I’ve discussed game weight before, and today I’m going to the heavy end of the spectrum. If you’re just starting out, these may not be the games for you. These are three games that are all wildly different, but will help to burn your brain a bit.
Game 1) Auctioning and Actioning and Activating, Oh My – Keyflower (2-6 players)
On paper, Keyflower sounds like a short game, it’s only played over four rounds. However, each round will take some time, and if you have someone prone to AP (Analysis Paralysis – being unable/unwilling to commit to a decision until they analyze all the options) this is probably not the game for them. All of the players start the game with a hut, a village tile, 8 random meeples, and 3 winter tiles. The village tiles determine player order for the start of the game, the hut is to hide your meeples, and we’ll get back to the winter tiles later. The meeples are your currency in the game, they start in three colors (red, blue, and yellow), with green being available through tiles. Each round is named after a season, so we start in Spring. To set up the round, we pull meeples from a bag and put them on boats, we draw skill tiles to put on the boats, we place turn order tiles, and then we place a number of spring tiles (determined by the number of players) between all of the players. On a player’s turn, they can either bid on a tile by placing meeples on their edge, activate a tile by placing meeples on the tile, or pass. The round ends when all players pass in a row, and unlike most games, you can pass, and then take an action later in the round. Where things get complicated is that once a color of meeple has been used on a tile, all further bids and activations of that tile must use the same color. If you’re activating a tile, you must put at least one more meeple on it then the previous activation (so if the first activation was a single meeple, the second activation would require at least two meeples), and a tile can never have more than six meeples on it. If you have been outbid on a tile, you can move the group of meeples you bid with to shore up another bid, or to activate a tile; but you cannot take them back into your hut, and they must all be moved as a group. Once a round ends, the winner of the best turn order tile selects a boat, and takes any meeples and skill tiles on it, this continues until all of the players have selected a boat. Then people take any tile that they won the bid on, and place it in their village. They also add any meeples that were on the tiles they won to their hut, while all of the bids (winning and losing) go into the bag for randomization. At that point, boat distributions may change, and a random selection of the next season’s tiles come out. In these later rounds, you are able to use tiles in other player’s villages by placing meeples on them (of course the person who owns the tile will get the meeples, but it can be worth it). Tiles can also be upgraded with certain actions, which will improve the tile, and usually be worth endgame points. The only season where the tiles coming out for the auction isn’t random is winter. Each player must select at least one of their winter tiles (told you we’d get back to them) to put into the center for auctions. Winter tiles will award endgame points based on different criteria, which can help to guide your strategy through the game. The full game will take between 90-120 minutes.
Game 2) Blame the Game, not the player – Ponzi Scheme (3-5 players)
Ok, I couldn’t stay away from offering up a good game for relatively new players. This is more of a midweight game, but the interaction is where it gets dense. If you don’t know what a Ponzi scheme is, get thee to a wiki. For the rest of you, in this game the players are all running their own Ponzi schemes. To play, each player starts with a shield, a countdown rondel, a reference card, and a pen card (to keep track that everyone’s been moving their countdown rondel correctly). A play board with three rows is set in the center, and the initial funding cards are organized by their payouts. The remaining funding cards are shuffled and placed next to the board. The game is then played in phases, starting with the funding phase. In the funding phase, starting with the first player, players can take a funding card. The funding cards have a dollar amount on them, a payout amount, and a payout time (for the math challenged, they also calculate the interest rate of the payments). What row you select from is dependant on how many industry tiles you have. Each time you take a funding card, you must take an industry tile at the same time. If you have no industry tiles in that same color, you pick from the first row, if you have one industry tile in the same color, the second row, and if you have two industry tiles in the same color, the third row. The industry tiles will be worth points, and limit trading in later phases. Whenever a funding card is removed from the board, a new one is drawn and the cards are reordered based on their payout values. After the funding phase, we move on to the clandestine trading phase (this is skipped in the first round of the game). Starting with the first player, each player gets to put some of their money (hidden behind their player shield) into a fancy leather