Tag Archives: Yokohama

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.

17th April 2018

With Burgundy and Blue waiting for food, they decided to entertain Red with a quick game of NMBR 9, making it’s appearance at four consecutive games nights and starting three, something of a record.  Somehow despite this extended run, Red had managed to avoid playing it, so after a very quick run-down of the rules, we started.  The game is really very simple indeed, with players simultaneously drawing tiles and adding them to their tableau. Tiles can be placed on top of other layers as long as they don’t overhang and overlap more than one tile.  Each tile depicts a number and the more tiles it sits on, the more points it scores.  The whole game is typically over in about ten to fifteen minutes, and in this case it was quite tight between Blue and Burgundy, though Blue finished on ahead thanks to a lot of high-scoring tiles on her third level.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Although it has proved to be a highly popular filler thanks to it’s simplicity and minimal set up time, Red was not so impressed because she felt it had seemed to offer more when she had watched everyone else playing.  She struggled to explain what she meant, but it was clear that she was a little disappointed though that was probably largely due to her expectations.  By this time, food had been dealt with and everyone else was arriving, and as the “Feature Game” was to be be Mini Park, another quick filler, we got on with deciding who would play it.  When Ivory’s comment, “I’ll play that, but it depends on what else is on offer really…” was challenged, he added, “Well, if the alternative is Kingdomino, I’d rather try Mini Park!”  Since Black had chosen that moment to wave Kingdomino around, that pretty much settled them as the two games and uncharacteristically, almost everyone jumped on the Mini Park band-waggon, leaving Black and Purple to play Kingdomino alone.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The group doesn’t usually go for two-player games and as Black and Purple get lots of opportunity to play games like this together, normally someone would join them.  However, in this case, both games were short and Kingdomino can be a bit variable with three due to the tiles that are left out, so we just got on with it.  Kingdomino was the Spiel des Jahres in 2017 and has been very popular within the group as a light filler, so has hit the table quite a bit in the last year.  The game is quite simple in that players take it in turns to choose a “domino” and add it to their “Kingdom”.  The clever part of the game is that the tiles are numbered with players who choose the high numbered (and therefore more valuable) dominoes taking their turns later in the next round.  In the two player game, players get two turns per round, so their first turn can be used to try to set up the second turn.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, Black and Purple forgot about the other key difference when playing a two player game:  instead of 5×5 arrays, each player is building kingdoms consisting of 7×7 arrays of “squares”.  They suddenly noticed they had more tiles left than they had spaces and realised their error, so decided to carry on playing anyhow.  Purple concentrated on getting corn fields and then sea and finally forests, while Black just tried to build areas of everything and make sure he was able to place all his tiles.  It was very, very close, but despite the fact that she had to forfeit some tiles and failed to pick up her bonus for completing her grid, Purple just pinched it by a single point.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, everyone else was learning the “Feature Game”, Mini Park, another quick-playing, tile-laying game.  On the face of it, this has a lot in common with Carcassonne, played with two face up tiles to choose from.  In contrast, however, the tiles are hexagonal which gives a little more variability and once during the game, players choose one character which dictates the end game scoring.  We played the “advanced” game which has slight changes to the scoring and pairs each scoring character at random with a second character.  In our game, for example, the Black Man in the Smart Hat was paired with the Yellow Fish, so the player who chose the Man (Ivory), got half the points that the player who chose the Fish got for that character (Blue).  It was felt that this would add an interesting dynamic to the game as it would take on some aspects of a semi-cooperative game.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, nobody realised at the start just how powerful (or not) each of the characters were and in that game it turned out that some were really very powerful indeed.  For example, at the start of the game everyone was encouraged to place fish next to other fish, as this was the only way to make them pay when they were being placed.  However, this left a large fish pond with lots of fish and when Blue (who was the first to get to the Yellow Fish Marker) and then Ivory added to it, it yielded a massive twenty-four points.  Although this was the most lucrative character, the Green Man on a Bicycle (claimed by Pine) was not far behind with eighteen points.  This was thanks largely to the fact that Pine and Blue (who had the Bicycle as her subsidiary character) kept drawing road tiles and extending the road the Bicycle was on, trying to scupper Ivory’s plans to build roads with benches.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Burgundy picked up the most points for tile placement, the majority of the points come at the end of the game and, as he was last to pick his character, Burgundy was penalised when he ended up with the relatively low scoring White Bird (ironically partnered with the Orange Cat that also failed to score highly).  Pine scored well for his Green Cyclist, but did not pick up enough subsidiary points from the White Bird.  Ivory’s subsidiary scored highly (Yellow Fish), but much to his chagrin the scoring for his Black Man in a Smart Hat was severely restricted by Pine and Blue’s tactics. Blue, however, did well on both her primary goal (Yellow Fish) and her subsidiary (Green Cyclist), giving her more than enough compensate for a poor score on the tile placement, and she finished some way in front.  If everyone had realised the implications of how the scoring worked, it was quite likely that they would have played differently and it would not have been such a landslide, and chatting afterwards, it was obvious that that aspect coloured people’s opinion of the game.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

The fact that everyone had only one shot at a character was meant it felt that all a player’s eggs were in one basket.  This was made worse by the fact that with only one shot, the challenge was when to choose a character:  too early and everyone else would be able to obstruct, too late and only the dross is left with not enough time to improve the situation.  That said, it was not a long game and with only three players it would be very different as each player gets two opportunities to take character cards.  Furthermore, it seems the rules are still being developed, for example, the latest version of the online rules state that the subsidiary character cards are placed face down and thus kept secret until the end of the game and the tile placement scoring has been simplified too.  Given that it is such a short game, we should certainly give this one another go sometime, perhaps with the new rules-set.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

Kingdomino and Mini Park finished at much the same time, which meant i was possible to re-balance the number of players a little, but not before the usual shenanigans regarding who wanted to play what.  Although neither mentioned it by name, Burgundy and Ivory clearly had an eye on giving Yokohama another go.  Time was marching on though and Yokohama isn’t a short game, and even without any rules explanation there is a lot to setup.  The 10th Anniversary Edition of Puerto Rico was also available though, and there was just time to squeeze in a game provided it started straight away.  So as Ivory had somehow managed to avoid playing it thus-far, we felt it was essential that we rectified the situation and Burgundy and Ivory started setting it up.  With Blue joining Burgundy and Ivory, that left four people looking for something interesting to play, so Blue suggested Bärenpark.  This another fairly light tile laying game, this time set in a bear park.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts with a plot that will become their park, and the idea of the game is that on their turn, players place a tile from their personal supply on this plot.  Each starting plot has a different array of symbols on some of the spaces, indicating different types of tiles.  When these symbols are built over, the player takes more of the appropriate tiles from the general supply to add to their personal holdings.  Some of these are small animal houses, some are larger enclosures and some are very small amenities like toilets and children’s play areas.  Each tile also has a Construction Crew and a Pit providing the foundations for a Bear Statue.  The Construction Crew allows the player to take an expansion board for their park, providing a new plot which they place next to their park.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

