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Subject: Review of Continental Divide: Eagle-Gryphon Games Version rss

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Wystan Benbow
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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the Eagle-Gryphon Games (EGG) version of this game in exchange for providing this review. Please note that I already owned the Winsome Games version and had already Kickstarted the EGG version prior to my review being solicited.

Overview:
Continental Divide is in many senses a classic railroad game set in the Western half of the United States. Here players use cash to acquire stocks in various railroads, manipulate the value of those stocks and the income (dividends) generated by them by expanding the track owned by each railroad from East to West, and then after some number of rounds compare the value of their portfolios to determine the winner. Naturally there are a great many details that differentiate Continental Divide from other railroad games, and I am reviewing the Eagle-Gryphon Games version which will be released in ~Fall 2016. A limited, minimalist version was previously available from Winsome Games. I believe there are no rules changes in the new version, and as far as I can tell the map is functionally identical. For those familiar with the Winsome Games catalog, this game is a clear member of the “Cube Rails” series. I have played Continental Divide five times.

Game Play:
The complete, ~4-page rulebook can be downloaded here:
http://www.eggrules.com/app/download/9983203/ContinentalDivi...

In brief: The game is played over eight turns, and at the end of the game the player with the most victory points wins.

Each player starts with a player-count dependent amount of money. On each turn a player may purchase a single share of stock from a new company or any number from an existing company. If starting a new company, the player must determine the minimum stock price and how many shares of that company's stock will exist. All funds used to purchase stock go into the company's treasury. After the potential stock purchase, the player then expands the track for as many companies as they wish to, so long as they own a plurality of the shares in that company (i.e. are tied for at least the most shares). The cost of purchasing track is paid out of the company treasury. Purchased track is marked by placing cubes of the company’s color into the appropriate hexes (and adjacent to prior placed cubes), and each placed cube generally increases the company’s overall income and minimum stock price. The supply of each company's cubes are very limited, but can grow depending on westward expansion. After each player has taken a turn, dividends are paid out for each existing company (to players and to company treasuries - if unsold shares exists), and then if appropriate, a new round begins after players select the next-round’s turn order (in reverse player order). At the end of the game, all leftover money is worthless and each share is worth some number of victory points (anywhere from 0 to 7). Points are awarded based on how far West one expands (companies start in the East), whether one connects to a Western port, and if all the company’s shares sell out.

Components:
The long-since complete Kickstarter page has some images: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2002188924/continental-...

EGG have done a very nice job of producing Continental Divide. I find the artwork / graphic design both pleasing and fully functional. The professional production will clearly help me bring this to the table more often than my old Winsome clamshell version (which many non-connoisseurs think is a prototype and dismiss quickly).

The game box is probably perfectly done. It is the standard rectangle (~12.5” x ~9” x ~2”), albeit mercifully thinner than most games, having eliminated effectively all the unnecessary space. The linen finish box comes with a custom, reasonable quality plastic insert for the game and a clear plastic cover to hold the components in place when traveling or storing vertically. The box top even has notches to ease in opening.

The game board is a 6-panel (i.e. 5 folds) single-sided matte-finish printing. Earth tones are used for the game board, and the various hexes are color coded to help convey cost / income information. The board contains a lot of information within each hex and a number of fan productions exist to assist with this, so some may have wished for a less pretty / more functional production, but I find the balance appropriate. That said, one of my main critiques of the production is that I have a little bit of trouble reading the fonts on the cost / income within each hex & wish a bolder font had been chosen. The EGG map is smaller than the Winsome version.

The 80 stock certificates, and 12 turn-order cards, are ~2.5 inch by ~3.5 inch playing cards with professional graphic design. The cards have reasonable thickness and a visible (albeit not tactile) linen finish.

The 288 railroad cubes are all bagged by color and have earth tones to match the map. A second critique I have is that in low-light levels, I cannot distinguish the brown & purple cubes, nor the black and blue cubes. I also wish a single larger cube of each company had been provided to track each company’s current stock price.

In terms of differences in components from the Winsome version (aside from obvious production values): Each company has a thick cardboard charter which can hold its track cubes, outstanding stock shares, and its treasury. In addition, the game comes with a standard pack of EGG paper money (although I suspect many of us will still use poker chips).

Game Play:
As with nearly all Winsome games, the actual rules for Continental Divide are very simple. Of course, playing the game well is an entirely different matter. Indeed, the game play would be best described as challenging and unforgiving. I do find I need to ensure newbies get through Round 1 without a catastrophe, because you can make a fatal mistake. Although there are only 8 rounds, and each round you only have one turn, it takes about 1.5 (with normal players) to 2 hours (with AP prone folks) to play. It takes this long as there are so many choices to be made on each turn. Do I form a partnership with someone & if so, whom? Do I go for points, income, high/low-cost shares? Or do I instead start a new company? Or is this the round I save my cash to buy a better stock next round? If a new company, do I make its shares low-cost and hence easy buy in, but also meaning the treasury is underfunded (low-income) unless someone helps, or high-cost and the opposite. How many shares do I issue (more funds, but diluting income, possibly reducing points at the end)? Do I expand to get early income, or focus on getting west quickly and freeing up cubes? Do I dominate a company or have equal balance so others might expand? How do I get across the impenetrable Rockies and get to a port? Do I have enough cubes? No really, do I have enough cubes? Argh….

