Game boxes come full of promise and colourful boards and wooden pieces and custom dice and plastic miniatures and beautiful cards and lovely punch boards and glossy rule books and helpful player aids and extravagant start player markers and all other sorts of joy. They are a veritable cornucopia of wonderous things. But there’s something that the boxes never contain;
The time to play them.
This isn’t a post to knock on the excitement of the many who are about to acquire loads of the new games but, honestly, when I was perusing the expected Essen releases I wasn’t overly enthused with anything. And I don’t think that is, mainly, down to the titles on offer, it’s just that I can’t magic up the time to get them played*. Not feeling the urge to get hold of, and then to learn and teach and play (multiple times?) the latest games has meant a lot less stress over the state of my collection. I’m not saying I’ve reached some state of boardgamer zen but I’m feeling real good about that.
You know how sometimes you get asked dumb “what if” or “would you rather” questions? (usually either in some corporate situation like an interview or when you’re a drunk teenager) Well, my stock answer to the “three wishes” one has always been ‘an extra hour in my day please’** The luxury of time is in increasingly scare supply it seems, just as the number of ways in which to fill it are growing exponentially.
Boardgames are just one of the options for me, a good one for sure, but that’s it. Although if anyone can find a way to package up an hour or two and stick it in a plastic baggie in the game box then you’ve got my money!
*It’s actually been a spectacular year in terms of games getting played for me, but they are mostly short, and I intend to do a geeklist/ end of year blog post about them all. **as well as ‘fresh pants and socks every day’ and ‘peace on earth’ ‘be able to fly’.
Some time last year I started to realise that I was becoming much more middle aged interested in history, particularly military history, and that I was also keen to explore games of this ilk. After dabbling with quite a few and, along with my general gaming tastes, discovering that I prefer the lighter playing end of the spectrum, I’ve ended up buying and trading for several different Commands and Colors games. Memoir '44 and the Second World War generally is the period that I am most interested in but, in no small part due to the anniversaries, the First World War is increasingly in my thoughts, my reading, and now my gaming.
The gaming system is simple enough that if you know one game in it then you know 80% of all of the others, but the tweaks in the other 20% really do great things to evoke the period. In The Great War the role of artillery is very prominent, and the protective bonuses from being inside the trenches are far enhanced from defensive positions in other games in the series. But the fact that usually one side is “under time pressure” - meaning that the enemy can gain victory medals from playing recon cards (and eschewing their benefits) - forces them to go on the offensive and into no man’s land.
In the picture above we are at the start of the Somme offensive in 1916, at Hawthorn Ridge, just outside the village of Beaumont Hamel.
(From Wikipedia) At 7:20 a.m. on 1 July 1916, the British fired a huge mine beneath the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt. Sprung ten minutes before zero hour, it was one of 19 Mines on the first day of the Somme and was filmed by Geoffrey Malins*. The attack on the redoubt by part of the 29th Division of VIII Corps was a costly failure. The corps commander had ordered the mine to be fired early to protect the advancing infantry from falling debris but this also gave the Germans time to occupy the rear lip of the mine crater. When British parties crossed no man's land to occupy the crater, they were engaged by German small-arms fire. A few British soldiers reached the crater; at noon they were ejected by a German counter-attack. The success of the German defence of the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt crater contributed to the failure of the British attack on the rest of the VIII Corps front.
*A still from this footage of the mine detonation is below. Look at the foreground for a sense of scale.
In an almost total role-reversal of history the British, greatly aided by an infantry assault card and a combat card (can’t remember the title) that allowed potential extra movement for all ordered infantry (one for each soldier shown on rolling two dice), managed to rush the crater and claim a majority on the hill that they would not cede for the rest of the game (majority on the seven central hexes being worth a start of turn victory point). A detachment also broke off from the hill to clear the front trench on the British right (any British occupancy of a German front trench hex also earn a start of turn victory point). A “Butts & Bayonets” (counter close assault) card on the Germans attempted fight back gained another medal leaving them only one shy of victory after just three turns.
As well as being the beneficiaries of some great fortune with their opening hand the British knew that it was truly to be their day when an all out artillery bombardment from the Germans (boosted by yet another combat card I can’t remember) scattered all around the crater, potentially hitting five British units and yet not a single loss was taken. With a handful of movement cards that only ordered their wiped out left flank the Germans knew the game was up but managed to take down a couple of low strength British units before succumbing to inevitable collapse.
