Tag Archives: Walk the Plank!

2nd April 2019

The evening began with a lot of people eating, the return of Mulberry’s daughter, Maroon, and the arrival of someone new, Lime.  So while the usual suspects finished their supper, everyone else played a game of Incan Gold (aka Diamant).  This is a light, “push-your-luck” type game, where players are exploring a mine by turning over cards, sharing any Gems these reveal.  After each card has been revealed, players simultaneously choose whether to leave the mine or stay and see another card revealed.

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, as well as gem cards, the deck also includes Hazards like scorpions, snakes, poison gas, explosions and rockfalls.  When a particular Hazard is revealed for a second time, the mine collapses.  Anyone still inside the mine at this point loses all the gems they’ve collected during the round, while those that left early keep their winnings and stash them in their tent.  So, the trick is that as players leave, the share of the gems grows larger, but so does the risk of collapse. Additionally, there are also Artifact cards.  When one of these is revealed nobody gets any gems until they leave, but if they leave alone, they not only get the Artifact, but also any remainders from the division of spoils associated with the Gem cards revealed earlier in the round.

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over five rounds, and like all push-your-like games like this, players who are unlucky in the first round often feel they are out of the game.  This is particularly true where one player does really well in the first round as they have can play safe and can afford to leave the mine early to consolidate their position.  However, this time there were a lot of players and everyone was somehow encouraged to stay in the mind keeping things close.  As the game progressed however, the pack began to split and a small group of leaders began to emerge.  In the end, Mulberry’s wind-ups failed to put Pine off his game and he finished with more than twice her total, winning the game with twenty-five Gems.  Purple was a close second though, with Maroon not far behind in third.

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

With food and the first game finished, it was time to decide who was going to play the week’s “Feature Game”, Dinosaur Island.  This is a worker placement game set in a dinosaur theme park.  Although it’s not named specifically, the colour, theme, artwork and feel is clearly intended to evoke an impression of the most famous dinosaur theme park, Jurassic Park,  despite having ten people and the Totally Liquid expansion available (which provides the pieces for a fifth player), we decided it was likely to be a long game and that sticking to four or fewer might be wise, and so it proved.  The rest of the group were half-way through their chosen game, Las Vegas, before the dino-group had even finished setting up, never mind the rules run-through.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Las Vegas is one of our most popular games, and the idea is very simple, on their turn, the active player rolls their dice and uses them to “bet” in one of the casinos.  “Betting” is done by placing all the dice of one value on the corresponding casino.  On their next turn, the player re-rolls their dice and does the same again.  Each casino has a pot of cash and after the last dice has been placed, the player with the highest “bid” at each casino (i.e. the player who placed the most dice), wins the largest denomination note.  Similarly, the player who placed the second largest bid taking the second highest denomination and so on.  The catch is that before the order is determined, any dice involved in a tie are completely removed, so a bet of a single die can win, even though there could be several higher bets, which makes the game great fun.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We usually play with the extra high denomination notes and the “Big Dice” from the Boulevard expansion, as well as the Slot Machine mini-expansion.  The “Big Dice” add to interest in the decision making when pacing bets, as they are double-weight, and count for two dice.  The Slot Machine, on the other hand, gives another place for players to bet, but instead of having a specific number, players can place all their dice of one number as long as each number is only placed once.  At the end of the round, the player with the most dice in the Slot Machine takes the highest denomination note from the pot, but in the case of a tie, the total number of pips on the dice are taken into account, then the highest value dice.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

Once again, Pine was caught in a tussle, this time with Purple, which culminated in him placing four sixes to beat her “three-of-a-kind”, just to annoy her.  Green almost always does badly at this sort of game and this was no exception, although the game was reasonably close this time.  Mulberry and Maroon, mother and daughter tied for third place, but it turned out that the squabble between Purple and Pine might actually have had a real impact on the final result as they toughed it out for first place.  In the end, those four dice might have been critical as Pine beat Purple by a measly $30,000 – a substantial amount to most of us, but a relatively small sum in this game where most players win quarter of a million dollars or more.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Dinosaur Island was still going on and was looking like it still had some way to go (though they had finally started).  Mulberry, Maroon and Pine all wanted an early night, but Green and Lime decided to keep Purple company for another game, which eventually turned out to be Walk the Plank!  This is another popular game and Green and Purple felt it was essential to introduce Lime to it.  The game is a programming game with a pirate theme.  The idea is that each player has a hand of cards and at the start of the round “programs” their turn by deciding which cards they are going to play, then they take it in turns to action one card per turn.  The point is, although players have to choose three cards at the start of the round, by the time the final cards are played the game has changed so much that any plans made at the start will have gone completely to wrack and ruin.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

So, players start with three pirate meeples each and the aim is to push everyone else off the ship, along the plank and off the end thus sending them to visit Davey Jones’ Locker.  Once again, Green was picked on by the others and was the first to lose all three of his pirateeples to the kraken, and therefore took on the role of the Ghost Meeple.  The Ghost is confined to the ship, has a restricted set of actions and only gets to carry out one per round.  Unfortunately, the game doesn’t play so well with two, and as a result when it got down to a couple of meeples each for Purple and Lime they got bogged down in a bit of a stale-mate.  This didn’t make it any less fun though.  In the end it was a Ghostly Green who helped push Purple’s final meeple off the boat and Lime did the rest giving him his first win; hopefully we can look forward to many more in the coming weeks.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table the other four were playing the week’s “Feature Game”, Dinosaur Island.  Although it took a long time to set up and explain, Dinosaur Island is not actually that complex a game.  The game is played over four phases.  In the first phase, a set of beautiful bespoke dice are rolled and players play their scientist meeples to choose dinosaur “designs” or DNA resources associated with the available dice, or increase their DNA storage.  In the second phase, players can use their funds to buy upgrades to their technologies from the market place, which basically improves the quality of the actions players can take in the next phase.   The third phase is the core, “worker-placement” round.  This is when players can “build” dinosaurs, reinforce their security, convert DNA into other types of DNA etc.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

In the final, fourth round, players open their park to the public, drawing visitor-meeples blind, out of a bag.  The visitors come in two types, yellow, paying visitors and pink “hoodlums” who don’t pay and are very good at avoiding getting eaten.  The total number of visitors is dependent on the total excitement rating of the dinosaurs each player has in their park; the more dinosaurs a player has and the more exciting they are, the more visitors a player has and therefore the more money they receive in gate receipts.  However, the more exciting dinosaurs also need better security which is expensive.  If a park’s security is insufficient, the dinosaurs get out and start eating the visitors – each surviving visitor scores the park owner a victory point while visitors that are eaten cost victory points.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

There are a couple of little tweaks that give the game a lot of replay-ability.  For example, there are eleven “plot twist” cards which introduce slight variations to the rules keeping things fresh.  For example, turn order is normally dictated by the number of points each player has, but the group played with a “plot twist” that meant the player order was always the same, with the first player progressing clockwise one place each round.  There are also thirty-nine end-game goal cards of which a small number of cards are selected for each game, when a set number of these have been completed by at least one player, this triggers the end of the game.  Any number of players can complete these objectives and receive the points associated with them, but once one player has completed an objective, it will become unavailable at the end of the round.  Thus all players who achieve an objective will do so in the same round.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the group, played with the aquatic dinosaurs from the Totally Liquid expansion, partly because they alleviate the incessant “neon pink-ness” of game, but mostly just because they are cool.  Blue began by getting a bit carried away with the coolness of swimming dinos and started out taking a plan for a very exciting Megalodon largely simply because she had heard of it, and without thinking through the consequences. Having read the rules in advance, Burgundy had a much better handle on the challenges associated with the game and made a beeline for the special Dino Security upgrade which enabled him to increase the security in his park a second time per round at no extra cost.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Black also understood the importance of threat and security and decided to try to deal with the problem by keeping his threat level down.  One unfortunate side-effect of this is that most low threat dinosaurs are un-exciting and attract fewer visitors.  It all became a bit academic though as his threat level spiraled out of control.  Blue, realised she had made a bit of bish and needed to do something to enable her to start producing Megalodons without getting all her visitors eaten and hemorrhaging points.  So she decided to concentrate on upgrading her technologies hoping to net the bonus seven points from the end-game objective rewarding players for having four upgraded technologies.  Black quickly realised he couldn’t keep up with Blue’s developments and as it wasn’t going to happen for him focused his efforts elsewhere.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Ivory had bagged the popular T-Rex dinosaur plan and was producing them in large numbers.  He, like Black also got heartily sick of pulling “hoodlums” out of the bag instead of paying visitors.  Black bought himself a technology to deal with the problem, but Ivory chose a different route, employing an expert who arrested any hoodlums in his park with the net effect that they became less prevalent for everyone else as well.  Experts are expensive though and not everyone could afford one, or felt they were worth the money.  Certainly they are more valuable if they are employed early in the game so players get their money’s worth

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone got points from the end-game objectives, but as the game came to a close it was clear who was in pole position.  Although his security wasn’t quite sufficient the huge number of visitors turning up every round put Ivory in front by some twenty-plus points.  In contrast, it was very close for second place however, with just five points between second place and the wooden spoon.  The nature of the game means keeping tabs on points, security, threat and excitement levels is quite a fiddly business. Since it was possible to throw a very small blanket over the three competing for second place, it is quite possible that the scores weren’t accurate, nevertheless, the Black finished in second place in what had been a very enjoyable game.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Security is very important and should not be neglected.

