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Subject: Hope, Expectation and, Ultimately, Disappointment rss

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David G. Cox Esq.
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20th Century Limited



A Train Game for 3-5 Players
Designed by Jeff & Carla Horger
Published by Rio Grande Games (2015)




I know that you should, in a perfect world, play a game more than once before writing a review of it. I suspect that I will never play the game again so I have to settle with a single play to form my opinions.

The game is highly rated and has many positive comments. If I have misunderstood some aspect of the game I hope someone can explain to me what I am missing as I really want to like the game – I just can’t. I think some of the designers’ previous games are brilliant and this has added to my level of disappointment with 20th Century Limited.

I have lots of different reasons to feel disappointment. It is easiest to start with the superficial and comment on the physical appearance and components.




Components
Let’s start with a positive – the rulebook is nicely printed.

There are problems with the box. It has a lot of white area and the paper is non-glossy. It picks up a lot of dirt and was looking ‘grubby’ even when still in shrink-wrap. The board is made from the same non-gloss paper. I think the box and board will both look very shabby and worn with only a small amount of use.

The board has a hexagonal grid with cities on many of the junctions between hex corners. The printing of city names is tiny and extremely difficult to read. The cards have the same problem – the names of cities are tiny and difficult to read. As a matter of interest, this is my 250th review and I believe that this is the first time I have used the word “tiny” to describe a component.



The green wooden components come in two quite different shades of green. I don’t know why RGG has done this. Apparently it is true of all the games published. It does not affect gameplay at all, but it feels tacky. If I bought a new car that had three doors matching and a fourth door a distinctly different shade of the same colour I would not accept it. It would reflect poorly upon the manufacturer – even if they used non-reflective paint (that is a joke, by the way!).


Game Play
The rules of the game are well written and easy to understand. During play you have a lot of options regarding the strategy that you choose to use.

The object of the game is to score points and there are four ways to do that.

1. Bonus Cards – at the start of the game three Bonus Cards are randomly selected. They give points for being the first person to achieve specific goals related to laying track;
2. Regional Cards – each player, during the game, will select up to 8 Regional Cards. You will score between 0-100 points based on how many cards you successfully complete. As soon as one player has completed all 8 the game will end;
3. Company Cards – each player, during the game, will select up to 8 Company Cards. You will score between 8-62 points for EACH card you complete. As soon as one player has completed all 8 the game will end;
4. Entry Waiver Tokens – these tokens allow you to use other people’s track. Each token you have at the end of the game is worth 1 point.

During a player’s turn they choose between one of two options:
1. Place 1-3 pieces of your track on the board;
2. Remove 1-3 pieces of your track from the board.

In addition you may do one of the following:
a) Score one regional card – and leave all track on the board;
b) Score one company card – and remove all of the player’s track used to score from the board;
c) Discard a company card from your hand and draw a replacement;
d) Skip an era.

At this point you need to know something about the cards.

Regional Cards – regional cards show three cities from a particular region. You want to connect them to score points at the end. What is significant is that your track remains on the board after completing the card.

Company Cards – these are very different from the Regional Cards. They show between 3 and 6 cities. For some companies you may only need four pieces of track to complete the card. For large companies, such as the Canadian Pacific, you may need at least 26 pieces of track to complete the ticket. More importantly, after scoring the Company Card you remove the tracks used to complete the card from the board. This is rather important for two reasons. In the first place, you only have 35 track segments and it is quite likely you will need to recycle some pieces as the game progresses. More importantly, you would like to have some synergy in your cards so that track you use to score Regional Cards can later be used to also score Company Cards.




Maths & Strategy

When I played the game it felt chaotic and it didn’t feel that there was a great deal of meaningful interaction between players. After about 30 minutes I decided that it was basically a race game and the way to win was to focus on small Company Cards and just try to finish 8 companies as quickly as I could. In the process I was able to pick up two of the three bonus cards and was able to complete 4 Regional Cards. This meant that I won fairly comfortably from the others who had been focussing on a balance between Regional and Company Cards and were also interested in the more valuable/larger Company Cards.

