Players: Mark K, Nige, Chris, Garry
Amazonas is the latest game to be released by Stefan Dorra and is published by Kosmos. The game is set on a map of the Amazon basin and players are attempting to travel from village to village to set up research stations on five types of research project. You also have a secret goal of reaching four particular villages dotted around the map. Points are awarded during the game for setting up a research station on each of the five projects and at the end of the game for those projects where you have set up research stations in at least three villages. If you have not visited your four secret destinations, you lose three VPs for each village you missed. The game lasts 18 rounds and at the beginning of each round a special event card is revealed. Some of these have positive and some negative effects for the current round. Players then simultaneously select an income card for the round (there are 7 of these and you play a different one each round, only getting all the cards back after rounds 7 and 14). The income number also dictates turn order. Once these are revealed, players collect their income and have the opportunity to spend this to build research stations in turn order. The first research station in a village is cheaper to build than subsequent ones and each village is only able to support 2 or 3 stations. Turn order can, therefore, be quite important in preserving cash, especially as cash is very tight. Often, all you can do is collect income without building and there aren’t that many turns to achieve all you would like to achieve. In our game, we thought 18 turns would take some while to complete but the game flew by, taking us just about an hour. We were all wary of our destination cards and tended to spread ourselves across the map pretty quickly. I made the mistake of placing my initial village between two of my secret destinations and then not linking into them straight away. Consequently, others got in there before me and meant it cost me more than would otherwise have been the case. There is also a dilemna between concentrating on one or two project types to boost income during the game and establishing a presence in all five projects. Mark K and Nige both went down the specialised route and this worked well for them. Chris managed to block both me and Mark K at key times and this meant Mark K only managed to connect to his final secret location on his very last turn. This proved crucial and gave him the victory. We all enjoyed this, Nige especially, as it is quite tactical but turns are short and there is very little downtime. Good stuff.
Result: Mark K 14, Nige 11, Garry 8, Chris 8
Ratings: Mark K 7, Nige 8, Garry 7, Chris 6
King Arthur – Das Kartenspiel
Players: Mark K, Nige, Garry
King Arthur – the card game is a new release by Reiner Knizia and Ravensburger and is about knights of the round table going on various quests. Basically, you are collecting knight cards of particular colours in order to defeat and collect enemy cards which, in turn, can be combined with other enemy cards to satisfy the conditions for completing one of the 13 available quest cards. The advanced version of the game, which we played, adds a couple of twists in determining when enemy cards become available for use on the quests, but it remains a fairly easy game to explain and play. Once all but one of the quests has been completed, the game ends and players receive points for the quest and enemy cards they have collected. Most points wins. This was a fairly light game with pretty obvious choices to be made. Watching what enemy cards other people are collecting is important to make sure they are not going to complete the quest you are working on before you do. The luck in drawing “double” and “Merlin” cards also plays a part in helping you achieve your goals but, as it is clearly aimed as a simple family game, it didn’t seem overpowering. Mark K managed his hand the best to come out with the victory. We all thought the game to be ok for what it is meant to be and the theme is nice, but it is not going to set the world alight.
Result: Mark K 55, Garry 47, Nige 42
Ratings: Mark K 6, Garry 6, Nige 6
Players: Mark K, Nige, Garry
Finally, I managed to get to try out Fairy Tale, a game by Japanese company Yuhodo and designed by Satoshi Nakamura. This is an interesting game of drafting and playing cards over four rounds. In each round, players are dealt a hand of 5 cards. They select one card to keep and pass the remainder to the player on their left. That player selects a card and returns three to the original player. This is repeated but with the player on the right and the final card is kept by the original player. From the five cards collected, players choose one simultaneously and these are revealed with any actions specified on the card being implemented immediately. This is repeated twice further, with the two unplayed cards then being discarded. Cards played stay in front of you but through the card actions may end up face-up or face-down by the end of the game. After the fourth round, face down cards at that point do not score and face up ones are totalled to give your score, highest score wins. This is an interesting game where you try to accumulate combinations of cards that give high scores, while messing with other players’ plans. The difficulty we had was with the card explanations, which I managed to print off in such small type-face that Nige couldn’t read much of it – it’s his age, you know. The cards have icons which help to decrypt the meaning but it did take a little while to work it all out. That said, by the end of the game we had just about got it sussed so it shouldn’t present a problem in future. Choosing what to keep and what to pass on was interesting. On one occasion, I had to keep a card that was of no use to me merely because it would have made a huge difference to Nige’s score. However, you can afford to do this because, of the five cards you pick, you only get to play 3 of them, so 2 spoilers is ok. Having overcome the icon problems, I quite liked this and would like to try it with a full compliment of five players so all the cards are used. It is pretty quick once you get into the game and is a bit different to a lot of games we play at the end of an evening. Oh, and I won so that brought the evening to a nice close (although Nige might not agree).
