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Subject: The Quintessential Knizia Game rss

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Tony Chen
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Moving locomotives, placing stations, and taking commodity tokens.


All area majority games involve three basic elements: what to score, when to score, and how much to score.

In a typical area majority game, “what to score” is generally majority for one type of presence (power in Smash Up, cubes in El Grande, colonists in Age of Empires 3). Stephensons Rocket is atypical in that majorities are scored for three types of presence, two of which (share and station majorities) are resolved in “areas” that are expanding railway companies, and one of which (commodity majority) is resolved in “areas” that are cities on a map.

Stephensons Rocket is also atypical in that “when to score” and “how much to score” depend largely on player choice. In most area majority games, “when and how much to score” are either fixed events (El Grande, Age of Empires 3), or largely guided by game mechanisms (even though players trigger scoring by drafting the Doge card in San Marco, they have no say in when the Doge card comes out; even though players may adjust how much an area is worth in Scripts and Scribes by winning a specific card through auction, they have no say in when that card is drawn and put up for auction). In Stepensons Rocket, the entire “potential plot” is printed on a map and determined by moving company locomotives, and anyone can move any company locomotive anytime without waiting for a specific card to come up. Players have complete freedom and control over the company locomotives—except for other players’ control over the same!

Specifically, each player takes two actions per turn, and the three possible actions are: move a company locomotive one hex AND gain a share from said company, place a station on any empty hex (not adjacent to a company locomotive or another station), and take a commodity from any white city.

Different aspects of the scoring system are affected by different types of player actions:
Blue: relates to moving a locomotive and gaining a share
Red: relates to placing a station
Yellow: relates to taking a commodity
For end-game scoring, replace the second row with “End game,” and the lower-right-most cell with 6 points.



Moving a company locomotive expands the company’s railway network, gives the acting player a share from said company, and several other things might happen: the railway connects to a station, thereby increasing a player’s station presence in said company; the railway connects to a white city, thereby triggering commodity majority scoring for said city; the railway connects to a black city, thereby triggering station majority scoring for said railway company; the railway connects to another railway, thereby triggering share majority scoring for said railway company; and/or the railway connects to cities (black or white), thereby increasing future points scored for share and station majorities in said railway company. Moreover, another player may lose share/s, because the exact process for moving a company locomotive is that the acting player first proposes where he wants to move the locomotive, then going once around each player has a chance to bid with shares of that company to propose a different hex to move to, with the winning bidder paying his shares back to the company and ultimately deciding where to move the locomotive to.

Someone proposed to move the blue railway to Hertford.


If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that the above doesn’t cover how many points are scored for commodity majority scoring. When a commodity majority scoring is triggered for a white city, a fixed 2 points is gained for having picked up the most commodities tokens from said white city. Also, for all three types of majority scorings, second place also scores half the amount of what the winner scores (rounded down).

Like a typical Knizia game, in Stephensons Rocket the driving force is scripted into a diverse scoring, while the actions themselves are kept as simple and free as possible. There are no drafting mechanism for triggering when an area scores, bidding mechanism for adjusting how much an area scores, or worker-placement mechanism for adding presence into an area. Under minimal constraints, players place stations, pick up commodities, and gain shares by moving locomotives, whenever and wherever they want. How the locomotives move on the map dictates the game, which feels aesthetically pleasing and organic because instead of gaming some mechanism/s serving as a logistical puzzle, players are directly gaming each other, as motivated by the multi-faceted scoring system, which encourages players to cooperate though trade-offs while competing against each other at the same time.

For example, by connecting a railway to a black city, I might help myself score for station majority, and at the same time increase the amount of points scored in future station and share majority scorings.

If another player proposes to move a locomotive around my station, forcing me to give up a share through bidding to make the locomotive move into my station instead, is he hurting or helping me? I’d say both, because I lost a share, but moved a locomotive into my station on someone else’s turn. Why would someone else do that? Because he’ll gain a share, and either prevent adding my station onto the railway or force me to lose a share to do so (possibly consolidating his share majority in that railway). Additionally, the size of the railway network is increased for everybody, increasing the amount of points scored in future station and share majority scorings (a move usually brings the locomotive closer to another city, even if the move itself doesn’t connect to a city immediately).

Similarly, a player can deliberately (propose to) avoid a black city, forcing me to give up a share through bidding to make the locomotive connect to the black city and trigger a station majority scoring for me (assuming I have the most stations in that railway at the moment). I lost a share, but my station majority scoring is triggered on someone else’s turn.

