Tag Archives: Ticket to Ride

12th Movember 2019

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

Google
– Image from google.com

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

The actions include:  gathering resources, gathering camels, earning money, buying purchase orders and travelling.  The game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most purchase orders, and having visited the cities on the secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.  With only three people playing the group decided not to use the Agents of Venice, but did use the New Characters mini-expansion.  It took quite a while to set up and explain the game as it is one of those where the rules explanation is far heavier than the game itself:  after only a round or two it all becomes quite clear how to play. However, the trick is to work out what are the best actions to take and when.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image from google.com

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Coloretto
– Imageby boardGOATS

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

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: You can never have too many camels.

Essen 2019 – Update

Sunday was the last day of this year’s Internationale Spieltage, the largest games fair in Europe (and arguably the world), known to gamers worldwide simply as “Essen”.  Although there was a lot of buzz about some of the hot games like Maracaibo and Cooper Island, it is the smaller, less well-known games that really make the fair what it is.  For example, Firefly Dance, is a fun little memory game with gorgeous little light-up fireflies activated with a wooden magic wand.

Firefly Dance
– Image by boardGOATS

Some games sold out within minutes: the last copy of Tapestry went in less than half an hour, and other early sell-outs included Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea, A Fistful of Meeples and Point Salad.  There were lots of good deals to be had, including Passing Through Petra, one of the hot games from last year which was reduced from €60 to just €15.  Part of this might have been to attract attention to the Renegade Games stand because according to staff their entire supply of this year’s releases were “stuck in customs”.  This included their copies of Paladins of the West Kingdom (the sequel to last year’s smash hit, Architects of the West Kingdom).

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

There were also a number of other unusual games available, for example, Wsiąść do Pociągu: Polska, the new Poland map for Ticket to Ride, as well as the more widely available new Japan/Italy Map Collection.  There were other expansions as well, including the European Birds expansion to Wingspan, Sagrada: The Great Facades – Passion and Terraforming Mars: Turmoil.  In addition to expansions, there were several stand-alone re-implementations of old favourites, including the new 6 Nimmt! Brettspiel (boardgame), Glen More II: Chronicles and Azul: Summer Pavilion.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Games fairs are also about demonstrations of games that have not yet been released.  There were many of these, but one of the highlights was perhaps Namiji which is the sequel to Tokaido and will be the subject of a crowd-funding campaign in a month’s time.  So there is much to look forward to  from the Essen haul, old games as well as new, which will make the coming months very exciting indeed.

Namiji
– Image by boardGOATS

15th October 2019

With food and Ivory both a little delayed, the “Feature Game”, Tapestry was starting to look a bit doubtful. Ivory and the food both arrived eventually though, and Burgundy made haste with his ham, egg and chips while everyone else decided what they were going to play.  To fill in time while the eaters ate, everyone else decided to squeeze in a quick game of Ticket to Ride: London.  This version of Ticket to Ride is reduced in size and is designed be quicker to play, which certainly proved to be the case.  The game play is very similar, however, with players taking it turns to draw coloured cards or use them to place pieces, but in this version the Train pieces are replaced by Routemaster Buses.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Although it is still high quality, the board is also smaller than in the full-sized versions, the players have fewer pieces and a maximum of four can participate.  As usual, players also start with a selection of ticket cards and successfully fulfilling these give more points, but woe betide any player who fails to complete a ticket as the points become negative, which can be very costly indeed.  In addition to these features, this new light version of the game also gives bonus points to players who manage to connect all the locations in an area. Not large numbers of points, but in a tight game it can make all the difference. And these games are often quite tight…

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Players started placing Buses very early in the game, and it wasn’t long before it became clear that everyone was trying to claim routes in the same “south of the river” area.  Although Ivory eventually extended to the east, Lime broke ranks first and claimed a north west route.  Pine completed his routes early and went for more tickets a couple of times. Then before we knew it, the game was over as Ivory placed his last bus.  Placed Bus scores had Ivory way out in front as he had several of the long, four-bus routes, while Lime brought up the rear as he had been claiming mostly two-bus lengths routes.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

So it was looking like a bit of a “slam dunk” for Ivory.  Everyone had managed to complete an area or two and pick up the associated bonuses, but Ivory had actually managed to get the four point area with all his long routes in the east.  When the completed route scores were added in, Pine just pipped Green, but unfortunately for Lime he had failed complete his longest route causing him to lose eleven points.  The clear winner was Ivory though, and managing to complete three high scoring routes just increased his already substantial lead giving him a dominant win.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

