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Subject: A curmudgeon's rambling review of Steam rss

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Randall Bart
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I am a fan of economic games. My current favorite is Power Grid. For many years my group played Rail Johnny, a game by my friend Jonathan. He originally called it Rail Baron Plus because it used the components of Rail Baron. Much in the way that Bridge uses the components of Poker, the game is nothing like Rail Baron, so it came to be known as Rail Johnny. It's about 60% Power Grid, 20% Ticket to Ride, and 20%...well what is a neutral term for this? Brummie Rails?

I won't go into the history of Brummie Rails, Age of Steam, Railroad Tycoon, 3rd Edition, Martin, John, trademarks, copyrights, lawyers, etc. You already know what you already know. If you don't know, consider yourself lucky. If you don't know and are stupid enough to care about that train wreck, go find it yourself; I am not providing a link. I am here to discuss Steam.

Alfred Hitchcock said drama is real life with the boring parts cut out. Rail Johnny has some realistic features but if it is ever to make it to market, some boring parts will need to be cut out. Martin Wallace takes an economic theme and abstracts it beyond recognition. What is flipping a tile in Brass: Lancashire? What is a loss cube in Automobile? Compared to that, Steam is all realism.

It's a pick up and deliver game, like Empire Builder. But unlike almost any other game, you start this game sliding backwards. In Power Grid you start with $50, and no matter how bad it gets, you are sure of making $10 per turn. In Steam you start out with no cash in hand, no income, and a locomotive that costs $1 to maintain each turn (even if you don't use it). The only way to improve that outlook is to build track and move cubes. To buy the track you need cash which you don't have. To get cash you capitalize (abstraction of selling stock or bonds), which gives you cash, and also gives you more expense (abstraction of dividends or interest), accelerating your backward slide. The first few turns are spent trying to climb into positive cashflow. If you make a mistake, you may not be able to climb out.

I don't like that part of the game. A game should not completely abandon a player early on like that. So far I have only seen it with a player who kept misunderstanding the rules. For a learning game, you can back up, or make adjustments. Unfortunately, I can see that the game is chaotic enough that plans might come crashing down. An especially brutal one was when a player Urbanized a town, leaving another player only short routes for his gray cubes. This was relatively late, but people will get in each other's way early on. Plans can go screwy.

I actually was undone by the game's brutal reputation, rather than the game's brutality. I had take the locomotive action with the intent of upping from two to four and delivering one four point cube. After building my track, I counted out what I was going to do and gulp I was going to be $2 short. Worse, if I didn't up my loco to 4, I would only deliver one 2 point cube. I had heard about this terrible situation where you don't have enough to pay your bills and you are toast. When the rules were being read, I heard the 2:1 ratio and got it the other way. I thought $2 short cost me 4 points on the income track, but it only costs me 1 point. I was afraid of running into a brick wall, so I injured myself avoiding it, but instead I needed to hug the fluffy, fluffy wall.

But then I saw a player hit that wall for $7 and he was toast. Of course that was a learning experience.

I was expecting more of a lumpy, bumpy step function here. In Power Grid, when you are $1 short early in the game, you lose about $10, but the next several dollars of shortage don't cost you more. I like the lumpy, bumpy game for encouraging efficient play. (*sigh* as I think about analysis paralysis)

Steam is completely deterministic. There is an initial random placement of cubes, and after that there is no randomness. In theory, you can't be lucky or unlucky, because it's all there in front of you. In reality, the butterfly stirs up a big enough hurricane that there are random effects. Still, luck is the residue of design.

I prefer a game to have some late randomness, because it can bring hope to someone whose position is otherwise hopeless. Steam is not like that. It's ancestors were not like that either. Even though you had random cube draws or random cube timing, it was rare that you could put yourself in a position to get lucky. If you can't try to get lucky when you are behind or you can't try to minimize luck when you are ahead, then randomness doesn't add to the game. All in all I think the predetermined sets of cubes in Steam work well, and the ability to drop a set of cubes somewhere and start moving them is an awesome power.