Movement, and swift movement at that, is absolutely key in this game (much as it needed to be to finally break the deadlock on the Western Front in 1918) and assaults must be followed up and consolidated or else the units will be highly vulnerable to counter attack. Crossing no man’s land is highly perilous and should not be attempted without a viable plan for the next couple of turns already sitting on the cards in your hand.
Trying to imagine what is must have been like to hear the whistle that ordered soldiers over the top and to then advance across churned ground that been (often) pounded by artillery, ostensibly to provide cover for infantry advancing across the open, is quite chilling.
I’ve seen some excellent custom scenery and great photography that have really helped to make this game come to life, but this is the best I can manage on a grey afternoon in the living room with the base game only and a couple of minutes with an iPhone and stock filters. The whole game does appear rather drab on the table, the starkness and grimness being quite evocative actually, but the game does seem to cry out for a bit of painting and modelling, more so than others in the series. Perhaps I will go digging around the old Warhammer paints box and see what I can do to bring a little more life and vibrancy to the tabletop.
There have been previous undertakings to restore colour to old footage but nothing quite as transformative as this incredible piece of work from Peter (LotR) Jackson. When the Imperial War Museum handed hundreds of hours of original footage to him four years ago it was with a speculative “see what you can do”; I heard him say that when he saw the first four minute sample all present in the room were utterly gobsmacked as the people were vividly brought to life as if it were only yesterday rather than 100 years ago. This labour of love and remembrance is further enhanced by all the voiceovers being from veterans themselves, not a modern narrator, and with recordings taken from as soon after the war as possible, to capture them in as youthful a manner as the revitalised film does.
This extraordinary piece is being shown today, 16th October in selected cinemas. It will also be aired on the BBC on Remembrance Sunday. Play the trailer below; I imagine that I will not be the only one utterly transfixed by it.
Sometimes, you just know. Such an occurrence transpired when an unexpected knock on the door brought a cardboard box contained within a cardboard box that when (both) opened was found to be a harbinger of happiness. Boardgames are like that occasionally. Whilst everyone (especially this author) has been swept along with Wolfgang Warsch’s wonderful award nominee small box games The Mind and Ganz schön clever it’s worth remembering that he did actually win with something more traditional that hasn’t quite garnered the same attention. Maybe that’s because I’ve not been plugged in to the scene in the same way that I used to or maybe that’s because it’s only been auf Deutsch. That’s about to change though. Although this particular (ridiculously cheap) copy is all German that’s nothing that a crib sheet or a little bit of pasting up couldn’t solve. The components are nice, the art is comedically appropriate, the rules are quickly digested and before you know it you’re underway and chucking ingredients into your cauldron. And that’s when something magical happens.
Sometimes, you just know. Such an occurrence bubbles up the first time that you’re on the brink of boiling over your cauldron. Ingredient chits are pulled from bags by players (simultaneously) one at a time, with each one being placed on the spiral in the concoction a number of spaces equal to the number printed on them and the colours of them may trigger a special effect as well. The white ones though, they are the unwanted, horrible little explosive buggers, wingless flies found squished into the currant bun. As soon as they total more than seven the whole mixture spoils and spills over, meaning that you must forgo either points or buying more ingredients this round. Pull prodigiously though and you’re going to get both, plus maybe even more from the bonus dice that is awarded to the player who’s gone furthest on the track. Pushing your luck is such a brilliantly compelling mechanism. It’s almost primal. The urge for just one more is irresistible. And it’ll trip you up. And that is what’s magical. Luck? Randomness? Sure, you call it that if you want. Disparage the design to soothe your seething. Diddums. It was your damn fault. All yours. Own that error. Curse that cock up. No one made you do it. You always know how many white chits, and of what value, are left in your bag. You didn’t have to dip into the bag again. But you did, you couldn’t resist could you? And now you’ve lost tempo. You’ve lost points or forgone the buying of new chits. And now you will want to push it a bit further in the next round...
Sometimes, you just know. Such an occurrence arose when we finished our first play, totalled up the points, marvelled at how close it had ultimately ended up and then looked at each other; and we just grinned. Boardgames can do that, occasionally.
This Kennerspiel award winning box of fun is about to go international with North American and European English language editions due in the next month or so. I suggest you give it a go, in fact I’d suggest that you’d be quackers not to.
*EDIT* we played this a further two times this evening, with different books and then with the reverse side of the cauldrons. Makes it even more fun and increases the interesting interactions between the chits. This game is a real cracker!
(BGG’s outage yesterday appeared to break this post that was initially published just before the site went down, so let’s try again...!)
Billy’s birthday lunch. Clockwise from left, my lovely Mother-in-law Lyn, Charlie, Billy.