In contrast to the rest of the spaces, the Pit cannot be built upon in the usual way and is the last space to be covered in each plot; once every other space in a plot is covered, the owner can claim a statue from the display and place it over the Pit.  These statues provide points, with the statues providing a diminishing number as the game progresses.  Other sources of points include the animal houses and enclosures, but the number of these are limited and again, the earlier tiles are worth more.  The small amenity tiles do not score points, but they allow players to fill in those awkward, difficult-to-fill, small gaps, enabling them to finish a plot and build a statue.  Even these are limited, though to a lesser extent, so players need to be on the watch in case they are caught out.  The game ends when one player fills all of their four plots and then everyone adds up their scores.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

After a little grumbling about koalas not being bears (the rules explain that “people like koalas, so we will be including them in our park!”), and a brief explanation from Blue, everyone started building.  It was a fairly close game, but Black finishing with eighty-eight, seven points ahead of Pine in second place.  Asked what he thought of it, Black’s comment was that it was a very simple game, but the group had been playing the basic game.  The “Expert Variant” has achievement tiles which provide another source of points and make the game far more interesting for experienced gamers.  Red, on the other hand, enjoyed the game much more, somehow finding in it the tessellation building thing that she had struggled to describe, but she had felt was missing in NMBR 9.

Bärenpark
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico was still going, so the group moved on to one of Purple’s current favourites, Cat Lady.  This is a light card game that got an outing last month as well.  The game is a very simple a card drafting game, similar in feel to Sushi Go!, though with a very different drafting mechanism.  On their turn, the active player takes all thee cards from one row or column in the three by three grid, marking the row they took with a kitty meeple.  The cards are replaced from the draw deck and the next player then takes a different row or column.  Cat cards go in front of the owner who must feed them before the end of the game or they score negative points.  Any food cards yield cubes which can then be placed on the face-up cat cards to show they are being fed.  Similar to Sushi Go!, there are also cards that score for the player with the most cards (cat “costumes”) and give players with the fewest negative points and sets that players can collect (toys).

Cat Lady
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can also collect catnip cards which score minus two if the player only has one at the end of the game, or one or two points per cat if they have more.  There are also lost cat cards, and discarding a pair allows players take a two victory point token or one of the three stray cat cards which are particularly useful because they have special powers.  The tricky part is making sure that the food a player gets matches the cards, because cats are fussy creatures and some like tuna, while others will only eat chicken…  At the end of the game, players score points for each happy well-fed cat and for their toy collection with extras if they have the most cat costumes.  Unfed cats, having the fewest costumes, and the largest surplus of food will give players negative points.

Cat Lady
– Image by boardGOATS

This time everyone went for different approaches with differing degrees of success.  For example, Purple went for costumes and Pine went for toys; Black and Red both went for lots of cats and catnip, but Black failed get enough catnip to score, and actually ended up with negative points.  It was very close between Pine and Red in the end, but Pine who had fewer cats (but very contented ones thanks to all the toys they had to play with), just beat Red with her larger number of cats that were all high on catnip.  Time was getting on and Puerto Rico was just coming to an end giving them just enough time to watch the last few rounds.

Cat Lady
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico was the number one rated game on the BoardGameGeek website for over five years and still commands a lot of respect though it has significant flaws.  The problem is that there is very little randomness in the game which is great, but when a game like that is played a lot people become “experts” and there is a perception that there are right and wrong moves.  In Puerto Rico, this point is exacerbated because of the way the game is played.  In each round, beginning with the Governor, players take it in turns to chooses an action.  Every player carries out the action, but the player that chose it gets a “privilege”, i.e. a bonus.  The catch is that players that players need to watch what everyone else is doing in order not to give an advantage to an opponent, or worse, give one opponent an advantage while making life difficult for someone else (also known as “King making”).

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

In Puerto Rico, players are plantation owners in seventeenth century Puerto Rico growing up to five different kind of crops: corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. Each plantation owner must try to run their business more efficiently than their competitors. First they must grow their crops then they must store them efficiently. Finally, players must sell their crops at the right time or ship their goods back to Europe for maximum benefit. In order to do this most effectively, the plantation owners must make optimal use of the arriving colonists and develop the capital city, San Juan, building useful amenities.  Thus, the aim of the game is to get victory points which are awarded for buildings and for shipping goods. However, to build, players need money, and before they can ship goods, players need to be able to produce the goods with a plantation, and where necessary process them in the appropriate building.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

As Ivory had not played the game before, Burgundy was Governor for the first round and Blue went second, giving him a little thinking time before he had to choose an action.  This has consequences for the setup, with Blue and Burgundy starting with an indigo plantation and and Ivory starting with a corn field.  At first, Ivory couldn’t see why corn might be useful as selling it doesn’t give any money, however, he quickly realised that it doesn’t need a production building and therefore is quicker and easier to produce, making it ideal for shipping.  Blue joined him and the pair were soon filling boats as often as they could.  Burgundy meanwhile, had gone for the high value coffee.  This took him a little while to get going, but once he had a coffee roaster he was able to sell his first batch of coffee and for a short while looked like he was going to storm ahead as he added sugar to his portfolio.  Unfortunately, for him, once he had spent his coffee profits, Burgundy got a little stuck as Blue and Ivory worked together very efficiently to make life difficult for him.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