5th February 2019

Far from being over-run by new people flocking to games night in response to our advert in the Parish Newsletter, it was one of the quietest weeks for ages.  With Ivory still on “sabbatical”, Mulberry in the States, and Pine, Pink and Red all having something better to do, for the first time in ages, we were down to just five and a single game.  Burgundy was just finishing eating and Blue was waiting for the imminent arrival of her pizza, so the group decided to play something short that could be played while feeding.  After a brief discussion the group began a game of Walk the Plank!, and inevitably, Blue’s pizza arrived just as it started.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Walk the Plank! is an old favourite that has been somewhat neglected by the group of late.  It is a very silly programming game where players control pirate meeples who try to push each other off the ship and, when plans go wrong, occasionally jump overboard.  The idea is that each player begins with a hand of action cards and simultaneously everyone chooses three cards to play and the order they are going to play them in, placing them in a stack with the first card on top.   Once everyone has chosen their cards, the players take it in turns to take the top card off their pile and carry out the action using one of their three “pirate-eeples”.  Actions include shoving other players meeples closer to the end of the plank (or into the sea); running towards the ship; retracting or extending the plank, and even changing along the plank pushing another player closer to the sea.  As we were playing with the Limited Edition which comes with some extra cards, so for a bit of variety, we added the Dynamite and Ghost Pirate cards.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The first of the extra cards, “Dynamite”, pushes everyone on a given piece of plank one space closer to the sea. The other, the “Ghost Pirate”, scares everyone on a a piece of plank so much that they run away, half towards the sea and half towards the ship.  The newly bespectacled Green was of the opinion that the extra cards were generally a little over-powered, so we house-ruled it so that they could only be played once each.  When we play this game we include a couple of other house rules too:  according to the rules as written, the last piece of the three piece plank should not be removed when shortening the plank and the game is supposed finish when there are two meeples left.  While we understand why these rules exist, we find that sharing victory means the game feels a little unresolved so we play through to the bitter end.  Similarly, we quite like the madness removing the last plank adds, and in such a short game, crazy chaos seems entirely appropriate.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

And chaos there was aplenty this time round too:  Burgundy was quickly out of the game when the third and final of his meeples was banished to the deep.  As the first person to be eliminated, Burgundy was given the slightly dubious honour of returning as a Ghost.  In this mini-expansion, the player returns as a white pirate-eeple doomed to haunt the ship and generally cause mayhem for everyone else by playing one shove card per round.  When the last of Black’s pirates joined Burgundy’s there was some discussion about a second ghost, but we decided it would just prolong the game.  It wasn’t long before he had company on the sidelines though, leaving just Blue and Purple.  With both of them perched precariously on the end of what was left of the plank and Blue set to go first the game was her to take.  However, she decided she couldn’t take advantage of the position and instead retracted the plank unceremoniously pitching both of them into the drink.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

With Blue finished with her pizza, and it clear that nobody else was coming, the group decided to move on to the “Feature Game” which was to be Through the Desert.  This is an old game, but one that is very simple to play, though difficult to play well.  It is an area control game with pastel camels that many feel is reminiscent of the classic game, Go.  The game begins with players placing one camel in each colour on the board.  Each of these has a rider (Leader) in their own colour, so these camels are the start of the player’s camel trains or Caravans.  After the initial placements, on their turn, players take any two camels from the general supply and add them to the board.  There are a few rules about placement – each one must be placed next to camels of the same colour to become part of one of that player’s caravans, and must not be placed next to a caravan of the same colour belonging to another player (as this would cause them to join).

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

The aim of the game is to gain points through via the four sources.  Firstly, there are several oases marked with green plastic palm trees; players who connect a caravan to an oasis get five points.  There are also watering hole tokens—players who place a camel on these spaces can claim these tokens which are worth up to three points.  Players who finish with the longest Caravans in each of the colours are also rewarded with points at the end of the game.  The most lucrative source of points, but also the most risky is enclosing areas.  It is in this way that it is most like Go.  Go is a very ancient game played on square grid with black and white stones.  People often try to compare it to Chess, though in truth, beyond the facts one play plays black, the other white and the game is played on a rectilinear grid and both are very old, the two games have almost nothing in common.

Chess
– Image by Unsplash contributor sk

Chess is a game with a very rigid structure where players control armies that are lined up to face each other.  Each piece has a clearly defined role and movement pattern and games develop in a very particular way.  The highly structured nature of the game means strategies are developed by analysing all the possible or likely moves which makes it highly programmable.  In contrast, Go is all about territory and pattern analysis, which has traditionally made it much more challenging for computer programmers and it is only recently that software engineers have been able to use machine learning algorithms that have the ability to beat Go champions.  In Go, players place their stones on the intersections of a rectilinear grid with the aim of marking out territory.  There is a lot of psychology in the early moves with players declaring their space; if a player is too aggressive at the start, they won’t be able to defend their position, if they are too timid with their opening they will have lost before they’ve begun.

Go
– Original image by Tomasz_Mikolajczyk on pixabay.com

Ultimately however, Go is a complex game of strategy where players are trying to capture their opponent’s stones and with i,t territory.  A single empty space inside a group is called an eye; for a group to remain alive it must contain at least two eyes.  Creating eye spaces in a player’s groups and trying to prevent their opponent from making eyes is one of the key aspects of Go.  It is in regard to building territory that Through the Desert is similar to Go, however, there are two significant differences.  Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the game is played on a hexagonal rather than a square grid.  The main difference is in the game-play though:  in Through the Desert pieces must be added to an existing caravan and surrounded pieces are not removed from the board.  Nevertheless, despite the differences it is unquestionably true that the Through the Desert is reminiscent of Go and was likely inspired by it.

Go
– Original image by Przemek Pietrak on flickr.com

With five players, everyone starts the game with Leaders mounted on four of the five different colours of camel.  Starting placement was quite difficult because nobody really knew constituted a good starting position, though some claimed to know what a bad one was.  Maybe there was an advantage in going last, or perhaps Black had a better idea than everyone else, but it quickly became apparent that that he had a large corner of the board all to himself.  This put Burgundy in a very difficult position as he was the only one who could do anything at all about it, but he had other plans.  In the end, Burgundy decided to do his own thing because the damage he could do to Black was minimal and it would be a significant expense to himself.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

Elsewhere, Burgundy was in a four-way tussle with Purple, Green and Black for access to an oasis and Green and Burgundy combined to prevent Blue from connecting two of the oases.  Meanwhile, Purple collected a pile of watering-hole tokens, and Burgundy was attempting to enclose an enormous space in the middle, while Green and and Blue were hoping to fly under the radar and get away with discretely annexing small areas at the edge of the board.  It wasn’t long before the number of pale blue camels was dwindling and Black was left trying to decide whether it was in his interest to bring the game to an end.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

When Blue reduced the handful to one lonely looking camel, Black could resist no longer leaving Burgundy’s audacious attempt to claim on the large central area incomplete and looking temerarious as a consequence.  Everyone had thought Black was so far in front that they were playing for second place, however, it turned out that the game was much closer than expected.  Green had scored slightly more for his oases and the length of his Caravans than Black and Black’s large corner hadn’t given him quite as much territory as it had first appeared.  It was very close, but Green took it by just two points.  As the group packed away, feelings were generally positive, but everyone was agreed that they’d play it differently next time, so we’ll have to give it another Go sometime soon.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

With five players, the options were limited – we generally try to avoid two-player games and we were a bit short on good five-player ones.  In the end, it was either yet another game of Bohnanaza, or the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Isle of Skye, and Isle of Skye won easily.  Although this is a game we’ve played quite a bit and know reasonably well, we decided not to add the new Druids expansion as it is a while since we last played the base game and we felt we could do with a reminder.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with 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.

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

This time, points were available for cows in the largest field; brochs; completed areas, and lighthouse-longboat combos.  The game proceeded along its usual course:  Burgundy had stacks of money but no tiles because everyone kept buying them while Blue and Black had plenty of tiles, but no money.  Black with a very linear kingdom was reminded by Purple that the goal for that shape wasn’t in use this time.  It didn’t seem to matte as he stormed off into the lead with a large field full of cattle, but it wasn’t long before others gave chase.  The winner in this game often comes from the back, because there is a “catch-up mechanism” where players get money in the later rounds, with those at the back getting more.  So, when Green and Blue eventually caught up with Black, the positions were important and Green looked ideally placed one point behind Black who was one point behind Blue.

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

Although the points awarded at the end of the rounds are valuable, it is usually the end game scoring through the scrolls that is critical.  These provide personal targets for each player, and score twice where terrain is “completed” (i.e. completely enclosed).  So towards the end of the game everyone scrabbled to maximise their points.  Green took a tile Blue wanted to keep, so Blue took one that Burgundy had priced very highly giving him even more money, but not the one tile that was really crucial to his plans.  Black added a couple more farms, while Green went for ships Purple went for light-houses and Blue tried to get both.  Burgundy and Blue were also working on the communal, end of round scoring for the brochs (prehistoric circular stone towers found in the highlands and islands of Scotland).  In the case of scoring for brochs though, one would give one point, two would give three and three six points.

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

With two players fighting for them brochs were scarce, but by the final round both Blue and Burgundy had managed to get their quota of six.  They were less than impressed when Black pointed out that the brochs only scored if they were in the same mountain region.  Although Black had read the scoring in full, somehow it had failed to make it to the end of the table as both Blue and Burgundy had missed it.  Green pointed out that anyone affected should be called out for cheating, but Burgundy was in such dire need of points nobody was going to contest him claiming them.  The scoring at the front was a bit closer though.  As the points were calculated though it was clear that Green needn’t have worried.  Although he was only one point behind Black, Blue’s fleet of ships meant she was twelve points clear, and it was obvious that even allowing for the extra points, she would still have won.

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

Learning Outcome:  If the rules are that important to your game-plan, clarify them first.