A week into September, and with the heat of summer beginning to drain from the land, I sit here pondering over the three (mostly) sweltering months that have passed since I last checked in with you.
It was a summer when football didn’t quite come home, it more swung by like an old lover for a few weeks of fun and then departed again, but with no bitterness or recriminations this time, instead a warm smile and just a slight sadness in the heart. We experienced the climactic week of the tournament whilst on holiday in Devon, during the heatwave where the air was still, the sea shone like glass and there was little need to do anything other than to meander from shaded rooftop garden to beer garden to beach to bed. It was glorious.
Holidays. Clockwise from top left; Ilfracombe harbour with Damien Hirst statue, a light snack, the dog going for his morning “walk”, our amazing rooftop garden for the week.
There have been birthdays and there have been parties. There have been weddings and there have been many glasses raised. There have been exams and there have apprehensive waits for results. There has been fun and there has been laughter. There have been friends and there has always been family. There have been growings up and there will soon be movings out. There have been proud parents and there have been special sons. There has been much time together and yet there will always be too little time together.
Wedding! Clockwise from top left; niece Poppy recommending some excellent local produce, Mrs B and her sisters Claire and Gilly, Charlie and partner Ellie, Mrs B and a half drunk fool.
There have been games. Quite a lot of games in fact. And not many of them have been new either. Which is kind of interesting. I’m finding that I’m really enjoying playing games again. And again. Freed from my earlier desires to graze far and wide on cardboard I’m rediscovering the joy that come from repeating experiences. And then there is further joy when those experiences are, sometimes slightly, sometimes markedly, different from before.
Something which I have written about earlier this year has been how I’ve been selling games and using (some of) those funds to purchase expansions for games we enjoy. This has certainly aided the number of plays and the enthusiasm we have for these evergreen titles. Viticulture is enormously improved by the Tuscany expansion. What was a very simple worker placement game with a frustrating narrowing of useful actions to take as the game progressed now blossoms into a wider, more satisfying and asymmetrical (via the structures cards) decision space. I genuinely see no reason to ever play this without all parts of the expansion in the future. We’ve long since owned Pandemic and the On The Brink expansion but a reasonably priced copy of In The Lab came my way and boy, oh boy does this change the way you play the game. It’s not essential but it is an excellent alternative, giving you a new laboratory board to place and move cubes about on. Finding a cure for each disease is now a multi step process that takes extra actions and places greater demands on your teamwork and decision making. Superb. Experimental Meds, and in particular the new roles, makes Pandemic the Cure a good deal more fun for us, and the mutation dice add an extra layer of enjoyable frustration. The Hot Zone dice less so, more like a couple of layers of frustration without the enjoyment. It’s far from bad, it’s just that Pandemic, to our minds, has always kept the fun and the challenge in balance, but these dice tip the scales a little too far into the challenge side for our tastes. The Castles of Burgundy was something of a bolt from the blue as Mrs B, long ambivalent towards its charms, suggested we play it some more. And even more surprisingly she seems to have warmed to the dice and the chits. Must have been the weather.
The table hogging buffet Feast (for Odin) made a reappearance after a year away and I left it set up for a few days, partly due to laziness and partly to aid some exploration of the underpinning of the game mechanisms by the solo challenges (available around these parts if you look). Much like a big summer barbecue there’s a initially bewildering amount of options and the whole thing looks like a mess of flavours that don’t really go together. The entire smorgasbord is actually much more subtle and interconnected than it appears after a just a few plays. Once you have grasped that there are actually only a few ways to score (big) points but all of them come with an (increasing) amount of risk/ reward you begin to understand the engine building that is required. Early on you find that your boards and raids spit out not quite as helpful as you’d wish Tetris pieces but there is an enormous amount of customisation that can undertaken by a player. This game is actually a reigning in of Uwe’s sandbox experiment rather than the apogee of it that it initially appears to the casual eye. I’m now very curious to see what the Norwegians expansion brings to the heaving table.
I’d not travelled back out to Mars for a similar amount of time, but a serendipitous alignment of celestial proportions across three gaming events with different groups across the space of a single week meant an equivalent number of plays. Each of them was an utter joy with different and unexpected paths taken by me, but remarkably all ending up with victory. I was especially proud of the one where I managed to claim all three milestones despite me pointing out to the table that they really should be trying to stop me doing so. They all regretted concentrating so much on making their card engines purr that they let me claim large clumps of the map. A supremely satisfying game is further improved by adding in the (arguably should’ve been included in the base game) Prelude cards. Giving players more opportunity to set up, jump start and fine tune their corporations not only makes for more differentiation and fun but very welcomely lops a half hour off of the play time.
