Tag Archives: Viticulture

28th May 2019

While Pink, Blue and Khaki finished their pizzas, the other early arrivals played a quick game of Coloretto.  This is a relatively short game of set collecting which is very popular with the group; it was new to Lime though so needed a quick rules explanation.  The idea of the game is that on their turn, players can either pick up a chameleon card from the face down deck and add it to a “truck”, or take a truck (passing for the rest of the round).  The innovative part of the game is the scoring which uses the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.), with positive points for three sets and negative for the rest.  Thus, players need large sets in three different colours and small sets in all the rest.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With five players, it was relatively hard to make trucks particularly unappealing to everyone, so the negative scores were kept to a minimum.  It was quite close at the top as a result, with Black, Lime and Mulberry all in the running.  Lime finished with the highest score for his sets totalling thirty, with Mulberry a handful of points behind, but Black had four bonus points and no negatives.  In the end, Lime pipped Black by a single point with Mulberry just a couple of points behind that.

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

With Coloretto over, everyone finished with their supper and the stragglers all arrived, there was the usual discussion over who would play what.  The “Feature Game”, Viticulture with the Tuscany expansion, was always likely to take most of the night, so the question was really who was going to play that and what else was on offer.  One of the options suggested was Ticket to Ride with the India map, which was described by Pine as an game where you “just pile people on top of the trains and pack the inside with goats!”  Clearly none of our GOATS fancied the inside of a hot carriage and the discussion continued as Ivory, Pink and Blue started setting out Viticulture and Mulberry (having spent some time as a oenologist) dragged Khaki along for the ride.

Viticulture
– Image by boardGOATS

Viticulture is a worker placement game where players plant and harvest grapes then make and trade wine.  Although there is nothing especially innovative about the game itself, it is an exceptionally good example of its type and is considered bit of a modern classic as a result.  There are two editions, the original Viticulture, and the “Essential Edition“.  We usually play with Essential Edition which includes some of the smaller expansions from the original Tuscany (like the Mama and Papa set up cards), and, as the revised edition, is considered to be the definitive version.  In this base game, the actions are split into two seasons, Summer and Winter, with visitor cards arriving in the Autumn and extra cards arriving in the Spring.  Visitor cards come in two varieties, yellow Summer and blue Winter cards which are played in the different seasons as a special action.

Tuscany
– Image by boardGOATS

The Tuscany expansion messes about with this arrangement with actions in all four seasons, so players have to eke out their meagre supply of workers to last the whole year.  In addition to the larger, “expanded” and restructured board, the Tuscany expansion also adds an extra deck of building cards that players can use to create a personal action space or increase the effectiveness of other actions.  These can be very powerful if used effectively.  Additionally, there is a “influence” board that depicts the regions which players can place “Star-eeples” on to get an instant bonus.  If they have the majority in a given region at the end of the game, they also get a small number of bonus points. Finally, Tuscany also adds workers with a special ability, these cost a little more to train, but if used efficiently can more than pay for that over the course of the game.

Tuscany
– Image by boardGOATS

The other major difference between Viticulture and Tuscany is that the game tends to start slower, with players building their vineyard getting all the pieces of their engine together.  The game is not terribly complicated in terms of taking actions, but planning is tough and as people new to the game, Mulberry and Khaki struggled a bit to get going.  Blue, on the other hand, was out of the traps like a rabbit and got vines planted and harvested with remarkable speed, but then promptly stalled as she desperately needed money, more contracts, and more space in her wine cellar.  In contrast, Ivory and Pink were slower to get going because they were carefully planning their strategies.

Viticulture
– Image by boardGOATS

In the early part of the game, nothing much seemed to happen.  Blue’s simple, but fast start, got her well in front, while Khaki began by actually going backwards, sacrificing victory points to try to build up his team of workers.  Everything else was pretty quiet though, as Ivory was collecting cards and Mulberry concentrated on building.  Pink started with the intention of building an irrigation tower and no trellis (to save money), but that was quickly scuppered when every vine he draw after the first required a visit from “Mrs. Trellis of North Wales“.  There were plenty of sarcastic comments from the next table as they felt they were well on the way to finishing, while it looked like nobody had made any positive progress except Blue, despite playing for well over an hour.