Golden GOAT Award Winners – 2018

The inaugural Golden GOAT award was announced at the boardGOATS annual “Un-Christmas Dinner”.  There was also an award acknowledging the worst game of the year, known as the “GOAT Poo” award.  The rules were quite simple, only games played at a GOATS games night in 2018 (i.e. appearing in the log book) could be nominated, and everyone got just one vote in each category.  It was clear from the audience response that many of nominees were very popular choices, including Yokohama and Keyflower: The Farmers.  A couple of games managed the feat of appearing in both lists winning the unofficial “GOAT Marmite-factor” Award, namely Endeavor and Yardmaster.  The winner of the “GOAT Poo” award was Queendomino, with one third of the group nominating it (remarkable since only four people had actually played it).  There was also a special award for “possibly the best and worst moments of the year” which went to Purple and Green’s inability to play Rock-Paper-Scissors (during Walk the Plank! a few weeks back), and Burgundy appearing as the perennial Saboteur at the end of November.  The deserving winner of the “Golden GOAT 2018”, however, was Altiplano which turned out to be a very popular choice.

Golden GOAT - 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

11th December 2018

Since this was the last meeting before Christmas, we did what we did last year and arranged to eat a little earlier so we could all share an “Un-Christmas Dinner” together, complete with festive crackers and party poppers.  Plans were nearly derailed by gridlock in Oxford that delayed Blue (and by extension the crackers, party poppers, cards and the “Feature Game”), and motorway traffic that slowed Pink in his long trip from the frozen north.  Between their arrival and food appearing, there was just time to play a little game of “Secret Christmas Cards” – the idea being that everyone got a suitably festive goaty card and a name, and write the card to that person signing it on behalf of the group.  Once we’d got over the lack of pens, the “game” seemed to go very well, though a lot of people didn’t open their card, saving the excitement for later.  Green arrived and his announcement that his divorce had come through was greeted with a round of applause.

Pizza at the Horse and Jockey
– Image from horseandjockey.org

Once the cards, pizza, “half a side of pig with egg and chips”, burgers and ice-cream had been dealt with, it was time for crackers.  We had been just about to pull them when food arrived, and knowing what was in them, Blue suggested they’d be better left till the end of the meal as people might not want cracker contents as a topping to their pizza!  It was just as well, because when everyone finally grabbed a couple of cracker ends and pulled, there was an explosion of dice, mini-meeples, wooden resources, tiny metal bells, bad jokes, party hats and festive confetti that went everywhere.  The table went from mostly ordered to complete devastation at a stroke, to which party popper detritus was quickly added.  It was immediately followed by everyone trying to work out where the bits from their cracker had ended up and as some people ferreted under the table, others began to read the jokes (which turned out to be quite repetitive).  While the table was being cleared, subject of the “Golden GOAT” award came up.  This had first been mentioned a few weeks back by Ivory who had suggested we should have a game that we’d played during the year that deserved an award (presumably he was completely unaware that “Golden Goat” is also a strain of marijuana).

"Un-Christmas Party" 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine suggested that there should also be an award acknowledging the worst game of the year, which eventually became the “GOAT Poo” award.  Unfortunately there wasn’t really a plan for how to go about doing this.  In the end, Ivory and Green tore up some slips of paper and passed them round with the book so everyone could “vote”.  The rules were quite simple, only games played at a GOATS games night in 2018 (i.e. appear in the log book) could be nominated and everyone got just one vote. There was real concern that we were just going to end up with a list of different titles and two nine-way ties, but surprisingly, that did not happen.  As the votes were read out, it became clear from the appreciative noises round the table that many of the picks were very popular choices, including Yokohama and Keyflower: The Farmers.  A couple of games managed the feat of appearing in both lists winning the unofficial “GOAT Marmite-factor” Award, namely Endeavor and Yardmaster.  The winner of the “2018 Golden GOAT” however was AltiplanoQueendomino took the “GOAT Poo” award with a third of the group nominating it (remarkable since only four of the people present had actually played it).

Golden GOAT - 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

There was also a special award for “possibly the best and worst moments of the year” which went to Purple and Green’s inability to play Rock-Paper-Scissors (during Walk the Plank! a few weeks back) and Burgundy, the perennial Saboteur name last time.  Eventually, the table was cleared and the inaugural “Golden GOAT” awards had been announced, so people’s thoughts turned to playing games.  This year Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries was a hot choice and with two copies, two games were quickly underway.  This is a variant of the very popular train game, but with a nice tight map designed specifically for two or three players and featuring a snowy festive theme.  The game play is almost exactly the same as the other versions, with players taking it turns to either draw carriage cards, or spend sets of carriage cards in appropriate colours to place plastic trains on the map.  There are a couple of things that really make the Ticket to Ride games work:  firstly, the longer the route, the more points it gets.  This often makes the longer routes very enticing, but this has to be set against the desirability of tickets (the second thing).

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the game everyone chooses from a handful of ticket cards each depicting two cities and a value: players who manage to join routes together to connect the two cities get the depicted number of points at the end of the game.  The catch is that any tickets that players keep that are not completed successfully score negatively, and the swing can be quite devastating.  Ticket to Ride is a game everyone knows well and although we don’t play it often it is always enjoyable (perhaps because we don’t play it too frequently).  The familiarity means that everyone always fancies their chances at it though, which tends to make for very competitive games and the group really benefits from the variation that the different maps and versions offer.  On the first table, the game started out in much the same way as all Ticket to Ride games.  Ivory placed trains first, but Mulberry and Green followed soon after.  It wasn’t long before Ivory was drawing more ticket cards (instead of taking carriage cards or placing trains) and Green soon followed with Mulberry taking a little longer.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

As is usual, the colour cards that players wanted, just seemed to refuse to come up and everyone’s individual hand of cards grew even as the board filled with more tickets taken at regular intervals.   In the early stages the trio were fairly well matched.  Green was starting to pull ahead and then for some reason abruptly stopped and his hand of cards grew and grew.  He had said that he was going for it and it would either pay off or he would lose abysmally. Mulberry and Ivory had nearly twice as many points as Green when he finally laid a train:  the nine-carriage route giving him twenty-seven points and propelling him into the lead by more than his previous deficit.  Everyone still had lots of trains left though, so the game was far from over.  Eventually, Mulberry brought the game to a sudden halt when she placed her last three trains, catching the others by surprise.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

With their last turn they scrabbled for the longest route they could manage.  Since Green still had a handful of cards he was able to take a six-carriage route for a healthy fifteen points, however, that meant he had to abandon his twenty-four point ticket as he still needed two, very small routes to complete it.  The group decided to forgo recounting the points for placing trains and decided to assume they had kept on top of the scores during play.  Green was ahead in points for train placement by quite a margin, but Ivory and Mulberry had completed more tickets and Green was crippled by the forty-eight point swing caused by his incomplete ticket.  Mulberry took bonus for the the most completed tickets (by only one) and ended just one point behind Ivory.  With the score at the top so close they decided they had to double check all the scores and after a complete recount, there was a reversal and Mulberry edged Ivory out by one solitary point.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table the story was a little different, with Pink, the “Prophet of Doom” goading Pine offering him advice to give in before he’d even started as he was in for a torrid time playing against Blue and Burgundy.  Pine didn’t see it like that however, and as he likes the game, he really fancied his chances.  Fortune favours the brave, and he was out of the blocks like a greyhound with a fifteen point placement in just his second turn.  From then on, it was fast and furious with players fighting to secure the routes they needed to complete their tickets.  Blue and Pine kept fairly level and began to pull away from Burgundy, but neither of them dared to get complacent as he usually has a master-plan that he’s waiting for the perfect moment to enact.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine drew more ticket cards and Blue followed, keeping pace every step of the way while Burgundy kept drawing carriage cards.  Eventually Blue drew ahead in the “taking tickets” race, but it was one set of tickets too far for her as she drew three moderate to high scoring cards that were all unplayable.  Fearing she’d pushed her luck one step too far, she kept the lowest scoring card (i.e. the one with the fewest negative points) and pondered her options.  Pine took tickets and it was clear he had hit a similar problem though at least two of his were playable, if difficult.  In the end, he took a twenty-one point ticket that needed a little work, giving Blue an interesting choice.  In addition to the unplayable ticket, she had one low-ish scoring ticket left that she only needed one card to complete.  She’d been waiting for that single yellow carriage for a while though and persisting could allow Pine time to complete his new ticket.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Although she didn’t know the value or difficulty of Pine’s final ticket Blue felt sure it was high scoring and that he would need a few turns to complete it.  With a large set of pink cards and not many trains left, it gave her a chance; by placing a largely arbitrary route she triggered the end of the game.  Burgundy squeaked, although it had looked for all the world like he was trying for the long route, in fact he was really hunting for a locomotive (wild) card or a single orange carriage to complete his route into Narvik (though he came very close to getting nine cards necessary for the long route by accident).  The irony was that Blue had picked up loads of locomotive cards in her hunt for the single yellow, but hadn’t wanted them and had been unable to find yellow cards because Burgundy had them all!  In his penultimate turn, Burgundy had finally drawn his last orange card enabling him to finish his final, long ticket on his very last go.  Pine on the other hand was less fortunate and fell short, taking a swing of forty-two points which more than off-set Blue’s incomplete tickets.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

The group recounted the train points and found a few extra points for Blue, but it was still very close and all down to the tickets.  Blue had mostly low-scoring cards; where Pine had one fewer, they were more valuable.  In the end, Blue finished twenty-three points ahead of Pine, but she had managed to complete one extra ticket which had given her the ten point bonus – had it gone to Pine there would have been a twenty point swing and the second group might have had a recount too.  Both Ticket to Ride games finished at much the same time and while the third game was finishing off, the two groups compared notes.  It was then that the first group realised they had not played quite correctly, as there is a rules change in this version that means locomotive cards can only be used as wilds on tunnel and ferry routes, not on ordinary routes.  This explained why Green had managed to succeed at his long route when Burgundy had failed. While playing correctly would have changed the game, there was no accusation of cheating as Ivory and Mulberry who had been playing that game had played by the same rules.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, while the two ends of the table were playing with their train-sets, the trio in the middle were decorating their Christmas Tree.  This game is a cute little card drafting game that originated in Hungary.  The game takes place over three rounds during which Christmas decoration cards are drafted. After each card is chosen, the player puts it anywhere they like on their tree.  After seven cards, the round ends and the trees are evaluated.  Decorations include gingerbread men, glass ornaments in different shapes, wrapped sweets and, of course, festive lights.  The gingerbread men have different markings on their hands and feet and the more that match the adjacent decorations, the more points they score.  Some glass ornaments and all the sweets score points directly; lights only score if both halves match.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