A grumpy* middle aged me with new purchase
Whilst Nusfjord certainly doesn’t qualify as “new” around these pages it most assuredly is to me. This is quite evidently not part of Uwe’s sandbox experiment, instead coming off like a melding of Agricola All Creatures Big & Small (the amount of worker placement options) with the abilities (immediate, ongoing and endgame) of Glass Road’s building tiles. The three entwined game currencies of wood, fish and gold intersect pleasingly and create obvious bottlenecks that players will fight for position over, with certain buildings (especially the C deck ones that are kept hidden for a while) allowing unexpected legs up and leapfrogs to occur. The game has a very satisfying feel in a pretty short space of time. I love it, and have already played it ten times is less than a week (several of them solo admittedly). Mrs B is, unfortunately, a bit of a cold fish on it after her only play. But she’ll warm I am sure, Glass Road had a similar effect at the outset. I think it’s an excellent game and one I also think may become a regular at games night simply down to the agreeable play time.
*my dour demeanour due to having a bad knee, having driven Charlie to Bristol and back the day before to sort his accommodation for University, having shelled out a large sum of money for said living quarters, then taken him that day to Oxford to buy him new clothes for the wedding pictured above. So, to cheer myself up...., I walked in a sulk across the city centre and bought a new game, this further punishing both my knee and my wallet.
Nusfjord - I was very pleased with this score at the time. I have slightly bettered it since. Not broken 40 as of yet though.
And so as the nights begin to noticeably draw in, and the shades of the season turn towards the browns, the navies, the bottle greens, the ones that suit me in short; I find myself looking forward with no little amount of apprehension and a slight shiver at the changes soon to come but still with the warm glow of the great summer that was. I hope that you too are well, and I shan’t leave it quite so long to check in with you again.
I’m not really one for “pimping” games out with upgraded components and such, it’s much more about how the game actually plays for me, first, foremost, and lastmost for that matter as well. But when it comes to improving the practicality of playing? Now that’s a different matter. A little while ago I posted about having made a little dice tray for our collection of Roll & Write games; Well, I also spent an entire evening laminating a set of score sheets for all of them and I also purchased a few drywipe markers to go with them. Much better, and much more practical. There have also been purchases of many different sized sleeves to make certain games easier to handle (as well as protect cards that get a lot of shuffling and/ or are black bordered). I even bought a load of coin capsules to put all the Orléans character chits into, which as well as protecting them (some of the starting pieces are beginning to look a little worn) makes them much easier for Mrs B to handle with her funny fingers. And then there’s the,*ahem*, bondage tape.
I admit that it’s not something I’d ever thought I’d be looking into for my boardgames but rubber banding cards, including sleeved ones, does tend to leave some indentation. And then there are some boxes, especially small card game ones (and I have a lot of them) that just won’t stay bloody closed. Now you can go and buy Hugo’s Amazing Tape at the cost of about £20-£25 per roll but that’s a bit steep. And so when investigating alternatives I happened upon a recommendation for using bondage tape instead, as it’s exactly the same stuff, and it costs about £3-£5 a roll. And it’s good for actual bondage as well, so I am told *coughs*! The tape just sticks to itself and doesn’t seem to leave any marks or residue (I’m talking about on the cards and boxes!) and I’d highly recommend it. Although you may find your automatic recommendations on Amazon start looking a little fruitier...!
An appropriate game for this stuff, eh? Eh?
I’m finding it interesting to go back over what I’ve been playing every few months and write a longish post about them generally and hope to continue that throughout this year. I’ve not really expanded my horizons into many new areas of gaming at all actually. It’s been more a case of rediscovering games that I’d previously enjoyed but hadn’t got to play enough due to the constant need, the pressure (put upon myself) to be playing and writing about different things. And it’s a total liberation to be honest. Playing through the Memoir '44: Mediterranean Theater with Charlie has been great fun with lots of tank battles and quick and brutal resolutions. Rediscovering Terraforming Mars after a year of “rest” has also been fun. A solo game to refamiliarise myself with the rules enticed Mrs B into playing a couple of games with me and, despite her previous insistence that it wouldn’t be her kind of thing she enjoyed the escalating card combination play and had fun. The game is a delight. One of the few “new to me” games that I can say I’ve played and enjoyed was Nusfjord (with Tony Boydell, naturally, the official Norwegian Fishing Industry cheerleader*) The game is excellent, with good decisions and escalation and tightness of actions and opportunities. I’ve thought about buying it on a few occasions and nearly did so a couple of weeks ago when it was in my hands in my FLGS. The reason that I didn’t ultimately was that we have Glass Road and love that, and this falls into the same niche (although I love the card role selecting/ piggybacking mechanism in GR) and I really don’t play that enough as it is. Mrs B is also a bit reluctant to keep learning new games (unless they are small and easy to pick up) and there’s such an abundance of games available in my regular games group that I don’t see the need to add something else to it for an occasional play only. But it is very good.
