Tag Archives: Ticket to Ride

Game Plan: Rediscovering Boardgames at the V & A Museum of Childhood

Inspired by the recent articles on Saturday Live and the Today Programme, on Easter Sunday, Pink and Blue decided to visit the V & A Museum of Childhood to see their “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered” exhibition.  Catching a train from Oxford Parkway and negotiating the London Underground, they arrived in Bethnal Green.  With its vaulted ceiling and exposed metal work, the Museum building looks for all the world like a re-purposed Victorian Civil building, a train station, swimming pool or maybe some sort of pumping station.  Much to their disappointment, however, after extensive discussion and investigation, it turned out that the building was designed for the purpose, albeit after relocation of parts from “Albertopolis” on Exhibition Road.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The exhibition itself was well presented and occupied a sizeable portion of the overall floor space.  Although it was located in one of the upstairs galleries, the exhibition was well advertised and, from entering the main hall, games were brought to the visitors’ attention with table space and signs offering the loan of games should people want to play.  It wasn’t an idle promise either, as there were several family groups making full use of the opportunity, albeit playing what might be called classic games rather than more modern, Euro games.

Senet
– Image by boardGOATS

A quick look at the model train cabinet and brief spell side-tracked by one or two other exciting toys preceded entry to the exhibition which was shrouded by an eye-catching red screen.  The first exhibit was a copy of Senet, arguably one of the oldest games in the world – so old in fact that we’ve lost the rules and nobody knows how to play it.  This was followed by some traditional games including a beautiful wooden Backgammon set made in Germany in 1685 and decorated with sea monsters and a lot of fascinating Chess sets, old and new.  Next, there were some ancient copies of Pachisi (which evolved into Ludo) and Snakes and Ladders, both games that originated in India and were originally played seriously by adults.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Further round there were many other curious games, for example, The Noble Game of Swan from 1821, which was an educational game for children, itself developed from the much older, Game of the Goose.  Education was a bit of theme and there were a lot of games from the nineteenth and early twentieth century designed to teach geography in some form or another.  These included Round the Town, a game where players had to try to cross London via Charing Cross, and Coronation Scot, a game based on travelling from Glasgow to London inspired by the eponymous 1937 express train made to mark the coronation of George VI.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Education didn’t stop there either:  for those that had been members of RoSPA‘s “Tufty Club“, there was a game promoting road safety featuring Tufty the Squirrel and his mates Minnie Mole and the naughty Willy Weasel.  However, when designing this roll-and-move game, they clearly ran out of imaginative “adventures” with a road safety message, as they had to resort to “Picking and eating strange berries – Go back three spaces…”

Tufty Road Safety Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Progressing through the late twentieth century, there were the inevitable copies of the childhood classic games, including Game of Life, Risk, Cluedo, Mouse Trap, Trivial Pursuit, Connect 4, Scrabble and the inevitable Monopoly, all of which risked bringing a tear to the eye as visitors remembered playing them as children.  The exhibition eventually brought us up to date with modern Euro-style games, presenting copies of Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan.

Pandemic
– Image by boardGOATS

More interestingly, there was also an original prototype of Pandemic supplied by the designer, Matt Leacock, complete with his scribbles and bits of paper stuck over infection routes he decided to remove as the game developed.  One of the final display showed how the influence boardgames have had on the computer gaming industry is sometimes strangely reciprocated, with a copy of the Pac-Man game, including the title figure wrought in sunshine yellow plastic.

Pac Man
– Image by boardGOATS

Leaving the exhibition, there was just one last game – “What’s Your Gameface?“.  This cute flow chart entertained Blue and Pink for far longer than is should have as they tested it out with all their friends, relatives and fellow gamers (nobody came out as “Cheater”).

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

With the exhibition done, there was still time for a wander round the rest of the museum and a quick cuppa in the cafe.  Reflecting on the exhibition, perhaps one of the best aspects had actually been the quotations that adorned the walls.  It seems luminaries from Plato to Roald Dahl have all had something to say on the subject of games.  Perhaps George Bernard Shaw supplied the most thought provoking comment though, when he said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  With this in mind, we did what gamers do when they travel, so tea and cake was accompanied by two rounds of Mijnlieff, the super-cool noughts and crosses game.  With the museum closing, it was time to head home, but there was still time for a game or two of 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel! on the train back to Oxford…

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The Exhibition is only open till 23rd April 2017, so there isn’t much time left and it is well worth a visit.

