Tag Archives: Tokaido

19th February 2019

Blue, Black, Purple, Burgundy and Mulberry were just trying to squeeze in a quick game of No Thanks! before eating, when Green arrived with his parents.  They were quickly followed by the first round of food, so it wasn’t until they had finished that the carefully counted piles of chips finally got put to use.  The game is very simple:  players take it in turns to either take the card on the table or pay a chip to pass the problem on to the next player.  If they don’t have any chips left they must take the card when it is their turn (and any chips that are on it).  The game ends when the deck has been depleted and everyone scores the sum of the face value of the cards minus any remaining chips—the player with the lowest score is the winner.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Last time we played this, Pine dropped a chip, but a thanks to the kind generosity of the people at  Amigo Spiele, it had not only been very swiftly replaced, but they had kindly sent spares in case the something similar happened again.  And they were almost required straight away, when Black managed to send a couple of chips flying.  Having learnt our lessen from last time, we immediately took a quick intermission to play “Hunt the Game Piece”, finding one quickly, while the other perched precariously over the same large gap that the had been so disastrous last time.  The rogue chip was rescued without further calamity, but for the avoidance of other mishaps, we might have to put tissue paper down the hole for next time…

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game of No Thanks! was a bit incidental around all that excitement.  Burgundy took the first card in an effort to get ahead, but it wasn’t the best card to build from.  Purple and Blue were forced into trying to build runs from the ends, which is always risky, but can yield huge rewards.  This wasn’t going to be one of those times though and Purple’s problems were compounded by the fact that she only discovered the twenty-three in the middle of her long run was missing when it came to scoring.  Mulberry was very tempted by some if scoring cards, but despite the fact she was pushed to her last chip, she managed to avoid getting herself into a mess.  Black played a very canny game building a small medium value run, not tempted to take a chance on gaps.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone finished eating, it was time to decide what to play.  Black had suggested that Dixit might be suitable for Green’s parents.  However, Green was keen to play the “Feature Game”, Celestia (a remake of the older game, Cloud 9), and as Black was the only one who knew the rules, that meant he was up for that too.  Burgundy was less keen, so in the end, as Celestia is better with more players, and to avoid too much shuffling of seats, Blue, Mulberry and Burgundy left everyone else to board the airship.  In this game there is no board, instead there are nine city tiles making a path.  Players then take on the roles of adventurers exploring the cities of Celestia by airship.  At the beginning of each journey a new captain is identified and they begin by rolling the dice to discover the challenges they will face.  Before the Captain faces these challenges, however, however, each player must decide whether to stay on board, or leave the airship.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

At each city there is a pile of treasure cards (mostly just victory points) which get better as the journey progresses.  When a player leaves the ship, they take a treasure card at that city, forfeiting the potential riches to come.  Once everyone has made their decision, the Captain has to deal with the challenges by playing equipment cards.  If the Captain is successful, the airship moves on to the next city where a new captain is identified who rolls the dice and so on.  If the Captain is unable to deal with the challenges they face, the airship crashes, returning to the first city and none of the passengers on board get any treasure.  Those passengers who left the ship then get back on board for the start of the new journey.  When one  player has a total of fifty points the game ends.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the group added the A Little Help expansion which adds cards that players can use to help out the Captain.  There are a few extra cards like The Bandit and The Mooring Line as well, which players who are not on the ship can use to make life harder for those trying to get to the next city.  The group also added the lifeboat from the A Little Initiative expansion, which enables players to continue on their journey alone.  One of the key parts of Celestia is hand management as cards are scarce.  Players start with a hand of cards, six cards in a four or more player game and only get to draw a card when the journey ends, either due to a crash or arriving at the ninth city.  With the inclusion of the expansion cards, there seemed to be quite a bit to remember when learning the rules, but as ever, once underway the game flowed and the rules became clearer. Even so there was still a lot of double checking of which cards could be used when. Black and Purple had both played the game before and knew how quickly things could get difficult.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

So Black and Purple cashed in their travel tickets early in the first round and hopped off the airship quite early on, leaving everyone else wondering if they were missing something as they sailed onwards. In contrast, Green and his parents (who had not played before) stayed on board and as a result took a lot of points.  This all seemed a little too easy and on rechecking the rules it became apparent that something was wrong. Players had been drawing cards after arriving at each city as the Captain changed rather than after it crashed, which meant everyone was awash with cards.  From then on the group played correctly, but the damage had already been done.  The balance of cards had been destroyed, and Green and his mum had an unassailable lead.  Green came out he victor with some canny play that allowed him to hop on and off the airship, but it was a hollow victory as those first twenty-five points were not fairly won.  The game definitely deserves another try though as it is a clever and fun game when played correctly.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

While the airship was being filled, Blue, Mulberry and Burgundy debated what they were going to play.  Orléans was very tempting, but as Celestia was supposed to be relatively quick, the trio decided to play the shorter Tokaido instead.  This is a simple, but very clever game where players are traveling the East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo), meeting people, tasting fine food, collecting beautiful items, discovering great panoramas, and visiting temples and wild places.  The winner is the player who discovers the most interesting and varied things and is the most initiated traveler.  The really clever part of the game is the turn order, because the player at the back goes first.  Although this is an unusual mechanism, it is not unique and is also seen in Glen More, an out of print game that is getting a face-lift and reprint this year as Glen More II: Chronicles.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that each location on the road can only be occupied by one player.  Players only ever move forward and the player at the back has a free choice of which empty location they move to.  They can choose to stop at the first empty location which means they will be able to maximise the number of locations they can visit, or they can choose to skip a few locations potentially gifting these to their opponents, but ensuring they stop at the locations they will profit most from.  Thus the game is all about optimising movement, compromising visiting the best locations, visiting the most locations and preventing opponents visiting the locations they want by getting there first.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts with a character card which gives them a different start condition and a special power.  Burgundy was positioned at the front playing Yoshiyasu enabling him to draw a second card whenever he encounters someone, and choose which one to keep Encounter cards give a one-off bonus, so being able to choose instead of relying on random draw is a nice advantage.  Mulberry started in second position on the track and as Kinko, was able to pay one Yen less for her food at mealtime.  There are several stops for food along the way and money is always scarce so anything that saves money is always good.  Blue began at the back (and therefore started), playing Sasayakko who gets the cheapest souvenir for free whenever she buys two or more when visiting the Village.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

In this game, it is essential that players make the most of their special powers, so Blue visited as many Villages as she could, collecting as many sets of souvenirs as she could.  To do this though, she need lots of money and money is not easy to come by.  Similarly, Burgundy stopped to make as many encounters as he could and coupled this with visiting the Hot Springs.  Hot Springs simply give a two or three point card drawn at random from a deck, with the three point cards depicting monkeys playing in the spring.  Somehow, every time Burgundy drew a Hot Spring card, it featured monkeys, while Blue and Mulberry received no monkey-love; after his fifth card it was something they really began to resent.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was the first to score points and Burgundy wasn’t far behind.  Blue was slowest off the mark, but eventually caught up and overtook the others, romping into the lead, helped by Burgundy who persisted in moving Blue’s token when he scored points.  That wasn’t the full story, however.  At the end of the game points are awarded to the players with the most Hot Spring cards, the most Encounter cards, the most Souvenirs, for donating money at the Temples, and for the player who spent the most on food.  With Burgundy taking the vast majority of these points, he caught up and, after several recounts, both Blue and Burgundy finished on eighty-one points with Mulberry not far behind.  With more achievement cards, Burgundy was the clear winner, but he’d tried to be generous with his points throughout the game and insisted on sharing victory with Blue (to go with the lack of sleep they shared).

