The First Year of BoardGOATS
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Stanford-in-the-Vale, Oxfordshire
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BoardGOATS is a small group of boardGamers that meet On Alternate Tuesdays in Stanford-in-the-Vale, Oxfordshire (www.boardgoats.org). We meet in the Horse and Jockey pub on the A417 (the main Wantage to Faringdon road). We generally prefer to play “Euro” games, but to be honest, we'll try most things once.

Our first meeting was on 2nd October 2012; this GeekList is a record of the games we've played and the plague, fire and pestilence has beset the group.
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1. Board Game: Jamaica [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:453]
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We kicked off at 8pm with a four player game of Jamaica (the evening’s “Feature Game“). It is a beautiful game where everyone plays at being pirates, so, there was plenty of raiding, pillaging, and general skull-duggery in what was a hard fought game, that ended up with a winning margin of 24 to 13.

Next we played a closely contested, game of Abandon Ship. This is an unusual looking game where the aim is to prevent your rats from drowning as the S.S. Nvrsnks sinks. In our case three of the rats failed to make it...

This is a quick playing, light hearted, “press your luck” game, which (it turned out) some of us were good at and others very, very bad at indeed. This was the last game we played on that first evening which had an unintentional "watery theme".

Learning Outcome: Just because you can throw a ten or an explosion dice repeatedly at will, doesn’t mean you will be able to avoid your row of fish being eaten by sharks!


 
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2. Board Game: Fearsome Floors [Average Rating:6.66 Overall Rank:1014]
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For the second meeting, the first three people to arrive started off with a quick game of Incan Gold. This is a relatively short “push your luck” type game where players have to balance chance against increasingly high stakes and out-manoeuvre the other miners to end with the most gem stones in their tent.

Just as we finished playing Incan Gold, two more people walked through the door, so as it was 8 o’clock, we started the night’s “Feature Game”. This was Finstere Flure (aka Fearsome Floors), which is a silly, yet clever game that seemed to repeatedly catch us out. Everyone has a number of tokens each of which moves by a different amount with players trying to get from one side of the board to the other and escape from Fürst Fieso (The Monster). The clever part is that the monster is attracted to the nearest player and changes direction whenever his path takes him closer to someone else. This makes predicting his movement very difficult and led to much hilarity as the monster repeatedly caught and ate people (especially when they were very close to winning).

The final game of our second meeting was Niagara and was quite tightly fought. This is a very unusual game where the central strip of the board is made of perspex disks that move, representing the river Niagara, moving at the end of every round. Players have two little boats that they use to travel up and down the river to collect gems, but beware – anything too close to the Falls risks a watery end.

Learning Outcome: Hard won gems can be just as easily lost when water, landslide, spiders or worst of all, thieving gamers are about!
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3. Board Game: The Great Balloon Race [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:6477]
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For the third meeting, we had two new people, who arrived early, so we started the evening off with a quick four-player game of No Thanks!

This is a very, very simple push-your-luck game with just a hint of strategy and probably one of the best games going for its size. The idea is that you turn over the first card in the stack and either take it or pay a chip. If you take it, you turn over the next card, if you pay, the decision passes to the next player; the person with the lowest number of points when the cards run out wins. The strategy comes because for runs of two or more cards, only the lowest counts, but unfortunately, someone removed nine cards from the deck at random… Just as we were finishing the first round, another player arrived, so as it is such a quick game we gave it another go.

Since it was gone 8pm, we decided to play the “Feature Game” which was The Great Balloon Race. This is a light hearted, relatively quick race game with quite a lot of luck, and (as it turns out) a lot of vendettas against certain colours with orange and blue being the most victimised. One of the really nice things about this game was the way that people at the back who felt they had no chance, were able to catch up and indeed win.

Next, there was some debate about what to play next and in the end we decided to play a fairly light card game, Boomtown. In this game, players are mining moguls who bid to win the first choice of the cards on offer. Winning the bidding has two consequences: you get first pick from the cards available, but you have to pay the other players what you bid. The game was won by an landslide and it turns out that winning the bid is not always best as it can be expensive as well as favouring the player to your left. Or was it right? Actually, it was probably both…

With five games something of a record, we managed to squeeze in a game of Snow Tails. This is a very pretty game of dog-sled racing, but the choice of game was possibly a mistake given the time, compounded by the fact that we used a more complex track than was wise, and we were playing with the full five players (three of whom were new to it). Basic numeracy proved to be something of a challenge and the “Big Paws” token changed hands several times as the dents in the sleds increased and the saplings took a beating. However, most people were in the lead at some point and in the final run for the line, everyone was within one turn or so of finishing the race.

Learning Outcome: Basic skills such as being able to add up and tell your left from your right can be really useful when mining, flying balloons, and especially driving dog-sleds!
 
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4. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:415]
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At the fourth meeting, there were only four of us so we took the oportunity to play something a little heavier and we started out as soon as everyone had arrived at 8pm. The game we chose was very new, only released in the last couple of months, and called Snowdonia.

In this game, players are struggling to build a railway up Mount Snowdon fighting the mist, rain and navvies that keep running back to the pub. It was clearly quite a big advantage to have played the game before as the two players who were familiar with it ended up in a very tight race for first and second. However, the game is so finely balanced that one or two errors early on by the others probably had quite a large impact on the two front runners. Definitely a game to give another go sometime after it has had time to sink in.

We only had time for one other game, and that was the “Feature Game”, Bohnanza. This is a card trading and set collecting game where players are bean farmers. Most of us had played this before, but it is such a nice light game that keeps everyone involved throughout that it was a great way to end the evening. The final score had everyone within five points and the winner decided on a tie-break.

Learning Outcome: Sometimes, Snowdonia can be very sunny (but only in board games!).
 
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5. Board Game: Eketorp [Average Rating:6.37 Overall Rank:2670]
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This week, our fifth meeting, some of the group turned up early to sample the food the pub offers (which was really rather good). Two of these managed to squeeze in a very quick “learning game” of Mr. Jack Pocket before food arrived. Mr. Jack is an asymmetric two player game, that is to say, the protagonists have different goals. One plays “Mr. Jack” who is trying to escape, the other plays “The Investigator” who is trying to deduce who Mr. Jack is masquerading as. This version was the travel version, but is still just as much a brain burner as its big brother despite the diminutive size of the box.

