Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Game Series - Heave Ho! by Richard Borg

Heave Ho! is a card game themed on a Scottish tug-of-war. It automatically gets a good grade from me as it has one of my favorite game bits, the wooden barrel, which is used to measure the location of the center of the rope and serves as a score token. The goal of the game is to have a higher strength of "Tuggers" on your side of the rope to pull the whiskey barrel to you. Win three out of five barrels and you've won the game.

The deck is composed of number cards valued 0-6 with humorous images of Scots matching the strength of the card (the value six card is Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster) and action cards which have special, game-changing effects. At the start of the game, both players are dealt 20 cards face down. Simultaneously, as quickly as possible, you draw two cards, look at them and put each in a different pile, one for you and one for your opponent and then repeat. The first player finished gets a small advantage in where the barrel is placed at the start of the round. Once the cards are sorted, you give your opponent the pile you chose for them and take yours from them to add to your existing pile. Shuffle and draw six cards as your starting hand and you're ready.

On your turn, you play a Tugger card to either side of the board or play an action card. You want to place the low value Tuggers on your opponent's side and add stronger Tuggers to your side. Some cards have the words "Heave Ho!" on them. When one of these is played, you check the total strength on each side and move the barrel the difference in the direction of that side. For example, if my side has seven Tugger points and the other side has four points, the barrel would move three spaces towards my side.

The action cards let you do things like take a card from your opponent's hand and play it, draw more cards into your hand, or even reverse the result and let the weaker side win. Playing action cards at the right time is critical and can turn a desperate situation into a winning one.

Heave Ho! is a light, fun, well-themed game with some challenging decision-making. Deciding when to play the few action cards in your hand as well as when to cause a scoring by playing a Heave Ho! card, rather than waiting for an even more advantageous moment that may never come, raises the tension and enjoyment of this quick game.

I won the first round as we refamiliarized ourselves with a game we hadn't played in a long time. Carol recovered nicely and won the next three rounds in a row, winning the final round on the very last card played.

Coming up:  An old-fashioned hot air balloon race at the turn of the century in Balloon Cup.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Game Series - Dragonheart by Rudiger Dorn

Dragonheart is a relatively straightforward card game.  One player represents an Evil Wizard who has imprisoned the Great Dragon in the Dragonheart stone, while the other player is trying to release him. Both players have identical 50 card decks comprised of Dragons, Treasure, Trolls, Dwarves, Knights and other fantasy figures of various values. On your turn, you play one type of card onto the matching space on the board. Some spaces can take any number of cards, others are limited to just 2, 3 or 4 cards. If you play a card on an unlimited space or fill one of the spaces that can take only 2-4 cards, you activate the action of that space.

Actions allow you to take other piles of cards on the board to score for points at the end of the game.  So, for example, if you play any number of Fire Dragons, you take all the cards on the Treasure space.  If you play any Sorceress cards you can take all the cards on the Treasure space or all the cards on the Petrified Dragon space. Doing the latter gives you the Dragon token which means you have a hand limit of six cards instead of five, a big advantage.

The game continues with players playing cards and taking other cards into their score pile while, occasionally, the Dragon token switches sides. The game ends when nine ship cards have been played or a player runs out of cards in their deck. Add up the value of the cards in your score pile and add three bonus points if you own the Dragon token. Highest score wins.

The strategy is to play cards onto the board that your opponent can't capture but that you can on your next turn. There's a fair amount of luck in what cards you draw and sometimes you're forced to play on a space that's going to benefit your opponent. The trick is to limit that as much as possible. Since it's a short game, Carol and I agreed to play two out of three.

During the first game, Carol had good luck with her draws and played four Dwarf cards onto the Dwarf space several times, moving them into her score pile. I had an early lead but it soon evaporated and she shot past me to win 56 to 34.

I regrouped in game two and when I thought I had the advantage played ship cards to bring the game to an early end. The strategy worked and I won 46 to 36.

The final round was tight, with both of us scoring a lot of points. In the end, I had the Dragon token and higher value cards.

Final scores:

   Bob      34 - 46 56
   Carol    56 - 36 - 44

Coming up:  We visit the Scottish Highlands for an epic tug-of-war in Heave Ho!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Game Series - The Reef by Christine and Wolfgang Lehmann

The goal of The Reef is to mate five pairs of fish to produce specific colored offspring. The game board is comprised of 32 cards representing open water, male and female fish, pearls, coral reefs, and sharks. The currency of the game is colored worm tokens which are used to buy fishing boats (yes, the theme falls apart here) and the rest of the cards.