Result: Garry 50, Mark K=Nige 45
Ratings: Garry 7, Mark K 6, Nige 7
Players: Nige, Phil, Mark G, Mark K, Garry
A new batch of games from Adam Spielt arrived this week, so I was keen to try a couple of them. The first was Manila by Franz-Benno Delonge and released by Zoch (an English edition to be distributed by Rio Grande is in the pipeline). The game concerns the shipment of four types of good by boat to the city of Manila. Each player starts with two random shares, secret from the other players, and the value of the shares will increase as more of the good is successfully shipped to Manila. However, the boats are not reliable and often fail to reach port with their cargo. Players hire accomplices, in the hope of earning money through their accomplices’ actions. The accomplices can be deployed in a variety of roles, with payment being determined by the success of that role. Those placed on boats will receive payment if the boat succeeds in reaching port; those working at the port get paid according to how busy the port is; at the shipyard, accomplices will be paid according to the number of boats needing repair; someone in the insurance office will gain or lose depending on how many boats fail to reach port; pilots can affect the likely success of the boats’ journeys but get no other payback; and pirates may be lucky to board or plunder the boats on their voyage. The game is played over a number of rounds and each round has two main phases, plus some admin at the end of the round. The first phase involves the auctioning of the role of harbour-master for the round. Bidding goes around the table until all but one have dropped out. The harbour master gets four advantages: He can buy one share of a particular good (and the harbour master is the only person ever able to buy any shares, over the intitial two everyone receives at the start of the game). There are three boats available each round and each can only ship one type of good, (so one good is not shipped each round) and the harbour master determines which three will be transported. Thirdly, he gets to determine which boats have the furthest to travel to reach port. Finally he gets to place accomplices first in the second phase. The second phase involves placing accomplices and moving the boats. In turn, each player gets to place an accomplice into a role for the current journey and then the dice are rolled to move the boats towards port. This is done three times, following which the round ends. Accomplices are then paid out depending on whether or not each boat reached port. Then the share price of goods that were successfully shipped to Manila are increased. A new round then begins with another auction of the harbour master role. Rounds continue until one good’s share price has been increased four times, at which stage shares are redeemed and whoever has the most money wins the game. In our game, Phil started out the strong leader. He was the only person to pick the pirate role for one of his accomplices in the first round and he came out with a huge profit, as a boat worth 30 landed on the pirate space after the third roll of the dice. We all “seemed” to be playing catch-up from then on. Money was very tight with three players taking loans during the game (Mark K took three, I think). Gaining the harbour master role is good but can leave you short of money when deploying your accomplices. Being able to buy a share though, especially early on, can be very lucrative if the share price of that good escalates considerably. Mark K seemed to like the idea of retaining the harbour master role, despite going into debt, as placement of accomplices first tends to be cheaper and gives one the opportunity of pinching the best roles before anyone else. Phil and I, being 2nd and 3rd in turn order behind the harbour master, were reasonably content to let Mark keep paying, while Nige was unhappy that there was no lucrative role left when it came round to the last player (him) placing accomplices. Maybe he should have pushed Mark K harder in the auctions, especially as Mark K would then still have been 2nd in turn order with Nige as harbour master. Eventually, I persuaded Phil to complete a fourth successful voyage for the beige good and end the game (as he looked to be miles ahead). Unfortunately, beige was the only really valuable share and Mark K and I were the ones holding most of these. Mark K’s indebtedness left me able to declare another win for me – much to Nige’s disgust: He would have been very happy for Phil or even Mark K to take the win but, for some reason, he wanted my loss record to be in an upward direction rather than the wins. We all thought this was a very good, verging on excellent, gambling game. It’s all about playing the odds and whether you want to try for the big gains or play conservatively for small returns. After one playing, the big uncertainty is what the value of the harbour master is. It gives you a fair degree of control but you can still get stuffed by the actions of the pilots and the roll of the dice. Players’ choices are pretty straightforward but judging the best one is not easy. The game took about 80 minutes, but this really depends on the number of successful and unsuccessful voyages there are. Talking to Mark K the next day, we both wondered whether to move our ratings up slightly, as the game was very engaging with people involved all the time. This could see quite a bit of play and definitely needs a repeat playing to try out new things now we know how to play.
Result: Garry 92, Mark K 62, Nige 48, Phil 41, Mark G 25
Ratings: Garry 7, Mark K 7, Nige 7, Phil 8, Mark G 8
Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck (aka Pickomino)
Players: Nige, Phil, Mark G, Mark K, Garry
Another brand new Zoch game is this new dice game from Reiner Knizia, which could be described as Can’t Stop with worms. Sixteen domino-like tiles numbered 21 to 36 are laid in the middle of the table. These also each show a number of worms (between 1 and 4) to be won by claiming that tile. At the end of the game, whoever has won the most worms wins. On a player’s turn, he rolls 8 dice each of which show numbers 1 to 5 and a worm (also worth 5 points) on the sixth side. Having rolled, he has to bank all the dice of one number and can re-roll the remainder. He has to bank a different number (or worm) after each roll and continues either until he can claim a tile or can re-roll no more. If he can claim a tile, either by matching a tile number in the centre or one visible in front of an opponent, he takes it and places it in front of him. If he finishes his turn without claiming a tile, he has to return the last tile he claimed to the middle of the table and remove from the game the highest tile in the centre of the table. It is then the next player’s turn. In our game, we started off with the opening tile won being passed between players, as they matched the previous player’s total. Mark K failed to score on his first turn but, as he had no tiles at that stage, didn’t lose out because of it. He then succeeded in gaining a tile on every subsequent turn and ran out a fairly easy winner. Nige demonstrated why he is not a fan of dice games by not even troubling the scorer. There is a lot of dice rolling in the game and although it is quite fun watching sombody’s prize tile being nabbed by another player, the wait between your turns is a bit excessive. Nige went and made a coffee between turns at one stage. The game is clearly aimed as a bit of family fun but I didn’t think it had the elegance of Can’t Stop and wasn’t anything like as enjoyable as Reiner’s Exxtra.
