Saturday 26 May 2018

boardgaming in photos: Unlock! The Island of Doctor Goorse, Bonnie and Clyde, Catan Card Game

6 May 2018. Unlock! The Island of Doctor Goorse is the third Unlock! game I have played. This time it was a 4-player game. I asked my wife Michelle to join us this time because this particular game needs to be played in two teams. I didn't want to have solo teams, so we needed at least two players per team. I wanted a cooperative experience and not a solo puzzle solving exercise. Doctor Goorse was much harder than the previous two. The publisher rates it 3 of 3 on the difficulty scale. The other two games, which I found moderately easy, are 2's. I was surprised how tough this one turned out to be. This is a good thing. Challenging is good. We had to use hints many times because we got stuck.

This was our score. It took us more than two hours to finish this one hour game (first row, left side). We had to ask for hints 7 times (first row, right side). We revealed two incorrect cards and were penalised 6 minutes (second row). We entered wrong codes 7 times and were penalised 14 minutes (third row, right side). Our final rating was 0 stars (out of 5). If you are interested to try an Unlock! game, do NOT start here! Nevertheless, this was a fun experience, because of how difficult it was. The puzzles here are quite clever, I must say.

The story is that you have crash landed on an island belonging to a rich archaeologist. Your group is split into two during the crash landing. You need to reunite before trying to escape the island together. One team is the yellow team and uses the cards with yellow numbers and alphabets. The other is the green team. Teams may not discuss or share information, at least until they find each other.

Wed 9 May 2018 was an important day in Malaysia's history. It was election day, and this election was the first time we had a change in government since independence 61 years ago. I casted my vote early, and was home by 9am. I had the rest of the day as free time, since it was a public holiday. In the afternoon I played some games with younger daughter Chen Rui. This game here is Bonnie and Clyde, one of the games in the Mystery Rummy family. This was the first time Chen Rui play this. I hadn't played it for a long time, and needed to read the rules again.

All games in the Mystery Rummy series use a few basic gin rummy mechanisms. At the start of your turn, you always draw a card. At the end of your turn, you must discard a card. In between, you may play melds and layoffs. A meld is a set of 3 or more similar cards. After a meld has been played by anyone for a particular number, cards of that number can then be played as single or double cards. These are called layoffs. A game is played over several hands. For each hand, you play until one player plays all cards from his hand. You then score, reshuffle, and start the next hand. Once anyone reaches a certain total score, the game ends. Bonnie and Clyde refers to the famous criminal couple from the 1930's. This version of Mystery Rummy comes with a long game board consisting of 10 locations. During setup, 10 cards are placed face-down along the board. Two of them are Bonnie and Clyde. During the game, if you are able to find and catch them, they each give you 10pts.

This car is an important element in the game. It starts at the #1 location. When you play melds or layoffs, you get to move the car. To catch Bonnie or Clyde, the car needs to be located where they are, and you need to play a card matching that location number too. Throughout the game you will be manipulating the car to your advantage. In addition to helping you catch the criminals, when you play cards which match the car location, they score double points. These are the key elements in Bonnie and Clyde which differ from other games in the family.

The cards played horizontally are those which will score double. This is the convention used to indicate cards which are played when the car is at the matching locations. It is usually better to play melds and layoffs when the car position is right, but it's not always easy to do. Sometimes you hold on to cards waiting for the car to move to the right locations. Sometimes you can't risk the wait, lest your opponent suddenly plays all cards and ends the hand. Sometimes you play some cards without getting double points to move the car to the right location to allow you to play other cards to score double points. Finding Bonnie and Clyde is tricky. When you to play a meld or layoff, you get to peek at the face-down card at the location matching the meld or layoff. This helps you find them. However you need to match the car location to actually catch them.

This is the Catan Card Game. It is the first edition, which is quite old. The newer edition is called Rivals of Catan. Normally when a successful boardgame gets a card version treatment, the card game version is simpler. In the case of The Settlers of Catan, its card game version is more complex. Also, it is a 2-player-only affair. It has some elements where the equivalents are in the Cities and Knights expansion of the boardgame and not the base game.

