15th January 2020
It's a Friday evening, I'm logged into Zoom on my laptop and I'm sitting in the living room.
So it's time to play Forgotten Waters, a co-operative fantastical pirate exploration game that we've only played over video chat.
Caveat: I've only played this game over video chat and never in person, I've also never actually seen the physical components for the game. So this blog will probably be a bit different to the usual.
Before we begin
Forgotten Waters is one of this new breed of boardgames that requires an app to play, not just an app to help, but actually required to play.
Additionally, the game has a Remote Play Assistant app available. This app is what has allowed us to play online and in this time of Covid-19 is a welcome feature.
What's in a game?
Because I've never seen the game physically and because the remote play assistant app replaces the need for some components, it's hard to gauge what exactly, is what?
It's hard to talk about the quality of these physical components though as I've never see them other than briefly over video chat.
But I can talk about the apps.
It's clear that the game's developers have put a lot of thought and effort into insuring the quality of the game app. It's very slick with professional voice acting and production qualities, scripting and dialogue is very well written and often witty. There were frequent chuckles at gags that hit the mark more often than not.
I'm not sure what to think though, like many people; the idea of a game needing an app to play sits uncomfortably with me. We all know the question, what happens to the game a few years down the line, how long will the developer support the app?
However, I doubt this game would even exist in this form without the app. The game seems to have hundreds of differing encounters that can contextually change according to the story mission being played. It would require a fairly elaborate book to manage all of this physically, slowing the game down and no doubt adding to the cost.
The remote helper does it's job well enough to facilitate remote play and is easy to use, apart from the occasional need to refresh the browser and put everything back in sync, it works perfectly well.
I cannot say enough about how useful it is though. We played a game with 7 players and someone commented how how this was the most people they'd talked to in a year. In these times of self-isolation it has proven to be a godsend.
One minor criticism I have is about the character sheet PDF. It is a slight oversight that it is not form-fillable as it could save on the unnecessary use of paper.
How's it play?
First of all, one of the 5 available missions is selected, this will give the players a series of objectives to aim for, then play can begin.
Essentially, the ship travels from hexspace to hexspace dealing with the encounters that are generated by each space.
Each encounter will have 7 pertinent actions. Players take turns placing their standee on the action they want to perform,
Some actions are mandatory, some can only be completed by one player and others can completed by any number of players.
Additionally, some actions become locked when they are completed whilst others can be repeated.
Some actions are specific to certain encounters or mission objectives and others are generic and frequently appear during encounters.
Players place their standees on the encounter spaces in order of the infamy track, Forgotten Waters utilises a real time mechanic during encounters. If players have not placed their standee/worker in the allotted time, they receive a misfortune token as punishment.
Once all workers have been placed, then actions are carried out but in the order shown on the encounter.
There are a great many different action in the game, related to combat, sailing, exploring, trading, objectives etc.
Often players will be given 2 or 3 sub-choices for their chosen action and sometimes they will have 2 actions they actions they can perform.
Many actions will increase one of the player's 6 skills, frequently this will then require a roll using the relevant skill, generally there are 3 different levels of outcome depending on how high the final roll is.
Once all actions have been repeated, the turn ends. Depending on the situation, players may have the choice of staying and repeating the parts of the encounter which are not locked (Like foraging for supplies, burying treasure etc.) or they have be forced to move on to another encounter.
This continues until the endgame.
There are numerous ways to lose.
If the ship's hull, supplies or crew are reduced to zero then it's game over.
If the crew's discontent value increase to or beyond the crew score, then it's also game over.
Finally there's threat rating. Threat can go up and down; the game will on a fairly regular basis call for threat checks, depending on the result this may generate a threat event, this is another type of encounter. The higher the threat rating, the more likely it is that a threat event will be triggered, when one does occur the threat rating is reduced to zero. If four threat events are triggered, then it's also game over.
If all the objectives of a mission are met then the player's collectively win.
Each character also has an individual ending though, depending on how many stars they filled in on their constellations, this may be bad, good or legendary. Bad endings are usually very bad comical demises for the character, explosions, drownings etc.
The good and legendary endings are as comical but obviously better for the character.
