Billabong Boardgamers

Billabong Boardgamers - 15th August, 2000

Present: Doug, David, Torben, Debbie, Asher, Asher, Alan, Tina, Janet

Previous session report

Debbie Pickett writes:

This was Torben's last Billabong before he goes back to Denmark, and he was set to celebrate the occasion with a bottle of something fiercely alcoholic. We set to two new games that hadn't hit the tables before at Billabong.


Torben, Asher, Roger, Debbie

This game is, as its title suggests, themed about the famous Silk Road of the 14th-or-so century. Each player is a trader bringing goods back from Xi'an to Venice. The theme is pretty thin, and the game seems to feel more like Hare and Tortoise/Hedgehog than anything resembling intercontinental commerce.

The board is essentially a long track along which players move their pawns. Players are dealt three cards from a deck, all of which cause a player to be moved a certain number of spaces closer to Venice. Examples are: "Move three spaces forward"; "Move two spaces forward for every player that is ahead of you"; "Move exactly five spaces in front of the player immediately behind you". Players take turns playing a card from their hands onto the table in front of them, performing the action it says. Pretty pedestrian so far. But the nice twist is that once a player has three cards in front of him or her, no more cards can be played from the hand, but instead the player must take one of the cards on the table and "give" it to an opponent, who performs the move on it. (The card is then discarded, making an opening again for the original player.) Thus each card ends up being played twice, once for the player who drew it and once for another player. Cards that are good for you will likely end up being good for another player too. Likewise, cards that are no help to you may end up hindering another player further down the line. Throughout the game, the players you are allowed to palm off cards to in this way changes, giving everyone a roughly equal chance of being the target.

This kind of "you scratch my back, I scratch yours" situation means that players rarely lag in the game, even if they are dealt somewhat ho-hum cards. It ensures that no player is entirely out of the game. This was evidenced in the game we played, where I was given the finish line on a silver platter through a little altruism from Asher.

Scoring happens along the way through two mechanisms: the first is a series of waypoints along the track. The first player to cross one of these waypoints earns a certain number of victory points. Players close behind score fewer points, and players who are too far back don't score at all. The players then aim for the next waypoint, with points paid out again in the same way. The other scorings are triggered when players choose to "hold a bazaar", again, with the player in front scoring the most points. This can be done only once by each player. The game is won by the player with the most victory points, which isn't necessarily the player who reaches the finish line (though there is a waypoint there so it certainly helps to get there first).

The game played pretty quickly once we had figured out the mechanisms, though there were still a few rules hiccups that we couldn't figure out (we glossed over the rules pretty fast). I really didn't feel like I was in control at all, and pretty much decided to play the best card I had each turn, which wasn't a hard decision most of the time. Not a bad game but not one of the best to come out lately.

Final scores:
Debbie 77
Asher 68
Roger 64
Torben 51-ish

My rating: Quite fluffy really, with little feeling of control. I do want to try it again, but that may cement my opinion that this game deserves about a 5.


It seems that every successful game gets a card-game spin-off: Settlers of Catan, Labyrinth, El Grande . . now Monopoly joins the fray, with this rummy variant from Winning Moves. (Its title isn't really in German but I think it rolls off the tongue better.)

In this game, the aim is for players to collect sets of properties - the coloured property groups that appear on the Monopoly board game. There's one card per property, including the utilities and railroads. There are also a number of other cards, including houses, hotels, Go, tokens, Mr Monopoly, and Chance, though these generally provide different effects than their corresponding entities in the board game. The race is for players to collect in their hands a set of ten cards of which all are playable (i.e., all sets are complete, no odd cards out). The player who does this first goes out. Other players with points in their hand also score points according to what they hold at the time.