29th December 2016 – boardGOATS do the Quiz

Our local is the The Horse and Jockey pub in Stanford-in-the-Vale, and we meet there every fortnight on a Tuesday.  Every Thursday, they also hold a pub quiz, so as it was Christmas, we decided to get a special GOATS team together.  Blue, Pink, Pine, Violet and Violet’s mum were all up for it, so we booked a table for 8pm to have dinner first.  Unfortunately, Blue had over-indulged on turkey at lunch so had fallen asleep in the afternoon.  Although Pink had woken her, he failed to do so very effectively, so they were a bit late and by the time they arrived, there was a bit of a queue for food.  Not to worry though, we were nearly finished by the time the quiz started and were quite able to answer the first few questions and eat at the same time.

Quiz
– Image by boardGOATS

The quiz typically consists of five rounds of ten general knowledge questions, a picture round, a “Who am I” round, and two anagrams.  The “Who am I” round consists of five clues with players giving answers after each clue and teams scoring progressively less as the clues progress.  This and the anagrams (which score three points each) can be quite critical and often sort the sheep from the goats.   Only Pine and Blue had been before, and both had been part of teams that had not really troubled the scorers, so we were more than a little pleased when we got four points for the “Who am I” (Claire Balding, who apparently went to the same school as Miranda Hart) and, mostly thanks to Pine, the full six points for both anagrams!  Correctly identifying Kim Jong Un (obscured by a Santa hat, beard and glasses) as well as most of the others in the picture round meant that we finished strongly.  With a grand total of fifty-four points, we took first place, three points clear of “Something Simple” who finished second.  After a quick chat with a nice couple from Faringdon who had been marking our answers and had played Karuba and Ticket to Ride with their family over the holidays, we took care of the complicated matter of the bill (taking into account our winnings) and Violet and her mum went home.

Quiz
– Image by boardGOATS

Since Pine had his drink to finish and Blue and Pink had taken the precaution of bringing along a couple of small games, we decided to do what gamers do best and play games.  First up was No Thanks!.  This is a great little “push your luck” game where a card is turned over and players have to take the card or pay a mini poker chip to pass the problem on to the next player.  At the end of the round, players add the face values of the cards together and offset this with any remaining points to give their total – the smallest value is the winner.  The really clever part is that if a player has a run of consecutive cards, then only the lowest counts.  Spice is added by the removal of nine cards from the original thirty-two consecutive cards in the deck.  Blue did appallingly badly throughout, and while Pine won both the first two rounds, Pink won the final one by such a large margin that his aggregate total was the lowest overall, making him the winner.

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

After that we played a few quick rounds of Love Letter.  This simple game played with just sixteen cards is almost the ubiquitous filler game.  Starting with one card, on their turn players draw a second and choose one to play.  Each card has a number and an action and the player left with the highest card at the end is the winner.   Pink tried to insist that Blue was always the Baron, only to get caught out as the Baron himself.  Blue started the next round as the Princess, so swapped cards with Pink and promptly caught him on the next turn.  In contrast, Pine managed to go nearly an entire round as the Princess only to be caught just before the end.  It was close and it all came down the the last game, but in a move that would have drawn allegations of match-fixing in football, Pink drew his second card face up by mistake, and then chose not to play it.  Pine gleefully assassinated Pink’s Baron once again, only to succumb himself a couple of rounds later leaving Blue to finish with three wins (to Pink’s two) and claimed victory.

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Gamers can be good at quizzes too.

