For several months now, my gaming group has been planning an all day gaming session on Saturday, April 30th for International Tabletop Day. I volunteered to host and invited Alexander, Tim, Matt, Josh, Mike, John (my father in law) and Justin. The anticipation was very real over the past few weeks and there were many insulting, enraging and goading texts sent back and forth (especially about those that couldn’t join in our geeky marathon – Josh) and finally the day had arrived. For lunch, I had planned to grill burgers, hot dogs and bratwurst and to provide sides like potato chips, potato salad and my wife’s famous baked beans (in hindsight, maybe we could have done without the baked beans)!  Everyone else brought in snacks and we were geeks ready for a day of gaming.

The gaming started at 8:30am and ended at approximately 10:45pm and we played the following 8 games over the 14 hour marathon:

Five Tribes: The Djinns of Naqala published by Days of Wonder (https://www.daysofwonder.com/five-tribes/en)

Black Gold published by Fantasy Flight Games (https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/black-gold/products/black-gold/)

Coup published by Indie Boards & Cards (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/131357/coup )

Dominant Species published by GMT Games (http://www.gmtgames.com/p-387-dominant-species-4th-printing.aspx)

PitchCar Mini published by Ferti Games (http://www.ferti-games.com/#!enpitchcar/cdgh)

Sheriff of Nottingham published by Arcane Wonders (http://www.arcanewonders.com/sheriff-of-nottingham)

Scoville published by Tasty Minstrel Games (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/145659/scoville)

Orleans published by Tasty Minstrel Games (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/164928/orleans)

I wanted to give a quick rundown of the game play, the design of the games and then give my final thoughts on each game. So, without further ado, I will simply dive in:

Five Tribes: The Djinns of Naqala (now unofficially Six Tribes with the Artisans of Naqala expansion in 2015) by Days of Wonder

This is one of my favorite games and I purchased the game in 2014 so I own a 1st edition copy with the slave cards rather than the reprint Fahkir cards.  The game is commonly referred to as a “meeple displacement” game where you are trying to move around groups of multi-colored meeples that represent 1 of 6 tribes, the Assassins, Merchants, Builders, Viziers, Elders and the new guys on the block, the Artisans, in order to take advantage of their specific abilities to score points.  Points are scored through a combination of factors including set gathering of good cards for points (Merchants), acquiring the services of Djinn that score points but more importantly give powerful abilities to manipulate the game (Elders), scoring gold coins using the Builders, collecting Viziers that score points based on who has the most and collecting precious items and artifacts (Artisans) that have either special game changing abilities (like moving a camel from one tile to any other camel free tile) or a victory point value.  The game is somewhat of a point salad that has some area control as well but is a fantastically made and produced game.  It is only 4 players so this game is what we started the day with because there were only 4 of us there at that time.  After about an hour and 15 minutes, the final score was me with 211 points, Alexander with 190 points, Justin with 152 and John with 147.

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Board near the beginning of the game. I have already taken advantage of the Artisans to obtain one unique item that I will use later in the game to control a 15 point tile (moving my camel from a 6 point tile).

 

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Five Tribes is a very beautiful game with many colors and interesting images such as the various Djinn and there fantastically drawn pictures, the varied markets and cities!

The difference in the game was me owning and using twice the Djinn Echidna that allows you to double the amount of gold coins that you obtain from the use of Builders.  For those that don’t know, when you collect a group of blue meeples or Builders in the game, you are able to do some math by adding your number of Builder meeples with your number of slaves and then multiplying that number by the number of blue tiles that surround your area.  In one of the cases I was able to collect 2 Builders + 4 existing slave cards and then multiplied that by 3 for the number of blue tiles (so the formula looked like this (2+4)*3)=18 gold coins) and then by using the ability of Echidna, multiplied those gold coins by 2 resulting in 36 gold coins having been collected for the cost of discarding an Elder (worth 2 points) and a slave worth no points.  I also did it later in the game netting 26 coins.

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The very powerful and evil looking Djinn Echidna. I used the power to score 62 points of my total end game score of 211.

Conclusion:  As I stated in the beginning of my write up, I love this game!  It is fascinating and entertaining and I have yet to tire of its gameplay or the varied ways that you can achieve victory.  I also love the expansion and do not feel that it has watered it down but simply opened up additional ways to score.  I feel that you must focus on at least 2 scoring aspects to be effective and you must always be willing to adjust your strategy when you see an easy and big scoring chance!  One word of warning though, while I love the bidding mechanic for turn order, do not get caught up in the need to always go first.  With the system of movement for the meeples, you will always have a good opportunity to do something good even after your opponents have gone.  You can very easily get caught up in overbidding and losing those points at the end of the game as each gold coin is a VP. I give this game a 4.5/5 for its playability/mechanic, 5/5 for design and production and 4/5 for strategy for a total overall score of 13.5/15.