On your turn, you roll the two dice and take worm tokens matching the colors rolled. The other player takes one worm of either color. You may then buy cards from any column in which you have a fishing boat. To buy fish, you must first have a coral reef card where your fish will live. Once you have a coral reef with two fish, male and female, matching one of four face up "offspring" cards, you're one pair closer to victory. Pearls are used as wild worms while sharks remove cards from the board or your own coral reef. You may buy additional boats, expanding your fishing grounds, for three worms.

One interesting aspect of the game is that as cards are removed from the board, the remaining cards "flow" from left to right to fill in the gaps, which means you can see which fish are coming turns ahead and plan accordingly.

I gathered my five coral reefs and expanded my network of boats early to quickly rack up three offspring, leaving Carol behind. At that point, I stalled with an unneeded green fish on one of my coral reefs. Carol gathered a host of pearls and suddenly was able to catch up to me. We both bred our fourth offspring at about the same time and I was pretty sure her large number of pearls would give her an advantage in getting the last pair of fish.

As the fish Carol needed to win appeared on the board and was ready to move into a column with one of her boats, I had one final turn, needing a particular colored female fish to acquire my last offspring card. I chose to play a worm to turn up one of the face down cards in the middle row and got incredibly lucky, turning up exactly the fish I needed.  I purchased that fish and made my last offspring the turn before Carol would have.

Final scores:

     Bob      5
     Carol    4

Coming up:  The series turns to fantasy as we engage in a wizard battle over an imprisoned dragon in Dragonheart.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Game Series - Ingenious Travel Edition by Reiner Knizia

One of the few abstract games I really love, the regular four-player version of Ingenious is often played at GCOM Germantown. Ingenious Travel Edition is the miniaturized two-player version. 

In Ingenious, the players play one tile per turn down onto the hexagonal grid board. Each tile has two symbols, a combination of the six colors/shapes in the game. You score points for placing A color/shape next to the same color. If there are multiple tiles with the same color adjacent or in a row from the newly played tile, you can get multiple points for that placement. If you manage to max out a particular color at 18 points, you say "Ingenious!" and immediately may play another tile. There is also a rule for swapping out tiles if you're unlucky and can't draw a tile with your lowest scoring color. Scoring is done on a cribbage-like peg track.

Early in the game, here you can see that Carol (far pegs) and I (near pegs) have both moved far ahead in orange, but some colors haven't scored yet at all.

At the end of the game, your score is whichever color you have the LEAST points in, meaning you have to play a balanced game, bringing all your colors up as far as possible. You may have all colors up to 18 but one, but if that final color is 2, then your score is 2.

At game end, all of my colors had scored well, including two (orange and green) maxed out at 18.  Carol's purple and red scores were her Achilles heel.

Final scores:

     Bob      7-8-10-10-18-18
     Carol    3-6-10-14-17-18

Coming up:  We move into the ocean currents to mate fish, yes, mate fish, in The Reef.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Game Series - Kahuna by Gunter Cornett

In Kahuna, two players fight for control of a group of south sea islands. Kahuna was the second game of the series I ever bought, way back in the mid-90s.

Each player has a hand of cards, a bunch of wooden bridges and 10 Kahuna stones. The deck is composed of 24 cards, 2 for each of the twelve islands. On your turn, you play from 0 to 5 cards and then draw one card from the top of the deck or from three face up cards (like Ticket to Ride). Playing a card lets you place a bridge from that island to one of its neighbors. If you then have a majority of the possible bridges on either island, you take control and place your Kahuna stone on the island. When you do this, you remove any enemy bridges touching your new island, which can result in the other player losing control of neighboring islands. You can also use two cards (same-same/same-neighbor/neighbor-neighbor) to remove a bridge already placed.

You may only hold five cards in your hand at one time but since you can play all of them in a single turn, big plays with multiple bridges is a definite possibility.  Such a play is inevitably followed by rebuilding turns where you're mostly drawing cards.

The players play three rounds, gaining one point for having more Kahuna stones on islands after the first round and two points for having more Kahuna stones on islands after the second round. Whoever wins the third round scores the difference between the number of their stones and their opponent's. Highest total score wins.