 

28th December 2016

Being a Wednesday, and with lots of people away for Christmas, we weren’t sure how many to expect. In the event we had a reasonable turn out, and enough for a six player game of Chicago Express (aka Wabash Cannonball), the evening’s “Feature Game“.  This is a fairly simple game, with just three possible actions per turn, but the consequences can be far-reaching.  At the start of the game there are four rail companies B&O (blue), Pennsylvania Railroad (red), C&O (yellow) and New York Central (Green), trying to build routes from the east coat to Chicago.  Unlike most train games, players don’t play the part of the railroads, instead they are investors, speculating in order to accumulate as much cash as possible.   To that end, on their turn players can auction a share of one of the companies, extend a network of a company they hold shares in or “improve” one of the hexes that a rail-line goes through.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

At the end of each round, there is a dividend where owners of shares get a pay-out.  The game is played over a maximum of eight rounds and the player with the most money at the end of the game wins.  There are a couple of clever parts of the game. Firstly, there are the three action wheels.  Each time a player takes an action, the associated dial is moved on one step. Each dial has a maximum number of steps per round and once this limit has been reached, that action is unavailable for the rest of the round.  Once two action dials have reached their maximum, the the round is over and dividends are handed out.  The dividend depends on the length of the railroad, where it goes, any upgrades along the route and the number of shares held.  The second clever aspect of the game is the economic merry-go-round. When players buy shares, the money is paid to the company and it is this money that is then used to build rail routes.  Money is gradually fed into the game via the dividend which is taken from the bank.  Since the winning condition is solely based on money at the end of the game, there is a strong incentive to minimise the amount paid for shares.  However, this can be a false economy as it can leave the company that short of funds for development.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor da pyrate

So, the balance is hard to strike, and as the game progresses, demand increases for the companies with the largest dividends.  In general, there are eight rounds, but if three companies run out of trains or three companies run out of shares, then the game ends early, so players have to watch what they spend to make sure they don’t get caught out. Only money counts at the end of the game, shares are worthless, so players can’t afford to overspend.  Chicago Express was a Christmas gift for Pink, and only Blue and Pink had played it before, and then only with two players. They explained what had happened and, as the game starts with an initial share auction they offered as much of their (albeit limited) experience as they could to help players value the shares, but the suspicion was that the game would play very differently with six.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Blue took the first share in the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR, red), Burgundy placed a stake in the B&O (blue), Pine invested in C&O (yellow), and Purple took the last initial offering, snapping up the New York Central share (green). That left Black and Pink with nothing at the beginning, but with their starting funds untouched.  Because funds are replenished (at least in part) by the dividend at the end of the round, it is very important for players who lose out in the initial auction to ensure they get a stake before the end of the round or they risk having to fight a rear-guard action for the whole game. To this end, Pink started out on a concerted campaign to auction off shares. By the end of the first round, Pink had joined Pine in the yellow C&O and Black had gone into partnership with Blue in the PRR. Blue on the other hand had bankrupted herself by dividing her loyalties and joined Burgundy investing in the B&O.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Mouseketeer

After the first round, everyone could see how things we playing out and it about then that another share in the New York Central was put up for auction. The dividend had been one of the highest; hitherto, Purple had held the only share and she was very keen to keep it that way.  As the price crept up, players gradually dropped out of the bidding, eventually leaving just Burgundy and Purple.  Burgundy pushed her to the limit, but thanks to her slightly higher dividend in the first round, Purple was able to hang on to her monopoly.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

As the game progressed, more shares were auctioned and railroads gradually progressed westward, though the routes they took varied considerably.  Black and Blue took the PRR by the most direct route as did Burgundy (with little help from Blue, his silent partner), while Green went to the north.  In contrast, Pink and Pine took the C&O along the south coast, where there were lots of cities making it increasingly valuable and consequently, a target for takeover.  There were lots of shares available though, which simply had the effect of diluting the holding and eroding its value.  Nevertheless, Pine and Pink managed to hang on to the majority between them, so all their efforts weren’t totally wasted.  Meanwhile, Purple managed to fight off another unwanted takeover bid, with Blue forcing up the bids this time.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

It was about this time, at the start of the fifth round that train stocks and share certificates began to run out, and suddenly everyone realised that the game could be close to the end.  Purely by chance, Blue hadn’t spent any money in the previous round having been repeatedly outbid, which meant she had more than anyone else. However, as she only had two shares she had one of the smaller shares of the dividend due, so she needed the game to end before the start of the next round. With this in mind, she began aggressively selling C&O shares, which not only brought the game to an abrupt end, but also led to a dilution of their value as others could see the writing on the wall. The tactic worked though, and after the last dividend had been handed out, everyone added up their profits and the game finished with Blue out in front with forty-two dollars, eleven dollars clear of Purple in second place.