The decorations only score at the end of the game though;  objective cards are evaluated at the end of each round.  At the start of the game each player receives four objective cards and at the start of each round everyone chooses one; these are shuffled and before the round begins.  The trees are therefore evaluated at the end of each round according to these objectives.  and then decorations score at the end.  One of the things about this scoring mechanism is that it’s often not obvious who is in the lead during the game as there are so many points awarded at the end.  This game was no exception, and was ultimately very close as a result.  It is one of those games that benefits from experience, and Black and Purple’s who had both played before took first and second, in that order.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

There was time for something else.  Inevitably, we threatened Pink with Bohnanza (he has possibly the smallest amount of love for the game per copy owned), but it’s lack of festiveness, meant it was a hollow threat.  We still had the “Feature Game” to play anyhow, which was Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey.  This is a mad game by a local gamer and member of the Didcot Games Club, Rob Harper set in a world that is a sort of cross between Downton Abbey and the Adams Family.  The artwork is suitably gruesome, though it was very clear from the start who the Countess D’Ungeon was a caricature of!  Played over several short rounds, each player takes the role of one of the various eccentric and unpleasant family members grasping for whatever feels like the best present.  To this end, players begin with a character card and a couple of gift cards, all face down on the table in front of them.  On their turn, the active player may either swap one of their face-down cards with one elsewhere on the table, or turn a card face-up, possibly activating a special action on the gift cards.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

The round ends when all a player’s cards are face up at the start of their turn or a bomb is revealed, at which point everyone scores points if they have collected the gifts wanted by their characters.  With six people playing nobody had a clue what was going on and mayhem reigned.  Ivory and Pine jointly took the first round giving them a point each, but after that, the gloves were off.  Purple took one round and Pine and Ivory took another each, so it was all down to the last round.  Green had spent most of the game trying to furnish Little Eugenia with two bombs, so when Blue realised he had the cards he needed to win the round, she made it her business to try to obstruct his plans.  Needless to say he spent the round getting his cards back.  With Blue and Green playing silly beggars in the corner, everyone else fought it out, but there was nothing everyone else could do to stop Ivory taking the point he needed to win.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

There was still time to play something else, but nobody was really in the mood so, instead, Blue and Ivory drooled over the fabulous pink dinosaurs from Ivory’s new arrival, Dinosaur Island.  Blue had nearly KickStarted the second edition, but had withdrawn when she’d heard Ivory was already committed to the project.  Needless to say, Ivory had brought his copy to show it off at the earliest opportunity, including plastic goats as well as dinosaurs.  And of course it will undoubtedly be a “Feature Game” sometime in the new year.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Christmas Crackers can make an awful lot of mess.

13th Movember 2018

There was a bit of a delay for food, so after Blue had handed over an exciting box of echidnas to Pine and given Burgundy and Green a selection of Splendor, Orléans, and Zooloretto promo cards from Essen, we decided to play something quick.  As there were a lot of hungry people, we decided to start with a quick game of Om Nom Nom.  This is a fabulous little double think game based on critters eating other critters further down the food chain.  The game is set up with a large handful of dice which are rolled to give either items from the bottom of the food chains (flies, carrots and cheese) or animals from the middle of the food chains (frogs, rabbits and mice).  Players start with six cards representing animals from the middle of the food chain and the predators from the top of their food chains (hedgehogs, wolves and cats).  Players simultaneously choose a card to play and then everyone reveals them and they are placed on the appropriate space on the three central player boards. before and the animals begin to feed starting at the top of the food chain.  For example, wolves eat frogs and any surviving frogs then eat flies.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

If only one card of any type is played, the predator feeds and the player takes their card back with any cards/dice their animal has eaten placing everything in their scoring pile.  Where more than one card of the same type is played and there is enough food to go round it is shared equally and everyone eats (taking their cards back with their share of the prey).  If there is not enough food for everyone to get a share, they all starve and lose their cards going home with nothing.  This is repeated until there are no cards left.  Food at the bottom of a chain is worth two points at the end of the game and food from the middle of a chain and any cards are worth one point.  The game is played over three rounds and the winner is the player with the most points.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue won the first round with eleven, more than twice the points anyone else managed to gather.  Om Nom Nom is one of those games where a high score in one round is usually balanced by a dreadful score in the next, so everyone expected Blue to fail to score at all in the second round.  Burgundy’s twelve points in the second round looked really good, but contrary to the usual run of things, Blue somehow managed to improve her score picking up eighteen points—one less than the record for a single round in our group.  The third round was a little bit of a dead rubber, but Burgundy was keen to see Blue get her bad round and if she did, fancied his chances.  It was a much more even final round and with lots of points available, things looked good for Burgundy, but unfortunately for him, everyone else chose this round to get it together.  In the end it was all about second place, which Burgundy just managed to take ahead of Black and Mulberry as food arrived.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

While Burgundy, Blue and Mulberry ate their belated supper, everyone else carried on the food theme, playing a little Japanese game picked up by Black and Purple at Essen called くだものフレンズ or Fruit Friends.  This is a little card drafting and set collecting game where players are collecting different types of fruit using the “I divide, you choose” mechanism.  There are a surprisingly few games that use this idea, but two of the best are …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (aka Piece o’ Cake) and San Marco.  …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne is relatively unusual as it works well with players dividing the pie into more than three.  In contrast, San Marco is a three to four player game, but plays much better with three than four because the “I divide, you choose” mechanism generally works best when the pile is divided into three.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

In Fruit Friends, each player starts with a random start or “seed” card, dealt face up.  Players are then dealt seven cards which they divide into three piles of two (discarding the final card).  Beginning with the player who was dealt the apple start card, players offer the three piles to the player on their left who takes one pair; the next player then chooses from the remaining two piles leaving one pair for the active player.  Play continues in this way until everyone’s cards have been taken.  The second round is played the same way except cards are offered anti-clockwise and the player with the grapes start card goes first.  The final round is clockwise again, and the player with the kiwi start card begins.  At the end of the game, each player has eighteen fruit cards, with each type scoring differently.

1 card 2 card 3 card 4 card 5+ cards
Apples 0 points 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points (max)
Grapes 2 points 5 points 8 points 11 points 11 points (max)
Kiwis 2 points 6 points 0 points 12 points 18 points (max)
Bananas 3 points 7 points 12 points 0 points 0 points
Peaches 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points 20 points (max)

There are some catches, for example, peaches come in two colours, yellow and white, but only one of them scores.  Oranges score one point per apple card and similarly melons score one point per grape card (both up to a maximum of four points). The scoring intervals also offer some quirks, so while almost everyone scored twelve points for their bananas at the end of the game, Ivory went “Banana Bust” by over-shooting.  Otherwise it was close at the top and you could fit the first four players in a fruit-basket with only five points between them.  It was Purple, the “Kiwi Queen”, who just had the edge, “pipping” Green by a single point with Pine and Black finishing in joint third.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

By the time the game came to an end, the eaters had mostly finished, so Black started getting out the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium (also described previously as “the one with the elephant on the box”).  Burgundy and Ivory were quick to stake a claim to play it and Purple was equally quick to opt out.  Mulberry and Blue made up the five, so Green started to collect together the games he thought the rest might play, which Pine pointed out just made it look like he was playing Jenga with boardgames.  It took a while to come to a conclusion, but eventually the trio went for Echidna Shuffle.

Jenga
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is a game that we first discovered at the UK Games Expo back in June and since then, has been very popular with everyone who has played it.  This is partly because of the fabulous, over-produced pieces, especially the lovely echidnas with cute smiley faces.  The game is very simple:  Players have to get their bugs to their tree-stumps by moving echidnas around the board.  On their turn the active player rolls the die, and moves echidnas a total of that number of spaces.  The clever part is that players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine moves.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

There are two sides to the game board:  green “Summer” and snowy “Winter”.  There was some discussion as to which to play.  Pine thought the Summer side of the board rather than the Winter side was more of a challenge.  He explained that it was more confusing on the snowy side and that it is not so easy to block people.  On the other hand, the first time it was played with the Summer side, the game had become something of an epic marathon as everyone worked together to stop everyone else winning.  So this time the group started with the “advanced” Winter board and ended up with a very short game indeed.  After only about three rounds, Purple had got one of her bugs home and Green had managed two.  Then Pine surprised everyone and with a roll of seven managed to complete all three of his bugs and the game was over, almost before it had begun.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is really meant to be a children’s game, so perhaps it should not have been a huge surprise that it ended quite so quickly.  Maybe Pine had had a point though, so unusually the game got a second chance, this time with the Summer board.  This second game, did indeed last longer, but was still relatively quick and before too long everyone had just one bug remaining each. Green was first to get to this point, but Purple and Pine managed to successfully block his route while they also got their second bug home.  In the end Pine became the “Kingmaker” as everyone knew how many moves each player would get and he found himself in the position where he could either move the echidna out of purples way and into Green’s or do something else entirely. Either action (or inaction) would result in win for either Green or Purple and in the end he inevitably chose to open the door for Purple.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

It maybe that as a bunch of adult gamers, we have found the limit of this very pretty and lovable game.  On the other hand, the number of players also has quite an impact—the full compliment of six seems to have the effect of dragging out the Summer board, but the combination of a small number of players and the complexity of the Winter board appears to make the game too open.  Hopefully the company will bring out some new expansions or different board layouts that will give us more to explore, in the meantime, the game may get fewer outings in the weeks to come.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Because of the late start and the fact that Green wanted an early night, there wasn’t enough time for another medium-weight game, but it was still early enough for a short game. After some discussion, the trio agreed upon Walk the Plank!, a cute little programming game with a hefty dose of “take that”.  In programming games players choose the cards they are going to play before the round starts and then action them during the round, usually taking it in turns to reveal one card and then carry out the associated action.  One of the classic games of this type is Colt Express which won the Spiel des Jahres a few years ago, but Walk the Plank! is a quicker and simpler game.  The idea is each player has three pirate meeples on a ship and the last one remaining is the winner.  Players start each round by simultaneously choosing three cards and laying them face down in front of them.  On their turn, players turn over the top card and action it.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards allow players to do things like “shove” one of the meeples belonging to the player on their left, or to the player on their right.  When this is played a meeple that shares a space with one belonging to the active player is moved one step along the plank and thus closer to falling into the depths.  There are lots of other actions including “drag to ship”, “drag to sea” and “Charge!”, but the most exciting cards are probably the “retract the plank” cards.  At the start of the game the plank comprises three pieces, but usually at least one player removes one of these at the start of the game, heightening the stress levels. We usually play with a couple of house-rules too, firstly we play to the last meeple standing (the rules say the last two share victory) and we allow the plank to be completely removed (the rules say there is always one piece left).