To begin with, Burgundy was able to ship his coffee, but as it is a high value produce, he really wanted to sell it and use the profits to build.  That wasn’t possible though as the Trading House already had a coffee crate in it and until there were four different commodities there, no more coffee could be sold.  Burgundy had been able to commandeer a ship for coffee, but once that was full, Burgundy was in an even worse position, because between them, Blue and Ivory were able to make it very difficult for Burgundy to ship two different goods types.  The reason why this caused him problems was because of the Boston Tea Party Rule:  after shipping, players are only able to keep one crate and anything else is lost over the side.  Thus, to begin with, Burgundy was forced to ship when he didn’t want to, and then lost valuable stock when he couldn’t ship.  And all the while, Blue and Ivory were collecting victory points for shipping their corn and a little sugar or indigo.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory had got off the mark quite quickly buying a Hacienda early on.  It wasn’t till much later in the game when Blue bought a second that we realised we’d been playing it wrong and instead of choosing which extra plantation tile he got, he should have been drawing them blind.  This had two consequences:  firstly it gave Ivory a small, but potentially significant advantage, and secondly, it meant we didn’t run out of plantation tiles quite as quickly as we would otherwise have done.  It couldn’t be fixed though, so we just carried on and as long their strategies were aligned, Blue and Ivory were worked well together.  It wasn’t long before Ivory moved on to the next stage of his development and first built a Factory and then started raking in the cash every time he produced.  Blue then built herself a Warehouse and upped her shipping rate and starting raking in the victory points.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was coming to a close when the Big Question came up:  Burgundy asked whether players were allowed to buy more than one large building.  Both Burgundy and Blue had a vague recollection of the rule, but it couldn’t be found in the booklet.  Ivory graciously switched his strategy and did something else, though checking later proved that was wholly unnecessary.  The game came to a close as we ran out of  on victory point chips and colonists (something that would have happened a lot earlier had we realised there should always be a minimum number arriving on the Colonists Ship), and all that was left was to tally up the scores and it was very tight indeed.  Although he had lots of buildings, Burgundy’s shipping had been effectively stymied by Blue and Ivory and the shortage of colonists had also made things a lot more difficult for him than it should have been, despite all that though, he wasn’t far behind Blue and Ivory.  In the end, Ivory won by a single point.  There was no need to re-count as he would have undoubtedly won by far more if he had built that second large building, though perhaps that off-set some of the advantage he had received early on with his Hacienda.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is best to play the “basic” game to get a feel for it before trying the advanced rules, but other times, it just feels trivial.

20th March 2018

Unfortunately, ordering dinner was delayed due to a birthday party on the other side of the room, so Blue, Pine and Burgundy decided to get in a quick game of NMBR 9 while they waited.  Despite the fact that it isn’t a top game for anyone and takes up a lot of room in the bag, it is is rapidly becoming a very popular filler.  This is because it is nice and short, has a enough bite to keep everyone interested for the duration and, as it has almost no set-up time, the activation energy barrier is particularly low (find and open the box, take out the deck of cards and turn over the top one…). The game is a bingo-type tile-laying game where each person plays a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice. The deck of cards dictates the order they appear in and tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile. Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile. At the end of the game the number of the tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one. So, a five on the third tier scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This time, everyone started off with the same placements albeit in a different orientation.  It wasn’t long before first Burgundy and then the other two diverged though, with slightly different strategies.  There is a bit of knack to the game with two basic competing requirements: getting strong continuous layers without gaps, and placing numbers, ideally high numbers, on the highest tiers possible so they score more.  Blue and Burgundy concentrated on getting a really solid zero level with Burgundy even sacrificing his first “nine” to the cause.  Pine on the other hand, succeeded in placing both his “eights” on his third tier scoring a thirty-two points for those tiles alone.  It was a very close game, but the difference was when, towards the end of the game, Burgundy managed to squeeze a “three” onto the fourth layer.  This gave him nine points and victory with a total of sixty-three points, just five points ahead of Blue and Pine, who tied for second place.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

By the time NMBR 9 was finishing, everyone else was arriving and the group split into two, with one group playing the “Feature Game”, Boomtown and the other playing Yokohama, a game which Ivory had been hankering after playing since he first saw it long before Christmas.  With food due for Blue and Burgundy at anytime, Ivory had to wait another twenty minutes or so, and to try to keep his mind off the delay, the trio decided to squeeze in another filler, Coloretto.  This is a light set-collecting card game that everyone in the group is familiar with: on their turn, players can either pick up a chameleon card from the face down deck and add it to a truck, or take a truck (passing for the rest of the round).  The innovative part of the game is the scoring which uses the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.), with positive points for three sets and negative for the rest.

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

We’d  just started when food arrived and it quickly became apparent that Blue was concentrating more on her pizza than the game as she just stared collecting almost anything that came her way.  Everyone started collecting light blue/white cards and this was a mistake because it meant that everyone was going to struggle to get lots of them.  In the end, three things made the difference: the jokers that Blue picked up;  the bonus point cards that Blue and Ivory collected, and the negative points that Burgundy ended up with.  As a result, despite her lack of concentration, Blue finished with forty-four points and a sizeable lead, with Ivory in second place.  Meanwhile, the next table had started the “Feature Game”, Boomtown, which is a fairly light card game where players are mining moguls and each round is divided into three parts, auction, selection, and production.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the round one card is drawn per person and placed face for bidding. Players then, in clockwise order, take turns bidding for who gets to choose a card first. Bidding continues round the table; when a player passes then they are out of the bidding and the auction continues until there is one person left.  While the auctions are fun, the real twist in the game is what happens as a result of the auction.  Winning the bidding has two consequences:  first pick from the cards available, but also payment of the bid to the other players.  So, the winner of the auction pays his winning bid to the player on his right who then gives half of that sum to the player on his right who, in turn, gives half of that amount to the player on his right, and so on in anticlockwise order, stopping just before the player who won the bidding.  The winning bidder chooses first and selection then passes to the player on his left and continues in clockwise order (i.e. opposite to the order of the money route).

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

There are two types of cards in Boomtown, mine cards and special cards.  The special cards typically provide a one off action that must be used straight away while others can be saved for later in the game.  Some help the owner, but most target one, several or all of the other players destroying or stealing mines, changing dice rolls or the order of a result of an auction.  Mine cards provide victory points and can also be a source of income throughout the game (especially valuable as  money enables players to take control during the auctions).  Each mine card has a number of gold coin symbols on it as well as a number between two and twelve. The gold coin symbols correspond to the number of victory points the card is worth at the end of the game and the number of chips a player will receive should the card’s number be rolled during the production phase (like in The Settlers of Catan).

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

Each mine card also has a colour and these can be critical as the player with the most cards takes the mayor who is worth five points at the end of the game.  Perhaps more importantly, the player who owns the mayor receives payment from the other players when they take (build) a mine of that colour.  Mayors can also be a deciding factor in how one bids for first choice in a round and some of the special cards can provide an edge in the contest for mayors, as well.  This means that fights over mayors can get very, very nasty indeed.  The game ends when the deck is exhausted and everyone then adds their number of chips to the value of their mines and any mayor bonuses, the player with the highest total wins.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

It was a slow start with no-one really bidding very high. Most people were not sure quite how the game would work so did not want to commit too much at this early stage. In the very first round, the “aggressive” nature of the game quickly reared its ugly head when four of the five cards in the auction were mines and one was Dynamite.  Green won the bid and since Red was sitting on his right, she was left with the final card, the Dynamite.  There was really only ever one choice as to who’s mine would go…the person who had played it many times before, Green.  A couple more rounds on and the players were still only tentatively feeling their way. Red had chosen to diverge from the other player’s tactics slightly by going for a Saloon rather than mines and before long she was able to add the Saloon Girls to double its effect.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

