Pevans's Perspective

This was the title of my board games column in Flagship magazine, so I thought I'd resurrect it, 8 years after Flagship's demise. The idea is to get down my musings in a more contemporaneous way - expect things to appear later in To Win Just Once (www.pevans.co.uk/TWJO) in a more considered form. Now, can I manage a less formal style?

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An evening of card drafting

Paul Evans
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Last Wednesday's online Swiggers session introduced me to two games I'd not played before. Villagers was definitely game du jour, with all seven of us wanting to give it a go. So, two tables then. I was in the four-player group with one person who'd played before - always good to have someone to explain.

My sole awareness of Villagers was the long queues of people waiting to buy the game when it launched at the 2019 UK Games Expo. I didn't manage to play it there and haven't seen it since. So many thanks to Yucata and publishers Sinister Fish Games for the nice new online implementation.

I'm tempted to describe it as a simple game with brightly-coloured cards. First, players draft a card: one at a time until everybody's taken as many as they can (2 to start with). Then players add cards to their tableau, as many cards as they can (initially 2) in one go. The complexity is all in the cards, of course.

The picture below is a screen capture from Yucata of my position at the end of that first game. At the bottom are the remaining cards in my hand. My tableau is above that. Towards the top is the row of cards available to be drafted plus (above on the right) the last draw pile. The three sideways cards on the left are the starting cards.
From gallery of Pevans

Most cards have to be played onto a starting card - these can be picked up in addition to your drafting limit but you must discard a card in exchange (it goes onto one of the draw piles, so you may even be able to pick it up again next round). Many cards have to be 'unlocked' by another card. You gain money (points) if you have already played that card. Otherwise you have to pay another player who has it - or the bank if nobody does.

Possibly the most important thing on cards is the amount of gold they're worth when scored (either directly or for icons on other cards). Then there are red food and black building icons that increase the number of cards you can draw and play, respectively, once they're in your tableau. There's no limit on these, and they're clearly important to get early on. However, the more cards players draw, the faster the game will be over.

It may be a simple game on the surface, but there are some clever tactical options that require thinking about - and decisions making. Designer Haakon Gaarder has done a good job - as evidenced by the fact that I'm immediately playing it some more. That first game was won by the person who'd played before (well done, Diana), while I was dead last. I blame it on not getting any food or building icons into my tableau until the game was nearly over. Lesson learned.

After this, we moved on to Machi Koro, another game I'd not played before even though it's been around since 2012. I have played the more recent Space Base several times, though, and keep being told this uses the same central mechanism (though from a different designer).

Again, you're drafting cards and adding them to your tableau. However, this time you must buy the cards after rolling your 1 or 2 dice to, hopefully, generate some income. The good news is that some of your cards (blue ones) also produce income when other players roll that number.

Mind you, some of the more expensive cards take money from others. And you are allowed to have as many of a card as you can lay your hands on. They are all triggered by the single die roll. As the game goes on, players build up their income, so that they can afford the more expensive cards that build income further.

Players will also shift from rolling one die, generating income from the cheap 1-6 cards, to rolling two dice to trigger cards 2-12. Of course the cards in the middle of this range are more likely to be triggered and are more expensive and/or special (you can only have one of each 6 card, for example).

The picture below is a screen capture from Yucata at an early stage. The 15 different buildings are the grid on the left and players' purchases are shown in columns on the right. The crucial thing is the number at the top, which is the die roll that triggers the card. You'll see I decided to buy a Landmark early on, but quickly found it wasn't much use initially.
From gallery of Pevans

In play, it's dead simple: roll your dice, see how much cash you have and choose something to buy. The only decision there is what to buy - if you have a choice. Understanding the cards is key to this and I learnt a lot from what my opponents did. However, the game over-stayed its welcome as far as I was concerned (though this may have been because a bunch of first-timers took too long building up their positions to win the game by buying all four - expensive - Landmarks).

