Saturday, January 07, 2006

I'm gonna build my track annoying! (Railroad Tycoon, Diamant)

Happy New Years!

Not surprisingly, our first WAGS session of the year saw new games received and/ or purchased for the holidays. Railroad Tycoon was a present I received from my wife, and I was REALLY looking forward to trying it out. It was Shemp's pick, and he had envisioned a train themed evening including RT and Ticket to Ride (with a call for snacks that were "easy to transport, like trail mix").

We layed the whole thing out. I had been told that the board was big, but Kozure's table isn't exactly small... Unfortunately, it still didn't fit! The width of the board hung over by about 2 inches. I had also heard about the difficulty in distinguishing blue and purple cities. Oddly, we didn't have too much trouble, the problem seemed to be that Eagle used a dark purple for blue and a magenta for purple. What confused us was that the purple cubes were virtually identical in colour to the blue cities! I don't think it really led to any errors, but we were certainly checking things twice as we played.

No matter, the game was FUN. The theme of railroad empire building is very succesfully realized in the game... Decisions regarding where to lay track, how to assess the state of supply and demand on the board, when to upgrade engines, whether to issue shares or wait, etc results in a very engaging game. The cards and "tycoon" roles seem to successfully create variety and tension in the game. All this, and the result is still extremely approachable. I think Kozure summed it up best: The game is simple without being simplistic.

As the rules warned us not to let the North East be controlled by a single player, all of us but Luch jumped to that corner to start. I snagged a New York - Albany - Boston - New Haven route early on (with the Boston Hotel), and felt very comfortable in my position. However, Kozure made very shrewd bids and kept stealing bonus cards from under my nose, giving him an early and comfortable lead. Meanwhile, Shemp picked up the New York hotel (dramatically impacting my prospects for deliveries in that corner) and built a terribly expensive link across the mountains towards Toronto. Luch set up in the South-East and expanded without much opposition, picking up a good number of bonus cards very cheaply because of it. Before long, I was last and so I tried to make up for it by trying out the "Western Link" feature (encouraged by the fact that my "tycoon" card required one for bonus points). I didn't plan ahead very well, however, and built a rather direct 2 link path from Chicago to Desmoines. I therefore only had a steady stream of 2 point deliveries to show for my $30 000... not enough to catch up (and made worse by the fact that Shemp had crossed over to Chicago as well, and was benefitting far more from the generated Western Link cubes than I was). Shemp aslo managed to accomplish the long route from New York to Kansas City, giving him 20 points! Luch continued his domination of the south, grabbing many points along the way. Ultimately, though, Kozure had the biggest trains and the longest routes. He pulled in a lot of points on very few shares.

He won by quite a margin.

It was a great game, and I'm definitely looking forward to a rematch! (fun fact: Kozure had only 3 shares at the end of the game, Luch had 4, I had 5, and Shemp had 16!!!! Still, he did something right because he came in 2nd...)

The game didn't take too long considering it was our first (a little over 2 hours), but between our late start and eating it was already 10:15pm. We didn't have time for Ticket to Ride, so I pulled out Diamant. I had purchased this in anticipation of our New Year's Eve party, where lighter games for large groups would be very useful. It turned out to be a hit, and the short playing time makes it easy to slip in when it's getting late.

Diamant is a "push your luck" type game where players take on the role of intrepid miners on the search for gems in a dangerous set of 5 caves. The trick of the game is that for every card which is turned up, all players must secretely and individually decide if they will get out or keep going. Getting out means that all gems aquired are permanently kept, but staying in means potentially getting quite a bit more. If the same disaster card turns up twice, any players still in the cave lose everything they've accumulated so far!

I quite like this game. It does what it sets out to do perfectly... Be fun and fast. It's all about managing luck, and outguessing your opponents. There are a couple of mechanics which come toghether to make this really work:
1) The simultaneous "in" or "out" decision keeps the game fast even with 8 players.
2) The gems left behind acts as incentive for people to go back, adding another level of things to think about when deciding whether to leave or push on.
3) The fact that gems are shared equally means that there is the real potential for a huge score if everyone pulls out but 1 and a large gem tile is pulled up. This "carrot" led many unfortunate adventurers to their doom.

It all add up to a simple, chaotic 15 minute game which feels a little like gambling, where reading the intentions of your opponents and pushing your luck can make you win big or totally blow it. Highly enjoyable for what it is... We played 4 times!

Railroad Tycoon: 9
Diamant: 8

1 comment:

  1. Railroad Tycoon:

    Wow. I'm really quite impressed. Checking it against my "Perfect Game" criteria (linked in the sidebar)...

    PLAYING TIME: 2 hours - good. Probably quicker with more experienced players.
    PLAYER LIMIT: 2-6 perfect - looks like it would scale well.
    DOWNTIME: Not a lot of downtime, or at least not notable downtime.
    BUILDING: Lots.
    CONFLICT: Yes.
    NOT TOO RANDOM: No - except for the Railroad card draws, and even then you can bid for turn order.
    SOCIAL INTERACTION: Not as much as in other games, but certainly present.
    LEADER REWARDS: Not great in this category, aside from the fact that your profit each turn diminishes as your VPs go up. Minor issue.
    VICTORY CONDITIONS: Visible track; also secret goals.
    THEME/FEEL: Excellent!
    REPLAYABILITY: With randomly distributed goods, appears to be eminently replayable.

    This game scores well in almost every single criteria that I have for the perfect game.

    The "runaway leader" possibility is the only drawback I can see at the moment with this game. We'll see how it progresses with future plays.

    So far, this game comes closer in my estimation than any other game than Puerto Rico and Power Grid. Pretty amazing.


    Fun little bit of fluff. Not something I'd buy, except to play with kids, but a good filler or warm up game.