We'd only played this once before, on a pre-production copy at Essen 2005. Strangely, we ended up with exactly the same group of people for our first play of a "proper" copy. The components were much as they were in the earlier version, though I have a nagging feeling that one of the rules may have changed making it a little less sneaky than earlier.
With four players, this is played as a partnership game. That's unusual ground for us, as we rarely play such games.
It's themed around a factory, which appears to be active whilst at the same time being constructed. Players take turns to take up to two actions. The first is to play a hex tile from their hand of three. Most of these contain a section of a conveyer belt, with some being blank. Belts are made up of straights, bends and uni-directional junctions. Some tiles also have a symbol which allow sections of the belt to be moved, or players pallets to be shifted around. Each player has one pallet, and these are important for scoring. Vital, in fact, as the only way to score is to manouver a goods crate onto either your or your partners pallet.
Crates come into the game when a tile with a crate symbol is played, and at any time there may be a number of them in play. Moving one of them is the second action that each player takes. Of course, it's quite possible that there may not be any crates in play, in which case this action is skipped. Movement is restrained by the number visible on the crate. The crate must be moved exactly that number of tiles, no more, no less. As a further restriction, it may not move onto or through a hex with another tile. Each crate is double sided, and is flipped after movement is completed. The reason for this is that the number on the the bottom may differ from that on the top.
A turn is completed by drawing a tile to refil your hand. The game ends when a single player has four crates on his pallet, or when the draw pile is empty. Each player then totals the numbers on the top of their crates, and the team with the highest combined score wins the game.
So this is largely a partnership puzzle game. The focus is pretty much on the current turn, as your position may have changed dramatically by your next turn. This is because much of the play revolves around making it difficult for opponents to get crates. This involves moving their pallets to unfavourable spaces, moving conveyer sections to create holes, or surrounding their pallet completely to "lock" it into place. This makes for a very tactical game. With clever play it is sometimes possible to set your partner up to score, but care has to be taken not to leave the opportunity for an opponent to hijack the situation.
In this session, Oggie and Paul managed to open up a lead by getting a couple of early crates onto Oggies pallet. Andy and Tel countered by locking Pauls pallet into an unfavourable spot, effectively preventing him from collecting any more crates. This gave them breathing space to begin to catch up, and indeed to put their opponents onto the back foot. Victory, in fact, seemed to be theirs after Tel spotted an opportunity to move conveyer tiles containing crates into a spot from which the crate could be scored. Paul, however, managed to move a fourth crate onto Oggie's pallet to finish the game before their opponents could take too much advantage of that. The final result was an honourable draw, with seven points to each team.
The game differs from the normal fare, so will no doubt get occasional play. It's not something I see being played regularly though. Partly this is because it's a partnership game, which many in the group aren't fond of. Perhaps a larger part is that tiles which allow the movement of conveyor sections or pallets are much more useful than those without. Especially considering the tactic of moving a conveyer section containing the crate. If one team drawns a disproportional amount of those, they will have a large advantage. This introduces a large slice of luck in what otherwise is quite a celebral game.