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AoS Empirical Strategy Guide: w/ links to Move-by-Move Session Reports
Pierce Ostrander
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Hello!

In June of 2008 I started playing Age of Steam by email using VASSAL. Simultaneously, I started producing move-by-move pictorial session reports. The inspiration for these detailed session reports were the "Series Replays" that appeared periodically in Avalon Hill's The General Magazine. They were very popular among their readership back in the day.

This geeklist provides an index to all of those session reports in one place. I hope you enjoy them.

In addition, I'm using this space to comment on what I have learned over the corse of these 12 games. Call it an empirical-strategy-guide-by-proxy or "The Education of Fubar Awol".

My AoS background: When I started playing AoS on VASSAL in June, 2008 I had about a dozen sessions under my belt. Those sessions were played at a casual pace over a 3-year period and were mostly on the original the "Rust Belt" map. Since the sessions were widely spaced over time, I really didn't have much of an opportunity to improve. So at the beggining of this, I was pretty much a novice.

What is chronicled here is my transformation from a novice player into a journeyman. I'm certainly not an expert, but I'd love to play one in a movie. : )

As you will see, I learn everything the hard way....

NOTE: I'd love to see a strategy discussion started here or appended to the individual sessions, so feel free to comment!

2011 UPDATE: In Summer of 2011 I went to the World Boardgaming Championships and Played in the Age of Steam Tornament.

Much to my own delight, I made it to the final! Here is a photo of me with the other three players who were in the final game: Three of the "Steam Brothers" - French Canadians all. Let's call it continuing education.



Enjoy!

Foob
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1. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: Barbados / St. Lucia [Average Rating:7.34 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.34 Unranked]
Pierce Ostrander
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Session 1: St. Lucia (July 28, 2008)

Players (2): Fubar Awol, Demarryl

Victory: Fubar

The AoS: St. Lucia move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/328995

Comments:

St. Lucia is a great little 2-player map. It is the best one that I have played (but I have not played Austria yet). I’m glad they included it in the 3rd edition reprint of the game, because without it Age of Steam doesn’t really work very well with 2 players. Bravo to the new publishers on that one.

Lesson #1: I forgot (if you can believe it) that track segments built by each player count toward victory points. Don’t for get that. : ) I also forgot that incomplete segments don't count toward VP.

I also learned that Demarryl (my opponent) is a wily scoundrel and in my opinion, a “natural” when it comes to intuitively grasping games. He has an extraordinary mind for these things… especially games like Age of Steam and his new favorite: Container. His wife is even more amazing.

Lesson #2: The “Urbanization” action (or role choice, as we have come to call it) can be used both offensively and defensively – see the session report for details… I spend a good part of the session worried that the action will be used defensively against me – something that I obsess about in future sessions as well.

As I define it, the “defensive” use of urbanization is to place a city in the middle of your opponents network to reduce the number of victory points that he can obtain by shipping cubes over his network, rather than using it to expand your own shipping options in your own network (which I call "offensive" use). Another point: it is very difficutl to defend against another player using urbanization against you if you are dependant on black cubes for your goods shipments. Reason: there are 4 black cities to urbanize, which means other players have more opportunity to build one into the middle of your network to screw you up.

Since there are no cities on the St. Lucia map at the beginning of the game, the map puts the spotlight on Action/Role Choice “Urbanization”.

Lesson #3: The Auction: timing. Some say that the game is won and lost is during the auctions that occur at the beginning of each turn to determine turn order and order of role choice. With only 2 players St. Lucia has a unique auction mechanic that emphasizes timing: looking ahead at least a turn in order to think about when you can "hang back" and not bid aggressively and when you should "go for it": issue a lot of shares and fight! The latter doesn't apply to St. Lucia, but emerges in multi-player sessions in a more sophisticated way.

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2. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: Jamaica / Puerto Rico [Average Rating:6.99 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.99 Unranked]
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Session report #2: Puerto Rico (Aug 5, 2008)

Players (1): Fubar Awol

Victory?: Fubar?

The AoS: Puerto Rico move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/330778

Comments:

The Puerto Rico Map is a “solo” Age of Steam Map.

When I played it, I enjoyed it and at the end of the session report I state that “I’ll play it again”. However, I never have. Solo play (of any game) is not really my cup of tea. I used this sesson to refine my method of recording games. I was bored… I needed something to do and was all hyped-up about my recent game with Demarryl.

Lesson #1: Solo play is a fun little puzzle, if you are into puzzles.

Lesson #2: If you play solo, how do you know if you won? If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear, does it make any sound? : )

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3. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion #3: Scandinavia and Korea [Average Rating:7.84 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.84 Unranked]
Pierce Ostrander
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Session report #3: Scandinavia Aug 13, 2008

Players (3): Fubar Awol, Demarryl and Tim Mewmaw (no BBG id!)