wallet. Then they hand that wallet to a player with a matching industry tile, and name the industry they want to purchase. The player who receives the wallet has two options: keep the money in the wallet, and hand over the industry tile; or they double the money in the wallet and hand it back to the initiator and purchase one of their industry tiles. The wallet gets passed on to the next player in player order and this repeats until everyone has made an offer or passed. The third phase is to pass the first player marker (a cardboard pen), and the player who is receiving the pen selects a funding card to remove from the player board. After that the fourth phase is to check if there’s a bear market. A bear market happens when the number of funding cards with a bear in the background is equal to or greater than the number of players. If there’s not a bear market, then every player rotates their countdown rondel one tick and must payback any loans that have the red arrow pointing at them. If there’s a bear market, each player must discard one industry tile from the industry they have the most tiles in (if the player has a tie between two industries they pick), then the rondel moves two places, and any that the red arrow moves through or end on must be paid. After the loans are paid, the loan cards get placed back at their payout number on the rondel. You didn’t think you ever paid these loans back, did you? The game ends when any player is unable to make all of the loan payments that are required of them, this can happen to more than one person at the same time. All players who went bankrupt lose, and do not score points. The other players score points for their industry tiles. The industry tiles are scored where the first one in any industry is worth 1 point, the second is worth 2 points, the third, 3 points, etc. Money is worth nothing at the end of the game. So if a player had 3 green tiles, 4 red tiles, and 2 blue tiles, their final score would be: (1+2+3) + (1+2+3+4) + (1+2) = 19 points. This game will go between 45 – 90 minutes.
Game 3) If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the field – Scoville (2-6 players)
Scoville is a game that looks like it should be friendly, you’re trying to plant hot peppers, cross breed them, harvest them, and either sell them for cash or completing chili recipes for points. There are two time periods of the game, the morning and the afternoon. The time period dictates which Auction card deck you user, as well as which market tiles are available for purchase. The game is played in turns, which have the following phases:
- Auction – All players secretly bid coins to select their place in turn order. If you don’t spend at least 1 coin, you just maintain the same relative turn order. After the turn orders are set, in the new turn order, players select Auction cards, which provide pepper(s).
- Planting – In turn order players each must plant one pepper into the communal field. The pepper must be adjacent to a pepper already in the field (two are seeded in the field during the setup). If you plant a non-basic pepper, and there’s a score tile available, you may claim it.
- Harvesting – In reverse turn order, players move their farmer through the field, moving up to 3 steps. They cannot pass through other farmers, and must move forward or turn in 90 degree angles. For every pair of peppers they pass between, they harvest new peppers based on the cross breeding chart (as an example a red pepper + a blue pepper = a Purple pepper; there are 4 tiers of peppers in the game).
- Fulfillment – In turn order players may each claim a market tile with peppers, complete a chili recipe, or sell a batch of peppers to the bank. Each player can only do each item once, but they can do all three.
- Time Check – Depending how many recipe cards, and/or market tiles are available, the game can move to afternoon or to a final round.
Each player keeps their peppers, money, and claimed tiles/cards behind a player screen. So it becomes important to keep in mind how much money players have, as well as what peppers they may have. Each player also starts with three bonus action tiles that allow them to either break a movement rule or plant an extra pepper during their turn. These tiles are worth 4 points at the end of the game if you haven’t used them. The real meat is in planting peppers to make your movements more valuable, while causing other people to have movements that don’t provide them what they need. During the fulfillment phase, players who claim a market tile will get cash or more peppers, while recipes are worth only points. The game scales quite well, with a different number of cards and tiles coming out dependant on player counts (and all of the amounts printed on the board for easy reference). Adding players does add play time, so I would recommend sticking with 3-4 for your first play. At the end game, players score up their points, with peppers being worth nothing at the end of the game. The highest score wins.
I hope that some of you that have been reading along are willing to make an attempt at some of these more complicated games. Keyflower has a decent implementation on BoardGameArena.com (which I discussed briefly in an early column) in case you wanted to try one of these out without purchasing them.