Chicago Express
– Image by BGG contributor damnpixel

As the dust settled, players considered what had happened with the benefit of hindsight.  It was clear that although the game is unquestionably very clever, not everyone appreciated the combination of simplicity and difficulty.  In truth, it really isn’t a “train game”, more an economics game with a train theme, which could be responsible for making it less popular than, say, Ticket to Ride.  It can also be quite unforgiving, especially for players who fail to get shares in the early part of the game.  Since only four shares are auctioned before the game starts properly, the higher player counts pretty much guarantee that someone will have to fight to stay in the game.  On the other hand, if they are lucky, they may be able to get potentially valuable shares relatively cheaply by capitalising on the fact that others might have overpaid to ensure they don’t get left out.  All in all, it definitely left some players with mixed feelings.

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor da pyrate

With the post-mortem out of the way, we started a game of Las Vegas.  We’ve played this simple game quite a bit, in fact, most times that it comes to games night it gets played, probably because it is an easy option.  The idea is that players begin their turn by rolling their dice and then assign some of them to one of six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  Players must use all the dice displaying 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 with the person in second place taking the next and so on. The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of barracking.  As usual, we included the Big Dice from the Boulevard expansion and the Slot Machine mini-expansion from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar.  The Slot Machine acts like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but dice of each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

For some reason, this game always seems to take our group ages. Black commented that it was because we all play the same way, hedging our bets at the start of the round, hoping to be the last player with dice and to be able to use them to greatest effect.  As Black pointed out though, in practice, most of the time, even when the dice roll to leave a player with the most dice at the end, it is rare they can actually use them to great influence.  With that in mind, we tried to play slightly more aggressively, and also decided to play just three rounds instead of the usual four.  In the event, game play was slightly quicker than in previous games, but not much, and in truth nobody really minded.  The thing is, Las Vegas is very relaxing to play because there is are short spells of intense thought interspersed within longish periods while others play. Although this would normally be tedious, somehow watching others roll and the anticipation while they choose what to do is strangely compelling.  This time, the first round was fairly even, but it was the second round where things got interesting. Normal service was resumed for Burgundy who got nothing and Blue didn’t do much better. Black was the real winner though, taking money from several of the casinos, many of which were quite substantial. He was less lucky during the final round, however, and it was Purple, who had been consistent throughout who finished in front with $370,000 just $20,000 ahead of Black in second.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

With the fog, and an early start the next day for some, Black, Purple an Burgundy headed off, leaving Blue, Pine and Pink to a game of Finca.  This is a fairly light set collecting game centered around a rondel.  The idea is that players have two options on their turn, the can move a meeple round the rondel to pick up fruit, or deliver sets of fruit to the Mallorcan villages. The rondel movement is the interesting bit: the number of meeples on its start space dictate how far the meeple moves and the number of meeples on the space at the end of its move indicates how many fruit the active player gets.  If the meeple passes one of two markers during its move, the player gets a donkey cart token which can be traded in for the opportunity to make a delivery.

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The game has a couple of other features. Firstly, in order to stop players hoarding fruit and starving others, if there are insufficient fruit available when needed, everyone returns everything of that type that they have, before the active player gets their due. This also applies to donkey cart tokens an it forces players to deliver frequently. In any case, donkey carts are generally small and hold a maximum of six fruit, so there is rarely good reason for hoarding.  Secondly, the villages each have a pile of demand tokens, face down except for the top one. Each of these depict some number of fruit from one to six.  When a player delivers to a village, they take the demand token and the number of fruit on the token is equivalent to the number of points awarded to the player at the end of the game. Thus, a player could collect one token featuring six fruit, alternatively, they could claim two or more tokens that sum to six (or fewer – donkey carts don’t have to be full).

