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Subject: Initial Impressions rss

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Alan Kaiser
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This is some comments I put together in response to a Denver Games session report from my first game of Industria:

Industria was one of those Essen release games that really caught my eye. However, after the initial buzz and after reading through a review or two and several session reports it dropped down a notch or two on my 'want to buy' scale and then finally fell right of that list! But I was still interested in the game and so I put my vote in for Industria when Glenn said that he had brought the game.

During the rules explanation, both Jeff and I had some reservations on the auction process. We both kept looking at our paltry starting currency and wondered how we were supposed to bid on anything! We had both read many of the comments that have shown up online about the 'problems' associated with the auction process and the disadvantage that has been seen in being the 3rd or 4th player in a 4 player game. Nonetheless, we launched into the game, learning as we went, this being the first game for everyone.

The first couple of epochs (there are 5 that you progress through) were kind of rough on everyone as we struggled to figure out how much the various items were worth and what was the best course to victory (there are several that are nicely/frustratingly intertwined). It was neat to see that as we went through each epoch my enthusiasm for the game increased. I started off decidedly lukewarm in the 1st epoch but by the time the game ended I had put this one back on my 'buy it at the right price' list! Part of this hesitant approach to the game was the amount of info a new player has to process at the start of the game. It would be almost impossible for a new player to see all of the potential ramifications of early choices in the game. This is definitely a game that requires a learning game under your belt to get the most fun out of it. The other reason it took me a while to warm up to the game was the theme. This is a building and resource management game which I really enjoy almost without question but the German on the board really inhibited me from integrating the game play with the theme. Once I saw the English paste-up of the board on BGG I could see how knowing what all the resources and buildings were would really help making the intuitive connections needed for some of the strategy in the game. I also saw how tightly the theme was integrated with the game play. Even the auctions fit in well into the theme. The auctions were the part of the game that really didn't like but after thinking about the theme I now think that the auctions work great in relation to the theme. Just consider each player to be a powerful business family. Since the different families control the production of different resources by owning various factories then the money in the auctions changes hands between the players rather than between each player and the bank. Once I figured that out then the different aspects of the game all clicked together in my head and it all more or less made sense to me (unfortunately this was after the game was over!).

Since the auctions (and specifically how the player order relates to the auctions) seem to be a sticking point for many Industria players I thought I'd comment on my observations. After some consideration, I really don't see a large problem with player order affecting how well a player does in the game. However, I can easily see how this might take a game or two for this to really become apparent. First, no doubt about it, there is a definite difference in income between players as the turns progress. The auctioning player will certainly have a large amount of money compared to others and this difference can at times seem overwhelming (for instance, in the later epochs of our game I have 25+ coins amassed compared to the 3 or 4 that other players had!). This may seem unbalancing but if you consider that the chance to be the auctioneer rotates among the players (so everyone gets a chance to be rich at some point) and that players do have the opportunity to prematurely end a players chance at auctioning (although it does require some cooperation) then that difference really isn't huge. Once I realized that the auction process was just as much a part of the game as the building and resource management I did much better. I was able to accumulate a large stash of money which I then used to get the items that I wanted over the course of several turns and move out from my pathetic last place position to take 2nd place ahead of Glenn and Mark at the end of the game. The trick seems to be to time your rich moments to get what you want to implement your strategy as well as using the bidding process to try to sneak out a couple purchases in the lean times. This ebb and flow in cash are an integral part of the game and also fit in nicely with the theme. The movement of the auction rights from one player to the next allows players some control over how much cash an auctioning player is allowed to accumulate, but only if all players cooperate in the process. I can see how it would be much harder to accumulate cash in a 3 player game since it would be easier for the nonauctioning players to force the movement of the auction on to the next player. Hence there might be significant differences between a 3 player game and a 4 player game.

So yes, the start player and to some extent the 2nd player does have an advantage in each turn. There is an aspect of the rules that does give the players at the end of the turn order an advantage over the start player and that is building of the technologies and factories. The start player must build his technologies and factories 1st in each turn. This prevents that player from taking advantage of factories that have been played in the turn that produce resources that are necessary to build other factories. There is the potential to prevent the start player from building simply because the necessary resources needed to build don't exist yet. This is not nearly as large an advantage as being the start player but there is room for observant players to make things difficult for the start player therefore decreasing the advantage that the start player has in regards to the auction process.

One thing that I think is huge in this game is the necessity of the nonstarting players to work together to some extent to limit the advantages of the start player. I view this as a feature of the game and not a flaw in the design as many have mentioned online. It creates some very interesting situations in the game for player interaction where your best move on a turn might not be the one that helps you the most but is the one that limits a certain player or players while not hurting yourself too much. I really like this 'take one for the team' type of mechanism as I think it adds a great deal of depth to a game. Another game that jumps to mind that has this feature is ZooSim. For most gamers it isn't too difficult to determine the most optimal move for yourself on a given turn. It's a little more work to figure out how to stop another player while still advancing your position.

Another thing I noticed was the variety of avenues to victory. In our game Jeff really cashed in on gaining the technology tiles cheaply (we should have checked his buying on that portion of the board!) and really building heavily in that part of the board. He easily had 20-30 points in that portion of the board alone. I on the other hand had only 4 points from a single technology built on the last turn of the game and this was the lowest number of points from technologies of anyone in the game I believe. Despite that, I was able to gain a lot of points in the factories/resources portion of the board through buildings, connections and bonuses. I can easily see how different combinations of these scoring elements in the game could be nicely linked into an overall strategy that would fit well with ups and downs of players' cash flow.

Balancing the scoring for technologies, factory builds, connections and bonuses with your income from resources and auctions and timing all this so that you can build what you want when you have the money to do it is what this game is all about. Industria is back on my buy list and I look forward to another playing of this game.

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