Forgotten Waters is a long game to play, a mission can take 4 or even more hours to complete and the developers are aware of this, all missions come with a natural breakpoint, which can be used a temporary stopping point and then picked up again at a later date.
Mostly the game gives players meaningful co-operative decisions to make and the timer forces them to think quickly.
It's also a well produced, smart game that is entertaining to to play, the app does add to the atmosphere and help with booking.
but I do have some quibbles to do with game balancing.
Firstly; when undertaking tasks, some tasks are more attractive to complete than others. One example, during ship combat:
Furthermore it exacerbates and perpetuates the imbalance. Once a character starts firing cannons, thus increasing their aim skill, it makes sense for them to continue doing that action, because they're more likely to get better results. So one player can be stuck loading cannons and earning little to nothing and another firing cannons and getting skill points and treasures.
Sometimes it's not so bad because with some actions, multiple characters can perform it but with single-character actions, it can be irritating.
Maybe its deliberate, it certainly can make the infamy track more important for actions that can only be done by one player.
Forgotten Waters is a mostly co-operative game, but it also a little edge of competitiveness as well, players can steal treasures from other players and so on.
Maybe the game wants to force players to choose between what's good for them and what's good for the mission?
Speaking of which, characters seem out of balance. When they earn bonuses, the usefulness of them seems to vary widely, some characters will get permanent items that confer constant bonuses whilst other characters get one-use-only less useful abilities.
Additionally, it appears that constellations are harder to complete for some characters than others for what appears to be no rhyme or reason why.
Luckily they don't affect the game too much, especially since it's co-operative. Other than that I've found it a fun game to play.
3rd November 2020
It's a Tuesday and I'm not at the Woking Gaming Club, I am however in Woking, in Simon's converted home-office for what would be the last time I play a game with a friend in person before lockdown 2 began.
It was an unusual setup, two us were in Simon's office and Colin was dialling in via Zoom, able to view the game through Simon's phone which was clamped above the table.
Tonight we played Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, the little sibling of Gloomhaven. Like Gloomhaven, it's a cooperative RPG with a legacy element.
Caveat: This blog post may differ a little from the ones I normally write. When we played the game, a number of the components were not used, instead they were replaced with an app, it also allowed Colin to remotely log into the app and see the same information we did. Additionally, both other players were very familiar with the game.
What's in a game?
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion comes with a lot of components and a lot of cards.
What art there is on the components is good and the components are of a high quality.
How's it play?
The game follows the paradigm of an RPG; there are a series of linked scenarios that form a campaign. As characters progress from scenario to scenario, they accumulate experience points and become stronger. Characters are persistent and they and their progress carry over between scenarios.
There are also legacy elements here, decisions that players make during the game will have some sort of effect later on.
The setup is fairly quick and simple, mostly because the game uses map books instead of tiles.
On to playing
In each round, the players will choose 2 cards from their deck to play. Enemy behaviour is dictated by the game.
A scenario will end when its win/lose conditions are met.
If the players win the scenario they gain experience points, characters gain experience points according to the scenario. Additionally; certain action cards grant characters experience points when played, these are added up as well.
When a character acquires enough experience points, they will level up and gain whatever benefits it confers.
During the game, enemies that are defeated will drop treasure. If characters collect these treasures, they gain gold after the scenario ends.
Gold can then be spent to acquire more or better item cards.
Next, there is an encounter as determined by a randomly drawn city card.
After this, players are given the choice of what scenario to attempt next. This may involve adding a sticker to the map or some other legacy type action.
There's a lot to think about here.
There's a lot of components to the game too and it might be a bit fiddly. But it seems to me that most of this occurs during setup. I can't imagined how much setup the full Gloomhaven requires without the map books?
The character-gameplay is actually pretty straightforward, simple to learn and goes smoothly enough.
Enemy behaviour may be a bit trickier and it probably pays to have some one who is familiar with the rules (As we did.) when playing.
The action card mechanic was pretty well implemented, it not only gives players options and a bit of flexibility, but meaningful decisions to make.
The rest mechanic is also a good addition, it forces players to act, be decisive and deters them from trying to play overly safe and spend too many turns resting to regain hit points.