Black Gold published by Fantasy Flight Games

When this game was mentioned by Tim, I was hesitant to play it as there were about 2 dozen other games on the table waiting to be played that I knew that I liked.  He seemed very intent on playing and once he opened the box and I saw the cool little oil derricks and plumes of oil, I was sold and ready to play.  As a side note, Tim bought this game from Miniature Market for $15! What a bargain at 3 times the price!

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I was immediately hooked on this game due to the cool little plastic oil derricks and plumes of oil, as well as the nifty little truck and train figures! Great production value game that has some serious strategy involved.

The tag line for the game is a “Board Game of Drilling and Discovery for 2-5 Players” and it begs the question “Is your wallet thirsty for Texas tea?”.  The game consists of searching for the best and most productive oil wells using your 1920’s vintage jalopy, building an oil derrick to capture that beautiful black gold and then transporting it to 1 of 3 oil companies who wish to buy it from you.  My favorite part of the game was the stock chasing element as each round the price that each company is willing to pay for your oil fluctuates due to a random dice roll or from others players utilizing special actions on their cards to either drive the price up or down.  You also are given a certain amount of sales licenses each round numbered 1 or 2 to be used in bidding on the sale of oil in containment vats.  You can easily overbid, using this as a bluff as you may not be able to the pay when the auctioneer says you have won, as a strategic move to force your opponents to use their shares up.  This might allow you to win one of the other auctions that round.  But be careful, as if you get caught you have to sacrifice half of your licenses rounding up! Yikes!

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You also have to manage your money wisely as the best producing derricks cost more to construct than the low producing ones and you must make sure that you have the train capacity to ship your oil to the market or it could drastically cut into your profits as you will be required to pay the bank to ship it for you.  In the end, the game is decided by who can have a steady stream of oil being produced and selling as high as possible to maximize your profits.  The game was won by Alexander (see him holding and feeding his son in the top right corner of the below picture – He is skilled!) with a  final score of $113,500, 2nd place was taken by Justin Baird with $103,500 and I was in 3rd place with $93,000.  The game was enjoyed by all and was a definite surprise to everyone!

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The game nearing its end as the black train on the far right track is only 3 moves away from the final destination which triggers the games end. Notice that I only had 1 active derrick (green) as I was unable to find good producing wells on my section of the board. Alexander was blue and you can see he had plenty of derricks!

Conclusion: After initially being hesitant to break out a new game, I really enjoyed this one, even though I didn’t do as well as I thought I had at the end.  It was fun, had some very interesting elements such as the bidding using sales licenses, and was fairly interactive between the players trying to out guess them and call their bluffs! I give this game a 4/5 for its playability/mechanic, 4.5/5 for design and production (I love FF Games but really don’t understand the small cards that are hard to shuffle) and 4/5 for strategy for a total overall score of 12.5/15. I would definitely like to play this one again sometime soon.

Coup published by Indie Boards & Cards

This is one of our very favorite filler games as a group and as we were nearing lunch (with the smell of baked beans heavy in the air and much drooling going on), we decided to play a few rounds before I was sent out in the cold rain to grill burgers, hot dogs and bratwurst for the guys.  In Coup, you want to be the last player with influence in the game, with influence being represented by face-down character cards in your playing area. This game consists of only 15 cards representing 3 copies of 5 different characters including the Duke (who allows you to tax the people for 3 coins), the Assassin (that allows you to pay 3 coins to assassinate one other players characters), the Captain (that allows you to steal 2 coins from another player), the Ambassador (that allows you to switch your cards with some from the remaining deck) and Contessa (which protects you from assassinations) and is set in a dystopian future.  The game goes around the table allowing players to take one of the above listed actions and that action succeeds if no one challenges you.  If they challenge you  and you took an action not allowed by one of your characters, the price you must pay is losing one of your cards.  The game will continue until one player remains in the game with an influence (at least one face-down card in front of them).  One round of this game takes from 3-5 minutes and the game can allow for 3-6 to play.  We were able to get in 2 rounds and it was great fun!  I almost always start the round acting as if I have the Duke and try to take 3 coins from the supply.  This strategy has worked for me for  a while now although the guys are starting to catch on and are also using it.  My favorite combination to start is the Duke and the Captain, although I also like to start with the Ambassador and the Assassin as well.