With food just about done and the first game coming to an end, there was some debate who would play the “Feature Game”, Tapestry.   This is the hot new game from Jamie Stegmaier, designer of Scythe and producer of Wingspan, so everyone knew what they were getting – amazing production values in a very solid game. In this case, the game is quite simple in terms of the number of rules, however, they combine together to make a much more complex game.  The idea is that on their turn, the active player simply either pay resources to progress their civilisation in one of the four directions (Science, Exploration, Military and Technology) and carries out the associate action, or they start a New Era for their people and collect Income.  It is how these apparently simple options interact that leads to a complex and deep game however.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over four Eras, with each player book-ending their game with an Income phase.  Players choose when to take their own Income phases which has the unusual consequence that Civilisations can be in different Eras and even finish at very different times.  Advancing their Civilisation can have a wide range of consequences because each step along the four tracks is different and, in general, the further along the tracks the more powerful the action is.  For example, in the early stages of the game, a player taking the explore action might be able to place a tile on the central player board, which later may enable them to expand the are they control.  Later in the game, however, a player who reaches the end of the Explore track can move away from terra firma and explore Space, which can be very lucrative.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

After the usual debate over who was going to play, Black joined the inevitable trio of Burgundy, Blue and Ivory.  The game is asymmetric, so each player’s civilisation has a different special power. For example, Ivory’s civilisation, “Leaders”, were to allow him to progress along one of the tracks at the start of each Era.  Black’s “Merrymakers” also granted a bonus at the start of each Era, but this time it’s according to three private progression tracks; the further up a track that the Merrymakers move, the more potent the benefit they receive.  The bonus received by Burgundy’s “Chosen” would depend on his position on each of the four technology tracks at the start of each Era: where there were no players in front of him, he would pick up victory points equal to the number of other players in the game (three in this case).

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

Not all civilisations give advantages during the income phase, however.  For instance, Blue’s “Isolationists” gave her an advantage when colonising.  The game features a central board which represents the colonies’ territories.  At the start of the game, the colonies are well separated by unexplored land.  The Explore action generally enables players to take tiles from the supply (though some are provided as part of the Income phase), and place hexes on the map next to territory they control.  When carrying out a Military action, players can take control of a neighbouring, explored hex, by placing one of their coloured markers on it.  If the tile is already occupied, it can be “attacked” with the second player simply placing one of their markers and tipping over the defeated player’s marker.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

Each hex can hold a maximum of two pieces, so there is no come-back.  In general, players are also not able to place a second marker as a defense.  This means that players are naturally reticent when it comes to expanding and controlling the border regions as expanding can leave their border regions vulnerable by providing a path for the opposition to attack.  The Isolationists colony helps to prevent this by enabling the player to place a second marker on a small number of occasions.  Occupying territory is one way of scoring points.  Another is by improving a civilisation technologically.  This is done by taking orange Technology cards.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

Technology cards give no immediate advantage, but they give a bonus when they are upgraded, either as part of the Income phase at the start of an Era or as an action.  They also give points during the Income phase, but the number of points depends how developed their Capital is.  Each player has a personal play area that includes a Capital City board as well as an area to place their Technology cards, a space at the top to store buildings and the Tapestry Cards that give the game its name.  There are four types of buildings which start the game placed on four tracks that roughly correspond to the four types of advancement and yield resources: Markets (yellow), Houses (grey), Farms (brown) and Armourers (red).

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

During the game, the buildings are moved to the players’ Capital Cities, revealing bonuses that the player will get during the forthcoming income phases.  These bonuses include resources (money, people, mushrooms and power), but also victory points, additional terrain hexes, Tapestry cards and scoring multipliers.  These multipliers are critical:  players score points for the number of Technology cards, the size of the territory they control on the central map, and the number of completed rows and columns in their Capital.  The more buildings a player moves to their Capital, the more of these multipliers are revealed and the more points a player gets.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to their personal buildings, players can also enhance their cities with large buildings which are awarded to to the first player to progress onto certain spaces on the development tracks.  These special buildings are wonderfully over-produced and come pre-painted, really adding to the appearance and feel of the game.  As they are only space fillers, there is no question – they could certainly be replaced with simple card tiles and would have been had the game been produced a few years ago.  This is not a deluxe edition however; the added “bling” comes as standard and elevates the feel of the game above the ordinary (and unfortunately,  elevates the price too).  Unfortunately, these sculpts have very rounded corners which makes it a little hard to see what space they cover during play.  They are really gorgeous though!

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

The key to the game is probably the resources though as progressing along the four development tracks, Science, Exploration, Military and Technology need to be paid for.  The price increases the further up the track the player gets as well, so running out of resources largely dictates when players will choose to start a New Era.  That said, if a player moves into a New Era before their neighbours, they get additional resources which can be just enough to encourage players to move on early.  Although it is clear that resources are important, the winner is likely to be the player that best leverages the advantages from their Civilisation.  Like all good engine builders, however, there are always more things to do than resources available.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

The game started slowly, with Blue taking an early lead largely thanks to her Civilisation giving her points as she explored and expanded her territory.  She was up against Ivory though, who was also progressing along the expansion track, though his progress was accelerated by his use of the Science development.  In the early stages of this development track the action is to move one space along another track dictated by by a roll of the Science die, but without taking the action.  This has the advantage of accelerating development (moving two spaces instead of one per turn), which increases the likelihood of obtaining the beautiful, big, special buildings and consequently makes filling rows and columns in the Capital easier.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