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Celestia was still going and wasn’t looking like it was going to be finished very soon, so Blue,  Burgundy and Mulberry decided to try something else.  After a bit of discussion, they opted for a new game by the producers of the Spiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis winner, Azul, that had been brought back from Essen late last year.  Blue had played Reef with Pink, Black and Purple after The Gallerist during a recent “Monster Games” session, but otherwise it hadn’t made it to the table.  It isn’t a complex game though and is very quick to teach:  on their turn, players can either take a card from the pool of face up cards, or play a card, adding the pieces of coral depicted in the top half to their reef and then scoring the pattern shown in the bottom half of the card.

Reef
– Image by boardGOATS

The reefs are a three by four grid and the pieces of coral can be played anywhere and can stack up to a maximum height of four.  Scoring the patterns is as viewed from above, and each one can be scored several times with different patterns worth different numbers of points.  This means there are two approaches to the game, scoring low but frequently, or building to one large score.  Mulberry opted for the first approach and facilitated this with single colour piles of coral.  Blue tried the alternative strategy, building to a large twenty-plus point score, while Burgundy tried a mixture.  As a result, Mulberry quickly built up a healthy lead, and the question was whether the others would catch her or not.  It was close, very close, with just four points covering all three players.  This time though, little and often was the winner, and Mulberry finished with forty-two points, one more than Burgundy.

Reef
– Image by boardGOATS

Celestia was still going, so Mulberry stayed to play one last game, San Juan.  This is an old game from the Alea Small Box Series that is sometimes referred to as the card game of Puerto Rico.  The idea is that on their turn, the active player chooses a role, Builder, Producer, Trader, Prospector, Councillor and then everyone takes it in turn to carry out the associated action.  The person who chose the action gets to use the privilege of the role (pay one less for building, trade or produce one extra item etc.).  One of the clever things about the game is that cards have multiple purposes, similar to Bohnanza where cards can be money or beans.  In San Juan, each card can be played onto the table as a building, but when in hand they can be used as payment, and during the game they can be used as produce as well.  Each card has a value when built and there are a small number of special buildings whose score depends on the other buildings in play.  The game ends when a player builds their twelfth building.

San Juan
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was tired and really struggled, so Blue and Burgundy tried to help explain what she could do, certain she’d get the hang of it.  They stressed the importance of not getting left behind on the building, a message Mulberry took to heart, building at every opportunity.  Blue made life difficult for everyone though, building a Guardhouse reducing everyone else’s hand limit to six.  Burgundy saw one of the valuable six point plus violet building cards early in the game, but that was it, so he ended up building lots of production facilities.  Blue on the other hand built lots of violet buildings and with it a City Hall giving her one point per violet building.  In the meantime, Mulberry kept building so when Blue failed to spot she had eleven buildings she accidentally triggered the final round.  It was very, very tight, but somehow, Blue just kept her nose in front finishing with twenty-three points, one more than Burgundy and two more than Mulberry.

San Juan
– Image by boardGOATS

In the meantime, Celestia had finally come to an end.  With Green and his parents wanting to leave and Pine finally putting in an appearance after a long day bird watching in the West Country, the group we went for a very short game, one about birds: Pick Picknic.  This game combines simultaneous card selection with bluffing and a slice of luck.  The idea is that there are six farm  yards of different colours, if someone plays the only chicken card of a given colour, they get all the grain at that coloured farm.  If multiple players go for the same coloured yard, then players can either agree to share the corn in any way that is mutually acceptable or roll the die for all of it.  Foxes don’t eat corn, however, they only eat chickens, so if someone plays a fox card, they will eat any chicken cards of that colour.  This time there seemed to be a lot of hungry foxes, and lots of fighting birds.

– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

These were accompanied by the usual exclamations as people realised that their attempt to grab a pile of corn was stymied by someone else’s decision.  It was a close game, with four players within four points of each other.  It was tight at the front too with just a handful of points between first and second place, but it was Purple who just edged Green’s father into second place.  With that over Family Green headed off and, as Burgundy was still occupied playing San Juan, everyone else felt it was a good opportunity to play Splendor as someone else would have a chance to win.  Splendor is a game we’ve played a lot and it is ideal for late in the evening when everyone is tired because it doesn’t need too much thought.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Splendor is very simple:  players take it in turns to take gems (chips) or use the gems to buy cards from the display.  Cards can be used to buy other cards, but some of the cards also give points, and collecting certain combinations of cards allows players to claim a Noble tile giving more points.  Essentially, it is a race to fifteen points, though as players finish the round (so everyone gets the same number of turns), it is the player with the most points who wins.  This time the game started with everyone evenly matched.  There was a lot of overlap in the colours required to claim Nobles tiles, so they were claimed at much the same time.  Then Black took the lead and although both Purple and Pine were close to adding to their respective totals, Black’s score of nineteen was unassailable.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Close Games are Good Games.