Just as the diners finished, the others arrived giving us a total of five people who had braved the flood water. After a quick game sale, we started the “Feature Game”, Eketorp. This is a game where players attempt to gather resources to build their Viking stronghold on the Swedish island of Öland. In this game players try to second guess which resources the others don’t choose, with a battle and a potential extended stay in the hospital as the reward for failure.

Next, after some discussion we decided to play Citadels. Citadels is a role selection and city building game. Each round, players choose a role to aid them building their city, and each is called in turn to perform their turn. The first of these is the Assassin, then the Thief, then Magician, then the King etc. You have to be particularly careful of the first three, as (for example) the thief seemed to think royalty was a good target.

The last game was a very quick game called Dobble (aka “Spot It”), so we had several goes. There are lots of different ways to play this, but basically it is Snap, except that each card has more than one symbol. The idea is to call a correct match more often and faster than everyone else. Apparently every card has exactly one matching symbol, though a number of disbelievers amongst us felt the need to check…

Learning Outcome: Beware the magician who steals all your cards (though perhaps you deserve it if you set the example).
 
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6. Board Game: Alhambra [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:432]
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Stanford-in-the-Vale, Oxfordshire
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This week, freezing fog, work and family commitments conspired to reduce our numbers to four, none of whom were there much before 8pm. So we kicked off straight away with the “Feature Game”, Alhambra, which is a tile laying game where players are architects, competing to build the greatest palace.

With two new players, the realisation came slowly that leading in the early stages is not necessarily significant and a lot can change in the final scoring. In the end, the game was really tight between three players with a surprising, small lead for the winner (who had no idea how it happened).

For some reason, Alhambra which should take less than an hour took nearly two, so we only managed the one other game, which was Thurn and Taxis.

This is a game that is often describes as “being a bit like Ticket to Ride“, however, in reality it’s nothing like it and probably has more in common with games like Elfenroads or Elfenland. This game was probably best characterised by frustration with people waiting patiently for cards they wanted only to see them shuffled away just as they turned up. This game was also quite close, but it was clear that acquiring high value tokens was the key which meant that having played the game before was a significant advantage.

Learning Outcome: Patience is a virtue, but having multiple strategies is more often rewarded…
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7. Board Game: PitchCar [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:350]
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With Christmas day and New Years day both falling on a Tuesday (and players valuing playing games with their family more than with other GOATS – can’t imagine why!) we decided to have an extraordinary meeting on the Thursday.

This week there were six of us, including two new people. However, although we didn’t start until 8pm (as burgers and chips had to be dealt with), we still managed to squeeze in four games.

With Christmas so recent, everyone had new games to play, and the first one up was a Santa Special – Mundus Novus. This is a card game where players are seventeenth century Spanish ship owners, travelling to the New World and making their fortune. It took us a while to get started, but once we got the hang of it, everyone started to rack up dubloons at a steady rate. We were pretty much neck-a-neck when the game came to a bit of a shuddering halt because one of us played the equivalent of a Royal Flush, which wins the game outright.

Next we played the “Feature Game” which was PitchCar, a gorgeous, dexterity car-racing game. This game was also a Christmas Special and included the first expansion which has shicanes and jumps/bridges. For this game we used one of the standard layouts making full use of the special features.

Once everyone had completed their qualifying lap, we were off. Yellow, who won the qualifying, stalled on the grid, so Pink led into the first corner and got in everyone else’s way. Meanwhile, Black went for a pitstop and came out Orange. After about half a lap, Green had got his nose in front and despite the best efforts of Blue and White (who came from the back of the grid to finish second), this proved an unassailable lead.

Next up was The Resistance: Avalon. This game is a little different with players dividing into two teams, the Loyal Servants of Arthur and the Minions of Mordred, to go on a series of quests. Arthur’s team want the quests to be successful, whereas Mordred’s team want them to fail. The catch is, the Loyal Servants of Arthur don’t know who Mordred’s men are and players vote for teams to go on each quest. The first two quests were successful, before the Minions managed to sneak in a failure. After winning the fourth quest, the Loyal servants snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when Merlin was named correctly and assassinated.

The last game of the evening was an old favourite, Dobble and we played several chaotic rounds in different styles before we went home.

Learning Outcome: A little research before preparing your Christmas list goes a long way!
 
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8. Board Game: Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 – Team Asia & Legendary Asia [Average Rating:7.71 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.71 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.71 Unranked]
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Normally, we are very reliant on support from people coming from outside Stanford – Stanford is a village and we are very grateful to the people who travel from the surrounding villages and towns. However, this week we had a visitor who set a new record coming over 8,000 miles – although it is possible she might not have come just to play games…!

Since the early arrivals were eating, we didn’t start playing until 8pm by which time we had six people, so the first game was Pick Picknic. This is a fun little game where players play chicken cards to claim corn in one of six coloured fields. If two or more chickens claim the same field, then they can choose to share or they can roll to see who gets it. But watch out for the foxes: They are not interested the large tempting pile of corn, and eat chickens instead. Initially, it seemed that a handful of fox cards was an advantage (well, wouldn’t you prefer to be a fox?), but the winner was the person with the most corn…

The next game was the “Feature Game” which was Ticket to Ride, a train game where players compete to make routes connecting cities. Since there were six of us we decided to play the “Team Asia” map which adds the twist that players play in teams of two and have shared information and hidden information. The first thing we discovered was that it plays a lot better if you include the white, blue and yellow cards, but once we had got that sussed, the game progressed in the usual way with players picking up cards and mispronouncing place names as they laid trains to fulfil their routes. After a short tussle for Hong Kong, Blue took an early lead with Red and Black squabbling over second place. However, in the final scoring Black had many more tickets (and higher scoring ones too), and shot ahead running out easy winners.

There had been a lot of discussion and the game took much longer than expected, so we finished up with three rounds of an old favourite, No Thanks!, with the added luxury of real poker chips. All the winning scores were less than ten, but the final was -1. We thought that was a good place to end the evening.

Learning Outcome: Sometimes it is better to be a chicken than a fox!
 
