We played a game of AoS last night using the China map. Wow, by about the 3rd turn I wasn't so much worried about winning as staying solvent. Man is this an expensive map, but we had a lot of fun with it, even though Dave D. absolutely kicked our collective butts. The China map comes with an AoS expansion produced by the Steam Brothers.
The six players and our experience levels were:
Dave D - 3rd play
Mike - 2nd play
Jeff - 2nd play
Dave S - first play
Eric - First play
Ross - 2nd play
I'm sure we could have played a friendlier map for new players, but with AoS friendly is really a relative term, especially when you have 6 players. I guess if you want lots of room and plenty of money play Railroad Tycoon, as AoS is about tight money, cut-off tracks and tense play.
All in all, I thought all players acquitted themselves quite well, and except for Dave D's breakaway win over the last 2 turns, the rest of us we very close.
For those of you who have not played the China map, there are lot of mountains and lots of rivers. Just to add to the expenses, other than your turn one starting city you have to pay a 'bribe' to build into or out of any city where you do not already have a connection. The amount you pay is equal to the goods production number on the city. You can use the engineer action to cut the bribe amount in half (rounded up). What this means is many of us were paying at least $12 to connect to our first city.
You start with $20 in this game, but only 2 issued shares. I had read other session reports indicating people were issuing 3 shares on turn two, which seemed extreme to me, but that was before I was actually playing.
I will mention a couple of other unique things about China. First, Peking is the only purple city, and will remain so as the purple New City is removed from play. Second, players can make an expensive connection to Russia, but have to build through the Gobi desert and must pay $6 bribes to connect to Russia. Goods can only ship out of Russia, never into Russia. A goods cube is placed in Russia during every production phase, so a nice little stockpile build up there maing it a tempting destination for players building in the northern portion of the map.
I took first player on turn one with a $5 bid. Looking at the map, Hong Kong had 2 blue cubes making a connection to the blue city Chang Sha attractive.Chung King had two red cubes, which could be connected to the red starting city, Hanoi. I took Locomotive as my special action, knowing one of those connections would be open and with a 2-link train I could deliver 2 goods and be at 4 income after turn one. First build went north, towards Peking, so I had my choice. I connected Hong Kong to Chang Sha, via the town Nan Chang. Eric squelched my plans by also building from Hong Kong to Chang Sha. I had made the mistake of coming into Chang Sha from the east, instead of the SE. I have connected in the SE hexside, it would have forced Eric to build a $15 line through 2 mountain hexes or crossover my line for a $14 connection, which might have scared him off. I also could have build out of Chang Sha later to the east towards Shaghai, a city no one built connect to until much later. Chalk one up to inexperience and the poor assumption that players would initially shy away from building into the same cities.
Mike took the Hanoi to Chung King route, so three of us were competing for the southern routes. Ross built out of Tsin Tao, and made a beeline towards Si-An, pretty much uncontested. Dave S and Dave D started in Port Arthur and Wei Hai Wei, and eventually controlled most of the northern half of the map.
The China map has many towns, and those are easily reached from the starting positions, while it is quite costly to reach some of the cities. This resulted in urbanization being the top choice on turns 2 and 3. The bidding for first player was quite spirited with it usually taking around a bid of 7 to get it. I believe it hit 8 one time.
Meanwhile competition for line in the south were fierce with three players there. Every hex around Chang Sha and Chung King soon had track in them. I had to go north of Chung King and do a hard curve to sneak in the northeast hex side. Eric had built before me and had connected to Chung King from Chang Sha and then also connected Chung King to Kwei Yang. This put me in a serious bind and I quickly began crunching numbers in my head to see if I could get to Chung King and ship a good in order to avoid bankruptcy. My 2nd move had resulted in me adding a link to my train, which was now a 3-link. Fortunately, I had first move on turn two and was able to do a 3-link shipment of a red cube from CHung King back to Hong Kong. This gave me just enough money to pay my expenses, which meant I could not add another link to my train in the 2nd goods movement phase, as I could not pay my expenses had I done so. This would come back to haunt me in turns 5 and 6 when I had to use a goods movement phase to add a link to my train and was only able to ship one good in each turn. Ross connected to Si-an, but also had to spend some movement adding links to his train before reaping the benefit of getting to Si-An first.
Dave D and Dave S continued to expand their lines in the north. As much as they would have liked to block one or the other off, there were just too many towns that can be connected to for that to happen, and both soon had lines into Peking.
My money situation was serious, even issuing 3 shares a turn, so I bowed out of the bidding and ended up as the 6th player. This allowed Mike and Eric to connect to Si-An and Cheng Tu, leaving me no exit from Chung King. Fortunately, new goods had been added to Chung King and Chung Sha, so I did no building on turn 3, but I was still able to ship two goods. This finally got me out of danger on the money front.
On turn 4 I finallly got urbanization and used it to create a black new city at Wuhan, and I build track from Shanghai to Wuhan, via Nanking. Shaghai had two black cubes. The only problem was these were 2-link shipments, while others, especially Dave D, was starting to make 4-link shipments. By turn 5 Dave had connected to many towns and was able to take long zig-zag routes to really boost his income. Dave S was heading to Russia where he planned to ship yellow cubes all the way to Harbin, a 5-link shipment. Mike was witing patiently for white ones to be rolled during good production, as all three cubes on the chart for Hanoi were blue and he had a connection to the blue city Chung Sha. Not a single one was rolled for the first three turns. On turn 4, a couple came up. Several other cities had no goods left to replenish and the Production special ability was looking better all the time.
Let me say this as well, in a 6-player game the Turn Order special action was very effective. I believe whoever had that was almost always able to get 2nd, sometimes third position, without having to bid any money at all.
On turn 5 and 6 Dave D was able to do all shipments of 4 or 5 links, and I think 3 of the shipments were 5's. This really pushed him out to a big lead. Others had to use part of their movements to add links to their trains before they could make the long shipments. I connected Wuhan to Nan Chang and was able to complete a 4 and 5 shipment myself, but only one of each.
I did not right down the final scores, but I definitely recall Dave had a score of 72, which has to be an excellent score on the China map with 6 players. Dave also had the most links, just adding to his lead.
I believe the scores were something like:
Dave D - 72
Ross - 40
Dave S - 37
Jeff - 35
Mike - 33
Eric - 25
If any of you guys read this and can provide correct scores please jump in.
Money is always tight in AoS and the higher costs in China makes for a very tight and tense game with 6 players. This was only my second play, but Age of Steam has already become one of my favorite games. It is a brain-burner deluxe. Some of the longest delays in the game happened as players decided how many shares they wanted to issue. The delays didn't bother me as I was usually calculating possible routes and determining what my plan A, B and C would be, as well as trying to calculate how much I could bid, still build track and pay my expenses. You also have to factor in what you can ship, and if there was a chance another player may ship a good before you got to it.
AoS is a great game for those who like heavy games, and I found the China map was also very enjoyable. It would still produce a tight game with 5 players, whereas it's probably not tight enough for 3 players.
I'm looking forward to other expansions from the Steam Brothers in Canada.
Very good session report. Hope you'll have the chance to try the other maps from this expansion kit soon. You seem to have a great group to be able to play China with 6 players. We'll keep you informed about the next Steambrothers maps and we should have good news for you very soon.
Care to give us any information on your upcoming release? I can' wait!