"It feels like there's skill required in this game. But there's no skill in this game. It might as well just be dice."
"The Newcastle United principle applies: you can't leave it too late to make a comeback."
"This game is clever, but it's too clever for me."
These statements were all uttered by Mr N during our last play of The King Is Dead: Second Edition.
The game eventually arrived amongst our pile of Christmas games after a voyage of BGG discovery. I can't exactly remember how I came across this game, but I know it was definitely on the wishlist before No Pun Included declared it their joint game of the year (2020) and sent it rapidly out of stock at all UK retailers that autumn. If my memory isn't false, I think it all came about after a friend was saying they were looking for good two-player co-operative games. The Lost Expedition came up on a couple of lists and then of course down the rabbit hole of clicking I went and discovered that hardcore Peer Sylvester fans were raving about another game of his: König von Siam, that had been reskinned as The King Is Dead, saying something along the lines of, "It's his most original and masterful work". Well of course that piqued my curiosity and I realised that the game was out of print. But not for long! The King Is Dead: Second Edition was released shortly after that by Osprey with their customarily beautiful production values. Sadly I missed getting a copy of that printing, as I also did at UKGE when the restock copies had sold out before I could snag one. But the best things come to those who wait, and finally it was gifted to me by my parents for Christmas.
Eight map areas of the UK are each randomly seeded with four cubes: in blue (Scotland), red (Wales) and yellow (England). Control of each region will be resolved in a predetermined order (cards assigned at the side of the board) based on colour majority of the cubes in that area. This occurs if all players have chosen to pass in sequence. Each player on their turn can play a card, resolve its instruction and then take any cube from the map (summon a follower to their court) or pass.
To win the game you need to either a) have the most cubes in your 'court' of the faction with the most control on the board when all power struggles have been resolved or b) have the most sets of all three factions if a French Invasion occurs. In the event of a 'draw' during a power resolution then a French token will be placed instead of a British faction (they take advantage of the existing balanced power struggle). If all three French tokens are placed the game will immediately end and the player with the most sets of followers will win.
All players have identical hands of eight cards, and can play each of them only once. The cards are: English Support, Scottish Support, Welsh Support (each of these places two cubes of that faction's colour next to an area already controlled by that faction), Manoeuvre (swap two cubes between any two areas), Outmanoeuvre (swap one cube with two cubes from an adjacent region) and Negotiate (swap the order in which two regions will be resolved) along with two Assemble cards (add a cube of each colour to three separate regions - one each).
Sounds easy enough doesn't it? Or even if it doesn't, in real life the outworking of the rules is actually very straightforward. But what is not so straightforward is how you can be the one who has backed the most successful faction by the time the game ends. The most obvious starting point is to assess which two cubes were assigned to your court at the beginning of the game. I have two Scots, you have a Scot and an Englishman. Therefore I am going to try and make sure that the Scots gain control of the most areas, right? Not so simple - there begins a type of cold war - my opponent will take Scottish followers from the board to their court so as not to fall behind, but that also reduces the amount of Scottish influence on the board... So maybe I will try and fool my opponent into thinking that's what I am doing, whereas secretly I am going to try and split the influence of Scots and Welsh and then back the English in the second half of the game. Or maybe what I am really planning is to force power stalemates so the French invade and I will be ready with multiple sets of all three colour cubes with which to back the new occupiers. All of this with just eight cards. That's eight card activations with the accumulation of eight more followers from the board to my court. And all that only if I get the chance to play all my cards. The decisions are not just about which cards to play, but also when, and whether to play cards at all. It's very much a delicate balancing act - if I let my opponent play more cards at the beginning and have too much influence over which factions win the early regions, I may risk not being able to change the final outcome. If I play too many cards at the beginning of the game then I leave my opponent with many more options in the end-game. The early game can feel arbitrary, with both players tentatively dancing around each other, trying to subtly influence the board while also keeping as many options open as possible, figuring out which faction to back. Mr N originally felt like it didn't much matter what you did in the first part of the game. But it does matter. It matters which follower cubes are where on the map. It matters which followers your opponent has summoned to their court. It matters which factions have won the first few power struggles. It matters which cards you've played that you can't get back. It matters which cards your opponent has played and can't get back. It all matters. And the fact that it all matters is what makes the game so intriguing, so tantalising, so fascinating, so addictive.
(And this is all before playing the game at three players, or with the four-player team game variant, or with the asymmetric advanced play cards thrown in!)
"I haven't googled it or anything, but I've been thinking about what to do and I've worked out how to win. I'm not going to say how. If I tell you then it won't work any more."
Fighting talk, Mr N. Fighting talk. We'll have to see about that!
Stuff you don't need to know. Just some (not so) idle musings about 2020s life in the UK, playing board games, family and friendship.
21 Jan 2022
- [+] Dice rolls
17 Jan 2022
My sister and brother-in-law are simply huge Downton fans and so we bought Obsession for them as a Christmas present last year. Well, a delayed Christmas present, that arrived in March. Religious forum-checking here had meant that I had managed to bag one of the few UK-bound reprint copies. They still hadn't managed to break it out of its shrink by the time that we all managed to get together at my parents' in the summer and so of course I volunteered to sort the components and teach them the game that I had learned from some run-throughs online.
