Greatest secret agent in the world!!!
August 26, 2000
South Shore Gaming
Roll Call: Dave, Jenn, David, Alison, Jonathan, Dan, Mark, Andrew, Craig, Richard, and Jeff
Dave, Jenn, Craig and Mark
This game is like a stew. There's a whole mess of game mechanics thrown in. You've got an auction segment, market manipulation via blind selections, numbered chit selection for movement, unique player powers, action cards, negotiation, and a somewhat unique victory ladder. Whew!
The bits are very impressive; lots of wood of varying shapes and sizes everywhere and a nice big good looking board.
This game was a learning experience, for instance, it took us awhile to get a feel for the effects of being "Wagon Master" and what should be loaded, etc. A couple of the early wagons were pretty lightly loaded. Not a good thing for later money intake, lack of which hurt me around mid game. Negotiations were fairly friendly, but I can see where this game can be played much nastier.
Also load choice was ignored for the most part, which effects choice of destination, which effects movement strategy. This too was ignored at first, most of us cooperating to get all of our loads to the most profitable city. But later I started to make some nastier moves, sending wagons towards cities where only I would get a bonus, etc. Soon the others returned the favor.
The market manipulation segment is blind via wheels (ala El Grande) you can bump up the values of 2 goods. In addition two players have market manipulation powers which allow them to do an extra bump. The market wraps so if you bump a good over the top it wraps to the bottom. The other odd thing about the market segment is that it comes AFTER the wagons arrive in town and BEFORE selling of goods. So you know which goods are about to be sold and manipulate them accordingly. There are only 5 rows on the price market, so with 4 players prices were varied wildly. This was too random for me. I'd rather see the number of rows doubled on that market so prices varied more slowly. Craig had a fix for this segment also, but I forget what he proposed. I'd also rather see market manipulation take place before wagon movement; thus movement would be more key than that crazy market segment. And perhaps you could change the movement system to be Carolus Magnus like, only 1 of each number chit can be used? But with only 1 play under my belt I would probably refrain from proposing that any of those tweaks be used.
The victory ladder had about 10 rungs. As you get higher on the ladder it costs more simply to maintain your status, as there's an "upkeep" charge. Fail to pay the upkeep and you'll be dropped down the ladder. Also as the game progresses (wagons come in for delivery) the cost for moving up the ladder starts to climb precipitously. But in our game we were all near the top, and but for my mistake most of us would've been on the top rung by games end. I hate to think that if we become more proficient that we'd all be on the same rung with the tie broken by cash every time.
In our game Dave took the lead around mid game, jumping 2 spots when most of us could only afford 1. But he was hurting for money from that point on which allowed Craig to climb from the back of the pack to join Dave at the top on the very last turn, taking the victory. Dave had to take a loan near the end to stay on his current rung. Jenn and I were a step down with me taking the edge for third on money. I actually could've ended the game on the top rung if I'd climbed a bit more a turn or two earlier when the price was cheap, but I mistakenly saved my cash for buying goods when the need for that was mostly past.
My initial rating of 7 reflects the fact that I didn't quite have a handle on the game and would like to replay it. It had some neat things going on. Though I'm not sure yet whether the sum of the parts makes a decent whole. My initial impression is that the design doesn't feel very tight and as though at some point during its creation someone said, "let's just throw all this stuff together and see what happens".