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Subject: Steam session report - 5 players rss

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Graham Dean
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Steam

Session report

I had managed to book myself into a pre-arranged game of Steam by Martin Wallace. I had never played Age of Steam, or any other similar train game, but I’d heard good things about it on BGG and I was interested to finally give it a go. On offer was a 5 player game with the advanced rules on the German map, and places filled up very quickly.

The group was

Keith: The owner of the game, and the only one of us who had played Steam before. He was keen to play a 5 player on the German side of the board and so had arranged this game session.

Uncle G: I was very happy to get the opportunity to play Steam, as it can take up to 6 players and it looks as though I’m going to get six players more often in my family game group. I wanted to check it out to see whether it would be an appropriate purchase.

Michel: I have only played a few games with Michel, and haven’t yet figured out a particular playing style. He is a by-word for occasionally taking a long time over his moves (and also making a few interesting facial contortions and humming noises while he does so). Maintains a blog where you can read his view on this game session.

Sam: I’d seen Sam around at the games club, but this was the first time we had played a game together, so I had no idea what his playing style might be.

Devious: I don’t know why everyone calls him Devious. I trust him implicitly. His defining quote is “People pick on me for no reason”. A very strong player in every game I’ve played with him.

Game session



Setup

Most of us had tried to familiarise ourselves with the rules, but we still needed Keith to run through them for us. This didn’t take that long (maybe 10 minutes), and we all helped organise the tiles, counters and cubes so it only took about 15 minutes before we were ready to play.

Early Game

My aim for the early game was to build short links which were close together with cubes which could be easily delivered in order to build my financial position. A quick scan of the board showed that by far the best location for this was the central connection between Munchengladbach (Purple) and Dusseldorf (Yellow). Munchengladbach had two yellow cubes which could be delivered to Dusseldorf, and Dusseldorf had a purple cube which could go the other way. I decided to bid high in the auction to get first building rights.

Michel, Sam and Devious all issued two shares, giving them 10 currency each, and Keith and I both issued 3 shares for 15 currency. Then the auction started, and on my second time around I bid 5, which I was confident would be enough to secure first choice of action token. I was absolutely stunned when Michel bid 6. He only had 10 currency to play with (in the advanced game you don’t get to issue shares when you need to, only at the start of a round), and I didn’t think 4 would be enough for him to do anything useful without being penalised. I didn’t want to go higher, and so passed.

Michel then took the First Build action tile, but placed his tiles in such a way that a parallel route between the Munchengladbach (Purple) and Dusseldorf (Yellow) was still possible, so that is what I did.



I can’t remember too much else of what the other players did, but I do know that Devious took the urbanisation action tile and built southwards from Dusseldorf (Yellow) to Koln (Purple) via Selingen, which he urbanised. Sam in the north east (Duisberg (Purple) to Essen (Yellow), and I think Keith did something in the north west.

At the end of the first turn we all had to settle up and pay for our locomotive value and shares, and sure enough Michel had no money left and had to issue emergency shares at a punitive rate. I think this mistake came about from not picking up on having to pay at the end of the turn caused by taking on a lot of rules all in one go. Michel is normally very careful about this sort of thing, and no-one had to do this for the rest of the game.

The only thing I can really remember about the second round is that I built South from Munchengladbach (Purple) to Aachen (Yellow), due to some rather nice cube arrangements being available. This seemed like a good idea to me at the time, but on reflection I think this was a mistake. In the longer term I wanted to build a long chain of links which would allow me to ship long distances. By including two cities of the same colour (Yellow) so close together, this would limit my ability to ship yellow cubes.

The situation was made still worse when Michel built alongside me and made the same connection. This seemed like a really bad idea, as both of us would be depleting the same stock of cubes, and we would therefore both suffer in relation to the other players who were still expanding into unique areas of the board Devious to the south east, Sam to the north east and Keith to the north west).

Mid Game

By this stage it was already looking like Michel was heading for fifth place, due to having built into a competitive situation with me and his poor financial position relative to the other players. At the other end of the table, it looked to me that Devious was going to be the man to beat. He had used urbanisation very well and had already built up a strong position where he had lots of short links, and preferential access to a lot of cubes.

One thing which struck me was how quickly the board in the centre becomes congested in a 5 player game. The majority of future expansion opportunities would involve heading towards the edges of the board.

In the next couple of turns I headed further south from Aachen (yellow) to Liege (blue), and then up from Liege to Maastricht, which I urbanised into a red city. This gave me a useful potential route of four links, and it was at this point that my mistake of building through two yellow cities struck me for the first time. There were yellow cubes available, and I could only get 1 or 2 points instead of 3 or 4, as you must stop at the first suitable city.

