Tag Archives: Ticket to Ride

Boardgames in the News: Osprey Plays Games at Blackwell’s

On 28th April 2018, Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford are holding their second games night in collaboration with Osprey Games, a small games publisher based up Cumnor Hill.  Originally owned by Berkshire Printing, part of Brooke Bond, the tea company, Osprey was formed in 1969 to publish “Aircam Aviation“, a series of books that grew out of the aviation illustrator Richard Ward’s work on the collectable tea cards.  In 1998, Osprey became an independent company and moved from London to Oxford and began focusing exclusively on publishing on warfare and military history books.  Over the last ten years, Osprey has been publishing the Bolt Action rules used for World War II simulation games, but more recently has also engaged in reprinting some of the lesser classic board/card games.  This includes Martin Wallace’s London, Reiner Knizia’s High Society and Patrick Reid’s semi-cooperative game, Escape from Colditz.

Osprey Games
– Image from tabletopgamingnews.com

Blackwell’s is a very well known independent Oxford bookshop, but given the increasing popularity of board gaming in Oxford, they have jumped on the band-waggon and now stock a moderate range of modern board games including staples like Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne.  Last October when London was re-released, Blackwell’s had copies available for pre-order for significantly less than they were being sold for at Essen a couple of weeks later.  Since then, Blackwell’s have had good deals available for other Osprey games as well, including Star Cartel and The Lost Expedition.  It is clear that Blackwell’s and Osprey Games are building a strong working relationship which was consolidated back in February when they held their first joint board games evening at Blackwell’s Bookshop on Broad Street.  This was clearly very successful, as there is now a second games evening planned for Saturday 28th April, 7pm-10pm.  There is a £4 entry fee, but that includes a free drink at the bar.

Blackwell's Bookshop Oxford
– Image from theguardian.com

Boardgames in the News: What is Asmodee’s Grand Plan?

Four years ago, Eurazeo bought a small French games company called Asmodee from the investment firm, Montefiore.  Asmodee were a small company hitherto primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble.  With the financial might of their parent company behind them, over the next few years, Asmodee proceeded to gobble up many larger, well-established companies, including Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games and most recently, Lookout Spiele.  Those companies produced some of the best known modern games including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola and Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.  Not content with that, they also acquired the rights to the English language version of the Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and all the related Catan games as well as gobbling up a number of smaller and/or newer companies like Space Cowboys (producers of Splendor and Black Fleet) and Plaid Hat Games (producers of Dead of Winter and Mice and Mystics) and entering into a distribution agreement with many others.  There are now very few games companies of any substance that are not somehow tangled in the Asmodee web.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

The last major purchase was F2Z Entertainment in 2016, and since then it has been relatively quiet.  With the new year comes a new wave of acquisition, however, so at the end of January Asmodee announced that they were in exclusive negotiations with Rebel.  Rebel is a relatively small, Polish company responsible for games like K2 as well as Polish editions of many popular games like 7 Wonders and Codenames.  Perhaps more importantly, Rebel also produces the Polish language versions of many of the Asmodee games and is the largest distributor in Poland.  And Poland is a big country, smaller than France or Germany, but bigger than Italy and the UK,  globally Poland is the thirty-forth largest country by population.  That is a lot of Poles and they do like playing board games in Poland.

K2
– Image used with permission
of boardgamephotos

This announcement was almost immediately followed by the bombshell that Asmodee had acquired all the residual assets from Mayfair and with it, Lookout Spiele. Although this is by far the largest deal in recent months, Asmodee have not been resting on their laurels and there has been a lot going on behind the scenes.  In December last year they announced that Esdevium was to be renamedAsmodee UK” bringing them in line with the “Asmodee North America” and “Asmodee Canada” brands.  At around the same time, Eurazeo announced that French publisher Purple Brain Créations would be joining the Asmodee Group.  Furthermore, they have also been streamlining their distribution network in North America.  Having reduced the number of distributors they deal with to five in 2015, in June last year Asmodee North America announced an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors, effectively creating a monopoly of supply within the USA.  This coupled with their Minimum Advertised Price policy (or MAP) gives them a stranglehold on the US market in a way that would never be allowed in Europe.  Whether they are planning to take that one step further and acquire Alliance themselves still remains to be seen, but that looks like a real possibility.  Finally, they have been pushing in a new direction, developing electronic versions of some of the most popular games through their studio, “Asmodee Digital“.

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

So what is Asmodee‘s Grand Plan?  Where will it all end?  Well, there are still a couple of other large manufacturers out there that are not yet part of Asmodee.  Looking at the companies they have already absorbed there is a clear trend: they typically have one particular feature that Asmodee are interested in.  In the case of Days of Wonder, that was the Ticket to Ride series, with Z-man Games it was Pandemic and Carcassonne, and with Rebel, it was probably their distribution network that caught the eye of the executives at Asmodee.  Going forward, the most obvious targets are probably Rio Grande Games, Czech Games EditionQueen GamesHans im Glük and maybe 2F, or Pegasus Spiele (who have just announced a partnership with Frosted Games).  For example, it would be surprising if Rio Grande Games have not been approached given the popularity of games like Dominion and Race/Roll for the Galaxy.  Similarly, Czech Games Edition are a small company with some very juicy morsels including Galaxy Trucker, Dungeon Lords/Petz, and the hugely successful Spiel des Jahres winner, Codenames.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately they may or may not add some or all of these to the Greater Asmodee Empire, but it is clear that at some point, eventually, there will be nothing left worth taking over and growth of the company will plateau, so what happens then?  And this is the crux of the matter. Some have speculated that the aim is to add Hasbro to Asmodee’s ever growing dominion, but Hasbro has a market value of $11.9 billion—Asmodee are mere minnows in comparison.  On the other hand, the parent company, Eurazeo are worth approximately $5.7 billion, which at least puts them in the same ball park, although even they are small by comparison.  According to the “Vision” page on the Eurazeo website:

The purpose of Eurazeo is to identify, accelerate and enhance the transformation potential of the companies in which it invests, even long after its exit. An active and committed shareholder, Eurazeo assists its holdings in the long term – 5 to 7 years – with control over exit timing. An extensive role enabling it to combine business development and corporate social responsibility.

So, it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Asmodee going to make their “controlled exit”?  With this in mind it seems unlikely that acquiring Hasbro is on the agenda, but making Asmodee attractive to Hasbro just might be…

Hasbro
– Image from twitter.com

Boardgames in the News: Radio 2 and Online

Over the last few years there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence that modern boardgames are becoming less of a niche activity, with a large number of reports in local and national media.  Last month alone, there was a prime-time article on BBC Radio 2‘s flagship Breakfast Show, where Chris Evans interviewed Dicky Duerden, Head of Games at the Chance & Counters Games Cafe in Bristol.  The interview took place shortly before 9am (2hrs 13 mins into the show) and discussed classic games like Connect Four and Kerplunk as well as their most popular games, Scrabble and Jenga.

Chris Evans
– Image from bbc.co.uk

The interview included a couple of nice little anecdotes, for example, Dicky Duerden explained that Battleship began life as a French game called “L’Attack” and was renamed twice, changing to “Salvo”, then “Broadside” before finally becoming “Battleship”.  He was also asked whether they have problems with players having temper tantrums and whether people lose pieces or walk off with them.  Apparently, Chance & Counters has heavy unflippable tables with shelves to store the games and cup-holders to help prevent spillage.  So, the most damage they’ve had to a game was when someone stole all the marbles from Hungry Hungy Hippos—presumably the thief couldn’t stand the noise!

Hungry Hungry Hippos
– Image from medium.com

Modern boardgames have also featured in print and other media channels.  For example, the literary and cultural commentary magazine, The Atlantic, recently reported how U.S. sales of boardgames grew by twenty-eight percent between spring 2016 and spring 2017.  They put this increase down to the rise in popularity of card games like Cards Against Humanity, Secret Hitler, and Exploding Kittens as well as what they initially refer to as “hobby” boardgames.  Although the article is written from a US perspective, it includes a nice commentary from Phil Eklund, head of Sierra Madre Games and designer of Pax Porfiriana, Greenland and Bios: Megafauna amongst others.  The interview with Phil Eklund is excellent and well worth a read; it includes discussion of Essen and Spiel des Jahres as well as discussion of a wide range of games including Power Grid, Biblios and El Grande rather than just the usual Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride.

Biblios
– Image by BGG contributor Schaulustiger

Every report about the growth of modern boardgames hides something less cheerful:  the number of stores that have closed in recent time.  As demand for modern games increases, so does their availability at places like Amazon, and that increases the pressure on an already squeezed niche.  In the last year or so, several excellent and well established stores have closed including Shire Games and Northumbria Games.  With prices continuing to rise—a new big-box game is rarely below £50 these days—and the growth of crowd-funding, more and more gamers are looking for discounts where they can.  The boardGOATS are lucky to have three excellent outlets locally, Eclectic Games (in Reading), Thirsty Meeples and The Gameskeeper (both in Oxford).  Perhaps the Chris Evans interview will encourage more people to pay them a visit.

Money
– Adapted from Image by Petras Gagilas (flickr.com)

Essen 2017

It is that time of year again when the gamers’ minds turn to Essen and – The Internationale Spieltage.  To Gamers worldwide, Essen is synonymous with the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world.  The fair runs Thursday to Sunday in mid/late-October every year and is the one of the biggest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions with many new releases and timed to coincide with the end of October.  This year the first day will be this Thursday, 26th October and games, publishers and their wares are all making their way to Germany for four days of fun and games.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag-en.com

Last year several of the group went, and they came back with a lot of expansions for well-loved games like Istanbul, Colt Express, and Orléans and picked up some new games like Key to the City – London, Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails and Cottage Garden.  This year, new games include Queendomino, Indian Summer, Altiplano and Keyper, with expansions to old favourites like Isle of Skye, Imhotep, Ticket to Ride, Terraforming Mars and Splendor as well.  Once again, several locals are going and they are sure to bring back some interesting toys to play with over the coming months.

Keyper
– Image used with permission of designer Richard Breese

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

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

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Senet
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Tufty Road Safety Game
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Pandemic
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Pac Man
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

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

29th December 2016 – boardGOATS do the Quiz

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

Quiz
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Quiz
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Gamers can be good at quizzes too.

 

28th December 2016

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

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

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

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

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

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

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

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Mouseketeer

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

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

Chicago Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

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

Chicago Express
– Image by BGG contributor damnpixel

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

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

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

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

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

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

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

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

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

Finca
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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