That experience with the game only caused me to resume the religious checking-of-forums in the hope of getting our own copy from the next printing! Sure enough, the precious gift managed to
wingsail its way from distant eastern lands to our humble abode in time for Christmas.Assimilation of base game, Wessex Expansion, Upstairs/Downstairs (bagged separately to be added in after a few games) and the Useful Box.
Last week I was pleased to be commemorating the arrival of other well-travelled gifts, offered by mysterious pilgrims in honour of a new-born King. Yes, our choir's regular engagement of singing Epiphany Eucharist in Durham Cathedral had been reinstated after a year off (you know why). It's funny how in over two decades we'd never missed a year, in spite of seasonal illness and poor weather conditions trying their best to disrupt our commitment. Saying that, seasonal illness and weather conditions still left us shorter of singers this year than we had hoped, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that you take what you can get while you can and be grateful!Durham Cathedral now stream online via Facebook and so if you're interested you can see the service here. I recommend the anthem at 56'25 if you only have five minutes.
In previous years we have taken the opportunity to host a little gathering for the choir after the service, with it being a relatively short and easy drive up the A1 to ours. I was umming and aahing this year about whether it was wise or manageable to offer this or not, but was pleased in the end that I did (with encouragement from Mr N)! So the guests were duly invited (at the rehearsal for local singers and via Whatsapp), the event planning undertaken (groceries acquired, food prepped and house frantically tidied) and service requirement organised (hubby and kids left with a list of what to do before I returned from singing). Now I'd like to say that my motives were not to curry favour or gain reputation, but it was still nice to be appreciated on the Whatsapp group the next morning! And to be thanked by one choir member for 'saving her Christmas' was really special (she spent it alone after Covid in the family prevented her travelling to be with those loved ones) .
I'd like to say that my Obsession outing resulted in similar sweet blessings but alas, my Asquiths were not so discerning in the company they kept! My dubious intentions of taking advantage of cads, heiresses and gossips were left largely unrealised, and sadly I could not manage to dispel them all from the social circle before the final courtship. Mr N's streak of beginner's luck (that had started with Meeple Circus) obviously helped him on his way to a decisive victory. Only two more points on my tiles (or a service card drawn in the last round) would have managed to obtain the final favour of a Fairchild, but it still wouldn't have been enough to make a difference to the scores. Mr N had excelled himself, building and showcasing many additions to his family seat (i.e. gaining and flipping a lot of tiles in his tableau), as well as becoming the most upstanding household in the community (maxing out on reputation), on top of completing all three objective cards - two of which were high-scoring tile combos. Our son did well to come in second. He was steadily advancing his estate until he managed to fast-track his social ascent by making excellent use of the National Holiday to put on an event with six gentry. He had just enough servants to attend to the guests and managed to rake in a lot of favours that turn. Meanwhile I was wasting reputation points by sweeping the builder's market trying to get the Cabinet of Curiosities for my Gentlemen's Group objective. I did succeed in getting this, but the money and reputation in hindsight could probably have been better spent to gain other sources of points, especially as I had several prestige guests who could have all brought in significant boons had I co-ordinated my servants accordingly. However, in spite of a poor performance on behalf of the Asquiths I'm desperate to have another go at the game. This might even be an attempt with a solo opponent (I still rarely game solo but such is the keenness to experience more of the game). I am convinced that I can do better at training suitable staff, developing the grounds and hosting attractive events to improve my social circle and community standing!
- [+] Dice rolls
10 Jan 2022
Following on from my last post, the New Year's Eve gathering was a success - the slow cookers cooked the curries to perfection and the hairdryer maintenance on the fridge-freezer seemed to do the trick. The group games engaged adults and kids alike in silly, but competitive(!), fun (Santa Banter featured again here) and passed the hours until it was time to hear the bongs (real ones this year), watch the broadcast fireworks with a glass in hand and sing Auld Lang Syne. Almost as if the pandemic had never happened. The LFTs were as good as their single lines indicated as no reported cases of unwanted viruses have emerged!
Thankfully, gone are the days when the kids are up painfully early on New Year's Day and instead we had a lazy start with a New Year's Day brunch followed by a walk with friends. The rough route was planned, using some of the public rights of way that criss-cross the fields north of Washington, which we had explored more thoroughly during lockdown. A bit of hazy cloud limited the views of the North East that we could get from Shadens Hill, but we could see Penshaw Monument to the south, the Spire and Monkwearmouth Bridges before the eastern coastline and the Angel of the North to the north-west.
Our route then continued, taking in two historic winding engine houses that would have provided the power to haul waggons on ropes up one of the oldest railway routes, and we walked partly along some of those disused tracks.
In spite of being so close to the Angel, we had never actually walked as far as the statue before, but January 1st was the day for it, and we managed to incorporate a visit into a figure of eight route from there back home across muddy fields.
Upon return to the house we warmed up with hot drinks, and played a game with combined Timeline sets with our friends, accompanied by a selection of leftover sweet treats! Unfortunately I performed pretty poorly. My cards all pertained to the industrial era which was fast becoming the most crowded section of the timeline, making it difficult for my hit and hope placements to be successful!
Amongst the Christmas gifts was Meeple Circus. The kids and I had played this in a board games café and had lots of (frustrating) fun with it and so my daughter had put it on her wishlist of games.
The fact that Mr N is a compulsive component fidgeter added to the assumption that this would be a good fit for the family! Needless to say, all of that shuffling and stacking (and good eye for the draft) must have come in handy as Mr N sprang to a win in this game, reaching the dizzying heights of 65 points on his first play. Or maybe it was beginner's luck. Yes. That will be it. Definitely beginner's luck.
