30th May 2021
It's a Sunday and I'm logged on to Board Game Arena on my PC, time for the first game of the night.
Monk Tybor Kwelein had spent his life cataloguing the 4 kingdoms of plants, fungi, insects and animals in the pages of the titular Codex Naturalis. Now he is no longer with us, will one-to-four other people take up the mantle and carry on his work in the form of a neat little card game.
What's in a game?
Codex Naturalis is a card game and unsurprisingly, has a lot of cards. All the cards are about half the size of normal playing cards which is sensible, as otherwise the game would have a massive footprint, most of the cards share some similar features.
The scoring board and tokens are pretty standard quality game components and perfectly acceptable.
The cards feel very thick and sturdy (Maybe because of the smaller size?) and seem to be made to a high standard, all the gold cards and numerous resource cards are embossed in actual gold foil, which is a really nice touch and despite their small size, most of the cards all have charming, highly detailed monochrome illustrations themed by their colour. Finally, all the cards are coated in a glossy finish.
The only criticism I have is of the small symbols at the bottom of the gold cards, they are quite small and some players have complaint that it can be hard to discern between the symbols, particularly the blue and the green.
Otherwise, these are some of the highest quality card components I've seen and it all comes wrapped up in a compact tin.
How's it play?
The objective in Codex Naturalis is to create an expanding spread of overlapping cards in their playing area. The basic process of actions to achieve this in Codex Naturalis is simple, a player plays a card, then draws a card, of course there's more to it than that.
points, this card probably scores the most if you can manage to fill the doughnut hole!
Play continues one player's score reaches 20 or more, then the endgame is triggered.
After the endgame is triggered, the current round is completed, then one final round is played.
After this, players count the score from the cards they've played and then calculates the score they get from completing both common objectives and their secret objective.
Score are tallied and highest score wins!
Codex Naturalis has simple rules, but also a fairly deep level of gameplay. Despite only having a hand of 3 cards, players are given a wide variety of choices and strategies to pursue when placing cards.
A lot of this comes from the objectives, you'll obviously need to play gold cards to score but it's important not to ignore objectives, scoring from the gold cards will generally put your score into the low-to-mid 20s, but objectives which are scored after the end and can push your score higher, especially since they can be scored multiple times. That everyone has a secret objectives means that the final outcome is not known until the final scoring and keeps the stakes high.
Players must also learn to manage their hands and objectives, there are 4 colours of card, but only 2 of each type of card is ever displayed face-up, it's likely that player's won't always see the cards they need.
Codex Naturalis can also give players agonizing choices because they'll frequently be given the option to cover up a resource or objective symbol with the corner of another card. When that symbol is covered up, it's gone for the rest of the game, forcing players to choose which to prioritise. Only symbols that appear in the middle in of a card cannot be covered.
Finally, because face-up cards never have more than 3 visible corners, players will need to think how to place cards with future placement in mind, the visible corner of a card can be 'locked' by placing another card with a hidden corner adjacent to it. This essentially ends that line of expansion, which can limit options later on.
Codex Naturalis is a little too long for a filler and perhaps a little too short for a main game, which is only a minor quibble really. Otherwise, I found it to be a solid, easy-to-learn, mid-to-light game with good replay value and high production values.
Definitely worth a try.
21st March 2021
It's a Sunday lunchtime and I'm logged on to my PC in the living Room and signed into Board Game Arena.
The first game of the day was Takenoko, a game about gardening in Japan... and pandas.
Caveat: We played this game online, but I own a physical copy which I've set up for the photos.
What's in a game?
All of the cartoon-like art is uniformly bright, colourful and appealing, even the rulebook is filled with it. It shows a nice touch.
Finally I'll add that there's a giant sized Takenoko that was released a while back.
How's it play?
On to play
After a starting player is chosen, play proceeds clockwise.
Some actions do not count towards the usual 2 action limit. The active player can carry out any number of free actions at any time during their turn.