I took an early lead and at the end of the first round had five islands to Carol's three, scoring 1 point for winning the round.

After the second round, I still had five but Carol had grown to four.  Note how we've substantially shifted positions.  For my win of the second round I scored 2 more points, giving me a total of 3.

For the third and final round, whoever has the most islands scores the difference between the number of islands they control and their opponent. If the game is then tied, whoever won the third round is the victor. So, if Carol could best me by 3 islands, she would match my score of 3 and win the game.

Going into her last play of cards, Carol was able to do exactly that, running up a total of 3 more islands than me. Unfortunately for her, I had a decent hand of cards left and was able to steal some islands from her on my last turn, giving her only a 1 island advantage.  Here's the final layout of the board.

Final scores:

        Bob:    3
        Carol:  1

Coming up:  The first totally abstract game, the classic Reiner Knizia tile-laying game, Ingenious.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Germantown 02/03/14

Attendance:  14

  • Leslie Barkley
  • Gabriel Copley
  • Paul Czarnota
  • Nick Ferris
  • Henry Ho
  • Randy Hoffman
  • Doug Hoylman
  • Bob & Carol Jones
  • Cynthia Lewis
  • Sarah Pimsler
  • Eric & Laura Reinhold
  • Gordon Rotter
Welcome back, Cynthia, to GCOM!

Games Played (scores in order of place):

Steam Park - Cynthia 78, Leslie 66, Nick 63, Carol 61
Blue Moon City - Sarah 5, Eric 4, Randy 2
The Little Prince - Eric 56, Sarah 38, Leslie 36, Nick 19
Pillars of the Earth - Gordon 43, Paul 41, Bob 40, Laura 34
Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island - Henry, Doug & Gabe - all won.
Clubs - Paul 72, Nick 32, Sarah 12, Gordon 10
Clubs (variant) - Gordon 53, Nick 37, Paul 35, Sarah 26
Glen More - Henry 65, Bob 51, Gabe 47, Leslie 46, Doug 22
Castles of Burgundy - Randy 202, Carol 196, Cynthia 183

Robinson Crusoe image by Andreas Buschhaus on BGG.

Posted by Bob on 02/13/14.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Game Series - The Pyramid of the Jaguar by Gunter Burkhardt.

The Pyramid of the Jaguar is a simple game in concept. The deck has 40 cards valued from 1-40. Players get a hand of fifteen cards to play into their 10 space pyramid, with the lowest value card to go in the lower left hand corner and the highest value card at the top, and each space from left to right and up the pyramid higher in value than the one before it.

On his turn, the player picks two cards from his hand and puts them face up on the table. The other player then picks one of the cards and places it into her pyramid, leaving the remaining card for the first player to place. If you can't fit a card into your pyramid without messing up the order, you have to play it on top of an already placed card, covering it with a Jaguar stone to indicate that it can't be covered again.  For example, if you have the 15 and 19 cards next to each other and must play the 17, you'd play it on top of the 15 or 19. When this happens, the other player moves their token up the Jungle Path (score track).

Another wrinkle is a set of symbols along the Jungle Path. If your token lands on a symbol, you get to perform a powerful action such as removing a card from your or your opponent's pyramid, removing a Jaguar stone, or discarding a card from your opponent's hand. If you win the round by completing your pyramid, you move your token 5 steps up the Jungle Path.

The game ends when, at the end of a round, one of the player's tokens is farther up the Jungle Path than the value of a card randomly drawn from the deck. At that point, whoever is farthest up the path wins.

The trick of the game is to force the other player to take a card that will disadvantage her while getting the card you want into your pyramid. As reality rudely reminded during this game, it makes no sense to lay out your cards perfectly sequentially. I had thought I was clever playing my 1 and 2 cards on the first two spaces, but when Carol removed my 1 card by landing on a symbol on the Jungle Path, I had to reorder my entire bottom row.

Despite what I thought was an early advantage resulting from a good hand, Carol quickly threw my structure into disarray, taking advantage of the special actions afforded by the Jungle Path, and easily won the round, ending four spaces ahead of me. The card drawn from the deck was below her score value, so the game was over after that round and Carol won.

Coming up: Islands in the South Pacific provide the backdrop for a magical battle for supremacy in Kahuna.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Game Series - Caesar & Cleopatra by Wolfgang Ludtke

Caesar & Cleopatra is an influence game where players place agents to gain control of various nobles in ancient Rome. (In a nice humorous touch, every noble has a unique and silly name like Oculus Myopus or Justitanius Anus.)  There are five groups of nobles up for grabs, two stacks with three nobles each and three stacks with five nobles each as in the picture above.