Result: Mark K 11, Mark G 7, Garry 6, Phil 3, Nige 0
Ratings: Mark K 5, Mark G 6, Garry 4, Phil 5, Nige 4
Players: Mark K, Ian, Mark G, John, Garry
With five of us this week, I suggested to Mark K that I would like to try Wolfgang Kramer’s Wildlife, a game I’ve not played before for some reason. Mark had played it at Christmas and had enjoyed it so I was keen to see how it measured up. The game is set in Stone Age times and is about the competition for survival between various species of creature and man. Each player is one such species and they compete to control the various areas on the board. Players hold a hand of cards each of which shows a terrain that action can be taken in or a special action. On a player’s turn, he uses 3 of his cards, 2 for himself and 1 which is auctioned off to the other players for their immediate use, in return for food chips. The areas are coloured according to the type of terrain they represent and contain a number of spaces to show how many creatures can be placed in the area. Each creature has differing abilities in each terrain (e.g. bears can do nothing in the desert, can migrate on the savannah, expand in the mountains and attack in the forests). However, an Adaptation card allows the player to upgrade his ability on one type of terrain, allowing him more freedom of action for the rest of the game. Ability cards give the holder extra .. err .. abilities, but they are limited in number and can be stolen. Text cards give various advantages to the player playing the card (or disadvantages to other players). Once all the spaces in an area are occupied, the person completing the area receives a number of VPs (3VPs for the earlier areas completed, 5VPs towards the end of the game). Then after the 4th, 8th and (possibly) 11th areas have been completed, all areas are assessed individually and VPs awarded for those with the most of their species present. At the same time, bonus VPs are awarded to those with the largest groups of connected creatures, those whose creatures abilities have advanced the most, those with the most special ability tiles and those with the most food chips. The game ends after the 11th area has been scored or someone has placed all of their creatures onto the board. Most VPs obviously wins. This was a typical Kramer game, trying to maximise your position from a limited number of actions. There is not a lot you can do between your turns but you do tend to be involved in other people’s auctions so downtime is not too much of a problem. Early on, Ian demonstrated his wargame background by taking an Aggression card. He also kept his herd together well, which allowed him to storm ahead on the major scoring, once the fourth area was completed. He also played a Famine Text Card, which cost Mark G and me some vital VPs, as we were low on Food points. John also kept scoring well by keeping to relatively uncontested areas. Once the eighth area was ready to be completed, the aggression started in earnest, with me retaliating against Ian for an earlier incursion into my territory. I scored well at this second major scoring and took a slim lead. I also looked likely to go out on my next turn with just three creatures left to place. However, it didn’t get round to me again. Ian broke up my herd and then Mark G broke up Ian’s, while finishing the last (11th) area. This reduced Ian’s scoring at the end and allowed Mark K, who had kept up with the pace all the way through to grab the win. Missing out on one final turn was deadly for me and, although I had started at the front of the score track, that didn’t make up for the swing I could have achieved if I had managed the same number of turns as everyone else. Despite this, Mark K played really well and showed that his previous experience of the game was not wasted. We all enjoyed the game but thought it just went on a little bit too long. It took about 2.5 hours, although Mark K didn’t think it was as late as it turned out to be. Plenty to think about, as usual for a Kramer game, and I’m sure I would play differently on the game’s next outing.
Result: Mark K 79, Ian 78, Garry 68, John 65, Mark G 63
Ratings: Mark K 7, Ian 7, Garry 7, John 7, Mark G 7
|Six of us gathered at my house this week and we had the pleasure of a new player joining us. Welcome to Ian Morgan. In order to ease Ian in gently, I picked out a few fairly simple games that we’d played recently and I fancied playing again.