The endgame is triggered after someone has played a certain number of objective cards, dependant on the number of players.
The player that triggered the endgame immediately take the Emperor card and conclude the rest of their turn normally. Then continuing in clockwise order, every other player has one more turn.
After this, scores are tallied, highest score wins.
Firstly I'll mention how the game is uniformly nice, presentation is excellent and component quality is good, nothing to criticise here.
Since there are always objectives to work towards in Takenoko, there are generally always meaningful decisions to make.
The game's player interaction comes from conflicting objectives such as one player getting the gardener to grow bamboo and another getting the panda to eat it.
This is also a game about recognising opportunities and adapting to the card and plot tiles you draw and to a lesser extent the results from the weather die and not about strategizing too much.
There is some strategy regarding the uneven distribution of bamboo (Generally objectives that involve the less common bamboo score more points.) but that's about it. I suppose there could be a high level strategy where you watch what other players are doing and try to anticipate what objectives they're going for and try and scupper them but you'll probably scupper yourself as well in the end.
Optimising your actions per turn seems to be very important.
Takenoko is a relatively simple and straightforward game to play, the concepts behind it should make it a fairly accessible crossover game. For dedicated gamers there might not be enough meat on the bone to satisfy them though.
Ultimately Takenoko is a light somewhat gentle game that you shouldn't take too seriously if you play it. If you want something heavy on strategy and direct interaction, it's probably not the game for you. However, if you're in the mood for an undemanding game, it's a reasonable diversion.
26th November 2019
Tuesday gaming night at 'The Sovereigns' is here.
The first game of the evening was 'Nine Tile Panic'.
Nine Tile Panic is a game that comes in a little box that delivers a lot of stress!
This is a game all about building a city but not just building a city. It's a game about building a city in a strict time limit!
Thinking about it, maybe we should get real city planners to play this game? You won't find any unoccupied roadworks in Nine Tile panic let me tell you.
What's in a game?
'Nine Tile Panic' has few components:
How's it play?
Before playing, give each player a set of tiles.
Nine Tile Panic is played over a series of rounds. Each round is scored before play proceeds to the following round.
A round goes like this:
Play continues until the score limit has been reached. For a 5 player game this is 25 points.
Final scores are tallied, highest score wins.
Nine Tile Panic is a small, quick to learn and quick to play game. A game can be 20 more than 20 minutes.
The game is supposed to be fun, but it should be called 'Nine Tile Stress!'. Why? Because there will always be that one player who's going to finish their city too quickly just to watch the other players suffer! That's why. Always!
You'll be swearing under your breath as any strategy you've concocted will fly out of the window and you'll just be trying to make any city you can!
And seriously, that's what makes Nine Tile Panic a good game and fun too.
If you have friends who like real time games, you should play this with them.
And if you have friends who hate real time games you should definitely play this with them!
24th November 2019
Sunday at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking. The 50 Fathoms hiatus continues, so it's board games instead.
We began with 'Tsuro: The game of the Path'.
And that's what Tsuro is, a game about paths, quite figuratively. It's also quite abstract and there's not much to say about the theme.
What's in the game?
The game comes in a small package.
How's it play?
Set up is quick and simple.
Play continues until one of the following conditions are met:
Tsuro is a small game, quick to setup, quick to learn and quick to play.
It is essentially a light 'programming' game that requires a small amount of scrutiny and forethought to try and predict your moves.
The real danger in the game however, comes from the other players, it's impossible to predict what tiles they will play and its impact on you. Essentially you can't rely on planning more than 1 move ahead and have to adapt to other player's moves as they occur, this is particularly true later in the game as the board becomes fuller and options become smaller.
All this unpredictability makes Tsuro fun, as long as you don't try and think too much about what moves you can make.
Additionally, Tsuro plays with up to 8 participants, combined with it's accessibility make it a good choice for party games and fillers.