- [+] Dice rolls
31 Dec 2021
Christmas has been extremely good to us all this year. With the four of us each having games on our wishlists combined with generous family members, it can seem a little overwhelming receiving a year's worth of games within a few days. Notwithstanding two early January birthdays - so more still to come. We are pretty good at having a non-existent shelf-of-shame most of the year - but January is the exception - although I think shelf-of-anticipation may be a more appropriate term.
We have been blessed to have been able to see both sides of the family over the four-day holiday weekend, and festive fun has featured heavily alongside the festive food.
Santa Banter was a kind gift from my in-laws and the Obama Llama Christmas spin-off went down well! My eleven year old daughter reinforced suspicions that she is rapidly becoming a force to contend with as far as games are concerned, so I was pleased she was on my team. She correctly guessed from her brother's charades that it was 'six-pack' that rhymed with 'Santa's sack', allowing us to satisfyingly 'steal' from the boys' team.
But gender stereotypes aside(?) this is what we have going on in our house today - preparations for our permitted, if borderline irresponsible, reinstated New Year's Eve party.
Mr N decided he was sick of beige party buffet food so has masterminded curries in the slow cookers - yes I have dutifully switched them on! The self-limiting guest list has made the catering a much less daunting task than it might have been, but the spanner in the works has come in the way of a refrigerator running warm. I'm hoping that my suspicion is incorrect that frequent power cuts/surges on Christmas morning have fried the compressor and that by defrosting the back of the freezer and unblocking the drainpipe thingy, along with a desperate prayer, that the fridge will miraculously start working again! I know there is no reason why I shouldn't do this handy work with screwdriver and hairdryer, and why Mr N shouldn't cover the catering, but we do tend to usually play to our strengths. I'll leave it at that .
Anyway, along with our own Christmas acquisitions (plenty of subsequent blog material), we also got to play some games new to us that were gifts for my sister and brother-in-law. They received Sagrada from our parents and Cascadia from us, and we got both to the table over the long weekend. (Apologies for the lack of photographs but I was doing my best to be tech-free!)
As teachers, they are not just limited in time, but also in energy and general brain-power. So hopefully Cascadia will suit them well, as a not-too-taxing, not-too-long game to play, that also works well with two. I particularly loved building the map regions and the puzzly nature of comboing the superimposed animal configurations. I particularly didn't love being beaten by a single point (it came down to the rivers majority ). But regardless, spatial puzzles with (the newly-coined) entwined drafting element: I'm a fan. It immediately reminded Mr N of Calico, and he wasn't surprised to find that the Beth-Sobel-illustrated-hex-drafting games were masterminded by the same development team. However, in contrast, it wasn't Cascadia that gave me that Calico vibe, but the dice-drafting, stained glass window creation game, Sagrada. This may have been helped by us having the objectives of no two similar colours or similar number values in any column. But the torment of each placement having multiple knock-on effects to (potential) adjacent dice, in turn which have multiple knock-on effects to those (potential) adjacent dice, as well as having to gamble (hope beyond hope) that the colour-value combination you need on a die will come up was very reminiscent of the colour-pattern combinations you are desperate for in Calico, along with the inevitable judgement call of when you sacrifice either a colour/value/pattern objective to lock in another.
Anyway, on that note, I shall leave you and hopefully establish that the slow cookers are not running cool and the fridge is not running warm. That is one role-reversal I can do without! Although if I have to sacrifice one objective to lock in another I'll take the curry being hot for now! Preserving leftovers is a problem that can wait until next year.
Happy New Year everyone and see you in 2022!
- [+] Dice rolls
23 Nov 2021
As much as I complain about the diary being full, I don't ever regret being part of a wonderful choir. I don't think I quite realised how much I'd missed this part of my life until monthly rehearsals started up again in September. The first line we sang that evening was, 'Locus iste a deo factus est' (This place was made by God). Never a truer word
spokensung: singing together again was divine. Last weekend our rehearsing turned to pieces planned for our Christmas concert. These had mostly been drawn from music already in our repertoire (there hasn't been much time to get back into the swing of things and learn lots of new material), but there were still a couple of new pieces to learn, in addition to perfecting the familiar ones!
As it turned out, I ended up bringing a friend along who was keen to try out the choir, as he could no longer join in university music ensembles since he finished his course. This turned out well, as not only did he enjoy the singing, but we invited him back to ours for soup and sandwich and a board game or two (actually three).
Our daughter suggested The Muddles which she had received for her birthday the other week after enjoying it in a games café on holiday. A card game on the simpler side from Big Potato games, it was a fun filler to get us started, with our guest and our son tying for the victory.
Next we played Point Salad. Mr N and I both played either extremely poorly or extremely unluckily! Somehow I managed to get conflicting objectives which meant I ended up taking alternative vegetables several times, hoping I could get some better objectives to be able to score them later in the game. Needless to say, these never materialised. Once again the win was going to be between our son with a pepper specialism and our guest with his tomato specialism. Our guest pipped our son with 91 points.
