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Coal Baron: the Great Card Game
(2016 - Stronghold Games)
In 2013, frequent co-collaborators, Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer (Tikal, Mexica, Torres, The Palaces of Carrara) designed a worker placement game entitled Coal Baron, which revolved around the coal mining era. Each player was put in charge of sending miners down a mining shaft to collect various types of coal, which they'd then use to fulfill orders. Unlike many other worker placement games, where players could block access to areas, a player to send workers to an area occupied by another player if he sent one additional worker than the previous player had there. In the last couple of years as our industry has grown, we've seen more and more popular large-tabletop board games receive reworked card game versions (Castles of Burgundy, Arkham Horror, Power Grid, etc). This year, Coal Baron has received its own card game version, published by eggertspiele and Stronghold Games.
Coal Baron: the Great Card Game is comprised of 14 different areas ranging from the coal mines themselves to the loading stations and trains that players will use to deliver the coal to various destinations. Each player receives a set of cards in their color with different values of workers on them. When a player wishes to send his workers to an area, he'll be required to place cards from his hand with a worker value of +1 the value of workers there from the previous player. Players will work to obtain coal, load coal into the wagons of their trains, then use Order cards in their hand to complete deliveries to one of four different areas. Players can score victory points in various ways at the end of the game, from certain coal cards, completing objectives, having purchased stock, etc. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins.
- Player boards
- Worker cards (a set for each player color)
- Lorry cards
- Wagon cards
- Engine cards
- Shares cards
- Order cards
- Innovation cards
- Objective cards
- Action cards
- Shift tokens
During the game, players will send their workers to various action areas at the center of the table, then resolve the corresponding the action there. There are two main rows of actions. At the beginning of the game, the Lorry cards are shuffled together, then cut in half to create two different action areas. To the right of these cards, the same is done with Wagon cards, so that there are also two adjacent action areas of these. To the right of the Wagon cards are the Engine cards and then the Objective cards. These cards are shuffled and placed in order to create single action areas.
The bottom row consists of the Objective cards, the Innovation cards, the Share cards, and the Action cards. The first 3 card types are all shuffled and placed to create their own single action areas. The 5 Action cards are placed to the left of the Objective card area. Players can place workers in these areas to perform specific actions, such as mining coal and delivering coal on the wagons of a departing train. There's also a Wild action card that allows a player to look through the top 4 cards from one of the other area decks, then place it into his play area as normal. At the beginning of the game, the set of Shift tokens are placed in ascending order onto the Mining Action card that shows "0/1", so that the #1 Shift token is seen on the top. These represent the current round number, and players will play through each round until they've reached the final shift. The number of Shift tokens placed is dependent on the number of players in the game.
Finally, each player receives a Player board and a set of Worker cards matching their chosen player color. These cards will begin in the players hands at the start of the game. After initial setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
The goal of the game is to manage the most successful coal company. At the end of the game, players will score victory points for collected lorry cards, collected shift tokens, completed orders and objectives, as well as assigned stocks. The main mechanic found in Coal Baron: the Great Card Game is worker placement, though instead of placing meeples, individual sets of cards are placed on the various action areas. Each player has a set of 10 cards available to them at the beginning of each shift. The values found on these cards range from 1 to 5 (five 1's, two 2's, a 3, a 4, and a 5).
During a shift, each player will choose an action area, then place cards totaling the exact number of workers required to go there, from his hand. Players will always need to place a number of workers that equal the number of workers the previous player placed on the action space +1. So for instance, if the Blue player had placed a worker on one of the Lorry spaces, the Red player would need to place two workers to go there next. He could either place two #1 cards there, or a #2 card. He could not place any higher values there. The only legal amount would be 2. The next player to send workers to this area would need to place exactly 3.
Play continues clockwise throughout the current shift until all players have passed. At this point the shift has come to an end, and the player that last sent workers to the leftmost mining area (the "0/1" action card containing the Shift tokens), receives the topmost Shift token on it. Once the last Shift token has been taken, the game ends. Otherwise players will collect their Worker cards back into their hand, and a new shift starts. Let's take a look at the various action areas and what players can do when sending their workers there:
I. Lorry Cards
This area contains two different sections that players can send workers to. By placing worker cards above one of the Lorry card decks, the player will remove the top card of that stack and place it in the leftmost space of his mining row on his player board. Each lorry cart contains one of four symbols, and these will help determine which loading dock the coal from this lorry can be sent to. Some Lorry cards also contain a victory point, listed at the top of the card.
For instance, the Red player sends 2 workers to the leftmost Lorry section, in order to collect the top Lorry card there that contains two green symbols. He'll then place this card on the leftmost space of his mining row, where he currently has another Lorry card.