When Pine won a bid and started the next round of bidding, he did not know what to choose, not really wanting to win the bid at all. So he bet one, When nearly everyone had passed and he looked like he would win the bid on one, he commented that it seemed unfair that he would be forced to pay some money, thinking that if everyone passed he would be the winner anyway.  A quick check of the rules confirmed that indeed the player starting didn’t have to bid and could pass, and in the unlikely event that everyone passed, they would win.  So everyone agreed to start the round again. Pine passed, Red Passed, Green, with an eye to the main chance then bid one—Oh the shouts of disgust that followed—he had passed last time so why bid this time?  Well, it wasn’t worth two, but it might be worth one, and with that he won the auction.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

About a third of the way through the game, there were a couple of Mayors out and Red’s yellow Saloon was bringing in some income from Pine’s growing number of yellow mines.  It was about this time when Pine decided he’d had enough and took the next dynamite card and, much to her disgust, blew up Red’s Saloon, taking the girls with it!  In the meantime, Purple was trying to corner the green and red mines, while Black was settling himself strongly into purple mines.  At this point Red decided that she was so far behind in the mining stakes there was little point in switching to that route so decided to stick to the “money by other means” strategy. She managed to get a second saloon and this time chose Black’s purple mines to be the target for her custom.  This seemed to regularly provide income, but without the girls it was only two gold at a time, barely enough to cover costs.

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game drew to a close, it was looking like a two horse race between Green’s extensive pile of cash and Black’s almost as large pile and growing number of mines.  Pine decided he wanted a piece of the action and chose to hold up Black opting for a 50/50 and said he’d try to roll a seven or higher.  He failed, as did Red when she tried the same thing, with Black again the target.  As everyone tallied up the scores, it became apparent that the failed hold-ups had had a significant impact on the outcome. Red’s strategy had totally failed and Purple had been unlucky with the mine production rolls, but it was quite close between the other three.  In the end, Black finished just five points ahead of Pine who pipped Green to second by two points—if Black had lost those hold-ups the game could have gone to Pine…

Boomtown
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Yokohama had barely started, so the group found something a little longer to play in Jórvík.  This is a viking re-themed version of The Speicherstadt, which was a very popular game with the the group a few years ago.  Last time we played the expanded version (corresponding to the original game with the Kaispeicher Expansion), but this time we did not want it to go on too long, so played the base game rather than the fully expanded one.  Pine remembered it as the game where Vikings queue up, and called it “The Queuing Game”, and that sums it up pretty well.  Players take it in turns to place their meeples in queues next to the laid out cards.  Once everyone has placed their cards, each card is “sold” and the first player who placed their meeple next to the card has first dibs.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

The snag is that the cost depends on the number of players who joined after them.  So, if the queue consists of three people, the first player can pay two for it, but if they turn it down, the next player can pay one.  This makes the game evil.  It is an auction game in which players can increase the value and, once the other person drops out, can drop out as well, no strings attached. A kind of, “Well, I didn’t want it, but I just didn’t want you to have it…”  This lack of control didn’t go down well with Ivory, who saw the game and commented, “If we were playing “Snog, Marry, Avoid”, that would definitely be “Avoid”!”  Curious, Blue asked him whether Yokohama would be “Snog” or “Marry”, to which Ivory emphatically responded, “Snog” and added, “”Marry” would require investment…”

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards come in varying types, starting with contracts and goods – contract cards give victory points, but only if they have been fulfilled by collecting the correct goods.  On the other hand, Market Cards allow players to sell goods and get a better return than usual, enabling the owner to build a supply of cash giving them power in the “auctions”.  One of the most important cards are the viking fighter cards.  When the “Attack of the Picts” come up at the end of each season, the player with the most viking fighters gets a bonus, but woe betide the player that has the fewest viking fighter cards as they will lose points in a “Devil take the hindmost” mechanism.  The game ends when all the cards have been auctioned and the player with the most points is the winner.  It only took one round for everyone to take up their differing strategies.  Red, having not played the game before, had gone for a couple of market cards, enabling her to sell goods for one coin each rather than the usual two goods for one coin. Green had started a collection of Viking fighters to ward off the Pict raiders, Black collected the only artisan card, Purple went for the feast and Pine wasn’t really sure where he was going so had taken another market card.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

By the end of the second round Red had acquired three of the market cards, Green another fighter, Black and purple both had artisans, and Pine had taken the valuable warehouse.  Black was dubious of Red’s strategy for so many market cards, as experience had shown that these cards were generally not that valuable as you did not often have the required resource to sell. Green was reserving judgement thinking that with three she could almost guarantee being able to sell something.  Then  the goods started to arrive.  Everyone seemed frustrated at what they could actually get and money soon ran very low, except for Red however, who always seemed to have more than anyone else; those markets were beginning to prove useful.  Pine’s warehouse seemed pretty empty however and although Green’s defense of the Picts was mighty, there wasn’t a lot he was defending in the early stages.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game wore on, Green inched up the score track as Pine, Purple and Red slipped back, due to Pict raids.  By the last round, almost everyone was spent up with no more than one or two coins each, except Red who seemed to have a stash of seven or eight. This meant that she was able to hoover up both the end game scoring bonus cards (the ships and the coins) and this left an odd position that didn’t seem to be covered in the rules.  The very last card in the Winter deck was the attack of the Picts card, which meant that all the other cards had been out and selected, and only two cards remained, both attack of the Picts cards.  Normally, the Attack of the Picts card would have been enacted as soon as it was revealed and then discarded, which is why the cards fit the slots perfectly.  Pine felt the game should end there without activating them, but since we did need to have the final attack card everyone else felt that the game probably meant both attacks should happen, one after the other.  Considering that there is a one in fifteen chance of this happening, it really should have been mentioned in the rules.

Jórvík
– Image by boardGOATS

It quickly became clear why Pine wasn’t keen on activating the Pict cards:  he had seven points to lose and Green had seven to gain!  It didn’t matter though, because in the final scoring Red trounced everyone, proving that some cards are more powerful than we could ever imagine. Black and Green were tied in second place, much to their chagrin, as both had thought it would be one of them in first place; checking the tie breaker, it was Green took a somewhat Pyrrhic victory.  While all this was going on, after some four or five months, Ivory was finally getting personal with Yokohama, and it seamed he was finding that it had been worth the wait.  It had taken quite a while to set up and was quite a “table-hog”, but it looked much more complex than it appeared to the players on the neighbouring table.

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Yokohama has a lot in common with Istanbul—although it is unquestionably a deeper game, the principle is very similar.  In Istanbul, players take it in turn to move their Merchant around the bazaar to locations where he can carry out specific actions.  Merchants can only carry out actions at locations where there is one of their Assistants or where they can drop off one of their Assistants.  Yokohama has a similar travelling Merchant mechanism, but before he moves, the active player places Assistants, three in different locations or two together at the same location.  The difference is that in Istanbul the distance the Merchants can travel is limited, whereas in Yokohama, they can travel as far as they like, but can only travel through locations that are occupied by one or more of their Assistants.