Horrified was next with a defeat against The Mummy, Creature From the Black Lagoon and the Invisible Man. The Invisible Man made a fair few items disappear at the beginning of the game, reducing our chances of picking up items with which to defend ourselves. It was pretty horrifying, the amount of punches we rolled! And worse, that we couldn't roll with the punches. So the terror level was going up quickly. We managed to make good progress on The Mummy mid game, who was finally eliminated by Mummy. We were then conveniently positioned with the items we needed to make quick work of the Creature, but more unlucky card draws and rolls meant the monsters rather made quick work of us. In hindsight we should have used our 'move the monster' perks sooner, which would have not only prevented the terror level rising, but also prevented our characters being moved to the hospital, which was the opposite end of the board to where the items were spawning at that stage. Ah well, you win some, you lose some I guess.- - - -
If you fancy a sample of our sound and Christmas in Newcastle upon Tyne check out this (old) promo video...
- [+] Dice rolls
15 Nov 2021
It's been reassuring to find that I'm not the only one who seems to be finding it a challenge to readjust to the quickening pace of existence in this season of 'new normal'! I confess the return of school, activities and social engagements has left me pretty exhausted. How did I ever manage the unceasing everyday before? To be fair to myself, we have had a few extra things thrown into the mix this term which were either unexpected or are transient stages, so after Christmas there should be a little more slack in our schedule. In the short-term however, the busy-ness will get worse before it gets better (the dreaded Winter Pressures* are already kicking in for Mr N), but at least there is the consolation that many of the activities filling our diary will be fun festivities and traditions with family and friends, that will break up the monotony of the ever-shortening days.
Our gaming has reflected the accelerating pace of life - my play log since term started rightly giving the impression of snatched opportunities to squeeze in a short game of something while time or energy allows.
No Thanks! was purchased as an accessible, lightweight game with a good player count, to take on our church ladies' weekend away ("Lindsey, you're into games - can you bring some?" Of course I was happy to oblige). Although this one didn't actually get taken out of the box that time (unlike Can't Stop, Point Salad and Village Green), we've played it several times with the kids, and also introduced it successfully to both sets of grandparents and also some friends. Mr N has maintained his position in the clan as 'bidding games' master. I anticipate this will quickly become a family classic. Our children have also learned not to reply, "No Thanks!" if they're not in the mood to play something when asked...
It took a while to get Scotland Yard to the table after finding this in a charity shop on holiday, but once we had overcome the step of learning how to play, it became the second most frequently played game of autumn. I maintained my resolution to teach the game as 'Mrs X' and managed to give the rookie detectives the slip. Since then, several other slippery characters have been on the loose, none of whom have evaded capture! I'm impressed with how the kids have engaged with this game - actively giving suggestions for movements, not arguing(!) and each having very respectable attempts at avoiding the detectives as Miss/Mr X. Mr N was last to try being Mr X and might have gotten away had he not double-backed as the net was closing in. Increasingly, the end-game seems to become more of a bluffing game than a movement game, and we love the way the tension builds as the number of possible locations gradually reduce, but so do the number of tickets available to the detectives! Four players seems to be a good number for playing - I think if Mr X had to avoid four or five detectives it would become much more tricky.
Jaws has appealed to Mr N for a while now, but our relative unfamiliarity with one-versus-many/hidden movement games had caused us to hang back on getting it. The co-op variant only playing three players instead of four had also not helped sell it to us. However, we have been so pleasantly surprised at how much we've enjoyed Scotland Yard, that it means Jaws is well and truly on the Christmas list. We'll have to see what Santa brings...Mrs X strikes
*The understatement used to describe the strain put on the NHS of the UK's seasonal healthcare needs.
- [+] Dice rolls
18 Oct 2021
Buying reduced-price board games can be a little hit and miss. I know this, and yet I am still a sucker for a bargain. Am I the only one who tries to surreptitiously look up games on BGG while browsing in the surplus book store, only to find the reception is rubbish and I have to hover suspiciously next to the door to try and pick up some 4G... Turns out the game has a mediocre ranking on BGG, but it might be an underrated gem, right? Or maybe the reason it scores so low is just because the heavy gamers didn't rate it from a kids' game perspective. It might not be a masterpiece, but even a couple of decent plays would work out better value than going for overpriced coffee or a trip to the cinema... These are just some of the ways I justify to myself that I really shouldn't walk on by, or navigate away from that website, without putting the item in my physical or virtual basket.
So here are my bargain-buys from the holidays. Were they summer steals or regrettable rip-offs?
Castles of Caladale and BEEEEES!. Each of these games cost less than £10 delivered, from eBay and an online surplus store respectively. You can see from my previous blogs (here and here) that indeed they were fortuitous finds!
Scotland Yard and Who Did It? were found in Yorkshire market-town charity shops while we were away on holiday. Mr N is rather partial to a browse around a good thrift shop, and his work means that he doesn't get chance to do that unless he has time off. While he scans the DVD sections with our son, I search through the jigsaws and toys for any good board game deals, and then we both persuade our daughter she doesn't need any more stuffed toys (especially ones of dubious provenance in the charity shop).
Scotland Yard was a mere £3.50, and at that price I knew it was definitely time to finally add a hidden-movement game to our collection. I confess we haven't actually played it as yet. I am adamant I will teach the game to the family playing Mr X myself, as I foresee that once my son knows the rules he will be the one wrangling to play Mr X, if Thunderbirds: The Hood expansion is anything to go by - our only other one-versus-many game.