On your turn, you must play one numbered influence card face down on your side of the table below a group or two cards face up.  Two cards increases your influence faster, but your strength is known by the other player. Additionally, you may play an action card which lets you do things like discard a card from your opponent's hand, remove a card from your opponent's side of the table, look at his face down cards, etc.

After you've played your card(s), you turn over a Vote of Confidence card which tells you which group is voting this turn. (Votes are automatically held if a total of 8 cards are placed by the players in any column.) To resolve the vote, you flip all the cards in that column face up to see who has the most influence, and that player takes one of those nobles as a prize. You may also turn up an Orgy card which means that no vote for influence is held that turn. The winner of the vote discards his highest card in the column, the loser discards his lowest card, which helps to balance out a dominant position. There are also Philosopher cards which reverse the result to make the player with the least influence the winner. After your turn you draw back up to five cards in hand from your action cards deck and/or your influence deck.

To score the game, you get 1 point for each noble card you capture, 1 point for taking a majority of any one type of noble card, 1 point for taking all of a particular type of noble, and 2 points if you take the majority of the group of nobles on your secret Influence Bonus card drawn at the start of the game.

I really enjoy C&C which, as you can see, has really beautiful artwork. You only go through your card decks once in the game so you have some tough decisions about when to draw action cards and when to draw more influence cards. There's also strategy in deciding when to play a Philosopher card to reverse the results of a vote. But be careful because if the other player also plays a Philosopher, they cancel each other out.

Unfortunately for Carol, this was as much of a blowout in my favor as her victory in Lost Cities.  I captured every noble in three different groups, an almost unprecedented event, and so got lots of bonus points.  Plus, I captured the majority in my secret group while Carol did not.

Final scores:

         Bob:       23
         Carol:      6

Coming up: We visit the Jungles of Central America in The Pyramid of the Jaguar

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Game Series - Lost Cities by Reiner Knizia

Lost Cities is a pretty simple card game with lots of depth. The deck is comprised of 60 cards of 5 suits (representing five archaeological expeditions) with 12 cards in each suit. Each suit has three "Investment" cards and nine cards from 2-10 value. On your turn, you must play one card to one of the five expeditions on your side of the board or discard a card face up onto the center board. You must then draw into your hand one card from the deck or draw a previously discarded card from the center.

The Investment cards may only be played as the first cards to an expedition; once a number card is played, you may no longer play Investments. Afterwards, whenever you play to an expedition, you must play a card valued higher than the last card played. So if you've played down a 4, you may not play an Investment or the value 2 or 3 cards but may play anything higher than 4. 

When the cards run out, you score each of your expeditions by adding the value of all the cards you've played and subtracting 20. If you don't reach 20 points in an expedition, you get negative points. If you're over 20, you score positive points. Investment cards multiply the result by either 2, 3 or 4, depending on how many of them you played. You also get a 20 point bonus if you've managed to play eight cards in an expedition. For example, if in one expedition you played Investment, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, that would be worth 26 points (3 + 5 + 7 + 8 + 10 = 33 - 20 = 13 x 2 = 26). This sounds more complicated than it is.

The trick in Lost Cities is playing only to expeditions you can get above 20 points, so you don't lose points, and careful discarding is key. Sometimes your hand will consist of cards you don't want to play, either because they're high value and you want to play them later or because you don't have enough cards of that suit to make a successful expedition. So you discard and draw from the deck hoping you'll get a card you can play. But discarding makes that card available to the other player. You have to be careful not to give them something they can use and especially don't want to give them high value cards. Balancing these competing interests is what makes Lost Cities so challenging.

Unfortunately for me, this game was over after the first round.  Carol scored an astounding 181 points, scoring high in three expeditions plus getting the 20 point bonus for each. I had an average score and won the third round, but was so far behind I had little hope of catching up.  

