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Subject: short review with session notes rss

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My weekly gaming group tried Steel Driver out this weekend, and quite enjoyed it. We are generally Martin Wallace fans, and came in with high expectations -- and Steel Driver did not disappoint.

There are 6 railroads in the game. Each round, players are given 6 cubes with which to bid on one share of one of the 6 railroads. Whatever you bid goes to the treasury for that railroad. So if you bid on a railroad, the amount of your bid is generally also the amount the railroad can spend on laying track. If you leave cubes unspent on a round in which you control a railroad, you will leave it for the next round of bidders to exploit.

My first impression was to bid high -- the full 6 cubes -- because the railroad can then lay more track that turn and score you some points. But if you hold some cubes back, you'll have more to bid with next turn. If you hold the most back, you'll be the kingmaker next round and have your choice of railroads to pick from. We had one player who was the last to bid on round one, so he bid only 2 cubes -- enough to build one segment of track on the east coast. He was not only able to outbid everyone else next round -- he was able to KEEP some cubes in hand through the rest of the game and snatch prized railroads for rounds to come.

I found it helpful to keep one cube back if possible, so as to outbid "most" of the other players, but also to not fall far behind in track scoring.

With the bidding done, players take turns laying track. Their railroad spends cubes to do so, and the player scores some points. There are competing strategies in laying track. One is to try to be the one who lays the last bit of track that links east-to-west coasts. This player earns a nice bonus immediately, but so do all the players who control all the other railroads that form the shortest transcontinental route. In our game, 4 players got that secondary bonus. It is nice to have, but not necessarily the coup de grace.

Another track strategy is to isolate some of the most sought-after hubs. End-of-game scoring relies on having a mix of different color train hubs in the hands of railroads whose shares you own. There are lots of black and white hubs, a few gold and grays, very few reds, etc. Each railroad will use the colors they control to build sets of different colors, and the value of a set goes up exponentially with the number of colors in it. So you want the railroads you dominate to gain control of the rarer colors first.

I worked pretty hard to isolate one of the 3 red hubs, and then just generally connect my main railroad with as many of the other colors as I could. In focusing like this, I ended up losing some of the track wars, track-scoring opportunities, etc. I also focused on rebuying my favored railroad the first few rounds, which is risky. My most-favored railroad ended up with the best mix of hubs, paying off a handsome $130/share at games end, which made my 3 shares worth a lot. But if that railroad had been blocked better by the other players, I might have been stuck with a dud while they took their more diversified stock holdings to victory.

You can also isolate other railroads, particularly in New England. In our game, the isolated railroad ended up being a pretty good buy because it did have one of the 3 red hubs, so it was a hot ticket on the last round.

In the end-game, each railroad is linked with the player that owns the most shares. That player directs that railroad as all 6 of them grab the hubs one-by-one in turn to build the aforementioned color sets. While it is nice to control one of the railroads, it is hardly necessary -- whoever is the controller will try to get the best results, so even if you are a minority shareholder you will get the best price your shares can win.

Each player should end up with 5 shares, as there are 5 rounds in the game. It is not clear to me if you are allowed to bid on multiple shares in one round. We played that you were allowed, but none of us actually pulled off the purchase of 2 shares in one round. I ended up with 3 shares of the railroad I started building and 2 minority shares of others. So I was one of the hub-pickers at end-game, and quickly secured the rarer hubs first. As I said, this boosted my share price and brought me to a tie for first.

The tie-breaker was the number of hubs under your control, and the other guy beat me by one. Incidentally, he was also the one who finished the transcontinental link, so clearly the bonus he earned in doing so put him in the winner's circle, but only just barely.

The game forces you to watch what every single other player is doing -- someone else's railroad this turn might be yours next turn. It makes you plan ahead to gain shares in the railroads that will hold the best portfolios at end-game. And on the last round or two, you have a final bit of track-scoring to do just to stay competitive. Multiple strategies, many ways to hitch a ride on the success of other players and leapfrog ahead, and many ways to have your strategy turn into disaster as other players interfere.

It's a great game with simple enough mechanics and smooth flow. I look forward to playing it again.
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David Debien
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Glad you enjoyed it. Steel Driver is one of my favorites as well. FYI, the # of cubes you receive each round depends on the number of players with the amount going up for fewer players.


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john guthrie
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weird, my game group played Steel Driver for the first time this weekend too.

oh wait...
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David Debien
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grafpoo wrote:
weird, my game group played Steel Driver for the first time this weekend too.

oh wait...


Try it again with 4 or 5. Much better when that opportunity to win multiple auctions in a round is a real possibility.
 
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john guthrie
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casualgod wrote:
grafpoo wrote:
weird, my game group played Steel Driver for the first time this weekend too.

oh wait...


Try it again with 4 or 5. Much better when that opportunity to win multiple auctions in a round is a real possibility.


Sorry, that was an inside joke. Ixnay is in my game group. I forgot that when I first posted.

Anyway, I thought it was fine with 6, but yeah, with fewer players the companies wouldn't all just go to a single player most times.

Of course, we were all drinking, except the guy who won. I wonder if there's a link...
 
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David Debien
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grafpoo wrote:
casualgod wrote:
grafpoo wrote:
weird, my game group played Steel Driver for the first time this weekend too.

oh wait...


Try it again with 4 or 5. Much better when that opportunity to win multiple auctions in a round is a real possibility.


Sorry, that was an inside joke. Ixnay is in my game group. I forgot that when I first posted.

Anyway, I thought it was fine with 6, but yeah, with fewer players the companies wouldn't all just go to a single player most times.

Of course, we were all drinking, except the guy who won. I wonder if there's a link...


Doubt it. I usually drink during SD and my win ratio is pretty solid.
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David Gibbs
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ixnay 3000 wrote:

One is to try to be the one who lays the last bit of track that links east-to-west coasts. This player earns a nice bonus immediately, but so do all the players who control all the other railroads that form the shortest transcontinental route. In our game, 4 players got that secondary bonus. It is nice to have, but not necessarily the coup de grace.


It is highly unusual for 4 railways (and, therefor, 4 players) to share the secondary bonus. That would mean that 5 (of the 6) railways are involved in the link bonus. You may have interpreted the rules on this one incorrectly... did you remember to try and pick the route that used the fewest number of different railway companies (e.g. fewest companies) as the primary choice for which railways to involve?

ixnay 3000 wrote:

Each player should end up with 5 shares, as there are 5 rounds in the game. It is not clear to me if you are allowed to bid on multiple shares in one round. We played that you were allowed, but none of us actually pulled off the purchase of 2 shares in one round.


It is definitely the case that a player may win control of multiple railways in the same turn. In a 6-player game this is not likely, but in a 5 or fewer player game, this is common and the normal state of affairs.

I think, actually, this makes the game more interesting with fewer players, because you get more interesting trade-offs between diversification and specialization -- one very valuable share, or two lesser-value shares?

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