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9. Board Game: Fill or Bust [Average Rating:5.72 Overall Rank:9422]
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This week was an all time low in terms of numbers with illness, snow and work all conspiring to reduce attendance. We knew we were going to be low on numbers, so we started out with a game of Tutto, to give anyone who might have been delayed by the weather time to arrive. Tutto is a very short game with people drawing cards and rolling dice to score points. If all six dice score, that’s “tutto” and you get a bonus as detailed on the card; if only some dice score, you can re-roll non-scoring dice, or stick and forfeit the bonus; if none of the dice rolled score, you lose everything from that round. The game was amazingly tight, with the all players within a few hundred points of the 6000 target at the end.

With so few of us, we took the opportunity to play something very new and quite complex: Vasco da Gama. This is a resource management game with an element of risk where players have to buy projects, recruit sailors, build, captain and launch ships and finally use them to open new commercial routes. Points were slow coming in the early rounds and players’ scores remained close. However, as time went on, it became clear that the position of ships in the navigation area was key and the player with the best positioned ships romped away to a clear victory.

Learning Outcome: Sailing is all about positioning your ship to make the best of the prevailing conditions.
 
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10. Board Game: Queen's Necklace [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:1963]
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It was another quiet night this week, but the landlady of the pub commented that February is the worst month for them, so maybe it’s catching.

The first game up was Race for the Galaxy. This is a card game where players build galactic civilizations by playing cards that represent worlds or technical and social developments. Some worlds allow players to produce goods, which can be consumed later to gain either cards or victory points and other worlds or developments have bonuses that help players manage their hand or build more efficiently. At the beginning of each round, players secretly and simultaneously choose roles, then each player has the opportunity to the action associated with the roles. The iconography on the cards takes a little getting used to, and some of the players were unfamiliar with the game so we used pre-set hands. The game was tight with only five points between first and last place and the Produce/Consume strategy giving the win.

We decided to save the “Feature Game” for next time, so instead, we played Queen’s Necklace. This is another card game (maybe we should be renamed “CardboardGOATS”?!?!) where players buy gem-stones and then try to win the right to sell them. There are two key things about this game: firstly, if a card is not bought by the first player, it’s value decreases for the next player, so the longer they hang about the cheaper they are to purchase. Secondly, when it comes to selling, each gem has an intrinsic value, but the amount the seller gets will also depend on availability, so if everyone tries to sell a valuable gem, the seller may not get as much as the person who won the right to sell a less valuable gem. In addition to gems, players can also buy character cards which allow players to inspect another’s hand, steal a card, sell an extra gem etc. This game was not as close as Race for the Galaxy though the eventual winner was the same.

Learning Outcome: It’s always just when you have managed to build a really efficient victory point engine that someone ends the game.
 
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11. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:275]
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Most people had arrived by about 8pm, so we started off with the “Feature Game”, For Sale. This is a quick, fun game consisting of two rounds: in the first players buy properties by auction; in the second they sell them again for the greatest profit possible. There were the usual mix of bad calls and lucky gambles, but the win was well deserved.

Since one of the players had to leave early, we decided to have a quick game of Incan Gold before she left. This is one of the first games we played back in October last year and is a light, “push your luck” game. The idea is that players are exploring a mine collecting treasures as they go, but if the mine collapses before they get out, they loose everything. Another run-away victory and, since she had won both games, the winner decided it was definitely time to leave and give the rest of us a chance…

So we all moved on to another bidding game, called The Speicherstadt. This is an interesting game set in post-Hanseatic League Hamburg. At its heart, it has a curious auction mechanic where players take it in turns placing markers to indicate which contract, ship or firefighter cards they would like. The first person to declare an interest in a card then has first refusal, but the cost is proportional to the total number of people interested in the card. If the first player decides it is too expensive, then the card offered at a discount to the other players in the order they declare their interest; the later the player, the larger the discount. Although it wasn’t obvious a the time, this was won by a massive margin based on collecting the Counting Offices, fulfilling a couple of lucrative contracts and an unhealthy interest in fire-fighters…

The final game of the evening was Fleet. This is another game that we hadn’t played before and also had financial management at its heart albeit with a fishy flavour. Each round starts with players bidding for fishing licenses. As well as allowing players to launch boats corresponding to the license type, they also provide their owners with a handy bonus. Cards are multipurpose, as they can be played as boats, captains or used as currency. This game was also won by a large margin, appropriately by the fisherman with by far the largest fleet of boats.

Learning Outcome: Sometimes an interest in men in uniforms helps, although girls always love a sailor.
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12. Board Game: Speedybag [Average Rating:4.79 Unranked]
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Since people were there nice and early, we started off the evening with a quick game of Turf Horse Racing. This is a clever little game where players bet on horses, but the return depends not only on the place and the “stake”, but also the number of people who bet on the horse. Thus, if several people backed the same horse, the return would be a lot lower than one which only one player bet on. Nobody backed Raven Beauty, but even it did better than Roamin’ Emperor who might as well have had three legs. Up front however, the race was quite tight with Mosstown Boy making a mad dash for the line only to run out of steam and lose to Lagoon Lady, Red Baron and Silver Blaze.

Next we played the “Feature Game” which was Nollkoll (aka Speedybag), which is another quick, fun game, but was universally agreed to be the most stressful game any of us had ever played. Basically, players turn over a card which has a shape on it and players have to feel in their bag and pull out a matching small plastic shape. The first wins the card, the person with the most cards at the end wins. It was a tight game, but oh soooo stressful!

Then it was Queen’s Necklace. We had one player who was new to it, but the rest of us played it a few weeks ago, so revisiting it was nice as it meant we could use what we had learnt the first time. It was a much closer game this time with one round really making the difference between first and second place.

Our fourth game of the evening was Coloretto, which strangely was new to most of us, though it is a well known game. Play is very simple: you can either draw a card to add to a “truck”, or take one of the “trucks” and add the cards in it to your collection to make sets of different colours. Each “truck” has a maximum of three cards and only the largest three sets score points with any others scoring negatively. It is a fun little game closely related to Zooloretto, and in many ways much better as you don’t get side-tracked by cute fluffy animals, barns and vending stalls.

