Game night is a pretty fluid thing, and the experience I have each week is so totally dependent on the sub-group that I happen to fall into. This time around, I was joined by Chip and Stacy all evening for what turned out to be a “eurogame” extravaganza…
Glass Road [BGG]
I picked up Glass Road with some Christmas money after the holidays, but hadn’t gotten around to learning it yet with all the other games I also acquired. But when Stacy had his copy there, it was something that interested us enough to pull it out and give it a try.
If you haven’t heard much about it, Glass Road combines a hidden role selection mechanic (very similar to Witch’s Brew or Mission: Red Planet) with a heavier resource-management/tableau-building game (along the lines of Ora et Labora). Everyone has the same hand of 15 Specialist cards from which you choose 5 to build your hand on each turn. These cards all have two abilities on them that you can use. If you’re the only person to have that card, you get to use both on your action. But when you lead a card, other players are forced to “follow” it if it’s still in their hand, giving both (or all) of you the chance to do one of the listed abilities. But since each player only chooses 3 of their 5 cards to play in each turn, you sort of want to pick cards to play that no one else chooses, while having a couple of other cards that let you leech off of other players’ choices.
The shiny glam of the game is the double-barrel resource wheel that where generating secondary resources will automatically produce the secondary resources (bricks and glass) any time that there is room for the dial to move. And then, of course, you can use those resources to construct buildings and manipulate the terrain tiles on your personal player board, ultimately getting points to win from buildings in lots of different ways.
In our game, not knowing anything much to do at the start, I just built a building early on that would give me some points for getting four Groves in a certain configuration. But then a little later, I sort of had two buildings fall into my lap that made me want to go after Sand Pits instead. And then once I had that “plan”, I went after it with perhaps too much singlemindedness, clinging to the idea of possibly doing both the Sand and the Groves thing, which kept me from looking around at the other available buildings for a more reasonable alternative source of points or that would give aid to what I was already trying to do.
James, on the other hand, looked a lot more aggressively and managed to put together a nice little combo that he was able to run pretty effectively on the last turn to build some more buildings and get resources to score (with sand, especially) very well.
Time: 64 minutes
Score: James K* 23, Chip* 20.5, Stacy 20.5, Norton* 19
Ratings: James K 7.5, Chip 6.5, Stacy 8, Norton 7
I liked Glass Road a lot. I’m a big fan of that hidden role selection mechanic, and also enjoy games where you get to put together little combinations of abilities to run an “engine” by the end of the game. Plus, while it was a little frustrating at times, the puzzle of managing the resource wheels was at least a novel activity throughout play.
There are a couple of things that also concern me a little. Overall, it’s definitely a lighter (mid-weight, maybe?) game from Uwe Rosenberg that’s meant to play in around an hour or less. But almost at odds with that is the whole learning curve surrounding the many buildings and their interactions. There is definitely a period of deep analysis (with the strong possibility of some intermittent paralysis) going on during the selection part of the building phase when you’re picking your Specialist cards, just because it’s hard (especially for a new player) to parse all of the possible information you have, along with selecting the roles you need and keeping in mind what other players might pick, all while having at least some idea of how you’ll manage your resource wheel.
But at least, everyone is doing that process at the same time, so for at least part of the time, you’ll be working on your own problem while others are doing the same.
Coal Baron [BGG]
But rather than belabor my analysis of the analysis within Glass Road any more, the next thing we pulled out was Stacy’s copy of Coal Baron. I really wanted to play this next because I had sort of picked Glass Road ahead of Coal Baron since both were sitting on my FLGS’s shelves when I made the decision of what to get.
Coal Baron is another “worker placement with a twist” sort of game, where you have this pool of 13-18 workers (depending on how many players are in the game) to place around the board. The first time a player uses a space, it just takes them 1 worker to do so. But later on, other players can continue to choose to use the space as well by using one more worker than when it was last used.
And of course, the things you’re doing in the game are picking up contracts for different types of coal, developing your mine to find more coal, getting money, delivering coal, and to bring in another of Wolfgang Kramer’s and Michael Kiesling’s favorite mechanics, also using action points to move around your mine and actually collect the coal you need.
I feel like I made a number of mistakes through the game, most glaringly on the last turn when I just simply didn’t count up my workers and realize that I wouldn’t be able to finish a contract I was working on. But instead, I committed some money and actions trying to do so, ending up gathering some penalty points for being “out of balance” in my mine and not completing the contract.