Machi Koro is not a game I'll be rushing to play again. Indeed, the general consensus was that we'd prefer Space Base. Oh, and Sebastian won this one by a narrow margin and I was dead last. Again. Still a good evening's gaming and chat.
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Tue Jul 6, 2021 6:14 pm
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New experiences online

Paul Evans
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I seem to have finally overcome my strange aversion to playing games online that I've never played on a table. There have been a few over the years but, in general, games I've taken up online have already been familiar to me. No, I don't know why either.

Board Game: Carnegie
Of course with Carnegie I haven't had that opportunity. The implementation on Board Game Arena was released alongside the Kickstarter for the physical game. Full marks to publisher Quined Games for giving us the chance to try before we buy.

I've enjoyed recent complex games from Quined, not to mention some of designer Xavier Georges's earlier games, so this was definitely worth trying. And when I say complex... this game has it in spades. Each turn triggers a department in your company and a geographical area. So you want to get workers into departments and areas before they're triggered. But you use departments and areas to do this...

So you need to move workers around your company to where they'll be useful and then deploy them to areas where they'll also be useful, but now there's nobody in that department... Once you get into the swing of things, you begin to see how the game works and how you can develop your position.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first game. Now I have some idea how to play, it's time to re-read the rules and then play again. However, on first acquaintance, this seems like a keeper.

Board Game: Cacao
Somehow I have avoided Cacao for several years. Then my old gaming friends Jennie and Richard persuaded me to play. It's a nice little tile-laying game (no, it's nothing like Carcassonne), set in the jungles of Central America, with several ways of scoring points - according to the tiles. Hence you're always looking for the best way to out-score your opponents, but what this is will be different each game. Not least because the selections of tiles available (both yours and the general ones) are drawn at random

This should be exactly my sort of game. It has simple rules; is challenging, but not too challenging; repays careful play; and plays fast enough to be a substantial filler. However, it doesn't really grab me, so it's on the "if I'm in the mood" list. Maybe I should try some of the (many) expansions...

Board Game: Luxor
After winning a game of Cacao with the Swiggers gang last Wednesday, I was introduced to Luxor - another game that I've avoided (it's been around for a couple of years). Essentially your meeples are a gang of tomb raiders, going deeper and deeper into an ancient Egyptian pyramid. Along the way, you pick up stuff from the tiles/spaces your meeples land on.

The clever bit (apart from the very clever hand management mechanism) is that you need multiple meeples on the same space to get things, with new meeples becoming available as you go deeper, but starting at the entrance. There are, of course, several ways of scoring points and opportunities to improve your capabilities as well.

While the experienced players raced for the centre of the board/pyramid to loot the lucrative central burial chamber, I concentrated on collecting sets for the bonuses they give. And, to my surprise, ended up with the winning score. Beginner's luck, clearly. Again, it's a nice game but doesn't grab me, so it's another "if I'm in the mood" game.

Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
We finished off Wednesday evening's session with The Crew (known as "Die, Crew" at Swiggers since it was first played with a German edition). I picked up a copy of this just in time for lockdown, expecting to be able to play it solitaire. "It's a co-operative game," I thought, "I'll just play several positions." Oh no I won't! Since its central mechanism is taking tricks, knowing all the players' hands removes the point of the game.

Anyway, it was great to have the chance to play it properly - led by the experienced Diana. Each 'mission' gives players a goal to achieve. To start with, you just need the nominated person to win the trick containing a particular card. Easy! But it quickly gets more difficult with cards having to be won in a particular order and other complications appearing.

One of the neat things is that each mission is cunningly preparing you for subsequent ones. You not only learn how to achieve the goals, but also how the others play and what they mean with the limited information they are allowed to share. You really have to concentrate, though, staying on top of who's played what and marrying this with what you already know. We completed nine missions - with a couple of re-takes - before my brain gave up. Definitely one to play again - though I suspect you have to start from the beginning each time.

Now, it's definitely time I put some solitaire games on the table again...
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Sat Feb 6, 2021 6:55 pm
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What's happening?

Paul Evans
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This was meant to be a final blog entry for 2020... Two weeks later, it's the first for 2021. Sigh. Oh, and Happy New Year! to one and all.