Finally we finished off with our old favourite, Bohnanza (known within the group as “The Bean Game”). Since we all knew this one very well, we just checked the specific details for player numbers and launched straight into a game. Unfortunately, the deck hadn’t been shuffled very well before it was put away, so the first time through the pack was a little strange, but we sorted that out for the second time through. It was another tight game, but the “Queen of Cards” won by one card giving her a hat-trick for the evening.

Learning Outcome: Shuffling is a skill we all need to improve.
 
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13. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:159] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
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It was another quiet night as work intervened for many of us. So first up was the “Feature Game”, Carcassonne. This is one of the classic “modern” games where players lay tiles and play “Meeples” to score points. Since the new gamers were unable to come, we played “nasty” rather “friendly”, with one player who kept getting road junctions and another who got all the got city ends! It was a very close game that went twice round the scoring track and ended with only five points between first and last place.

The second game we decided to go with was Hamburgum which is a game set in Hamburg during the seventeenth century where players produce beer, sugar and cloth and sell them overseas. They compete for the best sites for their buildings and the best berths for their ships in the harbour, but ultimately they vie to make the most prestigious church donations, because only prestige decides the game. The game is almost completely luck free as it has no cards or dice and the actions are selected by your position on a carousel or roundel.

The game started quite slowly, until we realised we could build more than one building at a time, so, it took a while for the first church to be completed with all five donations. The second was slightly quicker, but once we completed the third, the rest followed very quickly and the race round the roundel was on to get goods turned into money and then into resources to make the final donations to the prestigious last church. The margin of victory was much larger for this game than Carcassonne, but with about twenty-four points on that last church, the result could have been much closer.

Learning Outcome: When it comes to resources, “few but often” sometimes goes further than “lots but rarely”.
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14. Board Game: Coloretto [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:514]
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Stanford-in-the-Vale, Oxfordshire
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This week we had two new gamers, so we started out gently with the “Feature Game” which was Coloretto. This is a simple card game where players have to collect sets of coloured chameleons. However, while the three largest sets contribute positively to the final score, any others are subtracted. The game was really quite tight with only three points between first and second place.

Next up was Carcassonne which had its second outing in as many games nights. In contrast to the last game, this was played very “nicely”. We started out with a selection of tiles from the two river sets and then played with just the base game, without farmers. The youngest player managed to draw city after city tile and built a massive, uncontested city. Meanwhile, the other new player got meeples stuck in a city and on a road that required two tiles to infill a hole, one of which was quite specific. In a masterpiece of courage, she waited it out and drew the last required tile in the penultimate round. Despite these heroics, however, his seemingly never-ending stream of cloisters meant nobody was quite able to catch red, who ran out eventual winner.

Given that the new players have an interest in horses, we then moved on to Turf Horse Racing. This time, the new players ganged up, backing Roamin’ Emperor who had a one in six chance of moving 20 lengths. It started really well too, launching into the lead, only for Silver Blaze, Red Baron, and Desert Prince to eventually move ahead. Mosstown Boy and Lagoon Lady hung on to the back of the pack while the old nag Raven Beauty seemed to be going backwards. Lagoon Lady started to loose contact when, with a sudden burst of pace Roamin’ Emperor made a dash for the line winning by 15-20 lengths from Silver Blaze and Red Baron.

Finally, we finished with a few quick rounds of one of our old favourites, Dobble. We managed three different riotous variations and honours were pretty much even.

Learning Outcome: When it comes to boardgames, playing on a tablecloth is a BAD idea as it moves and causes “earthquakes”.
 
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15. Board Game: Village [Average Rating:7.54 Overall Rank:132]
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Stanford-in-the-Vale, Oxfordshire
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This week we started out with another new game called Love Letter. This is a really cute little game that packs in a huge amount of deduction, risk, assassination, luck and bluffing, especially considering it comprises only sixteen cards and a handful of cubes. Basically, each player has a hand of just one card and on a turn, players draw one card, and play one card, trying to expose others and knock them out of the game. The winner of the round is the player with the highest value card or the last man standing. We played four rounds, after which it was clear that beginners luck was ruling the day with the players who had played before all failing to win a round.

Due to work commitments and a stroppy horse our less experienced players were unable to attend, so we had a bit of a change of plan and decided to leave the “Feature Game” (Ticket to Ride) for another day. Since we had another new (though experienced) gamer, we decided to play a new, deeper game called Village. In this game, each player takes the reins of a family striving for fame and glory. Village is full of difficult decisions, yet moves quite quickly. However, what is particularly unique is the way the game uses the delicate subject of death as a natural and perpetual part of life in the village and a mechanism for dictating the flow and duration of the game.

The strategies players employed varied hugely, from exploring the outside world and going into the church, to remaining a penniless farmer, or even trying a bit of everything. From the start it seemed that White was running away with victory as he left the Village and explored the shire. Meanwhile Red decided that piety was the best option and sent his sons into the church, leaving Blue and Yellow splashing about in the mud on the farm. However, towards the end it became apparent that Yellow was hatching a cunning plan in the council chamber and suddenly made a fortune trading in the market. The final result hinged on Blue’s decision to sell a cow which started a market day giving White the opportunity he needed to effectively have an extra turn and win by two points, with Yellow, Blue and Red surprisingly close behind.

Learning Outcome: When it comes to Village life, a single-minded strategy is often more effective than dabbling in everything.
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16. Board Game: The Speicherstadt [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:685]
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Like last time, we again started out with a quick game of Love Letter while we waited for late arrivals. This time we found that players were winning rounds without getting very deep into the deck, which is strange. However, one thing that didn’t change was that beginners luck again carried the day…

Next we quickly played a new game, Diavolo. This is a dice rolling game where players take it in turns to roll dice and depending on the outcome of the “Order” die, dive for a cute little imp. If they fail to grab one (or get the wrong one), the player loses a gem and the last person to lose all their gems is the winner. We all found this game very stressful so we had one quick round of an old favourite, No Thanks! as the last player arrived and went to the bar.

