I should have reviewed 504 a while ago but each time I sat down to write about it someone suggested we play another World and the review went by the wayside for another day. Then there were the rumblings from some of my gaming group who have associations with the games retail trade that 504 wasn’t selling as hoped/expected and that put some of them off from wanting to play it for quite some time – it took a number of games with other players, lots of pressing and some cajoling before they would play, and then once they had played one World they wanted to play another then another.
In keeping with Friedemann Friese's "Green" policy, the box is bathed in 50(4) shades of green. I can see where the artist was coming from, as they say, with the box art, but to be honest it is about as inspiring and mouth-watering as a juicy red steak is to a vegan. There is nothing nice one can think to say about the box other than it is sturdy and large enough to contain all the pieces once punched out and put into bags without bulging. Even the back cover is insipid and uninteresting but thankfully one doesn't actually play the box.
Basically 504 looks intimidating as it has a box filled to the brim with components, amazing flip-book of Worlds, full A4 page of FAQ, Errata (9 x Rules errors and 6 xWorlds Book errors - all minor but significant, and truly understandable considering the task of writing the rules for so many games and keeping them simplistic and brief), and 32 page rules book; yet despite its frightening appearance it is a true work of gaming artmanship. For 504 Friedemann Friese has pulled out all the stops and then some. If, like us, you thought 2Fs “Copycat” was the ultimate in Friedemann’s game designs then 504 will blow you away.
I obtained 504 at Spiel Essen 2015 and have been playing it on and off ever since. I still haven’t played every variation and I doubt many players have, it is as near endless a board game as possible.
There are 504 Worlds created by a flip book that is made up of 24 flip pages and 2 static pages (inside front cover and inside back cover) and one set of basic rules. However the basic rules are amended for every possibility and every flip of a page is a new module and thus another possibility.
The 24 pages are made up of one page cut into three and bound spiral style to allow ease of use. You simply flip to the chosen module and read the top section for the rules amendments including moving the trolley and game end scoring. The second section has more about the trolley and movement and also outlines your income possibilities and finally part three again continues with the trolley and movement and includes any special additions.
If there is anything about 504 that I would change, it’s the double-sided playing area map, and that is only because it is a paper map and thus with all the use it gets it doesn’t have the required longevity.
To put it simply, 504 is a game of collecting and delivering trade goods (aka Cargo). To begin with it is advisable to turn to pages 4 & 5 in the Rules book and play through the “First Game” which should take 3-5 turns with each player completing the same number of turns. Players have control of various cities on the board as well as Residents and a Transport Trolley which begins slowly but depending how much money is spent on upgrades they become faster, plus they can also be expanded to carry more goods and be more profitable.
Playing through the First World Game is like playing the tutorial of an online game. It teaches you the basics, such as obtaining and using Privilege cards, and how to play in a quick but substantial manner. It also introduces you to the end game mechanic (23 goods delivered in total amongst all the players) and the simplified final scoring.
Once you have mastered the First Game (ie you have played it through once – it isn’t anywhere near as tough as it looks) just turn the page for the General Rules which give you the complete total basics (total generals sounded weird) for the next 503 games. These two pages, 6 & 7, are what you need to know – then once you select a module by flipping the cards in the Worlds book you simply apply these General Rules to the amendments for the specific and particular World you have chosen. Yes, each World is different and there are way too many to go through each and every one of them here, so suffice it to say that although there are obvious similarities in each game of 504 the differences are enough to make every game seem like a new game rather than simply a variation.
Although pages 6 & 7 are less than full (just over one and a half pages) they expand what you have learned from the preceding pages quite considerably, but it is still of value, even if you are an experienced board gamer, (unless you are experienced at 504 of course) to play through the Basics. If nothing else it makes the transition to the full rules so much smoother.
Most of the games are played using Active Residents (the player’s worker pawns/meeples), in fact the rules gives 7.3% as the number of games not using Active Residents and all of the Worlds use a map. Maps are detailed in the Book of Worlds (the flip page book) and created using tiles positioned accordingly on one or the other (never both at the same time) of the paper game board.
As already stated, 504, is a system around which 504 game modules have been constructed. The first game and probably your first few games will probably be using the device mechanic for Collect and Deliver style games. Once you are happy with the basic and general rules though you can branch out into several different game genres while still maintaining the core academic rules. Other genres include Races, Production, Exploring and Financial but these are only a few of the game types available.
It is quite an amazing feat of achievement by Friedemann Friese to have developed such a unique and yet quite simply brilliant system of so many games in one box. When I was a youngster we would get a box of games called a “Compendium of Games” and it would have several similar looking race tracks printed on cheap n cheerful cardboard a few plastic tiddly-wink counters and a poorly made cube with dots on to represent a die; occasionally this was replaced by a hexagonal piece of card in which you had to thrust a matchstick through its centre and then spin it to obtain a result. If that was a Compendium of Games, then 504 is a Compendium of Meganificent games.
504 is not only a mega-marvel of a boxload of games it is also fun! and for me that is what defines the playability of a game, whether it is or not FUN! Sure I like to see bags and bags of shiny pieces, glossy cards, oodles of colour and components sculpted in wood or plastic, but if you put all that into a box you must also add that special ingredient, the Fun Factor!
Well done, sir! You "get it"...
Stephen M. Buonocore