29th October 2019
Tuesday night gaming at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking with the board game club continues.
The final game of the night was 'Grand Austria Hotel'.
It doesn't take much imagination to realise that this is a game about running a hotel. That's right, keep those restaurant customers happy. Manage all those hotel rooms. Maintain the prestige of your establishment. All the fun!
Joking aside, Grand Austria is pretty good game. The rules are fairly straightforward to learn, but there's a lot of things to think about and take into consideration. A lot of things!
What's in a game?
Grand Austria Hotel has a lot of components. They are all quite colourful and well made.
How's it play?
We begin with setup.
The turn order is a little unusual in Grand Austria Hotel. Every player gets 2 turns in a round. All players are given a token with 2 numbers on it - which is when their turns will occur.
Turns proceed clockwise until all players have had their first turn, then goes back anticlockwise so that the last player was also the first player.
In a 4 player game, the first player will have a token that shows '1/8' and the fourth player will have a token showing '4/5'.
The first thing the active player can choose to do is to take a guest card from the main game board. Depending on which card is taken, the active player may have to pay for it.
The further the card is to the left, the more it costs. Gaps in the row are replaced by sliding cards from the left to the right and adding new cards on the furthest left. This is a 'conveyor belt' mechanic.
Actions in Grand Austria Hotel are determined by dice. The number of dice used depends on the number of players. In a 4 player game, 14 dice are used. The first player rolls all the dice and and places them as required on the action board.
There are 6 columns on the action board. After the dice have been rolled, they are placed in their relevant space. If 3 1's have been rolled, they are placed into the '1' column, this is done for all 6 columns.
This determines both the effectiveness and number of each action that can be performed. The more dice there are in a column the more effective that action is and the more often it can be performed. Every time an action is performed, a die from that column is removed. If a column has no dice, that action cannot be performed (Unless performing the 'copy action' action!).
The 6 actions are:
As well as the actions listed above, players can perform some extra actions.
Grand Austria Hotel is played over 7 rounds, thus each player has 14 turns to use.
Prestige is scored at the end of rounds 3, 5 & 7. During prestige scoring, before prestige is scored each player's prestige score is lowered by 3, 5 or 7 in each related round. Prestige points translate in victory points, but if a player's prestige points are too low, that player will lose victory points instead.
Additionally, if a player is above the prestige threshold, they get a bonus, if they are below, the receive a penalty. This depends on the 3 prestige reward/penalty tokens that were placed on to the main board.
At the end of the 7th round, points are scored from various sources, such as staff cards, occupied rooms, remaining food, drink & money, objectives and prestige tokens.
Any guests left in your restaurant loses points.
All points are tallied, highest score wins.
So Grand Austria Hotel is a game about acquiring customers, fulfilling their needs and preparing rooms for them in your hotel.
The game is quite a balancing act as it forces players to juggle preparing rooms and fulfilling the needs of their customers.
Players also need to pay attention to the prestige track, as failing to acquire enough prestige can be seriously detrimental.
The bonus objective can earn quite a lot of points.
Money too can be a problem, it's quite hard to accumulate money and is also something you need to think about.
Whilst there's a lot going on in this game, the rules aren't too complicated.
Optimising strategies is really important here. But the available actions and their effectiveness is unpredictable.
So Grand Austria Hotel forces players to both think ahead and be adaptable, whilst providing players with lots of meaningful decisions.
These are things that make Grand Austria Hotel a good game.
26th October 2019
Saturday evening has rolled round again and we're at Matakishi's for some gaming goodness.
Tonight we played '1830', or to give it its full name; '1830: The Game of Railroads and Robber Barons'. As you will have surmised, this is a game about railroad building. Actually, it's probably fair to say it's the game about railroad building.
What's in a game?
1830's components are very 'old-school' and clearly favour function over form.
How's it play?