22nd March 2016

Red, Magenta, Blue, Burgundy and Green were first to arrive and decided to get the evening going with a quick light filler.  After a quick debate, we decided that the best fit to the number of players and the time we wanted to fill was …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (which means “…But Please, With Cream”, though the game is known as “Piece o’ Cake” in English).  This is a cute little set collection game coupled with the “I divide, you choose” mechanic.  The game starts with “The Baker” taking a pile of cake slices showing a selection of different types, and then arranging them in random order to form a wheel of eleven pieces which they then divide into five slices.  Then the idea is that the other players take it in turns to choose which slice to take and how much of it to “eat”.  Points are scored at the end of the game for the player with the most kept pieces of each type of cake and for the number of “blobs” of cream on cake that has been eaten.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

In case of a draw, all parties win the pints, but any set that has been not been eaten and is not the largest scores nothing.  Thus, the player dividing needs to try to make sure that they are left with something useful after everyone else has chosen, but at the same time, they don’t want to give away anything that helps the opposition too much.  After dealing out the piles for each round we realised that we’d inadvertently included the wild card slice from the mini expansion, but Blue couldn’t remember the rules, so we decided to take it out and do it again. In the event, the game itself was quite close with Red and Magenta fighting it out for first place and for the most strawberry gateau.  In the end, Red took first place with thirty-two, three points ahead of Magenta with everyone else some way behind.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

We were just deciding what filler to play next when Black and Purple wondered in, so we decided to get on with playing something with a bit more bite.  First on the table was the  “Feature Game”, Glen More, which is a tile laying game set in the seventeenth century highlands. Black wasn’t keen as he’d played it before and had felt it was very random.  Blue said she hadn’t got that sensation from reading the rules, but she did think that it had some very different elements to it and had no feel for how to go about playing it.  Magenta and Red commented that they weren’t really selling it and wondered what the alternative might be.  Black suggested The Voyages of Marco Polo and Green was torn as he really wanted to play both.  Although Blue was very interested in playing Marco Polo too it has a reputation for being monstrously long and she has a very strong dislike for leaving games incomplete.  Burgundy had read up on Glen More, so was keen to give it a try as was Blue, so despite its poor billing, Red and Magenta joined them to make a four and they quickly got going.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Glen More is a strange mixture of mechanisms and it is initially hard to see how they fit together.  The game has an unusual turn order mechanism (similar to that in Tokaido), where the player at the back goes first moving their token along the circular track, choosing a tile the fancy and replacing it with their marker.  They then add the tile to their village and draw a new tile which is placed at the front of the row of tiles (keeping the number available the same throughout the game).  When a player adds a tile to their village they must obey two basic rules:  any road or river on the tile must connect with their existing road or river and the tile must be next to a clansman.  Tiles cannot be rotated and each player starts with a village tile comprising a clansman, a road running vertically and a river running horizontally.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the tile has been placed, all orthogonally and diagonally neighbouring tiles can be activated.  Each tile gives the village some kind of benefit:  yellow and green tiles provide resources, fairs and the like allow players to trade resources for victory points, village tiles allow the clansman to be moved, while distilleries allow the conversion of grain into whisky.  Resources are essential because, as well as the potential to trade them for points, about half of the tiles also have purchasing costs that has to be payed before a tile can be added to a village. Resources can be bought and sold at any time during a players turn, but any that are bought must be used straight away and the cost will depend on the Market which reflects demand.  When a player buys a resource, they place a coin on the market space and the next player must pay one more than the last up to a maximum of three after which, that resource is no longer available.  A player selling resources takes the last available aliquot until there is no money available, after which they can no-longer sell, making currency circulation a contained system.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Tiles can be activated in any order and then the new “last player” gets a turn.  Since players can move as far forward as they like, jumping lots of tiles if they choose, it is quite possible that a player may have several consecutive turns, alternatively, they may decide to sacrifice turns in order to get a particular tile that is nearer the front of the track.  There are three piles of tiles and interim scoring occurs every time one of the stacks is emptied.  Scoring is also unusual as players score based on the difference between their position and that of the person in last place in that category.  There are three scoring categories:  locations, chieftains  and whisky.  The locations are special tiles which give some special powers that have an impact during the game, but are also a a source of points.  At scoring time, players evaluate how many special tiles they have and then subtract the number of locations held by the weakest player in that category.  This difference is then compared with a scoring table and points are awarded accordingly.  Larger differences return a proportionately larger number of points.  Chieftains and whiskey are scored in a similar way, with chieftains being clansmen that players moved off the board.

GlenMore007
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, in a four player game, if the players have six, five, three and one barrel the “differences” will be five, four, two and zero which translate into eight, five, two and one victory points.  Thus, as the player in last place, picking up a distillery, may actually have a bigger impact on the scores than adding to the scoring category that they are strongest in.  This is because it reduces the number of points held by all the other players, where the difference is large, it can hurt players more efficiently too.  At the end of the game, players also get points for any remaining money, but also lose three points for every tile they have more than than the player with the smallest village.  So, when choosing which tile to take, each one has to earn its keep, in other words, the winning village has to be efficient as well as effective.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Having explained the rules, everyone was still not much the wiser.  We could all see what the mechanics did, but connecting them together was more tricky and we all felt we could only find out more by playing.  Red went first, but as she had no clue what she was trying to do, she picked a nice looking grain tile that was some way down the track and went for it.  Burgundy and Blue queried it as it meant she was likely to miss a couple of turns, but she said she was happiest that way as she didn’t feel she could make a better, more meaningful decision.  By the next turn she wasn’t  much wiser, but added a distillery to her village, no doubt making her clansmen very happy indeed as she started her whisky production.  Meanwhile, Magenta’s village was already very resource rich and Burgundy had a couple of valuable Fair tiles that he could use to convert resources into points.  Blue had no idea what she was doing, but was certain she wasn’t doing it very well whatever it was.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

By the first scoring round, Red was way out in front with a handful of whisky barrels and a very small village full of very merry Scotsmen.  The lean nature of her village meant that everyone else was feeling the pressure to make every tile count as they knew it would cost them three points at the end.  Despite her huge number of resources, Magenta was  struggling to score points and Burgundy and Blue weren’t doing much better, slightly mesmerised by Red who appeared to be winning by miles despite spending most of it watching everyone else make bad decisions.  Things hadn’t changed much by the end of the second round though it was clear that Burgundy was starting to make his Fairs count by activating them frequently and buying the resources he needed if he didn’t have them.  Blue had picked up a couple of Special Location tiles and had distilled a couple of barrels of whisky, but with nothing like the efficiency of Red.  In the third and final round, Magenta now had the maximum number of resources on most of her tiles and had finally started picking up a brown tiles so that she could make use of them.  Blue managed to get herself in a mess, wanting to pick up a Special Location, but not being able to place it because her clansmen weren’t in the right place.  In trying to fix the problem she tried to be clever and discard a tile, but quickly realised she should have played it instead.  People were starting to run short of money as Magenta starved everyone else of cash by selling only the resources that were in highest demand.  In the corner, Burgundy had finally got his engine working, but it still looked like it was too late to challenge the efficiency of Red.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

With just enough tiles left for one turn each, Blue promoted most of her clansmen to chieftains, Magenta managed to use her Fair to trade five resources for a massive twelve points, Burgundy picked up yet another Special Location and Red asked whether she should have been scoring three points every time she placed something next to her Tavern (which she should, and so should Blue…).  Before the final end of game scoring, Burgundy was some way out in front, but as he also had the largest village he was going to lose an awful lot of points.  Surprisingly, Blue wasn’t far behind, so it all came down to how many points people were going to lose.  In the end there was just one point between Burgundy and Blue, but Burgundy took it with forty-four points.  In the end, Red was some way behind, but as we discussed the game, we felt she had left a lot of points on the table in the final few turns, and it was certainly possible to make a lean village strategy work.  Similarly, if Magenta had been able to activate her Fair just once or twice more, she could have been way out in front.  Nobody disliked the game, but we all felt a little bit non-plused about the experience, as we’d really struggled finding a path through the maze on the first visit (though we didn’t feel it was the luck-fest that Black had described).  In the end, we decided that it definitely needed to be played again now we had a better idea of what was going on and it certainly was different to most other games we play.