II. Wagon Cards
As with the Lorry card area, the Wagon card area also contains two different sections. Players require Wagon cards to be used to load the coal from their Lorry cards onto a train to be shipped off. Each Wagon card contains one of the colored symbols that area also seen on the Lorry cards. However, there are some Wagon cards that contain all four symbols (and can thus be counted as any symbol). When a player choosing a Wagon card, he'll need to place it into one of his three loading docks (right side of his player board). Only certain symbols can be placed in each loading dock:
- Loading dock #1 can only accommodate yellow and green symbol wagons
- Loading dock #2 can only accommodate blue and yellow symbol wagons
- Loading dock #3 can only accommodate red and green symbol wagons
So as you can see, there are two loading docks that can hold yellow and green wagons, but only one loading dock that can hold blue, and one that can hold red. There are no limits to how many connected Wagon cards are placed into a loading dock, however once an Engine card has been placed there (which I'll cover next), players can no longer add Wagon cards at that dock. At least until a delivery has been made and all the cards at that dock have been removed.
III. Engine Cards
The Engine card area only contains one card deck. When a player sends workers to this location, they'll remove the top card of the deck and place it on to the right of their Wagon cards at one of their loading docks. This will complete the train needed to make a delivery. There is no limitation to which colored Engine cards can be placed on which loading dock. All Engine cards can be placed at any dock. The purpose for the different colored Engines will come into play during deliveries as well as when players are attempting to complete certain Objective cards, which we'll look at in a bit.
IV. Order Cards
The final action area located on the top row includes the Order cards. It's great to have a train full of coal cargo and multiple wagons, but players need orders to fulfill in order to actually ship the product out. Each Order card contains the number of end-game victory points the card is worth if the order has been completed, the amount of lorry carts required to fulfill the delivery, and the destination that it will be delivered to. For instance, the above Order card would be worth 5 victory points at the end of the game. The could fulfill the order if he had a completed train that contained 2 lorry carts of coal, and the delivery would be made to the factory. When players send workers to the Order Card area, they'll take the top card off the deck and place it directly in their hand. It stays there until the player takes the delivery action and plays the card.
V. Shares Cards
Directly beneath the Order card area is the Stock card area. During the game, players can send workers here in order to purchase shares of the four different types of destinations; barracks, factories, furnaces, and steamboats. When workers are sent to this area, the player will take the top Share card on the deck and place it face up in front of his play area. At the end of the game, if he's completed an order that contains the matching destination as the Shares card, he can assign that card to the order, thus gaining the bonus victory points attached to it. For instance, the previous Order card we looked at was delivered to the factory. If by the end of the game, the player had a Shares card from the factory (seen above), he'd be able to assign it to that Order card and receive a bonus 3 victory points.
VI. Innovation Cards
To the left of the Share cards is the Innovation card area. Innovation cards come in two types; worker innovations and action innovations. These are special cards that allow the player to either send workers to an area without having to use their worker cards or take the action of an area without having to send workers there. Playing these innovation cards do not take place of the player's regular worker action on his turn. Therefore in addition to the player's regular worker action (sending a number of workers to an action space and resolving the action), the player can play as many innovation cards from his hand as he wants to.
For instance, the worker innovation card on the left counts as 1, 2, 3, or 4 workers. This means that the player can place this card in an action area as any of these four values. The action innovation card on the right allows the player to take the top card of the Engine deck without having to send any workers to the Engine card area.
VII. Objective Cards
We briefly discussed Objective cards earlier. When a player sends workers to the Objective card area, he'll take the top card of the deck and place it in front of himself. Each Objective card is unique and contains a number of victory points that can be obtained if the player has completed the objective on the card by the end of the game.
For instance, taking a look above, the leftmost Objective card shows that a player would earn 2 victory points at the end of the game for each blue Engine card they had. The Objective card in the middle shows that the player would earn 4 victory points if he had at least 5 total lorry carts that were part of fulfilled orders to the steamboat location. Finally, the Objective card on the right shows that the player would earn 3 victory points for every 2 shift tokens they'd obtained by the end of the game.
VIII. Mining Action Cards
The mining action area consist of 3 different sections. Each section represents the number of lorry carts that the player can move from his mining row to his wagons at the loading docks, beginning with the rightmost Lorry card. So for instance, if the player had sent workers to the "1/2" mining action area, he'd be allowed to move 1 or 2 lorry carts from his mining row to the wagons. Note that if a Lorry card contains 2 Lorry carts, the player must use an action space that allows him to move 2. Also, Lorry cards have to be moved in the order that they were placed in the mining row, therefore the player must always move the rightmost Lorry card available at the time. If the player can't make a legal move with the rightmost Lorry card (or chooses not to), he can instead place it beneath the mining row to create a lorry storage deck. When the player next takes a mining action, he can choose to move one of the lorry cards from his storage deck as opposed to moving the rightmost card from the mining row.