Older daughter Shee Yun is usually not interested to play boardgames, and only younger daughter Chen Rui is more willing to humour me. So I looked for a 2-player game, and decided on this. According to my records, the previous time I played this was 10 years ago!

This is the starting setup. Those cards in the middle are the draw decks. The two players each have their own areas, called principalities. You start with two towns and a road connecting them, and six production terrains surrounding them. Your objective is to reach 12 victory points. Towns are 1VP each. If you upgrade a town to a city, it is then worth 2VP. Some buildings you can construct in your towns and cities are worth VP. If you are militarily or economically stronger than your opponent, you get to control the military token and the economic token respectively. These are worth 1VP each.

Your principality looks like this at the beginning. That road card in the centre contains useful reference information. On both of the town cards at the two ends of the road, you can see a flag icon at the bottom right. These icons are the victory points. As for the six terrain cards, pay attention to the upper edge only. The cards are oriented this way specifically to indicate there is one resource at each terrain card. Whenever a terrain card produces, you rotate it counter-clockwise, so that the upper edge will show one more resource. When you spend resources, you rotate the terrain card clockwise. A terrain card can store at most three resources. Once it has three, it is full and it can't produce more.

Catan Card Game is a development game. You collect resources, then spend them to build more things, which help you collect more resources, to build more others things, and eventually collect enough victory points to win. It feels good because you are progressing, you are collecting stuff, you have a purpose, you have a plan to execute. In this photo I had expanded my principality from the original two towns to two cities and two towns. I now had 10 terrain cards compared to the original 6. During the game I told Chen Rui there were only 5 new towns that could be built, and players needed to fight for them. Usually one would get three and the other would have only two. Naturally whoever had the third new town would enjoy an advantage. It meant two extra terrain cards and thus more production. I was surprised that Chen Rui managed to beat me to it. I was so close. Unfortunately, in other areas of development, she fell far behind. She had a few strong knight cards, which were expensive to play. Quite a few times when she had accumulated many resources, the brigand event was rolled and she lost all her ore and sheep. Those were major setbacks. I played some garrison cards to protect my resources and I rarely fell victim to the brigands. As I developed more, my progress only accelerated compared to hers, and I eventually won with a big margin.

The two square wooden blocks are the tokens for military dominance and economic dominance respectively. I controlled both of them.

Despite being a card game, the luck of the draw in Catan Card Game is low. There are five draw decks in the game. When you need to draw a card, you may spend two resources to look through one entire deck to pick the one card you want. When you do this, it means you get to see every card in the deck. You will know whether there are other cards that suit your strategy which you will want to cherry-pick again later.

Playing this again after ten years felt great. It has a same enjoyable tempo like The Settlers of Catan. Every turn dice are rolled, and both players get to produce stuff, not just the active player. You keep producing until you have enough resources to build something. I have the expansion to this game, which contains 5 modules. If Chen Rui is still interested to play, there is plenty more we can explore.

Saturday 19 May 2018

The Lepak Game

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

The Lepak Game is a Malaysianised Cards Against Humanity. I haven't played Cards Against Humanity, but it seems to be at least a little NSFW-ish inappropriate. The Lepak Game is probably less so. The game mechanism is based on Apples to Apples, just like Cards Against Humanity is.

Every round one person plays judge and issues a question. The rest compete to submit the best answer and thus score 1 point. The judge draws two cards from the question deck and picks one to play. Each contestant has a hand of eight answer cards, and must choose one to submit. Once everyone has chosen an answer card, the submissions are revealed simultaneously. The judge picks one which he thinks is best. This can be based on how well the answer matches the question. Or it can be because it's the funniest. Or it can be because the contestant has given a most convincing justification for why his card is the best. The winner becomes the judge for the next round. The game ends when one player achieves a certain score.

The answer cards are usually general statements or descriptions. The answer cards are all sorts of things related to Malaysia - foods, persons, events, brands, traditions. You need to be quite familiar with the Malaysian culture and recent events to fully appreciate the humour. The game wouldn't quite fly otherwise.

The game components: just cards. Lots of cards. Yellow backed cards are the questions, and blue backed cards the answers.