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

We’ve loved the game for years and have several different editions within the group—this time we played with the “limited edition” which includes some optional extra cards.  This time two of the extra single use cards were added to each player’s deck:  “Parlay”, which gives a player a chance to turn the tables via a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, and “Dynamite”, which pushes everyone on one tile one space closer to the sea.  After a little shuffling about, Green played his “Dynamite”, but succeeded in sending two of his own men closer to the water as well as the others.  Then Purple played a “Charge!” card to try to push Green into the sea.  Green used his “Parlay” to see if he could to prevent it, but this ended up in hysterics thanks to a total inability to play the game correctly.  It started with Green playing on the count of three as agreed and Purple after the count of three (i.e. on four).  After multiple attempts including one where Purple ended up just pointing vaguely at Green everyone was in fits of giggles, but it didn’t look like the tie was anywhere nearer being resolved.

Rock-Paper-Scissors
– Image from theguardian.com

Pine suggested that perhaps they should try after the count instead.  Green duly obliged, but Purple had finally worked out how to play on the count of three and still the problem persisted.  Then Green chose stone and Purple also chose stone changing to paper at the last second, but this was spotted by Pine who ruled a “Let” and so they had to try yet again.  By this time everyone was laughing so hard that in a fit of confused giggles Purple then chose “none of the above” by using a single finger.  Pine suggested Green and Purple put their hands behind their backs, but this time it was Green’s turn to make a mess of things and he just couldn’t get the hang of it.  In the end, in an effort to stop Purple from soiling the furniture, Pine suggested they remove the counting element and play with closed eyes which was finally successful.  It was largely immaterial by this time, but Green won, so one of Purple’s pirates went charging off the plank into the sea.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Getting back to the game seemed tame by comparison. Everyone ended up back on the boat and then started moving forward again.  With the plank retracted, Green found himself with all three of his pirates on the end when Pine played his dynamite and Green was out in one go taking one of Purple’s and one of Pines own with him.  So Green became the Ghost and with two pirates versus one, it looked to be Pines game.  Two rounds later, though the Ghost shoved one of Pine’s pirates off the ship to level things up until Purple played her “Dynamite” and managed to get both dumped into the water, bringing the game to a shuddering halt, and on that note, Green headed home.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Imaginarium was still underway with no sign of finishing soon, so Pine and Purple decided to give Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra a go as Pine had missed out last time.  As in the original game, Azul, players take all the tiles of one colour from a “factory” and put the rest in the middle, or they take all the tiles of one colour from the middle. Tile placement and scoring is rather different however. All the tiles taken in a turn are placed in a single column of the player’s personal player board. This board is modular with the double-sided strips laid out at random so everyone has a different starting setup.  Tiles must be placed in the strip immediately below the Glazier meeple, or in a strip to its right.  The Glazier is then placed above the strip the tiles were placed in.  Instead of taking tiles, players can choose to reset the Glazier’s position, moving him back to the left most strip.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Players get points when strips are completed scoring the sum of the score depicted below the strip and any strips to the right that have already been completed.  There is also a colour bonus—each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game, and any tiles that match the colour for the round score extra.  Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed.  Any left over tiles that cannot be placed yield a penalty with players moving along a negative score track which has small steps at the start that get larger.  There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

This is definitely a game that takes a at least one play to understand how it works and what the best way to score points is.  For example, the way the score builds, it is imperative to complete the furthest right strips early as then they score again and again.  However, they are relatively low scoring, so this is not the only important strategy. So while Pine started off well, Purple scored more later, especially when she picked up colour bonus point as well.  Early in the game, the penalty for picking up the first player token or for having left-over tiles is small, but it quickly increases, and with Pine taking the first player token more than Purple, he finished with more negative points too.  All the little extras combined to make it a bit of a landslide in Purple’s favour, but then Purple had the advantage of having played the game several times, so next time will surely be different.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

While these games had been going on, the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium was getting an outing.  Subtitled “The Dream Factory”, this game is a worker-placement, engine builder with a Steam Punk theme where players are building machines in a factory.  Beautifully produced with remarkable artwork, players first take it in turns to choose a position on the factory conveyor-belt.  They select either the broken machine card that they are going to buy or a position to collect charcoalium.  These are then carried out in “action” order which then also becomes the selection order for the next round.  At the end of the round any unused cards move long the conveyor-belt and the early positions are populated with new, exciting cards.  As the game progresses, the broken machine cards generally become more expensive, but the machines become more useful, producing more and/or higher value resources.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

On a player’s turn, their existing “machines” first produce resources, then the player must buy the broken machine card they had chosen. The active player finally carries out two actions dictated by an unusual clock mechanism:  each player has a board with the six possible actions arranged in a circle and the hands of the clock are fixed such that players are unable to take actions that are adjacent.  As the clock hands must be moved every round, players are only able to take repeat one action in consecutive rounds.  Possible actions include hiring a character, trading resources, extracting charcoalium, repairing broken machines and reorganising or dismantling existing machines.  When a machine card is taken from the conveyor-belt, it is broken, they must be repaired before they will work and produce resources.  Once repaired, machines can be combined to make them more efficient, or dismantled to give points, the game ends when one player gets to twenty points.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

One of Ivory’s questions before playing a new game is always, “Where are the points going to come from?” In addition to dismantling machines, points are also available for completing “projects” i.e. satisfying goals drawn at random at the start of the game, or by trading charcoalium.  There are also two points available for players who have the most of one of the four resources at the end of the game.  As the game was late starting, the group decided to end the game at fifteen points instead of twenty, though to begin with it didn’t look much like anyone was going to get to fifteen points before midnight.  Black assured everyone that people would pick up speed as the game progressed and eventually, Ivory got going completing the first of the projects and then Black and Blue followed.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is mostly multi-player solitaire, except when it’s not.  There are some machine cards that take resources from the other players.  In a game where resources are very tight and players are very reliant on resources for their plans this can be crucial.  The game also has a distinctly mean streak, as a player that is unable to pay for the card they have chosen, doesn’t get the card, but also loses all their resources, completely upsetting their plans and forcing them to start again from scratch, potentially losing them the game.  This is exactly what happened to Blue—Ivory went earlier in the turn order and bought and then repaired a machine that took all her charcoalium which meant she lost the card she was going to buy and all her resources.  She vowed to get her revenge, but the opportunities for that are few and far between.  As she waited for her chance, she gathered charcoalium to ensure she would be able to buy the right card when it came up.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Sadly for her, interaction in the game is minimal so there she never really got her chance.  Amassing large amounts of charcoalium wasn’t totally without use though as it enabled her to fulfill one of the projects and as they were playing to a smaller total, she started trading them in for points in an effort to avoid coming last.  Meanwhile, Ivory kept amassing points and Mullberry kept doing “the weird goat-head thing” which ensured she always had plenty of charcoalium and was starting to build a productive engine.  Black and Burgundy had also just got their engines going and were planning to score heavily when Ivory announced that he’d passed the fifteen point mark.  With Blue still to take her turn, she maximised her points and everyone added up their scores.  Sadly, for Black, Burgundy and Mullberry this wasn’t a long process as shortening the game had had the unforeseen consequence that the game ended just before their plans had come to fruition.  Much to her surprise, Blue had done rather better as she had stuck to short-term targets that lent themselves to the short game.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

There was only one winner though and Blue’s fourteen points flattered her position as the scores did not tell the true story of the game.  It’s definitely a game to try again sometime, though perhaps with fewer people which would give players a bit more control over their own destiny.  The artwork is somehow both amazing and very disturbing at the same, and it certainly had an unforeseen effect on Blue.  She is not normally one to remember dreams or one to design games, but when she awoke the next morning she had a fleeting recollection of dreaming about playing a card only version of Om Nom Nom that she had designed called “Yum Yum Tum”.  We will have to see if that ever comes to fruition.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  When gamers are hungry they play games about eating.

23rd August 2016

A little unsure as to who was coming, we decided to start with the “Feature Game”, which was the filler, Abluxxen (also known as Linko!).  This is a “get rid of all your cards” type of game, and although it is initially a little confusing to understand, it mostly became clear as we played.  On their turn, players play any number of cards as long as they are all the same. The cards are then sequentially compared with the last cards played by all the other players:  if the number of cards played is the same, and the face value of the cards played is higher, then the other player’s cards are “snatched”.  They can either be “snatched” by the active player (the “snatcher”) who takes them into their hand, or alternatively the “snatchee” has to do something with them.  The “snatchee” can either choose to take them back into their hand or discard them.  If they decide to discard, then they must replace the cards with the same number from the face up display in the centre or drawn blind from the draw deck.

