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Subject: Which is the best train game? rss

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Aaron Chasteen
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I see 'Steam' is the newest and best reviewed train game in the Age of Steam series, but I also see great reviews on 'Railways of the World' from Railroad Tycoon series.

With all the train games (besides Ticket to Ride) which game is the best?
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Depends on what you're looking for...
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It depends massively on what you are looking for. I am particularly fond of 1830: Railways & Robber Barons, due to be republished in a few months. Age of Steam makes a pleasant lower-end game and I'm not interested in going lighter, simpler or more gentle than that. I find Steam a dreadful game.
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There is a widespread notion that Age of Steam is the most 'hardcore' game and RotW/Railroad Tycoon the most approachable, with Steam being sort of a middle ground. Keep in mind that they are different iterations of the same system, so imho unless you're a train hooligan you will be happy with any of them.
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From my understanding of the question, the answer you are looking for is between one of the three?

If this is the case, my recommendation would be to go with Steam. It doesn't have some of the random factors which lower RT/RotW in my view, and doesn't have the harsh and jagged edges which make AoS too cut-throat by some groups' standards.

I will personally play any of them; for me it usually comes down to group preferences.
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It is a hopeless question. I see you're in Indiana! If you are near Indianapolis I can point you towards a few game groups where you can try out a bunch of them and decide for yourself (just geekmail me). If not, here I my thoughts:

I think the Martin Wallace designed Age of Steam system is just great. However, the system has be reimplemented so many times it can get confusing. Here is my take on the different versions:

Age of Steam - the classic. There were wersions of the system, called the Early Railway Series. before this, but they are rare and for your purposes I think we can ignore them. Age of Steam is probably the most cutthroat among the Wallace games listed here. This version also has by far the most expansion maps.

Railways of the World - I myself don't like the changes they introduced in this version, but I still rate it an 8, which is a testament to just how good the system is. It has a big map and molded plastic pieces which actually look like trains and whatnot. If such things are important to your enjoyment of a game, I'd suggest you look towards this and Railways of the World, and away of Steam/Age of Steam.

Railways of the World - This is the one version I haven't tried. My understanding is that it's basically Railroad Tycoon with a few minor tweaks. Basically it was made to accommodate a bunch of expansion maps. However, it is extremely unlikely this it will ever reach the expansion level of Age of Steam. I believe Railroad Tycoon is out of print, so if you are drawn to this branch of the tree, you will probably be buying Railways of the World;

Steam - This is where things get hopelessly confusing. The existence of a game called Steam is a result of both gameplay a legal consideration, which are too confounded to get into now. Suffice it to say that if you are only going to buy one, I think Steam is a good bet, It has two modes of play. The basic mode is an interesting new take on the system that is less punishing than the original Age of Steam, but avoids the nagging complaints some (including me) have with Railroad Tycoon/Railways of the World. The Advanced mode is essentially Age of Steam. Some purists will call that blasphemy, but I really think the differences are quite minor. The most important consideration is that The huge number of expansion maps for Age of Steam have to be tweaked to work with Steam, which is more difficult for some maps than for others.

Hopefully all that is helpful. If not you can spend many hours reading through the BGG forums on the merits of one version over another. As far as other train games, there are simply too many to discuss in one post, I am am by no means an expert, though I have played many. The group you will hear about most is 18xx. In these games you investing in different railroads, instead of each player controlling one. The system has a lot of fans, but I am not among them. There are about a billion version to choose from if you decide to check this system out, but I can't give you much advice on which to try first.
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Quote:
I think Steam is a good bet, It has two modes of play.


I would just like to add that with the Steam Barons expansion, there are three modes of play. Personally, I like Steam very much, but I like the stock market game in Steam Barons even better.
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I've only played Age of Steam and Railways of the World. Both are great games but I prefer Railways of the World. Then again, I am hardly an expert when it comes to train games.
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I see no reason to play Railways of the World if you have Age of Steam or Steam available.

