Tag Archives: Ticket to Ride

Boardgames in the News: The Great Escape?

Over the last decade, Asmodee has swallowed most of the big names in modern family board games, including the likes of Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, 7 Wonders, Dominion, Agricola, and Pandemic amongst others.  This has been through the relentless acquisition of the companies that produce these titles, in particular, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, Lookout Spiele, and Repos Production.  This monopolising of the market cannot be a good thing for gamers, indeed the effects are already being felt with the introduction of Minimum Advertised Pricing (MAP) and now the loss of customer servicing for all Asmodee products.

HeidelBÄR Games Logo
– Image from twitter.com

There is perhaps a glimmer of hope, however.  Three years ago, the German publisher and distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag was acquired by Asmodee, with the publishing part splitting off to form the Asmodee Studio, HeidelBÄR Games.  Last year, however, ownership and with it the nucleus of the HeidelBÄR team, was transferred back to the previous manager, Heiko Eller-Bilz.  The resulting enterprise is much smaller than it was, but the most important asset, the people, are in a position to develop new titles.

Plaid Hat Games Logo
– Image from plaidhatgames.com

More recently, Plaid Hat Games have made a similar, slightly slower, journey.  Around five years ago, Plaid Hat Games was bought out by Canadian company F2Z Entertainment, then the parent company of Z-Man Games, Filosofia Éditions and Pretzel Games (now known as Asmodée Canada).  However, earlier this year it was announced that Plaid Hat Games had been reacquired by Colby Dauch, the original founder, albeit without the rights to some of their biggest products, including Dead of Winter, Aftermath, and Mice and Mystics, which remain with the Asmodee Group.  Plaid Hat Games retained the rights to Summoner Wars though, and are currently developing a new product, Forgotten Waters, which will be the first game released by Plaid Hat after their Great Escape.

Forgotten Waters
– Image from plaidhatgames.com

18th February 2020

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

Point Salad
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Point Salad
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Point Salad
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Games take longer with more players.

21st January 2020

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

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

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

Ticket to Ride: Germany
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: Germany
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

Wsiąść do Pociągu: Polska
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Wsiąść do Pociągu: Polska
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Wsiąść do Pociągu: Polska
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Century: Spice Road
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Boardgames in the News: GOATS on the Radio

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

Radio Oxford 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Radio Oxford 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

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

26th Movember 2019

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

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Mississippi Queen
– Image by boardGOATS

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

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor  punkin312

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

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

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

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

7 Wonders
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

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

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning  Outcome:  Neglect end game bonuses at your peril.

12th Movember 2019

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

Google
– Image from google.com

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image from google.com

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

World's Fair 1893
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Ticket to Ride: New York
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Coloretto
– Imageby boardGOATS

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

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Coloretto
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: You can never have too many camels.