Thursday, June 21, 2007

Age of Steam

I pushed for Age of Steam again this week since we may lose our borrowed copy. My second session did little to alter my feelings about the game, but some of the warts are starting to show themselves. I'll get to that later.

This was a 5-player game. The cube distribution favored long links; I think there were only 6 initially deliverable on our first builds. Perhaps this is typical, but, in my first game, we delivered a lot more before needing to increase our link capabilities. Urbanization became the action du jour. First Move was more valuable than First Build because there was more competition for cube colors than there was for board space.

Age of Steam is a fantastic game. I even raised my rating from a 9 to a 9.5--a spot which it shares with El Grande.

So what are these warts?

One, towns ruin an otherwise elegant system. You not only have to build track to the town, you must add track in the town hex to connect to the smaller circle within. Also, since track built in the town hex counts for VP's, Urbanizing over a town to kill opponents' VP's become viable. This is way too gamey. Towns should just be full gray hexes with no internal tracks.

Two, the rules are not very good. For all his posturing about the rules, "minimum spanning set" diatribes, and his precious not-allowed-online intellectual property, John Bohrer just makes himself look like a fool. For example, the rules for Unfinished Track, Income Reduction, and VP's for track in towns (example notwithstanding) are all arguably unclear. The point of the rules is to teach the game, not to be as "minimal" as possible. And these rules fail on both counts. They are not terrible rules as rules go; they just do not live up to the hype.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Martin Wallace comes up with for Age of Steam 3rd Edition. I'm hoping that all of the above is taken care of. Mayfair should do a good job with the rules, and they will be posted online. I'm also hoping that they do not go overboard with art and/or graphics. The plain style of the original board is very functional, although the scoring/goods boards could use a better treatment.

Age of Steam image by Nodens77


At 12:57 AM, Blogger Lagduf said...

I too am interested to see the newest incarnations of Age of Steam. I've been wanting to play the original for awhile now and i'm still annoyed the rules aren't avaialable online. Oh well.

At 5:21 AM, Blogger Pawnstar said...

Only two warts? They aren't the two usual complaints either. A lot of fuss has been made about income reduction and its inherent screwage, plus the significant possibility of bankruptcy in the early game. The auction also upsets a few people.

I don't find any of these to be a problem. Your two nitpicks are interesting; I've had a go of third edition and I can tell you all these problems (including those I have just mentioned) are dealt with.

I think you will like third edition, based upon your apparent penchant for the analytical; I can't really say much more that hasn't already been said.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Mark Haberman said...

Actually, I really like the town mechanic. Changing it to be like a city would make connections much easier and take away some of the interesting decisions in the game I think.

At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If towns were just colourless cities then the game would be significantly altered...

1) Building through towns means you have to use more track to get there, as you note. (i.e.: smaller board necessary...note how huge the Railroad Tycoon board is, I think a big part of the reason for that is the lack of towns / use of the colourless city scheme)

2) Building through towns costs more money than building up to a city. (i.e.: economy tightens)

3) (Most Importantly) Towns have much more limited access than cities, with only a maximum of 4 exits on the non-Italy maps. With one tile build, it is possible to completely cut off access for the other players, at least temporarily.

Age of Steam is a gamer's game with a lot of gamey type mechanisms. As Anthony mentions, people who have problems with that aspect of the game also often cite the income reduction mechanism, which people can also manipulate to very gamey ends.

I don't disagree that the rules are minimal, but that's just the way Winsome operates, all of their sets are like that. I don't care for the style myself, but it's something you learn to deal with when you like their games.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger ekted said...

Michael, I don't get your #1. The simple change saying "any track built TO a town hex is sufficient to make a link" doesn't change the size of the board at all. As you say it just makes it cheaper (which seem logical).

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It changes the amount of surface on the board that can have track hexes laid upon it, and hence, towns effectively make the board larger.

If you changed the towns into colourless cities, to make the "build 3 pieces of track" base work while still maintaining tightness you would have to increase the size of the board to make it more difficult for people to make multi-link builds in a single round (i.e.: to maintain the present tightness). Perhaps that more clearly illustrates what I'm trying to get at?

At 1:25 PM, Blogger ekted said...

Sure, it might require a tweak to the building rules: extra cost to "touch a town", or 1 link per build, or something. I personally think it should realistically cost more to connect to a city than to a town.

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1 link per build is used in several maps for AoS, Railroad Tycoon, and all of the Early Railroads Series (I'm not sure about Volldampf). AoS is actually the only game in that entire series of revisions that allows multiples, unless Volldampf allows multiples, but I don't think it does.

The colourless town scheme is used in Railroad Tycoon as well, though I think that is a much weaker overall game, at least for gamers. The Italy expansion for AoS also has no towns, though again, I think it's a weak overall map.

None of the ER series have towns, though they do have hub areas that accept no goods which effectively function like colourless cities...though few cities have the full 6 exits that a non-edge, non-water location for a city allows in Age of Steam, which makes them have a smaller impact on the game system than colourless cities would for AoS.

Just some stuff you might want to try if the town thing really bothers you in any case. Of the ER Series, Australian is still available, and is probably the best of the series in terms of control and interesting decisions, though the other two are also solid (I say this about NER only from having played Lancashire, but they have identical rules sets and I have no doubt that I'll like NER just as much as Lancashire).

At 1:15 PM, Blogger Pawnstar said...

cortexbomb: AoS is actually the only game in that entire series of revisions that allows multiples, unless Volldampf allows multiples, but I don't think it does.

Volldampf allows multiple links; players bid for turn order and then take a set of track cards in order - each one allows a link to be built as long as it bears the same coloured shape as the card. Naturally, this limits the nuber of links built to the number of cards. I like the system used as a lighter alternative to AoS.


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