Tuscany
– Image by boardGOATS

Then suddenly, things began to happen.  Pink had sorted out the vine situation, and had purchased a large cellar (to go with the medium cellar he’d started with) which meant he could fulfil some valuable contracts, increasing his residual payments at the end of the round giving him a substantial income in a game where money is always very tight.  Then Ivory began his charge for the finish, setting his Wine Press and Guest House to work.  He was particularly adept at leveraging his Guest House for points, finding ways to take Visitor cards from other players and turn them into points, and then playing other Visitor cards that enabled him to repeat the action.  Mulberry built an Academy that would give her money whenever another player trained a worker, but it was too late in the game as most people had finished training by that point.  Khaki’s Fountain was more effective though giving him money every time someone else gave a tour.

Tuscany
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game approached the end, the question was whether Blue was going to get over the line before Pink and Ivory, really started raking in the points.  With her trained Salesman who enabled her to full-fill two contracts as part of one action, but had proved fairly useless for most of the game, it looked like she might just make it.  Pink was coming up fast and screwed up Blue’s plans on the influence board just for good measure.  Khaki and Mulberry suddenly started to make real progress as well, with Khaki making a rapid shift from negative points to lots of points over just a couple of turns.  It was Ivory though, who stormed ahead, full-filling several orders in the final round as well picking up an extra five bonus points from the influence board.  He finished with a grand total of forty points, ten more than Blue in second place who, in turn, was a single point ahead of Pink.

Viticulture
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, the second group were playing Maya, an older game where players are taking part in the construction of pyramids in places like Chichen Itza and Palenque.  The game is a combination of semi-blind bidding mechanics, special actions, and building up “influence” by building pyramids in the ancient Mayan civilization.  The greater the influence, the more gold players get from the Mayan leaders and the aim of the game is to have the greatest pile of gold.  Each player starts with an identical hand of cards, ranging from three to eight, representing workers.  Players start by using their worker cards to bid for actions.  These actions come with a pile of stones, and this is one of the clever parts of the game – players must have enough workers left to move the stones they win or forfeit some of their prize.

Maya
– Image by boardGOATS

Players then take turns placing them on the different pyramid locations, placing one stone at a time and starting on the lowest levels.  In general, players can only place a single stone per turn, though they can place a second stone if they discard a third stone back into the supply (quarry).  When a player completes a level of a pyramid and has the majority of stones on that level, they get a free stone from their supply to place on the next level of that pyramid, thus, clever players can discard a stone to play two, and then receive that discarded stone back immediately to place it higher.

Maya
– Image by boardGOATS

Once all the stones have been placed, the pyramids are evaluated. Each level of a pyramid is scored separately, and only those in first and second place receive gold. Where there is a tie, all players get the gold as if they had placed first.  At the end of the round, the pyramids decay, and all players who scored gold on any level of has to return one block from that level back to the supply. If this leaves a player with no blocks on a level, all of that player’s stones on higher levels also go back to the supply. The game ends after three rounds.

Maya
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone started off building in Tikal, while Pine and Lime developed Copan and Black and Purple struggled in Uxmal.  Palenque was all but ignored by everyone except Purple until the last round when everyone joined her because they were unable to build in the other areas.  It was a very tight game and the nature of it meant nobody knew who was wining until the totals had been calculated.  There was just six points between first and last, but it was Pine who came out on top this time, one point ahead of Lime who took second place.

Maya
– Image by boardGOATS

Viticulture was still going on, so after enjoying a bit of heckling about how the scoreboard hadn’t changed, the group decided to re-visit Bohnanza, this time with an English deck, to reduce Lime’s confusion.  This is one of our most played games, with almost everyone very familiar with it.  The key part of the game is that players must plant their bean cards in the order they receive them.  The only way this fundamental rule can be violated is by trading bean cards with other players.  As everyone knows the game so well, it is often very tight with frequent multi-player ties.  This time it was also very close, but there was more spread than there often is.  On this occasion, the tie was for first place, and it was Black and Pine who finished top with a total of twenty.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes slow and steady wins the race.