My recommendation is for Steam. There are two versions of the game; the basic version is more approachable, balanced and, bluntly, more fun than Railways of the World. Plus, I don't know if the board size changed from Railways of the World, but this game had a gigantic board that was ill-suited to most tables. The standard version is very similar to Age of Steam. Several diehard AoS fans will tell you that they just aren't the same, but that's partly personal preference and partly sunk costs; if you're unacquainted with either, Steam is the superior purchase if nothing else than based on its two versions, both of which are terrific. If you play it and like it, maybe then the subtle differences between Steam and AoS will be remarkable. And if you really must know the differences, you have them handy here.
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jgag wrote:
I see no reason to play Railways of the World if you have Age of Steam or Steam available.

My recommendation is for Steam. There are two versions of the game; the basic version is more approachable, balanced and, bluntly, more fun than Railways of the World. Plus, I don't know if the board size changed from Railways of the World, but this game had a gigantic board that was ill-suited to most tables. The standard version is very similar to Age of Steam. Several diehard AoS fans will tell you that they just aren't the same, but that's partly personal preference and partly sunk costs; if you're unacquainted with either, Steam is the superior purchase if nothing else than based on its two versions, both of which are terrific. If you play it and like it, maybe then the subtle differences between Steam and AoS will be remarkable. And if you really must know the differences, you have them handy here.


+1

Go with Steam, then move on to Age of Steam if you really like Steam and want an additional challenge.
That's what I did...
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achasteen wrote:
With all the train games (besides Ticket to Ride) which game is the best?


It depends how you measure 'best'.

My favourite train-themed game is Chicago Express because it is simple but difficult to play well and has lots of interaction.

There's two main kinds of train game, ones where each player controls their own stuff, and share holding games where players own shares in stuff.

can you provide more info about what you are looking for (number of players, length, complexity etc.)
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Railroad Tycoon is easier to understand and a bit more fun than Steam. Steam is a bigger mental challenge and much more rewarding to win.
Age of Steam is like Steam, but even more so.

Railroad Tycoon and Railways of the world are in essence the same. There's a bunch of large scale maps, and it appeals to the more Eurogamers among my group. Steam appeals more to the economic/train gamers. I wish I could convince all of them to play the base game of steam, but they seem to think you have to play the most complex set of rules and have to have the auction. Hohum.
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Re. Steam/Age of Steam. My preference if for Steam, basic game.

Other excellent train games:
Stephenson's Rocket (plays well with two to four)
18xx (a fair commitment here)
Clippers (about shipping lines, but much like a train game)
Chicago Express (has shareholding and dividends but much less length and complexity than 18xx)
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ZiggyZambo wrote:
Railways of the World - This is the one version I haven't tried. My understanding is that it's basically Railroad Tycoon with a few minor tweaks. Basically it was made to accommodate a bunch of expansion maps. However, it is extremely unlikely this it will ever reach the expansion level of Age of Steam.


It is basically Railroad Tycoon with a few minor tweaks, yes. One of them is that the Eastern U.S. board in RotW is substantially smaller than the gigantic version in Railroad Tycoon. Unless your game table is particularly small, you won't have trouble fitting the RotW boards on it.

There are currently six official boards available. Two of them come with the base game (Eastern U.S. which is suitable for 4-6 players, and Mexico which is suitable for 2-3). The other four are sold separately. There will be more expansions in the fairly near future.

In addition there are quite a few fan-designed expansions available, if you're willing to go to the trouble of printing them out. The geeklist Maps for Railroad Tycoon / Railways of the World - Official and Unofficial has 22 entries as of this writing.

[Edit: Screwed up the geeklist reference in several ways. Need more coffee.]
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I do enjoy my copy of Steam. Though I personally find it a bit dry at times, and it doesn't get played as much as it did at first.

Chicago Express is my favorite game with trains, though it's more about stocks and economics compared the standard build a network and\or pick up and deliver train games.
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paulclarke339 wrote:
There's two main kinds of train game, ones where each player controls their own stuff, and share holding games where players own shares in stuff.