Since a character deck only has 10 cards, it means that a plaery will empty their deck in 5 rounds. Then they have to decide to discard 1 card and miss a turn, or discard one at random and continue, which can be a hard decision.
Now you have 9 cards and only 4 turns before facing the same dilemma. Additionally, some cards are discarded when use and so on.
All of this serves to create sense of urgency, a need to complete the scenario before player decks become too depleted. Players will want to minimise the time they waste carrying out long rests.
Combat is a bit of a mixed bag.
There are a good number of special moves, conditions and effects that play a role in combat. The four different characters can feel different in combat because of it.
I dislike the cancel result on the combat deck that waste an attack, I imagine that if a player has set up a powerful move using a card that gets discarded - only to have that entire attack negated, it must feel gutting.
I'm not sure how I feel about using individual decks as a randomizer for combat, I can see the appeal of having a customisable individual randomizer for each player, but it seems like having components for the sake of having components. It works well enough, but I'm sure a similar effect could achieved with a single bunch of dice that are collated for individual rolls.
Gloomhaven/Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion are 2 games that are sort of chasing a board game holy grail. These are games that are trying to an give RPG style gameplay and experience, but without a GM.
It's a tricky goal; too simple and it becomes bland and repetitive, too complex and the game gets bogged down in rules, rules exceptions and components.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion seems to straddle that line fairly well.
Although as I mentioned above, we did use an app to facilitate play. It did have the advantage of allowing a player to join in a board game where he played over zoom!
Maybe this is the way to go, where an app does the GM heavy lifting, I've seen at least one game that requires an app, no doubt there will be more games that do that.
But this raises the question of legacy, an older game can (And probably will.) be rendered obsolete if the companion app becomes unavailable.
Overall though; I was happy enough to play it and will be continuing with the campaign I joined.
27th October 2020
Tuesday evening is here and I'm at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking with the Woking Gaming Club.
Time for the first game of the evening; Karuba.
Have you fancied yourself as an explorer just landed on some unmapped jungle island? Well in Karuba you control not just 1 explorer, but 4! All in a rush from beach to jungle in order to find temples, treasure and ultimately glory first before everybody.
What's in a game?
How's it play?
The set up for Karuba very straightforward, if a tiny bit time consuming.
Gameplay for is very straightforward. Players are trying to move their explorers to the temple of the same colour. Unsurprisingly, this is done by laying tiles and moving the explores along the paths that are created.
Karuba has no turns, everyone makes their choices at the same time.
Play continues until one player has moved all 4 of their explorers to the relevant temples, or as is more likely until the caller has depleted their entire stack.
Players add the points of all the scoring tokens they've collected and the gold and diamond tokens, gold is worth 2 points and diamonds 1 point.
Highest score wins.
Despite the simplicity of the rules, Karuba gives players lots of decisions to make nearly all the time.
The most common of these is whether to play a tile or discard it for movement.
This is a very elegant mechanic, the best tile to build paths with is the crossroads, because it gives you the most options. But the crossroad is also the best tile to discard for movement, as it give you most movement.
Early in the game, you'll obviously be wanting to play the tiles more often to build up your paths, but you can't afford to play them willy-nilly. A meandering path is something players will want to avoid.
You may end up putting tiles in seemingly unconnected, random places, hoping to get the right tiles later on!
Players have limited rounds in Karuba and will want to build their paths as efficiently as possible. The game has an absolute maximum of 36 rounds.
If you look the photo of my gameboard from the end of the game. All 36 tiles were drawn. This means I played 19 tiles, which means I moved 17 times, whilst I managed to get 3 explorers to their destination, the blue explorer barely managed to leave their starting spot.
Movement may also provide difficult decisions.
For example; you may have an explorer who is just 1 step away from a treasure or a temple but have just drawn a crossroads tile which grants you 4 movement, using it on 1 movement can be a waster. Do you use it to move another explorer to maximise it's value, or do you use 1 movement to complete an objective and waste the rest of the movement?
Also, when moving explorers, players will need think ahead a little, a badly placed explorer can block their colleagues, meaning it might require an entire round to clear the path.
Only towards the end of the game, when I had connected everything up and reached 2 temples, did the decisions become no-brainers. But because the game is played simultaneously and other players were more or less in the same situation: There was little downtime between rounds, which passed very quickly.