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Finally, bonuses are available for players who collect sets of demand tiles numbering from one to six, and when all the demand tiles are taken for a village, the finca tile is evaluated which gives more points. The game ends when demand tiles have been taken for a set number of villages and points are added up. Pine was new to the game, though Blue and Pink had played it a few times before. So it was that Pink, slightly needled by his poor results in the first two games, showed the way, initially by delivering the first fruit and collecting the corresponding demand tiles, then by collecting a set of six tiles, and with it, seven bonus points.  Blue collected plenty of fruit and turned them into demand tiles, but Pine and Pink between them took all the available “three value” demand tiles preventing her from getting a bonus. Pine quickly got to grips with the game, but his problems were compounded by the fact that he kept drawing with Blue when the finca bonus tiles were evaluated.  So it was Pink led from the start, picking up both finca bonuses and set bonuses as he went and snatching tiles just before the others could take them, and he ran out the worthy winner with fifty-two points to finish the evening on a landslide.

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning outcome:  A game needs more than trains for it to be a “train game”.

Essen 2016

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

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag.com

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

Essen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Gonzaga

Boardgames in the News: The Monthly Game Guardian

In recent years it has become increasingly acceptable to play boardgames, so much so that there are now regular articles in the national press – in particular The Guardian who have had a dedicated boardgames area in their “Lifestyle” section for some time.  They now also have a regular monthly guide designed to help people “find the best games” and “steer clear of disappointing duds”.  This is written by Owen Duffy who writes for the Guardian on a range of subjects and until recently ran the tabletop gaming blog Cardboard SandwichThe first article showcases four games that even some dedicated gamers might not be aware of:  Ice Cool, Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails, Mystic Vale and Sneaky Cards.  Owen has a real love of playing boardgames and is genuinely knowledgable about them, so the “Boarders Hoard” is definitely worth keeping an eye out for.

Ice Cool
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Boardgames in the News: What does Brexit mean for Eurogamers?

On Thursday, after a long and miserable campaign, the UK public voted to leave the EU.  Boardgamers are a friendly bunch, so what does the imminent divorce mean for us?  Obviously there’s lots of speculation and scare stories, but the most immediate and obvious effect is undoubtedly the cost and potentially the availability of boardgames in the UK.  A copy of Ticket to Ride: Europe bought from Germany using Amazon.de would have cost €43.92 including postage, which would have been about £33.45 on Thursday evening at 10pm.  At 5am the following morning, this had risen to £35.94, an increase of £2.50 in just seven hours.  The same game bought from the USA from Amazon.com costs $64.69 (including shipping and tax waivers etc.) which was about £43.21 at 10pm on Thursday rising to a staggering £48.25 at 5am the next morning – an increase of over £5!  The exchange rates will probably improve over time, however, it will be a while before they achieve pre-referendum levels and there will no doubt be more uncertainty to come too, no doubt.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

 

17th May 2016

Red and Blue were late arriving, so while they fed on lamb burger and chips, everyone else settled down to a quick game of Sushi Go! (with added Soy Sauce). This is probably the quickest and simplest of the drafting games.  Drafting is very simple mechanism:  everyone begins with a hand of cards and simultaneously chooses one and passes the rest on.  Once the cards have been revealed, players pick up the hand they’ve been given and again choose a card before passing the hand on.  In this way the hands progressively get smaller with players adding cards to their display.  It is a mechanism used to great effect in more complex games like 7 Wonders and Between Two Cities, where other mechanisms are added to give the game more substance (engine building and semi-cooperative tile laying in these two examples).  In Sushi Go!, the aim of the game is to collect sets of cards, with points awarded for different achievements depending on the type of card.  For example, the player to collect the most maki rolls scores six points while anyone who collects three sashimi gets ten and so on.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Everyone except Burgundy did reasonably well in the first round, with Green getting his nose in front thanks to some well-timed wasabi and a pair of tempura while Purple and Pine fought for the maki roll bonus.  In the second round Burgundy managed reduce his deficit, and Green’s lead took a big dent.  With Black as his main threat, however, Green felt sure he had the situation well under control as he was sat to Black’s left so was the one passing him cards in the last round.  In the end, despite everything, it was a really tight game with almost everyone scoring thirty points before the puddings were evaluated.  As the only one, Burgundy paid the full price for failing to pick up a single pudding card.  In contrast, because of the seating order in the last round Green had been able to ensure that Black was unable to challenge him for the title of “Pudding King” leaving Green the winner by a healthy margin.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kladan