Glen More
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, the other group had settled down to play The Voyages of Marco Polo, which won the Deutscher Spiele Preis last year and was designed by the same pairing that put together Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar.  It took a while to set up and explain the rules, especially as Black was the only one that had played it before, and even that was on-line. The game is played over five rounds with players recreating Marco Polo’s journey to China via Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road”.  Each player has a different character and special power in the game.  Each round, the players roll their five personal dice and can perform use them to perform one action each per turn.  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 secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Eventually we were all kitted out with merchants, camels, currency, houses, a contract and a couple of city (mission) cards; all that was left was to choose a character. There are eight different characters to choose from providing a range of different benefits, all relating to different strategies. Black gave a quick run-down of the character abilities, quickly dismissing two of them:  Kubilal Kahn who starts in Beijing as opposed to Venezia where everyone else starts and Raschid ad-Din Sinan who can set the dice to whatever numbers he chooses at the start of the round instead of rolling them.  He dismissed Kubilal Kahn, because he does nothing else for the player, although he does guarantee ten points for placing the first house in Beijing. Raschid ad-Din Sinan was dismissed as Black explained it “broke the game”.  By that he meant that half the fun of the game is based on dealing with the dice players roll, not only must choosing the dice numbers take an age to decide, it also removes an element of luck and challenge.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor bovbossi

Pine, the start player, got to choose first and went for Mercator ex Tabriz, who we had all made positive, “Oooh! That’s nice!” noises about when it was explained.  This would give Pine one resource every time someone else collected something in the market, quite handy. He thought that this would push him to a contract completing strategy.  Green was next and went for Kubilal Kahn, despite Black’s dismissal. He felt that being on the other side of the board to the others would mean he was not in competition for the bonuses, and the neighbouring city would give him a free choice bonus at the beginning of the round, a handy one to have at the start of the game. He wasn’t too sure about his plans, but placing would help gain the city-mission bonuses, so a bit of travelling looked likely.  Purple decided that the ability to teleport across the board from oasis to oasis would really help her complete her city missions and took Johannes Carprini. Since the board layout is very much east/west with very little north/south crossovers, all the pairs of cities on the mission cards were on different east/west tracks so being able to jump around the board almost at will looked to be very very useful for this strategy.  In addition, the extra three coins at the beginning of each turn was a nice little sweetener.  The experienced Black felt he was up for a challenge and chose Wilhelm von Rubruk which would allow him to place houses in every city he crossed (normally players have to finish in a city to place a house there).  As an additional goal this gave him two extra houses to place after he had exhausted his personal supply for an extra ten points, if he could manage it.  Clearly Black was also going to be doing quite a bit of travelling.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Finally the game got underway with the satisfying sound of twenty dice being rolled, then studious silence as we each tried to work out what actions we could do with the different combinations we had rolled.  A reasonable first goal seemed to be to gain the resources necessary to complete our starting contracts.  The first dice placements were benign affairs. Pine was happy as collecting resources from the market proved popular and he quickly completed his first contract. Green also made use of his “free choice” bonus for reaching the small city to enable him to complete a contract.  It was about half way through the first round that the true heart of this game revealed itself:  how to place all your die actions on spaces already occupied by others.  There is cost involved in placing second, and suddenly it seemed that money (or rather the lack of it!) could be a key factor.  In most games, rolling a set of five’s and sixes would be met with squeals of pleasure – not this one.  High dice rolls might unlock some tasty options, but at a price. Finding that you had only a four and a five to place down on the travelling track when you only wanted to move once, was very annoying.  Such a move increases the cost from four (or three if you’re lucky enough to go first) for placing a single pip die to seven, and if you did decide to make use of the extra moves, that will be sixteen in total, and we’ll not consider the cost of three movements!

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the early rounds Black and Purple kept rolling fewer than fifteen in total, which gave them extra camels and/or coins to make up the difference, but it did also mean that their outlay was much less than Pine and Green who kept rolling, fours, fives and sixes.  This meant that when there was something they wanted to do, they could at least afford it. While Pine and Green were left scratching their heads as to how on earth they were to use their remaining six. Pine often just placed it “in the purse” for a measly three coins. Although Green was having similar issues, he did at least have the advantage of gaining some decent first visit bonuses, to keep his game alive. Black and purple were making rapid progress across the board, although perhaps not quite as rapid as their respective characters might suggest was possible. Pine and Green, meanwhile, kept a steady pace on wrapping up the contracts to roar into the lead on the points track.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Black commented how we did not seem to be using the black dice very much. In the online games they disappear very quickly (there are only five per turn). It was only during the last part of the last round that we realised that we had not fully understood the implications of the black dice rules. We had thought players could only have one black die per round (i.e. a maximum of five all game distributed over the five rounds), but they could actually have one per turn making them a good way of increase the number of action choices. The camel cost associated with them would reduce the ability to travel, but there are plenty of other ways to trade your way to victory in the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

In the last round or two, Black and Purple really wound up their travelling elastic bands and went flying round the board, ultimately completing both of their city-mission bonus cards, which neither Pine nor Green could manage. Green did eventually complete one, but Pine had barely moved at all, preferring to concentrate on completing contracts.  When the final tally came, Green had romped away, proving Black wrong about the Kahn character. Black’s final speed-demon dash across the board netted him enough bonuses (although not his extra two house bonus) to bring him home in second place. Purple was just behind, proving that the teleportation device of the ancient east was a good way to get your presence felt, but she had neglected the contracts and did not manage to net quite enough extra points to sneak past Black. Pine’s contract strategy hadn’t been as successful as he’d hoped and we realised that his special bonus of receiving a resource every time someone else bought in the market, dwindled in later rounds as we all found other ways to get resources.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

In the end, despite our initial opinions we concluded that the characters are more balanced than we first thought.  Our first game also called into question the widely held BGG opinion that contracts are a better way to gain points than travelling, though we will have to see if this opinion holds over time.  Overall it was a really interesting game, with much variety in it from play to play and the dice action mechanism was also really clever and satisfying.  It did take a long time to play, but next time should be quicker, and there will certainly be a next time as we all enjoyed its first outing and others are also keen to give it a go.  Meanwhile, Glen More had long since finished, so rather than condemning Blue and Burgundy to a two player game, Red and Magenta suggested playing something quick.  Near the top of Blue’s bag was 11 Nimmt!, a game so far only released in German that Blue had picked up last year at Essen.  Designed by Wolfgang Kramer, the same person who brought us one of our favourite, 6 Nimmt!, we were keen to see if this really was five nimmts better…