Keith was busily doing something in the north west, but I couldn’t really figure out what it was. Around this time he finished connecting Arnhem (blue), Nijmegen (yellow), Eindhoven (red) and Munchengladbach (Purple), but the cube distribution wasn’t brilliant and despite his rather impressive links he was still only about third (albeit a close third) at this point.

Sam was building track in the north west (Munster (red), Dortmund (blue), Essen (yellow) and Duisberg (purple), but these location don’t have large numbers of cubes, and the colour distribution wasn’t conducive to scoring lots of points. He was still scoring ones and twos while Keith, Devious and I were scoring threes and fours, and in fact he struggled to pull together high value cube movements throughout the game.

Devious built down to Bonn (red) and made connections to newly urbanised Siegberg and Duren, which really demonstrates the power of the urbanisation action. It was getting harder and harder to stop him selecting this action, as he was managing to ship for more points and so had a much healthier income than everyone else. When it came to the auction for first action he could usually outbid everyone. The only thing I noticed which held him back was that was having to use a few of his shipping actions to increase his locomotive value, so he wasn’t shipping as often as the rest of us.

Towards the end of this phase, Devious and Keith began to pull away from Sam and myself, with Michel a distant fifth. Devious pulling away was expected, but Keith less so. In fact it wasn’t until after the game ended that Keith made a comment which explained it to me, and which perhaps I should have realised earlier. He had managed to complete a loop, and was using the growth action ability to put fresh cubes into cities on this loop. Then, when he came to make a shipment he could send a cube the long way round for useful points every time.

End Game

By this stage as I had suspected I was really beginning to run out of access to cubes, because both Michel and I were taking the same resources. This left me with two options.

Firstly I could choose growth action or urbanise and introduce new cubes for me to use. The downside of this approach was that Michel would have access to them as well. It would also be very expensive to achieve as the two actions I needed to select were highly sought after by Keith and Devious.

The second approach was to boost my locomotive and take cubes from cities outside my own network. The downside here was that I would be giving a small amount of points to other players for using their links (in this case Keith and Devious).

I chose the second option.

In the final stages I managed to build up from Krefeld to Wesel (both urbanised) in order to get access to some cubes in Wesel placed there by Keith, and it may be of interest that this was the only bridge built in the whole game.

I also advanced my locomotive to 6, and was able to score 5 points (giving 1 away) at least a couple of times, so that decision paid off quite well. The final turn was full of shipping for points, and this was where good play in the previous rounds was rewarded. Well constructed routes with the right colours were able to score consistently good points, and Devious and Keith pulled away – it was obvious one of them was going to be the winner.

Scoring

When it came to scoring, both Devious and Keith were level from shipping, and from income, so it all came down to links made on the board.

Devious: 35
Keith: 34
Uncle G: 25
Sam: 21
Michel: 10

A very good game, and on the whole I’m reasonably happy with third. I would probably have made a few more points if Michel hadn’t shadowed my construction route so much, but I don’t think I would have done better than third due to incorporating two yellow cities in the centre of my linked chain of cities.

I like Steam a lot, and it has given me a lot to think about. I’m certainly keen to play it again, both the advanced game and the basic. In fact I may even want to play the basic game more, as for me the fun bit of the game is the interaction on the board, and the money management aspect (which is harder in the advanced game) is less fun for me.

However the main thing which makes me wonder about buying it is that I was able to predict the final positions quite early on. Steam is very unforgiving of mistakes, and some of them can be very subtle. If you make one early on it can be frustrating to play for another hour or more knowing that you can’t win.

Analysis

My usual habit is to think through how the game went and how well the different strategies worked, in an effort to improve as a player.

My initial approach was to build first and occupy a good central link between Munchengladbach (Purple) and Dusseldorf (Yellow), but I was prevented from doing this by an insane bid from Michel. However Michel’s tile placement between these cities allowed me to place my own route alongside. On the whole I think this was a reasonable thing to do, as there were enough shippable cubes to support two players, and the central link did prove very useful.

I then aimed to build a long continuous route, but several things went wrong with this.

Firstly, as Keith demonstrated so effectively later on, a loop is probably better than a single straight line if you can manage it.

Secondly I blundered in my construction and connected Dusseldorf (Yellow) to Aachen (Yellow) via one city, which meant that I couldn’t ship yellow cubes long distances.

