Friday, August 7, 2009
Age of Steam- A Real Train Game
I created the category of "trains" as part of the Ticket to Ride review and since then I've felt pretty guilty about not providing any more train game reviews. Let's do a train game review.
I can't say I have the details straight but apparently Age of Steam is a game mired in copyright issues and controversy. That being said it's also known as one of the best train games ever. I was a little let down by Ticket to Ride, which seemed like a abstract game with a rail theme. Age of Steam, on the other hand, seems like The game for train lovers everywhere.
The basic premise of Age of Steam is that the players all run small train companies and compete to see who can expand and develop their companies best. This may involve building tracks, improving locomotives, moving freight, and managing sticks and loans. In order to win a player has to choose which task to address first and how to balance expenses and revenue. Clearly this is a game for the older kids.
A given turn has several important phases. Players may issue shares in their company. These raise money but nothing comes for free and there'll be interest to pay later on. Then players compete for special abilities or powers which they will use to build their company. Examples include "Locomotive," which allows you to upgrade your engine. The "Engineer" ability allows you to lay more track upon the map. Players have to weigh how much they want to pay for a given ability. It may deliver a big advantage, or leave them broke if they bid too much.
After abilities are doled out the players go through a process of laying down track upon a board, moving freight, and then receiving income and paying off interest. The board depicts the Ohio valley and over the course of the game rail track will be laid between cities and new cities will appear. Of note, expansion boards offer you the chance to lay track anywhere from Vermont to the moon!
Certain aspects of Age of Steam are pretty familiar. Race For the Galaxy has a similar mechanism in which players choose a different ability each turn in order to reap some benefit. Perhaps because I'm fond of RftG I find this game mechanic to be appealing and a source of great fun and variety. Do you risk money to lay more track or save money and just take whatever ability comes your way? The idea of raising funds through shares but then paying the interest later is exciting as well. Will your investment pay off or leave you being chased by angry shareholders?
The track-laying and city building dynamics are not uncommon in modern board games. It's always fun to watch maps being developed over time. I also like the rules for moving goods which include paying to use other people's tracks. Smart players try and connect certain cities that need certain goods and then specialize. Speaking of moving good, there are some fairly detailed rules regarding sales, taxes, and where goods may appear. Again, this is a game for older members of the family.
In theory any game is a collection of math equations which may simulate reality to a greater or lesser degree. Chess may be less "realistic," and SeeKrieg (look it up sometime) much more so. I like Age of Steam because it seems just "realistic" enough for me. More so than Ticket to Ride but not excessively so. I think it would be far to complex for younger children and possibly kind of uninteresting to some, but for a player who finds trains and company building interesting this should be a big hit.
Pros: great system, lots of tough choices and nail biting
Cons: not for the little kids, potentially dry subject matter
Beyond the Basics: endless numbers of expansions and extra maps