When moving a Lorry card onto a wagon, the colored icon on the Lorry card must match that of the wagon it's being loaded into. So for instance, if the player took at action to move 1 lorry card, and it was the one with the blue icon seen above, it could only be placed in a wagon with the matching blue icon that did not already have a lorry card in it. When loading the lorry card into the wagon, the card is tucked behind the wagon card, as seen below. Once all wagons have been filled with coal, and once an Engine has been added, players can take the delivery action.
IX. Delivery Action Card
By sending workers to the Delivery Action card, players will be able to use the Order cards from their hand to make deliveries. In order to make a delivery, the train must contain an Engine and at least the number of Lorry carts are shown on the Order card. For instance, the player would be able to complete the order above because one of his train has an Engine card, and the 3 lorry carts loaded on the wagons of this train needed to complete the Order of 3 lorry carts of coal to the factory.
Normally, only one order can be completed with each delivery action taken. However, if the player has multiple Engine cards of the same color in his loading docks, and can complete an order for each, he can play multiple order cards during the same action. So using the example above, since the train he used his order card on was blue, and he has another blue engine in play, if he had an another order card to play for this 2nd train, he could complete both orders at the same time. When an order is completed, all cards in the loading dock (wagon, engine, lorry, and order cards) are removed and placed in a stack below the player's board. These will be used to score points at the end of the game.
X. Wild Action Card
Unlike the other worker areas, the Wild Action card area requires 2 workers instead of 1, the first time workers are sent here. This area allows the player to pick any of the other card areas and remove the top 4 cards from the stack there. He'll then choose one of them to keep (either in his hand, placed in front of him, or placed in the corresponding area of this player board, depending on the card), then return the rest to the bottom of the deck.
End of a Round
If on a player’s turn, he can not place any more workers, or simply chooses not to, he must instead pass. Once all player’s have passed, the current round (or Shift) is completed. If you’ll remember during setup, a set of Shift tokens were placed on top of the “0/1” mining action card. At the end of the Shift, the top Shift token is awarded to the last player that sent workers to this location. In a way, this helps keep track of the current round, but each Shift token is also worth 1 victory point at the end of the game.
End Game Scoring
After the last Shift token has been rewarded, the game is over. Players will total their victory points according to the following:
- Any victory points listed on lorry cards that were part of the player’s completed orders.
- Victory points listed on completed order cards.
- Players will assign their share cards to completed orders (destinations must match on both). 3 victory points are scored for each share card that the player could attach to an order.
- 1 victory points is scored per Shift token the player has.
- Players earn victory points for each objective card they were able to complete by the end of the game.
After scoring is complete, the player with the most victory points wins the game.
The first thing you'll notice about Coal Baron: the Great Card Game is that while the components themselves are compact, setup on the table, it'll take about as much room as any normal-sized board game. There can be certain advantages and disadvantages to this. If you're looking for a pocket-sized version of Coal Baron, you won't find it here. However, if you're looking for a more streamlined version of Coal Baron (though not a direct port of the original) with less components overall, Coal Baron: the Great Card Game might be something worth looking at.
Even without being compared to the original, Coal Baron: the Great Card Game is a solid worker placement game. It's easy to understand what each area provides and how they all work together. If fact, the areas are laid out in order of how they directly interact with one another. For instance, the Lorry card area is placed beside the Wagon area, which is placed next to the Engine cards. As players play the game, they'll need Lorry cards in order to load coal into their Wagons. And they'll need an Engine attached to their Wagons in order to deliver Orders.
What's interesting about the game however, is the strategy found in deciding what order to send workers to these different areas. Because players must send +1 workers, and each player has only a set number of worker cards of varying values, players are required to manage and preplan the actions they’ll need versus the cards available to them. There’s certainly an importance on timing in the game. Wait too long to take a particular action and you many find you don’t have the required card once some of the other players have sent their own workers there.
Being a card version of another board game, I’d have preferred the size to be a bit more compact. Having said that, Coal Baron: the Great Card Game is very entertaining, especially if you enjoy more strategic worker placement games. The game plays fairly quickly, and there are a lot of scoring options for players, which I find a crucial aspect of any worker placement game. Overall, solid and fun.
If you enjoyed this review and would like to read other Radio Reviews, click here to see the geeklist. And if you're near the Wilmington, NC area, feel free to check this game out and more at our community's FLGS, Cape Fear Games.
Excellent review. I'm a big fan of the worker placement system in this game and the pictures do a great job of illustrating it. However, I did find one minor rule detail that you may be playing wrong.
however once an Engine card has been placed there (which I'll cover next), players can no longer add Wagon cards at that dock
This is incorrect. You can continue to add wagons onto docks infinitely as long as you follow placement rules. Per the English rulebook, page 4 :
If there is already an engine card in the loading dock, slide it to the right and place the wagon to its left.