Saturday, 25 June 2011


The latest game session had 8 of us ready to play and the elected game was Croquet. Okay, so Croquet is not a board game (I am not including Carpet Croquet or Tiddly-Winks Croquet), but it certainly is an excellent game combining both tactical and physical skills.
Man armed with a Croquet Mallet

So what is in my big croquet box (and it is a big box)? A Centre Peg, 6 Hoops, 4 Mallets, 4 Balls and a small Rule Book. Before going too far I ought to talk about quality of equipment. If you are going to get a set it is worth investing in a decent set. The balls need to be weighty to run properly on the grass and you need a solid mallet to get proper strikes. The hoops need to be solid enough that they don’t shake or move when a ball hits them, the set I have (and which is shown in the photos) is at the lower end of the scale of decent sets. My set is quite old and most sets now include corner flags, scoring clips (I use painted clothes pegs) and a wooden mallet (to knock the hoops and peg in) as well as the above items. There are quite a few companies who make croquet sets and I cannot comment on who does or does not do a decent set, the set in the photos is a Townsend set and my match mallet (not featured in the article) comes from Jaques

The balls split by team colours
A hoop with scoring clips attached
So how do you play Croquet? I will give only the basic rules here so no complaints please (the official rules I have is nearly 50 pages long), we were playing for fun and  an introduction to the game, so full rules were secondary. Each team (a team can consist of one player and  normally not more than 2 players) plays with a pair of balls either red and yellow or blue and black. The aim of the game is to get both your balls through all the hoops and then hit them on to the central peg. On their turn a player goes on to the lawn and uses the mallet to hit one of their balls once. Then it becomes the turn of the other team. However a player may earn bonus strokes, the first method is by running a hoop, that means getting your ball completely through the metal hoop, success results in getting another turn. The second way is by hitting another ball with your chosen ball, yours or your opponents, this is called a roquet. After a roquet you pick your ball up and place it touching the ball you hit, you then strike your ball with the mallet again, in a way so that the other ball moves, this is the croquet shot after which you get one more free stroke. You may roquet each of the other balls once in a turn, an extra bonus is gained if you run a hoop as the roquet count resets and you may once again roquet all the other balls. In this way it is possible to complete all the hoops and peg out in one turn.

Joe shows how to run a hoop

An old man leaping at the chance to roquet
 The skill of Croquet is in how you play your shots, a little knowledge of angles and vectors helps as does practice in the various types of shots you can do with your mallet. Roll shots and stop shots by putting top spin or bottom spin on the ball; on a perfect lawn there is also the nap (similar to a snooker table) to consider. A good player will run several hoops before their turn ends. Once you get to this stage preplanning of where you are placing the other balls during your croquet shot is very important, its not about splitting your opponent up (though this can be a satisfying consequence) its about placing balls ready to run the next few hoops.

Joe finds hoop but no blue ball, where is it?

Hidden behind a tree, Team 2 deny their ball is off the lawn
So on to our particular game. The first thing to mention is the lawn, a lot of hard work had gone into carefully mowing it prior to the game, it was an open green complete with trees, manhole covers and tussocks and although smaller than a competition lawn it still required a certain skill and deftness to negotiate successfully. We split into 2 Teams with the 2 captains taking turns to pick. Team 1 was Wendy (Captain), Steve, Adam and myself; Team 2 was Becky (Captain), Joe, Steve and Phil.

Hoop 2, Team 2 got there first
We were only playing 6 hoops so the Rover hoop was at hoop 6. Initially we were all playing well and although Team 2 got there first, we were running neck and neck through the first 2 hoops. Team 2 then started to slowly edge ahead and were on hoop 6 whilst Team 1 who had missed a couple of hoops, including myself missing a sitter (aaarrgghh the agony of it all), were still on hoop 4. Team 2 then made their assault on the centre peg, pegging out one of their balls, Team 1 saw their opportunity to attack and pushed Team 2’s remaining ball towards the corner, but not far enough, they returned to the peg on their next turn and Team 1’s second attack failed, Team 2 pegged out their second ball and one the match. The final score was Team 1 - 7 points, Team 2 - 14 points. Team 2 must be congratulated for a level of accuracy which Team 1 never quite achieved, also their team spirit, sometimes calling on all members of the team to discuss and plan a shot before playing it.