This is at the expense of increasing the cost of actions earlier in the game, on the other hand, the actions become more powerful and are therefore worth the price provided that the player can make the most of them.  One additional consequence of Ivory making an early dart up the development tracks was the damage it did to Burgundy.  Burgundy’s “Chosen” Civilisation gave him three victory points equal for every track he was ahead on.  Ivory’s rapid progress, increased by the power of his “Leaders” Civilisation, essentially annulled Burgundy’s “advantage”.  Burgundy’s game was further stymied by his struggle to get resources to move things along, a problem that only got worse as the game progressed.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

As a result, Burgundy turned to Technology cards, but it took a while to get this alternative approach going.  Black meanwhile, kept things simple, concentrating on making the most of his Merrymakers and trying to expand to the centre of the map first.  In this, his life was made difficult by being sandwiched between Blue and Ivory who squeezed his options.  Blue made it to the middle first, and used her special power to prevent anyone else taking it from her and picking up the points for getting there second.  Black made good use of his Trap cards which he initially kept in case he was attacked, but then used instead of Tapestry cards to give him points.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

He started slowly as he built his engine, but it wasn’t long before Ivory started to edge in front.  By the third era, he really started to push forward, Blue gave chase, but she was always chasing and when Ivory launched his Civilisation into space, the writing was on the wall.  He didn’t quite manage to lap the players at the back and so spared their blushes, but he wasn’t far off, finishing with a very creditable one hundred and eighty-five points.  It is clearly a game that needs multiple plays to understand and get the best out of, and everyone could see its potential, although Burgundy felt some of the Civilisations were more powerful than others.

Tapestry
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, the others decided to play an old favourite,  Jamaica.  This was new to Lime and although Pine had played it once before, he couldn’t remember it.  The game is a pirate-themed tactical race with beautiful artwork and quality pieces, where the winner is the player who best balances their position in the race with success at generally being a pirate doing piratical things. Each player always has a hand of three cards, and a personal board depicting the five “holds” of their ship, into which goods can be loaded during the game. Each round, one player is designated as “Captain” and rolls two dice, examines their cards, then announces which die will correspond to the “day” and which to the “night”.

Jamaica
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Each player then simultaneously selects and places it face down in front of them.  Each card has two symbols on it (corresponding to “day” and “night”). The symbols indicate either ship movement (forward or backward) or the loading of a type of goods.  The cards are then revealed simultaneously and resolved clockwise one by one, starting with the Captain. When it is a player’s turn to resolve their card, first the “day” part, then the “night” part, multiplying the number of pips on the appropriate die by the  icons on the card to either move forwards (or backwards) by a given amount, or to load goods.

Jamaica
– Image by BGG contributor verminos

When they take goods (gold, food or gunpowder), Players must have space to store them.  If they do not, they must throw the contents of one hold (containing something different) overboard.  When moving, players pay depending one the space they finish on:  on a deep sea space the cost is food; in a port they must pay doubloons.  At a pirate’s lair, the player can take a treasure token and draw a treasure card, (which can be good, or “stinky”, “cursed” treasure), and if they are sharing the space with another pirate ship, they must fight.

Jamaica
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Battles are resolved with the attack die, but the attacker rolls first and adds to their total by discarding gunpowder. The defender then dies the same, though if either player rolls the special “star” it counts as a direct hit and that player wins outright and can take one holds worth of goods, a treasure card, or give away some “cursed” treasure.  The game end is triggered when a player’s ship reaches the finish line, after completing one circuit of Jamaica when players receive different amounts of gold depending how far they were from the finish line when the race concluded. This is added to any gold gathered along the way  and the player with the most total gold is declared the winner.

Jamaica
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The race started very slowly (as is often the case) as players stayed in Port Royal and stocked up, but then everyone started moving forwards (and backwards) and fights very quickly broke out. With Gold and food changing ships and ships moving forwards and backwards, or in Green’s case, backwards and forwards: he crossed the finish line from the wrong direction – but no, he couldn’t win that way!   Pine was the first one to claim a treasure and then a second;  the map card enabling him to have an extra card in his hand to choose from, not that seemed to help him:  he still complained that he had poor choice of options. Lime was next, and then followed a period when everyone ended up attacking each other, so much that at least one player ended up in two battles during the same morning move.

Jamaica
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Once players had got around the first corner of the island things began to speed up (again, as is usual for this game). Lime led the way and round this part of the island, Chris started to hoover up the treasures and found himself with an extra hold.  It wasn’t all good though, as became clear when he defeated a sneaky attack from Purple and took the opportunity of foisting a “stinky”, cursed treasure onto her (and the associated negative points.  As the flotilla rounded the final corner, Lime was still out in front with everyone else not far behind. While everyone had full holds, Purple’s ship looked more like a take-away van on a Saturday night, and no gold!

