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Subject: Erosion rocks! rss

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Martin G
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(Apologies for the title, but this is the first review of the game and somebody had to do it.)

I'm a science geek and I love quick card games so Erosion immediately appealed to me. I grabbed a copy as soon as my friendly local game guru got it in stock. My first impression was that it is tiny! The game comes in a clear plastic clamshell just big enough to hold the deck of cards and the rules. The cards themselves are an odd shape, thinner than regular cards and with square corners. The card seems reasonably good quality and fortunately the cards only need to be shuffled once per game. The card backs are black & white, as is the fold-up rules insert, while the fronts of the cards are in glorious colour. All in all this was quite an appealing package; I'm not a fan of packaging that holds large quantities of air.

Having heard slightly worrying things about other Sierra Madre games, I was pleased to discover that the rules are well-written and easily digestible. I don't usually like to spend much time summarizing rules in a review, but since they don't seem to have been posted online yet, I will go over them. Each card is dual-purpose, representing one of nine types of rock (on the top half of the card) and one of many different processes in the rock cycle (on the bottom half). The cards are divided into three decks by their rock and process type. The "Wx" deck contains weathering processes and sedimentary rocks (shale, sandstone, conglomerate and limestone - which may contain fossils), the "H" deck contains hillslope processes and igneous rocks (basalt, granite and welded tuff) and the "F" deck contains fluvial processes and metamorphic rocks (quartzite and schist). The cards are nicely designed to condense a large amount of information. There is a representative image of the appropriate rock, with larger images representing rocks that are harder to weather, and some cards even contain geological facts and figures.

The game play is somewhat reminiscent of Glory to Rome, and indeed the designer acknowledges that excellent game as an inspiration. As in GTR, cards are used to move other cards between several different areas, some player-owned and some shared. Each player starts with a "mountain" made up of 3 cards drawn from the Wx deck, 2 from the H and 1 from the F, stacked randomly in a column with only the rock type showing. Players also draw a hand of cards of the same composition, and the remaining cards are stacked in three draw piles. Over the course of the game players play hand cards to their discard pile to move rocks between the mountains, the "river" (a common pool of face-up cards) and their "delta" (a stack of face-down cards). The mechanics tie in really nicely with the geological theme, enough so that the game is probably suitable for the classroom. Weathering processes act on the top of mountains to erode the rocks there (represented by slightly offsetting them from the rest of the mountain), hillslope processes move weathered rock from mountains into the river and fluvial processes move rock from the river into deltas. It is also possible to move cards from your hand into your mountain, as I will explain.

A player turn consists of playing a card to activate the process on it, or drawing back up to the hand limit of 6. There is a draw limit of 2 cards from each deck, but other than that you are free to choose the composition you want, which can be very useful if you are in need of a particular process or rock type. Weathering cards can be played to affect your mountain or on any other player's. There are two basic types: those that weather particular types of rock, and those that weather a certain number of rocks (always from the top down). For example, an "Oxidation" process weathers basalt, sandstone, schist and shale and it will keep on weathering the chosen mountain until it hits a rock that it doesn't affect.

Hillslope cards can also be played on any mountain, and they move a certain number of weathered cards to the river, e.g. a "Landslide" removes half of all weathered rock on a mountain. Some weathering and hillslope cards act only on high mountains (4000m+, corresponding to 8 cards or more in game terms) and some only on lower mountains. Importantly, after playing a weathering or hillslope card, you are entitled to draw a number of cards equal to the number of rocks you affected. If this takes you above the hand limit of 6, you must add surplus cards of your choice to the base of your mountain ("uplift"). You should choose these rocks carefully to avoid runaway weathering by another player when they eventually reach the top of your mountain!

Fluvial processes act somewhat differently. The three processes can move exactly one, two or three rocks from the river into your delta, but you must be able to discard a matching rock type from your hand for each rock you want to move. This means they require quite a bit of advance planning, especially the "braided" process which moves three rocks. If you plan your play really cleverly, you can empty your hand completely with successive fluvial processes, allowing you to draw a new hand without having to spend a turn on it. The game continues in this manner until all players pass sequentially or until one player passes twice in a row after at least one of the three draw decks has been emptied. Final scoring is quite simple: 1 point for each unweathered rock remaining in your mountain, 2 points for each rock in your delta and 3 points for each weathered rock in your mountain that contain a fossil. Games so far have lasted no more than half an hour, as advertised.

So far, I have described the "basic" game. Some cards also have additional effects, similar to the building powers in Glory to Rome, which come into play in the "advanced" game. These effects may be one-offs when a card is uplifted into the base of your mountain or they may stay in effect as long as they remain unweathered in your mountain. Some of these effects change atmospheric conditions, which corresponds to altering the draw limit from one or more of the decks. This makes things more strategic and it becomes even harder to decide how to play your cards once you have to balance rock type, basic process and uplift effect.