Scores per round and final scores were:

          Carol:   181 + 52 +   68 = 301
          Bob:       36 + 35 + 103 = 174

Coming up: Influence in ancient Rome in Caesar & Cleopatra.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Introducing the Kosmos Two Player Game Series

If you've joined us at GCOM Germantown, you may have seen a large number of small game boxes on top of my gaming shelves.  Here they are:

This is one of my favorite series of games, the Kosmos two player series. I don't own all the games in the series but I own twenty-seven of them, some of which I bought since I took this picture. In the interest of accuracy, a few of the games pictured above aren't part of the series since they're from different publishers, but they have the same box size which is why they're on that shelf. (Hey, I'm a practical guy.)

These are games of various themes and mechanics, but all have in common excellent artwork, easy rules, and challenging game play. Some, like BabelLost CitiesHera & ZeusJambo, and Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, are among my favorite games.

A few years ago, Carol and I played through most of the Kosmos two player games, keeping track of who won. Some months ago we took up the challenge again and played through them all. Since our gaming group has many couples and two player games are always convenient, I thought I'd post some pictures, summaries of the rules, and the results here. If any of these games sound interesting to you, almost all can still be found either in a game store or on-line.

Coming up: Our first game was the very first one I bought, sometime in the mid-1990s, one of the most popular titles in the series, Lost Cities.

Posted by Bob on 02/06/14.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Germantown 01/20/2014

Attendance:  19
  • Leslie Barkley
  • Gabriel Copley
  • Paul Czarnota
  • Dave, Noreen & Andrew Fair
  • Nick Ferris
  • Ethan Goffman 
  • Henry Ho
  • Rebecca Holte
  • Doug Hoylman
  • Bob & Carol Jones
  • Sarah Pimsler
  • Eric & Laura Reinhold
  • Gordon Rotter
  • Arne Schwettmann
  • Marianne Szlyk
On this holiday, we started early to get in more gaming!

Games Played (scores in order of place):

Verflixxt - Gabriel 13, Henry 12, Bob 7, Dave 1, Nick -7, Andrew -9
Black Spy - Carol 31, Leslie 36, Arne 41, Sarah 47, Noreen 138
Trains - Paul 44, Ethan 40, Doug 37, Marianne 23
Big City - Eric 85, Laura 80, Carol 61, Noreen 37
Qin - Eric, Noreen, Carol, Laura
Witches' Brew - Rebecca 17, Paul 16, Gordon 13, Doug 12, Ethan 12, Marianne 7
Russian Railroads - Gabriel 416, Henry 342, Dave 330, Leslie 261
Einfach Genial - Dave 18, Henry 16, Leslie 10, Gabriel 9
Ticket to Ride - Marianne 112, Doug 109, Ethan 108, Carol 84
Qwirkle - Marianne 139, Doug 124, Ethan 101, Carol 79
Battlestar Galactica - Sarah & Nick - Cylons, Bob, Andrew & Arne - Humans (extinct)
Modern Art: The Card Game - Bob 97, Nick 94, Andrew 81, Sarah 70, Arne 34
Tichu - Rebecca/Noreen 775, Godon/Paul 325
Coup - Henry, Leslie, Carol, Dave, Gabriel

Russian Railroads image by Henk Rolleman on BGG.

Posted by Bob on 02/02/14.

Germantown 01/06/14

Attendance:  17
  • Leslie Barkley
  • Aubrey & Shannon Bell
  • Dave, Noreen & Andrew Fair
  • Nick Ferris
  • Ethan Goffman 
  • Rebecca Holte
  • Doug Hoylman
  • Bob & Carol Jones
  • Eric & Laura Reinhold
  • Gordon Rotter
  • Marianne Szlyk
  • Stacia Ulissey
    On this first session of 2014, we welcome back Aubrey, Stacia and Marianne!

    Games Played (scores in order of place):

    Mush! Mush! - Snow Tails 2 - Eric, Leslie, Laura, Rebecca, Andrew, Doug, Nick, Dave
    Arkadia - Stacia 93, Bob 92, Shannon 81, Aubrey 76
    Ticket to Ride Africa - Ethan 166, Carol 122, Marianne 116, Gordon 114, Noreen 96
    Democrazy - Bob 24, Andrew 23, Shannon 16, Ethan 16, Marianne 16, Dave 15, Aubrey 13
    Democrazy - Dave 21, Andrew 20, Bob 18, Aubrey 12, Ethan 12, Marianne 8, Shannon 5
    Attika - Bob, Doug, Carol
    Tichu - Nick/Leslie 1045, Stacia/Noreen 255

    Mush! Mush! image by Daniel Danzer on BGG.

    Posted by Bob on 02/02/14.