Abluxxen
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, the idea is that players are trying to get rid of cards and force other players to pick cards up, however, picking up cards an also be a good thing as it can be an opportunity to improve the cards in hand.  Better, having a lot of identical cards in hand means that when they are played they go on top of any cards previously played making it more difficult for anyone to “snatch” them or force them to be picked up.  The game ends when either one player runs out of cards or the draw deck and central pool has been depleted.  Just to add to the the confusion, however, the winner is then the player who has played the most cards, but any cards left in hand give a penalty of minus one.

Abluxxen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although it was a simple game and everyone knew what they had to do, at first nobody really understood what they had to do to win.  Gradually people began to work it out though, starting with Burgundy who had watched a video of the game online, then Ivory who was new to the group, but had played plenty of games before.  Pine and Blue eventually joined the “in the know” club, but Red continued to struggle.  Every time it was her turn, Red said, “Sorry, I know I keep asking, but if I play two sevens what will happen?”  Despite this apparent lack of understanding, Red was the first to check-out and with a huge pile of cards too.  This was particularly amusing as Red had just been explaining to Ivory that he shouldn’t believe Burgundy and Blue when they claim to be doing badly or have no idea what they are doing as they usually go on to win.  Inevitably then, although most people were only one or two turns away from finishing, Red was miles ahead much to Burgundy’s chagrin as he needed just one more turn and was left with six cards in hand compared with the seven in his pile.  Blue who had just played seven “fives” and had only a couple of cards in-hand was second, just ahead of Ivory and Pine.

Abluxxen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Black and Purple had walked in just as Abluxxen started, so amused themselves reading game rules and trying to work out what everyone else was doing.  Abluxxen had taken a little longer than expected so with everyone present and a group of seven, we decided to split into two.  Red was keen to play Niagara, a really unusual game with a moving river.  It won the Spiel des Jahres in 2005 and still holds up as a good family game more than ten years on.  The group has played it before, but in summary, players have two boats that they move up and down the river, trying to collect gems and return them home, to the top of the river.  There are a couple of catches.  The first is that each player has a set of Paddle Cards and must play each one once before they can play any of them again.  These Paddle Cards dictate how far they can move on the river, but can also affect how much the river will move.  Paddle Cards are selected simultaneously at the start of the round, so there is an element of programming involved, though not as much as in games like Colt Express or Walk the Plank!, but it does mean there is an element of anticipation.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Marsh

The second “catch” is the river.  The river flows after everyone has moved their boats and the rate is dependent on the lowest Paddle Card played in the round and the weather.  Each player has a weather Paddle Card, which they use to speed up or slow the river down, however, as this has to be played instead of moving boats, this can be a trap for the unwary.  In the worst case this can lead to the loss of a boat and its contents with a penalty to get the boat back.  The game ends when one player fulfills one of three criteria:  four gems of the same colour, one gem of each of the five colours or any seven gems.  Gems are limited, and this leads to the third “catch”, which is that once a player has picked up a gem and has it safely in their boat, another player can steal it so long as they are paddling up stream and land on the same river segment.  So a nice little game with a nasty edge.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor erfalucho

Red was joined by Pine, Ivory and Burgundy in what was to be a very close game.  With four players, each boat should only hold one gem at a time, but a minor rules malfunction meant that everyone played with the double boats from the Spirits of Niagara expansion.  Red and Burgundy took full advantage of this collecting the difficult blue and pink gems first and in one trip.  It quickly became clear that five unique gems was going to be difficult so everyone went for the slightly easier seven random gems.  Pine was the only “proper adventurer” exploring the limits of the river.  Misinformed by Burgundy with respect to the effects of the weather, Pine become intimately acquainted with the waterfall, turning one of his boats to matchwood, but he was the only one to experience the long soggy drop.  Otherwise, the weather was fairly muted and everyone was fairly close to getting a full set of gems when Red, kicking on from her successful start got her nose over the line first, finishing with a total of eight gems.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor William Hunt

With Niagara done, the group moved onto Splendor.  In this game, players have just three options on their turn:  collect gem tokens, buy a gem card using gem tokens (and/or cards), or reserve a gem card and receive a gold (wild) token at the same time.  Players can have a maximum of ten tokens, though unlimited cards and the cards act as permanent tokens.  Thus, at its heart Splendor is an engine building game built on a set-collection mechanism.  Players score points when they buy some gem cards and for attracting Nobles which are awarded to the first player collect certain combinations of gem cards; the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points and the player with the most at the end wins.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Despite being a very simple game, it is one we still enjoy as a relaxing little filler.  Indeed, it got an outing last time when Blue succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when Burgundy came steaming through from nowhere to win.  It could have been this, or perhaps it was previous alleged trouncings that inspired Blue and Purple to let out an emphatic war cry from the neighbouring table exhorting everyone to stop Burgundy at all costs.  So, Burgundy did lots of sighing as everyone rallied to the clarion call and went out of their way to bring him down.  Pine had been one of the victims last time and, understanding his likely fate commented that he wished he could record all of Burgundy’s deep sighs and general moaning and then play it back to him when he won.

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

The tactics appeared to be working, however, as about half way through, Pine had eight points as Burgundy took his first.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy took the first Noble too, but he was still some way behind and nobody was terribly concerned.  Meanwhile, Ivory was quietly building his engine taking lots of freebees, looking like the new threat.  Red was enjoying herself hoarding rubies just to annoy Burgundy even though she was well aware that it wasn’t actually doing her any favours.  Then suddenly, Burgundy took his second Noble and the writing was on the wall:  everyone knew they were doomed.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy took his third Noble and nobody had an answer as he repeated the trick he’d pulled off so successfully last time winning from the back of the pack.

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

Meanwhile, on the next table Black, Blue and Purple were engaged in a slightly protracted game of Castles of Burgundy.  This is a game we’ve not played before with the group, though Blue had played it a few times as a two player game and Black had played it quite a bit online.  It is one of those games with fairly simple mechanics, but a lot of complexity in the game play.  The idea is that each player has two dice which they roll at the start of the round.  On their turn they then spend the two dice, trading them for two separate actions.  Players can take a building from the pool on the central player board that matches the number on their die, for example, if a player rolled a six, they can take any of the buildings in the “six” poll and place it in their own supply.  Their supply is limited in size and there must be space for them to be able to do this.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor thatmadgirl

Alternatively, the player could take a building form their supply and place it on their personal player board on a space that matches both the number of the die and the colour of the building.  Both of these actions are quite restrictive, so players can instead choose to collect two worker tiles and add them to their store.  These worker tiles are the oil that greases the wheels a little, since they allow players to alter one of their dice by one for each tile used (e.g. spending two worker tiles will allow a player to change a five to a three or a one).  The last action is selling goods.  Players can acquire goods tiles during the game, but can only store three different types.  each of the six types correspond to a different number and, on their turn, as an action players can sell all their goods that correspond to the die (modified by workers if they choose).  In return they get a silverling and some points.  Silverlings are a form of currency and can be used to buy one extra building per round.  These are taken from a special pool, though there is nothing particularly special about the buildings themselves except that they are harder to obtain and therefore are generally only taken by players that really want them.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Points is what the game is all about, and being a game designed by Stephan Feld, there are lots of different ways to get them.  Although the actions within the game are simple, how points are achieved is where the complexity of the game really lies.  Each building placed on their board gives the active player a bonus.  Sometimes it is a bonus action, sometimes it is bonus points and sometimes it is a strategic advantage; it is the player that makes the most of these bonuses that will win the game.  Players then also score points for placing buildings to complete regions on their own board.  The larger the region, the more points they get, however, there are also bonus points for completing regions early.  Extra points are also available to the first players place the maximum number of each type of building in their province.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor 3EBC

Black, by far the most experienced, began by investing in the special buildings that give one off strategic bonuses (e.g. an the opportunity to place an extra tile or take another from the central board).  Blue began without a strategy and, as is her wont played very tactically, without a real strategy and see what unfolded.  Purple, on the other hand, went for animals early.  These give points, but in an unusual way:  every time an animal tile is added to an area, all the other animals of the same type score again.  Blue picked up four pigs in the first couple of rounds, then added two, then three then another four more, and before long she was following Purple down the animal route.  Their strategies were very different, however, with Purple taking anything she could get while Blue was much more targeted.  So, as Blue went heavily into pigs, she was able to keep re-triggering their scoring building a tidy number of points.  Purple could have made up for with the yellow knowledge tile that rewards players with four points at the end of the game for each different sort of animal they have, but Blue had her eye on it too and got there first.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

While Blue and Purple were engaged in a agricultural battle Black was able to continue with his plan pretty much unchallenged.  So he moved into shipping and completed lots of areas picking up the corresponding bonuses.  Purple took the bonus for finishing the farming tiles first and picked up points for finishing several others too including mining – quite an achievement since she was the last to get a mine at all.  It was the compound scoring for the animals that clinched it though coupled with the knowledge tile that enabled Blue to place her green farming tiles more flexibly and she ran out the winner with one hundred and eighty-five points, nearly twenty ahead of Black in second place.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor Korosu_Itai

Ivory headed off, and Castles of Burgundy was still well under way, which gave Red an opportunity to suggest one of her favourite games, Bohnanza.  The original bean-trading game, this is a staple family game and is still very popular with the group as it keeps everyone involved throughout and is usually very popular as a “gateway” game.  Last time he’d played it, Pine had really struggled, which both surprised the rest of the group and caused us a certain amount of consternation as it should have been a game Pine would have enjoyed.  It seemed he couldn’t remember the disaster last time though and he was happy to try again.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