Yokohama
– Image by BGG contributor cmarie

One of the most significant differences between the two games is that the action a player can take depends on the “Power” they have at their Merchant’s location.  The Power is the sum of the number of number of Assistants, Stores and Trading Houses present, plus one for the Merchant.  The nature of the locations are more complex too, some just provide resources or money, but others provide opportunities to get Contract cards, victory points or even technology cards that can be used during the game.   Another key difference is that each player is provided with a small number of Assistants at the start of the game.  Although any Assistants are returned when their Power is used to carry-out out an action, players inevitably need more, which they must obtain by visiting the Employment agency (where players can also buy Stores and Trading Houses).

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Despite the similarities, the games have a very different feel about them, though they are both very smooth to play with very little down-time.  Yokohama has a number of end conditions, including drawing the last contract card, filling a given number of spaces in the Church, or Customs locations, or if one or more players has built all their Trading houses or Stores.  In this way, it is up to the players how long the game goes on, which was definitely something that affected the way Blue, Burgundy and Ivory played.  The game began with Blue picking off the highest scoring Contracts while Ivory decided to build some technology, in particular the ability to place a fourth Assistant, something that proved it’s worth as he used it extensively throughout the game.  Burgundy followed Blue with the Contracts, but was generally beaten to the most valuable cards.

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

As the game developed, all three players began to get into their stride a bit more, and when pine looked on in horror at all the pieces and commented that it definitely looked like an “Ivory sort of game”, all three agreed that it was no where near as complex as it looked.  And that was just as well, because Yokohama has a lot of fiddly pieces and does look especially complicated.  Up to this point though, everyone had been hitting the Contract cards quite hard, when Burgundy suddenly pointed out that there weren’t many left and if we continued that way, the game would be over quite soon. Clearly nobody wanted that, because everyone switched their attention to other sources of points.  It quickly became clear that all three players had spotted the value the Customs house could provide, and since everyone was beginning to build up a small stack of valuable “Import” crates, it became a race to get there first.

Yokohama
– Image by BGG contributor Roger_Jay

Inevitably, Ivory got to the Customs house first, followed by Blue and Burgundy.  Blue had more Import crates though and was able visit several times and hold the majority.  Ivory spotted that there were points to be had by visiting the Church, which the others had completely neglected and Burgundy took one of the achievement bonuses for having built in three commercial and two production areas.  This was something that everyone had tried to go for, but had been sidetracked from.  Ivory snaffled the bonus for being the first to achieve six bundles of silk with an extremely clever move, while Blue who had always had more money than anyone else picked up the bonus for being the first to have ten Yen.  It was clear that the game wasn’t going to go on much longer, but everyone was concentrating on trying to eke out those last few points in what felt like a close game.

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

It was about this point that Red asked to borrow Blues car keys, only to return a few minutes later, much to everyone’s amusement, asking how to use them as she had been pushing the car boot open button without success.  Obviously that wasn’t the right button, so with new instructions she tried again, only to return after another couple of minutes still defeated.  In the end, Green went to her rescue, though even he took several tries to get it to work.  On their return Yokohama was coming to a close and the players were working out the final scores.  It was close, but despite Blue’s obstructive tactics at the end, Ivory still finished five points clear with one-hundred and twenty-two.  It was clear that everyone had enjoyed the game:  Burgundy’s comment was that he’d struggled from start to finish, but loved every minute.  Ivory had clearly enjoyed it too, and was making appreciative comments about variable setups as he helped pack away, though it remains to be seen whether he will invest in an engagement ring…

Yokohama
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome: Some games are worth the wait.

6th February 2018

With seven of us and the “Feature Game”, Ave Caesar, only playing six, we started the evening with a small problem.  The general consensus was that the game is more fun with more people, so splitting into two small groups didn’t feel right.  Blue offered to sit out as she was still eating, as did Burgundy and almost everyone else as well, but in the end, Purple and Black teamed up so we could all play together.  An older family game dating from 1989, Ave Caesar is also a fairly simple game.  The idea is that each player has a deck of movement cards, a chariot, and a coin, and the aim of the game is to be the first player to cross the line after completing three laps of the track.  On the way round each player must pay tribute to Caesar on the way by pulling up in front of the Emperor in his dedicated pit lane, chucking their Denarius into the game box and crying “Hail Caesar!”.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There are some nasty, unforgiving little features about this game.  For example, the track is generally a maximum of two lanes wide.  Worse, players can only use each of their cards once and don’t have lot of spare moves, so the outside lane should be used sparingly otherwise they may run out of moves before they complete their final lap.  Even worse than that, each player starts with a hand of three cards and plays one, then refreshes their hand.  The snag is that players cannot jump or move through occupied spaces and must use every space on the card they play, in other words, they cannot play a five for example if there are only three spaces they can move.  These “nasty features” can make the game very frustrating, but are also the clever part as they provide the challenge.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There have been several editions of the game, but the original Ravensburger is widely believed to be the best because it has slightly longer tracks which makes for a tighter game as players have fewer moves to spare.  It is well understood that the newer version that we were playing with could be improved by removing a five card from each player’s deck.  So we started sorting and counting cards, and finding a five to remove from each deck.  With this done, all those eating had also finished and Burgundy started with a modest two.  Blue was second and, with two sixes in hand felt that it was a good idea to get rid of one of them nice and early.  The problem with sixes is that you can’t play them when you are in the lead, but they can be quite difficult to play from the back as there has to be enough space in front to play them.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy’s two proved to be a mistake as everyone else promptly overtook him and left him stuck at the back for most of the rest of the lap.  In fact, he was so stuck, that he ended up missing three turns on the first lap alone.  In contrast, Blue had broken away from the pack and was looking at lapping Burgundy, but this had its own problems as she needed to get rid of her sixes, which she couldn’t do while in the lead.  Blue went to hail Caesar on her first lap to give people a chance to catch up.  After a bit of moaning that he hated Bank-holiday traffic, Pine finally managed to break away from the log-jam and take the lead giving Blue a chance to ditch a six, and everyone else a chance to make some progress too.  Everyone else that is, except Burgundy who was doing an excellent job of bringing up the rear.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

During the second lap, Pine just managed to nip in and pay his dues to Caesar, while Green followed and then reduced his chariot speed to a crawl and “Hailed” three times successfully causing a queue behind.  It was the third lap where things started to get interesting though with everyone jockeying for position to try to make sure that they didn’t have to waste moves.  Blue had a bigger problem though, she was miles in front, but still had to draw her final six from the deck and then play it.  She tried hanging back, reluctant to give away the size of her problem, but that card stayed in the pack.  Finally, as she drew her last card, she found her final six, but it was too late and Team Black and Purple cantered past and pipped her to the finish.  Green trotted in taking third place and leading the rest of the pack home.  Ironically, had she not suggested removing the fives at the start of the game, Blue would have won easily, but that would have been boring.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