The cards that don't form sets come in a few flavours: houses are numbered first, second, third, fourth, and have to be kept in order. If you have a 4th house but no 3rd house, you can't go out. Hotels are essentially a fifth house as far as the game is concerned. Go is a flat $200. Tokens are played on a set to double the amount the set pays. Owning Mr Monopoly cards pays $1000, but only to the player who has the most of them outright. Chance is a wild card, that can fill a gap in houses, hotels, or properties, but only if you go out. If someone else goes out and you have a Chance card in your hand, you score zero.

What makes this game a little more interesting than regular rummy is the use of "trade piles", one per player. The trade piles are essentially discard stacks, where players put cards that exceed the hand limit of ten. These trade piles are fair game for other players to take cards from.

On your turn, you can either: (1) draw a card, then discard down to ten cards; or (2) trade n cards on the top of your trade pile for n cards on top of someone else's trade pile (these cards go into your hands), then discard as before; or (3) go out. Going out allows you to draw five additional cards and add them to your hand if they fit; this is the reward for going out first.

The trade pile mechanism has a few consequences in the way the game plays: first, if you have no trade pile, you can't trade; second, you can put a valuable card a few cards deep in your trade pile to make it inaccessible to others; third, you can put a card that is valuable to an opponent near the top of the pile, to invite a player who has something you want to trade with you (giving you the card in the process); fourth, you can take a big risk and trade a chance card in your own trade pile into the game leader's hand, hoping that someone else can go out and catch the leader with the chance card still in his or her hand. It's quite clever, which is a shame because the game still ends up being quite random. This is why it's recommended that players play several hands, making the winner the first to reach $10000. Even so, since it's possible to score that much in a single hand if you are lucky, the game is still very, very random.

In the game we played, Asher almost did just that. (We played four hands, until the other table had finished Die Fuersten von Florenz. This was why our scores didn't stop after round two.) Asher scored over $7000 in the first round by drawing both dark blue properties in the five card going-out bonus. There really wasn't any competition after that, as none of us even reached his first-round score by the time we stopped playing.

Final scores:
Round 1: Asher $7650, Debbie $2000, Roger $950, Torben $0
Round 2: Asher $11550, Debbie $2500, Torben $1650, Roger $950
Round 3: Asher $14300, Debbie $3450, Roger $3350, Torben $1650
Round 4: Asher $17300, Debbie $7500, Roger $5600, Torben $1650

My rating: Admittedly this is a light game, and thankfully it doesn't bear a lot of resemblance to the Monopoly board game. It does, however, convey a little of its predecessor's flavour, and it especially shares the luck element. The game starts with an initial rating of 6 from me, likely to go down after repeated playings unless I suddenly discover a killer strategy. I doubt there is one.

Alan Stewart writes:


Players: Janet, Tine, Doug, Alan, David

A first game for Alan and David.

There always seemed to be too many actions you wanted to perform each turn. The auction and then purchase phases worked well. Most of the auction items went cheaply, usually for 200 or 300. Exceptions were my first purchase in Turn 1, a forest, which cost me 600, and Janet's purchase of the Entice card in Turn 7, for 1100, Doug ran out of money and couldn't bid higher.

Prestige cards can be hard to maximise. Doug bought 2 early, and got 15 points from them as he knew what to aim for. Tina also bought 2 early, but only maximised points on one of them. When I bought 1 in Turn 7, from the 5 I had to choose from, only one could earn me points (4 from a tie), there was no way I could meet the conditions of the other 4. So buying them early seems like a good idea if you're going that way. Janet did not buy any Prestige cards and nearly won.

Janet and I put on 6 works, Tina and David 5, and Doug 4.

Doug had mentioned earlier that 5 was the 'usual' number. As we were only dealt 3, it was easy to work out that purchasing new personalities or Entice cards would probably be necessary.

David and I missed out on one of the Freedoms; everyone bought 1 entertainer; only Doug had trouble positioning a purchase in his grounds; I never purchased an Architect.

A very interesting game. You're basically playing for yourself, and with only 7 Turns you cannot afford to waste an action to annoy or harm other players.