11 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played with a deck of cards numbering one to a hundred, each also with some number of bulls heads, or Nimmts on it (much like 6 Nimmt!, though the distribution is different).  Each player starts with a hand of ten cards and the aim of the game is to be the first person to get rid of them all, or (since the game is played over several rounds) at least finish with a low scoring hand, i.e. as few Nimmts as possible.  In contrast to 6 Nimmt!, the game is played in turns rather than simultaneously and the game starts with one card pile.  On their turn, the active player must discard a card that is above the top card on the pile, but within ten of its face value.  If they do not have a suitable card (or choose not to play it) then they must take the stack into their hand and replace it with two new face up cards drawn from the draw deck making two new piles.  If a player takes a stack comprising three or more cards, then the player also takes a Bull Card which allows that player to play more than one card at a time on one stack so long as they are all within ten of the top card.  Should they end up with a second Bull Card, then they can play on more than one pile, and this is where it becomes an advantage to pick up lots of cards, because with several Bull Cards, players can discard a lot of cards very quickly and have more control over the game.

11 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

From the start it was apparent that 11 Nimmt! is very different to our much loved 6 Nimmt!.  There is a lot less gratuitous glee at other people’s misfortune when they are forced to take fists full of cards, but this is replaced by strategy and planning.  The lack of simultaneous play also makes it feel a lot more solitaire than 6 Nimmt! and, though there was plenty of opportunity to scupper someone else’s plans, without knowing the contents of their hand it was hard to do it in a constructive way.  It took us a few rounds to get the hang of it, but before long we were starting to see the strategic advantage of picking up cards as well as getting rid of them.  The rules suggested playing the same number of rounds as there are players, but we ended up playing six rounds just to fill time.  Despite Red and Blue both winning rounds, Magenta was the clear winner after four rounds thanks to her consistency and she added just one to her total in the extra rounds compared to everyone else’s ten and, as a result, she finished the clear winner.  Although we all enjoyed it and could see that it was probably a better game with lower player counts, we all felt that it hadn’t usurped 6 Nimmt!, which would retain its special place thanks to its fast play and generally chaotic fun.

11 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes subtle changes to a game make a huge difference.

20th October 2015

While Burgundy, Magenta and Blue waited for their supper to arrive, they began a quick game of Bellz!, the “Feature Game”.  This is a very simple manual dexterity game, albeit one that is very well presented.  The pouch opens out to form a soft bowl containing bells in four different colours.  Each colour includes bells in three different sizes; the aim of the game is to be the first person to have picked up all the bells of just one colour using the stick which has a magnet in each end.  On a player’s turn they can pick up multiple bells or chicken out and stop at one, but if they pick up any bells that don’t match the colour of those they have already collected then that turn is forfeit.

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

It is certainly more difficult than it looks and there is a little bit in the way of tactics as the magnetism gets weaker further away so with skill it is possible to daisy chain bells and only pick up certain bells.  There is also a strong magnet one one end of the “wand” and a weaker one on the other.  Th rules are not completely clear (and are completely in German in any case!), and gamers inevitably ask whether the bowl can be moved and how much shaking is allowed, which were things we house-ruled.  We had had about two turns each when Green arrived and joined in.  Food arrived and we were still struggling so we carried on as we ate.  Burgundy ran out the eventual winner with Blue following close behind leaving Magenta and Green to fight it out for the last bell.  Grey and Cerise promptly turned up and, as it is an eye-catching game, also had a go with Cerise taking the honours.

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This was followed by a discussion of the Essen game fair including some of the games seen and purchased by Blue and Pink.  By far the majority of the toys they picked up were expansions for games we’ve played before including:

Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor sdetavern

There were several new games too though, in particular:

There were also older games, some of which we’ve been interested in for a long time.  For example Rockwell was a big game at Essen two years ago, and Green and Blue have expressed an interest in both at the time and since.  Somehow either the price wasn’t right or it wasn’t available at the right time, until now when a good deal beckoned. Blue and Pink picked up a number of small games as well.  These are often hard to get hold of except at places like Essen and are sometimes a hit, and sometimes not so popular, but as they are relatively inexpensive and take up little space in the luggage, they are what makes the fair special.  Finally, there were the promotional items, extra copies of which Blue handed round.

Rockwell!
– Image by BGG contributor Rayreviewsgames

Eventually we decided it was time for a game, and with six the decision is always whether to split into two groups or not.  Green suggested Eketorp for six, but Blue really wasn’t keen, so eventually we opted for Codenames, a new social deduction team game based on the meanings of words which had received a lot of good reports before Essen.  Green pulled a face at the idea of “a word game” and Burgundy commented that social games were not really his thing, even Blue who bought it wasn’t terribly keen because it had sounded un-promising when she read the rules.  Cerise was almost enthusiastic though and Magenta pointed out that it shouldn’t take long, so we gave it a go.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The idea is that there is a grid of twelve cards and the players split into two teams, with even numbers of male and female, we did the childish thing and played boys vs. girls.  The leader of each team is the Spymaster, and as Grey had popped out for a second, we volunteered him to be one so it was natural that Cerise should be the other.  The Spymasters’ job is to get their team to reveal the cards/words that correspond to their team of “agents”, by giving clues.  The clue must be a single word followed by a number which reflects how many words are indicated by that clue.  For example, the clue, “trees: three” could be used to indicate the words “oak”, “ash” and “elm”.  Members of the team then touch cards that they think are their agents; they must indicate at least one, but may try up to one more than the number in the clue.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor aleacarv

The Girls started off badly finding a neutral and the Boys started off well quickly getting a three card lead.  Before long, the Boys started to get a bit stuck with movie clues and the Girls began to catch up.  As Magenta pointed out afterwards, it was important to listen to both the clues and the discussion of the other team as you can get extra clues.  And so it proved in the end.  With the teams tied, the clue was “Regents; two”.  Blue and Magenta misheard and thought Cerise had said “Regions”.  The Boys struggled on their turn too though, and suddenly the Girls had another chance.  When Green had repeated Cerise’s clue during the Boys’ discussion, Blue had suddenly realised the Girls’ mistake and they were able to find “Park” and close out the game.  Although it is not really our sort of game, everyone was very complimentary about it and as a group we enjoyed it much more than we thought we would.  We could all think of people who would like playing it and now that we know how it works, it would be much quicker to play next time too, making it a surprisingly fun filler with the right group.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With that done, we had to decide what to to play next and, with too many for Cosmic Encounter, inevitably Eketorp was raised again.  Grey was very enthusiastic, but Blue really wasn’t keen, especially as it can drag with six players.  Much to Blue’s delight and eternal gratitude, Magenta tactfully suggested that, despite being a Viking, she could play something else with Blue and Burgundy.  With that, Green happily started explaining the rules.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Ceryon

