...but don't tell anyone!
The Secret Bread Empire Über Alles!
We moved from racing hedgehogs to transporting damned souls to their appropriate levels of Hell. This is probably my favorite train game, because of its interesting theme and the cool mechanic of multi-use cards.
How to play:
Each player is the engineer of a train trying to transport the greatest number of souls to and from the various circles of Hell. Cards representing these "circles" are laid out on the table, with empty spaces between them. Players are then dealt a hand of three Rail cards.
These Rail cards are diamond shaped, with information in each of the four corners: (1) the number of souls and their sin (including some interesting ones, like Profligates - those who are recklessly wasteful and wildly extravagant - and Edacious - devouring or craving food in great quantities), (2) the circle of Hell where one can pick up the car and add it to one's train, (3) the circle where it needs to be dropped off to be scored, and (4) a Brimstone Value that can be used to move the train or to draw cards. In addition, each card has rail tracks and can be played to expand the rail system and connect the different circles of Hell.
On a player's turn, he draws a card and can then perform any number of actions, each of which involves playing a card. If he is in the appropriate circle to pick up a train car of souls (a card from his hand), he can add that card to his train. Similarly, if he's in the appropriate circle to drop off one of his train's cars, he can remove that particular car/card, thus adding those souls to his score. He can also move his engine along laid tracks (using a card from his hand for the "fuel") or play a card from his hand to either lay new rail or upgrade existing rail. After completing all chosen actions, the player may "Fan the Flames" by discarding a card from his hand and drawing a number of cards equal to the Brimstone Value on the discarded card.
Each of the circles of Hell has a random Circle Effect Token placed on it at the beginning of the game. Whenever a player's engine enters a circle space, that person has the option of activating the Circle Effect. These usually provide some small benefit for the player or a way of hurting another player.
Note that whenever a player drops off a car of souls, the number is announced and then the card is placed face-down under that player's engine card, where no one may look at it until the end of the game. Thus, the scoring is hidden, but someone who is willing to exert the mental effort could keep track of everyone's scores.
Finally, the game ends when a player needs to draw a card and there are none left in the draw pile or the discard pile (which is reshuffled to replenish the draw pile).
I got off to a rocky start by making a bad play - I used all of the cards in my hand, which meant that I could not Fan the Flames for more cards. Having played the game before, I knew it was a bad play; but I was just too taken with the combination that would allow me to quickly score some points, so I failed to listen to the small voice of reason in my head. This mania lasted another turn, as I used the single card I drew to move my engine to a scoring circle rather than Fan the Flames. So on my *third* turn I really had to Fan the Flames - and I drew a card with a Brimstone Value of 2! Can we say "slow growth"? Later in the game, I finally had a fistful of cards, but all of the pick-ups were on the far side of Hell (from where I was).
Meanwhile, Mike and Nate were playing much smarter and dropping off souls left and right using the many cards in their hands. I quickly lost track of the scores, so I wasn't sure who was winning. Nate The Builder was doing us all a favor by being the main layer of rail. The Circle Effect Tokens largely did very little, with the exception of Cerberus, who was activated when Nate entered the 7th circle. This three-headed guardian forces you to discard one or more cards before you can leave his circle. Nate placed him on the 6th circle, which slowed down both Mike and me.
With all the rail being laid and souls being delivered, the draw and discard piles began to be perilously close to being empty. Both Nate and Mike managed to make it to the 9th circle - which took quite a bit of traveling! - and they were on their way back into the bowels of Hell. (One disadvantage of the 9th circle is that, since all cars are delivered to a higher-numbered circle than where they are picked up, there are no cars to be picked up at 9, and only one each possible for the 8th and 7th circles.) But Mike had to Fan the Flames to replenish his hand and that made it impossible for Nate to draw a card at the beginning of his turn. So we tallied up our totals of delivered souls:
Mike - 37, Nate - 34, Kevin - 25
(Despite my really bad start, I did have the good fortune of mostly dropping off cars with high numbers of souls, and not having to travel too far to do so. At the end of the game, Mike and Nate were on their way back from the 9th circle with empty trains and I was about to drop off a car with 8 souls. So it turned out to be a reasonably close game.)
As I said earlier, I think this game is pretty nifty. The multi-function card mechanic is interesting and leads to some tough choices. The theme is amusing.
Although I've always played with the Circle Effect Tokens and I'm generally a big fan of "special event cards," I'm thinking the next time I play this I'll try it without the Circle Effects. It seems they don't usually have too much effect and are therefore not entirely worth the (small) "fiddle factor" they create. It will be interesting to see how the game plays when the process is more streamlined.
I'm also thinking that I may play with open scoring. It will remove the guesswork (or the advantage of those who actually keep an accurate tally in their heads) and allow the players to make more exact tactical choices, especially in the endgame.
Finally, I've noticed that this game sometimes ends just as it really gets moving. That wasn't the really the case tonight, as we had both a lot of rail laid and a lot of transport. But sometimes the players are sufficiently hoarding cards and the draw and discard piles seem to empty prematurely. This is mainly a difficulty with the four-player game. Most of the three-player games I've played have run about the right length. To address this, I've purchased a second set and I'll see about adding cards (half the deck? a quarter?) when I'm playing with four players. Of course, that also opens the possibility of multiples of the circles of Hell....
Rating: 8 - Very good game. I like to play. Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game.