Steve, Phil, Becky and Joe (Team 2) discuss a difficult lie

Adam, Wendy and Steve (Team 1)
It was an excellent match, the threatened rain stayed away (except whilst I was setting up the course) and everyone had fun. Next time though Team 1 will be giving no quarter.    

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Jambo - Kosmos

Whilst I have been recovering from a tooth extraction Wendy and I have been playing a few games at home, this week. Last night we played Thurn and Taxis, designed by Andreas and Karen Seyfarth, published by Hans im Gluck, it plays in about an hour for 2-4 players aged 10 and above. It is a game that works well 2 player and over the 3 years we have been playing, wins have evened out, however last nights victory was mine. This is a game to be reviewed on another occasion.

Thurm and Taxis
We have also played Kingsburg this week which although Wendy says I am better at, it is always a close run thing. I still think lucky die rolling is half the battle and I certainly did well on that the other night. I am still not sure that this game flows nicely playing 2 player; do not get me wrong it does work, but I think it lacks a little something. One small thing I have noticed, especially 2 player, the winter battle can have a significant affect on your position, to the point of unbalancing the game. However I am sure it is in for quite a few more plays and a verdict will follow with the review.

The game that has been played three times this week is Jambo. This  2 player card game is designed by Rudiger Dorn and produced by Kosmos, I have a  Rio Grande edition which is essential for English speakers as there is a lot of text on the cards and it is aimed at players aged 12 and above.
So what is in the box? 112 cards, 52 Gold Pieces, 36 Ware markers and 5 action tokens, and the rules all neatly packaged in Kosmos’s standard 2 player game box. The rules are clearly written, though I did not understand the use of Utilities – perhaps because all that went through my brain when reading the word was the water and electric board! As mentioned this game is text intensive so ensure you get a language version you are happy with. The aim of the game is to have the most gold at the end of the game which is triggered when a player gets 60 gold or more, the other player then has one more turn. The only elements which are hidden are your cards which you get dealt 5 at the game start. The theme is that you are a stall holder, your stall can carry up to 6 goods (or wares) and it is buying and selling of these wares that gains you your profit.

Players start stalls, Gold, Wares and Cards.
The cards are the driving force behind the game and there are 5 different types. First the goods cards, these will show 3 wares on them and a buying and selling price, if you buy the set of goods you must pay the smaller amount and take the 3 items, and if you have those items on your stall you can sell them as a set for the selling price. You cannot buy goods if you do not have the room on your stall. There are Utility cards, these you play in front of you, once down in front of you, you may action them once a turn for a special ability. You are limited to 3 utilities at any one time. There are people and animal cards which are essentially one off actions, the animal cards being an attack card which can be negated by use of a Guard card. The last type of card is a stall extension which allows for a further 3 wares to be held.

Ware, Person and Utility card
On your turn you have 5 actions, the action markers are there to help you remember, though most of the time they are not needed. For your first action you may take a card from the face down deck, if you do not take a card for your first action, you may not take a card later as one of your remaining actions. If you do not want the card, you can discard it and take another card, but this costs an action too, you may repeat this until all 5 actions have gone. You may also play cards, each card you play costs an action, you may also use a utility, this costs an action. You may also forfeit your last 2 actions to gain 1 gold. An example of a turn could be :- 1) Pick up a card, 2) Play a new utility card in front of you, 3) Use the utility card, 4) & 5) Take a gold. Another example :- 1) Play a ware card buying 3 goods paying 3 gold, 2) Play a second ware card taking another 3 goods paying 3 gold, 4) Play a 3rd ware card selling 3 goods for 11 gold, 5) Play an animal action card.

Players stall with 3 wares on it
So how does it play? Very nicely thank you (we have played it 3 nights in a row), there is a lot of thinking to be done and the interaction of the cards seems well thought out. There are cards which appear stronger than the others, but they do seem to even out. The really important thing is to try to get a turnover of cards, just taking the standard 1 card a turn will not win you the game, there are various utilities and action cards which will increase your card turnover and the importance of a Guard card to protect you position cannot be over emphasised. So if I am aware of all this why is Wendy beating me at a ratio of 2 :1 over a 4 year period?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Africa - 999 Games