Eketorp is a game where players attempt to gather resources to build their Viking stronghold on the Swedish island of Öland.  In this game players try to second guess which resources the others don’t choose, with a battle and a potential extended stay in the hospital as the reward for failure.  The game itself is played in several rounds.  First material is distributed across the board according to the card revealed at the start of the round.  The players then decide, in secret (behind their player screens), which areas to send their Vikings to.  Vikings can either go to one of the seven resource or brick areas, reinforce the defence of their own village, or attack one of the other players’ villages.   Players then reveal their choices  and place their Vikings on the central board.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

Depending on how the various Vikings meet, peace may be preserved or battles may ensue.  Vikings on a material field live in peace if there are sufficient building bricks, i.e. there is the same number of building bricks (or more) than there are Vikings wanting them.  If there are insufficient bricks available, then there will be a battle.  Battles also take place on a siege field in front of a player’s castle for the right to lay siege if several Vikings are positioned there.  Battles always take place in a particular order. Firstly, the starting player engages in a battle, then everyone else takes turns until all battles and sieges have been resolved.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor helioa

Battles are fought using cards chosen from a starting hand of four.  Each player choses a card in secret and then they reveal them simultaneously with the highest card winning.  The difference in value between the two cards determines the battle difference which indicates which area of the hospital the loser ends up in.  In the case of a tie, both parties go to the hospital.  The clever bit is that once a battle has been fought, players swap cards and place the new card face down in front of them.  Once a player has played all their cards in battles, they take the cards in front of them to form a new hand.  In this way, the game is self-balancing so that a player who has a bad card draw at the start will have a better hand later in the game and vice versa.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

If village siege is successful, then the attacker gets to pillage bricks from the village wall.  Bricks may only be taken from the walls that are two bricks high and the  total point value of the bricks taken may not exceed the battle difference.  Bricks can only be removed from top to bottom and the attacker can then take one of these bricks home (with the remainder going back into the reserve).  Once all battles have been resolved all the winning Vikings can take their bricks home and add them to their village wall.  Each wall comes in six parts and a maximum of three bricks can be stacked in each giving a maximum of eighteen in total.  Once a brick has been used, it cannot be moved at a later date.  The bricks are nominally made of different material and are worth different amounts at the end of the game (green, or grass is worth one whereas grey or stone is worth four for example).  The end of the game is triggered when one player reaches the maximum of eighteen bricks.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

At the start, with no village walls to attack or defend, and all Vikings fit and healthy, the central resource pools were particularly busy places.  After many attacks and counter attacks, eventually all were either victorious and claimed resources, or were licking their wounds in differing levels of the Viking hospital (talk about a beds crisis!).  Green took the early lead at this point. Round two was much quieter, with less than half the Vikings available to go brick hunting, so everyone was relatively successful with their choices.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor DrGrayrock

Over the course of the next couple of rounds, the game board became more crowded and there was even the odd cheeky raid on a village.  By this time, Grey had managed to create a nice evenly built village wall, one or two bricks high made up of both grass and wooden bricks (worth one and two points respectively) – easy pickings in a fight, but less threatening too. Green was a bit lopsided, concentrating on building with a range of brick colours mostly on one side in order to limit the attack directions.  Cerise however had quietly managed to built quite a good wall round a large part of her village with a lot of clay and stone bricks (worth three and four points).  So, the next two rounds were characterised mostly by Grey and Green attacking for Cerise’s wall.  The first attack by Green was successful, but only enough to nab the top green brick, hardly a dent at all and netted only one point.  Grey’s attack was a stalemate.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Garry

In the final round, Cerise found herself surrounded on all sides with Green and Grey attacked from one side each.  Again only Grey was successful enough to break down part of the wall though.  Then for the final battle of the game, Grey and Green had to go head to head for the right to attack Cerise from the third side – it was a draw and Cerise was safe!  As Cerise was the only one who had managed to build a wall at least three high all the way round she picked up the five point bonus and proved herself the superior Viking with a score of forty-four leaving Green and Grey some way behind, fighting it out for the wooden spoon.  In the end, Grey decided he didn’t like the game after all, because had Cerise beat him!

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

Meanwhile Blue, Burgundy and Magenta conducted a brief audit of the games available and Burgundy’s eyes lit up at the idea of trying out the new Ticket to Ride Map Collection as he had played a lot of Ticket to Ride and prided himself on being quite good at it.  Magenta is also no slouch either however, and was also keen as she had won her last three games of Ticket to Ride: Europe.  Similarly, Blue has slightly unjustly acquired a reputation for beating people at Ticket to Ride, and although she hadn’t played it much recently, she had won her demonstration game at Essen and had enjoyed it too, so was very happy to give it another try.  Although everyone was keen to try the UK map, to avoid giving Blue an unfair advantage, the Pennsylvania side was chosen.

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic Ticket to Ride game is really very simple.  On their turn the active player can do one of three things:  pick up two coloured train cards from the face up display or the face down draw deck; place plastic trains on the map using cards to pay and scoring points; or draw ticket cards, which name two places and give points at the end of the game if the player has built a route between them, but score negatively if not completed.  From there, each different version makes small changes to the rules, for example, some editions include tunnels and/or ferries and sometimes there are extra cards or bonus points etc..  So, the first problem was trying to remember which of the specific rules are applicable to the base game and then integrate them with the new rules for the Pennsylvania map.  In particular, this was whether we should be using the double routes and how many points the different routes should be worth since there was no score table.  Eventually, we decided to use single tracks (ala three player Ticket to Ride: Europe) and scored routes as follows:

  • Single car:  One point
  • Two cars:  Two points
  • Three cars:  Four points
  • Four cars:  Seven points
  • Five cars:  Ten points
  • Six cars:  Fifteen points
  • Seven cars:  Twenty-one points

The seven car route from Cumberland to Baltimore engendered a lot of discussion, as there aren’t any routes of that length in Ticket to Ride: Europe.  Burgundy was fairly sure they were worth eighteen points in Märklin, but the increase in points from six to seven cars seemed very uneven compared with the change from five to six cars.  In the event, it didn’t make much difference, but checking the rules online later confirmed that Burgundy was right and it should have been eighteen.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy was quite pleased with his starting tickets getting three east-west routes that he thought could largely be coincidental.  His delight faded to despair, when in the first turn, Blue took the route from Altoona to Johnstown and quickly followed it by adding the Altoona to Dubois, in quickly completely scuppering his plans.  Magenta was equally unimpressed that double routes were not in use when Burgundy and Blue quickly completed all the connections to Johnstown rendering one of her tickets impossible within the first few turns.  From there, the game quickly descended into a knife-fight in a phone box with everyone scrabbling to make their starting tickets and it looking very much like nobody was going to succeed.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

