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Age of Steam Expansion: Sun / London» Forums » Reviews

Subject: AoS Sun Review rss

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Ted Alspach
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Disclaimer: Through my company, Bezier Games, I’m publishing JC’s Sun and London maps. Of course, the reason I’m publishing them is because I thought both maps were of exceptional quality, and both deserved wider audiences who would appreciate a higher-quality experience than would be available with a print-and-play mapset. As a result, this review is focused squarely on the playing experience and rule changes on my personal favorite of the two maps: Sun. While the theme is certainly unique and adds some reasoning behind some of the rule changes and mechanics, this review will actually focus squarely on the mechanics themselves.

Age of Steam: Sun has by far the most unique Age of Steam rule changes in a map to date. The two primary rule changes create a dynamic, ever-changing set of delivery routes that constantly require you to reevaluate your position and options throughout the game.

The first thing you’ll notice when you set out the map is that it’s a little…barren. Just a whole mess of yellow and orange hexes, arranged in a rounded diamond shape. No towns, no cities, no terrain, no rivers or water, just yellow and orange hexes. There’s also a big ole “sun” logo (which has an oft-used, undocumented purpose besides reminding you throughout the game which map it is you’re playing) and a set of six actions to choose from (which deviate slightly from the original Age of Steam set, removing Production entirely). In addition to the map, you also get a custom playing mat, necessary because of a share track that goes to 25, an oversized production chart for the “new cities” only (5 spots for each), and a unique Links track that allows for increased capacity (more than one delivery per move action) of your locomotive.

Setup involves placing all eight new cities on the orange hexes, leaving at least three empty hexes between each placed city, and placing five goods cubes on each city. Shares are only worth $4, and while you get two shares worth of income, that’s only $4 to start. This should be your first hint that things will be a little tighter than your average Age of Steam map…and it’s only going to get worse as the game goes on…
As the game starts, you’ll want to keep in mind that while you can build any number of track tiles in a turn (dependent on various restrictions), they cost $3 each…so connecting any of the cities you just placed will cost at least $9, more than you start with. Not taking out shares on the first turn probably isn’t a realistic strategy as a result.

Many of the actions have been modified: Engineering now provides two free track tiles during the track building phase. Instead of Urbanization (remember, all the new cities are already on the map), you’ve got Restationing, which allows you to pick up and move an existing city and pop it down on top of another town (as long as that town isn’t adjacent to a city). This can create dicey situations for players who were depending on the city for deliveries to stay solvent; fortunately the goods cubes remain (as well as a $25 marker effectively making the city “dead” in terms of future deliveries) behind when the city is restationed. The biggest action change, however, is Locomotive, which allows you to increase either your links or your capacity (according to the links chart on the playing mat) for one delivery. Increasing capacity provides a way to deliver more than one cube along a single route, allowing you to potentially double your income for a delivery. This tends to be the more common use of this action, since it’s temporary and tends to result in a bigger income gain than a one-time increase of Links Size.

Of course, you always have the option of “permanently” increasing links size or capacity in lieu of delivering a good once per delivery phase. However, increasing capacity for a certain size train doesn’t “stick” when you increase size in a future turn; capacity is always reset to 1 when you increase size. The best time to do this is when you have a six train, as you can get a permanent “6/2” train at that point, providing each delivery with the option of delivering up to two cubes along a single six-segment track (with a possible total of 24 income in one turn!!). The reality of increasing Capacity, however, due to the restriction of delivering along the same route, is a couple of extra income each turn (and one less cube for the other players to deliver!).

Back to the restationing action: if there aren’t any towns on the map, how can you move cities to towns using this action? Ah ha. Herein lies the most critical of the rule changes: the creation of towns. Towns are created any time track is upgrade by other track crossing it; instead of a standard “x” crossing tile, it turns into a four-spoke town, for example. You can create towns anywhere…and you’ll create a lot of them during a game, especially when you have five or six players. Creating a town not only provides a potential location for a new city (as long as it isn’t adjacent to an existing city), but it also adds another segment to your deliveries. Have a four train but only a bunch of three deliveries? Just build a track through your route, and suddenly you have a four delivery! This of course has the ability to work against you…if you have two great four deliveries ready to go, one of your opponents could create a town along the route, giving you five deliveries, which of course are totally useless if you have a four train and were completely dependent on getting that 8 income.

As goods are delivered, they’re replaced by the deliverer with a cube to either the originating or destination city (his choice) from the top of that column in the production chart, and a new random cube is immediately placed on the bottom of the column. As a result, there’s no goods growth phase, and no production action. And there will always be 40 cubes on the board, even if you’re the last to deliver goods in a turn.

There is a definite lack of predictability with Sun thanks to the combo of restationing and dynamic town creation that will require you to over-estimate how much money you’ll need when taking shares. Building last is often more useful than building first as a result. There’s also a potential A/P issue, though you really can’t plan more than a single turn ahead (and even then, you have to make an awful lot of assumptions). Restationing is often used to hurt another player instead of just helping yourself; if you can manage to do both at once you’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment.

For me, the dynamic town creation is incredibly compelling; I really like the idea that I can directly control (at least for a short time) the number of links between two cities. Sun is a very unique Age of Steam gaming experience.
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