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Subject: There's frogs in them thar hills.....ribbit! rss

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Graham Lockwood
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Bullfrog Goldfield. An in-depth review.

I have previously reviewed another Stevens game 'Blockade Runner'. I gave it a firm tick. Recently I noticed another Numbskull game at my local retailer, 'Bullfrog Goldfield'. I decided that I would be a numbskull to resist its purchase.

Yet again the brothers Stevens come up with another relatively obscure subject, and this is what I like about their approach. It's all about one of the last great gold/silver rushes set in Nevada in the early 1900's.

Some of you may find the subject matter a little dry since it's all about investing in mines and rail-roads. However this is not the case in my experience with the game. I play a lot of railroading games (Steam, 18xx, Silverton, and so forth), so expect a somewhat biased review.

The game subject:
Each of up to five players are tasked as an investor in mining and rail-road stock in Nevada in 1905. Savvy is needed to out perform your fellow competitors since the winner at the game end is the player with the most valuable stock portfolio added to cash on hand. As the first or largest investor in a company, you are expected to make the financial decisions that will allow your company to expand it's bottom line. Against this financial backdrop are two intangibles, the other players and the life expectancy of your mining companies.

The game components:
The slightly oversize box depicts a somewhat cartoonish panorama of a couple of guys in the foreground of a typical day at the Nevada mines in 1905. One has the rules in his fist and has his other restraining hand on his partners shoulder whilst the other one points towards the mine. The caption seems to be '….'dem rules don' allow ya t' do that par'ner....heh-heh.....'
Excuse my weak attempt at levity. Apologies to Walter Brennan.
Inside the box is an ample and mounted game board. The map board is divided into areas. It's really bland. Then again the area it portrays must have been similarly so. However it would have been nice to see a cactus or two, some tumble-weed and maybe even a Clint Eastwood dotted around the place. Except for the aptly named 'Death Valley', there are only two types of terrain on the map.....clear and mountainous. This is only relevant for the rail-road companies that have to traverse the various areas of the board. The only splashes of colour are the icons of the various company starting locations which are well marked on the board. Also depicted are eight historical towns that sprang up from the feverish activities and which just as quickly became ghost-towns thereafter (well, maybe not Las Vegas). On the outside of the map is a stock market track that will trace the rapid rise (and fall) of your investments.
Apart from the rules folder, there are four flimsy double-sided player aids. Full marks for that, although the first thing I did was to laminate them. The rules have gone for brevity rather than completeness, however the odd annoying ambiguity is easily remedied here on the 'Geek, since both Patrick and Alex respond very well to questions regarding their games. I don't condone, but I do applaud this.
Various denominations of scrip are included and seem to be a nice facsimile of the period (as far as an Englishman living in Australia can infer).
The most numerous components are the share certificates. In the game there are five rail-road and seven mining companies. Each company consists of three such certificates....so they represent an unusual 33% interest each. They are (again) nice colourful facsimiles and are printed on stout card. Since rail-road companies can take loans in the shape of bonds, a small pack of three denominations are included. Next up are the two sets of mining chips which drive the activities of those companies. These are randomly assigned, so that no one knows how well the mining companies will ultimately perform. Pretty much like the real thing I would imagine. Since each player will take on the services of a useful lieutenant each game turn, six such personality cards are included. Finally, there are the obligatory Euro-game wooden bits (sorry no meeples here in the wild west, partner) in the shape of trains (track), buildings and mine income markers. Not only that, Mr. Patrick Stevens has proved he has done his homework in this historical simulation by writing a potted history of each and every company on the backs their respective charters. Nice touch Pat.

How the game plays:
After a brief set-up where the components are laid out, each player is given an investment amount depending on how many players are participating. There are three 'cycles' or impulses in a player turn and then a consolidation income phase that all play simultaneously. The number of game turns that take place will be unknown since the end of the game is determined by either of two different triggering events.

A players' order in each turn is decided by taking a 'character' from a selection of six face up cards. Apart from numbering, each character card has an unique ability that may help some facet of your play for the turn. There is a trade-off between taking an ability you would like and how it will effect your positioning in the upcoming turn.