As Burgundy pointed out though, tickets were not going to be so important in this game as there were a lot of points available from the Shares.  This is a new feature specific to this map.  The idea of these is that most routes also have one or more company logos shown next to them on the map.  When these routes are completed, players choose which company they would like to take a share certificate for.  The companies are different sizes with some companies having a lot of certificates available while smaller company others have fewer.  At the end of the game, each player’s stock holdings are evaluated and points awarded.  The bigger companies are worth more points, however, it is harder to get the majority stake in these.  In the case of a tie, the share certificates are numbered and the points go to the person with the one taken first.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

The shares certainly did have a massive impact on game play.  Normally in Ticket to Ride, players achieve their first routes and then start picking up tickets, trying to maximise the number of longer routes as these give the best points return for the cards and trains, but, that wasn’t how this game went.  Although Blue bravely picked up some more tickets and was promptly followed by everyone else, this was the only time anyone did this as everyone got in everyone else’s way so much it was just too risky.  Since achieving tickets was proving so challenging, everyone started trying to pick up share certificates which meant building small routes as these were the cheapest and easiest way to get them.  Then suddenly, Burgundy declared he was out of trains and the game came to a quick end which only left the scoring.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Burgundy had moaned about how badly he had done, neither Magenta nor Blue realised just how badly until it came to scoring tickets.  It’s true that the first ticket scored him ten points, but all the others were incomplete losing him nearly all the points he had accrued from placing trains.  Magenta also had a ticket she had failed to achieve, but it hadn’t cost her nearly so dearly.  Blue on the other hand had somehow managed to make all her connections and therefore also picked up an extra fifteen points for the Globe Trotter Bonus.  Unfortunately for Burgundy, although he had done well on the shares, the horror-show that had been the tickets had put him right out of contention and he was nearly lapped (though not quite!).  Although Magenta had shares in more companies, the combination of the extra tickets and the fact that Blue had managed to hang on to the majority in a couple of the larger companies made the difference.  Blue finished on one hundred and ninety eight, just over thirty points ahead of Magenta in what was a very tough game.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

With Grey and Cerise gone, that left us with time for a quick filler to finish.  11 Nimmt! and Deep Sea Adventure were both in the frame, but Green liked the sound of Qwixx, which had been nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2013, but was beaten by Hanabi.  The game sounded interesting though there was very little to it.  On their turn, the active player rolls six dice, four coloured and two white.  Each player has a score sheet with four tracks:  the red and yellow tracks go from two to twelve and the blue and green tracks go from twelve to two.  Once the dice have been rolled, all the players may cross off a number of any colour that corresponds to the sum of the white dice, if they choose.  The active player may additionally cross off one number corresponding to the sum of one of the coloured dice and one of the white dice.  They can choose which of the white dice they are going to use, but the die colour must match the colour of the track.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

The snag is that players must progressively cross off numbers to the right, i.e. once they have crossed out the red five for example, they cannot go back and cross out the red four.  Also, while all the other players can freely choose whether or not to use the white dice, the active player must cross out something on their turn or take a penalty (minus five at the end of the game).  Finally, if someone wants to cross out the last number on any track (twelve for red and yellow, two for green and blue), they must first have crossed out at least five other numbers on that track, at which point the die corresponding to that colour is locked and the colour is closed for all players.  The game ends when two dice have been removed from the game or when one player has accrued four penalties.  Scores are awarded for the number of crosses in each row according to the triangular number sequence also used in Coloretto (one, three, six, ten, fifteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight, etc.), so every additional cross is worth an ever increasing amount.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game started with everyone being very cagey and not taking the option of scoring the white dice as they were too high, but eventually, some people were braver than others and different patterns began to emerge.  Initially, the game looked very promising with the potential interplay between different effects, like the probability distribution for two dice, balancing the high scoring potential with not getting stuck and picking up penalty points.  Blue was even wondering whether it would be necessary to get another scoring pad.  However, being gamers, we all played to a very similar strategy and, before long, the inevitable happened, with everyone stuck waiting for the most unlikely dice rolls (two and twelve).  As a result, Burgundy who got there first started picking up penalties closely followed by Green.  The game ended when Burgundy picked up his fourth penalty point and we added up the scores.  Magenta, who had only taken the one penalty finished five points ahead of Blue with Burgundy and Green nearly twenty points behind thanks to all their penalties.  And then the inquisition began.

Qwixx
– Image by boardGOATS

We all really like the game at first because of the way the probability interacted with the constraints on number selection, however, we quickly found that it felt very random because the game was self-balancing.  As their game finished, each player was going to be hoping for lucky dice rolls.  Since twelve and two are relatively unlikely which would have a delaying effect, during which time, anyone who had not got quite as far was going to be able to grab a couple of extra crosses.  The random nature of rolling dice meant that ultimately, the effect of any strategy or tactics applied during the game were vastly outweighed by the randomness of the dice at the end.  Although we felt it was probably a good game for children to have fun with, as a game, it was very surprising it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is good to play games outside your comfort zone.

6th October 2015

This week we started out debating the poor performance of the England Rugby team compared with Ireland who had hitherto failed to beat a team in the top ten, but were still likely to go through to the quarter final stage of the world cup (thanks largely to the vagaries of the draw).  While Blue and Pink finished their pizza Magenta, the Dobble Queen, schooled everyone else in a quick round of Dobble, before we split into two groups.

Dobble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

The first group played Grog Island.  This is an unusual game that it quite hard to get your head round because a lot is going on.  The theme centers on retiring pirates who are trying to work out how to spend their ill-gotten gains. The game is played on a board that represents the five peninsulas of “Grog Island”, which is where pirates that have survived to retirement can go to invest their spoils by buying pirate-like properties.  The key feature however is the innovative bidding mechanism.

Grog Island
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

On their turn, the active player rolls five coloured dice, and then places their first bid.  Bids are placed by selecting any number of the dice with the value of the bid equal to the sum of the number of pips on the upper-most face of the dice.  The bid must be less than the players total amount of gold.  The clever part of the bidding is that the dice that form the bid are placed in descending order, with each dice placed in one of the five available spaces, starting on the left with the highest value dice. If they can afford it, the next player may increase the bid, by increasing the total number of pips visible on the dice.  To do this they can add dice, replace dice, even completely rearrange the order of the dice, so long they do not change the number on any die and the dice remain arranged in descending order starting from the left.  The position and colour of the dice have a number of consequences, both for the eventual winning bidder, and for players who withdraw from the round early.