Once again, our less experienced players were otherwise engaged, so we decided to forego Ticket to Ride and play something we enjoyed a couple of months ago, namely The Speicherstadt. This is a clever little auction game that is relatively quick to play and easy to teach, but has a lot of strategy. In short, cards are turned over and players take it in turns to place one of their “Village People” next to the card they would like to buy: contracts, ships (use to fulfil the contracts), firemen (to protect against inferno) etc.. The first player to bid for a card has first refusal for that card, but the price they must pay is equal to the total number of “Village People” next to the card. If they decline, then the next player has the choice, and the cost has reduced by one. Despite the fact that the different players seemed to employ quite different strategies it ended a very close game. For example, Blue eschewed firemen and ended up taking nearly all the negative points due to fires. Thus, Blue was some twenty points adrift at the back before the final accounting although they had a couple of valuable contracts and the warehouse. In contrast, White invested heavily in firemen, and was way out in front, but had less to add in the final reckoning. White and Blue ended level on points in last place, but only two points behind the winner who had engaged in more trading.

Finally, we just managed to squeeze in a game of Keyflower. This is a really beautiful resource management and bidding game where players use meeples (or “Keyples” as they are known here) both as currency for bidding and as workers to generate resources. Played over four Seasons, with new tiles available at the start of each one, players take it in turns to bid for the different tiles. However, the catch is that once a bid has been made, any subsequent bids for that tile must be both larger and made with the same colour. In addition to the colour management, there are lots of other really elegant aspects to this game. For example, players can place workers on tiles and use the products during that same Season, thus, if a player needs red for bidding, they may be able to use a worker to obtain the necessary Keyples. This means you rarely find you can’t do anything, but you often can’t do exactly what you want. Although it was a new release at the end of last year, we had all played it before, so we just had a quick reminder of the rules as we set up and then launched into it. In contrast to the last game, this was a bit of a white wash with the leader wining by some thirty points. What was particularly interesting, however, was that this was based on a skill tile strategy which netted some sixty points at the end of the game. None of us had ever found them all that useful before, presumably at least partly because the right tiles had never come up.

Learning Outcome: In some games, you can be quite convinced you are losing and be very, very wrong.
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17. Board Game: Saboteur [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:977] [Average Rating:6.60 Unranked]
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Stanford-in-the-Vale, Oxfordshire
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The first game we played this week was our “Feature Game”, the card game, Saboteur which is a little like a cross between two games we’ve played before: Avalon and Incan Gold. In this game players are dwarves working together mining for gold, with the catch that there could be a saboteur in their midst… Since nobody had ever played it before, the first round was a bit of an experiment for all of us and we all started out “honest” playing path cards and maps. However, suspicion arose a when one player claimed to have run out of useful paths and had to play a broken pick-axe, with inevitable reprisals. Unfortunately, he HAD been honest and there were no saboteurs, but as we just managed to get to the gold, it didn’t really matter.

Since we felt we were starting to get the hang of it, we went went for a second round and this time correctly identified the saboteur and pinned him down with a pile of broken picks, lanterns and wagons while we dug up the gold. When we picked on the same player for the third time, however, he was understandably distressed and protested his innocence. Nevertheless, since he had very obviously shut off one of optional tunnels we had been carefully building, the pleading fell on deaf ears and failed to prevent the hail-storm of broken tools, only for it to become apparent that, once again, he was innocent. When we asked why he had behaved in such a treacherous way, he forlornly explained that he was trying to stop us going the wrong way as he knew where the gold was. Next time I suppose we might listen to him…

Next, we played the Scandinavian Ticket to Ride, a game we were all reasonably familiar with. This is a really beautiful edition of “the train game”, but with slight twists to the usual rules. White and Purple took the first few points, but Black joined in quickly and play continued pretty much evenly. Black ran out of trains first which stymied Purple’s attempt to get the long track into Murmansk, however, we were all within ten points or so when we went into the final scoring. Unfortunately, it turned out that Black and Purple had accidentally conspired to block White making her take a sizeable detour. This had consequences for the number tickets she could complete. Black and Purple jointly took the Globetrotter bonus with five completed tickets each, but it was the magnitude of the completed tickets that made the difference and Black ran out the winner by some fifty points.

Next we returned to semi-cooperativity with a quick game of The Great Balloon Race. This is a great little race game (albeit with a ridiculously large box), where players have three different coloured balloons and the first to get them all home wins. The snag is that nobody knows who owns which colour and it is highly likely that players will share at least one balloon with other players. We last played this back in October and Blue and Orange got a bit victimised. This time it was Blue and Pink…

Finally, we squeezed in a game of Ice Flow. This is a really pretty strategy game where players direct teams of three explorers that are trying to get from Alaska to Siberia, climbing pack-ice, dodging polar bears, catching fish and occasionally jumping in for a quick swim. Although this is a new game to boardGOATS, we were all familiar with it, so with a quick reminder of the rules we were off, jumping from ice floe to ice floe. The game has a bit of a tendency for players to get stuck unable to get fish or rope, but we were wise to this and managed to control the resources quite successfully. Black got an explorer home first, followed by a couple of Red meeples, however, while Black’s last piece dodged a hungry polar bear, Red managed to get his final one home for the win.

Learning Outcome: A clever move can sometimes be mistaken for a guilty one, however much you protest.
 
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18. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:7.98 Overall Rank:27]
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The first game of the evening was Ice Flow, the cute strategy game where players have to cross the Bering Straight from Alasaka to Siberia by jumping from ice floe to ice floe. We had played a quick game last time just before we finished, and this game started the same way as that one with Black making all the running and Red following on behind. The first explorer home was Black with a Yellow explorer was hot on her heels. Black’s remaining two explorers were very close to home though and ready to pounce. This meant that Yellow was forced to try a bit of blocking to prevent Black and Red getting home, but unfortunately it needed a couple of moves too many and it was an easy win for the Black as the youngest player, with Red a close second.

The other game we played was the “Feature Game”, Agricola, which is a highly regarded game about farming in the middle ages and since half the players hadn’t played it before, it was very much a learning game. The idea is that players are medieval farmers living in a two room wooden hut with their spouse. Life is hard, and success is measured by the quality and size of your home, the number of animals you keep, and your ability to put your land to good use. However, your priority is simply to get enough food to survive and survival is difficult without resorting to begging. Each round, the family go out to work to try to obtain materials to improve their homestead or to work on the land to avoid starvation, but there are always lots of things players want to do, and never enough turns. To make matters worse, at intervals during the game, there is a harvest when the animals breed and the grain is brought in, but everyone has to be fed.