Who Did It? was £1.99. Each player has a hand of the same six different animals, but each on their own colour background. One of the animals has pooped on the carpet and the culprit must be found! The first player places one of their cards saying, for example, "It wasn't my tortoise, it was someone else's parrot". Then the fastest player will lay their parrot card and defer blame to someone else's pet. If you try to defer blame to another animal and there are no more animals of that type left in anyone's hand then you are revealed as the culprit and take a poop token for that round. When someone has three poop tokens the winner is the person with the least poop. This game is such a hoot. It is simple and hilarious fun. At first it doesn't seem too difficult to keep track of cards played, but soon the rounds merge together in my head and I completely lose track of what has been played, often gaining poop in the process... This game has been simple enough for my daughter to teach to her friends by herself. Who needs sweets when you have this game to hyper up a group of ten-year old girls?
Apples to Apples and Planet Defenders were both bought from the surplus book store for £5 each.
I'd heard of Apples to Apples but never had the chance to play it, so thought it was worth taking a risk on this. We played it once with Mr N's parents and it fell pretty flat. I can think of a couple of reasons for this. First, the cards are very US oriented. There were things on the cards that even Mr N and I were not aware of, let alone our kids and his parents, who are not exposed to as much American culture as we would be through film, TV and online media. Also, it seems to me that this is a very group-dependent game and I'm guessing we didn't have the group for it. At one point, Mr N's mum said, "So, I should just lie and make something up?". We also had some confusion on whether we should be revealing which of the submitted cards were our own - if the cards are collected, shuffled and then revealed as per the rules, then that implies to us that it should be a secret as to who handed in which card, but then it immediately becomes obvious when each player is trying to make a case as to why their card is the best fit for the category. Somehow I can't help but think we were missing something, as we just didn't get this game. You win some, you lose some - unfortunately this game gamble didn't pay off!
Planet Defenders on the other hand seems to be a fair deal. Players pay batteries to move one or two of the jointly-owned Defenders on their turn to activate the squares they land on, and then optionally catch an adjacent robot or buy a technology if the right resources can be paid.Movement options are limited, which adds a little more thinkiness to the game. The options are on the lower three cards in this picture. You can activate up to two of the options if you have enough batteries, and then the used cards are flipped to the reverse side for the next player's turn.Points are awarded at the end of the game according to number of technology cards gained, points on captured robots, and then for amount of unique robot colours.
My husband and I both enjoyed this game, but the attention of the children was waning a bit towards the end. Obviously a first play takes longer as we get to grips with the game, but there is probably always going to be quite a bit of downtime, because you can't fully plan your turn ahead. You never know where the Defender pieces will definitely be until the start of your turn. The spot you wanted to move a Defender to might be taken, or the movement card you wanted to use might have just got flipped by the player before you. Downtime notwithstanding, the game does provide some interesting choices. Do you spend resources on technology to make further actions cheaper? Or do you just go straight for robots? Do you capture the 'cheaper' robots before someone else does, or save up for one of higher value, and risk someone else getting to it before you? With just one play under our belts we probably haven't experienced the fulness of this game yet, but Mr N and I are not averse to exploring it further, as long as we can persuade the kids to give it another shot. If we can't, then perhaps shots of coffee would have been better value after all...The miniatures are very cute!
- [+] Dice rolls
13 Oct 2021
Yet another holiday blog!
The first game I'll mention is one of those board-game bargains I picked up specially as a holiday treat: BEEEEES!. Discovered on the surplus bookstore's online catalogue, this game truly was a treat!
Real time dice-chucking à la Escape: The Curse of the Temple (which I've not yet had the privilege of playing), but in this case competitive. Each player can roll, and keep rolling, their five dice successively and match numbers to the icons on the flower hexes. These are placed towards the centre of the table in as many piles as there are players. Each hex will (mostly) picture three die values and can be claimed by the player who has placed the majority of their dice on that card after each die icon has been filled. That flower hex is then flipped and placed into that player's tableau in front of them (revealing the next tile underneath and so on), and a consolation bee token is given to any player that had a single die on the hex. Points are gained at the end of the game for flowers that are formed in a player's tableau (by colour-matching hex sides).
If pink can match a '4' to the red tile then they will gain the hex for their tableau and white will get a cute little bee token (made out of pencil eraser material - love it). If a third different player were to put the final die on the hex then it would be removed from the game with no-one being able to claim it.
The white wildflower tile will trigger a beeline contest and the winner can use this as a wild to match any colour.
Each pile will contain a white wildflower tile triggering a beeline contest. Players will roll their five dice and have to place them in ascending order on their beeline. A '1' has to be placed before a '2' and so on. The first to finish shouts "Beeline!" and can take the tile.
The bee's head for the white player counts as any number so is placed on the '1'. None of their other dice are a '2' so they will have to reroll all their remaining dice to continue.
There's not much more to the game than that! It plays really fast and frantic and is lots of fun with everyone engaged at the same time. My daughter came last nearly every time we played, and yet she was the one who kept asking to play this game! The box says it is for two to five players and yet our box contained enough tiles for six players, a laminated score sheet and also some bonus mission cards. I believe these will have been Kickstarter extras, suspected due to a 'Queen Pledge' sticker being on the shrink (of the delightfully compact box) when delivered! What excellent value! This has definitely been one of those serendipitous discoveries. It is a great family game and I would also heartily recommend it as a good icebreaker/filler for gaming groups, with its short rules teach and game time (about fifteen minutes).