Jamaica
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Lime rolled a five and then a six when he was only three spaces away from Port Royal, but he played a double move anyway and finished the game. The rest of the salty sea-dogs were able to make use of that following wind and bring themselves across the red line into at least point scoring positions, but still some way off Port Royal.  The final scoring was looking quite good for Lime, but he insisted that he didn’t think he would win, as he knew he had a minus five point “stinky” treasure.

Jamaica
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Ceryon

Pine and Green had finished just one space apart, had a lot of gold on ships and treasure cards.  Pine had the plus seven, and Green had three scoring treasures, but one was a minus three, so the scores were very close indeed.  Purple, unfortunately was almost lost at sea, only creeping across the line with no gold in her hold and only a negative treasure.  Otherwise, it was really close, but Green just beat Pine into second place with Lime just a couple of points behind.  Once again this proved how good a game Jamaica is, well balanced and extremely fun.

Jamaica
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

With Tapestry still under way, the group moved onto another, this time more recent, favourite, Kingdomino, albeit one that we’ve not played for nearly a year.  In this short game, players take a domino and add to the kingdom and then place a meeple on one of the dominoes on display for the next round.  When placing the dominoes, one of the two ends must connect to terrain of the same type already in the kingdom, or connect directly to the start tile.  Points are awarded at the end of the game by multiplying the number of tiles in an area of terrain by the number of crowns in the area.  Although we have the Age of Giants expansion, this time the group used the base game so all dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space (or be discarded) and bonus points are awarded for successfully placing all tiles and finishing with the start tile in the centre.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Sadly, Pine made an unfortunate placement decision partway through and thus created himself a single space gap which meant he was not complete a five-by-five kingdom with his castle in the middle.  This was because hadn’t caught the rule that the whole kingdom needed to be square so he’d ended up choosing a tile which was not as good as he’d thought and thus created even more problems for himself.  Everyone else completed their kingdoms so everyone got the full fifteen point bonus.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Green went for a mixture of several smaller sections (including stone and sand), but none scored highly. Purple ended up with fewer, but slightly larger regions (wheat, water and forest) and a similar score to Green.  Lime on the other hand, concentrated on a couple of larger regions, water and forest, each six or seven spaces and with three crowns each they gave a healthy score. On top of that Lime had a few low scoring space regions to top off a very good score and take the victory by twenty points.  An excellent score, especially since it was the first time he’d played the game.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Game-play is very important, but component quality is important too.

Essen 2019

This week, the Internationale Spieltage, the largest games fair in Europe (and arguably the world), is being held in Germany. Known to Gamers worldwide simply as “Essen”, the fair runs Thursday to Sunday in late-October every year with many new releases timed to coincide with the event.  It is one of the biggest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions; according to convention organizer Friedhelm Merz Verlag, this year there will be more than one thousand two hundred exhibitors offering more than one thousand five-hundred new games, from fifty-three countries.

Essen 2019
– Image from spiel-messe.com

A couple of people from the group are going this year and will no doubt come back with a selection of the latest new and exciting games, as well as some older games that are new to the group and expansions for other well-loved games.  This year, the new releases include Cooper Island, Maracaibo, ECOS: First Continent, Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea, Tapestry, Deep Blue, Paladins of the West Kingdom, Glen More II: Chronicles, the Japan and Italy map pack for Ticket to Ride, and the new European birds expansion for one of the Kennerspiel Des Jahres winner, Wingspan.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

1st October 2019

It was a bitty start with lots of chit-chat and eating, including Blue’s fantastic pizza with mushrooms growing out of it. A little bit of singing to celebrate the fact it was the eve of our seventh birthday was immediately followed by special meeple cakes. Eventually, when everyone had finally finished sucking the icing off their wooden meeples, we finally settled down to the now traditional birthday “Feature Game”, Crappy Birthday.

Pizza
– Image by boardGOATS

Crappy Birthday is a very silly party game that most of the group would normally turn their noses up at, but love to play once a year. The idea is that each person has a hand of cards featuring silly things and chooses one to give to the active player as a birthday present. The Birthday Boy/Girl then chooses the best and worst gifts which score the giver a point. Players take it in turns to receive gifts and after everyone has had one go, the player with the most points is the winner. It is very simple, but the best part is really when the recipient has to sit and sort through all their gifts and justify their choices. It seems a really silly game, and indeed it is, but it encourages people to get to know each other a little better and in a different way too.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

This year, we discovered that Black would like a trip to the North Pole, Pine fancied two weeks in a swamp and Purple fancied a course on Mime Art.  In contrast, Burgundy was not keen on getting his earlobes stretched, Blue wasn’t keen on a GPS (with or without an annoying voice) and Lime eschewed some “garden manikins”.  Perhaps the most surprising thing we discovered was just how great Ivory would be as a day-time quiz host.  Amongst the fun, the scores were largely incidental, but everyone picked up just one or two points except for Purple who scored three points and Black who just pipped her to the post, with four points.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