It was quite difficult for the players who had not played it before to grasp how to start, but Cyan and White started out collecting all the wood, while Green hoarded all the clay. In the absence of anything better, Blue scraped together enough wood to extend her hut and decided engaged in a little procreation which meant she could send the children out to work on the land and an early age. Meanwhile Cyan moved into animal husbandry building lots of fences and breeding sheep while Green got all house proud building a clay oven and extending and renovating his hut from a wooden shack to a brick cottage. Unfortunately Green failed to use his shiny new oven before harvest so famine arrived and his burgeoning family had to beg to survive. Although Cyan had a very impressive flock of sheep, without an oven, her family were forced to live on fish and it showed in the final score. Green’s large family and building a huge paddock in the last round offset some of his five begging cards and he came home a close third, however, Blue ran out clear winner 11 points ahead of White in second place.

Learning Outcome: You needed to do a little bit of everything to be a successful farmer in the middle ages.
 
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19. Board Game: Mission: Red Planet [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:830]
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A couple of us arrived very early and managed to squeeze in a couple of games and dinner before anyone else arrived. First up was Forbidden Desert. This is a very new, cooperative game, where players work together to try to escape from the desert before the get swamped by the sand storm or die of thirst. Although they have a lot in common, it is quite different to its older brother, Forbidden Island, and we felt, quite a bit more advanced. Since it was only the second time out of the box, we played on the Novice Level. Essentially, the game consists of a grid of tiles with a storm in the middle. As the game progresses, the storm moves about, shifting the other tiles creating sand dunes as it goes. The explorers also have to combat the lack of water in the desert, all the while trying to find clues to the location of parts of an ancient burried flying machine, and eventually, the parts themselves. In the end we did it with a little breathing space, but there is no way we would have escaped without the Water Carrier’s special ability to get more water from the well.

Next we managed a quick game of Morels. This is a really pretty set collecting game with a mushroom theme and added “woodsiness” in the form of forage sticks which act as a sort of currency. The idea is that you can collect the easily accessible mushrooms “at your feet” for free, or you can choose a less accessible fungi for the cost of one or more forage sticks. Once you have a set of three or more mushrooms you can cook them, with added cider or butter flavouring to add points at the end of the game.

It is the Stanford-in-the-Vale Summer Festival this weekend and we are planning to have a stall to raise our profile (weather permitting). Since it is quite robust, we are planning to make Army of Frogs available to people to play, so we thought we should try to get to grips with it first. Basically the idea is that you jump one of your hexagonal frog tiles (if you can) and then place a frog from your hand, finally drawing another frog from the bag to make your hand back up to two frogs. Somehow, we managed to play this apparently simple little game wrongly not once, but twice! Something to work on before Sunday…

Then, we played this weeks “Feature Game”, Mission: Red Planet, which is about colonizing Mars. In this game, each player is a colonial power which sends astronauts, in space shuttles, to occupy the most promising zones on the planet. It is an interesting game with a curious mixture of luck and judgement. The luck comes from the rockets that are available at the start of each round, the value of each region of Mars (which is hidden in the early part of the game) and the destiny cards drawn. The judgement comes from the character cards which enable players to place a number of astronauts into rockets and often do something else, like launch a rocket early or move astronauts around on Mars or even sabotage someone elses plans. The character played also dictates when the player gets their turn which leads to a lot of trying to “out think” everyone else, and with only ten rounds, once a card has been played you may not get the chance to play it again. This sort of game can either go very well or very badly and this is exactly what happened: Red came in four points ahead of Blue with fifty-five points, while Green finished with less than half that.

The last game of the night was Salmon Run. This is a new little race game, where players are fish dodging bears, eagles and rapids, jumping waterfalls and trying to be the first to get to the spawning pool without being too tired. The game has a modular board and, as it was new to most of us, we used a fairly easy set up: S1, 4E, 3E, 2M and F1. Red started quickly up the right side of the course with Black and Grey giving chase. Unfortunately Red banged her head against the bank which gave Grey and Black the chance to overtake. Black set the bear on Grey a couple of times and managed to sneak ahead, but Grey made a run for the last water fall and managed to sneak into the spawning pool, and as the last player in the round, ended the game and the evening.

Learning Outcome: For teaching at the Summer Festival, it is probably a good idea to have some laminated crib-sheets available!
 
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20. Board Game: Diamant [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:666]
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This week, we started off playing a slightly neglected old favourite, No Thanks!. It seemed like ages since we played it last, but it turned out that it was less than two months ago that it last got an outing. Since it is a quick card game where rounds take just a few minutes, it was ideal to play until everyone had arrived. Next we, we played the “Feature Game”, Incan Gold, which is another game we’ve played previously. In this game players are going down a mine and trying to get out with as many gems as possible before it collapses. One player made a bit of a killing in the opening round, but she failed to hang onto the lead and was pipped by just two gems at the very end.

It was a bit of an evening for games we’ve played previously, as next we played Alhambra (which was a “Feature Game” at the end of last year). This is a tile laying game where players have to collect sets and score points for having the most in any one set. Scoring takes place twice during the game and once at the end, and each time the number of points increases. This time, Blue (who won last time), got a terrible run of the cards and Red who had missed it last time, had an amazing game winning by a very large margin.

Racing fish may not seem like an obvious choice for a game theme, but it turns out that it actually works really well. We played Salmon Run just two weeks ago and although we enjoyed it, we were all a bit tired, so we decided to give it another go this week. For variety, however, we changed almost all the boards, using S2, 3M, 4E, 5E & F2. This time, Black got going much quicker than everyone else and headed left followed by Red while White went right. Black decided not to worry about fatigue cards and just run for it, while Red and White were more cautious. Black’s tactics seemed to pay off, however, as he made it to the spawning pool first and nobody else could quite make it in time.