One 'good' thing that has come out of the pandemic for us is the introduction of 'hybrid' services and groups at church - a mixture of online streaming/zooming and in-person meeting. It was because of these joys of modern technology that we could tune into church from our holiday cottage. This particular Sunday we discovered that the service was all-aged worship themed around honey. Now that already seemed like a coincidence, because we had put aside Honey Buzz to play that very afternoon. And not only that, but on our walk later that day, we came across these trail posters:
So we laid out the game that afternoon, started Mr N's specially-curated, eclectic Honey Buzz playlist (Rimsky-Korsakov/Four Tops/The Archies/Dolly Parton/Abba/U2) and set upon building up our sweet-selling buzzinesses.
The aim of the game is to have the most points (money) at the end of the game, which is triggered by either a) four out of five markets bottomed out, b) two out of three piles of order cards empty or c) no more honeycomb tiles available.
Points can be gained in a few ways:
1) Gaining points from the Queen's Contests.
2) Gaining points from selling honey or pollen direct to the market.
3) Fulfilling specific orders from the contract cards.
4) Having excess unsold honey/pollen at the end of the game.
Essentially I consider this game to be a hybrid of worker (beeple) placement and tile-laying. It is slightly counter-intuitive at first, because the beeples are placed to take a tile of a specific type, but you don't activate that action until a new 'cell' is created, which could be a turn or few later. Once the tiles make up a complete ring around that empty hexagon 'cell' the actions on the tiles can be activated. This can result in very short turns (take a tile and place it) or very long turns (place a tile, completing one or more cells and then activation of all the actions).
The actions follow a thematic process of honey production - foraging for nectar (take a nectar tile which matches a correctly-configured cell), fanning the nectar into honey, then trading the honey. There are also extra action tiles that will give you an extra bee, give you straight-up money or the decree tiles, which although they cost five money can be activated as a wild action, which can be very useful. There are no rounds as such, like in Agricola, where everyone places their workers and then brings them home together, but the rhythm is more like Century where you take a turn to recall your beeples to your supply when you've run out. You can use any space as long as you can pay one extra beeple than the previous player who used that space.
My daughter's blue forager beeple - perfectly positioned to forage for all of those cherry blossom nectars in the bottom right.
The starting configuration of tiles favoured cherry blossom nectar and my daughter managed to pretty much monopolise the cherry blossom market. I decided to shoot for the acacia nectar Queen's Contest, which meant I was going to have a slower start, as acacia cell configurations take five tiles to be formed, as opposed to three for the wildflower nectar or four for rosemary/cherry blossom. My husband got a lot of beeples early on which helped him have access to a lot of forage tiles, which led to being able to obtain a lot of nectar hexes. These had the potential to produce a lot of honey, but the positioning of his nectars meant he could not fan multiples of the same types of nectar at once, so he ended up making inefficient sales of one honey at a time. I eventually managed to get some honey produced by mid-game, and fortunately, selling the higher-valued acacia got me a moderate income. I then went for fulfilling orders, which although sacrificed a few points as opposed to selling honey on the market, was made up for with the extra bonus action gained from completing each order, which accelerated my production and sales in the later stages of the game. Unfortunately towards the end, all three available orders required cherry blossom, which meant I could no longer fulfil any of them!
My attempts to win the Queen's Contest for the most decree tiles kept being frustrated by my son, who annoyingly kept buying them too, pushing me to keep buying more to stay in the lead. So although I got the twenty credits for winning the contest it turns out I spent that much paying for the tiles. Hmmmmm.
My husband has bemoaned the fact before now that it seems to him that whoever gets the most nectar hexes ends up winning this game. I have tried to explain to him that this is not necessarily the case (I'm just better at the game than him ), but his theory was definitely disproven during this play! Although Mr N had the most nectar, he came in third out of four for this game. My daughter only had four nectar hexes and she won the game hands-down with her cherry blossom specialism. I came second - even though I had slightly fewer nectar hexes than Mr N, my score was made up of money made from selling honey, order cards, and from winning two of the three Queen's Contests and coming third in the other one. In a previous game my son nearly won by simply placing the 'accounting' tiles which just get you five money each time they are used to complete a cell, so there are definitely several routes to a win.
My daughter's cherry blossom production was well established early on and she managed to fan and sell this honey repeatedly for the victory!
Honey Buzz is a great game which grows on us more every time we play it. It scratches that euro itch, and yet the spatial planning also provides a very satisfying puzzle (unless you're Mr N ). When we play with the children we play the easier face-up nectar variant, but Mr N and I play the memory variant when it's just the two of us. The lovely, tactile components, and delightful artwork by Anne Heidsieck only enhance this game and make it an even more enjoyable experience.
- [+] Dice rolls
28 Sep 2021
Our family holiday seems like an age ago, especially now the new term is proceeding apace. This return to busy-ness also has delayed the holiday gaming blogs that I had planned to write. Now to me, writing up these holiday gaming experiences is seeming increasingly passé, but I guess to you they may be of interest!
Our holiday cottage was situated near Todmorden in West Yorkshire. It was a short walk down into the town (and a longer walk back up!). One day the boys decided they would go for a run - along a public right of way through the fields, down into the valley, along the canal and back up again along a farm lane. The plan was for me and my daughter to follow at a more leisurely pace in our own time. Fully expecting them to beat us back to the cottage, and to return to the kettle on and lunch made (well we could hope!) we were surprised to find them at the bottom of the valley, resting on the fence by one of the locks. Apparently they had got a bit lost - neglecting to locate the slightly hidden path which ran behind some trees - and then had found it difficult to navigate a muddy trail along the side of a wooded valley on the way down to the canal! We kindly restrained ourselves from commenting on their lack of progress and enjoyed a more leisurely saunter together along the canal tow path and then back up to the cottage.