Wendy, Alan and I had a 3 player game session the other afternoon after we had been birding where I had found myself as Mosquito dinner. We managed to get through 3 games, the first was Kingsburg where I was a little cross with myself that I made a misplacement, I knew where I was to go, I just did not do it, this led to a missed crucial build which would have given me an extra 6 resources throughout the rest of the game. Added to this my last roll of the game was a 9 and that was with 4 dice (average 14), beaten by the other 2 who were rolling just 3 dice. The game ended with a well deserved draw between Alan and Wendy. I made a mistake and suffered by it.
The second game we played was Offrandes, where I was introduced to a correction of two of the rules. First off Alan put one set up for auction which Wendy won, but decided to end his turn there. A check of the rules revealed that he MAY put up another set for auction if he does not win the first set. The second rule query was in relation to the sacrifice, I read the rules on value being in relation to the value of the sacrifice, when in fact it relates to the individual animal value. My advice is when playing for the first time make sure you read the sacrifice criteria carefully. Despite all my misunderstandings I managed to pip Alan to the post by concentrating on sacrifices at the higher value altars. Wendy came last, again falling foul of the Briber in the first turn.

The third game was Africa, designed by Reiner Knizia, my version is by a Dutch company, 999 Games though the copywright shows Simba Toys. Takes from 2-5 players aged 10 or above and plays in just under an hour.

Africa - Box Lid (not a spelling error, this is the Dutch edition)
The game contains a game board, playing pieces (2 for each player) 20 plastic pyramids, and a large number of printed discs. The game board is a map of Africa, over which is laid a hex pattern, there are enough printed discs to place one on each hex, at random, face down. One of your playing pieces is an explorer who will move around the map collecting the discs, the other becomes your scoring token. Each player also receives two pyramids. The rules are clearly laid out, in explaining the game to others though I have noted that there sometimes is a little confusion about scoring in relation to Nomads and Animals, so read that bit carefully.
The playing pieces
On your turn you can either for your whole turn, teleport to a new location, or you get to move your explorer twice. After each movement of one or two spaces, you may reveal an adjacent token or take an action, namely drop a camp or move an animal or move a nomad. In moving though you are not allowed to travel over or onto any unexplored disc. So what is on the discs. A disc will only contain one symbol which can either be one of 5 different Animals, a Nomad, an artefact, Gold value 1 or 2, Diamond value 1 or 2, or a Monument. You score 1 point for an animal plus one point for every adjacent animal of the same type; you score 1 point for every vacant hex adjacent to them; you score 1 point for a 1 Gold or 1 Diamond, 2 points for a 2 Gold or 2 Diamond; an Artifact comes off of the board into your possession and scores at the end of the game; finally a Monument gives you a pyramid.

The Game Board
The game continues until the 11th monument disc is uncovered, the explorer gets a 3 point bonus, but the game ends immediately and final scoring takes place. During the game you can get bonus points from dropping camps (pyramids) onto the board, they score 1 point for each adjacent monument, animal or nomad. Dropping a base camp can also be used to take possession of all diamond and gold tokens. If you chose to move an animal or a nomad, the score you obtain must be greater than what it currently has and you only obtain the difference. The artefact sets gain you 1,3,5,8,12 points depending on how many you own in a set, during the game you may swap artefacts with other players artefacts, but swap criteria is quite restrictive.

The Discs
So how does it play? The actual mechanism is fairly straight forward, but luck does play a part on what symbol you reveal, I find that on average animals score about 1-3 points, nomads 2-4 points, gems 1-2 points, but having the most at the end of the game gives a 10 point bonus, 6 for second place. Artifacts generally give a score of about 2-2.5 points each. As all this point grabbing seems to average out during the course of a game, tactics actually do come into play. I believe in area control and usually manage to leave myself more unexplored tiles than my opponents leaving them to waste a turn teleporting, I also try to gain control of Gold and Diamonds; Wendy excels at utilising Nomads and never misses an opportunity to maximise her scoring during a turn.

An example of  (from left - right) Animal, Artifact, Gold, monument, Nomad, Diamonds
This game ended as a close run thing, Wendy won with one point separating each of us, myself just ahead of Alan. So was it luck or skill? Africa always leaves me in doubt on that question, but I cannot help feel it is luck, but when I look at how Wendy beats me (and she often does) it must be skill and she is the better "Africa" player. No matter whether luck or skill, it is a light fun game and generally gets a regular airing.