It hadn’t been Ivory’s sort of game, so to placate him we offered him Yokohama, a game he’s been angling to play since before Christmas, but there wasn’t quite enough time for that, so he went for Sagrada instead and was joined by Pine and Blue.  This is a very pretty little game with many features in common with one of our current favourites, Azul.  It has simple rules, but lots of complexity and is essentially an abstract with a very thin theme, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to matter.  In Sagrada, players build a stained glass window by building up a grid of dice on their player board. Each board has some restrictions on which colour or shade (value) of die can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to rearrange some of the dice, either during “drafting”, or sometimes those already in their window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.  Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window. There are also three public objectives which everyone can use to score points; in this case we were scoring for coloured dice diagonally adjacent; complete sets of one to six and pairs of five and six. The game starts with each player choosing a window from two double-sided cards dealt at random.  The hard ones come with a lot of favour tokens; this time almost all the options available seemed to be the difficult ones, which made Blue especially wary given the dogs’ breakfast she made of the game at New Year playing a challenging window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Everyone seemed to go for different strategies this time.  Blue went for the public “diagonals” goal, making a pretty Battenburg pattern, but only managed to get one five, so struggled with the other objectives.  In contrast, Ivory did well getting pairs of five and six, but only got one three, so couldn’t score so well for the sets.  Pine completely ignored the diagonals and really concentrated on his private goal and getting complete sets of one to six.  It was a really tight game and Blue and Ivory were to rue those dice they’d failed to get as Pine finished with forty-three points, just two ahead of Ivory and three clear of Blue.  Despite finishing second, Ivory was much happier with this game than Ave Caesar and was up for giving something else a go.  Pine was keen to play Animals on Board again, and it is a nice enough little game and not long so Ivory was happy to give it a go too.  The idea is that players are collecting animals to go in their cardboard ark.  Each set of animals in the game is numbered from one to five and a selection are drawn at random and placed face up in the centre of the table.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

On their turn the active player either divides one of the groups in the middle into two parts (and takes a box of fruit for their pains) or takes the animals from one of the groups, paying for them with boxes of fruit at a rate of one per animal.  At the end of the game (triggered when one player picks up their tenth animal) Noah claims any pairs of animals and the remaining animals are scored: singletons score their face value and sets of three or more score five per animal.  It was quite tight, Ivory collected four rhinos and Pine managed three hippos.  Blue brought the game to a sudden and unexpected end when she unexpectedly found herself with a large set she could take profitably, leaving her with two sets of three, foxes and zebras, and with it, the she took the game.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Black, Pink, Burgundy and Green were playing the classic, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”).  Despite being over twenty years old now, it still holds up as a good family game in a way that some other games of the same vintage do not.  The game is played on an iconic variable tile game board on which players build settlements and cities on the nodes and roads along the edges.  One of the things that makes the game so popular is the lack of down time: a turn consists of rolling dice, trading and then buying and/or building.  Each hexagon on the board is numbered and rolling the dice gives resources to every player with a settlement on the hexagon on the number rolled.  Since each node is on the corner of three hexagons, players frequently get resources during other players’ turns.  Everyone is potentially involved in the trading of course, so the only part of anyone’s turn that is not shared is the buying and building phase, but this is usually quite short.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the random layout of tiles gave an even spread, but the number tokens placed on them had an unusual symmetry:  both eights were on the mountains (giving stone), both threes were on the fields (giving wheat) and both nines were on the clay beds (giving brick).  Green started and inevitably chose the choice spot with that would give him wool, wood and clay, much to Burgundy’s chagrin. Black was last to place and decided to connect his two roads and settlements, so by the time it Green got his second turn, he had very little option and ended up with a port location which would yield only two cards to everyone rather than three.  The dice seemed to be rolling according to the predicted distribution with the red numbers (six & eight) coming up often.  This gave Burgundy a lot of stone and wood, but due to his lack of brick he quickly converted a settlement to a city which only increased his supply of stone.

– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for him, all these extra resources counted against him as the other number to come up regularly was seven, so meaning the robber was moved and everyone had to reduce the number of resource cards they were holding to seven.  Burgundy often was higher due to his regular double productions, but to make it worse he frequently seemed to because of his own demise since he was the one who kept rolling the sevens—three times in succession at one point! With that kind of luck he really began to wonder if he should just pack it in right then and go play something else.  While Burgundy was struggling with his own security though, Purple and Green were steadily building their kingdoms. Purple gained another settlement and converted one of her others into a city. Green had spread out from his choice spot to build another settlement on the port side of the value eight mountains and in the other direction to another port with more clay, giving him the longest road, and with it two bonus points, for the moment at least.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Black seemed to be languishing, unable to get traction and the cards he needed for expansion. Catan requires investment for growth, but he had barely two coins to rub together to invest with at all.  Once Green had built on the mountain-side the eight rolls seemed to dry up and he struggled to get enough stone or wheat to convert his settlements to cities.  Purple’s hidden development card made everyone think she had an extra hidden point, and possibly the lead. Certainly the early rolls went in her favour and it was beginning to look like this could be her game. Green’s long road brought him into the running, and the power of Burgundy’s cities meant he wasn’t far behind. The production Burgundy’s cities provided meant he was able to go after longest road and take it from Green, thus starting a little road building war between the two.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