During our little constitutional we noticed this barge on the Rochdale Canal. Of course this made me think that it was a sign that we should seize the day and get cracking playing the trio of Feld games that I had carefully packed in our big box of games for holiday! Namely, the classic The Castles of Burgundy, the newly acquired Notre Dame: 10th Anniversary and the highlighted Carpe Diem, which is what we started out with that evening.
My husband and I had played this several times before but this was the first time we had played it at the three-player count, managing to persuade our son to join us after his sister was settled in bed. My unbeaten record at this game was soon to be broken. I soon found that it was a lot more difficult to secure helpful pieces in the three-player game than in the two-player game. Even though in the two-player game pieces are cleared from each drafting area after two of the four are taken, it is still easier to predict which pieces your single opponent will want to take, and possible to work out how many moves it will take for them to acquire them, allowing for you to plan how you can get the pieces you want. With three players it becomes a lot more 'hit and hope' and I got unlucky a few times, with pieces to complete my landscape types swiped or cleared from under my nose, greatly limiting my points potential on the scoring cards. Mr N took the victory largely by cleverly managing to score cards multiple times in the last round, but in spite of this I still enjoyed the game. It was to his credit that he played particularly well, rather than me playing badly. The only unforced mistake I made was foolishly blocking off a space on my player board which prevented me from getting one of my border-scoring buildings, and that wouldn't have made much difference to the scores in the grand scheme of things.
A few nights later we tried Notre Dame. Again, three-player, which worked very well, considering every round consists of each player drawing three cards from the top of their nine-card action deck and then drafting them round the table. The players then choose which two of the three cards to activate, typically able to score points in several different ways. I started out of the blocks quickly by using cart actions to collect points tokens from the 'market' spots on the board, and continued to gain a steady flow of victory chips by staying solvent with coins and using multiple character abilities from the workers available for hire at the end of each round. Mr N made some good points from supporting the construction of Notre Dame and unfortunately my son was heavily handicapped by not being able to deal with his rats problem, which was mainly due to him not having enough money to pay for rat mitigation abilities from the workers.
This game plays very smoothly, and also quickly, although it took us a little longer as it was our first play and we had to look up the worker abilities at the beginning of every round. I'm pleased I managed to get the version with the extra character cards already included as this will give us more replayability in the long run, although I don't imagine we will need to break into those for at least a few more plays. The other reason to get the 10th Anniversary Edition was because of the included The Castles of Burgundy: 8th Expansion – Trade Routes. Unfortunately we never got round to playing the third of our Feld trio while we were away, but it's definitely on the list to try sometime soon with this expansion.
- [+] Dice rolls
21 Sep 2021
August was our best ever month for logged games - 84 in total. Admittedly the numbers were slightly inflated due to multiple plays of shorter games like Dobble, Circle the Wagons, Wavelength and Ukiyo, but even so, we were doing well to get all those plays in! We could put this mainly down to it being the summer holidays - more time and energy for family games, as well as getting together with friends to play, and most significantly, having our two-week family holiday. We had shortlisted the cottage firstly based on its rural setting - perfectly positioned on several public rights of way, and secondly, the fact that the accommodation had a breakfast bar as well as a dining table. As you can probably guess, we ate our meals perched on high stools, while the separate dining table became the gaming area, enabling us to leave longer games set up (yes, that would be you, The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth) while we went out to make the most of any breaks in the cloud, or ate our luxury-range pre-prepared meals in the kitchen!
It often seems like Kickstarter fulfilments are like buses - there are none for ages and then finally two turn up together. I was nervously watching the tracking updates the week before we went away as I didn't want any deliveries to go awry in our absence. My prayers were answered, as both Cascadia and Roll Camera!: The Filmmaking Board Game were both received the day before we went away, different projects, from different creators, backed at different times, and although sent from the same fulfilment company, had been despatched separately and delivered by different postal services. Weird. But good!
With great restraint I safely stowed Cascadia on our 'Christmas gift shelf' for later retrieval, but Roll Camera! was packed in the car, ready for us to investigate at the cottage.
I think it was a BGG banner ad that sucked me into checking this one out, and I'm very glad I did. It didn't take long after engaging with the campaign to realise that Malachi Ray Rempen is a very gifted guy! Comical and expressive art (who would have thought that 'bean' characters could exude so much personality?), engaging and well-developed co-op play, not to mention such humorous insight into the filmmaking world, coupled with very efficient management of the campaign and production process. He always maintained a professional approach and openly dealt with any queries or grumbles (there are always some ) with a consistently humble and disarming tone.