It's about time I put something on my blog... The problem is that I don't think of playing games online as being blog-worthy. Partly because I'm largely playing old familiar games, but also because, somehow, playing online doesn't feel 'real'.

I am playing quite a bit, though. Wednesday evenings sees the Swiggers group online, usually at Yucata or Board Game Arena (or both), playing in real time. I have even tried a couple of new (to me) games this way: Yokohama and Underwater Cities. Both intriguing games that I'd really like to try face-to-face.

I've also re-discovered some older games that I enjoyed at the time, but haven't played for years: Egizia, Elfenland, Glen More, Puerto Rico, Yspahan... Great fun.
From gallery of Pevans

On top of this, I've been playing Commands & Colors games on Vassal - which I only got to grips with in 2020. It's amusing that I have a 100% record against some opponents and a 0% record against others. The picture above is Evert (playing French) thrashing me on his introduction to Napoleonics. The British position still looks good, until you realise the whole right wing of the army has disappeared... Conversely, the picture below shows my Romans chasing Hamilcar (played by Deon) off the field of Bagradas (Ancients), despite Deon having got his heavy infantry into the fight. Mind you, he used to have some elephants...
From gallery of Pevans

However, the big success for me was being introduced to Forgotten Waters. This game of "Piratey Misadventure in a World o' Magic" has proved terrific entertainment. It uses an app instead of a paragraph book to flesh out the bones of the game's mechanisms and tell the story of your game. Even better, the "remote assistant" app lets a group play together while in different places - you just need one person with a copy of the game.

I had so much fun playing this with the group that I invested in my own copy and have been playing solitaire as well. Officially it's for 3-7 players, but the Variants on the app include one- and two-player rules. Essentially, the solitaire game gives you a gang of four pirates to take actions, but you only count as one for rewards and so on. And there's a tweak to the all-important way your character progresses to their personal goals. If only I'd taken some photos, I'd put them in here.

The initial scenario has proved frustratingly hard to complete succesfully (falling off the edge of the world, sinking ignominiously to Davy Jones's locker, being blown to smithereens by Royal Navy Cap'n Razor - yep, managed all of those). I have only achieved this once and this was a solitaire game with, ahem, a little cheating at the climactic showdown (I knew I needed a bigger boat).

Maybe because we'd been honed to a fine edge by that first scenario, the team found the second one we tried a bit of an anti-climax: we succeeded at the first attempt with all but one of the crew also getting a personal victory (something none of us had managed before). This has not put us off, though: next scenario is scheduled for early January...
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Sun Jan 3, 2021 6:48 pm
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Gentium

Paul Evans
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Another week, another game of Gentes at Swiggers (26th February).

The idea was that the crew who'd played Gentes the week before would do so again, now that we were all up to speed with the rules. Then Lucas couldn't make it this week.

And Diana was seduced away by the lure of John's Hadara. Daniel and Lena joined them for a four-player game, which they followed with The Crew.

On another table, Richard W, Fran, Robert and Stephen set up Dungeon Lords.

This allowed Deon to join Evert and me for Gentes. Despite Deon not having played before, this proved to be a much faster game with only three players. I again went for people and civilisation cards - not least because Deon and Evert quickly jumped into city building. I made a point of playing cards that gave me personal actions. These are 'cheaper' to use than the general actions and, of course, can be used when the general ones have run out. Here's my board in the final round with eight cards played, plus the Pyramids, and just one needed to complete my set of people.
From gallery of Pevans

I was in the lead for most of the game, but Evert really caught up in the last round. He didn't quite get me though and was just 5 points behind after the final scoring. Deon lagged behind on his first game. Here's the board during the last round with Evert about to do some serious scoring.
From gallery of Pevans

With the main games out of the way, there was just time to introduce John to Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes. I drew the Axis and was able to pull several points ahead before nuking somewhere in the Pacific (Pearl Harbour?) to secure the win. John will be after revenge one Wednesday soon...
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Fri Mar 6, 2020 8:30 pm
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Gentibus

Paul Evans
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There were a total of 16 at Swiggers last Wednesday (19th). Two tables were occupied by the Skat league, peaking at seven players over the evening.