Im 80 Tagen Um Die Welt
Players: Mark G, Ian, Nige, Phil, Mark K, Garry
Last time we played this as a three player game and Nige won easily. I still think this was down to his good fortune in drawing low pairs of travel cards at the right time so I was keen to see if his luck would hold out with a full compliment of 6 globetrotters. We started off pretty well bunched going through Paris but Nige then surged forward to become the first into each new city and gain the bonus token. His luck in playing pairs continued from last time and I suspect he was probably printing them under the table as he needed them. Ian decided to follow the opposite strategy of aiming to be last into each city to gain the other bonus token. He just needed to make sure he didn’t fall too far behind as the game ends at the end of the round in which the fourth player arrives back in London. Anyone still on their travels at that point doesn’t finish. As Nige was setting a fairly brisk pace on his circumnavigation of the globe, I decided to try and keep in touch, even if it meant spending a couple of extra days here and there to advance to the next city. It soon became obvious though that this strategy just couldn’t keep me in touch with “Mister Pairs”. So I slowed my pace to try and wait for lower cards to appear in my hand but they just kept evading me. Nige raced into London two full turns before anyone else, using just 69 days. Ian’s hang-back strategy nearly paid off and he would have equalled Nige’s number of days had I not pulled out a grey event card on the final turn (adding a day to everyone’s time). To add insult to my injury, I also failed to finish as my transatlantic transport failed to materialise. So two wins out of two for Nige at this game but, more importantly, a first win for him in 2005. I think everyone enjoyed this one and I’m still keen to keep playing it.
Result: Nige 69, Ian 70, Phil 74, Mark K 78, Mark G 82, Garry – lost at sea
Ratings: Ian 7, Phil 6, Mark K 7, Others already rated
Players: Mark G, Ian, Nige, Phil, Mark K, Garry
Next up was this simple game of out-guessing your opponents that Mark G and I had played before but nobody else had. With six players, the game is much more chaotic than with three. At least with three you stand a reasonable chance of deducing where Pedro might move. The last to go in a six player game has absolutely no chance of knowing which direction is likely to be safe, although this is compensated for by the fact that somebody else might hit the water before it gets round to your turn. The other difficulty with gamers involved is that the those playing first in the round try to make it as difficult as possible for later players by trying to do the unexpected. I think this resulted in some concluding that the game was pure luck. However, there is an element of knowing the character of your opponents, trying to follow what direction cards have been played previously and trying to minimise your potential losses when you are playing your card late in the round. My shining talent in these regards allowed me to take the win. We scored by number of piranhas taken (fewest best) and then by number of stones left in hand (most best). Ian was again a close second, tying with me in not taking any piranhas but losing out by having fewer stones in front of him. Mark G, however, clearly had an affection for the fearsome fishies.
Result: Garry 0 piranhas / 21 stones, Ian 0/17, Nige 1/22, Phil 1/21, Mark K 1/19, Mark G 2
Ratings: Ian 5, Nige 4, Phil 6, Mark K 6, Others already rated
Tanz Der Hornochsen
Players: Mark G, Ian, Nige, Phil, Mark K, Garry
We ended with the boardgame version of 6 Nimmt, which we greatly enjoyed last time we played. In that game, Mark G was mystically drawn to the dung heap and so it was again this time. He was certainly trying hard not to take penalty points but, no matter what he did, he seemed to end up in a cow pat. When we got to the stage of playing two tiles a turn, he deliberated very carefully and then promptly managed to finish two rows in one turn. Very funny! The rest of us stayed pretty close with Phil managing to stay on zero for a long while. However, a couple of unlucky tiles later on proved to be his downfall and this allowed Ian to grab the win. Both new players rated the game as ok and Mark K and Nige thought last time’s ratings may have been a touch high but I still think this is a very nice game and I would stick by my 8 rating.
Result: Ian 11, Garry 15, Nige 19, Phil 26, Mark K 34, Mark G 60
Ratings: Ian 6, Phil 5, Others already rated
Players: Mark K, Phil, Nige, Mark G, Garry
This week, we finally played Friedemann Friese’s Power Grid, a game I had put off buying as I already had the first edition of Funkenschlag. We quite liked the earlier version but it suffered from being a bit long, a bit fiddly and the components (especially the board) were not up to the usual German standard. I’m happy to say Power Grid addresses all these criticisms and is an excellent game. Each player represents a power company who is aiming to buy power stations and resources to supply electricity to a network of cities. Each game round is split into 5 phases: Firstly, turn order is determined for the round (basically determined by who has connected their network to most cities, with ties broken by size of power plant). Then a series of power plant auctions take place where everyone has the opportunity to purchase one power plant. The third phase involves buying resources to be used in your plants, then each player can spend money to expand their network into new cities. Finally, players receive income for the cities they choose to supply power to and some housekeeping takes place ready for the next round. Once a player has a network connected to 15 cities (in the 5 player game), whoever is able to supply power to the most cities at the end of that round wins, with ties being broken by who is left with most cash. Our game was extremely close. We all stayed pretty tightly bunched early on. Then I struck out to a bit of a lead, trying to get a bit of an income advantage. However, the game does not favour the leading player as buying resources and network expansion are done in reverse turn order allowing those players who are trailing to complete these phases more cheaply. This meant that everyone stayed in touch. I thought I had my plan all worked out going into the penultimate turn but a momentary lapse, involving me purchasing two resources more than I needed, cost me the game. If I had not purchased these, I would have been able to afford to connect up to a seventeenth city, but I was 6 Elektros short. This meant I was tied with Phil on sixteen cities (all of which we could supply power to) and he had 27 Elektros cash left to my 15, allowing him to win on the tiebreak. He did play very well though. Nige and Mark G also were able to supply 15 cities on that turn, showing just how close it was. The game felt much improved over Funkenschlag. It took just over 2 hours to play (the original took us well over 2 hours to complete step 1) and the pre-printed routes between cities got around the fiddly route-drawing part of the original without me feeling it lost anything. This is a very worthwhile business game that I thoroughly recommend.