Our final game game was Forbidden Desert which we also played last week, however it is a new release this year and it was a very close game last time, so we felt it deserved another outing. This time we didn’t have a Water Carrier, but we managed to make good use of the tunnels and the Navigator’s ability to move other players three spaces for the cost of only one action. These with the Archeologist’s ability to clear extra sand meant we ran out comfortable winners. We’ll have to ramp up the difficulty next time!

Learning Outcome: Doing well the first time you play a game doesn’t mean you’ll do well the second time…
 
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21. Board Game: Flash Point: Fire Rescue [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:288]
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As has been widely reported, there was a serious fire at the Horse and Jockey pub at 9 pm on Saturday night. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but although the building appears to be structurally sound, there is extensive smoke, fire and water damage and it will undoubtedly be some time before the pub reopens.

Undeterred, boardGOATS will continue, for the time being in people’s homes. So, if you want to come along, get in touch to find out where we will be meeting.
 
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22. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:7.98 Overall Rank:27]
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This was our first meeting after the fire at the Jockey, so was the first meeting in someone’s home and therefore had a slightly different feel.

While we waited for people to arrive, we had a mess about with Hive. This is a little two player game that some have compared to Chess. This similarity comes from the fact that the pieces are Black and White and different pieces have different characteristics in the way they move. Although much of the thinking is similar, the theme is insects and there is no board. We had hardly started when everyone else arrived, so we left the teaching game for another occasion and decided to start something bigger.

In honour of the Jockey, we considered playing Flash Point: Fire Rescue, however, we thought this could be considered bad taste so we decided to stick with our original plan to play our “Feature Game”, Agricola. This is a game we played a few weeks ago, about farming in the middle ages. Each player starts with a two room wooden hut and farmer and his wife. In each round, players take it in turns to send the members of their family out to work. The problem is that each action can only be taken once, by one player in each round. In addition, there are only fourteen rounds and at intervals there are Harvests when all members of the family must be fed or the family has to go begging. Last time we played the “basic game”, but as everyone had played it before (though some had only experience of the “basic game”), this time we decided to add a layer of complexity by playing with the “E-Deck” of “Minor Improvement” and “Occupation” cards.

We had a bit of a debate about whether we should just deal out the cards or whether we should “draft”. Drafting is where everyone chooses to keep a card from their hand and passes the rest of their cards to the player on their left; they then choose a second card from the hand they receive from the player to their right, before passing the rest on, and so on until all the cards have been shared out. This has several purposes. Firstly it means everyone knows what cards are in play, which allows for a deeper level of strategy where players can deliberately play to obstruct other people’s game. Secondly, in theory, it means that nobody ends up with a really good hand while someone else ends up with all the rubbish cards. Finally, it also means that players can choose cards that work well together, however, this can result in a bit of an “all or nothing” game depending on whether the plan works or not. We decided against drafting as two players had never played with the cards and felt that they wouldn’t know what a good card or a good combination of cards was. Although this was undoubtedly the right decision in the circumstances, unlike many games, the cards are not carefully balanced and there are definitely some cards that are better than others, so it would certainly be something to try another time.

After carefully tiling the boards to make them fit on the table, we dealt out the cards and Red won the start player lottery. Everyone made a dash for occupations before the players began to develop their different strategies. Red had a occupation cards that made upgrading his wooden hovel into a stone palace cheaper, so decided to prioritise that, while Green decided to expand his family and went in for agriculture and fishing. Meanwhile, Blue enclosed a massive pasture and Turquoise engaged in vegetable farming. Each strategy appeared to have its good points and bad points, for example, Blue covered a lot of the space available, however, she spent the early part of the game flirting with starvation; in contrast, Green had plenty of food available, but struggled to make use of all the land.

In the last few rounds, everyone made the obligatory dash for points. Red finally managed to upgrade his five bedroom mansion to stone, but at the expense of everything else except one solitary field; Blue added a stable to her pasture and invested in the next generation; Turquoise built three large pastures and crammed three children into his three bedroom brick house, and Green optimised his final harvests and enclosed a pasture for a couple of cows. Turquoise ran out an easy winner with over forty points having managed to participate in a little bit of everything except sheep. Blue and Green came in joint second with twenty-nine points apiece.

Learning Outcome: Learning Outcome: Living in a stone mansion does not make you a good farmer.
 
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23. Board Game: Vasco da Gama [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:526]
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Stanford-in-the-Vale, Oxfordshire
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This week we started with our “Feature Game”, Vasco da Gama. Some of us played this few months ago so we decided to give it another go. As discussed previously, it is a worker placement game, with an element of risk management. Players recruit workers, start projects, build ships and sail new commercial routes to eastern Africa and India, to earn money and glory.

The game comes in three phases: worker placement, then worker actions, and finally ships sailing. Players take it in turns to choose one of four areas for their workers: buying ships; captaining and manning ships with sailors; “schmoozing” some influential characters to win valued favours; and finally, launching boats. The clever part of the game is that when players place their workers, they also choose a counter to go with it. The counters are numbered from one to twenty and the actions are carried out starting with the lowest working up to the highest – a bit like the deli counter at the supermarket. However, here, the low numbers cost cost money while the higher ones are free. The snag is, you don’t know exactly where the free ones start, only the range of possible values, and the further you are below the cut off, the more it is going to cost you to carry out the action.

So, people take it in turns to choose a counter and place one of their four workers in the four areas. Then, once all the workers have been placed, in number order, players choose whether or to carry out the action (paying if appropraiate) or whether to pass and take money in lieu of an action (just to make things more interesting, the lower numbers get less money). Once a ship has been bought and has a full crew, the ship can be launched, and this is where it gets tricky. You get an immediate reward for launching a ship, but you also get rewards for each ship still sailing at the end of the round, and these rewards are increased if the row the ship is in is also full. The snag is that before the next round starts, each complete row of ships moves on to the next row, however, if there is no space in the next row the ship is lost and with it any future possibility of rewards. Thus, the position of ships is really critical and can make or break your chances of doing well.

Black chose to fight for the attentions of one of the characters, Bartolomeu Dias. This character is particularly generous as he gives players two victory points when they offer to host him as well as two more victory points at the end of the round AND means you go first at the start of the next round. Meanwhile, Yellow and Red decided to buy ships and Blue tried to sail the line between bankruptcy and profit. It is very clear that it is an advantage to have seen the way the ships move as it is a complex process and appears quite chaotic at times with the best laid plans falling apart because someone places a ship unexpectedly or they simply can’t count! Before long, ships were sinking all over the place and Black had a massive lead, however, before long, Yellow and Blue started making in-roads too. Yellow ran out the eventual victor, but only a couple of points ahead of Black.