These are two questions (light grey) and their winning answers (white) in the game I played. Referring to the set on the left, it is indeed true that some Malaysians address strangers, customers, friends, colleagues or simply acquaintances whose names you've forgotten as "boss". As for the set on the right, Bersih (which is Malay for "clean") is an organisation which fights for free and fair elections, and has organised quite a few large rallies. In the round when the Bersih rally was proposed as an answer, everyone knew it was going to win. None of the other answers even came close. This wasn't a funny answer, but it was satisfying to have such an appropriate answer turn up.

The Play

The Lepak Game is more a party activity than a game in the traditional sense. It does have rules and scoring and a clear winning condition, but the winning or losing isn't all that important. The criteria for the judge to pick a winning answer are rather loose. The fun is in the answers picked by the contestants and how they try to talk their way into convincing the judge. The whole thing should not be taken too seriously. The game mechanism is there to trigger conversation and jokes. Scoring points and winning just give you an excuse to have such silly conversations.

The Thoughts

The Lepak Game is a party game. It's meant to be rowdy and it creates discussion topics. It's easy for non gamers to get into. How much fun it is depends on the group you are playing with. You want people who have a sense of humour, who are creative. It may help you discover some dark sense of humour you never knew existed in some of your friends.

Saturday 12 May 2018

boardgaming in photos: Unlock - Squeak & Sausage, Settlers of Catan

8 Apr 2018. I played Unlock! Squeak & Sausage with the children. This was the second Unlock! series game for us. However we did not play together for our first times. I had previously played Unlock! The Formula with Allen. Shee Yun and Chen Rui played it in a separate session. They struggled with it, Chen Rui giving up halfway, and Shee Yun managing to solve the game well after the one hour mark. With Squeak & Sausage, we were much more successful. In fact it felt a little easy, more so than The Formula. The publisher rates these two games at the same difficulty level - Level 2 (of 3).

Chen Rui (11) is the youngest, but contributed much in this game. She suggested a number of wild ideas for solving certain puzzles which Shee Yun and I were doubtful about. However when we eventually agreed to try her way, it turned out to be the right way. Lesson learnt - in a cooperative endeavor, never belittle the young ones, and always respect and listen to teammates who want to speak up.

There was one particular puzzle which was the same as another we had seen in one of the Exit games. We immediately figured out how to solve it. That was a little anticlimactic.

Having played quite a few of these escape room games now, I conclude that they are just okay for me. I'm happy to play but I don't actively seek them out. They are more puzzles to solve than boardgames.

This is how we fared - 5 stars! We escaped within 45 minutes, well below the one hour mark. We didn't need to use a single hint (first row, light bulb icon on the right). We were penalised twice for flipping over the wrong cards, losing 6 minutes because of that (2nd row). We made one mistake when entering codes and lost 2 minutes because of that (3rd row, right side). So in actual fact we only spent 37 minutes to solve this game.

On Labour Day (1 May 2018) I organised a boardgame gathering, inviting colleagues to play. I hadn't organised sessions like these for a long time. I usually join sessions organised by others, especially at We had 7 players in total, so it was a good opportunity to play 7 Wonders with the full complement. For this gathering I had intended to play some medium weight games. Some of these friends had come to play before, and previously I tended to pick light games, since many were new to boardgames. I thought I should increase the complexity level a little now. However we still had some new players this time. Not every new player has the same tolerance level towards game complexity. So we split into two tables after the first few 7-player games, so that we could cater to different complexity preferences.

This was my nation in 7 Wonders. I'm normally not keen on military, but this time seeing my neighbours CK and Wei Keat completely ignoring military, I decided to invest a little in building an army. One thing lead to another, and eventually I scored 18pts in total for being militarily stronger than both of them throughout the three ages. CK did later try to catch up in military strength, but he never actually managed to. Zee Zun sitting on his other side also spent on military, and there was some competition between the two of them. CK still net lost 1pt, so his effort spent on military might have been better spent on something else.

Many of us were keen on resource buildings. It seems everyone had ample production. That's not necessarily good, because it is wasteful if you don't really need that kind of capacity. Not many people invested in science. There were few green cards on the table. I did later divert some effort into science, and managed to collect a complete set of three science icons. Not much, but it's something. CK's wonder gave a science icon, and had he gone for a science strategy that could have helped tremendously. However he didn't go into science from the start, and by the time he considered it, it was a little too late. The Return On Investment was not quite there.