Since Blue and Ivory had both brought Roll for the Galaxy, it was clear that they were keen to give it a go and when Green said he’d play it, the only real question was which copy would get played. Since it can be quite a long game, Blue and Ivory got going quickly and left the others to sort themselves out. Although Ivory was keen to give the new Rivalry expansion a go, as it has been a while since we last played (and Green wasn’t totally familiar with it either), the trio decided to leave that for another day.  Although a lot of the group seem to get in a bit of a mess with Roll for the Galaxy, it is not actually a complicated game. It is a “pool building” game, similar to deck builders like Dominion or bag builders like Orléans or Altiplano, except with dice.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that at the start of the round, everyone simultaneously rolls all their dice in their cup and, depending on what faces are shown, secretly allocate the dice to the five possible phases of the game: Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce & Ship. One of the dice can be used to select which phase that player wants to “nominate”, i.e. guarantee will happen. Any die can be used for this, it does not have to match the chosen phase. Once everyone has assigned all their dice and chosen their phase to nominate, all dice are revealed and the active phases are revealed. The clever part is the element of double think that players have to use: a player can only nominate a single phase, so if they want to Produce and Ship they have to rely on someone else to nominate the other one. Guess right and both phases will happen, guess wrong and they will only get one of them, and if that relies on something else happening, they may find they end up doing neither.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, while there are a lot of other moving parts, fundamentally, a successful player must piggy-back on other players because it will give them more actions.  Dice that are used then go into the players’ Citizenries, and unused dice go back into the players’ cups. Dice are extracted from the Citizenries and returned to the cups on payment of $1 per die, once all the actions have been carried out. Thus, the player with the most appropriate dice can turn the handle on their engine most efficiently. The aim of the game is to finish with the most points, which are obtained from settling and developing worlds and shipping goods to give points.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

So, the first action is Explore, which is taking world tiles from a bag. These are double-sided with a development on one side and a production or settlement world on the other. They go into either the Development or Settlement piles so that dice are placed on top of these during the Develop and Settle phases: when the cost has been matched by the number of dice, the world is added to the player’s tableau and they can use whatever special power it provides. Some of the worlds are production worlds which typically provide more, exciting dice to add to the system.  In addition to extra, coloured dice, Production worlds also house dice played during the Produce phase. These can then be consumed for victory points or traded for cash, enabling more dice to be transferred from the player’s citizenry to their cup.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends at the end of the round when either, a player Settles/Develops their twelfth world or when the stock of victory point chips run out. The winner is the player with the highest score from their combined victory points and worlds. There are a couple of other minor rules (for example players can pay one die to effectively change the face of one other die), but essentially, that is all there is to it.  Players start with a double tile comprising a complimentary pair of settlement and development worlds and a start world, together with a couple of tiles to add to their Development/Settlement piles.  For the first game it is recommended that players choose the Development and World with the lowest cost to add to their piles, because that is easier to play.  For later games, however, players can choose, which gave Blue a really tough decision.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end she decided to go for it, and chose to start with the “Galactic Federation”, “6+” development world in her building pile.  This would give her an extra one third of her development points at the end of the game, but more importantly two of the dice used for every development would bypass her citizenry, going straight into her cup.  Green started with no fewer than three of the red, “Military” dice, which coupled with his “Space Piracy” starting development, gave him really a good source of finance. He looked very unimpressed with this combination, but Ivory and Blue felt it was a really nice combination of starting tiles. Ivory’s start tiles were also nice, but didn’t have quite the same degree of complimentarity, but he did get a nice  purple, “Consumption” die.  The starting tiles are only the beginning though; the game is all about building an engine made up of dice, Production Worlds, and Developments and then using it efficiently.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

In the case of Blue, her starting tiles led her towards a Development strategy, so she spent a lot of the early part of the game Exploring to try to find nice Development tiles to enhance that approach.  Green and Ivory had a more conventional, “build the finances and the dice pool then Produce and Consume” strategy.  The problem with this was they both frequently wanted the same phases, but ended up with either both of them choosing to, say, Produce, or both choosing Ship, when what they both really wanted was to maximise their dice by Producing and then Shipping.  Blue, on the other hand, could mostly be fairly sure that neither Ivory or Green were going to what she wanted, so was able to focus on her own plan, and just piggy-back the actions of the others.  Although the game has a reputation of being slow (with our group at least), this time, the game got going quite quickly and it wasn’t long before Ivory started his Production engine, Shipping his produce for victory points.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

Green soon followed, while Blue kept building her Developments and occasionally taking advantage of the “Produce/Consume” strategies of the others to provide enough finance to move her dice out of her Citizenry.  Blue felt her game was really boring since all she did was Develop, but in the end, it was probably the fact that Blue was doing something different that was key.  Blue triggered the end of the game placing her twelfth Development/World tile, which gave her the most points from building, slightly more than Green.  Ivory Consumed the most victory points, with Green not far behind, and Blue not really troubling the scorer in that department.  It therefore all came down to bonuses from the “6+” Developments, which is where Blue made up for other deficiencies taking fifteen points giving her a total of fifty-seven points, five more than Green who was just a couple ahead of Ivory.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