Karuba is a quick game to play anyway, if a player spends 1 minute deciding their move, the game has a play time of 36 minutes.
The only small criticism I could level at Karuba is that there is no interaction with other players. Not a problem for me personally, but it can be for others.
Otherwise I thought it was a good game.
Quickly and easy to learn, quick and fun to play.
Anybody can learn and play Karuba. It's such a visually driven game that players should quickly comprehend what they need to do.
It's a game that's definitely going on my list.
20th October 2020
Tuesday evening in Woking at 'The Sovereigns'.
Time for a boardgame with the Woking Gaming Club.
Tonight's game was 'Ride the Rails'.
Now Ride the Rails looks like a traditional railroad building game set in North America, but it has a few wrinkles that make it play a bit differently.
What's in a game?
Some of the components will seem familiar to any that's played a railroad building game
You may have noticed that I mentioned shares, but there are no components for shares and no money either. Well, more on that below...
How's it play?
Ride the Rails is played over 6 rounds.
It's important to know that there are only 2 train companies (Red & blue.) available from round 1. The orange becomes available from round 2, yellow from round 3, purple from round 4 and black from round 5. No new companies appear in the 6th and final round.
Additionally, each company has it's own rules for the placement of train meeples.
A round consists of 3 actions, which all players will carry out.
Play continues until the 6th round has been completed. Final scores are tallied, highest score wins.
As you can see, Ride the Rails is pretty straightforward and simple to understand, it also plays quite quickly.
Don't let the simplicity fool you though, there is a fair a amount of depth here.
Firstly; Ride the Rails has the classic dichotomy in which competing players may need to cooperate. If more than one player has spent a turn investing in a certain company, it's to both their benefits to expand that company efficiently.
Being able to gauge which shares will generate the most points is vital to winning, if a player manages to get 2 or 3 shares (Out of their 6) in a rail line that will see a lot of use, they can potentially rake in a lot of points. If a player however invests too quickly in a single company, it can scare off players who might perceive they are helping another player too much. Remember, 2 players can build up a network much quicker than a single player.
Secondly, building rail networks. In the first round, red and blue train meeples can only start in east coast cities and must more or less head west.
Should a player create a meandering network that maximises connections?
Or should they race towards the west coast? No single rail company can cross the entire map, it will probably take the efforts of 3 companies to do that and this will involve crossing the mountains.
This means it's unlikely that more than 2 companies will connect the east and the west. Making this connection first can be very lucrative, it forces other players to either use the rail network you've got shares in, or waste time building a separate network and just like with shares, each player will only have 6 opportunities to build their network.
I think that Ride the Rails is a good game, that has a lot of elements that will be familiar to experienced gamers but actually plays a bit differently.
You buy shares, you just take them and you don't pay to expand a rail network, it just happens. There is no money in the game in fact, money immediately translates into points.
I definitely want to try Ride the Rails again.
13th October 2020
Tuesday is here and we're at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking.
Time for the Woking Gaming Club to play a game and tonight we will be playing 'The Networks'.
This is a game for the budding media mogul inside everybody; create TV shows, hire film stars, fire chat show hosts, stick advert breaks everywhere, well at least during primetime! Fun for everyone.
When we played The Networks, a couple of expansions were also used.
What's in a game?
The Networks is a card game that has some nice additional components.
All the other components are standard, except the money tokens which are cool.
How's it play?
The Networks is played over 5 'seasons'.
At the start of each season, TV show, star and advert cards a dealt in 3 rows.
Network cards are only dealt out from the 2nd season onwards.
After this, in turn order, players take 1 action each. This continues until there are no more actions that can be performed or all players have chosen to finish for the season, this is called 'drop & budget'.
The actions are:
The game continues for 5 seasons, at the end of the 5th season the shows are still aged. Then a 6th season is scored (No new cards or other actions occur).
Accumulated audience figures are tallied, highest score wins.
The Networks has some cool design choices that give players interesting decisions to make.