In this photo above, completing the second stage of my wonder allowed me to construct a building for free once per age. The card tucked under the stage 2 position was taken out to cover the stage 2 icon so that I could remind myself that I had used this power for the current age.

I played Through the Desert with Kah Wooi and CK. We had an awkward situation in our game. On the right side of this photo, you can see that all three of our yellow caravans were near one another. Caravans of the same colour may not touch one another, so our caravan placement created dead space in between these caravans. That value 3 water hole right between my caravan (green rider, yellow camel) and Kah Wooi's (blue rider, yellow camel) couldn't be claimed by either of our caravans. We couldn't play a yellow camel there. That water hole could only be claimed using a camel of a different colour.

The gist of Through the Desert is the angst in choosing where to score and where to concede. You only have two actions per turn, but there are many ways to score points. When you decide to grow in one area, you are letting others get ahead of you in other areas. You need to be prepared to lose out in other areas. In addition to choosing among multiple areas you can score points, often you need to choose between scoring points for yourself and denying an opponent. When an opponent has a lucrative opportunity, you are often forced to spend actions to deny him, or at least reduce his gains. If you don't, he may become a runaway leader. In our game, this happened a few times. When one player had the opportunity to enclose an area, and others must work towards stopping him, or at least minimizing the size of the area he could capture. Our final scores were only 5pts apart. I won only because I managed to enclose one decent area. Had CK not tried to stop me, I would have scored many more points.

The hit of the day was The Settlers of Catan. Zee Zun, Kah Wooi, Chui and CK played this. Wei Keat had played it before many times, and wanted to play something else, but he did help with explaining the game to the others who were playing for the first time. When we were in between games and deciding what to play next, I asked whether they wanted to play something of the same complexity or something more challenging. At the time the group just finished China. They felt China was light, and wanted something heavier. So I picked The Settlers of Catan, which I considered a medium weight strategy game. It was a good pick. Right after they finished it, they immediately wanted to go again. This reminds of me how amazing The Settlers of Catan can be.

Fun and laughter.

I had hoped to play The Princes of Florence (bottom left). This was a game I bought and played in my early days in the boardgaming hobby, so there is some nostalgia here. Too bad we didn't get to play this. Maybe next time.

My version of The Settlers of Catan is a very old one. It's a Chinese version published by a Japanese company - Capcom. Unlike the normal English version where the board is made up of individual hex tiles, this version uses four large board pieces. The island is in two pieces, one for the inland part consisting of 7 hexes, the other is a circular piece for the shoreline. The sea is in two pieces, both C-shaped. All pieces are double sided so there are many ways you can fit them together to create different boards, but there certainly are not as many combinations as using individual hex tiles. One drawback of this version is it has no expansions. If I want to play with expansions, I'll need to get the English version.

These are all the games played at our Labour Day meetup. Among the games I played was FITS. The experience this time was rather unexpected. We were rather unlucky. The order the shapes came up made it very difficult for us to fill rows. The game was very challenging and we often got negative points. We were only playing with the basic four player boards, and none of the expansions. This was a pleasant surprise for me.

When I taught the group Sticheln, I found that the tactics in this game can be quite difficult for new players to grasp. Despite being a card game with just numbers and colours, picking a card to play can be very tricky. There are many tactical considerations. The thought process can be complex. Many times during our game we had to remind and explain to a player that the move he just made could be disastrous, and we offered to let him take back his card play. Sticheln is great fun, especially when a careless player gets screwed over by the whole table. It is a game in which you gain points conservatively and you need to be on constant alert for major screwages which can immediately put you out of contention.

Saturday 5 May 2018


Plays: 3Px3.

When Allen did some spring cleaning on his game collection recently, he gave me a bunch of card games from Dice Hate Me Games, which he had bought through Kickstarter. I have not heard of most of them, and randomly picked one to play with the children one recent weekend.

The Game

Diner is a real-time card game. You are waiters at a diner and you serve food to your customers. Whenever you finish serving all the food ordered by a table of customers, you score points. However if there are customers you fail to serve when the game ends, you lose points.

