Thursday, 5 June 2008

Railroad Tycoon, and others

Sat 31 May 2008 was a good session. We had 7 plays of 5 different games, Railroad Tycoon (new to me), Pandemic, Blue Moon (x2), R-Eco and Race for the Galaxy (x2). Three of them being card games certainly helped in achieving so many games played within one session. Also Pandemic is a pretty quick boardgame to play. Even Railroad Tycoon, which was new to Michelle and I (but we've played Age of Steam before), went quicker than I had expected.

Railroad Tycoon was our main course, and we started with it. Some game groups start with short fillers during their game sessions, but since my game group is just Han and I (and sometimes my wife Michelle, and once in a while Chee Seng too, when he's back from Singapore), we usually don't need to play fillers while waiting for other players to arrive. We just dive straight in. Our fillers are usually just closers, but not so much to wind down after a tiring game, than to fully utilise any remaining time before Han has to go. We'd play another main course if time allows.

Before Han even got here, the first thing I worried about Railroad Tycoon was whether it would fit on my dining table. Thankfully it fit just nice, and the sides of the board didn't hang off the edges of the table. However we didn't have any more space at the sides of the table, and had to put our money and trains on the game board itself. The board really is huge. It is actually 3 separate pieces put together side by side, each piece folds twice, so there are actually 9 sections.

Michelle and Han and the huge Railroad Tycoon board.

Railroad Tycoon is a game about developing your railroad company. You start with no money and need to issue shares to raise money. You build tracks to connect cities. You deliver goods from cities that supply them to cities that demand them. By delivering goods (which should be thought of as capturing the business at a city, rather than as a one time delivery), you increase your victory points, depending on how long a distance the goods have traveled. Your income (which you collect at the end of every turn) is also adjusted. You can use your opponents' tracks to deliver goods, but for each opponent's link (connection between 2 cities) that you use, he/she earns the victory point instead of you. The game ends when a certain number of cities run out of cubes to deliver.

Railroad Tycoon is designed by Martin Wallace and Glenn Drover, and is based on Martin Wallace's earlier game Age of Steam, a highly regarded game, which I own. Compared to Age of Steam, Railroad Tycoon is more forgiving, more flexible, and has a bit more flavour. I wouldn't say it is a "dumbed down" version, since I actually find them quite similar. Maybe you can say it is "easier" due to being more forgiving, but it is not "easier" as in being significantly simpler. Some extra stuff compared to Age of Steam are the tycoon cards and the operations cards, both of which provide some more flavour and variety. Tycoon cards are secret objective cards randomly dealt to each player at the start of the game, which give you bonus points if you achieve the secret objective. There are different types of operations cards. Some give a bonus to the first player achieving a certain objective. Some give special powers (e.g. you build a hotel at a city and you earn money whenever anyone connects to that city), some allow you to do one-time special actions (e.g. build four tracks on plains for free).

That's my current engine level - level 2. You start at level 1 and can work your way up to level 6. Each engine level means you can deliver a cube to a city that many links away. The cubes are the goods, and you deliver them to cities of the same colour. The trains mark ownership of the tracks. The brown buildings are just markers to indicate empty cities.

A view from the north. The game comes with paper money and not those colourful plastic coins. But I prefer these coins which are easier to handle.

In our game, Michelle and I started our railway networks in the northeast, which is a lucrative area with many goods to deliver and concentrated cities, i.e. much money to be made, and cheap to build your network. While Michelle and I competed directly, Han focused on the southeast. Not as lucrative as the northeast, but at least there was no direct competition in terms of building tracks and delivering goods. I went for a quick win strategy, upgrading my trains quickly and delivering goods as much as I could. This was mostly due to the threat that was Michelle. However, Michelle was a bit slower in upgrading her train and in delivering goods, and focused instead on track building. I used some of her tracks, in my haste to ship goods quickly before Michelle could do the same to them, and thus gave her some free points. She did not ship many goods, but scored big via the operations cards, by connecting to the objective cities specified on them. 21 out of her 45 points were from fulfilling objectives on the operations cards. Han made use of many of the operations cards that provide free actions, saving him some money. Throughout most of the game I was in the lead. However I was not likely to achieve my secret goal on my tycoon card (to have built the most number of tracks - Michelle built many more than I did), and Han and Michelle might catch up by game end. Thankfully I managed to end the game quickly, while I still had a strong lead. So despite fulfilling their tycoon cards (to some degree at least), they were not able to catch up.

So, our game was quite quick. Probably just 1 hour 15 minutes, including rule explanation. I like Railroad Tycoon. It is quite similar to Age of Steam, and I don't think of it as an inferior cousin, as some others may think. I just think of it as a slightly different version. Well, I'm not an expert though. I have only played very few games of Age of Steam. One thing about Railroad Tycoon is the board seems too open for just 3 players. Since Han started his network in a different area of the board, by the end of the game none of his tracks touched any of mine or Michelle's. There is just so much space on the board that we didn't need to compete spatially. There were still many areas of the board which were not used by game end. So, I think the game will be more interesting with more players. Maybe 5 would be an ideal number. 6 would probably make things too slow.

Han's rail network. We used a water tower as a round marker. The water tower is just another empty city marker. The black train on the right is the start player marker.

The end of the game. Michelle (red) had set up connections all the way to Chicago. My train technology was at level 5.

I finally won a game of Pandemic. This was on normal difficulty level, i.e. 5 epidemic cards used. I think we were quite lucky with the cards. We drew many infection cards (what I used to call "bad cards") which were for diseases that we had already eradicated, so those cards had no effect at all. Because this is a cooperative game, it has the problem of the experienced players telling the inexperienced players what to do. Both Han and I have played before, but not Michelle. The game was quick. She was distracted by our 3 year old daughter Shee Yun, and she just followed what Han and I asked her to do. By the time we won the game, she still did not have much idea what was going on. So the next time we play I'll just shut up and let her make her mistakes and learn from them.

Han and I have an ongoing Blue Moon league (if you can call a 2-player league a league). Each time we have the opportunity to play, we choose a combination of races that we have not played before, and play two games, swapping sides for the second game. We then record our results on a table. This time we played the Khind and the Pillars. The Khind won both games. They seem to be pretty strong so far in our league.

Blue Moon. We used different coloured jelly as dragons. I bought the 6 expansion races and not the 2 races in the base game, so I do not have the dragons that come with the base game. I could use the dragons from Blue Moon City, but was too lazy to go get them.

R-Eco was quick. I think I have been a bit too merciless on Han. He ended the game with negative points.

Race for the Galaxy is still good. I have played 24 games now. Only about 10% of games in my collection have that many plays.


Aik Yong said...

The action cards in Railroad Tycoon also lends itself to a rather lacklusture auction phase. This is one critical element missing from AOS.

Hope the Rails of Europe expansion fixes the many fauts in the game but at this juncture, I consider it to be an 'inferior cousin' :P. It's good to intro newbies, though.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Indeed the auction in Railroad Tycoon is not as heavy as in Age of Steam. In Age of Steam there is much more to consider.

In my game I kept bidding for first player because I was worried Michelle would ship some goods before I could. She was competing head-on with me in the north east area.