It had been a lot of fun, and next time we’ll have to give one of the modules form the Rivalry expansion a try.  On the next table, their game was coming to an end too.  Having been abandoned to sort themselves out, someone mentioned Ticket to Ride, and with everyone having a good idea how to play, that turned out to be most popular. The game is very simple and everyone has played it, in most cases, quite a lot, so we often play with expansion maps.  This time, the Team Asia/Legendary Asia expansion was an option, but as we usually play with the Europe version of the game, the group decided to play with original USA map with the addition of the USA 1910 additional route cards.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

The basics of the game is that players start with a handful of train pieces and place them on the board to connect cities, paying with cards.  Thus, on their turn a player can take two coloured train cards from the market (either the face up cards or blind from the deck) or play sets of cards of a single colour that matches both the number and colour of one of the tracks on the board.  Players score points for the number of trains they place, but also for tickets.  Players choose from a handful of these at the start of the game and can take more tickets on their turn instead of placing trains or taking train cards.  These are risky though, because although they are a source of points, any tickets that are not completed at the end of the game give negative points.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

The original version of Ticket to Ride (with the USA map) is much less forgiving than the Europe edition that we more usually play.  This is partly thanks to the layout of the tracks, but also due to the absence of Stations which can help alleviate some of the stress associated with failure to complete tickets.  With five, it was always going to be a really hard game and likely to end up with a bit of a train-wreck for someone, and so it turned out.  The eastern states were rough, really, really rough with Burgundy, Lime, Pine and Purple all fighting for routes in the same space.  As a result, Black benefited from mostly staying out of the scrap.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, Lime and Purple managed to complete the most tickets, five each, but remarkable, all three were a long way behind Burgundy and Black who only completed three and four tickets respectively.  This was partly due to negative points, but was mostly caused by the fact that the longer tracks give disproportionately more points and Black for example was able to pick up two of the long tracks around Salt Lake City relatively unopposed as he was mostly alone working in the west.  Similarly, Burgundy did well in the north.  As a result, it all came down to the longest route bonus, ten points, but with Black and Burgundy both in the running it gave a twenty point swing to Burgundy giving him a total of one hundred and thirty-five points, nearly twenty more than Black in second place.

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

Ticket to Ride and Roll for the Galaxy finished simultaneously and only Green decided he needed an early night, leaving everyone else to play one of the group’s favourite game, Las Vegas.  This is a simple game of dice rolling and gambling, where players use their dice to bet in one of the six numbered casinos.  Each casino has one or more money cards and at the end of the round, the player with the most dice in that casino takes the highest value money card.  The player who comes second takes the next highest value card and so on.  When betting, players must place dice in one of the numbered casinos.  The first catch is that they must place all the dice they roll that depict that number in the matching casino.  The second catch is that any dice involved in a tie at the end of the round are removed, and it is this that makes it a great game.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We have the original version of the game rather than the new edition, Las Vegas Royale, though we added elements from the Las Vegas Boulevard expansion, including the double weight “Big” dice and the Slot Machine.  We also house-rule to only play three rounds instead of the four in the rules as written.  This time, Ivory stole a march in the first round, when he was forced to place his last die as a losing singleton in “Casino Five”, only for Purple to roll a five with her final roll and take out both herself and the hitherto winner, Pine.  As a result Ivory took the jackpot of $90,000 to go with his other winnings.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

It is not a game to give up on though, as anything can happen.  The second round was relatively uneventful, but the deal for the final round left the last three casinos each with a single card of $100,000.  This is highly unusual, but we decided to play on and see what happened.  In the end, it had a bit of an “all or nothing” feel about it, with players going in early and in big.  It was probably no coincidence that the three big jackpots were taken by the three highest scoring players.  Pine thought he had come off worst, Black, who had done so well in the other two games took the wooden spoon.  It was Ivory’s flying start that was key though, and together with his strong finish, his total takings were a massive $430,000, $40,000 more than Blue in second.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Party games can be great when everyone is in a party mood.

3rd September 2019

There were a lot of people feeding and food was a little delayed, so we didn’t start until gone 8pm.  At this point, people were keen to chat and almost everyone seemed interested in giving the “Feature Game”, Lords of Vegas, a go.  Although it involves dice, it is totally different to our old favourite, Las Vegas, and in fact, very different to pretty much anything else we have played too.  Although the game is very “rules-light”, it is still a bit of a “brain-burner” with the potential for inducing “analysis paralysis”.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea of the game is that players are developers in Las Vegas in 1941.  The board depicts Highway 91, what will become known as “The Strip”, and the blocks either side, each divided into plots.  Players acquire these plots, build casinos, improve their casinos, take-over other casinos, and when desperate, gamble.  At the start of their turn, the active player turns over a card which indicates one plot and one of the five casinos.  The active player claims the plot by placing a clear plastic counter in their colour on it and then everyone receives income:  every plot owner gets $1,000,000 per plot, and then every casino that matches the card pays out cash (in our case, in poker chips) and points.