After some discussion, the rest of us split into a four and a five.

Led by Deon, the five played Viticulture (with the Tuscany expansion, which is my preference). With five players this was a lengthy game, but much enjoyed, reports Deon. Theo came out the winner, with Stephen close behind. Here they're all watching with anticipation as Stephen stands up to take his turn.
From gallery of Pevans

The foursome consisted of me and those who wanted to play Gentes: Diana, Evert and Lucas. Diana had played once, but the others were completely new to the game and I'd forgotten just how complicated it is. Hence a fairly lengthy rules explanation was required - particularly as I misremembered bits. However, once you understand what the graphics are telling you, it all falls into place. Here's the board in the final round - we're running out of civilisation cards.
From gallery of Pevans

Then you have to get to grips with how to play. Rather than placing workers, you're taking chips to take actions. These cost gold and/or time, the latter represented by hourglass chips that, along with the actions, go onto your time track. Once you've filled that your actions are over for this round. The actions let you build cities, buy civilisation cards, play civilisation cards and train your people - a certain mix of people being the requirement for playing cards. It's full of clever mechanisms and players have to decide what they're going to concentrate on. I've gone for people and cards and have 18 of the former and 8 of the latter to gain a couple of bonuses (photo below).
From gallery of Pevans

A four-player game with two newbies and two very rusty players meant over three hours playing time, but a cracking time was had by all - especially Diana, who ran away with the game. Everybody wanted to play again now that they understood the game, so expect it to appear again next week.

With two long games there wasn't time for anything else and we all headed home just after 10:30 pm.
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Sat Feb 29, 2020 11:47 am
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Stop that blitzkrieg!

Paul Evans
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Deon and I were a bit anti-social at Swiggers on 12th Feb: we played a Memoir '44 scenario. Just the two of us.

The other eight split across two tables. One lot went for classic bidding game Medici - so good they played it twice! The others went for Glen More which took rather longer. Then they had a go at Medici while the first table tried to escape from the monster in Fearsome Floors. All good fun.

I'd suggested a Breakthrough scenario to Deon and we settled on "Breakthrough to Gembloux". This is very early in the war with the French troops trying to blunt the blitzkrieg. Thus all the German units are in the first two rows of the board with the French defending in depth. 12 victory medals are needed to win three game, but the German player must get at least one unit off the far side of the board (from a specific hex). Drawing for sides, I got the Axis, so I was on the attack. Here are the starting positions from my end.
From gallery of Pevans

The initial advance by the Germans was met by advancing French armour. The German tanks got stuck in and immediately destroyed a French unit (first medal!). In response, the first lucky dice roll went to Deon as a three dice attack wiped out a tank unit. A "Their Finest Hour" card saw the Germans take out three French units, including the infantry damaged initially.

French tanks pressed the attack on their left, taking the lead 6:5. I pulled level and then it was time for my lucky die roll: taking out two French units to go 8:6 ahead. I continued to push forward on my left, losing more tanks to the last of the French armour. Add you'll see from the photos the advancing troops have to weave their way round the rivers and rows of 'hedgehogs'.
From gallery of Pevans

Then I stalled for a while with a lack of left section cards. Instead I moved up in the centre, trying to link up and using the mobile artillery to good effect - until Deon got it. Here's the position just before that happened - the mobile artillery is the grey pieces (actually American Priests from the Equipment Pack) left of centre towards the top of the picture. The French artillery has moved into the centre of the board and the French still hold two forward positions (on the right).
From gallery of Pevans

Then it was attrition as I tried to work closer to the exit point and Deon thwarted me with his last full strength units. I had 14 medals, two more than I needed to win, which was pointless until I got a unit off the board. With Deon on 11 medals, it was getting edgy. An Armoured Assault took out his artillery, which had been plaguing my attempts to advance. This left him with two infantry units.