With the lamb burgers dealt with, we moved onto our “Feature Game” which was Cargo Noir.  We had two copies, so decide to set them up side by side so we could all play.  This game is nearly ten years old and hasn’t been as popular as other games by Days of Wonder, so most of us had not played it before.  The exact reason for the lack of enthusiasm could be the artwork which is 1950s style and quite drab in colour, so is perhaps less appealing than, for example the highly successful Ticket to Ride and Small World.  Perhaps more significant though is the game play which appears to have a bit of “Marmite Factor” with some people raving about it while others seem to loath it with equal passion.  This is curious because at it’s heart, Cargo Noir is just an auction game, built around set collecting, but with a little bit of bite.

Cargo Noir
– Image by BGG contributor fabricefab

At the beginning of the game each player has three ships and at the start of their turn, each ship will be located at one of the harbours, in the casino and the black market.  On their turn, the first evaluate the status of each of their ships and resolve any auctions; then they trade any sets of goods for cards (which are worth victory points at the end of the game), before finally repositioning any left over ships.  So, like lots of games, Cargo Noir is basically about turning money into points.  Aside from the starting handful of money, the only other source is the casino and ships placed there yield two coins (yes, it IS the only casino in the world that gives out money!).  These can be used to bid for the goods available in the harbours.

Cargo Noir
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ronster0

Each ship can visit one harbour and takes with them a stack of money.  If it is the only ship in the harbour at the start of the players next turn, then the player gets all the goods laid out in the harbour.  If they are not alone, the player can either leave the ship there and add enough money to the stack to win the current bid, or remove the ship from the board taking nothing.  Thus, the trick is to bid enough to keep others away, but not enough to risk bankruptcy.  The final location ships can visit is the black market, which enables players to either trade one of their existing commodities for one on display, or to draw a free tile at random from the bag which can be very useful as it gives a tile without spending money.  Players get “credits” (but no money) for sets goods where all the tiles are either all the same or all different.  Since larger sets give more “credits”, the ability to trade a commodity can enable players to buy more valuable cards.

Cargo Noir
– Image by BGG contributor DaveyJJ

There are some serious limitations for players to consider, for example at the start of the game each player can only carry forward a maximum of six goods to the next round – everything else must be sold.  Similarly, having three ships can be seriously restrictive.  So, some of the victory cards yield fewer points at the end of the game, but give smugglers an edge during it, providing extra cargo ships for example, or giving them access to a warehouse to store extra goods enabling them to build up more credits and buy more valuable cards.  Players who choose to buy a syndicate card can even get money from the bank when they withdraw from a bidding war, which has the potential to provide a nice little earner while damaging opponents, if used wisely.  The game lasts a fixed number of rounds (depending on the number of players) and the player with the most points wins.

Cargo Noir
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

With two copies and seven of us (most of whom were unfamiliar with it), we decided to split into two groups both playing the same game.  In the four player game, Pine (who started) got off to a flying start while everyone else struggled, getting caught in bidding wars.  A few rounds in, Red briefly got her nose in front, but Pine was better positioned and galloped away.  As the game came to a close, Blue fought her way back into the game quickly buying two extra ships and engaging in a “collect as much as possible and sell immediately” approach which sort of worked, but it was too little too late.  Meanwhile, Green collected a massive amount of uranium together, but couldn’t quite make enough on the last round to make a big impact leaving Pine to win with a healthy margin despite finishing with just four ships.

Cargo Noir
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

The other game was very close with Purple doing her best to scupper the plans of Burgundy and Black, but doing more damage to herself in the process.  The game finished with Burgundy taking it by just five points which was particularly galling for Black as he was one coin away from getting the additional five he needed for the draw.  There was a lot of discussion as to whether we liked the game.  Green was of the opinion that there was too much downtime and it was time you couldn’t do very much with as the previous player had the ability to completely upset any plans made in advance.  Red also had misgivings, saying she quite liked it, but wouldn’t bother to go out and buy a copy; Blue commented that as she already had a copy the question was more whether it should be kept, and it would certainly stay for a while yet.  Pine on the other hand, had really enjoyed it (despite the faces he pulled at the start), but in general, consensus seemed to be that it was “OK”, even “quite nice”, but not a “great game”.  It was also perhaps better with three than four and the downtime would have been very significant if playing with five.