Which brings me to my biggest gripe: Urbanize is too strong. It lets you place a set of cubes like City Growth and it lets you build a fourth hex like Engineer and you don't pay for that fourth hext and it gives you a city to deliver to. If the Urbanized town counted as one of your three hexes, this would still be better than City Growth, and often better than Locomotive.

I think starting the players out sliding backwards is just silly. Everyone should start with $20 like in a normal game. All the planning and building and delivering with less danger. It should be just barely possible to eke out an existence without ever taking a loan. Yeah the game isn't quite broken this way, but the game could be better.

I don't like the concept of running out of tiles. I never felt it had a place in a game like this. It looks like the tile distribution was done haphazardly. The complex tiles without towns don't have consistent backs, and there aren't as many as the rules specify. I wish the rulebook just said that the tiles are unlimited so improvise. The numbering of the tiles is a little weird too. Add a town to #41 and you get #T42. Add a town to #42 and you get #T41. Maybe they should have names. #42 is the T-spoon.

The bits of the game are all functional; except for the "language neutral" role descriptions on the board. The game is heavily in need of a summary sheet. Someone tell me what player aids to print.

With the great number of bits in this game (and the price), why doesn't it come with a dozen plastic bags?

I can see several places this game could be tweaked. I think the income/VP track dichotomy could use some more development. BTW, those two tracks should not be adjacent on the board.

A very good game, but not as good as Power Grid.
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Jonas
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Barticus88 wrote:
A very good game, but not as good as Power Grid.


Well nothing is better then Power Grid.
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Arthur Dickie
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Barticus88 wrote:
...
I actually was undone by the game's brutal reputation, rather than the game's brutality. I had take the locomotive action with the intent of upping from two to four and delivering one four point cube. After building my track, I counted out what I was going to do and gulp I was going to be $2 short. Worse, if I didn't up my loco to 4, I would only deliver one 2 point cube. I had heard about this terrible situation where you don't have enough to pay your bills and you are toast. When the rules were being read, I heard the 2:1 ratio and got it the other way. I thought $2 short cost me 4 points on the income track, but it only costs me 1 point. I was afraid of running into a brick wall, so I injured myself avoiding it, but instead I needed to hug the fluffy, fluffy wall.

But then I saw a player hit that wall for $7 and he was toast. Of course that was a learning experience.



I'm guessing from this that you played the Standard game. A number of us think that the so-called "Base" game is better. See, for example, this discussion: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/419956

I've not felt the need for a player aid, playing the Base game.
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John Bandettini
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I do agree that the start is pretty brutal, even in the basic game. In my first game with five experienced gamers (though no Age of Steam experience), it was turn 5 of the game before anyone had a positive income. We kept getting back to zero and having to take more loans.

It might be worth trying with a house rule giving a starting amount, even $10 would make it a lot more friendly game, although a very different game. I have only played Steam a couple of times so far, but at the moment I prefer Railways of the World as it does not feel like swiming in treacle right from the start.
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Corin A. Friesen
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chessduffer wrote:

Barticus88 wrote:
A very good game, but not as good as Power Grid.


Well nothing is better then Power Grid.

thumbsdown meeple Go is the bomb!
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Corin A. Friesen
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So, what's the rating?
 
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Barticus88 wrote:
What is flipping a tile in Brass: Lancashire? What is a loss cube in Automobile? Compared to that, Steam is all realism.

Cubes represent setting up contracts for ongoing sales. Use enough (remove cubes from tile) and the business becomes profitable --> it flips, giving you income (and VP, which I think approximates £10 value at the time the game ends). A loss cube represents ongoing losses from various inefficiencies -- dealerships that don't sell enough cars, factories making old outdated cars with old outdated machinery, etc.
Barticus88 wrote:
In Steam you start out with no cash in hand, no income, and a locomotive that costs $1 to maintain each turn (even if you don't use it).

Actually, there's no maintenance cost for locomotives in the Basic game. If you play the Standard game, I believe the cost equals the level of the locomotive.
Barticus88 wrote:
The only way to improve that outlook is to build track and move cubes. To buy the track you need cash which you don't have. To get cash you capitalize (abstraction of selling stock or bonds), which gives you cash, and also gives you more expense (abstraction of dividends or interest), accelerating your backward slide. The first few turns are spent trying to climb into positive cashflow. If you make a mistake, you may not be able to climb out.