1830 was originally published in 1986. The version we played was published in 2011 by Mayfair Games. There was some head-scratching during set up as it turns out in this edition there are several variants of the game. We had been trying to set up the 'basic' version of the game, which apparently is different to the 'classic' version (Which is what we wanted to play.).
The basic version of the game should be the classic version, do you hear Mayfair Games!
Anyway, on with setup.
Bidding only occurs once in the game (Right at the start.).
Players have to bid for the right to buy one of the private companies.
Auctioning is actually very straightforward. One player makes a starting bid (Whoever is nominated as 'The Banker' should start.), then proceeding clockwise, each player has to make a higher bid or pass. If a player passes, then they are out of the auction permanently.
When everybody has passed, then the player who was the highest bidder, gets the 'privilege' of choosing which private company to buy first (Yes, even though you may have bid loads of money, you still have to pay to buy a private company!), also the highest bidder gets to take the 'Priority' card for the first stock market round. Second highest bidder gets second choice of buying a private company and so on until all the players have a private company.
Stock market and operating rounds
This is where the majority of the game takes place.
At the beginning of the game there will be a stock market round followed by an operating round.
Later on, there will be a stock market round followed by two operating rounds.
Even further into the game, the stock market round will be followed by three operating rounds.
Stock market round
When a company is floated, the following occurs:
So now we're on to the operating round(s). The following occurs:
Play continues until all the money from the bank has been paid out to the players.
Winning is determined by who has acquired the most personal wealth.
Players add up all the personal money they have accumulated and the combined stock market value of all the shares they own. The operating capital of any companies that the player may control is not added to the final tally.
Highest score wins.
It's a testament to 1830's design that 30 years on, it's mechanics and rules are still totally solid and watertight.
The stock market round is well balanced so it has enough depth to be engaging and interesting, but is not head scratching in complexity.
I really like it that player's money is entirely separated from the money needed to run a company. I also like how in order to maximise your personal profitability, you'll also need to invest in companies run by other players. Because no player can own more than 60% in a company, this will happen.
The operating rounds give players plenty of choice and options when expanding their companies. Eventually there will be sets of intricate and convoluted rail networks interacting and criss-crossing with each other.
Players also need to pay close attention to the money that their companies maintain as having a company go bankrupt will have serious consequences for the stock value.
On the box of 1830, it says that it takes 3-6 hours to play and that's no exaggeration. It is the only drawback to 1830 is that I can think of.
1830 is a classic and there's no doubt about it. There are plenty of other rail building games and many of them are good. But if you've got the hours to spare, none are as good as 1830.
It only remains for me to say that it seems that the game was last in print a few years ago. It's criminal that it's still out of print now, considering just how good a game 1830 is.
16th July 2019
It's a Tuesday and the 3rd and final game of game evening at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking is 'Honshu'.
Wikipedia describes Honshu as 'the largest and most populous main island of Japan'.
Honshu the game describes itself as a 'trick-taking, map building card game set in feudal Japan'.
So, there you go!
What's in a game?
How's it play?
The objective of Honshu is to lay down map cards to create your province. When laying a card, generally the objective is to lay cards in such a way that matching terrain types are next to each other.
First thing though, is set up.
Play continues for 3 turns. Then before the 4th turn, players pass their 3 remaining cards to the player to their left.
Once the 6th turn is completed, the players will have run out of cards. 6 new cards are randomly dealt to each player and play continues.
After the 9th turn has been completed, players pass their 3 remaining cards to the player on their right.
After the 12th turn, the game is over and we go to scoring.
So once the 12th turn is over, it's time to score. There are several different terrain types and each type scores differently.
Honshu is a small game that packs a lot in.
It has a trick-taking mechanic that can be exploited to good use if you're canny, as well a a drafting mechanic. Which is quite interesting.
The map-laying phase gives the player quite a lot of flexibility when putting map cards down, so you get a lot of choices and decisions to make.
Honshu reminds me a little bit of 'Isle of Skye', both games are broadly divided into a acquisition phase and a map laying phase.