Each player will get three 'actions' each turn and will perform one of those actions when it is his turn to play so that there are three rounds of play where each player takes one action in turn order. Actions that are available to each player in no particular order are:

BUY ONE STOCK CERTIFICATE: Purchase any available stock certificate at the price quoted on the stock market track or start up your very own company by setting a par price for it. All stock purchased monies go directly to the company concerned for capitalisation purposes. Multiple purchases of the same company will most likely increase its' share value.

SELL ONE STOCK CERTIFICATE: Put one of your stock certificates up for sale. This is probably one of the weaker actions available, since you are hoping that some idiot (sorry, informed investor) will pick up one of your under-performing company shares at a bargain price. And it will be, because an auction is started for that share at half its current value. Not only that, if the share is purchased by another player it will drop ten points on the share track. Tacticaly, it has some limited merit for trashing the share price of a competitors company.

PURCHASE ONE BUILDING: This simulates the upgrade of infrastructure required to take a mining or rail-road company to its lofty heights on the share price track. It's a neat mechanic. These little wooden 'houses' may only be placed into a mapboard area containing either a town or mining company symbol. Now I have to digress a little to explain how putting one of these little buggars on the map will greatly improve the share price of your company.
The designer has decided to divide the share price track into even sections. A share price may only reach the pinnacle of the lowest section whilst no wooden buildings are associated with that company. When one such building is introduced, this allows the relevant company to enter the next higher section of the share price track. Therefore, access to multiple buildings are necessary if you wish your company to aspire to share price nirvana. Problem is, they are relatively expensive and are limited in number. First in, best dressed. When a building is initially placed into a town that already contains a rail-road track it becomes a 'boom-town' and this action will also increase the share price of the relevant rail-road company(s) and any mine(s) in the vicinity. Placing more buildings in the same town thereafter will have further 'boom-ing' effects. Depending on location, the cost of buildings may be met by a rail-road or mine company, or even from the players own cash.

LAY TRACK: Only the owner of a rail-road company may lay track. The owner will be either the player with a 66% controlling interest or the player that managed to secure the rail-road company charter. Normally, when a rail-road starts track-laying, it may build up to three pieces of track that must start at its 'home' location. After that, it may further build up to three sections when taking this action but these must be contiguous. The cost of track depends on the terrain in the area built. Building to mines and towns will naturally increase the share price of rail-roads. Rail-roads will also increase the share price of mining companies they reach. They problem is that when multiple rail-roads are present in the same mine or town areas, the competition will depress the share price of earlier built rail-roads whilst increasing the newly built one.

HAUL ORE: This is the action you take when you don't know what to do. You simply take two grand from the bank and you may increase the share price of any mining company by two points. You don't even have to pass go. Nice and easy.

The last actions that take place at the end of the three rounds of play are ordered as follows:

(1) DEVELOP MINES: Each owner of a mine flips the top chip of the stack that came with his mine to see how well it has performed. It's stock price is then adjusted up, down or sideways depending on the number printed on that chip. If you are lucky, further information on the chip may well extend the life of your mine. However, chances are that you can bet your last silver dollar that as the game progresses it will deplete itself. This is the only random element in the game. If you don't like this feature, get over it. Mining stock is not called speculative without good cause. Depleted mine shares are worthless, and the company will be removed from the game at the end of this phase.

(2) COLLECT INCOME: Each company owner will take from the bank, an amount equal to its' current share price and place this on the company charter as further capital. A railroad may not collect income until it connects to at least one mine.

(3) PAY INTEREST: This is only relevant for rail-road companies. Rail-roads tend to be longer term investments, since they often need to take bank loans to fund further expansion. These loans are called 'bonds'. Only the CEO may decide to take these. They are in three different denominations. They are used exclusively to defray the cost of building track and purchasing the aforementioned buildings. However they are subject to a 10% interest payment from treasury in this phase on each outstanding bond taken. There is no limit to the amount of bonds that may be taken and they are procured as a free action when a rail-road needs cash to pay for track or buildings during the player action rounds.