UK Games Expo 2018 – Bigger Every Year!

The first weekend in June was the UK Games Expo (sometimes known as UKGE, or simply Expo), held at the NEC and the NEC Hilton Metropole in Birmingham.  Several of the GOATS went, as well as some of the GOATS’ friends from the Didcot Games Club.  Friday was unbearably hot in the main hall with two people actually passing out with the heat, but by Saturday, the air conditioning was on and and it was less sticky.  That was just as well because Saturday was the busiest day, though it didn’t feel too crowded because there was extra space compared with last year.

UKGE 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

The GOATS went with the specific intention of seeing some of the recent releases like Mini Rails, the Viticulture expansion, Visit from the Rhine Valley, North American Railways, as well as prototypes like Tales of the Northlands: The Sagas of Noggin the Nog which has raised over £45,000 through crowd-funding thanks largely to the beautiful artwork by Peter Firmin.

Mijnlieff
– Image by boardGOATS

Plenty of games were played; Blue and Black even managed to squeeze in a quick game of Mijnlieff while they were waiting for lunch to arrive on Friday lunch time.  The surprise of Expo though, was Echidna Shuffle – a light pickup and deliver game with extremely tactile pieces.  In the demo game, Black pipped Purple into second place, with Blue and Black some way behind, but the only real question was how many copies they were going to buy, and it was no surprise that it sold out on Friday!  It surely won’t be long before it Features on a Tuesday night…

UKGE 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

4th April 2017

As we we arrived, we were all a little thrown by the fact that we weren’t on our usual table.  We coped though (just about) and, while we waited for our food, inspired by Red’s “smiley sushi” top, we felt there was only one suitable game, Sushi Go!. This is one of the simplest, “purest” card-drafting games.  Card drafting is a mechanism that is the basis of a number of well-known and popular games including 7 Wonders and one of our favourites, Between Two Cities.  It is also a useful mechanism for evening out the vagaries of dealing in other games.  For example, a round of drafting is often added to the start of Agricola to ensure that nobody gets a particularly poor hand.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Basically, each player starts with a hand of cards, chooses one to keep and passes the rest onto their neighbour.  Everyone receives a new hand of cards, and again chooses one and passes the rest on.  This continues with the hands getting progressively smaller until all the cards have been chosen and there are no cards to pass on.  In Sushi Go!, players are collecting sets of cards with the different sets scoring points in different ways, for example, a player who collects a pair of Tempura Prawns gets five points at the end of the game.  In the first round Blue and Burgundy went for Sashimi – collecting three gives ten points; unfortunately there were only four in the round and both got two which failed to score.  We were playing with the Soy Sauce expansion, and Burgundy made up for his lack of Sashimi by taking the Soy bonus,  it was Pine who made a killing though taking the first round with a massive twenty-two points.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The second round was very confused pizza arriving and hands losing cards somehow.  Blue won the round with seventeen, but it was a much closer affair which left Pine in the driving seat going into the last round.  As they only score points at the end of the game and since the player with the fewest losing six points, everyone went for Puddings.  There were a lot in the round and Red managed to collect most of them, and the end of the game six point bonus with it.  It was a sizeable catch and with Pine in line for the penalty, it looked like Red might just have enough to snatch victory.  In the end, Pine shared the penalty with Burgundy, however, and that was just enough to give him the game, finishing three points ahead of Red.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