This above is how a game is set up. The cards are double sided. One side shows a meal, and the other side a table. The table side shows 2 - 4 meals, representing what that table of customers are ordering. There is also a tip amount at the centre. This is the score value. The first row of three stacks at the centre are the draw decks. They show the meal side. The second row with three cards are the customers waiting to be seated. Below these two rows is a discard pile.

At the start of the game, each player gets 1 or 2 round action tokens. Whenever you perform an action in the game, you must give a token to the player on your left. If you don't have a token, you can't do anything. You need to wait for the player on your right to pass you a token after he performs an action. There is no concept of taking turns. It's all done in real-time.

One action you can take is to simply claim a meal card from the top of one of the three draw decks. There is no hand limit. You can collect as many meal cards as you want, just that each costs an action token. Another action you can take is to claim a table card from the second row. You place that table in front of you. This means you have seated a party of customers, and you will be responsible for serving them. Nobody else can touch your customers. Now that you have meals cards and customer cards, you can serve your customers. When you have the right combination of meals in hand to fully serve a table of customers, you may discard these meals, and then score that table. The table card is set aside for scoring at game end. Claiming meal cards, claiming table cards (customers), and then serving customers form a complete process flow. However there is a fourth action you can take. You may spend an action token to discard a table card. Sometimes you want to do this because you don't like any of the three table cards available. Whenever a table card is discarded (or claimed), you replenish by taking a meal card from the corresponding draw deck and then flipping it over to the table side. Sometimes you want to discard a table card because it is too good but you don't want to take it yourself, and you want to deny your fellow waiters. So you tell the customers the restaurant is full and there will be a 45-minute wait, so sorry sir.

In the photo above I only have one table of customers to serve. If I manage to serve them, I will earn $8 in tips.

Meals have different rarities and values. Pancakes and eggs are cheap, steaks are expensive. Tables which ask for steak will tip more. Often you want to claim these high tip value tables, even though it may be harder to collect the meal cards to fulfill them. Some meal cards are jokers. These are normally snapped up quickly.

When two meal card decks run out, you take a short mid-game break. You shuffle the remaining deck together with the discard pile, then create three new meal card decks for the second half of the game. The next time two meal card decks run out, the game ends. You score points for tables fully served, and lose points for any tables still waiting for their meals.

We used an optional rule when we played. If all action tokens get stuck with a single player, which means he has been particularly slow in taking actions, the player to his left may take one of his action tokens. This optional rule helps keep the game going, and also creates some tension. No one wants to be the slow poke.

The Play

Playing Diner is a hectic affair. I'm always watching out for table cards I want and meal cards I need. I don't have time to pay attention to what others are doing, what they want, what they need etc. Maybe I'm still new, and if I play more, I may be able to watch my opponents better. Even without watching them closely, there is enough competition and tension. Normally everyone wants the higher valued tables and meals. Certainly everyone wants those jokers. You don't need to analyse your opponents' play areas to know they want a joker. Even if they don't need it, they'd take it to deny others.

When you already have a few tables before you, you need to be more careful when claiming cards. Claiming too many tables is risky. You don't want to get penalised at game end for not serving all your customers. Also you want to avoid wasting actions claiming meal cards you won't get to use, even if they are expensive meals.

I found that the children were able to play competitively. I had no advantage over them at all. My much richer experience in boardgames did not give me any edge. There is not a lot of strategy in this game. It is all about being watchful and being quick. A game lasts around 10 minutes. Maybe less. After we finished a game, I suggested trying another card game. As I started explaining the rules of the next game, the children became impatient and said why not just play Diner again. So we did. We eventually played three games, and each of us won once.

The Thoughts

To veteran boardgamers, Diner is nothing to write home about. If I were to read a blog post about it, I wouldn't buy it. Now that I have played it, I don't see myself itching to play again. However I can imagine situations where I would suggest it. Diner will work well as a party game. It is easy to teach, and new players can be competitive quickly. It is suitable for casual gamers and non gamers. They will feel they can achieve mastery easily, and that's a positive experience. It's a gateway game - it looks simple and unintimidating. The real-time nature makes it automatically engaging. It's a good travel game too - compact and simple.