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Subject: What are we missing? (+ a rules question) rss

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David Tolin
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So, we played our first game of this last night. We really enjoyed the theme, and most of the rules seem very straightforward. However, we stopped playing after the end of the first round. This was partly because it was late and we were very tired, but a few people at the table (including myself) couldn't shake the feeling that we were doing something wrong.

It's difficult to describe this feeling, so bear with me. Basically, everything just seemed inconsequential, from a mechanics standpoint. When reading the rules, and then when explaining the mechanics to others, everything seemed like it would have a certain flow and difficulty. But, once we were playing, none of it seemed to matter very much.

Take the Ether cards, for instance. At the beginning of each round, you're going to auction off the spirit leader token, which is going to eat up some ether cards. Then, to move your train, you're going to eat up more ether cards. At the end of the first movement phase, you're only going to get half of the ether cards played back (via ether replenishment). So, at a glance, this sounds like there will be agonizing decisions about which ether cards to play and a careful balancing to make sure you don't run out. In practice, none of us ever felt like we had a shortage of ether cards. On the contrary, it felt like there was plenty to go around--no matter how loosely you play.

And what about the tracks themselves? I love the idea of leaving this spectral slime behind your train and that you subsequently won't be able to cross that track (while other players can use it to their content, for free). But, in practice, when combined with the high amount of ether available, there was never any real concern about boxing yourself in or running out of track. If you run out, you just pick it up from the board. No big deal, at all. And being able to travel across other players' rails for free is a HUGE boon. Train movement just had no real limitations or depth at all--it always came down to a question of where you wanted to move and how you were going to get there. In all cases, the answer was that you had plenty of breathing room to do whatever you want--tons of ether if you want to just drive there and plenty of opponents' track if you prefer or need that alternative.

This is why I'm certain we must have been missing something. I've been over the rules multiple times, and I don't think we played anything incorrectly, so I suspect maybe we're just playing poorly or something. Maybe with an experienced group of people, other tactics come into play that force more strategy into the game. As it was in our session, at the end of the first movement phase, we'd all spent pretty much all of our ether, picked up and delivered 2 or 3 souls each, and two of the three train wreck tokens had been triggered. Just seemed off and there was no excitement and very little pleasure in the actual play.

If anyone can decipher the meandering observations above and pinpoint what we're missing, I'd be greatly appreciative. I was pretty excited about picking up this game, and I'd be sorry to see it go straight to the trade pile just because we're misunderstanding the intent of the system.

And, finally, here's a rules question that had us stumped: The rules state that if you've spent 13 ether in your movement phase, you MUST pass next time around. Does this mean that you can't spend a coin to move along opponents' tracks, if you still have one available? We played strictly by the rules and didn't allow it, but it seems like you should be able to use the coin if you like.

Any input is greatly appreciated.
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Morgan Dontanville
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The first round is basically a setup round for the rest of the game. Your rails prevent your movement and you can only start picking up tracks from ends of your connected track or isolated track. Your bid is dependent on whether you want others to build track before you do or whether you want to get souls before others get them. As for replenishment, you only get 1/2 your cards from the front back, so as the game progresses your cards are going to get tied up in the replenishment chain.

I feel that playing only the first round of the game gives you only a fraction of the experience.

Just to make sure that you are playing this correctly:
1. You bid and the winner chooses who goes first.
2. You pick up a soul.
3. You play any number of cards that you'd like to move your train laying track behind you.
4. Deliver souls at the end of your move.
5. Repeat 2-4 until you lay 13 tracks or pass. (Yes you can use a coin to move if you have laid 13 tracks and don't use more).
6. After the round ends you get 1/2 your cards back along with coins. Then stat at 1 again.

If you only played the first round you shouldn't have gotten cards back or picked up rail.
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David Tolin
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sisteray wrote:
I feel that playing only the first round of the game gives you only a fraction of the experience.


This is, I'm hoping, our biggest problem. As I said, we were very tired and a few of us just didn't want to invest more time in it if we weren't playing correctly (because it really felt like we couldn't be). Maybe once we play a complete game, including the second round, and see the final scoring shake out it will make a big difference. At this point, jockeying for particular souls is an avenue that we weren't particularly focused on... and maybe the set collection aspect for the bonus points is the real heart of the game. Would you say this is the case?

For me, personally, (and it's probably because we were playing so late at night) I couldn't be bothered to really look at the available souls on the board and plan out which in-state and all-state bonuses I was going to shoot for from the outset. I was focused purely on picking up and dropping off for the base points. At the end of the first round, I took stock to see which souls I had to pick up to finish sets for the bonuses, but I don't think I'd be too interested in focusing on such a long-term goal early in the game. Maybe that's what I'm missing, since the underlying mechanic of picking up souls and dropping them off for base points wasn't very engaging (due to the ease of getting around the map).

sisteray wrote:
6. After the round ends you get 1/2 your cards back along with coins. Then stat at 1 again.

If you only played the first round you shouldn't have gotten cards back or picked up rail.


Ah, when I used the term "round" I was referring to one of the two rounds that the game is played over. I may have used it in more than one way, though, so I apologize for the confusion. We played one "round" in that we played until three train wrecks occurred and it was time to set up "round 2." I guess the term for individual units inside of a round is "sequence"? In that case, we played two sequences (maybe three?), after which the first round was over.

Thanks very much for responding so quickly, btw. I think your design is going to be enjoyable... I just have to wrap my head around its intent. Next up on the docket is definitely a second play, all the way to the end.
 
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Morgan Dontanville
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Well I hope you dig it, but I also understand how different games are for different people.
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Rance Leon
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sisteray wrote:
6. After the round ends you get 1/2 your cards back along with coins. Then stat at 1 again.

If you only played the first round you shouldn't have gotten cards back or picked up rail.


In line 6 and the last sentence above, do you mean "sequence" (as utilized on page 3 under "Game Play") instead of "round"? If Round 1 and Round 2 each end after only 13 track pieces per player and only one time to get any cards back, then there isn't much action getting done in the game.
 
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