(4) PAY OFF BONDS: The CEO of a rail-road company decides if he wishes to pay off any outstanding bonds. If he can't afford to completely do so, he may partially reduce the liability of a large denomination one by paying the difference and swapping for a lower valued bond.

(5) PAY DIVIDENDS: Now pard'ners, this is what we've all been waiting for. The CEO of each company decides whether he will remove the cash that the company has accumulated and disburse it to the share holders. Each share certificate gets 33% of the capital in that particular company coffers. Rail-roads operate a little differently when paying dividends. A rail-road is not allowed by the rules to pay any dividend if it currently owns bonds or has not yet connected to a mine (although for the life in me, I can't find where this last condition is stated in the rules). It must therefore keep its' capital within the company. Dividends paid will increase the company stock price. Withholding dividends will drop the share price, anger the share-holders and allow the company to retain capital for future expansion (told you it was a good simulation, didn't I?).

(6) REMOVE EXHAUSTED MINES FROM THE GAME. Also remove any exhausted gamers from play. Just kidding.

(7) CHECK FOR GAME END: If either a company has exceeded the 100 marker on the share track or only one mine has development chips left, the game will end there and then. Railroad companies still in possession of bonds are worthless (sorry, didn't I mention that before? devil )Players are assessed for the current value of each non-worthless share they possess and to this each adds his cash on hand. The player with the largest amount is considered the savviest (or luckiest) investor and wins the game. If the game has not ended, then play continues as usual.

What I like about it:
The subject matter. The game mechanics simulate the subject very well. There are many strategies that can be applied, giving it strong replay value. Customisable game length. You simply add more or less mining development chips when setting the game up. Little down time, since each player is only taking one action when its his turn to play. Player interaction (or should I say interference!) is limited to minor share trashing and rail building into areas you are already in. Lockwood interference in the shape of house rules to enable stock movement to be dependent on dice thrown rather than by the games fixed values (Lockwoods should be banned from all games since then tend to fiddle with them and cannot leave well alone).

What I dislike about it:
The bland map. New players stare at it just as blandly. I hope that as the Numbskull Game company profits (as in fact it should do, in my opinion), it may be able to engage the services of Mark Mahaffey to render its' game boards to GMT standards.

What other people may dislike about it:
The randomness of mining activities. You haven't you been listening to a word I've said, have you?









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Graham Lockwood
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(disclaimer): the reviewer claims no responsibilty as to the completeness of his comprehension of the rules as they are presented.



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David G. Cox Esq.
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Damn you Sir and your review!

Another game added to my wish list.

When will it end?

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Will Mellor
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Good review.

My wife suprised me with this for xmas and really looking forward to playing it.
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patrick stevens
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And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
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Excellent review! I like the Walter Brennen approach. The only thing I saw that is "off" is the fact that there is no limit on the Boom Town Bonus. The rules should have stated at the top of page 6: "Each time a building is placed on a town..." or "Whenever...." instead of "When a building is placed on a town..." I have added that to the FAQ on the Numbskull website. Thank you for your enthusiasm and efforts!
Pat
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Madhujith Venkatakrishna
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I took the plunge in ordering this game before this review was posted...A BIG THANK YOU for endorsing my decision.....NOW CAN'T WAIT TO PLAY THIS!!!
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Graham Lockwood
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patrick stevens wrote:
The only thing I saw that is "off" is the fact that there is no limit on the Boom Town Bonus.


alexander stevens wrote:
Boomtown bonuses are a one time stock increase.


....I'd seen this before I'd written the review, so I took this to mean that Boom-town only applied once to a town. But I see you have now qualified this with a fresh statement.

I've edited my review in order to make it as accurate as possible.

BTW: I like the link to 'Supernatural' on your site when clicking on the NG worldwide map. Great instrumental. I saw Greeny with John Mayall in 1968 live at a local blues club in the UK.
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eric hogan
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Wish I could write reviews as good as this.
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