A player can keep going and acquire more stars and adverts for as long as they've got money, which can give them an advantage later on because having these cards in their Green Room means that it's easier and quicker to develop shows. But ending your season early gives you more money/audience, more importantly though, it allows the player to be earlier in the turn order for the following season. So when the new cards appear, that player will get first dibs.
Because the game is very much about card drafting, players really have to think about how they prioritize their actions, as all players will be vying for the same cards.
Players have to try and use their actions as efficiently as possible, there's a fine balance between doing all the actions you want to do and ending your turn quickly.
All in all, The Networks gives players important decisions to make throughout the game and that's a good thing.
6th October 2020
It's Tuesday evening at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking and it's time for a boardgame.
The main game this evening was 'Pan Am', a game about building up airline companies over the years and then watching as they bought out by Pan Am in exchange for shares!
What's in a game?
This game is set in 'The Golden Age of Air Travel', which I guess covers from the 'inter-war years' to the late 1960's.
This is reflected in the games look and art, which has a cool retro look to it.
The game's components are all good and the game's art direction and quality are worth noting. This shows the game's attention to detail.
How's it play?
The set up for Pan Am is pretty straight forward.
Every round begins by turning over that round's event card. This determines some actions that will occur in the game.
This is where the majority of the game occurs;
Usually placing workers starts with the 1st player, but there is something called priority. This is explained in detail below, but basically any workers that were placed into the directive spaces in the previous round go first in placement order.
There are 2 types of spaces a worker can be placed into.
So we go on to the five different types of worker action available to players. Players can obviously place down their workers in any other, but below is the order in which they are resolved
Pan Am airlines starts the game in the Miami city space. The die is used to determine how and where Pan Am expands. The number of times the active player rolls it is dictated by the event card.
When the die is rolled, it will show one of two types of action.
Selling (Or being forced to sell.) routes is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be vital to winning the game.
This is because Pan Am actually offers reasonably good money for a route.
A 1 point route will earn a player 1 per round, thus if a player has it for all 7 rounds it will earn a maximum of 7 throughout the game. Pan Am pays 5 for a 1 point route. So long term, keeping a route earns more, but it's a slow drip of money. Selling to Pan Am gives the player a lump sum that can immediately be re-invested into claiming more routes (Or buying shares.).
A 1 point route is worth 5.
A 2 point route is worth 9.
A 3 point route is worth 12.
A 4 point route is worth 14.
Obviously, there are diminishing returns here, but remember the class 4 aeroplanes will not appear until turn 6 (Unless an event card changes this.) and will only generate income for 2 turns.
When a route is sold to Pan Am, the player reduces their income track by the value of the route and the aeroplane on the route is replaced by a Pan Am token. The aeroplane is returned to the player which is actually very useful. The amount of aeroplanes a player can have is limited to the number of aeroplanes available. Each player only has 1 class 4 aeroplane, so being able to use it, sell the route it's on and then use it again is the way to go.
Players not only get the opportunity to sell routes during expansion, event cards and directive cards can also allow players to sell routes.
Players earn an amount of money equal to their position along their income track.
Players can now buy shares, because this is the airline business, the only shares that matter are Pan Am shares.
Players may buy as much Pan Am stock as they can afford, the price of the shares is influenced by the event card played at the start of the round.
Since there is only ever 7 opportunities to buy shares, it's probably a good idea to try and buy them at every opportunity.
Once all players have bought all the shares they want, the round ends. The first player marker is moved left to the next player and new round begins.
In this game, no one cares about the little routes that you create, they only care about Pan Am.
After the end of the 7th round, players tally up the shares they have bought. Highest number of shares win. Remaining money counts as a tie breaker.
Pam Am does a good job of blending accessibility, depth and player options.
Very rarely was there a meaningless choice in the game. Most of the time I felt that I could do with an extra worker or two.
Maximising your workers is very important, as is knowing when to bid for something or not. The destination card and class 1 aeroplane auction tracks have a minimum bid of 0. There's potential to get stuff for free when other players have minimal interest in it.
The key to the game I think, is selling routes to Pan Am at the right time, the prices are set a sweet spot of being good but not too good. Generally it's prudent to sell routes to Pan Am, but it's never a no-brainer - and that's a good thing.
Ideally players will want to try and build routes close to Pam Am, hoping to get bought out. It's almost a counter-intuitive way to play.