*imagine him, shirtless, dancing with fish in hand instead of pom-poms, and that’s what it’s like when he’s demanding that you play this game.
Where our gaming horizons have expanded however has been with, er, expansions. So I’ve been investing/ sinking my gaming money into titles that we already own and enjoy. Expansions for Orléans, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Troyes, Pandemic: The Cure, Roll for the Galaxy...all of these add ons can seem a little overpriced but they are the way our gaming (collection) has grown this year. In some cases I’ve sold titles that we don’t play to buy expansions for games that we do, and I used money that was given as gifts “to get a game” for my birthday to purchase the more egregiously priced ones (Roll for the Galaxy: Ambition, Pandemic: The Cure – Experimental Meds). I’ve also hoovered up (finally) all of the Memoir '44 expansions (outside of the really stupidly priced rare ones) and have months, years of play of it to look forward to. It was one of our first games when we got into the hobby and it’s marvellous to be going deeper and deeper into it.
And it’s all been money well spent in my estimation. It’s breathed new life into our games and we’re really having fun rediscovering why we liked these games in the first place. Troyes is an absolute delight at any player count and having all the extra event cards from Troyes: The Ladies of Troyes gives so many potential ways to alter the game each time you play that it’s always a new challenge. In fact as well as expansions being the theme of the year it would appear that dice games in general are making up the bulk of our gaming.
Roll for the Galaxy is vastly improved in much a similar fashion with it’s expansion, with the pile of new home worlds and starting tiles making for huge variety in play. The new dice are nice and give more interesting tactical choices to make but it’s the different directions that you are encouraged to explore with those starting tiles that really makes it for me.
Pandemic: The Cure has always been one of Mrs B’s favourites and the expansion offers a great new challenge (multiple challenges specifically!) and even more roles than were included in the base game. It’s fantastic. It’s very pricey for what it is, but if you love the game like we do then it’s probably money well spent. A stressful joy to play every time!
My gaming so far this year has been very much lighter than in last years, in terms of the types of games I’ve been playing (I wrote about this a couple of months ago and this quarter is continuing in similar fashion). What’s funny to me is that in the past I’d tried to commit to a 10x10 challenge and failed each time, whereas this year I’m going to easily do it and then some without ever having thought about it, let alone committed to it. I’ve just played whatever I’ve felt like playing. I’ve found that expanding my gaming horizons into competive online games has also helped with things like Race for the Galaxy easily racking up half a dozen games at a time of a quiet evening. Ganz schön clever (oh, who wrote about that before it got its KSDJ nomination eh? Hmmmmm? Hmmmm...?) is also always being played on Brettspielwelt, and there’s a fantastic and addictive solo frame up there as well, which is perfect for a toilet trip (put that on the box cover!) Doing something like that is a smart move from a publisher I think and is really helping people to be able to discover a game that has popped onto the gaming scene at the apogee of the Roll and Write zeitgeist. I think it may well win the award which has tended to go to the lightest of the games on that particular list. That’d be a pretty impressive 1-2 for the designer as The Mind is surely going to pick up the big red SDJ popple and delight families and set lots of miserable teeth gnashing “proper” gamers into a fit of keyboard pounding rage!
And speaking of impressive (dusts shoulders) here’s my current best score in the solo mode of GSC.
Thanks for reading and go forth and expand your gaming horizons. And buy some bondage tape as well!
Whilst perusing the shelves of a Basingstoke game store recently Mrs B (she was with me as we were having “a night away” - not in Basingstoke I hasten to add, but I’d taken a cunning detour that just happened to pass by this establishment...) was quite enamoured with the box of Riverboat; she loves Klemens Franz’s artwork even more than I do and something about the jaunty stance and big smiles of the characters depicted in the scene had her smitten.
I didn’t buy it though.
A few weeks later whilst perusing the shelves of a games addict’s study I spotted a copy and mentioned that Mrs B had shown a healthy interest in this one, whereupon it was thrust into my hands and I was sent on my way with it to borrow on the promise that I wrote a bit about it sometime.
