Monday, 13 June 2011


Plays: 3Px2.

The Game

Irondale is a card game from a small publisher. Han bought a complete package which includes the base game and a few expansions, and we played mostly the base game with I think only one small expansion - the starting city centre. In this game, cards are buildings, and players play cards onto the table to build up the city of Irondale. New buildings are played next to existing buildings. The game ends at the end of a complete round after the city reaches a certain size, and whoever has the most points wins.

Points are gained when constructing a building, depending on the building itself and also what building it is constructed next to. Every building has some special rules. Some introduce restrictions, some give bonus points, some even let you rob cards from other players. Normally you are allowed to construct two buildings on your turn. If they are of different types, you may be able to discard a third card to earn bonus points, if this third card has matching master plan icons matching the building types you have just built. So every turn you look at your hand of cards and determine the best way of maximising your turn.

Gaining cards is a painful matter, because at the start of your turn, if you want to draw cards, you need to spend your victory points. When playing cards, there is no cost, but depending on the building size, you need to have a certain number of cards left in your hand. E.g. to play a size 3 building, when you play it, you need to have 3 other cards in hand. So large (and usually more powerful) buildings are harder to play, since your hand size limit is 5.

The starting cards, which are the city centre. According to Han this setup is actually an expansion. I wonder what the original game is like.

Upper right corner is the building type and the building size, i.e. how many other cards you need to have in your hand when you construct this building. The four boxes at the bottom are the points you earn when constructing this building next to each of the four possible building types. You can only score one of these four boxes. Upper left corner is the master plan icons. If you have just built two buildings of these types, you can play this card as a master plan and earn 2pts. The building's special ability is in text.

There are 3 stacks of cards in the game, with different backs, but the cards are the same. That means for each type of building there are 3 copies. This is important to know, because some cards allow you to search a deck for a card you want. Card backs are used to track your score. Depending on your score, you would just take a card from one of the 3 stacks (without looking at the card face) and put it in front of you, rotated to the right position to indicate your score. This means some cards are randomly taken out of the game, thus creating some variability.

In the foreground you can see the card back of one of the cards being used for score keeping. I have 6pts now.

The Play

Han, Allen and I have played 2 games so far. There aren't that many game turns in a game, because if everyone constructs 2 buildings every turn, that's 6 new buildings every round, so the game end would be triggered around Round 3 or Round 4. Being new to the game, we spent much time reading the card text and also planning how make the best out of our cards. Normally buildings already on the table do not matter much except for their type, but some buildings have ongoing effects, so we try to make use of these, e.g. some buildings give extra points to new buildings constructed next to them, some buildings allow you to draw cards when constructing a new buildings next to them.

We called the Sanatorium the dunny instead. The special rule is no other buildings may be constructed next to it. This makes sense for a dunny too, coz it's so stinky...

The game felt quite tactical. On your turn you try to make the most of what's on the table and what's in your hand, and you try not to create opportunities for the next player. Not really a lot of long term planning you can do. Familiarity with the buildings helps. E.g. in the second game that we played, I drew the Gate House. The Gate House scores points depending on how many Gate Houses have already been constructed. I decided to try to collect and build all three of the Gate Houses. I used the ability of another building to search a deck and pick a card, and managed to get myself all 3 Gate Houses. Unfortunately my nice collection was broken up when the others played the Thieves' Den. One of my Gate Houses was robbed from me. So this is one form of a longer-term plan in the game. However mostly the game is quite tactical, in that you try to make the most out of the current situation. I guess familiarity with the cards will help you avoid dangers and anticipate what may be coming.

I used the special ability of one of the buildings on the table to collect three Gate Houses. The first Gate House is worth 2pts, the second 4pts, the third 6pts, so it is lucrative to build the 2nd one and onwards. Unfortunately I fell victim to this card below...

... the Thieves' Den. I was attacked by this card twice! Amazingly in the first attack, when I had 3 Gate Houses and 1 Estate, it was the Estate that was stolen. Unfortunately when the thieves struck again, I had no other cards but Gate Houses.

Game end.

The Thoughts

Irondale is mostly tactical. It is puzzle-like in how on your turn you need to analyse the board and your hand and try to work out the best you can squeeze out of your hand. There are multiple factors to consider - the building size requirement, the building type, and the building powers. The first game will be a little slow. You need familiarity with the cards to enjoy the game better. I think familiarity with the card deck will improve the long-term strategy aspect of the game, because you can anticipate what may be coming and take that into consideration what deciding how to play your current hand.

For me Irondale is just so-so, because it feels too tactical for me. I am mostly just trying to optimise what I can do on my turn. There is not a lot of long-term aspect to the game. Some already-built buildings still impact future buildings next to them, but overall there's little strategic direction in the city building. I have not tried the expansions yet though (which come in the package) so perhaps we should explore those next.

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