The English version of the game. Picture borrowed from Board Game Geek.

This game is great fun and can be used to fill the gaps between games as you either try to unwind or someone is busy setting up the next game (or making lunch).

Conclusion: One of my all time favorite filler games. The images are beautiful and very well made, the abilities are interesting and the bluffing is my favorite part of the experience!  I give this game a 5/5 for its playability/mechanic, 4.5/5 for design and production and 4.5/5 for strategy for a total overall score of 14/15.

Dominant Species published by GMT Games

Survival of the fittest is the name of the game in Dominant Species, a worker placement game that is very cutthroat and will tax your brain for the entire 2-3 hours that you are playing it.  In the game, the year is 90,000 B.C. and you choose to be one of 6 species (Insects, Spiders, Amphibians, Mammals, Reptiles or Birds) that is attempting to become the dominant species on the planet.

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Dominant Species is a very smart and well designed game that has succeeded in integrating a normally mundane theme, and transforming this game into a cutthroat, “check your feelings at the door” battle.

 

Each of the species has various special abilities (such as the resilient Mammals who always have at least one population survive on a tile whether or not they have access to their adapted food source or not) and utilizing that ability is key to their success.  At its heart, the game is worker placement and each player is given a certain amount of cylinders that are used to choose actions on the board in turn order.  The available actions include adaptation of your species to allow for feeding on different types of elements that exist on the board, speciation (placing more cubes of your species out on the board according to the type of terrain), migration (moving from one tile to an adjacent tile), wanderlust (moving onto new land hexes you place to broaden your reach and improve your terrain to score more points) and domination which is one of the more important functions as it allows you to score tiles that you are in control of (due to your superior numbers) and then also provides you with a powerful action card that can change the game if you are dominating (or more adapted to the food elements on that tile) than any other species present.

I have played Dominant Species about 7 times and have done very well in all instances, in fact winning about 4 of those times in very different ways.  I have played with each species with the exception of the Spiders and feel that each are good in their own way.  We were trying our first 6 player game and I was a little worried about how it would work as you only receive three action cylinders to place each turn, which doesn’t seem like a lot for the varied options.  I was given the Reptiles to play and my heart immediately sank because I feel that they are the least beneficial as their ability is to save one of the adaptations from regression.

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I was given the Reptiles (see the black cubes in the upper left of the picture) and I was not pleased with that draw!  I will NOT blame the species for my loss though as I made some very poor decisions and didn’t pay enough attention to the game to be competitive.

As we played, it became very apparent to me that with a 6 player game, adaptation was going to be the most difficult ability to use as there are only 3 spots on the board.  Couple that with the fact that I was the Reptiles and was relegated to going 4th each round, I was having some trouble at the beginning getting my species going. I was unable to take the adaptation action at first but then decided that I had to invest in moving up the turn order and began putting my cylinder in that space and slowly started moving up the turn order to 3rd, then 2nd where I was able to diversify and add meat and grass to my list of food sources.  This helped me be able to do better in the game but then I began having trouble with keeping dominance on any given tiles and at least twice lost out on the full action by not being able to draw an action card.  Frustrating!  Finally, as the game neared its ending I was hit by several glaciation actions that wiped out my food sources and my largest groupings of population.  Finally, mercifully the game ended with Matt winning handily with the Amphibians followed by Alexander with the Birds, Ben (Matt’s brother who played one game with us) with the Insects, Justin with the Mammals and Tim (Spiders) and I brought up the rear (I was not last!).  While I love Dominant Species, I do not have a fondness for a 6 player game.  I have played most games with 4-5 players and I feel that 4 is this games sweet spot!

Conclusion: I love Dominant Species.  It is one of the most elegant and smartly designed worker placement games I have ever played.  The game play is intriguing with the varied options and choices, can change on a whim with other players cut throat actions, and is extremely meaty and satisfying, even when you lose as badly as I did this time. I give this game a 5/5 for its playability/mechanic (although in the case of a 6 player game I give it a 2/5), 4.5/5 for design and production and 4.5/5 for strategy for a total overall score of 14/15 (only a score of 11/15 as a 6 player game).

Thus concludes Part I of my summary of our International Tabletop Day gaming marathon.  I will work on Part II and have it published this weekend.  Make sure to read Part II as I will discuss Sheriff of Nottingham (I pulled off a really great bluff against Alexander who is admittedly amazing at this game!), Scoville (I still have heart burn from the game, red peppers, ghost peppers, spiciness!) and one of my favorites Orleans (I had never heard of a “bag builder” until I played this game).  Until then, keep gaming!

-Grant