Time: ~61 minutes
Score: Chip* 141, Stacy 125, Norton* 112
Ratings: Chip 7.5, Stacy 7.5, Norton 7.5
Coal Baron was really cool, though. To me, it falls into the same basic category as Glass Road, that of the middle-weight euro. But while Glass Road seemed a little at odds being here with the complexity it wanted to bring in with all its buildings and their interactions, Coal Baron felt “just right” by being just a touch more straightforward.
But in no way should you read “straightforward” as being either overly simplistic or boring. Having to balance the “currency” of your workers verses the actual currency of money and all the other resources you need to balance was still very challenging. And while some of the elements felt a little gamey (like having to balance the light and dark sides of your mine), I still felt like the theme came through a little stronger in Coal Baron as well.
So originally, I guess I made a slight error in judgment in buying Glass Road over Coal Baron, I still like them both enough that I’ll be glad to have them coexist in my collection for at least the near future.
And then to finish off the night, we set up Trains and lured Keith (who had just finished another game) into joining us.
Going into this play, I had a plan. Ever since I first bought and played Trains, I wanted to see how well the “big money” strategy prominent in Dominion would translate across to it. Basically, the crux of this approach is to almost exclusively to buy improved currency until you can pick up the highest-value victory-point cards. In Trains, then, the idea is to almost completely ignore the map, and instead fill my deck with Express and Limited Express Trains until I could buy up a lot of Skyscrapers and Towers in the endgame.
With this in mind, I chose my starting location carefully, picking Kyoto (on the Osaka side of the board) to start. That way, I’d be able to use Station Expansion at least 3 times when it came through my deck, as well as picking up the extra points from Kameoka and Otsu with little network investment. I did get a little help with the card selection available as well, and got really lucky with using Maintenance Factories, picking up another Express Train on my second pass through my deck and at least 2-3 Limited Express Trains later on in the game. Plus, I picked up a number of Signaling Areas and Garages to let me draw a bunch of cards (and hopefully sift through Waste/VP cards) later on in the game.
And basically, it worked like a charm. I ended up with 7 of the Skyscrapers, getting at least 3 of them on my last pass through my deck. For the first time that I’ve seen, the game ended with 4 stacks being emptied, and I won pretty decisively.
Time: 60 minutes
Score: Norton 48, Chip 35, Keith 31, Stacy* 27
Ratings: Norton 7.5, Chip 6.5, Keith 7, Stacy 7
The problem is, I’m a little ambivalent about winning in this way.
On one hand, I’m really excited that I was able to formulate a plan outside the game, evaluate the board and card mix available to me, and then put that plan into action successfully. And unlike when I would use Big Money in Dominion (at least early on when I still played it), I feel like I had to be a lot more flexible and responsive to what was going on in Trains. So for that, I wanted to bump my rating all the way up to an 8.
But what I’m a little afraid of now is that maybe Big Money will be a dominant, or at least leading, strategy. And in reading some of the articles on BGG, I found even more support that it may be the approach to beat in the game.
However, I also feel like my group has some room to become more efficient in playing the board-heavy and more balanced strategies. No matter what you do, you’ve got to always balance upgrading Trains versus picking up the shiny specialty cards tempting you. And exactly how much potential that Big Money has will be at least somewhat governed by the support cards available to help it along. So for now at least, I did bump my rating up a little (from 6.5 to 7.5), and we’ll see how further plays influence it further.
Time: 44 minutes
Score: Forbidden Desert – Sand victory, Explorers (Chris, Darren, James E, & Tommy) – Lose
Ratings: Chris 7.5
The Hunters: German U-Boats at War
Time: 45 minutes
Score: Ken – KIA, Jan ’40 (23,900 tons)
Rating: Ken 8.5
Time: 40 minutes
Score: Tommy* 115, Chris 112, Ken 107, James E 93, Ray 80
Ratings: Chris 9
Skirmish Wars: Advance Tactics
No Report Sheet
Sails of Glory
Time 65 minutes
Ratings: Ken 7.5
Time: 40 and 25 minutes
Score: Scott – 1 win, Ken – 1 win
Ratings: Scott 7, Ken 7
* First play for that Person