Thirdly, much to my dismay Michel built parallel to me which meant that we were feeding from the same cubes. This was largely out of my control, but I knew I was going to struggle when I saw where Michel was building. The cubes in ‘our’ corner of the board depleted very quickly, which cost us both opportunities.

Faced with increased competition for cubes, my decision to boost my locomotive to 6 was probably the right one. I was able to take cubes from further away and transport them long distances. In practice this meant giving a few points to Keith and Devious, but this was probably unavoidable.

I didn’t really pick up on what Keith was up to until quite late. I don’t know whether it was his plan from the start, but he created a loop in the North West corner (Nijmegen (Yellow), Duisberg (Purple) and Eindhoven (Red) – plus some of the urbanised grey cities) which worked very well for him. Any cube he wanted to ship could be sent the long way round the loop for good points.

I don’t think Sam ever developed a strategy. This is a demanding game, and he was fully occupied in managing his money and picking actions on a turn by turn basis. I think he suffered from having a disjointed network, connecting cities of the same colour and having too low a locomotive. I certainly don’t remember him doing much long distance shipping.

Devious made very good use of the urbanise action in the first couple of rounds, and I think the rest of us should have prevented him from taking it so often. He used it skilfully to build a network of short links in the south east and kept it populated with useful cubes. He also benefited from never really having another player compete with him until towards the end.

Michel made at least two mistakes which cost him dearly. Taking a penalty on the first turn should never really happen, and the penalising cost of this set him back straight away, from which he never recovered. By far the bigger issue was his decision to build parallel routes to mine and connect the same cities. This wasn’t good for me either, but I had more money and was able to get a better locomotive which meant I was able to score the better cubes for more points than he was.

Thoughts on the game

d10-1 Competition is unavoidable, and even desirable, but try not to compete exactly with one other player in the early turns. There are a finite number of cubes, and if two players go for identical links then each player will get (on average) half the number of cubes of a player making links on their own.

d10-2 I suspect it would be difficult to achieve, but try to build loops. It will then be possible to ship goods the long way round for decent points, and give much greater flexibility.

d10-3 The urbanise action is very useful. More experienced players would probably have competed for it more, but by the time I realised how useful it was I couldn’t afford to compete for it.

d10-4 This is a really obvious one, but make sure you never have to issue emergency shares at a penal rate (advanced game). This is a major setback, and you’ll be chasing the game from then on.

d10-5 Build links which connect to each other in a long continuous chain. Without this, shipping for long distances in the end game (vital for the win) isn’t possible.

d10-6 When building a long chain of links, don’t include same colour cities close together. If you do (as I did), when shipping a cube of that colour you will only be able to ship to the nearest city of that colour, which will reduce point scoring opportunities.

d10-6 Turn order really matters. In the advanced game you can secure an early seat in the turn order through high income, and continue to pick the actions you want. This is a case of leaders being able to pull away, once they get into an advantageous position.
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Matt Tonks
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Hi Graham,

Another good session report as usual. Good to read as Age Of Steam is probably one of top 3 & Steam might as well be couple with AoS since the two are almost identical & the differences very slight.

Uncle G wrote:

Devious: I don’t know why everyone calls him Devious. I trust him implicitly. His defining quote is “People pick on me for no reason”. A very strong player in every game I’ve played with him.


This sounds like you haven't played with Devious enough ! He is a bit like Jeckyll & Hyde; sometimes he's very trustworthy, other times he's quite 'devious' to play against - particularly in anything that involves conflict of any sort. His best plays seem to come from when his best opportunities mean he shafts someone else badly & he won't hestitate to do so. Wait until you've heard more of his table talk...! One of my favourite opponents at the Legion.

Uncle G wrote:

I like Steam a lot, and it has given me a lot to think about. I’m certainly keen to play it again, both the advanced game and the basic. In fact I may even want to play the basic game more, as for me the fun bit of the game is the interaction on the board, and the money management aspect (which is harder in the advanced game) is less fun for me.

However the main thing which makes me wonder about buying it is that I was able to predict the final positions quite early on. Steam is very unforgiving of mistakes, and some of them can be very subtle. If you make one early on it can be frustrating to play for another hour or more knowing that you can’t win.


While I agree a bit about it being able to predict some of the positions early on, I would say this is more likely to occur with newbies. With experienced players, it's more likely the advantages will shift throughout the game but if someone is in a significantly stronger position then it's more likely they'll finish well.

I prefer AoS slightly more; a bit more brutual & perhaps a bit more of a gamers' game, but they are almost virtually identical.