Since the game is ultimately all about Pan Am shares, you obviously need to buy as many as possible and the game only gives players 7 opportunities to do this.
Stock prices generally start low in the game and rise continually throughout the game, this can put players in a quandary.
Do you buy shares in earlier rounds when they are much cheaper and run the risk of lacking funds to compete in bidding?
Or do you buy them later, hoping that your early investments pay off and give you more money to buy the invariably more expensive shares.
Finally, it's quite interesting watching as Pan Am unfailingly spreads across the board, consuming everything in its way.
I have the urge to play Pan Am again, that's always a solid indicator of a good game in my opinion. It's definitely worth trying.
21st March 2020
Saturday is here and normal Saturday gaming has not resumed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On the last meeting of the Woking Gaming Club, Simon & Colin invited us to play a final game, provided that an opportunity would present itself. And that opportunity did present itself - on Saturday 21st March.
So we're at Simon's for a Saturday as his wife and children are away.
The game of the night was 'Maracaibo'.
If you've ever favoured yourself as an adventurer, explorer or trader jobbing your way round and round in circles for years in the Caribbean. Then maybe, just maybe. This is a game for you.
What's in a game?
Maracaibo is a big game with a lot of components, cards and tiles:
How's it play?
There's quite a lot of setup to this game.
Since we're not playing the campaign, some of the components will be left out.
So now we're ready!
The basic principle of Maracaibo is to travel from location to location in a loop from and back to Havana. Stopping at different places will allow players to perform different actions in pursuit of victory points.
A player's turn consists of 3 phases, sailing, main action & drawing cards.
Let's start with city actions:
Players keep taking turns until a round ends. A round continues until any player reaches space 22. There's a game mechanism that prevents a player immediately ending a round (Players must stop at space 21 first.). Then the following actions occur.
Players can purchase a project card or gain 2 VP.
The money and victory point economy tracks are dealt with.
A new prestige building is revealed and new quest cards are placed on the board as required.
The new first player is the player who ended the previous turn.
Play continues until the end of the final round.
Points can come from project cards, player boards, prestige buildings, rank with nations and of course the scoring track.
Final points are tallied and highest score wins.
TLDR; right? Although I've probably made it sound more complicated than it actually is.
Maracaibo definitely sits at the heavier end of the complexity scale.
Some of this complexity is down to rules, but much of it is due to having so many things going on at the same time. Not only is there the main track and project cards and ship grades and personal objectives, there's the exploration track. Then there's the influence and rank tracks. I've probably missed something too!
All of these are ways to score points
It's a lot for a player to think about and take in, particularly with potentially very limited turns!
There may be 22 spaces on the main track, but if a player races round, they can end the round after about 4 turns. A sneaky player can end the game quite quickly and if players don't pay attention, they may get caught flat footed.
So players need to think of ways to optimise their strategy, manage their resources and play to the strengths of their personal objectives.
They also need to keep an eye on what other players may be doing with regards movement and also to influence and rank, high rank with a high influence nation can be the source of a lot of victory points.
This is not a confrontational game by any means, but influence represents the only way players can mess with each other (Even though it's indirectly.). Lowering a nation's influence after another player has increased their rank with that nation can cost them a lot of victory points.
Its mechanics suits its themes fairly well as what players are doing is following trade routes whilst buying and selling.
Whilst Maracaibo is not the most complex or heaviest of games, but it's complex enough.
It's a game that will take a couple plays to understand a learn, so it's not very accessible. But if you like heavier games, then you'll be used to that.
If you like heavier games and you like the theme, you'll probably like Maracaibo, although it typically requires a few hours to complete, around 3 hours I'd say.
For me, I'd like to play it again, but it sits close to the upper limits of complexity I like dealing with.
10th March 2020
Tuesday is here and we're at 'The Sovereigns in Woking with the Gaming Club.
The first game of the evening was 'Quacks of Quedlinburg'.
Quacks of QuedlinBurg is not a game about ducks as I thought when I first heard the name.
It's actually a push your luck game about disreputable, dangerous, deplorable and downright dishonest doctors. Actually YOU play the quacks in question trying to create the most amazing and wondrous potions. Amazing and wondrous that is, until they blow up in your face.
