Wednesday, November 23, 2005

2005-11-22: Railroad Tycoon, Viva Pamplona, and Acquire

Railroad Tycoon

This would be a much shorter review if I knew everyone out there has played Age of Steam before. It's so much like it, all I'd need to say is "Railroad Tycoon is Age of Steam with a bigger board, easier finances, and some random special cards." Unfortunately, that wouldn't work for everyone, so I'll go into a little more detail.

First off, as I mentioned in the short-short version of the review, this game is big. I would think the average house wouldn't be likely to have a big enough table... I'm talking big! Yeah, it'll fit on your average kitchen table, but then there's no room for the extra pieces, drinks (if you are the daring type), or players' arms. And then to fit six... that'd be tough. But anyway, I'll continue on pretending size is not an issue.

General idea here is building tracks connecting cities in the eastern two-thirds of the United States. You start the game with no money, so to get anywhere you have to take shares which will give you $5,000 for every one share you take, but you have to pay one thousand per share at the end of every turn. You have three actions per turn. You can build tracks, upgrade your locomotive, deliver a good, take a special card, and others that aren't that interesting for this review.

After you connect cities, you can then deliver goods between them. To deliver, the random cubes that are pre-populated on the cities have to match the color of the other city to which you are transporting. You get one point for every link of yours it crosses, so you want to move goods through as many cities possible (up to the size of your locomotive which starts the game as one). Points are also income. At the end of the turn you get the money shown on the space you occupy on the point track. There is an interesting curve to the payout versus points, but that's not important right now. Just know that generally the more points you have, the more money you get each turn.

So, the game is going to progress with players building tracks connecting cities, and usually going for several strings of connections, and then delivering goods along those routes. When enough cities are out of goods, the game ends. At the end of the game you subtract the number of shares you were issued from your points, check to see if you fulfilled your special hidden bonus, and then most points wins.

That's about it. Sure, there are a few more interesting mechanics that I didn't mention, and the special cards can cause major swings in the game, but I think there is enough here to get the picture whether this would interest you or not. In my opinion, I think Age of Steam is the better game, whereas this one was more fun (at least from my initial playing). With the special cards and less intense financial situation, there does seem to be more general excitement in the turns, but at the cost of the deep strategy found in AoS.

Final Comments:
I enjoyed it, but I think in the long-term, Age of Steam is the better bet. I think this one could wear thin after repeat playings while AoS is much better after you've gotten over the unforgiving learning curve. Oh, and this thing is huge.

Viva Pamplona

Viva Pamplona was a fun little diversion based around the Running of the Bulls. No, it's not going to be deeply strategic or make anyone's top 10 list, but there is a lot of fun to be had here and the theme fits great here.

Goal of the game is to accumulate the most courage points. Everyone starts in the one corner of the board, with the bull right behind. You have three men, and you have to move two forward each turn. After everyone moves, then a bull card is revealed. He might move forward some, or he might score. You want to be as close to the bull as possible, without being behind him, when he scores. Three points for each guy that shares his space, two if you are directly in front, and one for the second space. For tokens behind the bull, though, it's -1 for every square you are behind. Finally, there are points awarded at the end for crossing the finish line (first place finish gets one point, second gets two, etc.) so you want to be among the last guys in, however, once the bull finishes the game is over no matter how many have finished.

There are some other rules, like the tomato patch at the northern section of the board causes pawns and the bull to slide backwards. The orange patches dock you a point if you land in them, and any pawns in them will not score any points if the bull does score. Finally, when you outnumber your opponent in a space, you can push them forward or back one and they give you one of their points. That's the entire game right there.

Final Comments:
As you can tell, it's pretty random. But considering the theme how could this be anything but chaotic? This is one of those that you won't even care who won, it's just quick fun. Perfect for family gaming or late night finishers. That being said, there are probably plenty of other choices out there that fit that criteria and are better games; I could probably make a hefty list in just a minute or two.


Acquire was originally released in 1962. Somehow, I've managed to avoid this one until now. Considering how long this game has been in print, it has to be either a really good game, or another Monopoly/Life/Risk/Clue/Yahtzee (okay, they aren't all bad games, but why these are the ones that will forever be representative of boardgames to non-gamers is baffling when you have so many better games that have come out since then... but that is another discussion).

This is a stock game based on hotel chains that are battling it out for supremacy. As players place tiles on the board growing the different chains, they eventually merge causing the larger company to absorb the smaller one. You can buy stock every turn, and the smaller the building, the cheaper the stock. When one is absorbed, majority share-holder gets a hefty size payout, and about half that (I think) to the second place share-holder. Then everyone can sell the dead chain's shares, or keep them, or trade them in two-for-one for the company that took over. At the end of the game, you do another majority/minority pay-out for the remaining hotel chains, and then sell all of your stock. The player with the most money wins.

Simple, yet engaging and full of possibilities -- this should be in that list of quintessential, classic boardgames. I would say its biggest detriment is it might be easy to relate this to Monopoly (because of the theme: hotel building) and it could never match that game in popularity. But considering its lasting power, maybe there is a chance it will make it onto that list someday.

One more rule comment, though... Money is very tight. You get so much to start with and you will not make any until hotel chains start merging. So, it can be pretty unforgiving if you don't spend your money wisely at the start. I say this because if you have a bad start on your first game, you will likely be put-off for the rest of it. Unfortunately, the only way to fix it is to play until you learn how to spend at the start, or play with others who are likely to do the same thing.

Final Comments:
Enjoyable stock market game. Yes, there have been many released since this one, and some might even be better, but this is still a good game after all of these years. Sid Sackson really made some great games, and this one is a classic that everyone should try to play at some point. I need to get a copy myself, now.


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