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Subject: Session Report, with Asterisks rss

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Joe Gola
United States
Redding
Connecticut
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Session Report, with Asterisks

After a delicious dinner of weisswurst, knackwurst, bauernwurst, smoked bratwurst, and fresh sauerkraut, we settled down to a friendly game of Steel Driver. The players were, in clockwise order, me, Rodrigo (a.k.a. Chris Brennan), Eric (a.k.a. hseldon), and Chrissy. This was my fifth game, Eric and Chrissy had played once before, and Rodrigo was a newbie.

Red and Yellow were put up for bid first and drew large investments from Rodrigo and Chrissy, respectively, since those train lines are the first to build. Rather than spend all my capital on one line, I invested in Green and Brown, and Eric invested in Blue and Gray. Red was started in Los Angeles and extended to San Francisco and then Seattle. Yellow began in Boston and ran a line to New York. Green then built from Baltimore to New York, which meant that Yellow's second build had to be from Boston to Buffalo. Blue staked out the Midwest with a link from St. Louis to Chicago. Gray and Brown squabbled over the South by both building into Atlanta, Brown from Charleston and then Gray from Memphis.

JG
1 Green share
1 Brown share
$110

Rodrigo
1 Yellow share
$90

Eric
1 Gray share
1 Blue share
$160

Chrissy
1 Red share
$90

In round two I forked over a nice big pile of cubes for some more Green stock and expanded its network west, from Baltimore through Chicago to Minneapolis. Rodrigo invested heavily in Brown and picked up Blue as well; Brown built track down South while Blue expanded its presence in the Midwest. Eric bought a Gray share and built a nice profitable link from Richmond to Baltimore. Chrissy picked up Red and another Yellow. Fearful of being trapped in the Northeast with nowhere to go, yellow bolted from Buffalo through Pittsburgh and on to Cincinnati, while Red contented itself to just hit Salt Lake City.

JG
2 Green shares
1 Brown shares
$110 + $120 = $230

Rodrigo
1 Red share
1 Blue share
1 Brown share
$90 + $120 = $210

Eric
1 Blue share
2 Gray shares
$160 + $50 = $210

Chrissy
1 Red share
2 Yellow shares
$90 + $90 = $180

In round three I saw that there was an opportunity to make the transcontinental link, but Rodrigo saw the same thing and outbid me. I decided that I would console myself with a Gray share, as I liked the look of that line. Eric broadened his portfolio with Green and Brown while Chrissy strengthened her position in Red and Yellow. Red built to Denver, where it was met by Blue, triggering a $50 bonus for Blue and a $30 bonus for Green and Red. With its extra capital Blue also connected to Atlanta and Oklahoma City for a total profit of $170. Ugh! I brought Gray down into Charleston and then moved West through Oklahoma City to Amarillo. Green continued to spread throughout the North while Brown dominated the South.

JG
2 Green shares
1 Gray share
1 Brown share
$230 + $80 = $310

Rodrigo
1 Red share
2 Blue shares
1 Brown share
$210 + $170 = $380

Eric
1 Green share
1 Blue share
2 Gray shares
1 Brown share
$210 + $160 = $370

Chrissy
2 Red shares
3 Yellow shares
$180 + $120 = $300

In round four I bid for another Green share and a Yellow as well, while Chrissy joined Eric and I in Gray. Eric decided he liked the look of Brown, while Chris settled for Blue and another Red. This round Brown continued its progress west; otherwise the board saw general expansion with players picking up points where they could. Chrissy did a particularly good job with Gray, earning $80 in profits.

JG
3 Green shares
1 Yellow share
1 Gray share
1 Brown share
$310 + $140 = $450

Rodrigo
2 Red shares
3 Blue shares
1 Brown share
$380 + $70 = $450

Eric
1 Green share
1 Blue share
2 Gray shares
2 Brown shares
$370 + $40 = $410

Chrissy
2 Red shares
3 Yellow shares
1 Gray share
$300 + $80 = $380

In the final round I bid high on Green to send it west to Spokane for the orange cube (seeing as how I had four out of the five shares). Chrissy had a similar idea; she picked up another Gray and brought the line all the way to Los Angeles. Rodrigo bought another Red and Yellow, giving him the majority in the former. Eric took the majority in Brown and picked up a cheap Blue just for laughs.