What's in a game?
Quacks of Quedlinburg has quite a few components, there is a game board and personal game boards. There are also tokens - and lots of them too, as they are the most important component of the game.
That the player boards look like pots, flask tiles look like potion bottles and ingredient tiles look like ingredient books shows that some thought, effort and care has been put into the their design.
How's it play?
Quacks of Quedlinburg is played over 9 rounds and something new or different is introduced over several of the rounds.
When players are drawing ingredients from their bag. They can use their flask to return the token to the bag - provided they had not gone bust because of the token.
Play continues normally until the start of the 9th round.
The final round is a little different.
When drawing a token from their bags, each player keeps the token in a closed hand and every player opens their hand at the same time. When a player wants to stop drawing tokens they simply keep their empty hand closed until it's time to reveal it. After that they drop out of further rounds of drawing ingredients.
The phases for spending coins on ingredients and rubies on the droplet/flask are ignored because they are pointless at the end of the game.
Instead; every 5 coins and/or 2 rubies will earn the player a victory point.
After this, victory points are tallied, highest score wins.
Quacks of Quedlinburg is a fairly easy game to learn and easy to play. It moves along briskly too as there's very little downtime and it doesn't outstay its welcome as it's finished after 9 rounds. When I played it, it felt like a lot was occurring in a short game time.
Pulling ingredients out a bag to put into a pot is a brilliant use of the 'push your luck' mechanic. It fits the game perfectly and surprisingly makes it a lot of fun.
Additionally; unlike most 'push your luck' games, going bust does not totally kill a player's turn, they still reap some of rewards of their potion making and they can still carry out most of the other actions.
The engine building mechanic works well too, as players introduce tokens into their bags, it makes going bust a little harder, giving players longer more productive turns.
Combined, the 2 game mechanics always gives the player meaningful and interesting decisions to make, when to and when not to push your luck? What ingredients to buy? And so on.
I liked it and will definitely play it again.
9th February 2020
It's a Sunday and we're at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking. There's no 50 Fathoms this week as 3 players are absent.
Instead we are playing 'Puerto Rico'.
William Shakespeare wrote:
All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.
Well if you happen to play a plantation owner in Puerto Rico, you will play 7 roles, I dunno about 7 acts though.
What's in a game?
The quality of the components is mostly quite good.
What artwork there is in the game is OK, but it's not particularly memorable or interesting.
How's it play?
As always, we begin with setup. It looks quite long, but it's actually straightforward.
In Puerto Rico there are 2 ways to earn victory points; by shipping goods out and buying buildings.
Each round, in turn order, each player will assume 1 of the 7 roles and carry out the action associated with that role. When a player chooses a role, all players can the also carry out that action, but the player who chose the role can do it's bonus action instead. When players chose a role, they take the relevant role card from the display.
The roles are:
Players return their role cards and the next player in turn becomes the new first player and a new round begins.
There remains one last thing to discuss - what function do buildings serve. Firstly, they earn player points. Some buildings are necessary to process goods. Other buildings confer bonuses when trading and shipping or allow players to 'break the rules' in some way or other. Finally, the 5 large buildings give extra victory points according to the conditions on each individual large building tile.
There are 3 manners in which the endgame can be triggered.
Players then tally their scores, highest value wins.
Puerto Rico is not a complicated game, but it is a fairly involved one and the rules are fairly detailed. The game has minimal 'downtime' as it allows players to act in other player's turns. This keeps players on their toes, being able to take advantage of another player's role is key to optimising strategy.
It's also a game of very little luck. The only random element is drawing the plantation tiles, everything else is down to player actions and choices.
Talking of choices, the game mostly provides players with useful and meaningful decisions to make. There's always the balancing act caused by there being one too many actions that players will want to do, pushing them into making tricky choices.
The trading and shipping rules give Puerto Rico a little bit of a competitive edge. Players need to watch what each other are doing, because as mentioned above, a decision that the active player makes can aid another player.
Since the trading tile and ship tiles are not emptied until full and even then only at the end of their respective actions. Players can screw each other (And themselves to be fair.) by initiating trading or shipping at particular times, this can and probably will deny certain players the benefits of trading or shipping. After all there are 5 types of good, but only 4 spaces on the trading tile and 3 ships.