Perhaps, but this is not nearly as much of a problem as in Age of Steam. And really, in the several (basic) games I've played, mostly with people new to the system, I have yet to see someone make a mistake and not be able to recover from it (maybe not to win, but at least to become profitable).
Barticus88 wrote:

I don't like that part of the game. A game should not completely abandon a player early on like that. So far I have only seen it with a player who kept misunderstanding the rules. For a learning game, you can back up, or make adjustments. Unfortunately, I can see that the game is chaotic enough that plans might come crashing down. An especially brutal one was when a player Urbanized a town, leaving another player only short routes for his gray cubes. This was relatively late, but people will get in each other's way early on. Plans can go screwy.

Being able to issue shares at any time, it doesn't seem like such a problem. And if you've only seen it with someone who repeatedly misunderstands the rules, what is the criticism?

As for game chaos: I guess that's a matter of taste. I don't think there's a lot of chaos here -- you see all the cubes you'll ever see, you have the opportunity to place some of them yourself, you can see where people are building and their loco levels (so which cubes they're likely to go after) ... so you can make some predictions about which cubes are safe for yourself. Especially with the new rule that bars players from making deliveries where they don't earn at least as much as any other player (whereas in the old game, you could take a personal hit solely to deny another player of a long delivery).
Barticus88 wrote:

I actually was undone by the game's brutal reputation, rather than the game's brutality. I had take the locomotive action with the intent of upping from two to four and delivering one four point cube. After building my track, I counted out what I was going to do and gulp I was going to be $2 short. Worse, if I didn't up my loco to 4, I would only deliver one 2 point cube. I had heard about this terrible situation where you don't have enough to pay your bills and you are toast. When the rules were being read, I heard the 2:1 ratio and got it the other way. I thought $2 short cost me 4 points on the income track, but it only costs me 1 point. I was afraid of running into a brick wall, so I injured myself avoiding it, but instead I needed to hug the fluffy, fluffy wall.

It sounds almost as if you played some version of the game between Basic and Standard? Or maybe you played Standard? If you're playing Standard, then indeed the game can be brutal (at least, I believe; I haven't played Standard Steam, but it should be closer to the original Age of Steam game). If you haven't played these games much before, then perhaps you should have stuck with the Basic game the first time out?
Barticus88 wrote:
In Power Grid, when you are $1 short early in the game, you lose about $10, but the next several dollars of shortage don't cost you more.

You keep comparing this to Power Grid. As you've figured out, Steam is not Power Grid. They're both heavier games, and both have links to build, but they are very different. Power Grid is an economic game of supply and demand, efficiency, and with some network building. (Age of) Steam is a network-building pick-up-and-deliver game. They're both great (although AoS has better expansions!), but both different!
Barticus88 wrote:

I prefer a game to have some late randomness, because it can bring hope to someone whose position is otherwise hopeless.

Not my reasons, but I agree that a little randomness can be fun in a game. For me, the randomness of the initial cube draw works very well, but certainly I can see that you might like a bit more randomness later on (even though you're complaining about chaos and randomness above!).
Barticus88 wrote:
Which brings me to my biggest gripe: Urbanize is too strong. It lets you place a set of cubes like City Growth and it lets you build a fourth hex like Engineer and you don't pay for that fourth hext and it gives you a city to deliver to. If the Urbanized town counted as one of your three hexes, this would still be better than City Growth, and often better than Locomotive.

If you played Standard Steam, then players should be bidding high to get Urbanization -- the auction should (more or less) balance the power of the actions. If playing the Basic game, presumably the dollar cost ($6?) and the turn order hit (_last_ in the following turn) will balance the benefits. But yes, this is a powerful action. On the other hand, someone can take Production for $4 less and go earlier next round.
Barticus88 wrote:
I think starting the players out sliding backwards is just silly. Everyone should start with $20 like in a normal game. All the planning and building and delivering with less danger. It should be just barely possible to eke out an existence without ever taking a loan. Yeah the game isn't quite broken this way, but the game could be better.