Poker Chips
– Image by boardGOATS

After everyone has received their income, the active player can do as many actions as they like, the only limit is what they can afford.  The first action is build on a plot they own:  they pay the amount of money listed on the board, chose a coloured casino tile and place it on the board together with a die of their colour showing the face depicted on the board.  The number shown is important for many reasons, but initially it indicates the income that the player will get when that casino pays out: one million dollars per pip shown.  The casino colour chosen can be the same as casino adjacent casinos, or different, which is a critical decision.  If it is the same, the two (or more) casinos merge and the owner of the die with the highest face value becomes The Boss of that casino.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The Boss gets victory points when that casino colour pays out, receiving points equal to the total number of plots the casino occupies.  Since The Boss controls the casino, their are things they can do that others cannot.  For example, they can choose to “remodel” the casino, changing the colour of all the tiles.  There is a cost, of course, five million dollars per space, but it can be worth it to force mergers giving more points.  The Boss can also “sprawl” their casino which means expand into neighbouring, unoccupied plots.  This is both costly and risky, but can be worth it to give a short term benefit or to merge casinos.  It is costly because the cost to build is twice the usual fee, and it is risky, because if the card that shows that plot is drawn later in the game, the player who draws the card replaces the die with one of their own.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Merging casinos are a vital part of the game because unusually, increments in the score track progressively increase.  So, at the bottom, the steps increase by a single point, but after eight, each step is two points, and after twenty the steps increase to three.  Since the points are added casino by casino (rather than summing them and adding them all at the same time), it is critical to match casino size to the current increment.  For example, two casinos of size “three” would add six points if the player were below eight points or above twenty.  However, if they were between eight and twenty, the same casinos would only be worth two each as the remainder would be lost as each casino is added.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, with the merging and taking over, the game is highly strategic with a sprinkle of luck from the card draw.  Perhaps the most important part of Lords of Vegas though are the gambling aspects. There are two:  firstly, once per turn, the active player can gamble at any casino by rolling two dice.  The odds are slightly in favour of The House, but it can be a good source of cash, as well as providing the opportunity to damage an opponent, as The Boss of that casino provides the pay out (though they can lay this off with the bank).  More importantly, any player can choose to “Reorganise” any casino they have a stake in, by paying a million dollars per pip to re-roll all the dice in that casino with the chance of control changing hands.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

So the game is not especially difficult to understand, but small changes can have a large impact.  As well as the mix of strategy, luck and gambling, there are a number of little things that really make the game sing.  For example, almost anything can be traded for almost anything else at any time, which enables players at the back to gang up on a run-away leader and neutralise the effect of overtly bad (or good) draws and dice rolls.  The quick description had most people interested in playing it, but Burgundy (who had played before) felt that it would be very chaotic with five, so in the end, Pine, Black, Red, Lime and Ivory left Blue, Burgundy, Mulberry and Purple to their visit to Nevada.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The game started very slowly, with incomes small and investment correspondingly small.  Blue tried to increase her income by building her number of plots.  That probably wasn’t a good move, though she was able to build some cash and then invest heavily a couple of turns later.  Despite the lack of rules complexity, the groups still managed to make a mess of it:  when Reorganising, each die can only be rolled once per turn.  It was perhaps a good thing the messed this up though as otherwise Purple, Blue and Mulberry would have been deprived the chance of seeing Burgundy attempt to Reorganise a single two and re-roll a two three times.  Hilarity ensued when, a few turns later the casino had merged to form two-plot casino now with a two and a three and Burgundy chose to try Reorganising again, this time getting a two and a three and then a double three before finally settling for a one and a four!

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game progressed, the casinos merged and grew, with one particularly large “Sphynx Casino”, occupying five plots.  Blue, Burgundy and Mulberry all had an interest and re-rolled the five dice many, many times during the game, but despite his lack of success elsewhere, Burgundy mostly retained control.  The other side of Flamingo Road, Mulberry built a lovely casino, mostly uncontested.  The “Vega Casino” cards came out a lot at the start and since some cards are removed at random, it didn’t look a good gamble.  As a result, only Purple took the risk of investing and made a killing with her “Big Purple Casino” when the group kept drawing the Vega cards ending up with all nine putting in an appearance.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry and Burgundy stole a slight early march, but when the steps in the scoring track increased it became clear that this was an illusion and it was in fact a very close game as the leader’s jersey kept changing hands.  The balance of power was held by whoever was in charge of the Big Sphinx Casino, and Blue and Mulberry ganged up on Burgundy to try to break his hold on it.  First Blue rolled the dice and gave control to Mulberry only for Burgundy to wrest if from her and Mulberry to then give control to Blue.  In what turned out to be the final turn of the game, Blue gambled in Purple’s Big Green Vega Casino, won $10,000,000 and used it to remodel her small Sphinx Casinos and sprawl the Big Sphinx Casino into one extra space.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

