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Subject: Coast to Coast Collusion rss

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JR
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At my office, we play games most days at lunch. They range from the occasional light fare to medium weight games but our selections are always constrained by one important factor: 60 minutes of play time available. If a game can't play in an hour, it's not getting played by this group. As such, Chicago Express is as close as we have come to the perfect game. We play Chicago Express at least once a week generally, and on more than one occasion, we have played it 5 days in a week (seldom, but it happens). My love for Chicago Express (Wabash Cannonball) is what caused me to notice that Scott Petersen had designed and produced his own cube-and-hex rail game. Always interested in such fare, I browsed over the BGG page. The play time was within our target time. The production looked good, and it has loads of cubes and a hex based map of the United States. All the components to great lunch time gaming!

So, I emailed Scott, ordered a copy and waited patiently. After he sent the game, he refunded me some cash because shipping was cheaper than he expected (big thanks to Scott!). After a short wait, the game arrived (from USA to Canada in just over a week). So today we finally got to table the game and thus this review (and an accompanying session report).

First, I will talk about the materials and presentation and then gameplay. Being a self-published game, I was surprised to see that the game uses a strong 2-piece box (with great art work to boot). Inside the box you will find a large game map printed on very heavy card stock in full colour which includes a dividend track and value charts. For each of the 10 start cities and for each of the 5 companies, there are heavy, laminated cards. There are 6 attractive player mats (charters, if you will) which give concise rules summaries as well as a place to keep cash and share cubes. The game rules are printed full colour on single, double-sided sheet of card stock and are well written and clear. Aside from that, there are 5 bags of cubes (each containing 40 of a single company's colour), an extra bag with dividend track markers for each company and (bonus round!) a couple spare cubes of each colour in a separate bag marked spares (thumbs up!). The production looks like this is a professionally produced game.

Now that you've made it this far, let me state that Coast to Coast Rails, while appearing similar to Wabash Cannonball or other similar cube-and-hex Winsome train games, is very unique (to me at least). On the surface it looks like similar stuff (spend money on shares, expand routes, earn dividends). But the game actually plays out with some really different decisions than other games like this I've played.

The game is divided into a number of sets of rounds (up to a maximum of 4). Each set of rounds is comprised of a stock round and a track building round. Every round, the player with the lowest cash has the first turn and then each player takes turns clockwise around the table until the round ends.

During the stock round, each company which still has cubes available and has not yet completed a coast-to-coast route (the goal of any company) is put up for auction. 3 shares from the company's cube pool are auctioned out to the players. The players may raise or pass. The winning bidder takes 2 shares and pays full bid, the last player to pass takes the 3rd share for 1/2 his bid (rounded up). After each of the available company's has been put to auction, the round ends and there is a track building round.

Here's where it gets interesting. All track builds are paid for out of the player's personal treasuries. There are no company treasuries like most other similar games. Notice that right from the share buying round, we move to the track building round. Thus, if you spent a load of cash on shares this round, you may find yourself unable to increase your interests to any great avail during the track building round. This is a really important component of the game and one which I believe gives it much of its depth. One must balance one's desire to own shares in the "good companies" with the ability to actually do something with said companies to increase their worth (and so the player's worth).

Also of note, the track building round does not have any fixed number of actions or turns available like so many other games. The players continue building track (1 or 2 cubes during a turn) until they have either exhausted their cash or decide to pass. Once a player passes, he may no longer build track for the remainder of that round. Once all players pass, the round ends and dividends are paid. Dividends are relatively simple to calculate since there is no division required. Simply pay each player the dividend value of each of his shares. Later in the game, there is quite a bit of cash to pay out, but because there's a maximum of 4 dividend payouts, this doesn't really affect the speed of the game at all.

So that's a summary of how the game works. If you have any interest in games like the Winsome railroad games, this is surely something that should interest you. And for players who find the subtle cruelty of Wabash Cannonball to be too much, this game could also be a bright light, because it has less potential for evil play. For example, a player who owns a majority of shares in a company may veto any track builds another player tries to do for that company (so a player with one share in your company cannot go and waste your cubes to prevent a coastal connection). But on the flip-side, the game is not void of subtleties in play. On more than one occasion, I found myself making bids I didn't really want to make because I really wanted the player to my left to pass before I did. The reason being that I was trying to position the grey company so that each of my two opponents held an equal number of shares in the company and then I could expect it to stagnate, since they each had majorities in other companies. So, to take a page from the book of J C Lawrence, emergent alliances are present.

So in closing, Coast-to-Coast Rails is a fun, approachable rail-based route-building game which is easier on the unsuspecting newbie without discarding the aspects that make such a game appealing to a more experienced player. You could easily play this with the wife and kids for fun (the rules are simple) but still have a more mathematically tactical game against your gaming group mates.

Edit: Fixing typos. Edited again to fix some wording. I didn't like the wording I used between rounds and turns and clarified.
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Costas
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Great review Justin. This game is slowly climbing wishlist...
 
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Scott Petersen
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Thanks Justin! Exactly the experience I was hoping people would have with the game.
 
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Jack Neal
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[q]emergent alliances[]/q]

Man, I love that phrase.
 
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