All it needed now was for me to keep my weakened units out of the way while moving up my artillery and last full strength infantry unit. Deon decided to go out fighting, but lost another unit before I snuck what was left of an armour unit around the back and off the board for the win 12:11 (though I actually had 17 medals by this point!). Here's the almost final position.
From gallery of Pevans

That was a tough fight all the way, with Deon only left with one unit by the end! Great fun and a rematch is pending.
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Sun Feb 23, 2020 10:56 pm
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A busy evening

Paul Evans
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There were two dozen gamers at Swiggers this Wednesday (5th February). At one end of the room, two tables of Skat were in progress through the evening.

Then there were another four tables - and quite a few games. Table 1 was a four-player game of The Taverns of Tiefenthal that lasted most of the evening.

A four-player Keyflower was on table 2 where Sebastian was trying out "a silly expansion" (his words). Sebastian left afterwards, with the other three moving on to Love Letter. After other departures, the remaining players from tables 1 and 2 combined to finish with Forest of Fate. Here's Deon's photo of Keyflower in progress, with grins all round - and a Skat table in the background.
From gallery of Pevans

Table 3 was a threesome initially for Ticket to Ride on the India board. Lucas arrived as they were wrapping up and made a fourth for Azul.

That means I was on table 4. Deon had expressed an interest in trying Pax Porfiriana, which was music to my ears (it's been a while since I played it - face-to-face, anyway). I brought in my "Collector's Edition" and then discovered that I'd never actually played this copy - all my previous games had been with my First Edition (or other people's copies). Richard M and first-timer Murray made up our four players. Richard was an old hand, while Murray had played Pax Renaissance and hoped this would help his first experience of Porfiriana.

Now, the way to win Pax Porfiriana is to have the right card to switch the current 'regime' to the one you want, cards in your tableau that give you enough points in that regime and the cash to buy a 'Topple' card from the market. All at the same time. And without any of the other players spotting what you're doing and getting in the way. This is both the delight and disappointment of the game. On one hand, you have to scheme and calculate to get into a winning position. On the other, you can spend too much of the game simply stopping other players from winning. Here's Deon's photo of the rest of us pondering what to do while he's not looking...
From gallery of Pevans

However, the first Topple is at least a third of the way through the deck, so players have time to develop their position and get the right cards available. And mess with their opponents, too. I made a bid for the win when the first 'Topple' came up, but miscalculated: Murray had two points, not the one I'd counted. Then I thought I had a chance of winning on the second Topple, but just made it easier for Richard! Excellent fun and, I trust, a good introduction for the newbies.

Richard headed off while I introduced the other two to Oh My Goods!. It continues to be a more intricate, clever game than its small size suggests.

And that was it for a packed evening.
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Mon Feb 17, 2020 9:51 pm
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Go, sloths!

Paul Evans
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This week's Swiggers (29th January) was well attended, with twelve of us discussing what to play.
From gallery of Pevans

Richard M made a pre-emptive bid by putting his Fresh Fish on the table. He quickly had three more players for what I've always considered to be a major cause of melted brain cells. It's very rewarding when you get it right, but it doesn't half take some thinking.

Another three gravitated to Robert's Stephensons Rocket, while Lena, Lucas and Stephen joined me for some Fast Sloths. For the first time this was with a random selection of animals, several of which I'd not used before - including the Human and the Dolphin. As the players were placing the animals on the board, we all tried to set something up for our first move or two. Bizarrely, we ended up with almost all the animals on one half of the board.
From gallery of Pevans

Lena started on the other side of the board and, after a couple of rounds, used the Human to good effect. She picked up a couple of leaves on her way to joining the rest of us on the other half of the board. This gave her a headstart and the rest of us racing to catch up. Lena duly won, with the rest of us just a leaf or two behind.

All three games finished about the same time. The first table moved on to John Company, while we swapped Lena for Fran and played Amul to their Colt Express (judging by the noises from that table, it was definitely fun). Concentrating on managing my hand and getting a bit of luck (picking up the Diplomat) gave me the win in a close game. The Diplomat's symbols meant I had the majority in both Arabs and Mongols, which is unusual.

