then use these to travel along the rivers and through the mountain.  Although it seems simple, planning and timing is absolutely critical—getting it wrong can easily mean that a Scout finishes his round behind his camp so that the expedition fails to move forward.  The location of the mountains can mean that even a successful forward movement may be inefficient as The Commander (the movement Character card everyone starts with) only allows players to use canoes to move four spaces along the river and horses to move two spaces in the mountains.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory went first and began by collecting resources, followed by Blue and then Green.  Blue was the first to move and headed off up the river from St. Louis and then made camp.  Ivory and Green weren’t far behind, but when they came to make camp the time penalties they accrued meant they actually went backwards.  This is not always such a bad move in this game if it is due to building a robust engine for later in the game.  So in the first few rounds it looked like Blue had a massive lead, but that didn’t last as the others began the chase.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue was first into the mountains and then realised she had mis-read her expedition leader  card and found that horses would only move two spaces each through in the mountains, not four (like canoes).  The mountains are key to the game and particularly changing ovement and avoiding wasting moves.  Green thought he had it sussed with his Cut Nose Character card, but hadn’t checked the rules and just assumed that it would allow him to move one space through the mountains without needing any resources.  That would have made it a very powerful card, as trading for horses to get through the mountains requires three nonequivalent primary resources per horse (which moves two spaces).  He was very disappointed and, like Blue had to completely reconsider his options.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Ivory had a plan to get his expedition through the mountains.  His combination of the Black Cat and Coboway Character Cards meant he could collect any missing resources he needed easily and then use them to move fast through the mountains.  Inevitably, with Blue mired in the mess she had made, Ivory galloped into the lead, but he still had the Colorado river to negotiate before he could get past fort Clatsop and make camp.  For this he needed natives, but so did Blue.  Unfortunately for Blue, the fact that Ivory was ahead of her in the turn order meant he was able recruit more natives and it wasn’t long before his expedition paddled past the finishing line, and, despite a large time penalty, made camp on the Oregon coast, a very worthy winner in what had been a very enjoyable game.  Definitely one to play again.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Many native Americans have unpronounceable names.

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.

Boardgames in the News: Who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?

A couple of months ago, Reuters reported that according to un-named sources, investment bankers had been hired to run the sale of Asmodee.  The claim was that the sale “could value the company at over €1.5 billion”, but there was no credible information as to who the potential buyers were.  This mystery has now been solved with the announcement that PAI Partners have entered into exclusive discussions to acquire Asmodee, a company with an enterprise value of €1.2 billion.  So, who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?  Well, PAI is a European private equity company, that grew out of the merger between the French banks, BNP and Paribas in 1993, with a management buyout completed in 2001.  They have invested in a wide range of companies covering everything from yoghurt (Yoplait) to tyres (Kwik Fit) to cargo handling (Swissport).  Obviously PAI are interested in making money from Asmodee, but at this time there is no evidence to suggest that would by by asset stripping.  Price increases would be almost inevitable however, as the Studios would be under pressure to provide a good return on the investment.

PAI Partners
– Image from paipartners.com

Boardgames in the News: Asmodee For Sale‽

Over the last few years Eurazeo have developed Asmodee from a small French games company primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble, into an industrial conglomerate swallowing up the likes of Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, and Lookout Spiele.  In the process, Asmodee added some of the most high profile modern boardgames to their portfolio, including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, SplendorDead of Winter, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and as of this weekLove Letter.  Speculation as to the end result has been rife, here and elsewhere.  Indeed, three months ago we raised the question:

…it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Eurazeo going to make their “controlled exit”?

Reuters now reports that according to un-named sources, the answer is, “Sell Asmodee”.  Apparently, investment bankers have been hired to run a sale process which they claim could value the company at over €1.5 billion (quite a return for Eurazeo who originally paid €143 million for Asmodee in November 2013).  As yet, there is no credible information as to who the potential buyers may be, but if the news that Asmodee is to be sold is true, there will no doubt be plenty of speculation over the coming weeks and months.  Possibilities range from a major toy manufacturer like Hasbro or Mattel wanting to add expand their range of boardgames, to venture capitalists companies going for maximum short term profits, leading to reduced quality and increased prices.  No doubt, time will tell…

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com