Saturday, 4 June 2011

First Train to Nuremberg

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Martin Wallace's First Train to Nuremberg is an upgraded version of Last Train to Wensleydale which actually contains two games. It has a double-sided map, one side for the Nuremberg game and the other for the Wensleydale game. Most of the rules for these two games are the same. The maps provide some differences and contain some rules exceptions. I have only played the Nuremberg side, so this will be based on just this map.

In this unconventional train game, players are small-time railway companies trying to build small train networks and keep them profitable. The economic environment actually cannot sustain any such small railway companies for long, and one key element of the game is to sell no-longer-profitable chunks of your network to two big railway companies. You have to play the sleazy salesman. But at the same time you are also a hero to the local businesses. They pool together money and ask you to build up a train network for them to improve the local economy. You do exactly that, while struggling to keep your small railway company afloat. You know your company won't last and you'll need to sell much of it off to the two big railway companies, but at least you will have helped the locals in getting themselves a railroad network.

Before the game starts, goods, passengers and protesters need to be set up semi randomly. Normally building a track costs $1, but if you need to cross a river, it costs $2.

Yellow cubes are mail, grey cubes are beer, green and red passengers want to go to stations belonging to the Green and Red companies respectively.

The game is played over a fixed number of rounds. Every round you can build tracks, buy second-hand trains (you can’t afford new ones), transport passengers and goods, and also sell part of your network to Red or Green (the two big railroad companies). Your profitability is adjusted every round, comparing the value of goods delivered that round and the number of tracks you have. So every round you struggle to deliver more goods (which are gradually depleted from the board), while the cost of maintaining your tracks grows as your build more tracks to deliver these goods. Thus the importance of selling off unprofitable sections of your network to Red or Green, to reduce your maintenance cost.

There are five currencies in this game, each used for different purposes. Every round you receive a fixed number of investment cubes from the locals. You will use these to build tracks, and also to auction for the other four currencies:

  1. Government influence - This is used to determine turn order when building tracks, which is very important because you need to compete to reach the areas with many passengers or goods to transport. You also need to spend government influence when connecting to towns which have protestors. Not all the locals like trains.
  2. Train influence (or rather, train companies influence) – This is used to determine turn order when buying trains (which you need to do every round if you want to transport anything) and transporting goods, and is also spent when buying trains.
  3. Green influence – To be spent when building tracks from a station belonging to Green Company, and when selling tracks to Green Company.
  4. Red influence – ditto.

This is one of the smaller game boards for buying trains and transporting goods / passengers. When you buy a train, you put your train marker on the locomotive you want. The trains indicate how many goods and passengers they can transport. Note: Some photos are courtesy of www.boardgamecafe.net.

What you can do in the game depends a lot on how you manage these five currencies. This being a train game, the map play is very important – identifying the profitable locations, planning how to develop your network, thinking about how to block others, developing backup plans in case you don’t get the turn order advantage, competing to deliver certain goods which more than one player can reach. It is important to plan ahead. The game is quite tight. You need to maintain profitability, or at least try not to lose too much money. You need to plan for how to expand your network.

This smaller game board is for tracking various numbers. The eigher yellow boxes on the right show batches of influence that are auctioned to the players. The meters at the top are for tracking the influence levels of the players in the four types of influence. The three semi-circles in the middle are the player order indicators. The big circle at the bottom is for tracking profitability.

During the game you earn victory points for delivering goods (and passengers). At game end you gain bonuses for having good balance in the goods type delivered. This encourages you to have good variety in goods delivery. You also gain a bonus (or penalty) based on profitability, and you are penalised for any tracks that you still own (ouch).

The Play

Jeff, Kareem, Allen and I played a full four-player game on the Nuremberg map at Old Town Kopitiam Cheras. All of us were first-time players. The Nuremberg map has one special rule – when the two main cities on the map are first connected, all players who own tracks between these two cities gain a bonus. Kareem and Jeff grabbed this opportunity quickly and scored a handsome bonus.

The city of Nuremberg is made up of two halves, split by the river.

The box that we opened to play was missing the blue railroad tracks, so Allen had to improvise.

In the early game there was much space and we managed not to get in each other’s ways, but towards the second half as goods get depleted competition became more intense. Turn order to build tracks became more and more important, and I was in trouble because my government influence level was far far behind the other three. Auctions for the various influence types were civil at first, but became more and more brutal.