Alan 62
Janet 59
David 55
Doug 52
Tina 50


Roger, Alan, Janet

After the first half Roger and Janet were equal on points, with Alan about 5 behind.

Roger and Alan managed to get all their advisors on the board, and the points rolled in at the end.

Roger's last minute foray into Aragorn, linking up to England and Italy where he had majorities won him the game. Longest chains: Roger 5, Alan 5, Janet 4

Roger 58, Alan 54, Janet 48


Alan, Janet, Roger

Round 1 Janet 9000, Alan 2000, Roger 0 (Chance card) Round 2 Janet 9000, Alan 3250, Roger 1500

Game called on account of time.

The first hand probably went on quite a bit longer than it needed to. As a first game for me, I neglected to get any queries I had answered. This meant I didn't go out with a complete set of Railways plus bonus cards, as I thought I needed a coloured set to go out.

An interesting rummy variation. It cab be frustrating to see the card you want in a trade pile, but you never get enough cards in your own trade pile to swap for that card!


Players: Alan, Asher, David, Doug, Janet, Roger, Torben

(Maybe a bit sillier than usual as Torben had provided whiskey to toast his final evening, and numerous players had been imbibing).

For most of the game only 1 rule survived, and everyone was down to very few tokens! As the game end neared, people let laws pass to increase their score. Luckily there were 4 blue-eyed players who voted for the bonus, but the bearded players bonus was defeated, sigh. Janet never tried the female player bonus card, if she drew it.

At one stage Torben executed a beautiful Scam play, and forced everyone to discard down to 2 tokens.

But in the end the multiple bonuses in play converted 2 tokens to a lot of points.

16 Alan, David
13 Doug
11 Janet, Roger, Torben
6 Asher

David Coutts writes:


Asher, David, Doug & Torben

This game clearly has its roots in Iron Horse from 2 years ago (see Games Played for reports). It also bears a visual similarity to Streetcar, though
the game-play is very different.

In a 4-player game each player gets 8 trains which are dispersed evenly around the starting positions around the edge of the board. In the centre in a kind of Grand Central Station (the game is actually set in Paris). At the start of the game each player draws 1 tile from the face-down pile - this gives the players a one-off ability to place a tile without having to rely on a random draw of 1 tile per turn. Each turn a player draws a tile (if the player does not play their 1 starting tile), and places it on the board. The tiles, and the board, show an arrow and the tile placement must match the direction of the arrows on the board. The tiles show railroads in numerous configurations which always manage to link to any other tile on the board. Each edge on a tile has 2 railroads and this allows for considerable variety in the railway configurations on each tile.

In theory a player should keep an eye open for that special opportunity to place their starting tile and, if it does not present itself, then draw and
place a random tile. In practice, you tend to forget the little blighter!

Each train scores when it connects to Grand Central Station, or elsewhere on the board edge. Trains that link to Grand Central score double. One key rule is that you cannot place a tile to end a train on its starting position, unless that is your only legal placement (which usually only happens towards the end of the game).

In our game, Asher took an early and commanding lead. It was clear to all of us that keeping your trains alive as long as possible meant that they were likely to score more later in the game. However, Asher had a couple of trains whose track looped back and forth so much that his score was soon in the 40's whilst the rest of us hadn't reached 10. Not only that, but it meant that Asher could concentrate on minimising our scores by finishing our trains as quickly as possible.

However, the game is deceptive. Generally speaking, beware the player with the most active trains. In our game that was me. Not only that, but as the game developed 2 of my incomplete train tracks were within 1 of Grand Central and
my starting tile fit perfectly. I decided to risk leaving the placement of this tile until there were less than 10 tiles left.

So Asher had set the pace (quite impressively, really), and we each tried to catch him. Here are the scores:

David 67
Asher 57
Torben 48
Doug 45

It seems to work well with 4. David's rating: 6 (but then, I'm not really interested in rail games).

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