JG
4 Green shares
1 Yellow share
1 Gray share
1 Brown share
$450 + $60 = $510
Majority Share: Green

Rodrigo
3 Red shares
1 Yellow share
3 Blue shares
1 Brown share
$450 + $80 = $530
Majority Share: Red and Blue

Eric
1 Green share
2 Blue shares
2 Gray shares
3 Brown shares
$410 + $110 = $520
Majority Share: Brown

Chrissy
2 Red shares
3 Yellow shares
2 Gray shares
$380 + $60 = $440
Majority Share: Yellow and Gray (won tie against Eric)



We then began the final scoring phase with the fight for goods cubes. Amazingly, two lines that I had picked as early dogs, Yellow and Brown, ended up doing the best for themselves. Yellow was able to pull a black off of Memphis, giving it a set of four, while Brown took advantage of Yellow's preoccupation and swiped the white from Cincinnati, giving it a foursome as well. Meanwhile, the two big losers were Blue and Gray. Gray's poor showing was a big surprise; despite having a network that spanned the continent and touched four different-colored cities, it finished with a final profit level of only 40. Holy crap!

Final tally:
Brown: 160 (one foursome plus six singles)
Yellow: 130 (one foursome plus one pair)
Green: 120 (one triple, plus some combination of doubles and/or singles)
Red: 110 (one foursome plus one single)
Blue: 70 (probably two pairs plus a single)
Gray: 40 (one pair and a singleton)

Joe: $510 + $810 = $1320
Rodrigo: $530 + $830 = $1360
Eric: $520 + $820 = $1390*
Chrissy: $440 + $690 = $1130

Note the asterisk next to Eric's winning score: this is because $520 and $820 add up to $1340, not $1390, which puts him below Rodrigo. Did he take the wrong change at some point, or did I jot something down wrong in my notes? It's anybody's guess. Foul play is not suspected, however; in fact, I would guess that beer may well be the real culprit somehow.

There was an even bigger problem with our results, however, because after the fact I realized that I had forgotten about a particular rule, which is that a train line does not profit if it links back into a city where it has already connected. I know that this happened twice with the Green line (once was definitely my fault). Meanwhile, either I or Rodrigo brought Yellow into New York a second time, Rodrigo made a loop with Blue, and Eric brought Brown into Atlanta twice. What this means is that everyone except Chrissy got a little extra money during the game, and it also means that the Green, Yellow, Blue and Brown lines would have extended a little further elsewhere, creating more competition for the cubes; for example, instead of looping back on itself, Green could have moved into Omaha, contesting Blue for the white cube there.

What Did I Learn?

1. It seems like it would be good for a line to be situated in the middle of the country, since it is better able to reach both the Northern white cubes and the Southern black ones, but this is not necessarily the case. A network that is smack-dab in the middle of everything will have its cubes picked clean by all the adjoining train lines, whereas the lines on the periphery typically have a store of backwater cubes that are safe from contention. Note that in this game Gray linked to eleven cities and had a final profit of $40, while blue only pulled in $70.

2. Endgame scoring is probably going to make up about 60% of a player's final score.

Final Thoughts

Steel Driver is fun and interesting, but, as many people have said, there is something unintuitive or out-of-whack about the endgame scoring, because things can end up quite differently than players might have imagined mid-game. This leads to an unpalatable feeling that a person could play an intense and carefully thought-out game and still lose, and what's weird about that is that this is the case despite the fact that there are absolutely no random elements.

I am not quite ready to give up on the hope that there is such a thing as good Steel Driver strategy, though, and that a smart player with experience could have a measurably better win-loss average than the aggregate of smart newbies. In particular I'd like to try a game focusing less on short-term gains and more on staking out and defending territory.

I also find the game to be quite entertaining despite the aforementioned weirdness. It doesn't bog down, it has a nice balance between complexity and strategy, and there is lots of player interaction. The icing on the cake is that there is simply a cornucopia of things to think about, from board positioning to turn order timing, and even if I often find myself surprised at the end, I still enjoy the ride.
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Jeremiah Dwyer
United States
Littleton
Colorado
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Really nice, thorough session report (to include your description of a delicious-sounding meal!). I've played this game a few times, and it is quite uncanny how the end game can wind up so unpredictable. The one given seems to be out West, where Red is virtually guaranteed one large set, if played halfway decently. Otherwise, many factors come into play that can be difficult to account for. Still, I've enjoyed playing this game, as it feels like a lot of game for the time you put into it.
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Is Not Geddy Lee
United States
Sandy Hook
Connecticut
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Maybe it was the beer and brats...maybe it was the banker sliding me some extra cash? Maybe it is the true nature of capitalism and therefore part of the game. Odds are, I was well into my cups and math was fuzzy. Or you were well into yours and your notes were fuzzy? Either way, it was a fun game and a good time was had. And some sausages were had.
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