If another players moves a locomotive I’ve been working on, he’s hurting me by competing for share majority, but also helping both of us by increasing the value of said share majority (the larger the network, the more a railway scores for share/station majority).

When a railway connects to another railway, after the share majority scoring is finished, the acting railway is merged into the passive railway. Players trade in shares from the “disappearing” railway for shares in the new, bigger railway at the rate of two for one. New share/station majorities may emerge in the newly merged railway. Generally, a game ends with only one or two railways left on the map, the bigger one connecting to about 20 cities, and the smaller one about 12, for example. At the end of the game, every remaining railway line scores share and station majorities (the presence thereof and amount scored are determined as during the game), and the commodities are scored but instead of comparing presence in each white city, presence in each commodity type (textile, gears, fur, and barrel) is compared, and the majority in each type scores 6 points. As during the game, all second places score half of what the winner scores rounded down. Another type of commodity token that has not been mentioned is the “passenger token,” which is gained everytime a player moves a locomotive into another player’s station, even if the latter paid shares for it! Passenger tokens are not scored during the game, but are scored like other commodity types at the end of the game.

The purple railway merged into the red railway on an earlier action. The brown player and the green player are now tied for station majority in the red railway.


The players are simultaneously working together to grow a railway company, while competing for share majority, while “helping” each other trigger commodity/station/share majority scoring (by making others lose shares of course), while “helping” each other add a station on the railway, while competing for having the most passenger tokens for doing so, and so on.

In summary, Stephensons Rocket takes Acquire, and adds diverse scoring opportunities to make players work together (through “trade-offs”) while competing against each other. With the above scoring to drive the script, Stephensons Rocket simplifies the actions to create a more free and less restricted player-to-player interaction. Much like Modern Art, Tower of Babel, and Tigris and Euphrates.

Out of all the Knizia games, Modern Art is the cleverest, Tigris and Euphrates is the most unique, but Stephensons Rocket is the best “game”. It is more complete than Modern Art, and less strange and less random than Tigris and Euphrates. Stephensons Rocket is the quintessential Knizia masterpiece.

Follow me on Twitter @drunkenkoalaBGG
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Todd Kauk
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Doug Adams
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Todd Kauk wrote:


Best Knizia? Could be one of about 15. I think it's Taj Mahal. Stephensons Rocket is fabulous, I just need to play it a lot more to get better at it.

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Stephensons Rocket is a wonderful game, but requires thoughtful players to really shine. I remember my first two plays being rather uninspired, until it dawned on us that vetoing should occur almost every time a train is moved. Once that realization occurred the game opened up completely.
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Martin G
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While I think Stephenson's Rocket is a wonderful game, I wouldn't call it quintessential Knizia. In fact, I think it's quite an atypical game for him, both in its relative lack of elegance and in its setting.
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Tony Chen
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qwertymartin wrote:
While I think Stephenson's Rocket is a wonderful game, I wouldn't call it quintessential Knizia. In fact, I think it's quite an atypical game for him, both in its relative lack of elegance and in its setting.
I don't think theme matters for a Knizia game, and I heard that Taj Mahal was actually originally themed by Knizia around English aristocrats or something. I still think Stephensons Rocket is simple and elegant compared to other games, albeit not as simple as some of his other games. Do you consider TnE elegant?
 
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Eric
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Knizia in his prime was one bad mutha. People tend to forget what a rock-star designer he was. Sorry for getting all nostalgic. Carry on!
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Christopher Dearlove
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drunkenKOALA wrote:
qwertymartin wrote:
While I think Stephenson's Rocket is a wonderful game, I wouldn't call it quintessential Knizia. In fact, I think it's quite an atypical game for him, both in its relative lack of elegance and in its setting.
I don't think theme matters for a Knizia game,


There you'd be wrong. Theme matters in some (SR for example) less so in others (an example coming up) and not at all in some (simple card games in particular).

Quote:
and I heard that Taj Mahal was actually originally themed by Knizia around English aristocrats or something.


1066 actually.

Quote:
I still think Stephensons Rocket is simple and elegant compared to other games, albeit not as simple as some of his other games. Do you consider TnE elegant?


SR and T&E - and Through the Desert for that matter - have the classic Knizia "on this turn you can do two things - even though you really, really, want to do three (or more)". TTD has just the one possible choice (place camel), T&E mostly has two (place tile, place leader - yes I know about the others), and SR has three (move train, pick up disc, place station). Those limits are forms of elegance too.
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