May 02, 2007

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Binyamin, Zack, Elijah, Annette, Eliezer, Gili

Annette and Eliezer are a mother and son from Ramat Beit Shemesh who came after wanting to come for a long time. The son plays every shabbat with his friends, and the mother also enjoys the games.

Unfortunately, it was a long trip back and forth for them without a car, so they will probably be looking to play more in Beit Shemesh than with us. But they’re welcome back, and they especially should consider Game Days.

We had the usual initial confusion about how to sort people into games. Not everyone was entirely happy with the division, but there you go.

Railroad Tycoon

Jon+, Binyamin, Elijah, Zack, Gili

I love a good train game, and I had some good hopes for Railroad Tycoon, having heard that it was a “nicer” version of Age of Steam. Now, despite everything I’m going to write next, I did like the game.

However.

I’m appalled. Appalled at the production and development of this game. Let’s start with the physical problems.

The game is freakin’ big, and there is no reason for it to be that big, large areas of the board are simply not used. The boards didn’t fit on my table, which resulted in them being bumped all the time.

The board comes as three sections, and they managed to cut words, cities, and round marker circles right down the middle, so that those areas of the board were constantly shifting and unsteady, right where you needed to read information or place items.

The cities were so small that when you placed the marker cubes on them, you could no longer read their names, and therefore find the cities. Furthermore, the colors of the cities didn’t match the colors of the cubes. A yellow cube went to a yellow city, but a blue cube went to an indigo city, which looked more like the purple cubes, which actually went to the lavender cities. And the indigo cities looked almost like the black cities.

And speaking of colors, unlike Through the Desert where they managed to use five colors for the camels and five different ones for the players, here the user colors and cube colors overlapped, which caused confusion.

Information on a board this big should be written at various angles and rules summaries printed on all sides. Instead, the writing was small and facing only one way on one side of the board, totally useless for all but the rightly situated player. What’s wrong with player aids for each player?

The game had ridiculously overproduced plastic pieces that went on the board only to mark areas that were now empty (and obscured the board), undoubtedly raising the price of the game by a considerable amount. Yet they didn’t include a round marker to go over the three round mark spaces on the board! We had to use a spare track hex for that.

The trains were more overproduced plastic which toppled frequently and served no other purpose than to mark the tracks, where simple train meeples would have worked better. If they were going to make something so fancy, why not at least give the trains space to hold the wooden cubes?

Like many other games with hexes overlaid on natural maps, their natural terrain not only made it more difficult to read the writing, but to figure out what type of terrain some of the hexes actually were. Is this a mountain? A plain? It’s got a bit of both in it.

Each space in the scoretrack could only hold a single piece, which made it useless for five players. The cost of upgrading a train from 1 to 2 is printed on the side with the 2 on it, rather than the side with the 1 on it; in other words, instead of “this is how much you need to pay to upgrade to the next train” you get “this is how much you had to pay to have upgraded to this train, said information being in the entirely wrong place”.

I could go on, but really.

For the most part, the game is a classic build track and deliver cubes game, which is what I like. Unlike Age of Steam, you can’t completely wipe out at the beginning of the game. However, we had some issues both with what was there and what wasn’t there.

What was there: The bidding for first player was a flawed mechanism. Only the top player pays, and then the round goes clockwise. As a result, if you only want to ensure that you go before someone, you can bid high enough to make that happen and then drop out without paying anything. A bidding for turn order mechanism makes more sense here.

While there are a few ways to get cubes onto the board midgame, for the most part it seems that the cubes are all put out and then empty. Once they are emptied from the congested area, it appears that the game is going to peter out. That was the feeling that we got, and the reason that we decided to end the game at that point.

However, I think we were probably not entirely right about this. Binyamin pointed out that he had a number of high-link movements in the wings. Also, we never got to the Eastern links or most of the delivery bonuses (we did some). I think the game fell victim to the large amount of time it took us to get to this point and some bad group-think. As a result, I am happy to assume that this problem will go away.

Furthermore, Age of Steam’s strong point isn’t the cube renewal aspect, anyway.

The rules don’t cover some obvious situations, such as when a card like “first person to connect to so-and-so gets points” flips up way after this has already happened. I believe this is a FAQ, however. And there was one card which read “take two additional actions”, which looked like it would be a Bad Thing if those two actions were to allow you to take two more cards (or even one more card).

I can’t tell how the strange income reduction mechanic works, since we didn’t reach it, but it looks just as artificial and non-sensible as the backwards movement in Age of Steam.

What was not there: There is far less screwing with other people than there should be. It was almost serene, which was a little dull. The role cards of Age of Steam are greatly missed. The event cards from Empire Builder are also greatly missed.

But, despite all the above, and the likelihood that we will be changing some of the rules asap, the game is still a rail-building pick up and deliver game, which is just great fun. I enjoyed myself, although I didn’t have to think overly much.

Like most games of this sort, there is a nice curve you need to follow from beginning to end; invest in the beginning, switch to point making in the middle, make points at the end.

Puerto Rico

Nadine 54, Annette 49, Eliezer 45

Nadine got to teach these guys Puerto Rico, and it looks like a good time was had by all.

Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation

Elijah++, Jon

I played this simultaneous with Bridge, and I think I suffered at both a bit because of it. As black, Elijah did a good job at wiping out my guys, with only Frodo left, he only managed to get him right on the doorstep of Mordor. In the reversed roles, Elijah managed to retreat Frodo and sneak around me before I was anywhere near the Shire.

Bridge

Jon/Zack, Nadine/Binyamin

We played five hands of this.

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