This turned out to be critical, because the game ends when the “End of Game” card is drawn and all the casinos on the strip score for one final time.  That final sprawl gave an extra three points for the Big Sphinx which was just enough to cross the boundary from twenty-nine to thirty-two, breaking what would otherwise have been a three way tie.  Money is the tie-breaker, which meant that Burgundy just sneaked into second place $7,000,000 ahead of Purple, who would have been $20,000,000 better off if Blue had not won when she bet in her casino.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

All in all, it had been a lot of fun and everyone was agreed that they’d like to play it again, and that they’d play it differently next time.  It had been a really slow burner though and while the foursome had been gambling property in Vegas, the others had had time to play two games and get up to date with the Brexit riots and discuss all the possible outcomes—some  people even had time to check out the proxy voting and postal vote options and evaluate both options!

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

The group had started the evening with Ticket to Ride, the original USA version, rather than the more usual Europe version or the relatively new, New York edition, which had also been also an option.  It is relatively rare that the USA edition gets played because it can be quite unforgiving, this time though, everyone was quite experienced, and knew what they were letting themselves in for.  The game rules are much the same as for every other version of Ticket to Ride: on their turn players can take any two two cards from the face up market or blind from the draw deck; place some of their plastic trains to score points paying for them with appropriately coloured cards, or draw more ticket cards which score points at the end of the game if completed.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

There are no tunnels, ferries or stations in the original USA version, and Locomotive cards can be used as wild under any circumstances, but only one face up Locomotive card can be drawn per turn.  It was a very tight game with everyone obstructing each other a bit, though Red got the worst of it.  Green prioritised trying to get the ten point bonus for the longest continuous set of trains, while Black was concentrated on completing his tickets from Los Angeles to Miami and Winnipeg to Boston.  It was very clear it was going to be a close, high scoring game where completed tickets were going to be essential to the final scores.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine completed his first two tickets and started on his third route, from Montreal to Vancouver.  As the game came to a finish, everyone put the finishing touches to their plans: Green added a couple of trains to his longest route, and Pine just managed to complete his third route before the game ended.  As players totalled up their extras, it turned out that Green had just managed to take the longest route bonus by a single carriage, and red had been Red totally stymied—someone was always likely get stuffed in a five player game that was so very, very close.  In fact, in the final accounting there was just nine points between first and fourth place.  Black topped the podium with a hundred and four points, a single point ahead of Green with Pine a few points behind him.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

There was a bit of debate as to what to play next, but as Ivory had never played it before, the group eventually settled on Carcassonne, with the River expansion.  This is one of the most popular “gateway” game so it was quite remarkable that Ivory had managed to avoid it for so long.  The rules of the game are really simple, though they generate a surprising amount of depth, especially when played with two.  With five, there is less control, but it can still be a lot of fun.  On their turn, the active player draws a tile from one of the available stacks and adds it to the central map, making sure that any features on the edge of the map are preserved.  The active player may then place one of their Meeples on the tile they’ve just added to the tableau.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

The Meeple is placed on a feature – a Road, a City, a Monastery or Farm.  The key rule, however, is that a Meeple cannot be placed on a feature that already has a Meeple on it.  So if the tile is added in a way that means it extends an occupied pre-existing City for example, the player cannot place his Meeple on that City, though if it were unoccupied it would be fair game.  Once the player has finished placing their tile and Meeple, any features that were completed are scored and the associated Meeples returned to their owner.  When complete, Cities score one point per tile they occupy, double for every tile with a blue and white shield on it; Roads also score one point for every tile that contributes to them.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

Monasteries are rather different and when completely surrounded by eight tiles, score nine points.  Farms are a little different, only scoring at the end of the game, giving three points for every city it supplies.  These are usually a crucial source of points and the player who controls the biggest Farm usually wins.  Again, a Meeple cannot be added to a farm if there is already a Meeple occupying it, so this aspect of the game is all about joining Farms together and sharing or ideally, taking control of other people’s Farms.  Adding the River expansion helps to reduce the dominance of Farming by helping to prevent one single super-Farm forming, though Farms are still a very important part of the game and timing is crucial.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the game was played very quickly, especially given who was playing.  As a result, poor Ivory, on his first experience, had no idea what was going and really struggled to follow some of the more subtle parts of the game.  The game began as the Battle of the Cities, with Red and Ivory merging their Cities to increase their points haul,, and Black and Green sharing another City to do the same.  At the end, however, it all came down to eating and praying, i.e. Farms and Monasteries, in what was also a very close game.  Again, there was just one point between first and second and again the top two places were held by Black and Green, with Black once again pipping Green to the win.  This time it was Red who took a very close third, just three points behind.  Black’s comment as Ivory left, was that the game had been “Quite vicious,” and as the group waited for Lords of Vegas to finish and caught up on the votes in the House of Commons, that would be an appropriate description for the happenings in Parliament too.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It doesn’t take many rules to make a really good game, just the right rules.

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.