Victory: Fubar

The AoS: Scandinavia move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/2551749

Comments:

Scandinavia is touted as a 3-player map. I think it is o.k. but not great.

Lesson #1: If you can take a big risk early in the game and get away with it, it really sets you up for later. I did that in this game. On the first turn, Demarryl could have used his “Ferry” action to ship away my one an only turn 1 shipment. He didn’t, and as a result I ended up winning in a runaway-victory. Demarryl has never let that happen again. From this I have learned that such high-stakes gambles can work with newbies or among friends who don't want to knock each other out of the game on the first turn... but it really isn't a strategy that you want to implement as a primary game plan. Also, I believe that such risks have a higher likelyhood of success in sessions with few number of players.

Lesson #2: is a corollary to Lesson #1. If someone hangs their butt out there on the first turn in hopes of setting themselves up for a bright future, spank them! (note: Demarryl learned from his mistake – see session report #13 (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/431947) where I try the same thing again with completely different results… preview: I get spanked!).

Lesson #3: 3-player maps are really hard for desingers to design well. Scandinavia was fun but in retrospect, ultimately fails as a 3-player map for me – primarily because of the new special action: Ferry.

BTW - Karl Rainer , provided neutral commentary on this session report. Thanks again Karl!

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4. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: 1830's Pennsylvania / Northern California [Average Rating:7.92 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.92 Unranked]
Pierce Ostrander
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Session report #4: Northern California (Sept 11, 2008)

Players (4) : Fubar Awol, Demarryl, Rockusultimus and Cparrott.

Victory: Demarryl

The AoS: Northern California move-by-move session report can be found here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/339918

Comments:

Northern California is touted as an “experts only” map. I agree. Very tight, but really fun if you are into tension. It’s perfect with 4 players.

This is the first game where Demarryl and I found Costas and Chuck, two great guys and fanatic Age of Steam Players who love to play on-line. The four of us form the core of our little band of brothers… Age of Steam VASSAL fanactics!

Lesson #1: I guess that sometimes it can be o.k. to find a corner of the map that no one is messing around and play your game there alone, but most of the time, it doesn’t lead to victory. Besides, it can be a little boring and preprogrammed.

Lesson #2: Unless the cube-set makes it completely insane to do so: BUILD IN THE CENTER OF THE MAP! Age of Steam rewards those with the most options. Being in the middle of everything tends to give you a lot of options. So, If you don’t know where to start your network, take a hard look at the center of the board… it is usually a good place to start.

Lesson #3: The needs of other players can really, really hose you up. Age of Steam is a game where understanding which role choices are most needed by the other players (and most likely to be picked by them) is critical to success. Don’t get into a bidding war when the role you need is one that no one else is likely to pick! Also, don’t get into a bidding war with someone else who ABSOLULTY MUST have the role that you'd like to get. You may lose the bidding war and will very likely lose the game.

Lesson #4: Is a correlary to lession #3 - If you ABSOLUTLY MUST have a role on a particular turn and there is any possibility that another player will take it, then pay the bid and get it.

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5. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: China / South America [Average Rating:7.83 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.83 Unranked]
Pierce Ostrander
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Session report #5: China (Oct 20, 2008)

Players (4) : Fubar Awol, Demarryl, Rockusultimus and Cparrott.

Victory: Demarryl

The AoS: China move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/348996

Comments:

Lesson #1: was a reinforcement of my lesson from last game… don’t build in a corner where you will be insulated from competition but only have a few options. One of the things that will help you win at Age of Steam is to maximize your options. Demarryl build into the center again, went to war and came out on top. Besides, playing in a corner is boring.

Lesson #2: My second lesson this game was equally important but less obvious from reading the session report.

There is a point at which every novice Age of Steam player looks up from the details of playing the game and starts to see the big picture. In the previous session and also to a greater extent in this one, I started to do that.

The key thing to realize is when you are looking at an unbuilt map before the game begins you ought to be looking for the 4, 5 and 6-link shipments… not the 2s and 3s. Yes, you will probably need a FEW 2s and 3s early in the game, but I’m no longer surprised at how many of these short shipments go un-shipped as the game progresses… especially with more experienced players.

Playing again with a first-time players (see the France and the first Rust Belt session reports below) will reemphasize this point. Watch a novice and you will see him setting up too-many too-short shipments and not enough long ones. In most games the winner will make only ONE shipment that is 1 or 2 links long and ONE other shipment for 3 links. The rest of his shipments will be 4+. That's just the way it is most of the time, so don't focus on the short stuff.

