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Subject: A gamer's game: clever, fresh, but play with the right crowd rss

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Christopher Rao
United States
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Q:When I say "lawyer" what pops into your head? A:Someone who designs games about penguins." - Dormammu
GAME REVIEW CHECKLIST (in descending order of importance)

"How many and how compelling are the decisions you make per minute?"

The rules are simple, the decisions tense. Like Medieval Merchant (an underrated game), otU manages to squeeze nearly infinite possibilities out of a fixed map.
- Analysis Paralysis/Downtime?
Having passengers move every single turn has a great way of 1) keeping everyone looking at the board every turn, keeping everyone interested, and 2) making you constantly recalibrate your short-, medium-, and long-term goals; 3) reducing analysis paralysis, by creating a way, nearly every turn to get a point or two - the pull to not be shut out is very strong.

Still, the nearly endless array of possible moves means that I will keep this game away from at least some gamers I know - for fear that little wisps of smoke will come out of their ears before they are ready to play. To be clear, I don't think it's a game flaw, just a friends flaw

ouT gets a 9 b/c like other great games, it packs real depth - multiple victory trajectories, short/medium/long term planning, risk vs. reward, in a fairly short time frame.

"How intuitive, elegant and flowing are the moves that bring your tactics to life?"

Having 2 lines to work with, of slightly different lengths (15 vs. 20), is genius. It lets you plan far out. It's remarkable how much can take place so quickly every single turn(laying track, figuring out where passenger moves, awarding points, playing new destination card or cards, moving new destination markers).

I will point out that 2 friends complained that it was too difficult to sort out which route the passenger would take. I completely disagree, but there you have it!

The scoring chart is just about perfect, allowing you balance all your options, rewarding risk just right, creating replay opportunities, etc. Well done!

The only real complaint is that it while it's no Roads & Boats, it is quite fiddly. And the one possible suggestion I have - to put pennies on the stations that have already been visited, to reduce memorization - would actually make it much more fiddly than it is.

"To what degree does it facilitate a rich social experience?"

There are plenty of ways to effect the games of other players, but no real coopetition (as Clippers features to good effect) and no direct negotiations (which would, in fairness, just delay the game). Like many "brain burn" games, much of the dialog is in your head ("You think that's a good move!" "Why yes, you got any better ideas!" "No, I just like to taunt you," etc.), but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The same can be said for Thurn and Taxis.

"How fresh and unique are the strategy, mechanics and theme?"

This is another one of those games that contain nothing breathtakingly original, but put the pieces together in a clean, tight, nifty package.

Or is it? Com e to think of it, the passenger route-choosing formula is nifty (and must have been really difficult to perfect; I tried designing a similar mechanic for a game once and ultimately gave up in frustration and chose something completely deterministic).

And the way that new station cards come out each turn to make you re-think your future plans is pretty darn cool. There are just not many games that successfullykeep enticing you back to the board every turn with new random cards (Saint Petersburg and Die Macher are 2 other examples of this).

Finally, using 2 colors of track may not be unique, but feels very fresh to me, like an evolutionary jump from the multi-color lines of Clippers.

Beasdale, in a beautifully crafted and restrained response to an uninformed thoughtless comment talks about why he made the game. It's worth repeating:
And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that there was no system which did the Underground, or indeed, metro systems in general, justice. In particular, none satisfied all of the following:

a) Caring about which lines were connected to which. When you're travelling in a city, it's crucial what lines connect to which. However, the majority of train lines only care about connections when someone else blocks you.

b) Had building lines as the central mechanism. 'Ticket to Ride', 'Union Pacific', et al are great games, but the building lines always felt secondary to the main mechanic - collecting sets in TTR, share dealing in UP, and so on.

c) Had a system that could be changed so that the resulting game board actually like the Underground. This is a personal thing, but I really like building up something that looks like the real rail network.

- What's the freshest part of the game?
Well, there's the supercool 8-fold board, which none of us had ever seen before. More seriously, the way that the station cards speed up play and keep you interested is truly elegant. And the scoring mechanisms are , dare I say, worthy of Mr. Beasdale's mentor, Reiner Knizia.

5. AMBIENCE 6/10
"How much do the theme, aesthetics and bits add the overall experience?"

The board and bits are functional, not beautiful. The station cards are thankfully very helpfu[/i]l to those, like I, who rarely Mind The Gap. Again, the main concern here is that it's a bit fiddly. In theory, this isn't a big problem; in practice, in my gaming groups, fiddly games just have a harder time getting out of the box and onto the table.

"Who would love this game?"

Well it certainly isn't Ticket to Ride, as others have pointed out before me. The one part that is like TTR (and Railways of the World) is the tension of getting shut out of cities (stations) and even whole sections of the board. For me, this is a key reason to play route-building games!

I myself prefer it to Through the Desert, but admittedly that may be because I'm very color-blind and TTD is just not the game for you if you have a hard time distinguishing between various pastel colors.

People who are frustrated by friends suffering from analysis paralysis should play this game together and complain about their slow-moving friends behind their respective backs.

People who think Modern Art is too fiddly wouldn't like it

- Does it hit a sweet spot? Which one?
Yes! otU is a route-building game with more depth than Ticket to Ride or Through the Desert and less than 1830: Railways & Robber Barons. One cool thing about it is that it is just route-building, not stocks, not sets, not nuthin' else.

In terms of length and depth of play, I would say that as La Città is to Catan, as Caylus is toPuerto Rico, otU is to Thurn and Taxis. It reminds me of, but is a little deeper than another underrated game, Elfenland.

One thing that does actually remind me of Caylus is the nagging feeling that you really ought to play on a particular spot, but there are other places just a little bit better - and so you wait too long, and someone beats you to the spot.

- Luck (&Chaos) : Player Control
I think that the game does a great job of generating randomness that can be calculated and planned for and as such is not mere luck. Moreover, when you get hosed (and you will), it doesn't feel chaotic but more that you just miscalculated a bit.

What Beasdale has done, and done well, is to take superior elements of route-building games by Alan Moon and Knizia and added a very Knizia-like ingenious scoring system. The details may not suit everyone (some of our group are so-so on it), but every single detail is thought through to a T (which is only funny if you ever lived in Boston ).

Edit: To be clear, I don't mean that Beasdale is using the scoring system from the game Ingenious, just a very clever Knizia-like scoring system.
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Craig Blumer
United States
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Re: A gamer's game: clever, fresh, but play with the right c
Thanks much for your review. From the review, I feel like I am able to make some good decisions about whether to get OtU. I've read previous posting as you developed your game rate elements and I found them very helpful in this circumstance.
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Sam Desatoff
United States
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As a fellow colorblind person, I appreciate this review. Well done.
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