Grog Island
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Wout

The player who eventually wins the bid gets to carry out the actions associated with the dice according to their final position.  These include placing pirates on the island and blocking spaces on the island, but the peninsula is restricted to the colour of the die placed in the location associated with that action.  Pirates’ positions on the island are important, because these are the primary way players get points during the game, but since those points depend on the victory cards handed out at the start, everyone has a different combination of goals.

Grog Island
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor PZS69

Losing a bid can be useful too, however, as players who drop out of the bidding early get resources corresponding to the colours of the dice in the current bid.  Thus, if the current bid is comprised of the yellow, blue and green dice, the player receives lemons (yellow), fish (blue), and coconuts (green).  These resources can then be used to carry out one of the options on the shipping track.  Black and Purple had played the game before, though always with four players.  Red on the other hand was new to it and felt a bit overwhelmed trying to get her head round everything that was going on.  For this reason, while Black and Purple began collecting victory point cards and planning a strategy, Red kept it simple and played tactically, gathering resources and using them as best she could.  It was really close and it went right down to the wire, Red finishing with thirty-three, with Black and Purple two and five points behind respectively.  The discussion at the end suggested that different tactics might be necessary with different player counts.  On the other hand, the winner was was the player who had no idea what she was doing last time we played too, so maybe keeping it simple is the way forward with this game.

Grog Island
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Wout

Meanwhile, everyone else played the “Feature Game”, Tokaido.  This is a game where players take the role of pilgrims crossing the Japanese “East sea road”, meeting people, tasting fine meals, collecting beautiful items, discovering great panoramas, and visiting temples.  It had been Pink’s choice as he lives so far away that he rarely makes it to games nights and was able to come this time as he was on his way to Essen.  He chose the game because he had played it a couple of times with two and wanted to see how it played with more as he felt it was probably very different.

Tokaido
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The game is quite simple with fairly straightforward actions, but despite this there is a surprising amount to think about.  The idea is that players are travelling along a path, but only one player can stop on each space.  Each space allows the active player to carry out a predefined action which will usually give them some combination of money and/or victory points.  Since the player at the back goes first they have to choose whether to move to the closest available space and get the maximum number of moves, or whether to pick a space for its action, either to improve their own position or to obstruct someone else’s plans.  In practice of course, it is inevitably a compromise but one that is often based on marginal decisions.

Tokaido
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

There are a number of possible actions, some of which involve drawing cards from one of the available piles with players scoring more for collecting sets.  Players can also donate money to at the temple in return for victory points, but as money is quite scarce, this can be quite difficult.  At intervals along the route there are also inns, where players have to try to buy a meal, which are worth six points, however, each meal must be different.  The first player to arrive draws a hand of meal cards which have varying costs, and they get to select which meal to buy giving them the chance to to make live very difficult for everyone else.

Tokaido: Eriku
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor changeling

At the start of the game, each player draws a character card:  Burgundy took Sasayakko; Pink got Zen-Emon, Magenta took Umegae and Blue got Eriku.  Since nobody could work out what Eriku did (he was a promotional item and came without rules), Blue drew a second card and ended up with Hiroshiga.  Sasayakko and Zen-Emon both had special powers allowing the cheaper purchases of souvenirs from the village, which meant that Burgundy and Pink were fighting for the same spaces on the path.  Umegae allowed Magenta to take an extra point and coin every time she drew an encounter card, while Hiroshiga gave Blue a free panorama card at the three intermediate inns, which ultimately gave her two of the panorama bonuses.

Tokaido
– Image by BGG contributor asdoriak

Since the character cards drive the strategy, Burgundy and Pink both started out collecting souvenirs while Blue went for panoramas.  Magenta was the only one who was completely new to the game and, as it is very different to anything else we’ve played, she struggled to find a strategy in the first few turns.  As Umegae ensured that she had an extra source of money, Magenta managed to avoid getting into financial difficulties and quickly built up an unassailable lead at the temple and, by buying the expensive meal cards, managed to secure that bonus too.  Money was much more of an issue for Blue as she started out with less than everyone else and really struggled to ensure she had enough to buy a meal at each of the inns.  Burgundy also had a bit of a cash-flow crisis as he was buying souvenirs at every possible opportunity, but at least he was doing well picking up points.

Tokaido
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Pink didn’t escape financial worries either and, as he was losing out to Burgundy for the village spaces, he wasn’t picking up as many points.  The game finished with a clear win for Burgundy who’s souvenir buying strategy clearly paid off giving him a lead of ten points over second place.  It was much closer than it had looked earlier in the game however, and only two points separated Pink in second and Blue at the back.  It was a game we all enjoyed though, and it does indeed play very differently with two and “lots”, for two main reasons.  Firstly, with two players, controlling the dummy player is a key part of the game, but he is not used with three or more people.  Secondly, with more than three, some of the spaces have a sort of “siding” that can be used by a second player.  This second player is remains behind the first person to arrive, which messes with the turn order and takes a little getting used to.

Tokaido
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Tokaido finished first, so we played a quick game of Love Letter with the winner decreed as the person with the most points when Grog Island finished.  The usual hilarity ensued as one player managed to take out another by shear blind chance using the guard, or occasionally by clever deduction.  It was all level with one hand each, when Grog Island came to an end and it all came down to the last hand which was taken by Burgundy.

Love Letter
– Image by BGG contributor thatmadgirl

Red and Magenta were preparing to leave, but we managed to persuade them to stay for a quick game of one of our current favourite fillers, 6 Nimmt!.  This is such a silly game:  clearly there is more to it than just chance, but none of us can really work out what, which is why it continues to keep us intrigued.  We usually play this in two rounds, each with half a deck, and typically, whoever does really well in the first round (generally Burgundy) does appallingly badly in the second.  Everything went according to the script with Burgundy winning the first round taking just the one “nimmt”, and then starting the second round picking up cards.  However, that’s where it stopped and Burgundy finished with just eight, the clear winner.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

With the departure of Red and Magenta, and Blue and Pink wanting an early night because they were travelling the next day, we decided to play another short game and opted for one of our current “go-to fillers”, The Game.  We’ve played this a lot recently, but only actually won once.  This time we started very, very badly indeed with nobody really having any very high or very low cards.  Then the inevitable happened and about half of us only had very high or very low cards.  We’ve known for some time that this game is a lot more difficult with more players and with five it is especially challenging.  Nevertheless, despite doing so appallingly badly at the start, the end result was not as bad as we expected and we finished with three cards left.

The Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Learning Outcome:  Some games play very differently with different numbers of players.