Last night marked my group's first foray into some of the expansion boards published by Bezier Games. I don't normally try to review something after one play, but since I have more than a few plays of the base game ("Age of Steam" version) under my belt, and this is just a variant, I think I'm qualified.
We have not yet played the "Golden Spike" side of the board, so expect that review at a later date. This review will cover "Mississippi Steamboats" exclusively.
Components (one double-sided board)
One of the reasons for me to choose this expansion for purchase was that unlike many of the others, this board is professionally mounted on cardboard. On the side in question, the board is oriented so that it is very narrow east-west (about 9 hexes across, with 1 hex in each row of most of the board taken up by the impassable Mississippi River). The 12 starting cities are arranged relatively equally in the north/south orientation, with 3-6 hexes between them the norm. The look of the board matches almost exactly that of the base game, which I like. My only complaint is that the board is just slightly wider than the (3rd edition/Eagle Games) box that holds the base game, and therefore doesn't fit. I understand that this board predates said box, and it's only a minor inconvenience, but perhaps if this expansion gets reprinted, it is something to consider.
The rules included with the expansion are very short, which is reasonable since 90% of the base game rules are retained. I will assume that anyone reading this review is familiar with the base game, and I will only discuss the differences/additions here.
- There is no Urbanizing of the town spots on the banks of the Mississippi river. Towns are only useful in making delivery links more valuable, an in providing dock access to the Mississippi River. Instead, the Urbanization action is taken as an ability to start a Riverboat, represented by one of the New City tiles. There are four cities with docks on the river that are capable of launching a Riverboat - New Orleans in the south, Minneapolis in the north, and St. Louis and Memphis in the middle. The boat is oriented so that it will travel north or south and from the moment it is placed serves up to three functions:
1. It is a "city" to which goods may be delivered. The good must match the color of the boat, and a players' rails must be built to a town or city that has a dock in the hex where the boat is currently located. (All of the River hexes are accessible by docks from towns and cities on one side or the other of the river, or in some important places, both.) Delivery to a boat does not add to the link number, but does add 1 to the value of the delivery (an important distinction for the size of your locomotive).
2. The boat acts as a bridge across the Mississippi River, allowing goods to travel as if there were rail there. Moving onto and off of the boat is "free" in terms of links (as if the starting and destination towns were one location), but in this case no bonus point is added to the delivery. The cube so transported may not match the color of the "bridge" (or it would get delivered and stop, as if it had reached a city). Also, a cube may not go directly from one Riverboat to another.
3. The boat can receive goods through the Goods Growth phase, and thus become a source of deliveries.
At the end of every Goods Growth phase, the riverboats move along the river according to 2d6. Once a riverboat reaches one extreme, it turns around and begins the trek in the opposite direction.
The rules themselves are relatively straightforward, although we did find the need to consult the FAQ on Bezier's website to answer a couple of specific and technical questions. Overall, the FAQ agreed with our assessment of what would be "logical" in any chinks we found in the actual spelling out of the rules.
Overall, a few more details in the rules would have been helpful, but the rules are generally clear, and the FAQ is helpful and easy to find.
This relatively simple addition to the rules has a huge impact on play. Unlike the base game, where it may take most of the game for players to need to make deliveries of 5 or 6, the spread out nature of the colored cities encourage player's rail networks to spread quickly. By turn 3 (of a 10 turn 3-player game), all of us had systems capable of delivering four or five links. This is in spite of the fact that cities are slightly farther apart, meaning that shares are handed out early and often in the first three rounds - if anything, money seemed even tighter at the beginning of the game than in the base game.
Also, there is an excellent balance between wanting to connect cities and play the "normal" style of the game and needing to branch your line in order to increase your access to the dock points. Branching is rarely a great option in the base game, but it's almost a necessity here. The boats can zip past towns quickly, making a single entry point to the river untenable - you have to have options for "catching" it on it's path. Cities are so far apart that you may want to have two routes that run in parallel by the end of the game - one that travels through towns so that you can make short deliveries very lucrative, and one that bypasses towns so that you can reach further up the board with a 5 or 6 locomotive.
The random travelling speed of the riverboats is very chaotic early in the game, but managing your control of "Urbanization" is key to making sure that when 8 riverboats are running at the end of the game, at least two or three of them are in a position to help you deliver or bridge the Mississippi. The overall feel is less random than you might suppose.
Overall, this is an excellent variant to the base rules, providing a real change from the base game without destroying the tension and feel of the original. It provides an outstanding addition to gameplay - not a new game in and of itself, but a marked difference in how the game gets played.
(out of 10)
[edited for formatting]
- Last edited Wed Jun 3, 2009 9:57 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Jun 3, 2009 9:40 pm
Yeah, my big concern as the game began was whether or not the "random" movement of the boats was going to break all my plans, but it turned out to be pretty manageable. They way the ships move between turns gives you ample opportunity to plan, even with a bum roll or two.
This is in spite of the fact that cities are slightly farther apart, meaning that shares are handed out early and often in the first three rounds - if anything, money seemed even tighter at the beginning of the game than in the base game.
You bet. On our first play of this (4 players) we had two bankruptcies. Ouch.
I couldn't find the FAQ that you say is easy to find on Bezier's website - has it been removed since your review was written?
Fortunately, you answered my main question, about delivering through a steamboat (it doesn't count as a link).
I haven't played this one yet (planning to do so tonight), but it seems to me that building steamboats is rather expensive. In Steam, you pay for a new city because you expect to make a profit from delivering the cubes that come with it and from shipping other cubes to it, and you are able to place it where it is difficult for others to do those things. In Mississippi, though, it must be hard to stop opponents stealing 'your' cubes or delivering others to your boat, and even if they don't, you might not be able to make full use of it yourself. So perhaps the new city action should be cheaper?