Since the game has 2 ways of scoring points. There are broadly speaking, 2 strategies for winning.
These are; accumulate victory points by shopping goods out, or buy buildings and accumulate victory points that way.
In the few times, we've played it recently, it seems to be that acquiring buildings might be a better way of accumulating victory points. Perhaps the trading approach has a harder learning curve?
This is about the only negative I can think about the game.
But other than this, Puerto Rico is a game that rewards thoughtful play and that's always a good thing.
28th January 2020
Tuesday is here and we're at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking to play board games.
Popular opinion states that most restaurant fail in the first year, so running one is hard work (And believe me I know!). What could be harder? Running a whole chain of restaurants!
That's where 'Food Chain Magnate' comes in. Now you too can know what it's like to run restaurants without all the 'fun' of inconsistent staff, irritating customers, infuriating regulations and interfering local authorities.
What's in a game?
There's quite a lot to Food Chain Magnate and quite a lot of components too.
How's it play?
A round of Food Chain Magnate is played over 7 rounds.
Play continues until all the allotted money from the 'bank' supply is depleted, in which case any remaining money is paid out from the reserve supply.
The player who has accumulated the most money, wins.
Food Chain Magnate markets itself as a 'heavy' game and it's not kidding.
The aim of the game is to build housing and create marketing campaigns, this generates a demand for whatever particular food & drink the player decides advertise.
Then the player produces the relevant food & drink to fill that demand, this equals profit.
Except it's not so simple.
There is a lot to think here and all of it is important.
How a player structures their company is crucial. All of the other actions options will become avaialable based on the staff cards that you recruit and play.
A lot to think about.
You need food? Pizza chefs will produce pizza and burger chefs will produce burgers.
You want drinks? You need an errand boy to go and collect them.
Want to be more competitively priced? Get a pricing manager.
Need an advertising campaign. You'll have to get marketing staff.
Want to place more housing? A business developer is what you need.
Your staff need training to be more effective? Trainers are what you need.
You got too many staff? Get more managers!
Need to recruit people even quicker? Recruiters are what's needed.
And so on.
Marketing needs to be targeted. There are different types of marketing that target a player's audience at different 'ranges' and they tend to be of varying length. Players will need to optimise creating their demand.
Advertising can have a real sting in the tail. Because other players can benefit from it too. If one player creates a demand for burgers and another player then opens a burger joint closer to the housing that's been targeted, then the customers will go there instead (Customers have absolutely no loyalty!). Or if another player slashes the price of their burgers, then other restaurants will be ignored.
Sly players will definitely try and exploit other player's marketing.
This brings me to 'pricing'. This is a great game mechanic. Instinctively, players will want to increase prices to generate more revenue. But a player really needs to undercut their opponents, because less profit is better than no profit. Pricing is a real race to the bottom and forces players to make horrible choices - always a good thing!
Players will also need to think about food & drink production, as more and more demand appears, players will need to get better and better at production to meet that demand. Also, as demands get more complex, fulfilling those demands gets equally as complex (A house's demands cannot be only partially fulfilled and must be fully met.).
And don't forget milestones, the benefits they can confer can be very important.
When we played this game, the owner explained to us that he thinks at the start there's a couple of different routes to follow for 'opening moves' that there are 'no brainer' moves (These are to do with milestones.). It seems some of the milestones can be completed in the first couple of turns and only the first player(s) that complete them get the benefit, not following the 'no brainer' moves means a player can lose out on those benefits.
This implies that early moves (Or mistakes really!) can affect the entire game.
I'm not sure how I feel about this? I don't like 'no brainers', because what they do is remove choice from a game. On the other hand, maybe it was overstated. I guess the game would need to be played multiple times to see if this is the case
All of this contributes to make Food Chain Magnate a deep game that requires a lot of forethought and strategy. There is no luck or chance in this game. If you like genuinely heavy games, this may interest you.
For me though, I found it to be a little bit difficult to play the game on all the levels it required and mostly ignored the marketing side. It felt a strangely unengaging game, perhaps it was the theme?
I play, I paint.