So, following on from this (which to me seems a key point of differentiation among the various games), into which category do the main three/four/five train games discussed here fall?

 
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Adverb wrote:
paulclarke339 wrote:
There's two main kinds of train game, ones where each player controls their own stuff, and share holding games where players own shares in stuff.

So, following on from this (which to me seems a key point of differentiation among the various games), into which category do the main three/four/five train games discussed here fall?


In Age of Steam, Steam, Railroad Tycoon, and Railways of the World, each player has his own railroad company.

18XX and Chicago Express are share-holding games.

Steam Barons is an expansion for Steam which converts it to a share-holding games. The RotW expansion Railways of England and Wales has alternate rules, and can be played either way.
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I'm also trying to decide on my first train game. I've pretty much narrowed it down to Age of Steam or Steam, but I'm having trouble deciding. I've not played either game, but I've been reading the comparisons on the two here on the geek for hours and hours the last few days.

Things that bother me about Steam, from what I understand:

- The cube placement. I'm not really thrilled with the idea of the players being able to place the cubes. It seems like this would tend to cause players to try to isolate themselves from other players, instead of having conflict over trying to get to a certain city to get the cubes you want. I guess the whole point of only one city growth action allowed/urbanized cities only get cubes once is to force the players to expand to other cities to get more cubes, but I'm not sure how well this works in practice. Having played neither game, I'm just not sure how I feel about this.

- You score for each link at the end of the game, instead of for each tile in a completed? link. So you go through all the effort and cost of creating a long link, but it counts the same as a smaller link? Not sure that gels with me.

- The separate income/VP track. This is probably the biggest mental hurdle for me. I'm running a train company. I'd think the objective of any company would be to make money. Yet in Steam, you have to have two income (or is it money?) to equal one VP, meaning you really should have gone for VP instead of income those final turns, ideally winding up at 0 income. I guess this rewards "efficiency", but I'm having trouble with it. I like it when VP are scored with direct relation to something I've gained or done. Yes in Steam, are scored with deliveries, but to say making money is not optimal? It just feels very gamey. What company spends time generating a bunch of income just to then try to blow it all before a certain time? I'm not sure if Age of Steam has any of this sort of end game shenanigans or not.

- The value of the actions. They seem to be a lot closer in Steam. I'm not sure how much weight the auction in Steam really carries if there are 3 or possibly 4 good actions at any one time. Especially if you're only playing a 3 or 4 player game. Are there any house rules/variants on this?

- The two maps that come seem to let you play 3-5 players? I'd love to be able to play 2-6 right out of the box. Heck, even 1-6.


Things I think I'd like about Steam:

- Love the components. I like the wood disks for trains better than that plastic trains of AoS 3rd edition. I like the wooden trains in Steam Barons even better. I find the map graphics more attractive in Steam than AoS.

- The option for the basic game. I'm not sure how often this would get played once the first bite of "Standard" was taken, but having the lighter option would be nice for quicker games or introducing people, or people that thing Standard is too cutthroat. Right now I'm leaning to the side of people that say that Basic is the real value of Steam, and that if you want to play Standard - just play AoS. I know people have created house rules for the taking of shares in AoS to make it more "newbie friendly", but that still doesn't compensate for the people that don't like the Auction mechanic.

- The option of Steam Barons. Looks like an interesting game. Plus it gives you more Steam maps and awesome wooden trains.


Things that bother me about AoS

- The aforementioned plastic trains. The aesthetic just doesn't fit with the rest of the components to me.

- Being able to screw someone by shipping over their line, increasing their income to a new level where they take a bigger income hit. Acutally, I'm not sure how much this would really bother me. I might like it. But I've got to throw it up there cause I'm not sure about it.