With food finished and our usual table now empty, we split into two groups with the first foursome moving back to our normal table to play the “Feature Game”, Viticulture.  This is a worker placement game where players take on the roles of beneficiaries in rustic, pre-modern Tuscany who have inherited meager vineyards. Each player starts with a few plots of land, an old crushpad, a tiny cellar, and three workers.  Using those workers and visitors, players can expand their vineyards by building structures, planting vines, and filling wine orders.  At first glance, Viticulture appears very complicated with lots of possible actions, but in practice it is a much simpler game than it looks.  Viticulture is broken down into years or rounds with each subdivided into seasons, each with a specific purpose.  In the first round, Spring, players choose the turn order for the rest of the year.  The start player picks first and can choose to go first and pick up a meager reward, or sacrifice position in the turn order for something more enticing, in the extreme case, going last and getting an extra worker.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Then, in the turn order decided in Spring, players take it in turn to choose an action and place a worker.  All the action takes place in Summer and Winter and it is up to the players how they divide their workers between the two.  Each action has three spaces, but only two are in use in the four player game.  The first player to take an action gets an additional bonus while the second allows the basic level action only.  Each player has a large worker, their “Grande”, which they can  use as a normal worker, or to carry out any action, even if both spaces are already occupied.  In Summer, players can add buildings to their estate; plant vines; show tourists round (to get money); collect vine cards, or play yellow Summer Visitor cards (which generally give a special action).  In contrast, in Winter, players can harvest grapes from their vines; make wine; collect wine contract cards; fulfill contracts (which is the main way to get points), or play blue Winter Visitor cards.  Sandwiched between Summer and Winter, is Autumn, where players get to take an extra Visitor card.  Game end is triggered when one player gets to twenty points.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We were very slow to start as only Ivory was familiar with the game.  Pine in particular felt out of his depth and moaned about how this was not his sort of game.  Despite this, Pine was the first to get points on the board and he retained his lead for more than half the game thanks to the Windmill that he built at the start.  This gave a him a point each time he planted vines and, since that is an essential part of the game he was collecting points from the start where everyone else was concentrating on trying to build up the framework of their vineyard.  As the game progressed, everyone else’s grapes began to mature yielding points and the chase began.  We were into the final quarter of the game before Blue, then Ivory and eventually Green caught Pine though.  Going into the final round it was clear it was going to be close as Ivory moved ahead of Green, Blue and Pine, and triggered the end game.  Blue just managed to keep up and it finished in a tie, with both Ivory and Blue on twenty-four, four points clear of Green.  Money is the tie breaker followed by left over wine, and since Blue had more of both she claimed the victory.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, at the other side of the room, Red, Purple, Black and Burgundy, had been playing Ulm.  This is a game Purple and Black picked up from Essen last year and has had a couple of outings since.  The game play in Ulm is simple enough.  It is played over ten rounds, during each of which players get one turn in which they can do three actions that help them to gain points.  Ultimately players are collecting cards, city coats of arms and descendants, all of which can give them points during the game or at the end. This, in combination with the position of their barge and the number of sparrow tokens owned give the end game score, and the player with highest score wins.  The novel part of the game is the Cathedral – a three by three grid of action tiles.  On their turn, the active player slides a new action tile, randomly drawn from the bag, from the outside into the grid sliding another tile out. That tile stays in its spot on the outside of the grid and no other player can use that row or column until the tile is removed. The three tiles left in that row or column (two old ones and the new one, just added), represent the active player’s three actions for their turn.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

The game play in Ulm is simple enough.  It is played over ten rounds, during each of which players get one turn in which they can do three actions that help them to gain points.  Ultimately players are collecting cards, city coats of arms and descendants, all of which can give them points during the game or at the end. This, in combination with the position of their barge and the number of sparrow tokens owned give the end game score, and the player with highest score wins.  The cathedral area is a three by three grid of action tiles.  On their turn, the active player slides a new action tile, randomly drawn from the bag, from the outside into the grid sliding another tile out. That tile stays in its spot on the outside of the grid and no other player can use that row or column until the tile is removed. The three tiles left in that row or column (two old ones and the new one, just added), represent the active player’s three actions for their turn.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, players get one random action (drawn from the bag) and choose the other two.  There are five different actions represented by tiles in different colours.  These are:  clear tiles on one of the four sides of the cathedral area (making more options playable), place a Seal, buy or play a card, move the player’s barge, or take money.  Points are scored during the game through Seals and Coats of Arms, and at the end of the game for any sparrows and for the position of their barge on the Danube.  The largest source of points though is through cards.  These can be acquired by exchanging tiles for cards or as a byproduct of buying Seals.  When played, the active player can either discard the card for the card bonus which they can use during the game, or place the card in front of them, to obtain the points bonus at the end of the game.  A set of three different trade cards gets a bonus of three points while three the same gives a six point bonus.  Cathedral cards are the most profitable, however, with a complete set of three cathedral cards netting a massive eighteen points, but they can be correspondingly difficult to get.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Red and Burgundy were new to the game so there were some blank faces during the explanation and they were totally over-awed by the two epic rules books.  It wasn’t helped by the cluttered nature of the board, though everyone agreed that the Cathedral action grid movement is very clever.  The downside of it though is that it regularly locks up leaving difficult choices, especially for Red who seemed to come off worst.  Black commented that it was very busy with four and that meant the game was very different to the two-player experience.  Purple moved furthest at first and picked up some early shields to give her a good start.  Despite her difficulties with the action grid, Red also picked up quite a lot of shields and generated a huge number of sparrows gave her lots of bonuses and the lead during the game.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy is well known in the group for sighing and moaning about how badly the game is going, shortly before pulling a master stroke that gives him a massive number of points and usually, an unassailable lead.  This game was no exception as he produced a massive eighteen points halfway through by trading lots of goods.  As he pointed out later, however, it didn’t stop him from coming last this time though.  In the event, it was quite close between first and second.  Black who made his fortune as an art collector and scored the most from the his River position, demonstrated the value of experience, just pushing Red into second place.  Finishing first, the group enjoyed a long postmortem and chit-chat, before the goings on with Viticulture piqued their interest and they wandered over to spectate and enjoy the drama of the final round.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

