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Subject: Isleworth Boardgamers try to make their fortunes on Planet Steam rss

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Scott Agius
United Kingdom
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Wednesday 26th January, 2011
Venue: The London Apprentice, Isleworth

With a couple of hours to play and a game required to accommodate 5, Keith had kindly brought along Planet Steam in its giant (read: vastly oversized for its purpose) box that was attracting a lot of attention, of the games on offer Scott proposed it and had to convince the masses that a game in such a big box doesn’t take a whole day to play, in fact we could do it in the 90 minutes it says on the box (read: probably, but you can’t put doubt in people’s minds when it comes to economic games). Tonio enquired as to the gameplay and Scott attempted a brief summary and Tonio finished with "Is it like Settler’s then", "erm..... yeah it’s a bit like Settlers" came the reply to keep Tonio’s interest high, although he would probably be happily cajoled in to playing any game and enjoy it.

So we had the game set and Keith got himself caught in a game of Brass so it would be up to Scott to teach the game to Paul, James, Tonio and Maynard and to Scott’s surprise everyone seemed very excited about it, I suspect they were unaware of what was to come next.... the box had distracted them, if it had said Planet Steam on a smaller box and Scott was keen to play it then that is an immediate warning sign! (note for next week - make giant box for 18xx game and call it Railroad Settlers)

Tonio took this brief opportunity before the game started to relieve himself and so began the quizzical nature of Maynard who put it to the rest of us, what is the size of a Rhinoceros’s bladder? , apparently this had just been jogged in his memory by Tonio taking a rather long time, something to do with a phone call and arranging his life outside of games, how dare he?

The answer if you were interested was not recalled along with the question, but we estimate....pretty big.

The Rules

Scott delegated some unpacking and skimmed the rules to refresh himself and was ready to teach:

We are all miners on Planet steam, trying to find our fortunes by building platforms, buying tanks and pumping resources out of the planet, there are four resources, Water, Energy, Ore and Crystal and you start the game with a few of each stored on your carriers, which you have one specifically for each resource and through the game these can be upgraded to allow you to store/buy/produce more of that resource; there is a marketplace (somewhere) and it starts with a plentiful supply of each and the market prices are middling to low as well. You get some money to start with and this will get you set up with a few tanks and some upgrades to mine the specific resource you are after.

The rounds have a particular order as follows:

Recruit specialist and this also determines turn order - this is via an auction to stay in and then have pick of the remaining roles (there is also a bonus resource should there be any in the market at the start of the turn - potentially there will be one of each type and there always is to start the game)

Gain a new platform for placing tanks (you start with two each on a pre-set map) - this is done by picking where you’d like to go and rolling the die (50/50 chance), if you succeed you get that location otherwise you place it along the same row or column (should there be no other space you get 15 credits in compensation).

Activate - costs you one water, and then you can buy as many tanks and upgrades as you can afford, in the base rules you are free to move stuff around on your platforms to keep it simple, most purchases require a water and the tank supply is limited and increases in value so getting there early can be good. A tank with no upgrade produces water otherwise it produces the type of upgrade you bought it (energy, ore, crystal).

Once purchases are complete you produce, and each tank produces one resource if you supply it with some energy (exception: energy production), you get bonus resources if you produce the same resource from your adjacent tanks then it’s one bonus per link (i.e. three in a row producing water will make 5 water total). If you bought a compressor dome upgrade (a.k.a. hats) then they add one each and if you were the specialist who set-up the ‘doo-hickey’ (that may or may not be a technical term) at the end of a row then anyone’s tanks in that row get plus 1 production for the turn as well.

We then go to the market place and everyone in order gets a chance to buy/sell crystal, then ore, then water, then energy. You get a chance to buy a building license (save rolling the die to get a platform in an empty space or take over one of the more prized neutral platforms) or a 50 credit voucher which can be redeemed at the end for 50 credits (VPs). These licenses are limited and once they’re gone they’re gone.

The next round then begins, with five players we have four rounds (years if you want to stay on theme). The winner is the player with the most credit value at the end, platforms (25), tanks (25) and hats (50 - I re-iterate hats are good mmmkay, worth a lot and help produce more resources) plus any credits in hand (all goods on ships being converted to credits for their current market value if they haven’t been sold already in the last round).

The Game

Year 1

With lots of cash burning a hole in people’s pockets, and as yet unsure exactly how it would need to be spent in terms of a whole round, the miners were cautious about it, the initial role auction begun and Scott won the first one for 13 credits and picked role 4 to get an extra crystal and took the water from the display. Everyone followed with their auctions and 13 was a popular bid in round 1.

Everyone got to be fairly happy with their platform selection, even with a failure on a first choice it was fairly safe to get a second choice that fit in your network and with the first activation round, the potential scarcity of water was not lost on anyone as that seemed a popular choice of production with two tanks. Tonio with control of the extra platform auction managed to secure himself two in the centre row for water that didn’t require any energy.