“What do you mean it’s bloody vegetable farming!” exclaimed an exasperated Mrs B as I unpacked the tiles and explained how to play, “I thought this was going to be sailing down the Mississippi with endearing rogues and fancy ladies or something. I don’t suppose there’s any vampires* either?” (*This is a George R R Martin reference, about his pre Game of Thrones novel, Fevre Dream, that she enjoyed.)
Yeah, it’s a bit of an odd choice of setting for this particular game, I’ll grant.
The game is indeed all about acquiring hexes with vegetables on, planting them and then later harvesting them to get, erm, boats(?) to get you bonus abilities and possibly points. You’ll also need to get hold of some appropriate cards to score handsomely from, some green meeples to allow that to occur, and also manage to send some of your workforce off down the river (with the vegetables perhaps?) to Norwlins for some endgame majority score shenanigans. The game is of fixed length, four rounds with five phases in each. At the start of each round players select the phase tiles to determine player order in those phases (with the owner of the tile being first and getting a small but important bonus). They are, essentially, 1) place workers in your fields according to card draws from a communal deck, 2) draft single/double/triple hex pieces to place under your workers, 3) pull off your workers (Mrs B delighted in being rude here) to get two boats equal to the number of workers removed, 4) draft a single scoring card, 5) scoring, for some in-game points and up to two scoring cards and/ or features.
Riverboat is an interesting puzzle and there is quite a bit of fun in trying to navigate the restrictions that the game puts on you, but ultimately we were both left a bit nonplussed by it. There is enjoyment (and I can see that it would be more interesting with three or four players) but there was also frustration and a bit of disappointment for us. As you can only acquire four scoring cards in total, and as you are restricted in both being able to actually score them and the timing of when you score them (so you need to balance having the green workers available, and they are very limited plus you can only score two things each round (three in the final round)) you have to really agonise over scoring now for, say, 8 points or potentially 15 later, but then risk having a worker you can’t use to score or perhaps a choice between only scoring two cards instead of three. That reads a little convoluted but it’s an accurate representation of what goes through your mind during play and is, probably, the best part.
There were plenty of annoying niggles for us though.
It gave me the impression of a game that was finished off in a hurry to make its Essen release. There are some inelegant touches that, to me, seemed out of place in a game by such a good designer (Kiesling) and a respected publisher (Lookout/ Mayfair). Firstly there’s the fiddling about with marking your fields with workers in one round and then having to lift them up and place tiles under them in the next. Things like that are annoying enough in themselves but with Mrs B’s hands being as they are it was an extra level of unnecessary fiddling that was not appreciated. Having to have piles of hexes and boats that need to be sorted and refilled each round was also unwelcome from our perspective. Then we have the player boards. All the fields are shades of yellows and browns and greys, which might make sense in terms of an approximation of soils but it is a bugger to say “the lightish brownish one” when the card is revealed from the deck (you do this 8 times per round). The publisher knows this and has put symbols on the cards and the fields (diamonds, spades, stars etc) and this is what you end up calling out. Why not just have actual distinct colours, it’s not like they’re in short supply after all, we were left wondering? .
Then there are the details. Zoom into the player board picture and look at that awkward space on the jetty track as you round the corner with your large yellow dobber - was I on space 6 or 7? Whilst you’re there take a look at how the boat tiles you acquire don’t line up nicely. Now look at the main picture where the offer board has the 1/2/3 size hex crop pieces and see how it’s an unintuitive arrangement of those pieces when you’re looking across the table at what’s available as the singles wrap around and split. In the bottom left there’s a double hex of wheat and pumpkin and next to it a single hex of each- from across the table you might easily think that there are 2 doubles or 4 singles. All of these, and a couple of other bits (such as scoring reminders being scattered over player/communal boards and the round tiles) are just not what I normally expect and experience with this publisher.
Finally there are the two biggest annoyances for me personally. During the game the players can acquire coins which are worth some end game points but are very powerful ingame as they can be used to break the rules during each phase. No corn hex tile that you need to link those areas on your board? Pay a coin and dig through the ones not in the game and get the exact one you want. Been left with a bad or no choice of scoring card in that phase? Pay a coin and go through the deck to get the exact one that you want. Someone taken the boat tile that you were needing for a particular bonus. Never mind, pay a coin and get the....do I need to go on? That smacks of the game being too potentially mean if players choose to be/ swingy if the perfect card or hex comes up (or doesn’t) for a player and instead of having to diversify and mitigate and deal with it a player can always just pay a single coin to get whatever they want. I strongly disliked that. And, petty as it seems, the game has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with its setting and it could have, and should have, been something else entirely (maybe that’s where, *cough*cough*, the similar and from another publisher Heaven & Ale comes in?)