Cargo Noir
– Image by BGG contributor thornatron

Green decided to get an early night so the rest of us decided to finish with an older, large group game, Saboteur. This is a bit of an old favourite, and is one of the original hidden traitor/social deduction games.  The idea is that each player is either a Dwarf or a Saboteur and players take it in turns to play cards with the Dwarves aiming to get to the treasure, while the Saboteurs try to stop them.  There are two types of cards that can be played:  tunnels and special cards.  The tunnels come in different shapes and must be played in the correct orientation, so Dwarves try to push the path in the right direction, while Saboteurs try to play disruptive cards while trying to look like they’ve done the best they can with the hand available.  Meanwhile, special cards include “rockfall” cards which can be played to remove a tunnel card already played and maps which can be used to see where the gold is hidden.  Most importantly, however are “broken tool” cards which can be played on another player to prevent them building tunnel cards until they (or another kind-hearted soul) plays a matching “fixed tool” card to remove it.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

We usually play with a few house-rules.  The rules suggest that the game should be played over three “rounds” with the winning team semi-randomly receiving “gold” cards; the overall winner is then the player whose gold cards depict the most gold pieces.  Now, we find that the game can sometimes outstay its welcome and the addition of the gold at the end of the rounds feels like an attempt to make more out of the game, but in actuality just makes it more frustrating as there is a large amount of randomness in their allocation.  So firstly we dispense with this aspect altogether and treat each round as a game in its own right.  That way, we can play one or two games/rounds and then move on, or play extras if everyone is enjoying themselves or time dictates.  Secondly, the teams are drawn from a pool cards so that there is an unknown number of Saboteurs around.  Although it’s nice to have this additional uncertainty, we’ve always found (particularly with six players) that the minimum number of Saboteurs makes the game very easy for the Dwarves, so we tend to play with a fixed number of Saboteurs.  This time, we debated whether to add the expansion, Saboteur 2, but decided against it as the characters seemed to be completely random draw and we didn’t really have time to think about the implications properly – maybe next time.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

The first “game” was very cagey with everyone looking very “saboteur-y” and everyone accusing everyone else of “saboteur behaviour”.  In the event, it turned out that all the dwarves had poor hands, and it was fairly clear that the Saboteurs had won when first Pine and then Blue outed themselves to ensure that the Dwarves didn’t make it home.  The accusations were already flying about as the cards were being dealt out with Pine commenting that it was highly unlikely that he would be a Saboteur twice in a row and even more unlikely that Blue would be too.  This quickly degenerated into a discussion of probability and how the probability was actually exactly the same as last time as the two events were independent, even though the probability of the identical set of Saboteurs is relatively unlikely.  Unlikely it may have been, but this time it happened.  In an effort to do something different and in the hope that her behaviour would look different, Blue outed Pine as a Saboteur since everyone was already somehow suspicious.  Nobody really fell for it however, and it was a fairly easy win for the Dwarves.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Since we’d had two games with the same Saboteurs, we decided to play a third.  This time things were going reasonably well for the Saboteurs as the Dwarves were struggling with poor cards again.  Red was already looking shifty, so when the Dwarves suddenly got it together and headed in the right direction quickly, nobody was terribly surprised when she outed herself because by playing a “rockfall” card. As she drowned under a hailstorm of “broken tool” cards, Red declared that the other Saboteur was going to have to pull their finger out or it would be all over.  Black was sat to her left, but miscounted the distance to the gold and played a map card.  This left Purple and Pine to finish the game and everyone question why Black hadn’t played his rockfall card, especially Red who was quite vehement in her criticism of Saboteurs who don’t pull their weight!  With that, much hilarity ensued and eventually everyone headed home.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

Learning Outcome:  If you are going to try to win, don’t leave it too late.