The game is very simple, but players have to keep their eye on what is going on around them.  Players start with a hand of cards and are not allowed to change the order – a simple mechanic that is the critical part of the game.  In front of each player are two “Bean Fields” and on their turn, players must plant the first card in their hand and may plant the second.  Thus, the key to the game is managing the order of cards in their hand, as they cannot be rearranged and must be “planted” in the order they arrive.  However, it is possible to remove unwanted cards by trading them away.  Once the active player has planted the card(s) from their hand, then they turn over the top two cards from the draw deck:  these must be planted by the end of the turn, though not necessarily in one of the active player’s fields if they can be traded.  Once all these cards have been planted, the active player can then offer to trade any unwanted cards in their hand before their turn ends with them replenishing their hand from the draw deck.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

There are lots of different strategies players use:  the cards have different values which reflect their rarity so some go for high value rare cards and others for more common cards that are easy to get.  The best players are usually the most flexible and those that fit in best with what other players around are trying to do.  Another aspect players need to keep an eye on is harvesting.  Each field can only contain one type of bean and when they are harvested some of the cards are kept as profit.  In this way, the rare cards (which are also the most profitable) are gradually depleted from the deck.  So towards the end of the game, they become increasingly difficult to find.  Worse, sometimes there might only be one card left and woe-betide the player that gets stuck with it in a field as there is a nasty little rule that says players can only harvest a field with one bean card if all their fields have only one bean card.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

This time, Pine began well offering lots of generous donations which earned him lots of good will as well as getting him off to a flying start.  In contrast, Burgundy was repeatedly forced to plough up fields before promptly picking up the beans he had just disposed of.  The first trip through the deck always seems to take ages, but as usual, the second time through was much quicker.  With three players, everyone got a couple of turns in the final, third pass and everyone was looking nervously at each others’ piles of “coins”; it looked very close.  In fact, there was only one point in it as Red finished just ahead of Pine who finished with a very creditable twenty-seven.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

With Castles of Burgundy finally over, Blue was keen to play something quick and light to finish the evening and, knowing how much Purple likes it, suggested Om Nom Nom.  This is a really sweet little game with elements of double-think.  The idea is that there are three food chains each with three tiers, a primary predator, a secondary predator and pray.  Each player has a hand of cards representing the top two predator tiers and dice are rolled to represent the bottom two tiers.  Once the dice have been rolled and assigned to their spaces on the board, everyone simultaneously chooses a card and the food chains are resolved starting from the top.  Any predator with no prey (or where there is insufficient for all the animals played) goes hungry and is discarded.  Otherwise, prey is divided equally amongst its predators leaving any left-overs for later.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

A bit like 6 Nimmt!, it is all about synchronising with everyone else, or rather in this case, getting out of synch with everyone else.  This is because everyone has the same set of cards, so if every player except one plays the same cards, all the players who played the same cards will likely cancel each other out and get no reward.  On the other hand, irrespective of whether they get any reward for playing something different, the very fact they did not play the same card means they have it to play later when there is no competition.  This worked particularly well for Blue in the first round, when she managed to pick up lots of carrots and cheese uncontested.  Since prey at the bottom of the food chain are worth two point, this netted her a massive seventeen points.  In contrast, the second round was very low scoring with lots of animals going hungry.  Blue was less effective this time, but still won the round so going into the final round the game was hers to lose, and she tried her best.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine struggled throughout and Red couldn’t get to grips with the double think aspect so was curious as to whether random draw would work better  Since she won the final round it is possible that it did.  Meanwhile Blue was doing her best to throw the game, demonstrating that while it was important to be out of synch with everyone else, it was important to be out of synch in the right way.  First her rabbit got eaten, then her cat went hungry, but somehow she managed to scrape together enough points to ensure she ran out the winner.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  You don’t have to know what you are doing to win.

8th March 2016

While Burgundy finished his ham, egg ‘n’ chips, the rest of us continued our political discussions from two weeks ago.  This time we discussed the length and timing of the school day, the inevitability of double-parent working households, the cost of childcare and whether or not parents should be paid to stay at home and look after their little ones.  We were expecting Black and Purple, but eventually, someone suggested playing a quick game, to which Blue commented that you could guarantee that they would arrive just as we finished setting up.  A brief debate about what to play followed before we settled on one of our old favourites, Walk the Plank!, a simple pirate themed “programming” game where players try to push each other along a plank and off the ship.

Walk thePlank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Since everyone had played Colt Express fairly recently, the rules were quick to reprise:  everyone simultaneously chooses three cards and the order in which they are going to play them, placing them face-down; starting with the first player, players then take it in turns to play one card until everyone has played all three.  With lots of aggressive options the game is always quick and fun, and the last pirate standing is the winner.  We had just finished the summary when Black and Purple arrived, but since it is only a short game we carried on.  Blue started the game by immediately shortening the plank and before long there was no plank left (a situation we allow through a “house rule”).  When Green Green played a “Drag to Sea) with only one pirate left which was perched precariously on the edge of the boat, it was inevitable that he would take Blue’s only pirate with him for company, leaving everyone else with two pirates each.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

It didn’t last, however, and before long Magenta’s last pirate received the Big E from Burgundy and joined the others watching the goings on from Davy Jones’ Locker.  With all the carnage in the first round (eleven pirates down in just fifteen cards), there were just two players left with two pirates each all on the ship.  Although the rules say the last two players share the victory this seems strangely friendly end for an otherwise savage little game, so we always play to the death. The second round began a little cagily with both players extending the plank, but then Burgundy was paid out for his treachery to Magenta when, in a moment of stupidity, one of his two remaining pirates dragged his pal off the end of the plank, leaving Pine the clear victor with two pirates still standing.  It was an exceptionally short game thanks to the early vindictiveness, but in truth, it is a much more fun game when it is played that way.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Despite the compressed nature of Walk the Plank!, Black and Purple still managed to squeeze in a little two-player abstract game called Mijnlieff (pronounced “Mine-Leaf”).  This is a beautiful little game made out of wood and designed by the designer of Dodekka, Andy Hopwood (Hopwood Games).  Black described the game as “fancy Noughts and Crosses” since the aim of the game is to form lines of three, but since there are different types of pieces and your opponent controlling where you can play it is much more strategic.  The game is played by placing wooden tiles on a four by four board.  Each Player has eight pieces with two each of four different symbols where the different pieces dictate where the other player can put their next piece.  For example, when a Greek cross (or “+” symbol) is played, the next player must place his piece on an empty square in an orthogonal line from the piece just played.  Similarly, playing a saltire (or “×” symbol) forces the next player to place his piece in a diagonal line from the piece just played.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Game play is really quick, so much so that despite Walk the Plank! finishing in record time, with Purple taking it by three points to Black’s two.  With everyone finished, we had a quick show of hands as to who would like to play the “Feature Game”, Kingdom Builder.  When seven hands went up, Green asked who was very keen to play it and nobody looked interested.  The most enthusiastic was Burgundy who had played it before, so Magenta swapped seats with Green to make a foursome with Blue and Pine.  On the face of it, Kingdom Builder is also a simple game, played by placing small wooden huts (Settlements) on a board made up of different terrains laid out using a fine hexagonal grid.

Kingdom Builder
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

At the start of the game, each player is dealt a terrain card and on their turn, they have to place three settlements on that terrain type.  As far as possible, the Settlements must be adjacent.  At the end of their turn, the player discards their card and draws a replacement.  Play proceeds in clockwise order until one player has run out of Settlements, then the round is completed and scores are tallied up.  While these are the basic rules, there are also specific rules that change for each game, and since the board is made up of four modules chosen at random from a set of eight, the number of possible layouts is vast. Each module board also has three special hexes on it: two with a gold scroll-work border (Locations) and one with a silver scroll-work border (Castles).  The Castles give points for players with an adjacent building at the end of the game while the Locations give an in-game benefit.

Kingdom Builder
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor SpaceTrucker

At the start of the game, each Location has two hexagonal chits on it which are taken by the first two players to build next to it.  These chits give players extra actions that they can take on their turn, but the nature of the Location and corresponding action is dependent on the boards chosen.  In this game we had the Tower, the Tavern, the Barn and the Paddock.  These allowed players to add an extra Settlement along the edge of the board; add an extra Settlement to where a player had a row of three or more Settlements; move an existing Settlement to a space matching the active player’s current terrain tile, and move one Settlement two spaces in a line from its current position (i.e. jump).

Kingdom Builder
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Points are awarded at the end based on the rules cards and a subset of three are drawn from a total of ten at the start of the game.  For this game, we draw the Knights, Discoverers and Citizens cards which gave two points for each settlement a player built in the horizontal row where they had the most Settlements; one point for each horizontal row in which they had at least one settlement, and one point for every two Settlements in each player’s largest settlement area.  Thus, to score one well, you needed a horizontal line, a vertical line and a clump, all with a limited number of huts.  To make the problem even more challenging the board layout had a large mountain range across the middle with a couple of awkwardly positioned rivers.  We all blamed Burgundy for his awful “choice” of boards and layout…

Kingdom Builder
– Image by BGG contributor pphh

Although the rules are prima facie quite simple we got into a bit of a tangle with the modifications caused by the Locations.  Blue kept forgetting that the Tower and the Barn were subject to adjacency restrictions and Pine struggled to see the point of the Barn at all.  Blue made an appalling start, while Burgundy’s best laid plans were stymied first by Blue and then by Magenta.  Meanwhile, Pine had got two groups of Settlements and was trying to build a vertical ribbon development to connect the two.  As Burgundy’s supply of Settlements dwindled faster than anyone else’s, Pine desperately needed to draw a desert terrain card, but kept drawing woodland cards which were nearly useless for him.  In the final round everyone tried to make the best of their limited number of remaining Settlements before totalling up the scores.  It was very, very close, but Blue finished with a round fifty, just two points ahead of Magenta, with Pine and Burgundy both within two points of her.