Getting to the point where you can look at a board and “see” a longer-term build path that will yield you 4 and 5 value shipments by turns 3 or 4 is the key to starting to play the game with the end-game in mind. Note that I am writing these comments after I have played the first 12 of the sessions on this list, so when I first started to do this is hard to pinpoint; but by now it has become second-nature for me. See the Ireland map session or the Rust belt session for examples of this. By then, I’m taking it for granted that setting yourself up for longer shipments is the objective of winners from turn zero.

Lesson #3: In this one I ran into the “not enough money” problem again, like I did on the Northern California map – I was out of shares to issue and I had turns where I didn’t have enough cash to build. There’s a lesson there, I think. However, some maps are just expensive and avoiding a cash-poor mid-game is almost impossible… China seems to be one of them. On the China map I chose to build in an expensive area of the map. That can be fatal unless you forgo paying a lot of money to win auctions.


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6. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: Washington DC and The Berlin Wall [Average Rating:7.73 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.73 Unranked]
Pierce Ostrander
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Session report #6: - Berlin Wall (Nov 13, 2008)

Players (4) : Fubar Awol, Demarryl, Rockusultimus and Cparrott.

Victory: Fubar

The AoS: Berlin Wall move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/355407

Comments:

Belin Wall is a good variant map. The wall adds a very interesting twist to "basic" Age of Steam. Also interesting is that the normal number of builds is not 3 hexes of track, but only two. However, the map is very small and two seems to work well. I thought I wasn't going to like it, but I did.

Lesson #1: Demarryl is a low down cube-poaching weasel!

Lesson #2: All other things being equal, build in the center of the board. Mentioned before, but in this game I finally do it myself rather than watching someone else do it. Of course, on this map it so small that it is hard to avoid building in the center except that I was the first to build there in a productive way and was alone in being able to ship through the center until after the wall fell. (see session report for details).

Lesson #3: Close games are a lot more fun than game with a runaway leader. This one was a nail-biter.


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7. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: Chile, Egypt and CCCP [Average Rating:7.28 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.28 Unranked]
Pierce Ostrander
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Session report #7: Chile (Feb 5, 2009)

Players (5): Fubar Awol, Demarryl, Rockusultimus, Cparrott and Nabla

Victory: Fubar

The AoS: Chile move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/378523

Comments:

Shortly after I posted the Northern California session report I was contacted by Alban Viard, on of the more active Age of Steam Map designers. He wanted us to play one of his maps… and he wanted to join us for the game! So we decided on a 5-player game on Alban’s Chile Map.

Lesson #1: When someone goes bankrupt early in the game, it can really throw the whole thing in the crapper. Suddenly, one of the remaining players has no (or much less) competition. I guess the “game adjustment” that needs to take place is that the other players need to figure out who the advantaged player is and go after them! In this game, I ended up with the advantage and the other players tried but couldn’t quite stop me from capitalizing on Costa's bankruptcy. Demarryl tried, but it was too little, to late.

Lesson #2: When a map has special rules, use them! In this case it was pretty obvious – yellow cubes (gold) are of especially high value. On other maps, it’s less obvious how the special rules for the map can be used to your advantage. They are usually there for a reason. Try to take advantage of them if you can. See my play on the Ireland Map and the red players (Punkster) play on the France map for examples.


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8. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: Montréal Métro [Average Rating:8.27 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.27 Unranked]
Pierce Ostrander
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#8 – Montreal Metro (Feb 4, 2009)

Players (3): Fubar Awol, Rockusultimus and Punkzter.

Victory: Fubar

The AoS: Montreal Metro move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/378125

Comments:

Lesson #1: Building track in a loop is always good. Building in "figure 8's" or adding cut-offs into your loops is even better! On this map, that is what I do and it gives me a tremendous number of option when it comes to shipping cubes for long distances.

Lesson #2: It's always good to set yourself up with an abundance of shipments - two ways to do this are to build in loops and to build in the center of the board.

Once again, I build into the center of the map and win.

It's very difficult to make a good 3-player map, but Montreal Metro is clearly sucessful. It does something opposit of what the "convention" is for Age of Steam roles: almost every role is a good choice most of the time. Often, the goal of designers is to devalue a role or two in order to make 3rd place in the auction a bad outcome.

The map designer (Michael Webb) provides neutral commentary in this session, it was a fantastic addition to the player's commentary (Thanks Michael!).


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9. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion #1: England & Ireland [Average Rating:8.08 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.08 Unranked]
Pierce Ostrander
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#9 – Ireland (March 3, 2009)

Players (3): Fubar Awol, Rockusultimus and Punkzter.

Victory: Fubar

The AoS: Ireland move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/386301

Comments:

Ireland is a much-touted map... I think primarily because it is hard to get (out of print). The deurbanization concept is interesting and makes the map very tight and very tough. In this game I felt like I took the "early big gamble". The other players let me get away with it and I end up running away with the game. I hammered poor Punkster with an early-game deurbanization... brutal!