To complete 8 small Company Cards requires the placement of 32 pieces of track, taking 11 turns and scoring 64 points. To complete the Canadian Pacific requires the placement of 26 pieces of track, taking 9 turns and scoring 62 points. I am fairly confident that as you are concentrating on the small company cards you can pick up at least 1 bonus Cards and complete two or three of the Regional Cards. You may even be able to finish your 8 companies a little quicker by using the Entry Wavier Tokens to use track belonging to other players.




Comparisons with Ticket to Ride and TransAmerica.

I discovered 20th Century Limited accidentally as I was scanning the BGG pages. It grabbed my attention by the theme, the high rating, the design team and the positive reviews and comments comparing it to Ticket to Ride and TransAmerica. I think that any similarities between 20th Century Limited and the other two games is very superficial.

TransAmerica is a very simple and elegant game. It is highly interactive as all tracks are used by all players. What other players are doing and using tracks already laid are crucial to success in the game. TA also uses a hexagonal grid upon which track is laid, just as in 20CL. TA doesn’t not feel chaotic and is highly interactive.

Ticket to Ride is also a very simple and elegant game. Long-term planning and constructing is one of the central elements of the game. It is highly interactive as you need to be aware of which parts of your plan are most susceptible to being blocked by other players and selecting cards to be able to respond quickly where some parts of your plan are threatened.

20th Century Limited has a fairly simple set of rules but I find it lacks elegance and it lacks interaction. I found playing the game to be chaotic – part of this was struggling with the small print on the map and the cards. I found that I was continually looking at the cards I had in my hand – six cards (2 Regional and 4 Company) – the cards on display (4 company cards) and I found that the amount of data I was trying to process to achieve some semblance of synergy was overwhelming. I thought the board was cluttered and my mind was cluttered. If I want to think this hard about a railway game I would much prefer Age of Steam, Railways of the World, Baltimore & Ohio or 18xx. If I want a simpler game I would much prefer something like Chicago Express which, again, has the elegance and simplicity that 20CL lacks.

I think that one of the things that appeals about most train-type games is that they involve a certain amount of long-term planning. You are building your tracks with a long-term goal in mind. In 20thCL you remove track after scoring a Company Card. This seems to seriously detract from a feeling of long-term planning.

So, I know lots of people love this game. I don’t. I find it fiddly and not much fun. It feels very abstract – the theme does not fit as nicely as with T2R and TA. It is not as pretty as it could have been and feels very cluttered.

This game does not push the buttons I want pushed by a train game.





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Nat Levan
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Very helpful review. I've been looking at this because it feels a bit like the Mayfair crayon rails games (Empire Builder et. al.) But it sounds more like a more fiddly Ticket to Ride. If you've played Empire Builder, can you compare them at all?
 
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mfl134
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You didn't find high interaction using eachother's tracks?
 
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David G. Cox Esq.
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mfl134 wrote:
You didn't find high interaction using eachother's tracks?
Not really. It felt, to me, very much like multiplayer solitaire.

The focus was on completing tracks quickly. It really felt more like a puzzle than a game.

 
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David G. Cox Esq.
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Sivilized wrote:
Very helpful review. I've been looking at this because it feels a bit like the Mayfair crayon rails games (Empire Builder et. al.) But it sounds more like a more fiddly Ticket to Ride. If you've played Empire Builder, can you compare them at all?
The map feels very cluttered. I haven't played Empire Builder enough to make a comparison. Again, it felt very chaotic.

 
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Jeff Horger
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I will say you make it seem awfully easy to actually get and play the small routes. I enjoy the balanced strategy but I will pluck the small routes up and discard them later to keep them from the speed players. Your opponents were not experienced enough to keep you from getting those cards.

We have recognized the issues with the board text (small) and piece size (large) and will be fixing it on The Orient Express sequel next year.

I cannot fault you at all for your conclusions though I do know that good play of the game requires a bit more experience. You clearly found the "path of least resistance" strategy.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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Thank you for your reply.

I must admit that I saw the benefits of small companies quicker than my opponents and was The only player trying to be quick and nasty.

I must admit I like my games to be pretty.

We also found we were struging keeping track of locations on our cards and that detracted from game enjoyment.

I really like Manoeuvre and Thunder Alley and will keep my ears open for your next design.

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