Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pulling The Train

Boy, I seem to have gotten a lot of train games in lately. Last Train To Wensleydale (or whatever it is), Steam (the "proper" version, according to McDeans), and Lancashire Rails from Winsome's Early Rails set. Three Tuesdays, three trains.

First up was Lancashire Rails at Mike's two weeks ago. This was a three player game with me, Mike, and Greg. Heck, all three games were three player! I had played this about 10 years ago at the very first (or second) Sunriver euro retreat, way back in 1998 or so. At the time, it was a huge departure for me, and the low quality of the components did nothing to endear me to the game. Nor did getting locked out almost immediately. So this time, I was ready to do better, and better I did. I grabbed one of the early two connections, but nothing was really working for me the next couple of turns as Mike and Greg grabbed a lot of the southern routes. My strategy? Go North, young man. So I did, and by game end I had pretty much locked up the trunk route running from Lancashire to points south. Of course, this game turns on how the goods cubes come out, and that helped, but it was clear from the midgame that this was mine to win or lose, and I wiped the floor with the other players. Nevertheless, a better experience for me than the first time I played. Oh, the other part of my strategy - aggressive debt management. I had no debt the second half of the game, while everyone else was digging out. At the worst, I had taken out a max of two certificates at any one time.

The next week, Chris and Mike and I played Last Train to Wensleydale. Sorry, I'm not sure how that last is spelled, but I remember there was cheese. And rocks. I did much worse at this game, completely blowing my last few turns by simply not considering what I needed to do to stay in the game. I will say that the game did not give me a favorable impression, but I'm told that it shines with four rather than three, and I'm willing to give it another go. To be honest, other than Automobile, I have not been terribly enamored of any of the new Wallace games. They feel like just another collection of mechanisms built around a theme rather than interesting games, and I hope that Martin isn't just putting games out to generate income to cover his legal costs after the great FRED brouhaha. The game has the very interesting feature of channeling very specific moves in the middle of the board (which looks like scar tissue for some reason), but it didn't grab. Perhaps it will with four (as McDeans swears). I came in dead last by a huge margin, and I saw that coming from the midgame.

Then there was my first time out with the latest incarnation of Age of Steam, called simply "Steam". We played the Standard/Advanced/Proper version, with bidding for player order. The biggest different I noted was that the randomness of the cubes coming out as the game progresses has been eliminated, turning what was a very good game into a killer title. In fact, this makes me look at AoS as I do at Agricola - a very good game marred by what appears to be an arbitrary chaos factor that doesn't sit well with the rest of the game. In comparison, Steam is more like Le Havre, where there is a lot of randomness, but at the start of the game instead of a heavy element as the game progresses. This will be the version I play. We had a great game with Mike, Matt G, and myself, with me in the south part of the US map, Matt in the NW, and Mike in the NW but mostly in the NE. I took a very long look ahead in the game, and saw that there were going to be some really great chances to do things late, but made a couple of dumb errors. Still, at the end I was able to squeak out a win by one point over *both* Matt and Mike, mostly by making sure that I had good cube runs at game end when everyone else was struggling to figure out where to put things. I would have won by more had I gone for a choo choo improvement in the penultimate turn, as well as bidding for the start position on the last turn instead of building a lone link (for a lone point). A fantastic game, so much so that I bought the base set today and will pick up Steam Barons in the very near future. It should be easy to retrofit maps, all you need to know is how many cube pools you establish at the start of the game, so my old AoS maps can work with either.

Had I gone to Chris' place on Saturday, I could have played even *more* train games. Really, though, this train may have been enough to tide me over through the rest of 2009. In fact, this will be it for gaming for me for the year, as I'll be in Hawaii with a ton of people who don't get boardgames at all. Sigh. Have a Happy Holiday anyway.

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