Martin: 3*(39 -13) + 29 = 107
Eric: 3*(37 – 12) + 28 = 103
Josh: 3*(33 – 12) + 28 = 91
Since I had just purchased my own copy of Age of Steam, I was eager to play the game at Joe’s on Sunday – three players sat at the table so we played the Ireland map.
As seems to be usual with the Ireland map, there are a lot of early opportunities to ship for 2 on the first turn, even without Engineer. The most marked fact about the setup was that many yellow cubes were distributed throughout the northwest – I wrongly thought this would mean they would see little use.
Josh took First Build and built west out of Dublin, setting himself up in the middle of the board.
I took Locomotive (with a high bid of 2), and took the Dublin sea-link as well as building south from Dublin towards the yellow sea-link.
Martin took Engineer and the north, building to the west from the northeastern purple city.
I prefer four to three on the Ireland board, as it usually feels like the absence of the fourth player means one player faces relatively little competition in part of the board. I was immediately worried that Martin would have such an advantage – though this ended up not being so much the case this game.
I used the locomotive to upgrade twice, while Josh and Martin took the link and shipped for 2 each. As we went into the second turn, I took the yellow sea-link in the southeast, Martin the sea-link to Scotland in the north, and Josh turned his western tail south to head for Limerick, Cork, and eventually the other yellow sea-link. On the subsequent turn, Josh chose Deurbanization as his action… it effectively deterred me from taking first build and buying the yellow sea-link before him, as I felt sure I would then be the target of the deurbing, which instead hit Martin. At this point Martin had connected throughout the northwest, but the prevalence of yellow cubes meant he actually had few options for his moves. Josh removed one, but caution on Martin’s part meant he had an alternative to ship. I crossed track with Josh in Cork, but we got along fine: the brown cities to the west held mostly blue and red cubes, which were useless to Josh without the additional expense of establishing the last remaining sea-link. So I built west of Cork, and he ended up expanding north – taking advantage of all those yellow cubes lying around, and building parallel to much of Martin’s track.
At the end of three turns, Josh had income 8, Martin 9, and I 10, with links of 3, 4, and 4 respectively. Martin chose Locomotive and didn’t ship; I shipped twice for 4. Thinking back, this was my key mistake in the game. Compare the following turn sequences:
The former adds income of 19, the latter 23… a difference of 4 income. And even if you look at the cost of not having the income in the earlier turns, the delayed income in the latter is only equal to taking out 1 extra share, meaning that 1 share allows you to increase income by 4, or a gain of 3*(4-1)=9 points.
I choose the former. And it was not a case of having too few shipments – I think it is unusually easy to build high-link routes on the Ireland map, and I had plenty. I was thinking something about trying to build up income past the break even point so I would not have to take out any more shares in the future. But it was a big mistake.
In another turn or so we were all at link 6, and all ready to ship mostly 6’s for the remainder of the game, but Martin was ahead by about 6 income. While we closed over time (he had to ship 5’s a couple times, and at least once his income reduction was greater than ours), we couldn’t catch him. Once he was making a large profit he bid over us and took Deurbanization every time. While it did little to me (I think after three turns of being targeted I only had to ship one 5 instead of a 6), it prevented us from hitting him – and he was the one short and redundant 6’s. I kept taking Engineer to turn money into track as quickly as possible, but it was not enough, and Martin pulled out the win by a margin of 4 points.
Thoughts about the Ireland map:
1) I have some theories about optimal play, and I think one of the basics is this: build up your link as fast as possible. In Ireland this is even more important, as Locomotive does not give you the free upgrade. Having to use a shipment to upgrade from 5 to 6, for instance, has an opportunity cost of 5 income – 15 points – which is well worth a share or even two in bidding for Locomotive on the U.S. board (which costs only 3 or 6 points). Now if I can just give myself the courage of my convictions and always increase my link that way.
2) Deurbanization is unpopular as a game mechanic. It feels like it comes out of nowhere, and is unrelated to other forms of competition (i.e, competing over connecting into the same city or buying a sea-link). That is, it feels like it is too easy a way to hurt others (although rivals can prepare to some extent for it). One good thing that could be said of it is that, in this game, it did become a weaken-the-leader mechanic. It happened that Martin had fewer redundant shipments than Josh and I, which meant that he had to take deurbanization every turn to avoid us getting it and hitting him. Which meant that the two of us not in the lead could use our picks more advantageously. However, it doesn’t seem a necessary relation between being in the lead and having fewer redundant shipments, so I doubt this works generally.
3) While the sea-links make things expensive, the proximity of cities, one to another, means it is very easy to build high-link chains, and very easy to work triangles into your routes – whereby you can ship across two links or one link between two cities, in order to hit whatever distance you need. So scores seem relatively high and a lot of shipments for 6 take place.