Artificium, Antarctica, Cinque Terre and Scoville

Back into my archives for this one and a cracking game it is, best with 6 but still good with 3-5 players.

The last quiz picture was of Grab-a-nana which has many other names and could even fall into the traditional category in its “spoons” format. This is a great party/group game and I remember it fondly from my convention days where it became so boisterous that we had to come up with house rules to limit the injuries and thus was born “full-contact grab-a-nana” and despite the bruises and scratches suffered it was played at several conventions for a number of years with great humour.

The kick-off game this week was Rhino Hero, although it says 2-5 players on the box we had no difficulty playing with six. It is a simple tower building game where the idea is to be the first to run out of “floor cards” and to avoid knocking the tower over. As we played we discussed the possibilities of creating a larger version with ideas starting at thicker card stock to wood and finally to metal with players playing the part of the rhino and I think a fork lift truck came into the conversation somewhere as well. You could tell it was to be a serious evening of gaming.

 Super Rhino - the anti-gravity game.

Super Rhino - the anti-gravity game.

When we split Table 1 commenced with Artificium, BQ has kindly given the following on the game which I know nothing about.

BQ > Artificium is one of the oddest and least appropriate names for a game I've come across - I mean, it doesn't exactly make you think of being a lord in a high-fantasy medieval setting, does it? But that's what the game's about. To be fair, it wears its theme lightly - it could've been about building robots, or mining jewels, or even making jam, really, because it's essentially a game of harvesting resources and improving them to increase their value. Each player starts with a hand of five cards; a small board showing the various resources, starting from simple ones at the bottom (wheat, wood), and getting more refined further up (charcoal, metal, swords); and five resource tokens which count as coins - the same resource tokens, when placed in the right spots on the board, count as actual goods. A fresh of set six cards are placed as a "Market" display in front of all players at the start of each turn, and there's then a round where each player in turn can exchange one card from their hand with one in the display. The first such swap is free, but each subsequent swap costs two coins. You can also, as your first swap and once per turn only, ditch all your cards for five new ones. Once everyone's swapped all the cards they can or want to, it's on to card play. Players simultaneously place a card from their hand face down, and then reveal them. Each card has an action or a building - actions let you do stuff like steal resources or cards from others, or take back cards you already played; buildings either generate resources or improve a resource you already have - a wood into a charcoal, say.

 Players Resource Board

Players Resource Board

Buildings also, crucially, generate victory points as you play them. There's a scoring board on which the points are tracked, and on some of its spaces additional resources are shown: reach or pass those spots, and you get the resource indicated - very useful. The top two "resources", Wizards and Knights, produced by the Wizard's Tower and Castle building cards respectively, don't give a new resource, but an effect: lots of points plus extra cards (Wizard) and knocking an opponent back four points (Knight).

 Score Track

Score Track

Once all players have played the cards they can or want to, the round is over, all the played cards are discarded (you're not building a city here, you're using what's already *in* your city), and hands are replenished to five. Players do all this stuff for a scanty four rounds (oh, and you can buy/sell resources for coins at various points too), and then it's all over. You then sell all your remaining resources for coins, convert coins to VPs at a 4:1 ratio, and the winner celebrates

 A sample of cards played during a round

A sample of cards played during a round

I really like this game - it's about a Splendor level of rule complexity, but there's a lot of interesting stuff going on. You really must strive to create a chain of cards that means you can play out all of your hand during the card-laying around, but getting there means some careful planning, and other players can try to block you if they get a hint of what you're doing. You also have to be careful not to gift someone the card they want during the exchanges, if you can avoid it. It all flows very nicely, and there's virtually zero waiting for your turn. At 15 quid on Amazon, I reckon it's a bargain.

Table 2 played Scoville, the background is that you are chilli farmers gathering different types of chillis to trade in for achievement cards which give victory points, the player that has the most victory points at the end of the game wins.

 The field after round 3 planting

The field after round 3 planting

The game play is quite straightforward in that before each round players bid for player order, then in player order each plants a single chilli to the main board (once planted they remain throughout the rest of the game) then in reverse order each player gathers produce and finally in player order again they can claim achievements.

 Here is a re-enactment of the round 2 auction, immediately after some serious round 1 over-bidding.

Here is a re-enactment of the round 2 auction, immediately after some serious round 1 over-bidding.

There are 10 different types of chilli in 4 levels, the basic chillis are red, yellow and blue, next level are green, orange, purple and brown, then there are black and white and finally the top chilli is a clear sparkling one. When you go farming you walk from 1-3 steps between fields and the combination of what is either side of your farmer dictates what chillis you get en route so each turn you can pick up to 3 extra chillis. All the combinations are laid out on a crib card and are easily learnt, in essence each to breed the next level chilli you need 2 of one rank lower.

 Some victory point cards and a couple of auction cards

Some victory point cards and a couple of auction cards

Overall it is a lovely mid-weight game with plenty of pre-planning and opportunities to undermine your opponents. I do have two moans though the first is that in the clubs lighting I had difficulty differentiating some of the beans colours but brighter lights could solve that as would a more distinct red, the other is that the main board is a jig-board, these warp so easily and made the first part of the game a pain in the backside as bits kept falling over near the middle where the four corners (and most warpage) were.