I have played the basic game twice (once with two players, once with three) and the advanced game once (with two). I have enjoyed each game very much. Three players may be slightly better than two, as you are presented with more options (three mountains to have away at instead of two!) and the game is no longer zero-sum. While the game is labelled as for 2-5 players I think it would get rather too chaotic with 4 and more so with 5, making it difficult to plan ahead.

I really enjoy games where cards have multiple effects, like Glory to Rome and Race for the Galaxy, and Erosion joins that club. I love the way the cards stacked in the mountains tell you which rocks may appear in the river in the future, allowing you to plan a few turns ahead. But moving rock into your delta is not the be-all-and-end-all either. My wife was able to beat me by constructing a giant mountain that was big enough to offset my larger delta.

The basic game is fun, and you can get a new player up and running within 5 minutes, but the advanced game definitely adds a lot. I look forward to exploring the interesting combos possible with the advanced effects, and also to trying the two mini-expansions provided by the designer. It's a shame economics dictated that these couldn't be included in the base game. My overall impression is that this is an excellent game and gamers should not be put off by the "educational" tag. If you like quick-playing hand management/multiple-effect card games Erosion is great fun in its own right, and if you learn something about geology while playing then all the better!
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Billy McBoatface
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Wow, never heard of this before, but as somebody who enjoys offbeat themes it looks like a good one.
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Mo Cassidy
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This sounds pretty exciting. I love the theme. I'm confused about the concept of the delta, though. It sounds somewhat dislocated from the rest of the game, in terms of theme and gameplay.

I'd love if there was somehow a continuous loop where rocks in the delta eventually get fed back into the system... Am I just not seeing the big picture? Does it feel like it fits when you're playing?
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Wulf Corbett
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Balfa wrote:
This sounds pretty exciting. I love the theme. I'm confused about the concept of the delta, though. It sounds somewhat dislocated from the rest of the game, in terms of theme and gameplay.
The geography of Erosion is a bit odd.

Each player has his own mountain cool
Rocks from all player mountains are carried by various processes down to a common river,
But then the debris of all the mountains miraculously separates into one delta per player (the debris can come from any mountain, not just the player's own).

It's a game, it works

The point of the game is that players earn points for one of two things - the size of their own mountain, and the volume of sediment deposited in their delta. Get your mountain bigger, and everyone else's smaller. And, having done that, make sure all the debris from everyone's mountain gets swept to your delta!
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John Douglass
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To piggy back on what Wulf said, I generated an image to better conceptualize what is going on in the game:

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Nicolai Broen Thorning
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We played our first game tonight and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Great review.

Thank you.
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Mark Goadrich
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Great review, I'm interested now in picking this one up for my geologist friends!
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Martin G
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I made this as an aid to visualising the card flow:



We played three more times last night and I'm still loving it.
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Jonathan Franklin
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How much of this game is a 'take-that' game? Is there more knocking others down than building yourself up?
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Martin G
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grandslam wrote:
How much of this game is a 'take-that' game? Is there more knocking others down than building yourself up?


In the games I've played so far, there has been some of both. Yes, if you have a card that weathers an opponent's mountain down to the ground, then go ahead and play it. But you can also plan ahead to cash in big points by transferring cards from the river to your delta.
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Wulf Corbett
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qwertymartin wrote:
In the games I've played so far, there has been some of both. Yes, if you have a card that weathers an opponent's mountain down to the ground, then go ahead and play it. But you can also plan ahead to cash in big points by transferring cards from the river to your delta.
Yup, it can actually benefit you if you have a hand full of Fluvial cards and your opponent grinds your entire mountain down & sweeps it to the river - just say "Thank you very much!" and wash all the rock to your delta!
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CassSoren
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Wulf Corbett wrote:
Yup, it can actually benefit you if you have a hand full of Fluvial cards and your opponent grinds your entire mountain down & sweeps it to the river - just say "Thank you very much!" and wash all the rock to your delta!

Yes and no - the way we read the rules, you had to play a fluvial card, but then to wash a rock from the river to your delta you had to discard the same rock type (e.g. discard a basalt to wash a basalt from the river to your delta). So, having a hand of all fluvial cards greatly decreases which rocks you can collect, thus reducing your ability to wash those rocks to your delta.


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Wulf Corbett
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Yes, true, but it's better than nothing.
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Wade Broadhead
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Playing this tonight for the forst time. As a geology major I;m excited and intrigued by the idea.
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Francesco Turri
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I bought this game just because of the theme... and because it was on Phil Eklund's site

Thanks for the review! I'm eager to play it ASAP (as soon as I receive the game by mail)
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