Matt..
 
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Graham Dean
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tonksey wrote:
Uncle G wrote:
However the main thing which makes me wonder about buying it is that I was able to predict the final positions quite early on. Steam is very unforgiving of mistakes, and some of them can be very subtle. If you make one early on it can be frustrating to play for another hour or more knowing that you can’t win.

While I agree a bit about it being able to predict some of the positions early on, I would say this is more likely to occur with newbies. With experienced players, it's more likely the advantages will shift throughout the game but if someone is in a significantly stronger position then it's more likely they'll finish well.

I'm certainly prepared to accept what you say here. I think perhaps a better thing for me to have said was that finishing groups of players can be predicted based on number of mistakes. I'm sure more experienced players could bring out a lot of subtle mistakes, but basically in our game, the five of us finished in three groups - Keith and Devious who didn't make any major mistakes; Sam and I who made one major mistake (poor construction of route in terms of city colours); and Michel who made two major mistakes in paying a penalty in turn 1 and making the same construction mistake as me.

I definitely feel me and Steam have unfinished business.
 
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Juho Snellman
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Uncle G wrote:

Uncle G: I was very happy to get the opportunity to play Steam, as it can take up to 6 players and it looks as though I’m going to get six players more often in my family game group. I wanted to check it out to see whether it would be an appropriate purchase.


Even though the bgg game entry claims 3-6 players, neither of the included maps actually supports 6 players, and given the reported tile shortages with 5 players, it's not obvious that 6 player AoS maps would work that well either. Steam Barons will include extra tiles and maps with explicit 6 player support.

 
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Graham Dean
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jsnell wrote:
Uncle G wrote:

Uncle G: I was very happy to get the opportunity to play Steam, as it can take up to 6 players and it looks as though I’m going to get six players more often in my family game group. I wanted to check it out to see whether it would be an appropriate purchase.

Even though the bgg game entry claims 3-6 players, neither of the included maps actually supports 6 players, and given the reported tile shortages with 5 players, it's not obvious that 6 player AoS maps would work that well either. Steam Barons will include extra tiles and maps with explicit 6 player support.

Thanks for posting. I hadn't realised that was the case. After some agonising over it I've decided not to buy for my family group, and not playing 6 in the basic game confirms it. Steam has too many rules and the gameplay is too deep and demanding for the gaming preferences of my family and non-gamer friends.
 
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Michel Wermelinger
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Oh, it was an actual map of Central Europe?! I only paid attention to the colours on cities and cubes

Just a minor point: your impression of me always copying you is not quite fair. In the first round you had plenty of choices besides setting track parallel to mine. I then did indeed set track next to one or two of yours, but that was it. The major point is that we were building mostly in the same region of the map, even though not always with the same connections.

Otherwise a great report! How you remember all your tracks is beyond me. The summary of lessons learned will certainly be helpful for our next game. Thanks.
 
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Graham Dean
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Prof. Plum wrote:
your impression of me always copying you is not quite fair. In the first round you had plenty of choices besides setting track parallel to mine. I then did indeed set track next to one or two of yours, but that was it. The major point is that we were building mostly in the same region of the map, even though not always with the same connections.

I've been thinking about that - whether placing parallel to you on the first turn was a mistake or not. On the whole I think it was probably OK, given the useful central location, and the high number of shippable cubes between the two cities. On reflection I still think there were enough cubes to support two players for a turn, and the location gave lots of options for future turns.

On the second turn I think we both made a mistake in building down to a yellow city. This meant that in future rounds when either of us wanted to ship a yellow cube it got stopped short by the first yellow city, which was a bit of a handicap! there is always going to be competition for cubes, and you and I were competing directly against each other for turn 1 and throughout the game, whereas the competition for cubes between the other players started later.

Anyway, glad you liked the report.
 
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Corin A. Friesen
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Uncle G wrote:
However the main thing which makes me wonder about buying it is that I was able to predict the final positions quite early on. Steam is very unforgiving of mistakes, and some of them can be very subtle. If you make one early on it can be frustrating to play for another hour or more knowing that you can’t win.

The thing I like about Steam is it has 2 aspects: One is building a solid network, the other is the manipulation of goods cubes. These seemingly contradictory elements are combined nicely in the game, and allow for great competition with more advanced players (I am not part of that group yet). So, a runaway leader problem is apparent when you are learning, but advanced players will mitigate this problem by good play and manipulation of goods. Of course, knowing where to build is great too.

Check this out: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/447142. It works well!
 
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