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10. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: Washington DC and The Berlin Wall [Average Rating:7.73 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.73 Unranked]
Pierce Ostrander
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Savannah
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#10 – Washington, D.C. (March 30, 2009)

Players (4): Fubar Awol, Rockusultimus, Cparrott and Nabla

Victory: Fubar

The AoS: Washington, D.C. move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/394111

Comments:

Loops are always good. The other players letting me complete mine and it made the game for me. I "slum lorded" on the first turn, built in the center and went on to win.

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11. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion #4: France and Italy [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
Pierce Ostrander
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#11 – France April 19, 2009

Players (4) Fubar Awol, Punkzter, Crashcart and Gesa.

France is too crowded with 4 players, but I'm not sure it would work well with 3.

Victory: Crashcart

The Age of Steam: France move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/399888

Comments:

In this game Punkster makes very extensive use of the special rule that prohibits bankruptcy, to no avail.

Lesson #1: I guess I'll bring this up here but it applies to all the games: be careful what color of cities that you build into your network. On the France map, Paris is a multi-color city and therefore acts as a "stop" in you network for 4 different colors of cubes. Therefore, it's almost a necessity to build it as and end-point to your network. In other games it is important if you are going to set yourself up for long late-game shipments NOT to build in a way that brings all colors of cities into your network - the point being that (for example) in order to ship a black cube the length of your network, you need to have no black cities in the middle of it.



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12. Board Game: Age of Steam [Average Rating:7.73 Overall Rank:60]
Pierce Ostrander
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#12 - Rust Belt (July 31, 2009)

Players (4) Fubar Awol, Rockusultimus, Punkzter and Raiderjakk

Victory: Fubar

The Age of Steam: Rust Belt move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/429664

Comments:

This 4-player game is on the basic AoS map that comes in the original box.

Many of the "lessons" or principles of good play that are outlined above are on display in this session. This session illustrates:

1) the positive impact of being able to sucessfully predict what your opponents will (and will not!) do

2) the value of planning for longer mid and late-game shipments before you lay your first track (the Green and Teal Player do it, the Red and Yellow player seem not to).

3) The importance of the center of the board

4) That the winning players will ship VERY few cubes for 1, 2 or 3 links. In this game, the winner ships NO cubes for less than 3.

5) the power of the Locomotive Role

6) the use of Urbanization offensively, defensively and poorly (the two edged-sword)

No one really goes for a "slum-lord" strategy here... in fact, all 4 players have issued all 15 shares (the maximum allowed) at game end. That may have been a function of the cube-set... it was a hard situation to get by with a poor network and short shipments. On the other hand, it may have just been a case of group-think.

On Turn 2, Green "goes for it" and issues 4 shares in order to lock in the locomotive role choice. On the same turn, he bids more than his theoretical maxium bid in order to get that role (causing himself to move backward on the income track because he doesn't have enough money to pay expenses at the end of the turn). Both of those approaches are not what the optimizers would tell you is good policy (see Karl Rainer's, excelent series of strategy articles: (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/70148) But in this case, I think the "go for it" decision helps win the game for him.

Such is the "it depends" nature of the game... although you can make statements about what are principles of good play, they don't always win for you.



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13. Board Game: Age of Steam [Average Rating:7.73 Overall Rank:60]
Pierce Ostrander
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Session report #13: Rust Belt (Aug 11, 2009)

Players (6): Fubar Awol, Demarryl, Rockusultimus, Cparrott, Nabla and Punkzter

Victory: Demarryl

The AoS: Rust Belt move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/431947

Comments:

In this session, we try The Rust Belt map with 6 players. I go for a high-risk high-payoff opening build and get spanked... spending the rest of the game just staying solvent. I'll quote Demarryl (the winner) for the lesson of the game:

"If you find yourself in a 6-player Rust Belt game, build in the middle, be conservative on bids, and GET IN THE WAY!"
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14. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: 1830's Pennsylvania / Northern California [Average Rating:7.92 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.92 Unranked]
Pierce Ostrander
United States
Savannah
Georgia
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Session report #14: Northern California (Oct 9, 2009)

Players (4): Fubar Awol, Demarryl, Cparrott, and Punkzter

Victory: Punkzter

The AoS: NorCal move-by-move session report is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/456915

Comments:

In this session I have a "Puerto Rico Moment" with Age of Steam. I have a clear idea of what the other players should be doing to reign in the leader and then they don't do it! A bit frustrating.

In this session the "Income Reduction" rules come into play big-time. They prevent a runaway leader and turn this into a 2-point game. Good outcome.
 
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