- Too long/too cutthroat? I'm not really convinced about being too cutthroat for our group, they are all pretty seasoned gamers, but being too long might decrease it's chances of getting played. We have a ton of games we like to play, and only so many opportunities to get together. Being able to play this alongside another game would be a huge plus, but then it has to be able to handle 1-6 players. AoS 3rd edition seems to be able to handle that.

- The possibility of getting stuck with Actions you really don't want over and over, and still paying for it. Not sure how true this is. I'd think that the top players can't afford to keep taking the best actions over and over again, allowing lagging players to get them eventually, but then again the top players are going to keep raking in the dough. I guess the income reduction takes care of this eventually? I guess this should have been a pro to Steam as more actions seem more useful - allowing the lagging players to still get a decent action, but then as stated, the auction seems kind of "meh" instead of meaningful. Having no auction whatsoever I guess would solve the problem, but then all you have to do with your money is build build build, probably getting even more money in the process.


Things I like about AoS:

- Cube placement lets you plan ahead and encourages player interaction instead of isolationism?

- Linking of VP to income. Making money means I did good!

- 3rd Edition's ability to handle 1-6 players right out of the box.

- It has St. Louis on a playable board right out of the box. I like St. Louis.



Typing all this out has really helped. I think I might get AoS 3rd Edition along with Power Grid. This will allow us to play AoS when we want a more antagonistic game, and Power Grid when we want to dial it back a bit. Previous to this I was considering getting Steam with either Steam Barons, or more likely the 1st Map Pack so we could play Steam 2-6 player and putting off my purchase of Power Grid.

I don't know, I'd love to hear some feedback/comments on my line of thinking.
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LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
Things that bother me about Steam, from what I understand:

- The cube placement. I'm not really thrilled with the idea of the players being able to place the cubes.
Not a lot I can say about this; but it isn't really a problem. Each city can only receive cubes from the goods display once.

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
- You score for each link at the end of the game, instead of for each tile in a completed? link.
It's a simplified approximation of the old rule used in AoS. The AoS scoring gave you one point per tile in each completed link and added this to the total of 3x (income - shares). In Steam, you simply do this as it approximates the original rules, and saves you having to triple your VP. Besides, you should be thinking about the points you gain from shipping over a line, not the points you get for having possibly unused track knocking around.

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
- The separate income/VP track. This is probably the biggest mental hurdle for me. I'm running a train company. I'd think the objective of any company would be to make money. Yet in Steam, you have to have two income (or is it money?) to equal one VP, meaning you really should have gone for VP instead of income those final turns, ideally winding up at 0 income.
The argument is that VP is income you have taken out of the company - your profits, if you will, or money you have made and perhaps reinvested. The new system was designed to alleviate the gaminess of the old system of income.

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
- The value of the actions. They seem to be a lot closer in Steam. I'm not sure how much weight the auction in Steam really carries if there are 3 or possibly 4 good actions at any one time. Especially if you're only playing a 3 or 4 player game.
Well, in my opinion you should always play Steam using the Base rules; it's just better that way. Standard rules give you a taste for the auction mechanism in AoS, but will never be quite as cut-throat because, as you quite rightly say, the actions are closer in value. The trouble is, it is difficult to choose actions so close in value; so the Base rules really outshine the use of the auction by turn in the Standard.

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
Are there any house rules/variants on this?

Quite possibly many; but the two in the box should meet your needs. We accidentally played Base Steam once with some of the rules from Standard; it worked quite well as a cut-throat version, and made certain actions even more difficult to choose, but that meant a slight imbalance.

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
- The two maps that come seem to let you play 3-5 players? I'd love to be able to play 2-6 right out of the box. Heck, even 1-6.
You can play with six out of the box; but it's a bit tight, so I wouldn't recommend it.


LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
Things I think I'd like about Steam:

- The option for the basic game.
I think you're leaning the right way on this; but you really don't need AoS if you can play Standard.

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
- The option of Steam Barons. Looks like an interesting game. Plus it gives you more Steam maps and awesome wooden trains.
Decent maps for six players, too.


LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
Things that bother me about AoS

- The aforementioned plastic trains. The aesthetic just doesn't fit with the rest of the components to me.
I was lucky enough to get an original copy, but they're wooden discs in that and not trains. You could always buy a pack of Steam trains from Mayfair Games to replace them.

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
- Being able to screw someone by shipping over their line, increasing their income to a new level where they take a bigger income hit. Acutally, I'm not sure how much this would really bother me. I might like it. But I've got to throw it up there cause I'm not sure about it.
The trouble I have with it, is it's artificial. Income reduction works, don't get me wrong; but it never felt right, and besides, a player far enough in front is not going to be worried if he has to drop four or six spaces at turn end (most of the time).

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
- Too long/too cutthroat? I'm not really convinced about being too cutthroat for our group, they are all pretty seasoned gamers, but being too long might decrease it's chances of getting played.
It's no more cut-throat than Steam really; it's just a bit economically tighter. the game system forces players to think about the cash they need for their turn beforehand, rather than issuing shares as they need to. The ease with which an unfamiliar player can bankrupt himself was always a problem in our group; it put a couple of players off the game.

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
- The possibility of getting stuck with Actions you really don't want over and over, and still paying for it.
Not likely; but you can't always get what you want. A strong leader will force players to pass almost instantly in the turn order auction; which means last place often becomes second.


LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
Things I like about AoS:

- Cube placement lets you plan ahead and encourages player interaction instead of isolationism?
No more than in steam; the difference being there is no guarantee of when in Aos, whereas in Steam there's no guarantee where.

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
- Linking of VP to income. Making money means I did good!
It's also something true of Steam; remember, when the cash runs out, you have to start spending VP. And if your economic situation deteriorates, then you could find yourself being heavily penalised at game-end.

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
- 3rd Edition's ability to handle 1-6 players right out of the box.
This was also the case for the first edition; despite what folk say about Rust Belt, it may not be most suitable for six, but it does work.

LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
Typing all this out has really helped. I think I might get AoS 3rd Edition along with Power Grid. This will allow us to play AoS when we want a more antagonistic game, and Power Grid when we want to dial it back a bit. Previous to this I was considering getting Steam with either Steam Barons, or more likely the 1st Map Pack so we could play Steam 2-6 player and putting off my purchase of Power Grid.

I don't know, I'd love to hear some feedback/comments on my line of thinking.
If it's that important, get all four items. If it isn't, get Steam and PG.
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LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
It seems like this would tend to cause players to try to isolate themselves from other players, instead of having conflict over trying to get to a certain city to get the cubes you want.

In my experience , that doesn't happen, map design doesn't allow it. In fact, Production gets cubes on the board, making it viable for other players to build there and steal everything before you move. They are not your cubes.

It's decent and sees some use at the endgame but it's nowhere as powerful as Locomotive, Urbanization or First Build.


Quote:
- You score for each link at the end of the game, instead of for each tile in a completed? link. So you go through all the effort and cost of creating a long link, but it counts the same as a smaller link? Not sure that gels with me.

By design, you don't build long links in either game.

It's also kind of silly to reward companies that build inefficient track over connecting several towns and industries. Which one is the better network? The one that takes twice as much rails to get where you want or the one that lets you travel in less time and to more places?


Quote:
Yes in Steam, are scored with deliveries, but to say making money is not optimal? It just feels very gamey.

You make money, only that it doesn't go to the company but to the shareholders.

In AoS you randomly get less money when you make more money. It's a worse alternative ,in my opinion.

Note that income awards victory points too, only not as many.


Quote:
They seem to be a lot closer in Steam. I'm not sure how much weight the auction in Steam really carries if there are 3 or possibly 4 good actions at any one time.

The auction is the key of the game. The actions are nowhere the same level. I would rank them like this:

1: Locomotive
2: Urbanization
3: First Build
4.5: Production/Engineer
5: First Move
6: Turn Order

Compared to AoS, there's a "decent" action instead of a completely useless action. In AoS, production would be at the bottom. Note the gap between 3 and 4.5.