The base game started out giving everyone $10, but already having issued 2 shares. You could do that here -- start at -2 income. That wouldn't really be better, would it? Think of it as thematic: you're starting up a business without any personal capital; you must issues shares to generate that capital. Anyway, this is just a matter of personal preference. I, for example, don't see any problem with having to take out loans.
Barticus88 wrote:
I don't like the concept of running out of tiles. I never felt it had a place in a game like this.

I agree! The tile limits in the original game always felt artificial and pointless.
Barticus88 wrote:
It looks like the tile distribution was done haphazardly. The complex tiles without towns don't have consistent backs, and there aren't as many as the rules specify. I wish the rulebook just said that the tiles are unlimited so improvise. The numbering of the tiles is a little weird too. Add a town to #41 and you get #T42. Add a town to #42 and you get #T41. Maybe they should have names. #42 is the T-spoon.

Actually, I think the distribution is very consistent -- makes it relatively easy to find the tile you're looking for. I'm not sure why anyone would care about the numbering system; it's not important in any way that I can see. Just sort the tiles into groups:
- straight/curved
- complex coexisting (2 tracks that don't cross each other)
- complex crossing/town. The town hexes (almost) all have complex crossing tracks on the opposite side, with the number of edges with track being the same. The exception is a few of the dead-end town hexes, which are blank on the back. It may be better to have the track side up, and have a 4th group with the rest of the track tiles?
Barticus88 wrote:

The bits of the game are all functional; except for the "language neutral" role descriptions on the board. The game is heavily in need of a summary sheet. Someone tell me what player aids to print.

Yes, I agree. Although the iconography on the tiles is very clear, the font is a little small -- the '#' and "+' symbols, for example, are difficult to differentiate; they should have been bigger. Also, it would have been nice to have the turn summary on the board. If not on the board (and that wouldn't work well, really: the Basic and Standard versions are different, and I don't think there's much room on the Europe side) then on cards to hand out to each player. Surely someone will soon upload something pretty to the site!?
Barticus88 wrote:

I can see several places this game could be tweaked. I think the income/VP track dichotomy could use some more development. BTW, those two tracks should not be adjacent on the board.

Perhaps, although I think it works great in the Basic game. But having it near the income track is really not a big deal at all. No one ever got confused when I've played.
Barticus88 wrote:

A very good game, but not as good as Power Grid.

You should have just stopped at "A very good game" !
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Vincent White
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I agree with the others, it sounds like a lot of your gripes will go away if you just play the basic verson of the game....Or start with money in the standard game and make sure that you bid enough in the auctions to make people think twice about the value they are obtaining from it.
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vinniebrasco wrote:
I agree with the others, it sounds like a lot of your gripes will go away if you just play the basic verson of the game....
Yep. This review sounds like an ailment for which the Base Game is the cure.
 
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Daniel Corban
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The first few turns are spent trying to climb into positive cashflow. If you make a mistake, you may not be able to climb out.

I don't like that part of the game.

You could have ended the review here. This is the game. It would be like saying "I really hate auctions" in a review of Ra.

Play the base game. Your complaints will melt away.

You also mention the power of Urbanize. The dollar auction for turn order should balance it out. If you play the base game, the flat $6 cost along with being dead last in the next turn's order should balance it out (I think even moreso than the auction).

Also try putting the income markers to the right of the printed income numbers (the intended spot) and the confusion of the VP/income track placement should go away.
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dcorban wrote:
Quote:
The first few turns are spent trying to climb into positive cashflow. If you make a mistake, you may not be able to climb out.

I don't like that part of the game.

You could have ended the review here.


I think he meant he does like the climbing into positive cash flow part. He doesn't like the not being able to climb out of debt part.
 
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So we agree that a "curmudgeon" wrote this "rambling" review of Steam? He announced his intent up front so why give him grief over it? I agree with those that suggested the basic game is the answer to many of the issues for the reviewer; but I don't see the problems that have been identified here as legitimate ones - and I certainly don't like the basic game for one big reason I'll get to later.