I did very well in profitability in the early game, delivering much beer. In fact I did better than I should, because the game limits your profitability to +5, so there is no point in going beyond that. However the profitability scale allows you to go to -13. Eeeee-vil. I was initially quite conservative about keeping my tracks. I tried to sell them off as soon as they became unprofitable (which was often immediately after I transported goods in the same round). However one downside of this was I had less flexibility when I built tracks the next round. So nearer to game end I decided to try keeping my tracks for longer. It did give me more flexibility. However it probably also caused me to lose a lot of money.

In the last round, I still frantically looked for a good path to extend my network. It was difficult, because I was last in track building turn order for most of the game. I did find one, and I had enough investment cubes to build the tracks, and I built them. In hindsight, I probably should not have done it. I didn’t sell my older tracks in the previous round, which meant I had two rounds’ worth of built tracks to pay maintenance cost for. My profitability plummeted. I didn’t have enough Red/Green influence to sell off many tracks. By game end scoring, I suffered a big penalty from a negative profitability level and also for the remaining tracks I had on the board.

In the last round Jeff did not build any tracks at all. He had done his homework properly and calculated that building tracks to deliver goods would actually cost him victory points. I need to learn to be less impetuous.

Final score: Kareem 23, Jeff 17, me 11, Allen 9. The in-game scoring went much higher than this. The end-game penalty was very severe.

End of Round 1. Kareem (orange) started from Furth in the north west. Allen (blue / cardboard shreds) started from the south west. Jeff (black) and I (purple) started from Nuremberg. He headed south, I headed north.

End of Round 3. Compare this with the previous photo and you'll see that many tracks have been sold to Red and Green. Also many of the goods and passengers on the board have been depleted.

The Thoughts

You need to do much forward planning in this game. You need to compete fiercely for the four types of influence. The game is unforgiving and you need to keep in mind the end goal (i.e. how the end game scoring is done).

I like the board play. I enjoy identifying opportunities, planning, executing, and adapting to changes / challenges caused by those pesky other players. This is certainly a challenging game. You need to compete in three different types of turn order (basic turn order, track building turn order and train buying / transporting goods turn order).

I have read some complaints about the game, which I agree about, but they are not big issues to me. There is no feedback loop for profitability. During the game, good profitability only gives you an advantage in basic turn order (which I feel is not very important) and does not give you more investment cubes in the next round. You receive a fixed number of investment cubes every round. You are rewarded / penalised for profitability only at game end.

The game setup is troublesome, but I think it’s a good way to randomise the board situation and make each game different.

I tend to play many Martin Wallace games, and this is one I like. Others I like include Brass, Automobile, Age of Steam. Like these other games, First Train to Nuremberg is tight and challenging, and it has its own uniqueness too. This is now on my list of games to buy if I don’t exceed my 20 games per year quota.

I’ll digress a little here. For 2011:

  1. A la Carte (purchased)
  2. Endeavor (purchased)
  3. Haggis (I made a copy that can be played by 2 players as opposed to 2 or 3, by removing some cards from a normal deck of playing cards) (yes, that counts as acquiring a new game too in my book)
  4. 7 Wonders (ordered)
  5. Maori (ordered)
  6. Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifact expansion (will buy when it’s out)
  7. First Train to Nuremberg (maybe will buy if quota not exceeded)

I’m doing quite well in managing my game acquisitions, and I’m considering dropping my quota to 12 games per year, i.e. 1 per month. Other games I’m interested to try: Cavum, 20th Century, Star Trek Expeditions.

2 comments:

John Choong said...

Was checking some of your reviews. Always enjoy reading your posts. I find that by having an established quota of game purchases per year is highly commendable. I myself could not seem to stick with such resolution. Are there any tips of how you can adhere to your quota of game buying?

Have recently gotten myself 20th Century and Cavum and am looking for players to try them out.

My current gaming group at Boardgame Depot at Bangsar are currently into other games namely D&D Castle Ravenloft, Carson City, Conquest of the Planet Earth and Thunderstone - they often like some elements of 'killing' and 'aggression' but I'm also looking for people who are interested in playing economic games.

Other than OTK, where do you often have your gaming sessions? Would probably go to OTK next Friday and perhaps can meet you there.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I was successful in managing my game acquisition in the first half year, but not so well in the second half. :-P. One thing that I do to control my buying is to tell myself to buy later, and later on I sometimes lose interest and end up not buying. I have a checklist of things I try to tell myself before buying games. You can search the "buying games" tag of my blog.

I'm actually interested to try both 20th century and cavum. I mostly play at home. Not really very regular at OTK. But if you're more into euro / economic games I think the OTK crowd has similar preference.