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New South Wales
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Synopsis: You are a shipyard in the 19th Century, trying to meet the burgeoning demands of the expansion of naval power, both for corporate and military procurement. As a manufacturer, you will need to build and outfit ships, hire employees for your construction, and test your ships on the canals.
To win, you must garner the most amount of points, with most of your points earned for ships you manage to launch and test. A constructed ship will have a certain amount of speed, which you will send down a canal you’ve rented. For each marked objective it passes over in this test, you will score certain features on the ship. Additionally, when the game ends, there are end-of-game scoring systems through government contracts.
On your turn, you choose an available action from the action track, which functions rather like a rondel system. At the start of your next turn, your previous selection moves to the front of the line as you pick a different action. This rolling system of advancement makes the rondel more dynamic. Most of these actions also interact with other rondel subsystems, where you move a pawn around a wheel to determine exactly how to execute a given action.
A large number of your actions resolve around collecting ship tiles, including bows, mid pieces, and sterns. Upon collection, you can arrange them in your construction bay in any order. However, if at the end of your turn, your ship is complete (at least one bow, mid-piece, and stern) it launches for a shakedown cruise in the canal. As part of this, you can mount particular pieces of equipment and crew on the ship as part of launch.
You will perform this for several laps around the main rondel, as the game ends when an action tile reaches the starting point after a set number of rounds.
Commentary: Despite this game coming out exactly at around the time I got into gaming, it flew entirely under my radar. Largely I decided to follow it up because I kept seeing it being returned to the table time and again for various hobbyist gamers and other reviewers. In particular, Tiffany Caires’ gushing love for this meant my interest was piqued enough to hunt down a copy. So here we are.
This game is crunchy, and the best way I can describe it is wheels within wheels. Your main rondel is obviously the core driver of activity, but the particular sub-systems means your activity can spin off in various directions at any given time. So much of the game is about picking your time and place to perform particular actions. In some ways, it can feel like watching the heavens turn until the stars line up exactly right.
You are caught between the tensions of finding the right spot and leveraging it for all its worth against forecasting and methodical planning. These are almost counter-intuitive to each other as one is very strategic and the other is tactical. Shipyard’s success is at least partly attributable to the way it merges these elements seamlessly. The fun of this game is navigating those competing tensions to the best of your ability.
I was also surprised at how comparatively short this game ran, even with learning time. There was the feel the game could have played out for much longer at the end game, but by point people’s engines were already chugging along fine and the disparity in points would only have diverged farther apart. This meant the game climaxes exactly at its apogee, which is usually the sign of good design.
Verdict: If you’re looking for a great example of a pre-gaming renaissance, but masterful systemic games, you won’t go wrong with this. It was a sign of things to come in my opinion.