Perhaps as I am familiar with Age of Steam most of what has been commented upon here I view as improvements to what is already a classic game. The dual income/VP track is a clever, elegant idea and a definite improvement on the original. However, the best part of the new version concerns the re-done bits to do with city growth and cube replenishment. Two "problems" many associated with AoS in this regard have been resolved by the new mechanic. Urbanization is now more predictable and controllable as is the business of regenerating goods cubes. It's true that Urbanization is now extremely powerful (but so are Goods Growth and Loco) - but that's what the auctions are for, as has already been pointed out.

I'm definitely not in the camp that believes all the roles should be of equal value. They may not have the wide range of the older game but the roles have a definite pecking order - which changes depending on where you are in the game - and is one of the big reasons why I don't like the basic game turn order mechanic. The auctions allow players to factor in the changing value of the roles throughout the game. I happen to believe that the relatively unique nature of the turn order auction in AoS/Steam is one of its great strengths. At any point in the game, there are usually two roles that are of nearly equal value (but more than the others) so the last two players in the auction paying the full value of their bids always seemed about right to me. And having a role ("free pass") that gave you a leg up in this process also seemed a particularly clever wrinkle. But, this role is one that will depreciate the most (along with "engineer') as the end game approaches, which situation the fixed turn order of the basic game doesn't handle at all well.

Steam: Rails to Riches has a better map board (reversible to boot, and one that accommodates most of the older expansion maps), better quality components, cleaned up mechanics and fresh legs to a classic board game from one of the masters of game design. I think it's an outstanding accomplishment!
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Hi Randall.

Thanks for the well-written review... it is actually interesting to read unlike many that I end up scanning after the firtst paragraph. I like your style, your tone and the way you (accurately and concisely) describe aspects of the game. Good show!

There are many games out there that are more forgiving than Steam/AoS but as another poster said: that's what makes this game the game it's fans love. The tension created by knowing that yes, you could be "toast" by the end of the first turn is simple delicious. Also the idea that you can attack another player by stepping on their build, stealing a key cube or urbanizing an unfriendly color in the middle of their network make it interactive in a nasty sort of way that few Euros attempt to duplicate. These things are the essense of "our beloved game" for those of us who love it.

Many resolve your complaints by suggesting you play the "fluffier" basic version. To fix your "biggest gripe":

Barticus88 wrote:
Which brings me to my biggest gripe: Urbanize is too strong.


May I suggest playing Age of Steam instead? Urbanized cities come without an immediate pile of cubes in AoS, making the action a bit weaker.

Barticus88 wrote:
I am a fan of economic games.


I'm really hyped up on Container right now. With your stated preference I'd suggest you check it out, in my book it's a winner.
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Daniel Corban
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In regards to Urbanize, I found that defensive Urbanizing (placing a city in the middle of an opponent's network) is slightly nerfed since the city comes with cubes which they may possibly deliver.
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dcorban wrote:
In regards to Urbanize, I found that defensive Urbanizing (placing a city in the middle of an opponent's network) is slightly nerfed since the city comes with cubes which they may possibly deliver.


Doh! Another thing that makes AoS better... devil
 
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True, but if they have a low-level loco, they are potentially screwed, particularly if others take the cubes out from under of them.
 
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fubar awol wrote:
Many resolve your complaints by suggesting you play the "fluffier" basic version. To fix your "biggest gripe":

Barticus88 wrote:
Which brings me to my biggest gripe: Urbanize is too strong.


May I suggest playing Age of Steam instead? Urbanized cities come without an immediate pile of cubes in AoS, making the action a bit weaker.

I play both games, and it's difficult to conclude from Randall's review that he would like Age of Steam more; after all, it's more of the stuff he didn't like.

I think that's why people were recommending Base, not to 'fluff' things up.

Comments from AoS players seem frequently (at best) based on Standard experience.

Base is interesting in its own right. Age of Steam players should just try the Base rules as an AoS variant sometime [*], and judge for themselves. I don't mean to proselytize - I'm just encouraging you to try it (or, at least reserve some judgment until you do).

Many AoS veterans have made great contributions to the downloads here, session reports, variant and map updates, etc. It would be great if some found some renewed interest in Base, and a shame if any were lost simply to hearsay.