Both games give players options for strategies (And both games allow you take another player's map tile/card!).
Honshu is a little simpler, but quicker to play.
And like Isle of Skye, I think Honshu is a good game and definitely worth trying.
12th July 2019
It's time for the second game of 'not WFRP' night.
The second game of the night is 'Kingdomino'.
Kingdomino is a tile placement game that's about creating a kingdom with dominos. Hence the name kingdomino - those professional 'board-game-namers' earned their wages with Kingdomino eh?
What's in a game?
Unsurprisingly, the main component of Kingdomino is... dominoes.
How's it play?
First there is set up.
Now that all the dominoes have been placed, it's to score them.
Kingdomino is a clever and unique game that seems to genuinely draw some inspiration from dominoes.
Players are usually always given a meaningful decision to make.
Which tile to take?
How to place a tile in your kingdom?
Kingdomino also has an interesting mechanic to determine turn order. The most important dominoes (Those with crowns on them.) have the highest numbers on their backs. This means that taking a valuable domino in one turn will result in being further down in the turn order in the following turn. It's a clever balancing mechanic and something to think about when selecting dominoes.
There's also a potentially higher level of play. Watching your opponents gives your the opportunity to try and anticipate their moves and guess which landscapes they want to prioritise. Although, as with a lot of games, you have to be careful not to scupper yourself when trying to mess with other other players.
Kingdomino is a small, colourful, quick to play and easy to learn game. Perfect for a start or finisher to an evening of gaming.
It has enough depth and variation to give it replay value. And that's a good thing.
2nd July 2019.
The second game of gaming night at 'The Sovereigns' was 'Isle of Skye'.
In my imagination, one day someone was playing 'Carcassonne' and they thought. 'Y'know what this needs is more depth. Oh and it needs to be set in a remote part of Scotland!'.
And the result of that thought was 'Isle of Skye'.
In reality the link to Carcassonne is fairly superficial, both are landscape-based tile laying games and that's about it for similarities
Isle of Skye also contains an intriguing trading mechanic.
What's in a game?
How's it play?
First, there's the set up.
The scoring tiles are shuffled and 4 of them are placed on the main game board. Each tile has a different method or way of scoring points.
Each player is also given some currency (Which they keep hidden behind their screen at all times.).
The game is played over 5 turns and the game is scored at the end of these 5 turns: In each turn different scoring tiles will used for scoring. In the 1st turn, one tile is used, in turns 2 & 3, two tiles are used and in turns 4 & 5 three tiles are used.
Once set up is completed, the game begins. There are 3 phases to every turn.
Each player draws currency from the gold supply.
The trading mechanics in Isle of Skye are like no other game I've played. Each turn, all the players will acquire some tiles and must sell them, but they use their own money to do so!
Once all of the tiles have been bought, players have to lay their tiles.
The rules for laying tiles is pretty straightforward. Tiles can be placed down in any orientation, but must honour all the other tiles that it is adjacent to.
Each player creates their own 'map' independent of all other players.
I Liked Isle of Skye.
I particularly like the mechanics for selling tiles. You given some intriguing and risky strategies to use.
If you draw tiles you don't want, you can try to sell them at a low price to get rid of them. But underselling the tiles may help someone else with very little benefit to yourself.
Conversely, putting a high price on tiles may them price them out of other peoples' ranges. Ending up with you paying a high cost for tiles you don't want.
Additionally, because you use your own funds to put a price on tiles. If you price your tiles too highly, you will be left with little gold to buy other player's tiles.
There's lots of potential decisions here and that's good.
When laying tiles, there's lots of decisions to be made too.
As well as the 3 land types, field, mountain and water, there are also features such roads, lighthouses, farms etc.
All of these can be used in scoring, but they will do so differently over the rounds. So you need to prioritise how you lay tiles to maximise scoring.
So like I said I like Isle of Skye and it's been added to 'the list'.
I play, I paint.