We only had time for one other game and as time was tight, we chose an old favourite that we’d all played lots of times before, Bohnanza. This is a fun, trading card game, where players are collecting beans to become the most successful bean farmer. Players have to play cards in the order they are in their hand and are not allowed to rearrange them, so the game is all about controlling the order of the cards trading. Everyone was feeling very generous and deals were rarely hard bargains. In contrast to the first game, it was very close and the game was tied with the winners on thirty-three and everyone within four points of each other.

Learning Outcome: Bartolomeu Dias is a very powerful guy.
 
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24. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.03 Overall Rank:22]
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Stanford-in-the-Vale, Oxfordshire
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We decided to save our “Feature Game” (Guillotine) for an occasion when there’s a more appreciative audience and went straight into a much longer, deeper, and very highly regarded game called Puerto Rico. Although we had all played it before, for some of us it was a long time ago, so we had a quick recap of the rules before we started.

In this game players are plantation owners in seventeenth century Puerto Rico growing up to five different kind of crops: corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. Each plantation owner must try to run their business more efficiently than their competitors. First they must grow their crops then they must store them efficiently. Finally, players must sell their crops at the right time or ship their goods back to Europe for maximum benefit. In order to do this most effectively, the plantation owners must make optimal use of the arriving colonists and develop the capital city, San Juan, building useful amenities. In each round, players take it in turns to choose a role, but no role can be selected twice in the same round. Each player gets the opportunity to carry out each action, however, there is a privilege that goes to the player who chose to do it. For example, if one player chooses to build, everyone can build if they want, however, it is cheaper for the person who chose to do it. Ultimately, the player who selects the best roles to advance their position during the game will win. There are two small expansions, but after some discussion, we decided not to use either in the end as we didn’t feel we needed the variety for this game, but maybe next time.

Green decided to start building a couple of quarries and then expanded the indigo plantation that he started the game with, and added sugar (as nobody else seemed to be planting sugarcane). Meanwhile, Blue started out with some corn, built a quarry, then dabbled briefly in tobacco, before going all out for coffee sales. Red, on the other hand, started out with one indigo plantation and added a tobacco plantation. When that didn’t really provide what he wanted, he tried coffee as well for good measure before deciding that what he REALLY wanted was a factory! Red then went into the coffee market which messed with Blue’s plans, so she started shipping corn and coffee which screwed up Green. Towards the end of the game, everyone made a mad dash for big buildings, but the damage had already been done by the efficient factory which gave Red the win with fifty-three points.

We only had time for one other game, and decided on Hanabi. This is a really clever and unusual cooperative game which has just been awarded the Spiel des Jahres. Hanabi is the Japanese word for “fireworks” and the idea is that you are collectively trying make the perfect firework display. To do this, all you have to do is play cards, in order from one to five, in their colour suits. The snag is that you hold your hand of cards back to front so that you can’t see the cards you are going to play, although you can see everyone else’s. Thus, on your turn you can give a hint to someone to tell them something about their cards or you can play or discard a card. Hints are restricted though and you can only point point out all the cards of a specific, common number or colour. You also only have eight hints, although you get extras for every card you discard. You also only have three lives and lose one each time you play a card that has already been played or if you play a card before all the lower numbers of that colour have been played. One of the reasons Hanabi is so unusual is that although players are working towards a common goal, they can’t really help each other. In this game, we made a mistake quite early on when someone discarded the second yellow four and it all went downhill from there, ending with a total of eighteen (out of a possible maximum of twenty-five).

Learning Outcome: If you teach people too well, sometimes they end up winning!
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25. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:7.98 Overall Rank:27]
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It being the height of the summer holiday, there was a severe shortage of people about, so we started late with our Feature game, Agricola. This game is about farming in the middle ages and is a one we have played several times now. However, one of our regulars has somehow missed out and, as it is a game we know she would enjoy we decided that while it was quiet it was a good opportunity to play the “family game” again.

So we had a gentle run down of the rules before we started collecting wood and clay, fish and grain. Before long, Red had renovated her two room hut to brick and started ploughing fields while her farming couple lived on fish. Meanwhile, Blue was trying (and failing) to expand her wooden hut, plough fields and fence in some pasture so she could keep some sheep, all at the same time. Blue was the first to engage in a little “family growth” and had no qualms about sending her unfortunate offspring out to work the land at an early age. Red didn’t have enough clay to build an additional room, so had to wait until she had the option of sharing rooms. Despite Red picking up vegetables, cattle and pigs, at the end of the day, Blue’s experience (and larger family) meant she had an unassailable lead.

There was just time for a quick second game, so we decided to go with something we were familiar with, Forbidden Desert. This is clever little cooperative game that we’ve played a couple of times before. The idea is that players are members of a team of adventurers on a mission to excavate an ancient desert city and recover a legendary flying machine that’s rumoured to be powered by the sun. Moments before arriving at the destination, the helicopter crash lands, stranding the team in the vast desert,exposed to an unrelenting storm and extreme sun. The only hope for survival is to work together to excavate the city, find the parts of the flying machine and rebuild it to escape.

Players have particular areas of expertise: this time we had the “Archaeologist” and the “Meteorologist”, which meant we had one player who could clear sand more efficiently (twice as fast as normal) and another who could check what the storm was going to do next. We started well, making good use of the special abilities and taking advantage of the tunnels to hide from the sun. Without the “Water Carrier” we were really worried about dying of thirst, but we managed eke out our water supply and stayed on top of the problem by hiding as much as possible. We also managed to prevent too much sand build-up with occasional judicious use of the Duneblaster, but what we failed to keep an eye on was the sand-storm level and we were at level six with clues still to find. The storm was on its highest level when we finally managed to pick up the last clue, hop over the dunes with a jet pack, clear the launch pad and escape, but it was a very close-run thing!

Learning Outcome: There is a reason farming families are usually large.
 
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