Regardless - a great review and discussion, thanks.

- jim

* A simple variant kit (posted by me) is, 'Steam Base' variant - a kit for Age of Steam owners.

edit - minor wording, markup
 
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Pierce Ostrander
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jimb wrote:
Base is interesting in its own right. Age of Steam players should just try the Base rules as an AoS variant sometime [*], and judge for themselves. I don't mean to proselytize - I'm just encouraging you to try it (or, at least reserve some judgment until you do).

* A simple variant kit (posted by me) is, 'Steam Base' variant - a kit for Age of Steam owners.


Jim - good points. I am interested in trying the base game, thanks for you work on the variant... it makes it more likely that I will get the chance since I don't plan to buy Steam.

When AoS players use the word "fluffy" it is as in "fluffy bunnies" which is intended to be a comically-unkind observation about the nature of Steam as compared to Age of Steam; the idea being that AoS is intentionally unforgiving and can be quite nasty... whereas in the view of many Steam (basic or standard) intentionally toned down the brutality.

Your comment caused me to remember that I once owned "La Strada" another Martin Wallace network-building game that I found to be horribly awful. What I was hoping for with La Strada was simplified version of Age of Steam to play with my wife and others who weren't quite up to AoS. Before I traded it away I considered working out a variant that included cubes to ship.

Perhaps Basic Steam is what I was looking for?

I'll give it a try. Thanks.
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fubar awol wrote:
When AoS players use the word "fluffy" it is as in "fluffy bunnies" which is intended to be a comically-unkind observation about the nature of Steam as compared to Age of Steam; the idea being that AoS is intentionally unforgiving and can be quite nasty... whereas in the view of many Steam (basic or standard) intentionally toned down the brutality.

Thanks for clearing that up.

Quote:
What I was hoping for [was a] simplified version of Age of Steam to play with my wife and others who weren't quite up to AoS. Before I traded it away I considered working out a variant that included cubes to ship.

Perhaps Basic Steam is what I was looking for?

I'll give it a try. Thanks.

Cool - I appreciate for the followup. I'd particularly recommend Base as a candidate for that ... I know you've done a lot of 2-player AoS variants and session reports, and the Base action-selection works very well in a 2-player game, too. (Also, the track scoring rules are easier to understand.)

I really think you'll find it interesting; please consider a session report if you do try it...
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Randall Bart
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I deliberately let this sit for a couple days to let comments accumulate, the I had no internet for a day.

As expected, the AoS fans tell me to play AoS, the Steam Basic fans tell me to play Steam Basic and the Steam Standard fans tell me to play Steam Standard.

The groups I circulate in are heavy gamers but not particularly rail gamers. AoS is not played much because it is too brutal. Railroad Tycoon is much more popular. All the people who liked either of those have liked Steam. The ones who really like AoS, like AoS better, and will continue to play AoS with their AoS group. The Railroad Tycoon fans like Steam better.

And when I say Steam I mean Standard. I doubt there will be much Steam Basic. These people like their heavy games heavy. Even if Steam Basic is better, there's a mentality that would reject it out of hand, even if it weren't called "Basic". If they want a lighter shorter game, they have lighter shorter games to play. There's a more is more philosophy (justified or not), especially for big heavy games. They play Arkham Horror with only two expansions, because that is all that will fit on the table.

gnomus wrote:
I've not felt the need for a player aid, playing the Base game.

I feel each player should have a little sheet with the tile manifest, the seven roles (in English not pictograms), and building costs.

JohnBandettini wrote:
I do agree that the start is pretty brutal, even in the basic game. In my first game with five experienced gamers (though no Age of Steam experience), it was turn 5 of the game before anyone had a positive income. We kept getting back to zero and having to take more loans.

That's by design. I saw a player play frugally get up to positive numbers on the third turn. Unfortunately he then tried to maintain this by taking $5 when he needed to take $10 or $15, and proceeded to ruin himself.

JohnBandettini wrote:
at the moment I prefer Railways of the World as it does not feel like swiming in treacle right from the start.

Swimming in treacle. What a lovely metaphor simile.

Ambrose wrote:
So, what's the rating?