Result: Phil 16 (+27 Elektros), Garry 16 (+15), Nige 15 (+10), Mark G 15 (+5), Mark K 13
Ratings: Phil 7, Garry 8, Nige 7, Mark G 7, Mark K 7
Players: Mark K, Chris, Nige, Garry
With four of us tonight, we decided to try this new game by Cyril Demaegd and self-published under the label Ystari Games. The game is all about placing your brokers into areas of a city, to exert the most influence in order to gain gems and victory points. The board shows a city which is divided into four quarters and each quarter into 3 areas: port, commercial and palace areas. Separately there is also a market where you can place brokers to manipulate the price of gems. There are four main types of gem, red, yellow,green and blue whose price can be manipulated, plus there are black gems which can be won only at the ports and white gems which can be traded for any of the main gems. Each player has 11 brokers with values between 0 and 4. There is also a deck of character cards which players can win in the 4 palace areas, and these give advantages to the owner in later rounds. A game round consists of setting up the gems and character cards available to be won in the current round; bidding for turn order using two of your brokers; playing your brokers into the city or market areas – two brokers at a time until everyone has played 8 brokers; paying out gems, VPs and character cards to those with the most influence in each area; and adjusting the price of gems in the market. The game lasts four rounds after which gems are converted to VPs based on their relative value and whoever has the most VPs is the winner. In our game, I got off to a pretty good start in the first two rounds, picking up some useful VPs cheaply in the commercial areas and some gems. However, my gems were the least valuable. Chris seemed to be keen to manipulate the prices at market and pick up the odd gem of the more valuable colours here and there. In the third round, Mark in particular picked on me, as he viewed me as the leader, and I had a disastrous round. Nige continued to concentrate on black gems, which paid a fixed price (in VPs) at the end of the game, based on how many you had collected. However, the final round was the critical one. In this round, the palce areas each pay out one white gem and Chris decided he wanted these, a feat he achieved relatively unopposed. He also picked up a white gem from the market and by careful allocation of these to the most valuable colour he moved from having the third-most gems in that colour to having the most. As he also had the most gems in the second-most valuable colour, he cruised past us on the scoreboard for a great win. The white gems individually don’t make that much difference but allowing him to win five had a huge effect. We all quite liked Ys: It is fairly easy to understand your goals and there are multiple ways to achieve progress in the game. It took a little bit longer than we would have liked ideally but it is a good debut from M. Demaegd.
Result: Chris 87, Mark K 74, Garry 72, Nige 68
Ratings: Chris 7, Mark K 7, Garry 6, Nige 6
Players: Mark K, Chris, Nige, Garry
We then decided to dip into this new card game by Michael Schacht. Don’t be fooled by the Coloretto link: It has very little to do with the original and is a much simpler game (even accepting that Coloretto itself is pretty simple). The game is played with 90 cards, each card showing one of 18 different species of animal in one of four colours. Each player is trying to collect sets of cards in the four different colours. A set consists of between 4 and 7 different animals in a colour. Once you have completed a set, these cards are set aside for scoring at the end. In addition the first player to complete a set of a particular colour receives a bonus card worth 4 to 7 points. The game ends once a player has completed three columns or the deck of cards runs out. Each player has a hand of three cards and on his turn he can either play a card for himself or offer it to an opponent. Playing a card for onesself merely involves adding it to one of the four colour sets you are collecting. However, duplicates of the same animal species cannot appear in your set. Playing a duplicate means both duplicated cards are discarded. A card offered to an opponent (often a duplicate of a card he has already played) can either be accepted or rejected. If accepted, he adds it to the relevant set or, if a duplicate exists, discards both the card offered and the duplicate. If rejected, the offered card is discarded together with a card of a set in an adjacent colour. (Card sets are laid in columns in a given colour order). If you do not have a card in the adjacent column, you have to accept the offered card. At the end of your turn you draw a new card to return your hand to three cards. At the end of the game, cards in your hand are discarded; uncompleted sets are scored based on the number of cards in the set ( 1 point for 1 card, 3 for 2, 6 for 3 etc.) Completed sets score using the same method, bonus cards are added and whoever has the highest total wins. Our game took about 15-20 minutes. Nige complained of only picking up cards of one colour, which doesn’t help if you need to protect that colour by having an adjacent colour to allow you to reject offered duplicates. The choices all seemed farly obvious: Better to play a card for yourself than offer it but it is sometimes worth attack someone getting close to completing a set. Make sure you’ve got adjacent coloured cards to protect your more valuable sets. Try and win a bonus card. The game is clearly aimed as being a light family game and it is pleasent enough but it doesn’t have the gut-wrenching dilemnas of original Coloretto. I managed to grab the win once the deck had run out.
