We were very late starting, but after a short discussion we decided to go with the “Feature Game” which was Grog Island. This is an “Essen Special” that we’ve not played at the group before, but it has turned out to have been a bit of a hit elsewhere due largely to its innovative bidding mechanism. The game revolves around retiring pirates who aer trying to work out how to spend their ill-gotten gains. This 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 idea is that each player receives a hand of end-game victory point condition cards, a number of pirate meeples and markers, eight gold coins, a treasure card (containing an undisclosed amount of gold) and a parrot card. 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 (including hidden treasure cards).
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. 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 can 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.
Players who drop out of the bidding either because they can’t or choose not to increase its value, 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. For each resource, there are two options available: the top option costs a single resource and varies as the game progresses, while the bottom option is always the same and allows players to place a single pirate on the peninsula of that colour.
We eventually got going, and after some rules confusion (despite extensive discussion before we began), Blue won the first round so had almost no money and very little to show for it. Purple and Green both managed to win a couple of rounds while Black, struggled to win anything. Victory points are awarded at the end of the game depending on the conditions on the victory point card, so every turn that Black didn’t win an auction, he ominously took a card. Now in this game, the dice cannot be freely placed: they must be placed in descending order (and are locked so the value cannot be changed). This, coupled with the fact that the bid must always increase (but players don’t want to spend more than they have to) means there are restrictions on where the dice can go. Black tried everything, he even used Parrot cards to change the number on dice, but unfortunately, somehow, when he eventually did win an auction, he couldn’t do much with it. Meanwhile, Blue (who hadn’t been feeling at all well), just collected resources and Purple and Green carried on winning auctions and accruing a lot of money.
Blue had spent most of the game checking things with the rules as she seemed completely incapable of remembering what was going on, but despite this, she eventually managed to win a second auction and then suddenly realised that she had collected enough resources to start to place pirates without winning having to win auctions, which meant she didn’t need any money. Purple and Green both also had pirates left to place when three rounds later, Blue brought the game to an end by placing her final pirate.
Black went first with the scoring, and woefully shook his head saying, “I’m screwed,” as he revealed his goal cards and the fact he’d succeeded in almost none of them. As we moved on to score Green, Black added, “You need to be somewhere round here,” gesturing at the thirty-five point mark; we all muttered disbelievingly. Green also thought he’d done badly, but in actual fact had nearly double the number of points Black had achieved and was within one point of Purple. Much to everyone’s surprise, possibly Blue’s most of all, she ran out the clear winner with thirty-five points.
Because of the late start and the inordinate amount of time it had taken to explain and then play Grog Island, we only had time to play one other quick game. Purple nipped out for a moment and, in her absence, the rest of us elected to play Indigo. This is a pretty game that we’ve played before on a Tuesday, and was described by Black as, “Like Tsuro in reverse.” The idea of Tsuro is that players start with a stone on the edge of the board, and they take it in turns to play tiles that extend the path their stone is sitting on and the winner is the one who keeps their stone on the board the longest.
In Indigo, the stones start on the board and players have to build paths to guide the stones into their gate. The really clever part of Indigo is that each gate is shared by two players, making it a sort of semi-cooperative game. In the four player game, each player shares one gate with every other player, so three out of the four players have two gates next to each other and one on the opposite side of the board. The final player, in this case Green, has a gap between each of his three gates, spreading them evenly around the board.
The game started quickly with Purple and Blue teaming up to bring a yellow stone home, giving them one point each. Then it was Green’s turn, but from then on, Blue and Black teamed up to build a highly lucrative gate pulling in a handful of green stones and the three-point blue stone. There was only a single point between first and second and, unsurprisingly, it was Black and Blue who were in the running, with Blue edging it by a nose giving her a clean sweep for the evening. Path laying games are definitely Blue and Black’s sort of games, and equally certainly, not Purple’s favourites although she doesn’t mind Tsuro. Green commented that he felt it was much harder with the gates spread out, though Blue was less sure, as she felt it should be easier as stones were never very far away. Well, we’ll just have to play it again sometime to find out, though as Purple is not so keen it may be a little while…
Learning Outcome: You don’t have to feel 100% to win.