About 9.something.

snoozefest wrote:
Being able to issue shares at any time, it doesn't seem like such a problem. And if you've only seen it with someone who repeatedly misunderstands the rules, what is the criticism?

It seems clear that multiple severely wrong actions are needed to reach bankruptcy (-10). My basic concern is that I will always be playing in a mixed group. A typical game of Power Grid is one first timer, one player who has played a time or two, and three experienced players. I expect we will have similar mixes with Steam. It will always be Standard, but I think it's necessary to let noobs capitalize at any time.

In Power Grid, if we have three experienced players, adding a noob or two makes for a better game. Regardless of what they do, they stir the market (he's burning coal, she's burning garbage). Puerto Rico has a reputation for being bad with noobs. Steam seems to be more like Power Grid in this. But on the other side, what is it like for the noob? You need to keep the noob in the game, still building something, still moving some cubes. If you don't, there's a surplus of cubes at the end.

snoozefest wrote:
Barticus88 wrote:
I prefer a game to have some late randomness, because it can bring hope to someone whose position is otherwise hopeless.

Not my reasons, but I agree that a little randomness can be fun in a game. For me, the randomness of the initial cube draw works very well, but certainly I can see that you might like a bit more randomness later on (even though you're complaining about chaos and randomness above!).

I wasn't complaining about chaos, and you probably don't know what I mean by the term. Essentially when other players get in the way of your plans without trying to, that is chaos.

The randomness in Railroad Tycoon is perverse. You end up hoping for the right colors of cubes. It's hard to make use of this randomness. AoS randomness is more interesting. I am sure there are cases where a player looks at a particular future cube and builds in hope that cube will drop. I would like Steam to give a player who is behind something to hope for. I fear that a player who is just not as smart as the other will regularly have no hope with multiple turns left.

snoozefest wrote:
If you played Standard Steam, then players should be bidding high to get Urbanization -- the auction should (more or less) balance the power of the actions.

The auction can't fully equalize it with three players, and even with more players, noobs don't bid enough.

snoozefest wrote:
Actually, I think the distribution is very consistent

I was confused by the mixed backs on the coexisting tiles.

snoozefest wrote:
Barticus88 wrote:
BTW, those two tracks should not be adjacent on the board.

Perhaps, although I think it works great in the Basic game. But having it near the income track is really not a big deal at all. No one ever got confused when I've played.

It's not a confusion issue. Inevitably, someone is moving a VP token and a nuckle dislodges an income token. Maybe you don't play with klutzes.

dcorban wrote:
Quote:
The first few turns are spent trying to climb into positive cashflow. If you make a mistake, you may not be able to climb out.

I don't like that part of the game.

You could have ended the review here. This is the game. It would be like saying "I really hate auctions" in a review of Ra.

You exaggerate. If you took the rules of Ra and removed the auctions, then gave that game to people to playtest, they would tell you there is no game there. If you took the rules of Steam and started people at $20 and gave it to people to playtest, they would not know that something was wrong until the last turn when there were no cubes left to move.

photocurio wrote:
I think he meant he does like the climbing into positive cash flow part. He doesn't like the not being able to climb out of debt part.

I think it's rather uneven the way it is. The early game is "swimming in treacle", then the end game is a race. You might build the game the other way. Increase each track cost by $1 per hex and end the game when someone climbs out of debt.

dcorban wrote:
In regards to Urbanize, I found that defensive Urbanizing (placing a city in the middle of an opponent's network) is slightly nerfed since the city comes with cubes which they may possibly deliver.

I agree it shouldn't be useful very often but I saw it in my third or fourth games. The third gray city was plopped between the first two gray cities and someone couldn't make a delivery for more than two.

Bubslug wrote:
Perhaps as I am familiar with Age of Steam most of what has been commented upon here I view as improvements to what is already a classic game. The dual income/VP track is a clever, elegant idea and a definite improvement on the original.

Looking at the income/VP track system in AoS, Railroad Tycoon, Brass, and now Steam, Martin Wallace has improved this basic system. I think it will evolve more in the future. The income track doesn't wor the way people expect. You never get enough income that way, but it is also the ability to capitalize.

