Christmas Board Game Day with El Grande, Codenames, Agricola and Five Tribes
I have already told you about my playgroup made up of my colleagues. But in addition to this group, I also play in a seasoned group of players that includes my brother, his roommate and a friend of mine from the days of public accounting. This is the group where I win is a rarity but where I get a lot of great ideas on how to play games better. They’re also the group most likely to experiment with new games, as long as the game in question has solid mechanics.
So, for this Christmas afternoon, we got together. What ensued was an awesome play session, partly because we got to try out loads of new games and partly because these games were so fun! In addition to our Agricola base, we managed to play El Grande, Codenames and Five Tribes. All 3 were games that I played for the very first time. With plenty of excitement in tow, here’s a look at how things turned out:
1. The Great
The implementation: Considering the dynamics and trends of this band, I thought El Grande had the capacity to become a hit. Now nothing is ever certain because the only sense I had was reading the rulebook, but the mechanics of the game seemed interesting: area control, a little bit of bidding, and even some gambling potential. ‘spirit. I was pretty sure they would adopt him.
What happened: What happened was even better than I expected. While El Grande’s area control mechanics were great, I especially enjoyed the mind games that occurred when people plotted which plot cards to take, which order to bid for the cards, and, better still. again, use the roulette wheel to throw all of their caballeros onto their expected square. It also helped that the game was very easy to teach and all people had to do was accumulate their pawns in the territories they wanted to control.
Final thoughts: As our El Grande game unfolded, I was frozen from the game’s first scoring moment and never recovered, coming in last. A stack game on the leader ensued, but even that wasn’t enough to stop my brother’s roommate from winning. Despite this, the game was a blast from start to finish. I had a lot of fun trying to challenge territories at the last minute using the castillo coin and also using the king to preserve my provinces without being outbid in stride. Needless to say, I can’t wait to introduce this game to my other bands very soon.
2. Code names
The implementation: As soon as we finished El Grande it was time for something light, to give us some time to recuperate. We decided to go with code names.
Back in 2015, I had heard reports left and right about how fun codenames were and how other bands liked it in bits and pieces. I was also interested in maybe another board game to get so that I could mix things up with my other bands. While I have a good selection of games like Kick and Sushi Go, I wanted something that was easy to teach and had enough thoughtful elements to make me happy.
What happened: We played two rounds of code names and my team came out on top each time. While I don’t remember much of what happened in the first game, the second game really stood out for me because I was the Spymaster. It’s a tough role, looking at all the words on the board and trying all these obtuse ways of connecting them together.
Having said that, I was very proud of the two clues I gave. The first was “Hamlet 3” which covered the following words: Shakespeare, Poison (because this is how Hamlet’s uncle becomes king) and King (because the play involves King Claudius). The word Cast was also viable, but luckily my partner was not directed to this one. Being culturally sensitive also helped. The other one I was proud of was my “Quidditch 2” clue which covered Fly and Bolt (a type of broom used in Quidditch). Unfortunately my partner was directed to Bat (which makes sense as the Beaters use bats) but we were able to recover and steal the game on the second go-around.
Final thoughts: What I liked the most about Codenames was its ability to play with side associations. Of course, there will be some obvious clues like linking “Coffin” to “Undertaker,” but the ones where you can put those side clues and still come out correct because you and your partner are on the same page are rewarding. It’s definitely a game that I will consider having in 2016.
The implementation: After this reprieve from Codenames, we went back to an old favorite: Agricola! It wouldn’t be a board game day with this group if we didn’t trot one of our old favorites. The only thing though, is that aside from me, it had been a long time since any of them had played Agricola and some of them were shocked by the game’s rise to power, especially during of the last harvests.
What happened: As we started playing, the person to beat would always be my brother, and we could only hope that our occupations would give us an advantage. For my part, my strategy would be based on Hut Builder for growth and Market Woman for food. The leader’s daughter would be used to get points at the end of the game. The only other person I remembered from was my brother’s roommate, who gave us a huge influx of grain due to his constant use of Market Crier coupled with the adorable Field Watchman.
Final thoughts: As with most of Agricola’s games, there was a lot of intensity for everyone. And also as with most of Agricola’s games, my brother managed to come in first place. My only thought about the play session itself was that I should have taken the Sow / Cook in One Turn option earlier due to the inefficiencies it caused later on that I would have fed. had to steal the basket workshop from my brother. Beyond that, the game is still fun and remains my all time favorite game.
4. Five tribes
The implementation: Our session ended with Five Tribes, a game I’ve heard a lot about, but never quite got to play. The mechanic itself looked quite interesting given that it borrowed the mancala mechanic, implementing it by having players pick up guys from one square and drop them one by one on other squares up to ‘until they reach their destination. Once the pawns reach their destination, they can perform the action associated with that square. Certainly a new idea.
What happened: So while the mechanics of Five Tribes were easy to understand, the underlying strategies were much more difficult. I had a hard time figuring out what the best moves might look like and how to assess each square (probably impossible for a first playthrough). The tableau (a 6 × 5 grid) made the difficulties worse, making it difficult to choose a square of pawns to move because you had to consider how to place those pawns and which square to end up in. Finally, evaluating the boxes was difficult because I didn’t know if the best moves would be to invest in certain colors of meeple, to invest in jinn, to perform actions on the box without claiming it or to directly claim a territory. I guess it’s a combination of the above, but since this was my first time playing, it will take more games for me to fully understand it.
Final thoughts: I didn’t win the game, but I wasn’t last, so it’s always a good thing. The game itself is okay. It just didn’t convince me how codenames and El Grande might have done, but I would give another chance (or two, or three!) A lot and how to balance getting points. Five Tribes deserves at least a fair shot and a match doesn’t make a fair shot.
With all the experiences and games made that day, El Grande established himself as the big winner of the afternoon / evening. We all really appreciated the rigor of the mechanics and the ease of teaching. I can’t wait to play it again.