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Get Off My Lawn

I've become a grumpy old man when it comes to board games. I find most new games annoy me rather than give me pleasure. <P> In this blog, I'm going to explore what annoys me about games and tell them to "Get Off My Lawn". <P> <SIZE=3>These are not intended to be reviews.</SIZE> <P> Note - the opinions in this blog are Mine. Your tastes will vary.
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Western Link? Should be the Missing Link.

Scott Nicholson
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Sometimes, I'm going to sit in my recliner, pipe in hand, and tell you about some game in the past that got tossed off my lawn.

Today is your lucky day, sonny, as I'm going to tell you a story about Railroad Tycoon.

Railroad Tycoon came out after Age of Steam and used a lot of the same elements. While Age of Steam was a harsh game that sent weaker men crying to their mommas, Railroad Tycoon was an easier game.

I was happy for this idea - I liked Age of Steam, but wanted a good ramping up experience to take people from Candyland to Ride up to something more challenging.

There were several complaints about things in Railroad Tycoon - there was a real problem between Blue and Purple (just like Tulipmania, dammit) and many folks didn't care for the random element that the cards introduced.

But for me, there was one stickler that sent this game away - The Golden Spike that connected East and West, known in this game as the Western Link.

One of my real pet peeves in a game is when the game has a certain level of complexity and detail in the ruleset, and then there's this one rule that ends up being much more complex than it needs to be. Most Martin Wallace games get tossed off my lawn for this problem - there's this nice system, and then some exception or complication that just doesn't fit with the rest.

And why lookie here, Martin Wallace is one of the designers of this game.

Overall, the game rules are easy to teach to people new to complex games. There's not a lot of moving parts, and it's easy to remember what you can do.

Then.. there's the Build Western Link. These are a series of rules related to one space on the board, and it's a space waaaaay on the other side of the world. When you are teaching this game to a new player, this set of rules really confuses what could have been a smooth teaching experience.

"Then there's this Western Link crap. If you build to Kansas City or Des Moines, then you have the ability to take a new action, pay $30,000, and put 4 red cubes there. Then the rules of the game change, but only for this Chicago space, in that whenever you deliver a cube to Chicago from this city, 2 random cubes show up in Chicago."

What? So, we introduce a new action, a new way for cubes to get on the board which has previously been unheard of, and baffle players in this game which was designed as a nice transition from a lighter game to a more complex game.

More importantly, from a design perspective, I ask.. "Why was this needed? What does this add to the game?" In most games I see of Railroad Tycoon, either nobody bothers with the Western Link, or some experienced player tries to make it work out and ends up flailing about.

If you don't tell new players about it, someone typically gets upset because you didn't explain all the rules, and so they give you lots of whine for your cheese. (If you don't like it, then read the rules for yourself, you lazy bastard.)

This massive speed bump in the game got it tossed off my lawn in a hurry.

I have to give credit to the sequel - Rails of Europe - which does not have any of these single-space complexities, so now is a game I use frequently to introduce new players to more complex train games. So, designers can be taught!

So, if you want to stay on my lawn, make sure that your rules are consistently complex. Don't make a game targeting newer players with rules complexities that you would expect to be proceeded by a number like (Gee, can you tell I'm still trying to work through the rules to Republic of Rome?)

Now clear off, you kids. I've got better things to do!
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