With nowhere else on the board worth building on, Burgundy decided on an alternative strategy and started trading for development cards. He managed to place two knights and was about to take the Largest Army, until everyone else reminded him he three army cards for that. It only delayed the inevitable though, as one round later he played a third knight card, claimed the Largest Army and two points with it. He easily built two more roads and with it retook the Longest Road card for a second time simultaneously revealing he had a one point development card in his hand.  This meant he went from five points on the board to a total of ten points in one turn and with it finished the game.  Purple and Black revealed they also had a one point development card to give them both six points and joint second place.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Both tables finished at about the same time and, as Ivory headed home, Burgundy commented that he’d like to give NMBR 9 a go.  Everyone else chimed in that they’d be happy to join him , but Pine and Purple got there first and with no set up time got started quickly.  The game is very simple: one player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau.  All the tiles are roughly number-shaped and each player will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice.  Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile. Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile. At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one. So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Unlike a lot of games, it is very difficult to tell who is winning, as the largest scores come late in the game when adding tiles to the higher layers.  However, the lower layers must be able to  accommodate the later tiles as and when they come out, otherwise a player can’t take advantage of the opportunities they may offer.  This time Burgundy “got lucky” and was able to squeeze a seven, an eight and a nine onto his third level giving him a massive forty-eight points for them alone and a bit of a land-slide victory.  We’ve played this game a few times now as a group and all the previous games have been quite close.  Other Bingo-type game like Take it Easy!, Das Labyrinth des Pharao or Karuba, have been relatively unpopular with the group as they feel like multiplayer solitaire, but somehow, in our group, everyone gets involved helping everyone else out, which makes this game much more enjoyable.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The other three chatted for a few minutes before deciding to play a quick game of Kingdomino as it is a game we know well and can play quickly and without committing too much thought.  It  consists of dominoes featuring two terrain “tiles” with some tiles also depicting one or more crowns.  Players are building their kingdoms by placing dominoes where one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or to the starting tile (which can be considered to be “wild”).  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space and if one or more dominoes cannot be placed according to these rules, then they are discarded. At the end of the game, each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region and adds them up together with any bonuses to give their score.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was really tight with each player capitalising and building on different terrain types:  Black took forests, Green took pasture and Blue took sea.  There were three points between first and third, but it was Black who finished at the front, just one point ahead of Blue.  With three players, some tiles are removed from the game at random.  Like last time, almost all the tiles removed were  the high-scoring mountain and marshland tiles, but at least this time nobody’s game plan depended on them.  It did encourage some discussion, though with Black commenting that he didn’t like the game with three because of this uncontrolled randomness, and Blue commenting that perhaps the tiles that are taken out should be turned face up and displayed so that players can at least see what won’t be available.  Maybe a variant for another time.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Some games stand the test of time, others not so much.

3rd October 2017

The evening started with a quick hand of Love Letter between Blue and Burgundy while they waited for their “Fave” pizzas to arrive.  The game only lasted a handful of turns and Blue took it with the Princess when she played a Baron to force a comparison.  As Burgundy said, with that combination of cards lined up against him, his poor Baron didn’t stand a chance.  There wasn’t time for him to get his revenge, however, as food arrived, along with a Happy Birthday text from Pink (who wasn’t able to come).  With the arrival of Red and Magenta, Blue and Red talked about work for a few minutes before Ivory and Pine joined the party and everyone settled down to a quick game of 6 Nimmt!—a quick game that could be played while eating pizza.

Happy 5th Birthday!
– Image by boardGOATS

Bizarrely, Ivory had somehow managed to avoid playing 6 Nimmt! despite it being one of our most frequently played games.  So, there was a quick run-down of the rules before we could start.  The game starts with four cards face up on the table, the beginning of four rows.  Each player starts with a hand of cards and players simultaneously choose one and place it face-down before a simultaneous reveal.  Cards are then played in ascending order, with players placing their card 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 by the active player and the number of heads contribute to that player’s score; lowest score wins.  We tend to play two rounds, each using half of the deck of one-hundred and four cards.  The thing that makes the game so compelling is that players begin to feel they have control over their destiny, but any grip they may have is incredibly tenuous and once things start to go wrong the problems tend to escalate horribly.

– Image by boardGOATS

This time, things started to go wrong early for Red and Blue, but Pine outstripped them by miles and finished the first round with twenty three “nimmts”—as he commented, enough for a whole dairy heard.  Burgundy and Magenta were doing much better with one nimmt and none respectively.  Given his excellent performance in the first round, everyone expected Burgundy to start collecting cards with enthusiasm in the second round, and so it proved.  His efforts paled into insignificance compared with some of the others though, in particular Ivory and especially Blue, who finished with a massive top score of forty-four.  The winner was unambiguously Magenta, however, who added a second clear round to her first and managed to end the game without picking up a single bull’s head, a real achievement.

Happy 5th Birthday!
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone now arrived and pizzas all consumed it was time for the party to really start, with the “Feature Game”, Crappy Birthday accompanied by a marvellous blue Meeple Cake supplied by Georgie from The Jockey.  Everyone sang Happy Birthday and Blue and Green as the originators of the group blew out the candles then Red took the knife and started to carve while Magenta began dealing cards for the game.  With everyone eating cake (including the people at the pub who couldn’t believe we’d been going for five years), attention turned to Crappy Birthday.  This is funny little party game which we played for the first time last year to celebrate our fourth anniversary.  The premise of the game is that it is one player’s birthday and every one gives them a “present” chosen from the cards in their hand.  The birthday boy or girl then has to choose the best present and worst present and then returns these cards to the person who gave them.  At the end of the game players count up the number of pressies they have had returned and the one with the most (i.e. the one who gave the fewest mediocre presents) is the winner.  The game has a lot in common with Dixit, but is a lot simpler.  In the same way though, the production quality of the cards is really key to making the game work, though the emotions are very different:  in Dixit everyone marvels at the beauty of the art, in Crappy Birthday everyone laughs at the stupidity or brilliance of the gifts.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

This time we discovered that Black wanted a Viking helmet for his birthday, Red wanted to go on the first trip to Mars, Burgunday fancied a course in Sumo wrestling and a drive across the Sahara was on Ivory’s “Bucket List”.  There were many amusing gifts that didn’t actually score points including the Gnome ABBA Tribute Band (singing, “Gnoming me, Gnoming you” perhaps?) and a dead rat to hang on the front door at New Year.  We also discovered that Pine hates heights and horses (especially those that are trying to throw you off), so the session of rodeo riding was thrown straight back in disgust.  Red returned a Porta-Potty (she’s seen plenty in the last year apparently); Blue threw back comedy lessons (she hates being on stage); Black sent back a chair because it was boring and Red decided she couldn’t cope with a 150lb burger and claimed it would make her sick.  Everyone clearly thought that physical exertion was not Burgundy’s thing, but it was the tight rope walking that he was least keen on while Ivory had a fit of shyness and turned down the kind offer of a session skinny-dipping.  Purple rejected the idea of her very own personal roller-coaster, though it was close between that and snake charming lessons.  Pine commented that he would have combined the snake charming with the five chihuahua puppies as the latter would have provided an excellent food supply for the snakes.  This did not go down well with Purple who had chosen the chihuahua’s as her favourite gift and didn’t want them eaten…

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

It didn’t really matter who was the winner because everyone had fun and everyone got their moment in the spotlight as they had to explain their decisions.  And while they listened everyone else got sticky eating the meeple cake which was soon nibbled away to leave just a bit of head and a foot.  After one round we counted up who had the most returned cards and Ivory who had five cards was the winner by miles with Green and Burgundy in a distant, joint second place.  Party games aren’t really the Group’s “thing”, but everyone enjoyed this one (particularly accompanied by cake) and the consensus seemed to be that once a year was about probably right, especially as it gave everyone time to forget the silly things on the cards.  With the birthday cards collected in and the cake mostly gone it was time to decide what to play.  Nobody was quick to decide and things were complicated by those planning to leave early.  In the end we decided to stick together as a group (it was a party after all) and play a round of Saboteur.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