With an early start the next day, Black, Purple, Ivory and Green then headed off, leaving Blue, Red and Pine to have yet another go at wresting Burgundy’s “Splendor Crown” from him.  Splendor is a really simple engine-building game that we’ve played a lot of late.  The idea is that players collect chips and use them to buy cards.  These cards can, in turn, be used to buy other cards and allow players to earn Nobles and victory points.  People often claim the game is trivial and highly luck dependent, but there has to be more to it otherwise Burgundy would not be as seemingly unbeatable as he is.  This time, there were relatively few ruby cards available in the early part of the game, and Red took those that were available.  Similarly, Blue took all the emerald cards she could as these were needed for the Nobles.  Given the lack of other cards, Burgundy just built his business on onyx and diamonds instead.  The paucity of other cards slowed his progress and prevented Burgundy from taking any Nobles.  It didn’t stop him taking yet another game though, finishing on fifteen, four ahead of Blue with eleven.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Board layout is very important – it can make an easy game appear complex or a difficult game seem straightforward.

21st February 2017

We started the evening setting up the card games, The Golden Sails and 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!, but as more players arrived and time was getting on, we abandoned them in favour of the “Feature Game”, Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen or Cliff Hanger).  This is a game that that arguably should be come the group’s signature game as it is very simple little trick taking card game all about goats.  As the rules were explained, Grey (on one of his rare, but much valued appearances), commented that it was like Blackjack (aka Pontoon or Vingt-et-Un) – i.e. play to a limit, but exceed that limit and you are bust.  The idea is that players choose a card from their hand and play it face up in front of them – the person who plays the highest card takes the trick and with it all the cards played in the round.  The player who plays the lowest card plays draws a Goat Island card.  These have two ends with different numbers on them, so the first “loser” takes a card and places the goat-meeple on one end, choosing which end will become part of Goat Island.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

The game continues with players playing cards and winning tricks, and the player who plays the lowest numbered card adding to Goat Island, choosing whether to add a large or small amount to the total.  At the end of the game, the total of the four cards that make up the island define the limit and players who exceed that value are out.  The catch is that players are not summing the face value of the cards (which go from one to fifty), instead, a little like 6 Nimmt!, they are counting goats head symbols which have little relation to the face value of the cards.  We played the game twice through, since we made a bit of a mess of it the first time.  After a long discussion about whether completed tricks should be placed face down or not, Red who led first misunderstood and thought the cards were played face down, so that screwed up her first turn and lumbered her with a pile of cards she didn’t want.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

This led to Grey’s comment that the game was poorly designed as once a player is bust their game is over.  In fact though, the game is so short that effective player elimination doesn’t matter that much and in any case, players who are out can still try to take as many others with them as possible.  After the first hand (taken by Grey), we gave it another try.  By this time, Blue had managed to find out who leads after the first trick so instead of passing the honour round the table, we played correctly and the winner led.  The second game went to Red, and was definitely more fun as we began to see what the aim of the game was and how to screw up other people.  We were just beginning to get the hang of it, but felt we should move on to something else now everyone had arrived.  It was genuinely very quick though, so we’ll probably play it again and it might be worth trying some of the variants too.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