Scott was the only one to buck the trend as he had an extra water to spend and could buy three tanks, making one of them a crystal producer.
It was at this point that Maynard realised something very profound:

"It’s at this point in a game with Scott that I understand what his plan was all along, he made sure he won that first auction to get the extra water and then to get that extra tank"

Paul decided he wasn’t going to follow suit either and instead decided to go in to some energy production, Scott pointed out that it might not be very profitable in round one as the market was full of energy and the price would likely to drop to one this turn but Paul took the warning on board and carried on with his plans to start dominating the energy market.

We moved on to production and everyone collected their water while Scott got his crystal and Paul his energy.

The available crystals in the market were quickly swept up by the first three players, Maynard, Tonio and James and a small amount of ore and then water purchased, mostly by Paul who hadn’t produced any water and was lucky that no-one was particularly mean and would buy all of the available water just to destroy his second turn, but do remember to watch Scott’s eyes in future games to see if he’s planning it.
Energy as expected dropped to a value of 1 and those late in the order filled their boots (or ships).

The last item of the day was if anyone wanted a building/credit license. Tonio was the first to commit to spending resources and bought a 50 credit slip "well it’s 50 points innit", there were some concerns from the other new players but then.....Scott bought one as well, all was safe for Tonio, he was happy that he’d made the right move because Scott had done it too.

This could have been the moment of joy from just buying the 50 credit slip and feeling it was the correct move but I suspect Tonio was thinking, "This game is great, it’s just like Settlers"

Year 2

Another year, another auction for turn order; this time we’re all a little wiser, but also a lot poorer after having invested money in infrastructure. Due to the production of 6 new tanks by the game board and the full purchase of water and crystal stocks there were no bonus resources up for offer and the auction was fairly quick, not many people wanted to go above 7, especially Tonio who made it known, and when it was just him and Scott, Scott bid 7, "well, if I wasn’t going to bid it earlier, I’m not bidding it now", and Scott got a choice of cards for 7 credits, or "how to play Tonio at his own psychological game"

Everyone managed to get themselves some extra production via new tanks or hats, but couldn’t afford much more so James in last place in turn order was relieved after fearing a rush on tanks and not being able to buy any more without having to use crystals. Paul was running lowest on water and decided to continue his investment in to energy with yet more upgrades to his ship to carry it all.

"What’s that Tonio planning, and James, you can never trust James; I’ll show them all, the energy market will be mine, all mine, it might be rock bottom now but just you wait and see."

After last year’s lesson of when being first can be good, now is when you realise when its bad, there was nothing available in the market and anyone buying anything would have to hope someone before them sold, all prices were raised through shortages and a couple of sales made to generate some cash for year three but there was still a distinct lack of resources while prices were rising towards the top.

Years 3 & 4

In the real world, it was getting close to closing time with around 30 minutes left to play two years, and so began the speed play of Planet Steam, which was made easier by a lack of funds and for some....water or energy.

Not much was recalled of these ending years and would make it difficult for historians to re-enact the troubled times that so plagued some investors on the planet but it was known that in Year 4, Scott and James had both completely run out of energy, while Tonio was running fairly low. The last auction saw a fierce battle for control of role number 4, the only way to get more energy in time to power, and Tonio with a bid of around 40 sealed the deal, it was too rich for Scott.

James looked on, realising this was going to be a very simple round with no energy and ending up in last place in the turn order was going to get him the worst possible value for his resources once everyone had sold everything they owned.

"Next time I’m adding some space mercenaries to attack other players and steal their resources"

With most people short of energy (or in Paul’s case just continuing to capitalising on the energy market) there was a mass switch to energy production and where possible some ore and crystal which would all fetch an extortionate price.

With the last market phase, there was the biggest influx of resources and although it was mentioned that people may be interested in buying up resources to make money on rising prices (as resources on carriers score at the end still), that wouldn’t be a reasonable option this game as most prices were near the top and there were people keen to crush the prices for the players following them.

The scores were as follows:

Scott - 624
Maynard - 580
Tonio - 541
Paul - 516 (the take-over of the energy market couldn’t win above those with the more valuable infrastructure as well - "those hats were worth 50 credits you say, well I didn’t realise that")
James - 458 ("I don’t care if they continue to lose value, since I’m last anyway I’ll just keep the water and energy on my ships for next game")

There ended our first venture on to Planet Steam, there did seem to be a good level of enjoyment and as one of the better, more dynamic, economic games it would be good to keep this hitting the table, if only the box were more suitable for carrying around.

I particularly like how it plays well with any number, plays very differently depending on the cautiousness/aggressiveness of players and that it’s easy to understand once you get in the flow of it all (despite quite a few rules to get your head around at first), and that you can play it in around 90 minutes with a little pressing on people to make a decision and knowing that the pub is about to close.

Many thanks to Maynard for taking some pictures of our game, especially the rather quizzical one of himself, so that it could be recreated in all its glory.

(In case you were wondering, I just happened to include the photos to fit the session report storyline, totally oblivious to them also matching the score ranking)
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