Kingdom Builder
– Image by boardGOATS

Kingdom Builder isn’t a long game, so Black, Green and Purple decided to opt for something short and light so settled on another old favourite, Splendor.  This is a fairly simple card game with a very loose gem merchant theme.  On their turn, a player can either collect chips (gems), or use chips to buy gem cards.  Most of the gem cards are effectively just a permanent source of chips, i.e. can be used to buy other cards, but the higher value ones also provide victory points.  Nobles can also give players points and these are claimed by the first player to collect certain combinations of gem cards (e.g. three each of onyx, sapphire and diamond).  The game finishes at the end of the round when one player gets to fifteen points, and the winner is the person with the most points.

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

Three of the four randomly selected Noble cards required a set of three green emerald cards as part of their requirements, with differing selections of the other colours; white diamonds, red rubies, blue sapphires and black onyx. The fourth Noble required four cards of each white diamonds and black obsidian.  With the first card selections it was clear that both Black and Green had studied the distribution of cards required to win Nobles tiles and were fighting hard to get the green emeralds that were available. Unfortunately, the number available was quite small, but nothing compared to the scarcity of rubies. The first of these was nabbed by Purple and Green, who failed to get the second was left unable to get the remaining one which was an expensive, high scoring, level three card.  Early on Black marked his intentions by reserving a level three (taking the bonus “wild” gold chip).  Meanwhile Purple was busy building a large supply of diamonds while Green concentrated on the low level emeralds and sapphires. With half a dozen cards each, scores were low and close, but quick glance across to Kingdom Builder showed they were still going through the rules…

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

Black reserved another high value card, Purple had managed a large haul of diamonds, both cards and chips and green had got his three green emeralds, now joined with three sapphires. Rubies still refused to come up with any kind of regularity which meant that players priorities usually changed quickly when one did come up.  Green was the first to obtain a noble when he got his third diamond card.  He did this with mostly non-scoring cards and so this only put his score on a par with the others.  The game entered a new tenser phase when Green quickly picked up his second noble after taking a third ruby card, though even he couldn’t quite believe he had managed to get three of them.  Black finally paid up for one of his put away cards and now the points were close to the end.

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

Black was just two points from getting the fifteen needed to trigger the end-game, and a study of the available cards showed Green that Black could get it with a diamond card on his next turn. Green persuaded Purple that she needed to take the diamond card using her gold chip (she couldn’t afford it otherwise) as she would not get another go if she didn’t and could not afford the high value one she was saving for anyhow.  Luckily the replacement card was not one which Black could afford so he had to take chips instead pushing the game into another round.  Green grabbed a high value level three card taking the bonus gold chip (giving him all he needed to buy it on his next turn) and Purple bought her high value card. Black bought his last reserved card, which put him on sixteen points giving Green one last turn. With a flourish he paid for his reserved card card which gave him three points and claimed the final noble for another three, giving him a winning total of seventeen points.  It was a few moments, before Green noticed and the others didn’t spot it at all, but Green’s last card was not a black onyx, but a fourth ruby – he had not got the noble after all.  Perhaps it was a touch of colour blindness from the excitement of the end-game, but Black was the winner after all with Green and Purple finishing in joint second.

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

Kingdom Builder should only take thirty to forty minutes, but for some reason it took nearly twice that, so Green, Black and Purple moved on to play Tobago, a really pretty game in which the players possess different parts of treasure maps and try to use narrow down the possible locations faster than everyone else in order get to the treasure first.  The idea is that on their turn, players can either can either play a card on one of the four Treasure Maps or move their little 4×4 truck up to three “legs” (a leg being anywhere within the current terrain, or a move from one terrain to another).  Playing a card narrows down the number of possible places that the Treasure could be, for example, “in the jungle”, “not next to a hut” or “in sight of a statue” etc..  Each clue card placed must narrow down the possible locations by at least one hex, cannot contradict a previous Clue, and cannot eliminate all possible locations for the Treasure.  Eventually there will only be one possible location, after which, the first player to get there retrieves the Treasure.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Lord Warlock

When a Treasure is retrieved, everyone who helped narrow down the treasure location by playing a card gets a share proportional to the amount of effort they put in.  Initially, each player gets a Treasure card for each clue card they contributed.  They look at the card(s) secretly before they are shuffled together with one drawn blindly from the deck. A card is then drawn at random and, starting with the player who found the Treasure, it is offered to each player in turn until someone takes it.  The order corresponds to the order they made their contribution, so some players may have made multiple contributions and therefore may get multiple chances to take a Treasure card.  Once a player has taken a treasure, that contribution is considered fulfilled.  The Treasure varies in value, but there are also two “Cursed Treasure” cards (also known as “Baad Treasure”).  If one of these is turned over, the remaining Treasure cards are not distributed and anyone left in loses an amulet (if they have no Amulet, they lose their most valuable Treasure card instead).  The appearance of Amulets is triggered every time a Treasure has been found and they can be collected by players moving their 4×4.  The player with the most Treasure at the end of the game wins.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Green’s strategy was to contribute as many Clues as possible, Black went for a drive to dig up treasure and Purple complained of having a terrible set of clue cards (to be fair she had a lot of “not in …” cards, which did prove difficult to place on the “in play” Treasure maps, but for some reason she was reluctant to start a new one). It was a slow start, but after the first treasure had been found and the Amulets started to appear we got into our stride a little more.  About half way through the game, Green checked the rules on what to do with the discarded Clue cards and instead found a small rule which stated that the one who takes the last Treasure card immediately places the first Clue on the now empty treasure “map”. We felt that this might have speeded the game up a little and implemented the rule.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Lord Warlock

Green and Purple were the first casualties of the “Baad Treasure”. They both had Amulets, but annoyingly a six point and a five point treasure were both lost.  The second time round we were all affected and everyone lost an Amulet, but the lost cards were not high value so it felt less of a loss somehow.  With only three treasure cards left in the deck (game ends when they are exhausted) placing Clues was quite tricky. Only one of the treasures would be found, and placing your clues on the others would result in nothing, but which one would be “found” first?  In the end it was a treasure only Green and Purple benefited from.  In the final scoring, Purple came out the richest finishing with thirty-eight, and Black came in second just four behind. So for all her complaining about her hand, she had made it work to her advantage. It also looked like Green’s strategy to spread clues thinly across all Treasure maps and let others do the actual finding, had failed as it made him almost certain to lose out when the “Baad Treasures” came up.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jayboy

By the time Kingdom Builder finally finished, Tobago was well under way, with no sign of finishing soon.  Magenta took an early night, so while Pine was at the bar, Burgundy and Blue discussed the options.  Given the time available, it was a toss-up between two games that Burgundy said he couldn’t get the hang of: Isle of Skye and Blueprints. Blue gave him the choice and in the end, he chose the latter as we’d not played it for a while.  This is a clever little building game where players are architects who must use different coloured dice (representing different materials) to build different structures from their blueprints.  The idea is that on their turn, each player chooses a die from the central pool and adds it to their building.  Each die must have the same value or higher than any it is placed on top of.  At the end of their turn, they roll a replacement from a bag, thus replenishing the dice supply.  Once each player has placed six dice, their building is evaluate depending on the colour of the dice they used, how many they are and their position etc.  For example, black dice score more if they are placed high up, whereas orange dice score more if they are surrounded by lots of other dice.

Blueprints
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

The person with the best building wins the round winning the Gold Award which is worth three points at the end of the game.  Points are also available for Silver and (depending on the number of players) Bronze.  There are also Special Awards (which are worth two points at the end) which go to players who fulfil other specific criteria, such using five dice out of the six in the same colour or having a building with a height of five or more.  In the first round, Burgundy demonstrated exactly how he couldn’t get the hang of the game, but failing to make the Special Award he was trying for and also not scoring highly enough to take either the Gold or Silver awards.  The second round was notable for the number of black fours that were rolled, and how, despite that, Pine somehow managed to take the Special Award for using four dice with the same number, but with fives while Blue failed to do the same with fours.  Going into the last round, both Burgundy and Pine tried to collect green dice, leaving Blue the pick of the rest, her third Gold Award, second Special Award and a clear win with thirteen points.

Blueprints
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dotKeller

With the evening coming to a close, there was just time for a quick filler.  Black commented that there was always “the old favourite” and since Pine claimed he’d not actually played it (though the logbook proved he had), there was no opposition to a quick closing game of 6 Nimmt!.  We reminded Pine of the rules:  players simultaneously choose a card, then simultaneously reveal them before playing them in ascending order placing each on on the highest card that is lower than the card being played.  When the sixth card is added to a row, the first five are taken and the number of heads contributes to the player’s score, lowest score wins.  The thing that makes the game so compelling is that any grip is incredibly tenuous and once it begins to go wrong it tends to escalate horribly.  In the first round, Green seemed to pick up everything and in the second it was Burgundy’s turn.  Black and Pine had two mediocre rounds and Purple made the only clean sweep.  It was Blue who got lucky this time though with two very good rounds totaling just two and four, so she took the game with a combined total of six, slightly ahead of Purple with twelve.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

We tend to play a variant over two rounds with half the deck in each round and not resetting the table in between.  This led to a bit of discussion as to why things tend to cascade.  The problem is that there are always some rows that get blocked off as they pick up a couple of high scoring cards as well as a finishing with a high face value card.  This means the chance of a player being forced to add something to (and take the row) is small, and nobody will take it voluntarily as the hit is too great.  In our game, three rows got blocked off early on in the first round which meant we spent nearly the whole game playing cards on one row.  The problem is that once a player has used, say, a low card that card is no-longer available, so the player is likely to be in the same position next time  too.  In the case of a six player game, things are exacerbated because it is the sixth card that triggers the pick up.  Thus, in our game, the first first player would take the singleton, leaving the next four players to add to the row and the player with the highest card to take the row and no better off for next time.  That doesn’t really detract from the fun though and it is still wonderfully stressful in a good way, so justifiably one of our favourite fillers.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcomes:  Sometimes some games just take much longer than expected.