With such a short “Feature Game” and everyone being far too polite, we spent a lot of time deciding what to play next.  Orleans, Terraforming Mars, Viticulture and Agricola were all on the table, but nobody wanted to commit in case something better came along, or perhaps because they genuinely didn’t really mind and were happy to fill in once those who did mind had made a choice. Eventually, Magenta said she would like to play Isle of Skye and several said they’d be happy to play that if others wanted to play something else.  Ivory on the other hand said he was quite happy to play Agricola (which had been brought with him in mind, then Green walked in, making things slightly more complicated as with nine players one game would have to be a five-player which might make it long.  In the end Red got fed up with people being indecisive and started to direct people:  first she made a three player game of Agricola, then she found two to join Magenta playing Isle of Skye which left Blue, Burgundy and Red to find something else to play, which ended up being Imhotep.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep is a very simple game that we’ve played a few times since is was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres last year.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions:  procure new stones; load stones on a boat; sail a boat to a monument; or play an action card.  Players can only store a maximum of five stones and when they procure stones they can collect a maximum of three.  Stones are loaded onto ships one at a time, but which of the five possible destinations the boats end up at and the order they are unloaded in is vital, so timing and planning is everything.  What makes it particularly tricky is that the best plans in the world can be crushed by opponents with one small action: when they take a boat to the “wrong place” or “at the wrong time”.  There are four ships and five building locations, so one doesn’t get visited and the round ends when all four boats have sailed.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The building locations are double sided so the game can be played with the less complex Side A, the slightly more confusing Side B, or a mixture of the two.  Red had struggled last time she had tried Imhotep since she ended up playing with two people who had tried it before and wanted to play with Side B without fully appreciating how much more complexity it adds.  This time, therefore, we stuck to the simpler Side A, but instead added the Stonemason’s Wager Mini Expansion to give it just a little extra interest.  This little promotional item allows players a one-off, extra option:  the chance to bet on which monument will have the most stones in it at the end of the game.  Otherwise the game is unchanged and there are six rounds in total, as usual, with points scored in different ways for the different buildings; the player with the most points at the end is declared the best builder in Egypt.

Imhotep: The Stonemason's Wager Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Blue and Burgundy started out visiting the Market picking up statues, but with both in the same market it was always going to be a struggle.  Meanwhile, Red stole an essentially insurmountable lead in the Obelisks.  Blue took a green card that would yield a point for every three stones in the Burial Chamber at the end of the game, so she tried to encourage boats to go there.  Unfortunately, because she also nearly picked up a significant score on the Burial Chamber, but Burgundy was first forced to obstruct her plans and then Red and Burgundy started sending boats to the Temple instead.  In general, it was quite a cagey game with everyone concentrating on not letting anyone take too many points rather than trying to make a killing themselves.  Going into the final scoring, it was all quite close.  Red took the points for the Stonemason’s Wager, and Burgundy took points for statues, but Blue had a lot of bonus points from a range of sources, giving her first place, ten points ahead of Burgundy in second.

– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep finished, but next game was not far behind, so Blue, Red and Burgundy played a couple of quick hands of Love Letter while they waited.  With its quick play, this micro-game is one of our go to fillers.  The idea is that each player has a single card in hand, and on their turn they draw a second and choose one of the two to play.  Each card has an action and a number, one to eight.  Players use the actions to try to deduce information about which cards others are holding and, in turn use that to eliminate them.  The winner is either the last player standing or the player with the highest ranking card at the end of the game.  In the first round, Blue was caught holding the Princess leaving Burgundy to take the round.  The second played out to the final card.  With just two possible cards left and the Princess still hiding, Red took a chance and played the Prince, forcing Blue to discard her hand.  This meant she had to pick up the set-aside card, which was, of course, the Princess, making it a two-way tie.