All in all it’s not an ostensibly bad game. There is enjoyment to be had. But it all feels a little unrefined to me and not what I expected from such a pairing of designer and publisher. This game will cost you around £45 in the UK. I dare say that there are much better games to be had for that money.
So disappointed was Mrs B with our Riverboat play that she was moved to suggest another game from the same publisher that does actually feature boats (and incorporates them thematically and mechanically), Murano. Maybe I’ve been harsh on Riverboat and that could be because we’re less inclined to seek out brand new titles these days, preferring the comfort of the familiar instead of the thrill of the new. This game does compare favourably though. It also features cards that you must get hold of and meet criteria to score and has the tension of being able to actually score them and the delicious potential of other players being able to (unwittingly) scupper your ability to do so. It’s also, in our opinion, better looking, better playing, and in a similar amount of time. It might be a better game overall or that might just be our feelings because we’ve had this for a few years. Is it a better game or even a “good” game? I don’t know, but we like it and are always happy to play it. I dare say you could get a copy for a darn sight less than £45 if you look around as well...
The Castles of Burgundy, the Feldian tipping point, before it was lots of penalties and tight decisions, and since it has been all sorts of point explosions and multiplayer solitaire. Clearly there are a great many who adore BIGCOB, residing at no.11 in the BGG ranking at the time of writing, despite it being 7 years old, plain looking, not containing oodles of fancy components nor being a Kickstarter game that cost the purchaser £100 and the recipient of “campaign” (marketing manipulation) urges to “make sure you rate this a 10 on BGG to help with the hotness rating and push us towards those stretch goal unlocks” (I don’t doubt that Gloomhaven is a good game but it, and all others that have encouraged such an approach and all who have themselves rated something before even playing it once, should be fucking ashamed for helping to turn a pretty democratic way of ranking games into a free for all cash generating aid. Pardon me, I digress)
I enjoy BIGCOB. I like the quiet puzzle and the gentle competition for tiles, the challenge of making the best of the dice rolls and I find the absence of direct conflict to be very agreeable in this. It makes it a good game to play in an evening and is, I find, an ideal game for two. This is probably why it has become such a favourite couples game for many and why it is thought of and rated so fondly. So why don’t I play it more often?
I attempted to address that the other evening, upon noticing that it hadn’t been played for about a year and wondering if I should just sell it on (answer; no, with it being available for £20 new it’s not worth getting rid of to make about half that) I sat down at the kitchen table on a warm evening with Mrs B, the dog lying just outside the open patio doors catching the last of the day’s sun - an ideal way to pass 90 minutes or so (yeah, Mrs B likes to “think”...) I think I needn’t go into how the game plays for any reading this but I wound up winning fairly comfortably after denying Mrs B the tiles she needed to complete the large 8 space city on her board. And as I began packing the thing away into the little coloured bags that I bought (cheap ones on EBay rather than pricey “official” ones on BGG) Mrs B politely but pointedly asked; “why did you just make me play a game that I can’t stand?”
Ah. It seems that around 12 months is the length of time that it takes me to forget that she doesn’t enjoy the game. That’s a shame. Being a good gamer/ consumer and all that I naturally immediately turned my thoughts to how I could potentially overcome this issue by buying another game. Say hello to littlecob.
The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game is another entry in the (wonderful) Roll & Write style of games. As you have probably read before we love these type of games, particularly the “pure” number category ones, but it’s always interesting to see one where a big box game has been shrunk and adapted to a sheet of paper and a few dice. (I’ve recently laminated sheets from all of our R&W games and purchased some dry wipe markers, makes everything much better).
littlecob does a very good job of feeling similar to it’s parent game. The scoring is mostly through completing areas of hexes, with a little bit to be gained from shipping and being the first to finish the entirety of one type of land. There are no end game scoring tiles (the yellows in BIGCOB) and this is a much more straightforward affair than La Granja: No Siesta (an excellent R&W distillation of a big farming Euro). I actually find it very satisfying that in contrast to many in the genre there is no “active player” who chooses their dice first and then all others get a free choice from the remainder, in this all dice are available to all players, an elegant way of retaining the open and gentle feel of BIGCOB.