 J > Scoville is a game about cross breeding peppers. The game may look intimidating at first as there are quite a number of peppers of various colours; some colours look more similar than others. Each player also gets a double-sided guide that has a breeding chart on one side and an "turn-action-end condition" summary on the other. Then there's the 4 piece puzzle Jigsaw board that is a little warped. Players were liberally volunteering redesign ideas as we were setting up which I thought was fair.
However, it wasn't until you started playing the game (about after 2 rounds for me) that the joy of the game play arises. Who knew how much fun it would be to breed/harvest/sell hot peppers? The theme is applied well to the game. I do have to admit that I couldn't plan my planting and harvesting very well. I feel the game opened up for points around the middle. Overall, even though I came it last I would love to play it again.

 

BQ again assists with Antarctica  played on Table 1, the general feedback I got on the night was positive enough to add this game to my wants list.

BQ > On the evidence of my first play, Antarctica falls into that ever-widening category "Games I like a lot, but am rather bad at." In a strange near-future where Antarctica is being exploited to keep the world going, you move your ships around the eight octants of the board, triggered by the (counter-clockwise) movement of the Sun (a yellow wooden hemisphere smile emoticon ). As the sun enters an area, the player whose ship is in the first of three slots in that area moves their ship to *another* area, and takes an action there: construct a building (research base, scientist camp, resource building or super-whizzy hi-tech thingamabob); build a ship; recruit scientists (workers); or advance on one of several "research tracks" in the centre of the board. Which buildings you can build depend on which are currently uppermost on three small decks of building cards, and each card also shows at least one other building you must already have access to (via the locations of your ships) before you can construct. Some special building cards also give points at the end of the game.

 Antarctica Board mid-game

Antarctica Board mid-game

You also need at least one scientist to build, and they are permanently placed, together with a token for the building concerned, in the octant your ship is visiting, so you'll need to keep recruiting them. How many scientists you can recruit is based on the number of your scientists already in the octant you move your ship to, and also the number of ships you have there - the same calculation is used to determine how many spaces you move forward on the Research Tracks if you take *that* action. Building a ship gives all players except you a bonus card with various actions - but you do get another ship, and thus an additional opportunity for a turn, something that I somehow didn't grasp the value of until it was far too late...

 Building cards

Building cards

The scoring at the end is interesting - for the various scoring categories (most scientists in an area, furthest forward on the Research Tracks, most of the special "scoring" building cards, and one other) the person gets a sum of points based on how well they've done but also on the positions/contributions of other players, and the next ranked player gets points based on the first player only and so on. For example, the person with the most scientists in an area gets points equal to the total of buildings and scientists (of all players) in that area plus one. The second player receives 1 point per scientist of the first player, the third 1 point per scientist of the second player, and so on. It makes it tricky to calculate one's relative position during the game, which I like, as it tends to reduce analysis paralysis a bit - not that MABers are prone to AP, I have to say smile emoticon . I consistently failed to put my ships in the right places to get several turns on the trot, and coupled with my lack of foresight over shipbuilding, was deservedly annihilated by the first and second players, who, while nearly lapping me on the scoring track, were only 3 points from each other. Despite that, I enjoyed it very much...lots to do, again a game with little downtime, and great fun.

The next game on Table 2 was Cinque Terre which is a fairly simplistic pick-up and deliver game but with some interesting twists, the board has only 9 spaces of which 3 are farms, each farm produces either 2 or 3 different food items of which there are limited quantities, the other 6 spaces are coastal towns which each have 3 or 4 price dice rolled for them, the dice are of different colours to match the goods colours. There are 2 decks of cards one showing demands from various towns and another with each card showing one of the eight different products. 

On a turn a player takes 3 actions which are to move up to 4 spaces (always clockwise) pick-up goods (max 4 at a farm for which they must pay matching goods cards) or deliver goods at a town they are at.  Goods delivered go to a players board against the town they delivered to for which they get points equal to the dice value for that good in addition when you match cubes on your board to that shown on a demand card you can take the card for additional victory points.

 The pink players Took Took board showing what goods have been delivered to which towns

The pink players Took Took board showing what goods have been delivered to which towns

 Two trucks at a farm with demand dice pictured behind

Two trucks at a farm with demand dice pictured behind

There are two main ways to victory collecting demand cards or selling goods at high prices, overall though the main skill in the game is economic use of actions, to this end you need to be specific with your goals and then do everything to reach them as quickly as possible, there is a little luck in the card draw for bonuses and for collecting goods but this can be mitigated by good long term planning. This is a lovely game and one that I have added to my wish list.

J > Cinque Terre (Five Villages) was sold to the table as a "Ticket to Ride" type game. The mechanics are very similar and easily accessible. Wooden trucks go around a map where they can harvest produce from 3 farms and sell them to the five villages. The components are the best part; the truck is large enough to carry the limit of 4 squares on it's flat bed back.

The last game of the evening and played on Table 2 was Cockroach Poker, definitely a multi-player game and a lot of fun with bluff and falsehoods a plenty. I am not sure what the skill is in the game but varying your calls and mixing truth with lies is essential to survive, there is also an element of kicking someone when they are down but in a fun way and being victimised is part of the game.

 Three of the creatures in Cockroach Poker

Three of the creatures in Cockroach Poker

J > I've only played this game once before and I do remember it being fun. Last night's game was a lot of fun. I believe this game would do well with 4+ players, I'll put this in the same category as Hanabi and Skull & Roses.