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Magenta, Purple and Grey had been playing a game of Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King.  This won the Kennerspiel des Jahres last year, and has proven to be quite popular with our group.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with the added feature of an auction at the start of each round and scoring at the end of each round.  The scoring is one of the interesting parts of this game as the four scoring criteria change from game to game and, and each one scores three times during the course of the game.  Choosing how to prioritise these to drive a strategy is one of the keys to playing well.  This time, with points available throughout for completed areas (lakes and mountains), this was a clear target, however, identifying a strategy and making it work are two different things.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, Purple was unlucky that she was unable to get any tiles with cows on roads until the final round, which meant she struggled to build a score early in the game.  Although this meant she picked up the bonus money for being at the back, she still struggled to get the tiles she wanted.  Similarly, Grey was unlucky in that he placed a tile that later became an real obstacle making it difficult for him to place tiles later and get points.  It was Magenta though who had been able to build an early lead, and kept it throughout picking up points every round.  A couple of lucky tile draws gave her good tiles that both Grey and Purple wanted making it a sellers market, and leaving Magenta with lots of cash to spend towards the end of the game.  Going into the final scoring, Magenta had a sizeable lead, but Grey had a large pile of cash which yielded a tidy eight points and very nearly gave him the game.  Magenta managed to fend him off though with the one point she took for her remaining seven coins, making the difference between first place and second.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

With the games on the first two tables complete, Red, Magenta and Grey went home leaving Purple, Blue and Burgundy to play yet another in the long running campaign to beat Burgundy at Splendor.  This simple set collecting, engine builder has proved to be quite intractable.  Blue and Pine in particular have had several attempts to get the better of Burgundy, but so far he has just had the edge.  Sadly this this game was no exception, though the game was very, very tight. There was a shortage of Opals cards available, despite the presence of lots of cards needing them.  Emeralds were also quite scarce at the start, but Burgundy managed to build a substantial collection of Diamonds to keep the threat alive.  Blue thought she had finally got Burgundy trapped but in the final round Purple took a card and the replacement was a sapphire that Burgundy could take and gave him eighteen points, one more than Blue (who was last in the turn order).  Yet another very, very close game – we’ll get him in the end…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, all evening, Ivory, Black and Green had been engaged in an game of Agricola.  This had started out with an extensive effort to disentangle the cards for the base game from the myriad of expansions Blue had somehow crammed into the box.  Once this was sorted though, and the game was set up, a rules explanation was necessary as Ivory hadn’t played it before.  The archetypal worker placement game, players star out with a farming couple and a shack and during the game try to build up their farmstead, livestock and family, the winner being the player with the most successful farm. Actions available include things like upgrading the farmhouse, ploughing and sowing fields, enclosing areas, taking livestock, and, of course, procreating.  One of the clever parts of the game is that each round, an additional action become available, but the order of these is not known in advance.  The stress is provided by harvests that occur at intervals during the game and require players to have enough food to feed their family, or resort to begging (which yields negative points at the end of the game).

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, instead of playing the family game, we played the full version which includes occupation and improvement cards.  The challenge with this game is to use the cards effectively, but not to get carried away and try to force the strategy to use cards to its detriment.  Green started with occupations and used them to quickly fenced a large padock for sheep (building one gave him three extras).  He then ploughed and got three fields up and running before going back to enclosing pasture for cattle. Despite only having two family members, he struggled to have enough food until he eventually managed to nab a cartload of clay and used it to build a an oven, which proved invaluable at keeping hunger at bay.  Towards the end, he finally managed to develop his family and added a pig for a total of twenty-nine.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Black played a quiet game, also didn’t grow his family and farm developed only slowly too.  As he often does, Black instead concentrated on home-making and upgraded his house to clay and then stone in quick succession.  Somehow he didn’t struggle at harvest time as much as Green, probably because he went into building ovens which provided his food.  This was at the expense of his farm, which remained stubbornly small, right until the end.  The unused spaces cost him though, as did his lack of pigs, and he finished with a fine house, but only one child and a score of twenty-three points.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory went for a different strategy, starting by going for lots of food, and support for getting food later.  In particular he made good use of his Mushroom Picker.  Building his food engine so early enabled him to grow his family early in the game giving him extra actions.  These he used to quietly collect lots of resources, which enabled him to build a large field for sheep.  He then enclosed second pasture and just swiped a field full for boar before Green got them. He only ploughed late (perhaps it was the snowy landscape that delayed him), but his early food strategy really paid off.  All his extra cards were valuable too and added ten points to his score, giving him a total of forty-one points and victory by a sizeable margin, despite Green’s inadvertent cheating!