Bubslug wrote:
However, the best part of the new version concerns the re-done bits to do with city growth and cube replenishment. Two "problems" many associated with AoS in this regard have been resolved by the new mechanic.

I agree, but many AoS die hards insist the old way was better. I think they ar just complaining about change.

Bubslug wrote:
I'm definitely not in the camp that believes all the roles should be of equal value.

The should not be equal, but the best should not be much better than second and third best.

Bubslug wrote:
But, this role is one that will depreciate the most (along with "engineer') as the end game approaches, which situation the fixed turn order of the basic game doesn't handle at all well.

They took the average value for the whole game and used those. I may never play the Basic game, but from looking at it I agree that the ordering fails to account for the relative value turn by turn.
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I think I misread your review as being somewhat lukewarm - you give it a "9.something" (we agree then)? It is hard to see a tongue in one's cheek unless you are doing a video pod-cast. Perhaps "curmudgeon" could be read as "devil's advocate," or, "nit-picker?"

Still, I think you have overstated the relative values of the roles as being widely separated. I thought that about AoS but the auction mechanic got me past worrying about it too much. Here I think that the value of the roles has converged to some extent. There is no longer a role that sucks no matter what (which "production" did in AoS). The value you attribute to the roles is very situational and will/should vary from turn to turn. I wouldn't necessarily always pick Urbanization if I had my choice - perhaps old patterns die hard but I still prefer the "free" Loco - but I do admit that the new "Burbs" will always be worth a hard look. But, that's why I think an auction for them is the ideal way to go. And yes, it's a tough auction but then the game isn't for the faint of heart.

More than ever, the (standard) game is going to favour skill and experience as the small bit of randomness in AoS is now gone. New players will be hard pressed to keep up with the veterans (sharks loose in a salmon pen) and the best games will be between players of roughly equal levels of experience (the butterflies released by the noobs will fly in unpredictable directions). The basic game will be less so, but for those who want there to be a magic moment where they suddenly vault from last to first in the last couple of rounds would be better to stick to Railroad Tycoon, Ticket to Ride or get out the crayons (my favorite of those was Iron Dragon)...
 
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Push "experts only" version of steam on your friends...tell them it is the heaviest of the heavies around and proceed with the basic rules.

I am not one to keep to a rule set that comes with a game. If I don't like the way something plays, I try to fix the rule and play that way if the group thinks it is better. Call it basic, heavy, stupid, or whatever...My intention is the most fun out of what is in front of me...So I don't see any problems with making small rules changes for everyone's benefit.
 
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Barticus88 wrote:
The should not be equal, but the best should not be much better than second and third best.


If the best action is not markedly more valuable than all the other actions, then a dollar auction is the wrong form of auction to use in the game. Age of Steam of Steam and (Standard) Steam both use a dollar auction for resolving turn order etc. Steam's flattening of the action values greatly devalues the challenge and pain of the dollar auction, arguably to the point of making the fact that it is a dollar auction almost irrelevant.
 
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clearclaw wrote:
Steam's flattening of the action values greatly devalues the challenge and pain of the dollar auction, arguably to the point of making the fact that it is a dollar auction almost irrelevant.

Hey, another vote for the base game rules!

But seriously, the tension between choosing a role and setting your turn order position for next turn is greater than the tame auction in the standard rules.
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Quote:
Steam's flattening of the action values greatly devalues the challenge and pain of the dollar auction, arguably to the point of making the fact that it is a dollar auction almost irrelevant.


Agreed. However, I don't see this as an inherently bad thing as a rule I'm not a big fan of auctions.

It's easier to evaluate and simply take the "First Move" token if you know that your opponent is going to want a particular strongest action next turn. Depending on the number of players, if only half of them play low numbers, they can guide (not control mind you) cube distribution and locomotive development. It's more like steering a freighter versus steering a jet ski.

Auctions are the truest way to determine the value of like actions at a place in time.... the turn order tiles approximate this and introduce a few other wrinkles and at least one-turn ahead planning. Those who love auctions will like AoS more because there are more of them - and I'm fine with that and those who are fine with that as well.
 
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