For the first turns, Production is useless. It's only useful when the endgame closes in and by then Locomotive is out, keeping the number of average or better actions constant.


Quote:
- The two maps that come seem to let you play 3-5 players? I'd love to be able to play 2-6 right out of the box. Heck, even 1-6.

There are two player variants for the included Steam maps. There are also PnP expansion maps for that number, if you are so inclined.

Concerning six players, neither game is prepared for it. Some people play it that way but others feel it tops at five.

However, the recently released Steam expansion tweaks it a bit so that 6 can play. (It also includes a 2 player map).


AGE OF STEAM
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- Too long/too cutthroat?

Both games are as long and as cutthroat with the exeption of tile limitations in AoS, which I think it's a pretty silly mechanic.

You will take 1.5/2 hours for both games. Perhaps you take a bit longuer for AoS because you roll die, but it's negligible


Quote:
I'd think that the top players can't afford to keep taking the best actions over and over again

The game sits at a point where a player that wins has it easier to win (As in, if you do well, you are rewarded for it) but it doesn't have huge runaway leader problems.

However, Locomotive may be close sometimes. It gives you an extra delivery, which means a lot of money. So you get more money and you can take it again, earning more money.

In Steam, you can't get Locomotive if your Loco is already maxed, which helps the issue.

I also find that Steam's production is bad enough so as to only take it when forced to but good enough so as to not create lagging players.


Quote:
- 3rd Edition's ability to handle 1-6 players right out of the box

It doesn't support 6 players. Also note that the 1 player and 2 player maps are availble for Steam too. Considering the higher price of AoS and the cost of pucharsing the maps individually Steam with Barbados and St. Lucia would cost you about the same as Age of Steam but with an extra map.

I heard St. Lucia is good (Haven't played it yet) but you will get tired of Barbados pretty fast. I got tired of my copy after 4 plays, which isn't a lot.



I was in your shoes once and it's hard to make a decision because there's so much misinformation around. You see, there was a lawsuit and fanboys exploded and started killing each other. Ugly stuff.

So when you see someone claiming "This game sucks because it barely has any tiles" or "the auction sucks" or something like that, try to discern if it's a fanboy.

In the end, you will not go wrong, both are great games. And they are very similar, more than many would like to admit.
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LunaticHigh7777 wrote:
- The separate income/VP track. This is probably the biggest mental hurdle for me. I'm running a train company. I'd think the objective of any company would be to make money. Yet in Steam, you have to have two income (or is it money?) to equal one VP, meaning you really should have gone for VP instead of income those final turns, ideally winding up at 0 income.

This is a thematically sensible mechanism. Advancing on the income track represents putting profits back into the business. Taking VPs represents paying dividends to the stock holders. Your final score is dividends (VPs scored during the game) plus the market value of the company (half the income plus links).
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fellonmyhead wrote:
If it's that important, get all four items. If it isn't, get Steam and PG.


If only I could get all 4! Unfortunately Steam and AoS would then probably assure each other's mutual destruction as the group debates which one to play and finally settles on something else.

Now that I think about it, I'm not sure I really need PG. A member of our group already has it, but he lives out of town. That said, he probably comes in frequently enough to satisfy the PG itch. I just have some sort of crush on PG!

That would open me up to getting both AoS and Steam, but I'm not sure that really gets me anywhere.

You've both made the decision even harder! Congrats! But seriously, thanks for the comments. I will definitely consider them.

I can deal with either game not really playing with 6 players. I definitely need to handle 2-5 though, so I guess if I went with Steam I'd have to get into expansions or find the main map variants for 2.

My best bet might just be to get Steam, play the base game and advanced, try out two player variants, see how I like it. If I'm craving something different, pick up AoS down the line.

If I get Steam instead of AoS, I could use my existing Amazon gift credit for it too since it's sold by Amazon, unlike AoS. Saves me a bit of cash.
 
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