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as Agricola came to an end, Splendor finished too.  So, after helping to shoe-horn the miriad of little pieces back into the boxes, Ivory and Green headed off leaving Black to join the others.  The ever dwindling numbers were boosted with the arrival of Pine, who had been two-timing us with the WI – he said they had the lowest average age of any WI he’d ever come across, so maybe that was the appeal.  The remaining five gamers felt there was time for one more game, as long as we could keep it to about forty-five minutes.  We are not the quickest at playing, or choosing and time was beginning to get tight, so we opted for Bohnanza as it played quicker than other suggestions and it wouldn’t need any rules reminders (like 11 Nimmt! and Port Royal).  The game is one of our old staples, is quick to learn and keeps everyone involved throughout.  The key to the game is that players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand and must play them in the order they arrive.  Thus, on their turn, the active player first plays the first card in their hand with the option of playing the second if they desire.  Once they’ve been planted, two cards are drawn which can be traded, but must be planted by someone.  This can lead to free gifts, but also players being nasty and refusing to take even the apparently most lucrative trades.

– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Pine was making up for lost time, and the well-known good nature of the WI hadn’t rubbed off.  He accused Burgundy of just about everything he could think of, in an effort to persuade everyone else not to trade with him. Black had one of his worst games for a long time with all the wrong cards coming up at the wrong time giving him nothing to work with.  Otherwise it was a very tight game. In the dying turns, despite Black’s protestations, Purple and Pine both gave Blue exceptionally favourable trades (possibly in an effort to square things from earlier, but more likely to ensure that Burgundy didn’t win – again).  Much to Pine’s surprise, that left him in joint first place with Blue, one coin ahead of Burgundy (possibly the most important factor to him).  Feeling she had been gifted a joint win by Pine’s generosity at the end, Blue offered to concede to Pine, but on checking the rules he won anyhow on the tie-breaker, as the player with the most cards in hand at the end.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Learning Outcome:  Cheating doesn’t pay.

Boardgames in the News: What are the Best KickStarter Games?

The Dice Tower trio of Tom Vasel, Sam Healey, and Zee Garcia recently released their list of top ten KickStarter games.  During the podcast, the three reviewers discuss their personal lists excluding those from Eagle & Griphon Games and Queen.  Their lists include:

  1. Viticulture, Blood Rage & Arcadia Quest
  2. Among the Stars, Alien Frontiers & Blood Rage
  3. Viticulture, Viceroy & Run Fight or Die
  4. Artifacts Inc., Xia: Legends of a Drift System & The Ancient World
  5. Kings of Israel, Evolution & Alien Frontiers
  6. Viceroy, The Manhatten Project & Dead Men Tell No Tales
  7. Alien Frontiers, Catacombs & Freedom: The Underground Railroad
  8. Freedom: The Underground Railroad, The Ancient World & Police Precinct
  9. Stockpile, VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game & Xenoshyft: Onslaught
  10. Star Realms, Paperback & The Manhatten Project

The nature of the production and the risk associated with backing crowd-funding projects inevitably means that these are relatively unknown games.  Indeed, only one of them has been played on a Tuesday at boardGOATS, because in many cases nobody owns a copy and they are not so easy to obtain.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

It’s not that we are averse to KickStarter games, it is just that the risk a game will have problems is much higher.  Sadly, KickStarter games often have poor rules and/or turn out to be a little rough round the edges and it is not always possible to tell from the project description. For example, Formula E looked like it would be a great racing game in the mold of Ave Caeser.  Unfortunately, although we’ve had fun with it, it has massive gaps in the rules and consequently has not had as many outings as it otherwise might have had.  On the other hand, Walk the Plank! has turned out to be one of the group’s all time favourite, silly-filler games and has more than justified the initial outlay.