Result: Garry 35, Nige 30, Mark K 29, Chris 26
Ratings: Garry 6, Nige 5, Mark K 5, Chris 6
Players: Nige, Mark G, John, Garry
I had just received a new order from Adam Spielt and knew that Nige would be keen to play this new game from Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. I’ve not seen news of an English edition yet, so spent Thursday evening translating the rules. They turned out to be pretty simple but deceptively so because the game is full of difficult choices. Australia is themed around groups of Rangers who are working on nature and industry projects throughout the country in the 1920s. It could, however, just as easily have had another Tikal/Java/Mexica tag because the gameplay is fairly abstract. The board is a map of the country, split into 24 regions in six different colours. In each region, there is a nature project and an industry project which pay out Victory Points once they have been completed. Bordering each region are a number of bases where rangers can be placed. Players control an aeroplane and a limited number of rangers and are trying to place the latter in order to optimise their scoring potential when the projects conclude. Each turn, every player will perform two out of three possible actions: Fly your plane to a region; play a card to collect money and place Rangers from your supply into the region where your plane is situated; or remove up to four rangers from the region where your plane is. The cards determine which coloured region you can place rangers in, how many rangers can be placed (between 1 and 4), and how many dollars you can collect (3 if you can place just 1 ranger / zilch if you can place 4). The dollars are then used to turn the colour of a card to a different one of your choice, move a ranger from any base to any other base, or for VPs at the end of the game. Scoring occurs when projects are completed: for nature projects, this is when every base in that region has at least one ranger on it; for industry projects, it is when a certain number of rangers are present in that region. Whoever triggers the scoring receives 3 VPs and then every player receives 1 VP for each ranger they have in that region (or 2 VPs for rangers on a base at sea). In the advanced game, rangers can also be involved in a windmill project, which scores every time a certain number of nature/industry projects has been completed. Every time, a card is played, a replacement is taken from one of the four draw piles, and once a player runs out of cards and cannot draw a replacement, the game ends. Dollars are then converted to VPs and whoever has accumulated the most VPs wins. This is an excellent game, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Although your choice of actions is limited, there are lots of scoring opportunities and choosing which to concentrate on is tricky. Two actions is never enough and your supply of rangers (11 in a four player game) is so limited that you are constantly having to weigh up when to fly your plane into regions to remove rangers for use on your next turn. Also, very often you are trying to set yourself up for scoring on your next turn, but at the same time you risk setting an opponent up before you. We thought early on there might be a runaway leader problem, as John raced ahead and looked to be nicely placed for future scoring. However, he got pegged back while having to recover rangers for use elsewhere and by about three quarters of the way through, we all were within five points of each other (at around 90 points each). I then managed to capitalise on one turn being able to trigger three sets of scoring and this pushed me ahead enough so the others were unable to catch up. We played the advanced version, which isn’t much more advanced than the basic one, and John scored lots of easy points as he was the only one really to concentrate on the windmills. It will be very interesting to see how players approach the next game, as I am already thinking about different things I could have done to score better (despite the fact I won). This is a pretty good sign and I wouldn’t bet against this being there or thereabouts for the Spiel Des Jahres this time. It’s got plenty to think about but is very simple mechanically.
Result: Garry 137, John 133, Nige 119, Mark G 107
Ratings: Garry 8, John 8, Nige 9, Mark G 9
Players: Nige, Mark G, John, Garry
We then tried Aaron Weissblum’s bluffing balloon game, which has recently been released by Out Of The Box in the UK. I played the original FX Schmid version several years ago and really enjoyed it. The OOTB version is a bit more streamlined and works ok for a light family game, but the game is a bit poorer for some of the elements they’ve left out. Greg Aleknevicus expands on this in his Games Journal review. Everybody starts with their playing piece in the balloon and players take turns controlling the balloon. The controller rolls a number of dice, which will show a combination of cards that the player has to discard from his hand for the balloon to successfully rise to the next level. The higher the balloon rises, the more points are available to be scored. Between rolling the dice and playing cards, each player other than the controller has the option of getting out of the balloon and banking the points accumulated so far on this flight. If they stay in, they could get more points if the controller has the right cards but, if he fails, the balloon crashes and anyone still in the balloon scores nothing. Players start with six cards each but only draw one additional card after each flight, no matter how many cards they’ve played meantime. Several flights are run until someone reaches 50 points at which stage the person with the most points wins. John again set off to an early lead, whereas I was lagging at the back. However, when I was in control of the balloon, I kept rolling blanks and so conserving my cards. I managed to push a solo flight to 15 points which pushed me into the lead and just 14 points from the finish line. Nige and I then embarked on an epic flight and although I bailed out at 15 points, I knew Nige couldn’t catch me, although he did successfully get to the maximum 25 points to finish just one point adrift of my score. Again we enjoyed this as a light filler but next time we play, I’m going to re-introduce the rules left out of the OOTB edition.
Result: Garry 51, Nige 50, Mark G 43, John 42
Ratings: Garry 6, Nige 5, Mark G 7, John 7
|This week, we congregated at my house and were able to welcome a newcomer, Phil Davies, to the group.
