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Subject: Jeremy Avery: "Upper Strada-sphere of gaming" rss

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Jeremy Avery
Canada
Kamloops
BC
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Let me hype it
All I want to do is rave about La Strada. Seriously. I have played games by Martin Wallace before, and not many of have worked for me: they tend to be long drawn out historically themed games with luck in lots of odd places. But La Strada is so simple and streamlined it almost feels like it can't be a Wallace! Easy to teach, quick to play, and a heck of a lot of fun, La Strada is certainly a great game. The game is essentially an advanced game of connect the dots (or, if you are familiar with the genre: it is a simple railway game), except that everyone is competing to connect those dots, and once connected, no one really wants anyone else to connect to those dots and will try and prevent easy access. That’s the game all summed up, but how this is all executed is what makes the game so delicious!


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Parts of the game
Players are given a handful of small cubes in their color, and an assortment of hexagon tiles in their color. The tiles you have depict a road of your color going through one of the three terrains in the game: plains, forest, and hills. On one side of the tile, is a straight road; on the other side of the tile is an "elbow" that takes a 60 degree bend. So when a player places a tile, it will either continue straight on or make a slight bend to one side of the hexagon. These tiles are going to be placed on a modular board constructed before the game begins. The game board consist of 6 cardboard pieces randomly mixed and turned then fit together inside a template. The board depicts hamlets, villages, cities, and capitals, dotted throughout the countryside, with different terrain features throughout. The map is divided into small hexagons that players will place their tiles into attempting to connect cities.

Playing the game
Each player gets to choose a starting position on the board where they will place their warehouse. Your warehouse is your starting "dot" from which you will draw your first path. Once players have chosen their starting positions, the first player takes his turn. A turn is very simple. Players get 6 action points (APs) per turn, and use those APs to place tiles down. The rules for placing tiles boil down to this:

1) When placing tiles, you must start from either your warehouse, or somewhere where you have already connected to;
2) When placing a tile, you must build on an empty space, and you must match the tile you place to the terrain your are building over (a plains tile costs 2 APs; forest costs 3 APs; hill costs 4 APs);
3) And the rule is that you may only build if you can build a complete route - a route that starts in one warehouse, and ends in a different city (no half completed roads need apply.) In other words, you must be able to "connect two dots" or you may not start the route.

 

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Players don’t have to use all their APs on one turn; they are allowed to save up to 4 APs till the next turn, allowing a player to have up to 10 APs to use on any given turn of the game.

When a player connects to a city, he gets to place one of his cubes there which will not only score him points at the end of the game, but will allow him to build out of that city on future turns. So new cities mean more building option.

The game ends when one player has a turn where he can not possibly connect to a new town. Then points are scored: The cities are one of four sizes, with big cities being worth more points. But cities also score less points when more people have a presence their, so a monopoly in a hamlet can be worth more points than 3 players in a village. So a capital to yourself is a whopping 4 points, with oneless point for ever other person who connects there. Whoever has the most points wins.


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As you can imagine, since players can’t build through other players roads, the game quickly becomes a game of keeping your options open and trying to limit the options of your opponents. Since each city has 6 sides, and you can connect into one side, and out of another, player will often plan their new paths in such a way as to help themselves and cut off access to the city from other players. Sometimes getting into a hamlet is important, not for the points, but for the expansion options. If the game sounded dull, you find in practice that it isn’t. Tough decisions must be made since 6 APs doesn’t last long. Sometimes you need a key connection quickly before getting shut out of a side of the board. Other times you’ll need to carefully save your APs so that you can make a devastating 3 city connection. But wait too long and you might be the one devastated. Carefully laid roads can force your opponents to build through more expensive terrain too. The game comes together amazingly well, with offense and defense important considerations, and the game requiring a nice balance of light tactics and quick gameplay.

The bad?
This game has a very few negatives that I must mention. Some people complain about the colors, that they are too similar to each other: brown, yellow, grey, white. It’s true that a player may have a bit of trouble with the colors on his first playing, but you will quickly get used to them, and a good thing too, since this game has a very nice look to it. The biggest problem though is with the player range. With 2 players, La Strada is downright boring and will leave you feeling a little unfulfilled (thankfully there are a couple very good variants that fix that, but as the rules are written, 2-players is very poor.) 4 players is still fun and challenging, but is downright crowded. Players may find themselves suddenly cut off from a third of the board between turns. If the board could have scaled bigger for 4 players (perhaps like Einfach Genial) then it might have worked, but as it is, 4 players will find the game cramping up quickly. (That doesn’t mean the game is not fun, but it makes it tougher to win consistently.) That leaves 3 players. And this game is one of the best 3 player filler games I have ever played.


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Just one more...
La Strada keeps you on your toes, and plays fairly quickly, so any bad turn of events in one game could be reversed with "just one more game". And that’s what I find myself saying when I play this: "Let’s play one more game." How many short 3-player board games do you know of that are really worth playing over and over again? Ticket to Ride and Hansa come to mind, and after that the list gets rather short. Well, add La Strada to that list: it deserves a place there. I’m shooting straight with you here: La Strada is a little overpriced, and true, it plays best with 3 players, but this game is a great game to get casual players into. Think of it as the next step up from Ticket to Ride: just enough to keep the competitive juices flowing, but not enough to burn your brain. Clocking in a 30 minutes, La Strada holds a nice place as a quality filler board game. (And is a great quick game for fans of Wallace's Rails games like Steam and Railroad Tycoon.) The knocks on price and player range are the ONLY things that bring this game down to anything but an excellent rating, but are significant enough to knock a point or two off. But if 3 is a good number for you, and the price is in your range, go out and buy it and enjoy it as much as I do.
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Homo Ludens
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St. Albert
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Re: Jeremy Avery: "Upper Stada-sphere of gaming"
I didn't know this was a Wallace design!

You confused me a bit early on with your reference to train games, whereas I gather from the rest of your review that this is actually about building roads.

Nice review otherwise!
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Jeremy Avery
Canada
Kamloops
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Re: Jeremy Avery: "Upper Stada-sphere of gaming"
Sorry for the confusion. It is a game themed around building roads, but I found that it is a "rails" game in that it is designed by Wallace (well known for his immensely popular rail games like Steam and Railways of the World) and has most of the railway game sensibilities.

Hope that helps clarify!
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Kendahl Johnson
United States
Syracuse
Utah
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Re: Jeremy Avery: "Upper Stada-sphere of gaming"
Nice review. Picked this up looking for a solid filler for lunchtime gaming.

The nice pun in the title of the review would have worked better except for the misspelling...
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Jeremy Avery
Canada
Kamloops
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Fixed spelling. Thx. =)
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Andy Andersen
United States
Michigan
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Good review, Jeremy.thumbsup
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Guy Riessen
United States
Sebastopol
California
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The resource variant (which was published in a German game magazine, and is recommended by Wallace as well) should be used to fix the start player advantage--otherwise the start player won't always win, but they will more often in games between equally skilled players.

We love the vicious competition in the 4 player game, and it still clocks in at 30 minutes. And while a great filler, if you mix experience levels, the poor new players will get absolutely hammered by the more experienced players...but only on the first game or two, then they'll be equally competitive.

A great vastly underrated game!
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Level 3 Tunt
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What is the "resource variant"? I don't see it listed in the variants here.
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mortego
United States
New Kensington
Pennsylvania
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I recently discovered this game because I was looking at Mayfair's YouTube Channel & watched some of those dorky "White Glover Production" (Glover) how to play videos. I haven't played this game yet but it looks like a game I would really enjoy.

Thanks for the review, I was probably sold on it before I even read it.
 
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