The aim of the game is to complete a movie of an acceptable standard before running out of time or money! If either of these triggers occur then the plug is pulled on production and it's game over! An acceptable standard is to get the quality meter up out of the red zone (unwatchable nonsense, boring and forgettable) into the white zone (not bad, surprise hit, critical darling) or alternatively down to the bottom of the track (so bad it's great)! A completed movie consists of five scenes. To shoot a scene, first you need to build the set! Two-by-two tiles - 'set pieces' - have to be placed in the required configuration for that scene onto the 'set' - a five-by-five grid in the centre of the board. This build set action requires two identical die faces in its action space. Then, the correct die faces (e.g. actors, lights, camera) need to be assigned to those pieces in the configuration required for that scene, so the scene can be shot. This will allow the Scene card to be flipped from its storyboard side to its completed film reel side and placed in the Editing Room (the film strip). The visual effects face on each worker die is wild (of course, VFX can be used as a substitute for most anything in the movies these days). Then the cost of shooting the scene must be paid. As if this wasn't challenging enough, problems are revealed every turn that make things a lot harder! For example - 'Marketing wants a camera crew to document the camera crew: assigning cameras to any action now costs $1' or 'There's a military parade band practising next door: each time you shoot a scene lose two quality'. This game does a great job of dividing your attention between your primary aim of shooting scenes and fighting proverbial fires. Sometimes problems aren't too crippling for the stage of the game you're at, but once the problem track is full, then you cannot take any actions which require you to draw a problem, like hiring an intern to set the face of a die (are they more trouble than they're worth?).
The Budget/Schedule Dials are managed by the active player. You can't help but feel the pressure on your turn!
Apart from assigning dice to build/rearrange set pieces, to shoot scenes on the blue squares on set, or to the intern hiring space, other actions available include placing dice to solve one or more problems. The longer a problem has been in play the harder it is to solve, the first slot requires any two faces, the second, two identical faces and the third, three identical faces. Each player also has a special film crew role on their own player board, with personal action spaces. We found the Production Designer's Set Design ability to place a set piece and rearrange the set tiles for a single die extremely useful, also the Cinematographer's Grip Truck ability to switch any unused die to camera or lights. Any dice which are not used that turn can be left on the board ready for the next person's turn, where they can be either kept in place or re-rolled.
A really great concept in this game is the 'production meeting' action. Any single die can be used to activate this action, and the active player chooses three players to contribute an 'Idea' from their hand of three. These cards are ingenious, thematic and hilarious workarounds that keep you fighting another day in the movie business. During my solo training game I prolonged my production by successfully betting some of the budget on the horses. What a great idea! Ideas may only be discussed during a meeting (before this point these ideas are only in your head). After discussing the submitted ideas, one will be discarded, one activated immediately and one saved for later in one of two 'To-Do' list slots. This mitigates against alpha-gamers (like me) taking over. Of course I would never, ever, never go against the spirit of the game and look over my daughter's shoulder and tell her which Idea she should contribute .
The script cards determine quality points gained or lost on completion of the movie. As you can see this would be a frustrating combo as blue (sad) scenes would count both for and against your quality rating. (It is possible to change the script with The Star's special action or with an Idea card if you're lucky enough to draw it). Also pictured, a Scene card - with the configuration of set pieces and worker faces required to shoot the scene shown. This scene would also increase quality by one when successfully shot (pink star). Additionally, a Problem card and an Idea.
We played this game together twice on holiday and really enjoyed it. My son loved the script card combinations - the top half and bottom half movie titles are randomly selected at the start of the game - our first game we were filming 'They Buried / Skeletons in the Closet', our second, 'Hooray for / Unibrows'. The kids were also keen on selecting their roles based upon their unique meta-game abilities - the Producer can ration drinks and snacks as he sees fit, the Star can request applause at any time, the Cinematographer can adjust the lighting in the room. All just a bit of fun, but this was great at getting the kids (and ourselves) enthused and engaged in the game. In our first game we needed to shoot 'green' horror scenes (our script cards dictated extra quality points for green scenes at the end of filming) but we didn't have any of these scenes come up at all in the storyboard scene 'market'. This meant we plumped for the alternative strategy of going for a 'so bad it's great' win. Even with this shameful approach getting five scenes filmed before we ran out of time and money was very tricky. We carefully managed our quality so as to be able to sacrifice three quality points at a time to gain extra dollars/turns with the Director's 'Compromise' action. By the skin of our teeth we squeaked out the win. In our second game we managed to achieve a Surprise Hit (it was a surprise to us as well). We managed to 'put our fingers in our ears and pretend that everything was just fine' to ignore some pretty crippling problems and then our daughter 're-remembered that idea that someone had one time' to get the fingers-in-ears card back out of the discard pile. If it wasn't for this lucky combination of Ideas we could never have shot that final scene, paid for with our very last dollar and released our cinematic masterpiece to the world.
As you can tell, we are big fans of Roll Camera!: The Filmmaking Board Game. At present there are no plans for this to go to retail, but Roll Camera!: The B-Movie Expansion is coming with a second print run of the main game later this year or maybe next.
EDIT: I stand corrected: there is a non-clapperboard box version that will be available at retail later this year
Beyond that, who knows - it may yet be hailed a cinematic board game masterpiece! We are generally not insta-back types, but when this launches we will most likely be hitting that pledge button without having to think too hard about it. And maybe even getting some extra copies as gifts.
Overall this game provides us with lots of fun and hilarity, constantly causing
inwardoutward groaning, as we realise our only option to stay in production today is going to cause us a big headache tomorrow. You're not playing this game long until you're on the edge of a cliff and hanging there by your fingertips, not knowing if you'll be able to hold on long enough to get those precious scenes in the can, or if you'll drop off into obscurity and failure. Not all film (productions) can have a happy ending!
- [+] Dice rolls