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Subject: Steel Driver - There is Still Room Left for Another Railway Game? rss

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Mikko Ämmälä
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Steel Driver : 3-6 players. Light-Medium Weight Railway/Economy game. Martin Wallace. (what could possibly go wrong after this heading )

I have always wondered when designers (or publishers) run out of ideas with numerous new train/railway themed games popping up frequently into the gaming market. Apparently designers actually have hit the wall as lately the general trend has been "if it's not broken, don't fix but refine it" which makes most of the steamage-themed games familiar before wrappings are unsealed. The loss of originality is now tried to overcome with more thoughtful and refined design.

More Than the Sum of Its Components...?

The components appear cheap but are functional. There is paper money (which is fortunately used only for scorekeeping purposes and works well enough), wooden tokens/railroad pieces with a bit odd colour choices and a basic board with obvious US map. Not fancy. Not great. But functional and clear.

When Books Rule the World

The rulebook is definitely better than in any other Wallace game I have played. Probably because Steel Driver's game frame and mechanics are relatively simple (in a good way) which may have prevented any bad/erroneus rulebook incarnation to slip through the quality control (if there are any ) There are hardly any possibility for rules misunderstanding.

Combine Some Train Games and Lets See What We Get...

The gameplay is well-designed mixture of Transamerica (those who hate Transamerica should not be worried) and Wabash Cannonball/Chigaco Express with a dash of 18xx included (not much but just a little bit). There are fixed (five) number of rounds and every round the control (one share) of all six companies (unfortunately generic and not themed/not company specific features) are separately auctioned with a basic bidding process. For each company a player who bought its share that player controls that company for that round even though some other player may have more shares of that company. At the start of every five rounds all players receive "money" = white cubes for the bidding.

3p game 10 cubes
4p game 8 cubes
5p game 7 cubes
6p game 6 cubes

Naturally you can save some cubes (or even all ) for the next round. Also companies (who must always build if they can)can have unusable cubes (available routes have too hefty price) after their building and those cubes are saved for the next round usage...

There only random factors of Steel Driver are players' sitting order and who will get the first initial "Active player" marker at the start of the game.



Companies Have Only Coins...eh...Cubes to Build Track

The companies build track with "money" (generic white cubes used at the bidding) and more a player bidded for that company share the more options he has to expand the company. The board has fixed unestablished routes between the cities and route prices varies between 2-6 cubes for each route. Naturally some bigger/more familiar cities are more valuable than others (varies between $20 and $60).

Generally more a company builds (one route at the time), more is its revenue (which goes to a player controlling it). There are small bonuses available for the companies who are included in the first built San Fransisco - New York route (2-3 companies usually). Track building is actually surprinsingly tense process and works very well offering: a) tactical choices (short term revenue) b) strategical choices (blocking or long term end scoring revenue plan) c) smt. between... d) a big chance to do a major mistake....

Should I Pass or Not?

The company operation order for the next round is determined via companies passing (i.e not possible to build track anymore) order of the current round. It is generally always better to operate as first as possible...but then if a company builds a lot, which is of course valuable, then it most probably passes among the last...

End Game...No So Fast Lone Star!

When I first read (pre-Essen) the rules part about Steel Driver's end game I was not impressed but actually playing the endgame is vastly better experience and works just wonderfully making the end game scoring also tense process. I was just afraid of a "set collection" mechanic the end game process is executed with....

After my first game I was a bit worried whether the end game revenue scoring has too much effect/swing to the players' total score but luckily (blame the good design ) that was not the case.

It is Wallace's Game, So It Must Be Good...?

No brainer. No surprise here. It is good. It is actually very great. Steel Driver does not contain anything extra original design but it is just so wellthought and well-designed combination of proven great
train/stock/railway game mechanics/features forming itself into respectable light-medium economy/railway playable in 60-90 minutes.

I initially gave Steel Driver strong '8' geekrating based on my first play at Essen but after further plays it was easy for me to raise my rating to '9'.

+ Extremely well-designed.
+ This time rulebook was good.
+ Simple yet elegant gameplay offers a lot of tense moments.
+ Easy to setup and blast to play.
+ Game frame is very friendly for possible 3rd party expansions.
- Components are bit cheap.
- Not original by any means.

.mikko



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Darrell Hanning
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Thanks for the review. Personally, I don't think there can be too many railroad games in the universe, but your review gives me confidence I can get others to play it, too.
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McDog
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Yes, nice review. I'm hoping Mr. Wallace has shipped out the preorders.


I'm hoping it will actually work 2 player with the "use the lowest score of the 2" method with each player controlling 2 colors.
 
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Mikko Ämmälä
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BrenoK wrote:
Does it work well with 6? Most games that go up to 6 don't do it verty well, they become "too full" (downtime, lack of moving "space" in the game) like Power Grid or Imperial

I would say that the sweetspot is a 4/5 player game. Your comparision (and concern) to six player games of Power Grid and especially Imperial could be correct (having not played 6-player game of Steel Driver though).

Btw I rate Imperial very high and I would never turn down six player game of Imperial even though 4/5 player game is obviously better.

.mikko
 
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Matt Hiske
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Thanks for the review. I decided to take this one off my wish list and I think I will stick with the release of "Chicago Express".
 
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Daniel Corban
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MichaelB wrote:
Btw I rate Imperial very high and I would never turn down six player game of Imperial even though 4/5 player game is obviously better.
Around here, it is often "6 players or nothing", so I would have to strongly disagree with this statement.

Power Grid, however...
 
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Mikko Ämmälä
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matthiske wrote:
Thanks for the review. I decided to take this one off my wish list and I think I will stick with the release of "Chicago Express".

Chigaco Express (Wabash Cannonball) is also a great game.

.mikko
 
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Brandon Pennington
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I really hope that Martin has shipped the Subscription copies of this and AtF!

Thanks for the review!
 
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Duarte Conceicao
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TGov wrote:
I really hope that Martin has shipped the Subscription copies of this and AtF!

Thanks for the review!

From what he told me, he's only waiting for the wooden pieces. He plans to start shipping them in the beginning of next week.

PS: Mikko thanks for the review! Eager to play it even more!
 
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James Hamilton
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I spent this afternoon folding boxes as part of the Treefrog shipping operation. The games are complete and will be shipping out over then next few days. There is another big show in Manchester this weekend so Martin will be busy over the weekend. I would expect them all to be shipped before too long.
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Craig Liken
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Thanks for your review. I was waiting for someone to provide confirmation that my preorder was a wise decision, and you have done that.

Seems like a railway game that offers some of the elements of the heavier titles, but will still be attractive to those of us who don't have 3-4 hours playing time on a regular basis. 60-90 minutes sounds great.

Now just need to wait for the game to arrive. Given the previous post, could be a couple of weeks at least before it reaches NZ.
 
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Brandon Pennington
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Well if I use the time it took for Tinner's Trail to arrive I would expect my copies of Steel Driver and After the Flood to get here right around Christmas.... However, given the stress on the postal system around that time of year, it might be early next year before they get here....oh well
 
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Brad Tritone

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Mikko, one of the most concise reviews I've seen on BGG. I love your review style of parenthetical detail within each sentence. I also love train games, and thanks to your review I'm hoping to add one more to "the pile"!

 
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