I guess my point is that although in each turn you only potentially do two things: buy stock & build track, there are a lot of questions on how you do this, and many, many ways to answer them. I am not sure any one answer is perfect, so each game plays very differently. There is absolutely no luck involved outside of the initial turn-order draw, so the end result is really dependent on your choices - noting that your partners may make less than optimal decisions unless you convince them otherwise. My friends all wanted me to note that each company is very cube tight, so it is very easy to make mistakes; even a single cube is extremely important.

Recommendations:
On the BGG scale, I rate this game a 9. It is an excellent game and I always want to play it. I am admittedly a fan of Winsome games and own every one of their titles, so I am probably predisposed to enjoying Continental Divide. I think if you like railroad games or stock-based games, you will have a similar opinion. A word of caution is appropriate here, as with all Winsome Games, in that Continental Divide is full of low-level mathematics. While nothing is complex: every turn you have to do a lot of arithmetic, and at the end of each round there is a lot of division. This probably means that it isn’t the greatest late-night experience, and folks who are math-averse should probably avoid as you simply cannot avoid the calculations.

I particularly enjoy Continental Divide because the strategy is somewhat opaque. Every time I play this game, I end up thinking about it for a few hours afterwards wondering how I could have done better, and how I would attack it next time. In that sense it is a solid puzzle / experience, and it has not worn out its welcome after 5 plays. I have won without completely understanding why for a little while, and lost because of non-transparent mistakes or the lack of a single dollar at the right moment. If you are a fan of Winsome Games, or the “Cube Rails” series, I think this is definitely a game for you. It is my second favorite (after Wabash Cannonball / Chicago Express) of the Cube Rails series. I am delighted to have the upgraded version and for those contemplating making the upgrade, I think you won’t be disappointed with the quality (you should of course look at the map images online first).

For those not used to Winsome Games or railroad games in general, Continental Divide is a nice game of emerging / disintegrating partnerships and a nice introduction to the genre. The Cube Rails concept employed here is clever as one does not need to draw on maps or place tiles / sticks, rather one simply places a cube in a hex and one can then expand into an adjacent hex. I note that unlike many railroad games, Continental Divide does not feature auctions. In this sense it is more beginner friendly than most railroad games, including Wabash Cannonball, so it might perhaps be a nicer entry into the genre and the rules only take about 10 minutes to teach.
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Eric Flood
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The heatmap is the largest selling point for me on an upgrade, but from the images in the kickstarter it appears it doesn't really have a color gradient from 4 to 8. Is that accurate?
 
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Wystan Benbow
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blueatheart wrote:
The heatmap is the largest selling point for me on an upgrade, but from the images in the kickstarter it appears it doesn't really have a color gradient from 4 to 8. Is that accurate?


Hi Eric,

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the review. That is accurate. Indeed many of the higher cost hexes in the plains (e.g. 12) are also the exact same color as the 4's & 8's.

My general impression is that the map is somewhat color coded by its effects on income. Here, all hexes (i.e. cities) that change the income at least 4 are called out in some way, but those with effects from 0 to 2 are not.

Otherwise the color coding appears to be generally related to geography (i.e. the mountains are brown, with perhaps "steep" mountains being browner). The desert is also shaded differently. The map does correlate geography with cost (& income), so the colors do help, but it isn't a perfect match. I often find myself starting to construct a route & then realize something like "Uh oh, that hex costs 20" or "Oh, that route is a poor generator of income" and have to start again.

So I'd say the map coloring conveys some of the biggest picture things for game play (targets / major obstacles), but not a lot of the micro stuff, which could speed things up in terms of game-play (finding the best routes).

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Wystan


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Eric Flood
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Ah, that's too bad. I still heartily second the recommendation of the game - I think it is in my top 5 games (and the best Winsome) of the '10s. Glad you're getting games out in MA still and hope the family is doing well.
 
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Paul Rubin
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Thanks for putting together a good review. I was hesitant about this game as I am not a fan of heavier stock manipulation railroad games such as Baltimore & Ohio (and the 18xx genre). I do like Chicago Express and American Rails (similar to Chicago Express but considered by some an 'improved' version of the CE mechanics). Age of Steam is my favorite heavy train game.

But, after reading your review, this does look like a game I'd enjoy.

If you find yourself short of players for a railroad game, I am just down the road a ways in Lexington.
 
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phunlvr wrote:

Disclaimer: On each turn a player may purchase a single share of stock, either from an existing company, or from a new one.


Α player may purchase one or more stocks from an existing railroad.
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Luke Hector
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Chicago Express bored me to tears as does every 18XX game out there. Yet I have to review this game and just reading the rules is making me fall asleep. Luckily I have a mate who adores the genre who will play this with me in a heartbeat so I can have a laugh with him, but the look of this thing is really not shouting to me certainly not a 9 rating or one I'll spend hours thinking about afterwards!

I really cant see this taking 90-120 minutes to play though. 8 turns and 2 actions to choose from? There's only so long you can think about whether to buy, build or join another player as you're not going to be that accurate with future predictions as you don't know what other players will do. I guess I'll find out more when I play it, but it's going to be a LONG night!!
 
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Wystan Benbow
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Friedrich wrote:
phunlvr wrote:

Disclaimer: On each turn a player may purchase a single share of stock, either from an existing company, or from a new one.


Α player may purchase one or more stocks from an existing railroad.


Good catch & I have edited the text above.
 
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