The idea of Saboteur is that each player is either a Dwarf or a Saboteur and players take it in turns to play a card from their hand.  The Dwarves aim is to extend the tunnel to the treasure, while the Saboteurs try to stop them.  There are two types of cards that can be played:  tunnels and special cards.  The cards with tunnel fragments shown must be played in the correct orientation, though the tunnel depicted can include junctions, bends, and even dead-ends. While the Dwarves try to push the path towards the gold, Saboteurs try to play disruptive cards while trying not to look like it.  Meanwhile, special cards include “rockfall” cards which can be played to remove a tunnel card already played, and maps which can be used to see where the gold is hidden.  Most importantly, however are “broken tool” cards which can be played on another player to prevent them building tunnel cards until they (or another kind-hearted soul) plays a matching “fixed tool” card to remove it.  The game is supposed to be played over several round with the winning team sharing out a pile of gold cards, but we tend to play it as a team game and stick to one round at a time.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The game began quite carefully with everyone doing their best to look like dwarves, that didn’t stop the accusations though and it wasn’t long before someone decided that Black and Green were looking shifty.  Green had almost all the map cards and unsportingly decided to stick to the rules and refused to share them.  Then Pine roused suspicions when his use of a map card led to a disagreement with Green clearly identifying one of them as a Saboteur.  Before long Ivory had joined the fray and nobody knew what was going on, except that the tunnels kept moving forward.  Eventually, Blue left nobody in any doubt when she gleefully diverted the tunnel away from the only possible remaining gold.  With the last card in the draw deck gone, it went down to the wire, but all the sabotage from Blue, Pine and Ivory was to no avail.  Cards continued to be played and it took a whole extra round, but the Dwarves just managed to make it to the treasure.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

With time ticking on, Red and Magenta left for an early night and the residue of the group split into two parts, the first of which played Sheep & Thief.  This game has had a couple of outings recently, in particular on a Tuesday two weeks ago.  Sheep & Thief is a curious little tile/card drafting and laying game with elements of pick up and deliver mechanisms added for good measure.  Each player has a board divided into a four by four grid, and starts with their home card and two sheep in the top left hand corner.  Each round is played in two halves: first players draft cards then they play them, taking it turns to place one card per turn.  Players are trying to connect their home card to the other three corners while trying to keep their sheep safe and trying to catch other players sheep with their fox, meanwhile, they are also attempting to navigate their black sheep to the bottom left right corner of their board.  With points for all sorts of things including sheep captured, sheep retained, long rivers, connecting the home card to the other corners of the board as well as for moving their black sheep as far from home as possible, it is a veritable “point salad”, but one where it is actually very difficult to do well.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, with his love of sheep was always going to do do well, despite this being his first try at the game.  Everyone else had played it several times before and therefore knew what they were letting themselves in for.  The strategies were very varied though, for example, Purple prioritised getting her road from her home card to the opposite corner of her board and picked up fifteen points for doing so.  Green prioritised getting his black sheep as far as he could in the hope that he might get points for his road in the process.  Unfortunately, although Green’s sheep netted him fifteen points, he was not able to connect his home card to any other corner and therefore failed to get any extra points as a result.  In contrast, Black tried to do a bit of everything which really isn’t a strategy that works for this game.  As a result he really struggled.  It was a very close game, and on the re-count finished in a tie between Green and Pine who both scored thirty-one points with Purple just behind.  Since the tie-breaker is the number of sheep and and both Green and Pine finished with the same number of sheep the victory was shared.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Ivory, Burgundy and Blue were being indecisive.  In the end after looking longingly at the “Deluxified” Yokohama, they reluctantly decided that it would probably take too long and decided to give Dice Forge a go instead.  This game was new to everyone except Ivory who gave his assurance that it would not be a long and complicated game.  And he was right – the whole thing took less than an hour and a half including teaching.  The game is a dice building game, with a lot in common with the deck building games like Dominion and bag building games like Orléans, or cup building games like Roll for the Galaxy, where the aim is to try to mitigate the effects of luck by stacking the deck, bag, cup or in this case dice, to improve the odds.  In the case of Dice Forge, it is the dice themselves that players are modifying.  Each player starts with two dice, similar to those in some of the Lego games, where the faces can be removed and changed.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

Beyond this, the game is actually quite simple.  On the active player’s turn, everyone rolls both their dice and adds the result to their accounting tracks.  On their turn, the active player can then also spend some of their gains to either upgrade dice, or to move their pawn from their central “Starting Portals” to one of the “Islands” on the board and take a “Heroic Feat” card.  Each upgrade has a cost, with the best upgrades having the highest costs.  The cards also have costs and the most powerful cards are the most expensive.  When upgrading, players can choose which faces to replace and what to replace them with.  In contrast, most of the cards have a single use special action or bonus, but some also have a perpetual action.  With the game restricted to only ten rounds, however, these have to be bought early if they are to prove game winners.  Once everyone had had the full ten rounds, each player adds up their points and the player with the most is the winner.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

There are several sources of points:  firstly, some dice faces give points, but this is not a particularly efficient way of scoring unless there are some cards that can be used to increase the acquisition speed. Cards can be more effective, but only if the means to buy them can be accumulated quickly and efficiently.  Blue started off trying to get some nice dice faces to improve the probability of a good roll.  She quickly realised the really clever part of the game:  what is the best way to upgrade the dice and how should the faces be distributed?  For example, is it better to put all the good faces on one die and guarantee one good roll, or is it better to spread them across both and hope to roll more good rolls than bad ones?  She opted for the latter, but wasn’t sure whether that was the right choice or not.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

While Blue was faffing about with where to put her dice, Burgundy had a much bigger problem as he was struggling to roll what he wanted in order to upgrade his.  This had the knock-on consequence that by the time he got what he wanted, invariably, Blue or Ivory had pinched what he wanted.  Ivory, having played the game before clearly had a much better idea of what he was trying to do, but although he managed some exceptional rolls, he struggled from time to time too.  In the end, Burgundy more or less gave up on dice and started to collect cards.  Somehow he managed to accrue a seventy-two cards—a massive number compared with compared with the forty-two/forty-six that Ivory and Blue had gathered together.  It almost worked as well, since he netted a fantastic ninety-eight points, remarkable considering his very slow start.  In the end Burgundy finished just two points behind Blue who top-scored with a nice round hundred.  Everyone had enjoyed it though, despite the frustrations, and everyone was quite keen to give it another go, though not straight away as it was definitely home time.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Time flies when you are playing boardgames!