From gallery of Pevans
With John Company still in progress and several departures, there were still four of us to finish off with Railroad Ink. Robert was the expert, but I was the only other who'd played this neat roll 'n' write before. We started with a lot of railway lines, only later getting the expected mixture of rail and road. Robert did best, but I came close with this mess.

That's seven games between 12 people in the evening: brilliant!
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Sun Feb 2, 2020 6:36 pm
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Stegmaier night

Paul Evans
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Deon hadn't played Tapestry yet, so I brought my copy in to Swiggers this week (22nd January). Apart from Deon and me, Diana and Sebastian joined in, Again. The other three, Stephen, Robert and newbie Lucas, opted for Viticulture, making this week's games a clean sweep for Mr Stegmaier. Here's their game in full swing - with a lot of pondering going on.
From gallery of Pevans

Returning to the Tapestry, I picked the Militants as my civilisation, so it was no surprise that I concentrated on the Military advancement track - with a sideline in Exploration so that I had new worlds (well, hexes) to conquer. Sebastian had the Heralds and went for Science with a side order of Technology. These tracks have been the main combinations in the games I've played so far.

Deon's choice was the Entertainers and both he and Diana made early progress on the Exploration track. We adjusted our civilisations' starting positions according to the handicapping that designer Jamey Stegmaier has published on BGG. In particular, this meant Sebastian started on -15 points.
From gallery of Pevans

I (yellow) made it to the centre first, claiming the bonus points, and then conquered a couple of Sebastian's outposts (in grey). (He turned the tables on me later, swapping control of those two areas with a Tapestry card.) I felt pretty comfortable, not least because Sebastian's eras were short, with him a couple of income turns ahead of me at one point. The combination of exploring and conquering gave me extra resources to take more turns in my eras.

What I hadn't spotted was that, while I was the most advanced player on any track, Sebastian had more advances in total. And he actually took the bonus for being first to the end of a track. A long final era put Sebastian well ahead, while I lost steam once I'd hit the end of the Military track. I did gain an extra Civilisation, but it did me no good whatsoever.

Despite Tapestry's oddities, I do find it an appealing game and I have no idea why.
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Sun Jan 26, 2020 11:43 pm
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By the rivers of Babylon

Paul Evans
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Six of us made it to St Christopher's Inn (the alternate venue for Swiggers) this week (15th January) - though it took some coaxing for Diana to find the right place.

It was a slow start - we wanted to clear food out of the way - but there were then two games in progress. Stephen and I joined Fran to christen her nice new copy of Ishtar, while the other three played Carnival of Monsters. Deon reports "I also enjoyed the game", but it was Diana who was "the best monster hunter".

I found Ishtar rather too abstract - it's mostly about positioning tiles on the board to best effect. You want to place them over gems so that you can collect these to spend later. You want to position the flower spaces on the tiles to connect with others to make a garden. And you want to take advantage of any special ability on the tile. Particularly the ability that lets you add an assistant to take control of a garden.
From gallery of Pevans

Key to the points scoring seemed to be planting trees, which cost gems. Lots of thinking was required and Fran had the advantage of having played before and took the win. At least I was competitive, but Stephen didn't get to grips with it at all, trying to maximise one way of scoring points but missing out on most of the others.

The other three had moved on to #MyLife and were wrestling with the German rules. Stephen made an early exit, so Fran and I went for Innovation - a favourite for both of us. And I was thrashed. Fran used a level 1 card that let her stuff numerous cards into her score pile by having most leaves. Then she picked up achievement after achievement with the occasional pause to play a higher top card so that she could get the next achievement. I didn't pick up enough leaves to stop this, nor did I find a way to remove or cover the card. I did pick up a couple of achievements the hard way, but it was all over in short order: just look at the size of that score pile!
From gallery of Pevans

Further departures left John to join us for Love Letter and it was finally my turn to triumph.

A fun evening with the additional attraction of an interesting array of beers...
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Fri Jan 24, 2020 9:52 pm
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