Players: John, Chris, Mark K, Mark G, Phil, Garry
We started off with a quick game of Bluff. Chris and Phil had never played before but it is very easy to pick up. Unfortunately, Chris got burned very early on by an unlikely dice distribution. He was called on a bid of 6 stars only to find his was the only star under all the cups (out of about 28 dice). Well, if you’re going to go out early, best to make it spectacular. While we were finishing off, he started watching a film so decided to give the rest of the games a miss. Meanwhile, I quickly followed Chris out of the game after one particularly poor raise. Phil stuck around for a while but he was next to be expelled. Mark K, however, played fairly conservatively and walked away with an easy win, only losing a single die.
Result: Mark K, Mark G, John, Phil, Garry, Chris
Ratings: John 7, Phil 7, others already rated
Players: John, Mark K, Mark G, Phil, Garry
We then moved onto the Friedmann Friese game of trying to escape a dungeon while avoiding the monster. We’ve played this before and it was again an enjoyable affair, although I have to say this time it took a bit longer than previously. People were being very careful over their moves. The first turn saw the monster draw two stakes which brought him all the way into the thick of things straight away. A lot of carnage ensued on the next few turns with everybody having characters sent back to the start. We got through the monster deck the first time without a single character having escaped. Eventually, Mark K managed to sneak one past, while everyone else seemed to be ganging up on my characters, even Phil the newcomer. I put him straight saying that if he carried on like that, I wasn’t going to invite him again. It didn’t seem to do any good and I was first to lose a second character, guaranteeing I couldn’t win. Then Mark K lost his other two, leaving him hoping that the game would run out without anybody getting two characters to freedom. However, despite the monster eating characters left right and centre, John and Mark G both managed to keep two characters alive and, although he was last to get his first character out, John quickly managed to guide his second one through the exit to seal the win.
Result: John = winner
Ratings: John 8, Mark G 6, Phil 8, Mark K 6, Garry 7
|This week’s session was hosted by John and we had the possibility of one of Mark G’s friends joining us. He didn’t as it turned out but I had chosen some lighter games to accommodate him and we went ahead with these anyway.
Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers
Players: John, Mark K, Mark G, Garry
None of the others had played this before so I was interested to see how they thought it compared with the original Carcassonne. This one is set in the Stone Age and the castles and roads are replaced by forests and rivers. There are no monasteries but instead you get a new type of piece: a fishing hut that scores points at the end of the game depending on the size of the river system it is placed upon. The basics of the game are the same: place a tile, add one of your pieces to that tile if you wish, and draw a replacement tile. The scoring is slightly altered and works better in my opinion – especially the meadows where you get two points for each animal in that meadow. Also, if when you score a forest, it contains a gold nugget, you receive a bonus tile which is usually a more lucrative piece than the standard tiles. There is more of an incentive, therefore, for completing forests quickly even if you don’t necessarily score the points yourself. In our game, Mark G and I raced away early on completing some rivers for quick points. John got stuck with some pieces tied up in a couple of large forests. He did pick up the ruins special action tile, however, but had to place it in such a way that he would need to connect it up to a large meadow later in the game. Unfortunately, he forgot about this and allowed me to score some extra points for a meadow that rightfully should have been his. Mark K steadily built up his position and had control of a couple of largish meadows. He also had a useful fishing hut, as did Mark G, while I missed out. Each time I resolved to play a hut, somebody just beat me to it. At the end, Mark K pushed me all the way but that gifted meadow from John was enough for me to just pull ahead for the win. We all enjoyed this game and Mark K and I agreed that it played more cleanly than the original – the scoring was a bit more straightforward and it is something a newcomer would pick up more easily. Now Mark K isn’t overly keen on the original so it was good to see him rate it as a 7, a figure we unanimously agreed with.
Result: Garry 118, Mark K 108, Mark G 92, John 65
Ratings: Garry 7, Mark K 7, Mark G 7, John 7
Players: John, Mark K, Mark G, Garry
Next up was this simple but clever race game from Leo Colivini. I very much liken it to Hare & Tortoise and have enjoyed it every time I’ve played. None of the others had tried it so I took them through the very simple rules. The board displays a tunnel leading from a prison cell to a waiting boat and freedom. Each player controls six prisoners and aims to get all six of his prisoners to the boat first to win the game. Each space has a symbol printed on it and the symbols correspond to those on your hand of cards. Each player starts off with six cards and on his turn he has three ‘moves’. Each move can either be to play a card and move one prisoner forward to the next unoccupied space showing that symbol; or to move a prisoner backwards to the next space occupied by one or two prisoners and pick up one or two cards respectively. Note the Hare & Tortoise parallel. So the game is about judging when to spend cards to move prisoners as far forward as they can go and when to fall back slightly to replenish your hand with cards. Mark G moved a man into the boat first but still had a couple of prisoners still in the cells. The rest of us tried to make some progress with all of our prisoners. There was plenty of jockeying for position as spaces allowing large moves forward were quickly vacated to slow the stragglers down. Mark K took full advantage of collecting cards and had a fistful as we approached the end. Both he and I had a chance to win on the same turn but, even though I was first to play, I didn’t have the right symbols to get my last prisoner out. Mr “Card Bank” however had no such difficulties and took the victory. I really like Cartagena. It is simple but there is plenty to think about. There is an advanced version where you play with cards in view but I think this slows the game down too much, with people spending too much time analysing the game position, and I greatly prefer the speed of the hidden cards. Mark K resolved to open one of the shop copies and play it again soon. Good stuff.