This “feel factor” is also present in the way that the hexes are marked off. There are six types of land and each has a colour that relates to one of the sides of the colour dice (well who’da thunk it?) and there are restrictions to marking off in each. Three types are grouped by specific numbers (wanting 1s & 2s/ 3s & 4s/ 5s & 6s), the cities want all different numbers (nice echoing), the animals want all the same numbers (nice echoing) and the castles want the same number as one that is in an adjacent hex. Completing a region gains a bonus (change a number, change a colour, take another turn, gain a good, ship a good for points/silver, double your points for the region) in addition to the points earned for the size of the region. The game length is varied by the hourglass die, which means that the game lasts between 15 and 30 rolls (average is around 23) and this die also triggers shipping when the double hourglass appears. There are four different “boards” included on the paper sheets and the whole package “feels” very faithful to BIGCOB.
I’ve played it 10 times (it only takes 15-20 minutes) in the past week or so, about half with Mrs B and the rest using the neat solo rules, and am really enjoying it. There’s a bit more there to give it something over the straightforward number category R&W titles but it is still very much in that vein. You simply roll some dice and check off some numbers, nothing extra nor extraneous, and that is perfect for the type of title. Well worth the admission (about £10 plus postage from Germany/ France). Mrs B “quite likes” it. Some progress then...
As we’re playing so many little dice games these days I took it upon myself to make the nice tray pictured above, using a deep picture frame from Hobbycraft (£3) and a sheet of sticky backed felt (£1, same shop) in about 20 minutes. I’m quite pleased with it!
So, what to do about BIGCOB then? Well, last night Billy mentioned that he really likes the game and so me and him sat at the kitchen table on a cold evening, the dog looking mournfully through the closed patio doors at the last of the day’s rain as (not so) young Bill squeaked out a narrow victory, an ideal way to spend 45 minutes whilst dinner was cooking (yeah, Billy likes to “get on with it”...)
Room for both BIGCOB and littlecob then. I just need to remember who likes what!
You might be reading this and be well aware that Mrs B and me are big fans of Roll & Write games. If you're not then let me be clear; Mrs B and me are big fans of Roll & Write games. These are typically simple affairs that can be played without too much effort and are, as such, ideal for us of an evening on the coffee table. Many of them give you a very limited number of choices on a turn (that is not to say that they lack any strategy though), but this newer title, Ganz schön clever is a little bit more involved than the average R&W. In fact, it's a full on Euro Dice game on a tiny sheet of paper.
In a nutshell you have five areas on your sheet, each relating to one of the six dice (there is a wild white). On a turn the active player rolls all the (remaining) dice and then chooses one and marks off a relevant box in that colour. All dice that are lower in number than the one chosen are removed and put on the silver platter (printed in the box). Repeat a second and third time. The inactive player(s) then get to choose a single die from the platter to do an action. A round lasts until each player has been the active player once. Total number of rounds is player count dependent.
So far it all seems much like any other in the genre. The biggest difference is the interaction between the scoring areas. There are many opportunities to bounce a placement in one into another, combos are available all over the place. Each of the areas offers its own placement restrictions and bonus move rewards. On every roll the active player will need to balance the decision to take an ideally numbered die from the poll to set off a chain on the pad with what dice that will remove from the pool for their next roll. Scoring adds a further layer to this, as there are much greater rewards for investing heavily into one area but one of the end game scoring sections is based on the value of your lowest of the five areas multiplied by the number of bonuses (red fox faces) that you've unlocked. Specialisation is rewarded but so is diversity. Can you achieve both for a really big score or is that risking spreading yourself too thin?
There are further layers with one of the dice (blue) being the sum of itself and the wild (white) at any one time, so maybe it's a good idea to take (or remove) the white early so that it stays locked on a number for the rest of your turn, allowing you to play the odds or mitigate to aim for that awkward spot in the blue section. There are reroll and take an extra die bonuses that get unlocked. There are areas where each die must be higher than the previous (until you place a six and reset it). There is so much to consider on every turn.
This game is the skeleton, the framework, of a full size Euro dice placement game. Add a board and some relevant artwork, plus a few goal cards or tiles and you're not just looking at La Granja: No Siesta but you're actually not too far away from having a The Castles of Burgundy or a The Voyages of Marco Polo on your hands with all the interlocking sections and branching decision trees. This is not a lightweight R&W like Qwixx and it does make your head hurt a little. It is well worth a look though, and provides some very satisfying moments as you chain together a sequence for a large number of points. Plus, you can take it anywhere and you need very little table space to have a stripped down big box dice game experience. It is, as the title translates, Pretty Clever.