Result: Mark K = winner
Ratings: Mark K 8, Garry 7, John 8, Mark G 7
Players: John, Mark K, Mark G, Garry
We just had time for one more game and, continuing our theme for the night of Games Beginning With The Letter C, we picked Coloretto. Last time we played, it didn’t get terribly good ratings but I’ve played since and quite like it for a quick 15-20 minute game. Mark G had not played before. This game played into Mark G’s hands from very early on and even though we tried to peg him back, nothing seemed to work. Mark K and I both had collections with all seven colours whereas John played very conservatively, often picking up just one card per round. It almost worked for him but Mark G did enough to hold on despite having some negative cards. I asked for ratings and we all rated it higher than last time. We reasoned that the lack of enjoyment last time was probably because ‘No fun’ Nige was playing.
Result: Mark G 27, John 23, Garry 19, Mark K 17
Ratings: Mark G 8, John 8, Garry 7, Mark K 6
|Struggle of Empires
Players: Mark K, Mark G, Nige, John, Garry
We’ve all been looking forward to getting the new Warfrog game to the table ever since I got back from Essen but we’ve not had a decent opportunity when we’ve all been at the Club until tonight. Struggle of Empires is definitely a gamer’s game. It is complex in its rules and the multitude of options available to players on each turn. And it is pretty long. Knowing this, we agreed to play through just two wars rather than three as we knew this was going to be very much a learning game. The game is set in the 18th century and is about the battle for dominance by the European powers both within Europe and the colonies. Players represent one of the European powers and command a number of forces (armies, navies and forts) with the aim of establishing control tokens in the eleven areas being fought over. Victory points are awarded according to the balance of control tokens between the players in each area. The game is played over three wars (rounds) and each war consists of a number of phases. First, counters are placed on the board, mainly representing neutral country forces (although some allow colonisation or enslavement to take place later in the round). Next comes one of the most interesting aspects of the game: alliances. Each player has to join one of two alliances and allied countries are obliged not to attack one another during the current war. However, players must bid gold to influence which countries join which alliance and this can be extremely important in keeping threatening countries at bay. Once the alliances have been formed, players have five rounds of actions, in which to develop their position on the map. This can be through introducing new armies navies or forts to the map; moving forces around; taking one of the multitude of action tiles (giving various advantages to the holder); colonising or enslaving in a country where permitted; or attacking opposing forces / neutral forces. Once these action rounds have taken place, players receive income and pay maintenance costs, following which VPs are awarded and marked on the scoring track. The game then moves onto the next war and after three wars the game is over. However, at the end, a deduction to the VP totals is made to those players whose countries have generated the most unrest at home (this having been collected by losing battles or taking certain action tiles). Most VPs after this adjustment wins.
After going through the rules and having taken medication for the headaches we had all acquired, we set off through the first war. For some reason, nobody wanted to be allied with me (Britain) but eventually John drew the short straw. The German States saw a heavy infiltration of forces from Nige and Mark K while Mark G consolidated an impenetrable position in the Baltic. John looked abroad to the Caribbean for his rewards, while I flitted around the globe trying to get a presence in lots of places. At the end of the first round, Nige had a slight VP lead with me in second. The second war saw lots of German native forces appear (not surprising with both Nige and Mark K on their doorstep. I paid to be allied with Nige and to have Nige and Mark K in opposing alliances. This made it more difficult for them to battle the German natives and Nige picked up some critical unrest through a couple of badly fought battles. Towards the end of the round, four of us chose to take tiles to reduce unrest, leaving Nige with the most unstable economy at home and losing him 7VPs. This proved critical in pushing him back into second place behind me. We all enjoyed this and were only really starting to delve into the options by the end. I think a third war would have added more to the game by allowing for more longer-term planning and we didn’t concentrate overly on the action tiles. The game took just over two hours after the lengthy rules summary so it should just fit into a normal evening session now we’ve played it once. One thing we felt was a little strange (I hope we didn’t miss a rule) was that, once you had a control token in an area, if you then moved your forces out, the CT would stay there without fear of attack and continue to generate VPs at the end of each war. This was particularly obvious in the Ottoman Empire where I drew a CT in my initial set up (the only player to do so) and the native force was very strong. This meant nobody moved any forces in there and I was the only one to score in that area each round. Others would have liked to attack me in that area but as I had no units there, they couldn’t. Anyway, overall a very involving and interesting game with lots to try. I liked it a lot and hope we will play again soon.
Result: Garry 53, Nige 48, Mark G 42, Mark K 39, John 29
Ratings: Garry 8, Nige 7, Mark G 7, Mark K 7, John 8