Welcome to Memoirs of a Board Gamer  Tuesday, April 28 2015 @ 06:16 AM EDT

Review: Imperial Settlers - Solo Play

Iím always on the lookout for good two-player games and Imperial Settlers sits in an elevated position on my list. It plays well with higher numbers but for those inclined to AP or generally slow play, the down-time can really pull the life out of the game making it run two-three times longer than anticipated for a game like this. But when playing with two, you chop out most of the down-time, condensing the fun into a much tighter time-frame. In addition, the direct conflict features of the game become much more ďin your faceĒ as players only have one other player to attack. Take that!

I never paid much attention to solo variant (official or unofficial) but as the years go by, I find myself asking about solo variants more. At times, itís nice to pull out a game and play through a few sessions as a nice alternative to getting sucked into another night of mindless YouTube-ing or bad movies on Netflix.

Imperial Settlers is a card-drafting, resource management game where players take on the role of one of the variable power factions. At the beginning of each round players go through a drafting phase increasing the number of cards in hand.

Then players gather resources (e.g. wood, stone, people, swords, cards, apples and gold) and then, in turn, each player attempts to spend all their resources as efficiently as possible to attack other player's buildings (cards) and to build their own buildings. Buildings come in two flavors (common and faction) earning players 1 and 2 points respectively if remaining at the end of the game (not razed/attacked by other players).

In addition each common or faction building affords the builder addition goods each round, benefits for taking other actions, or the ability to activate them to generate other items, points, goods, etc.

Finally, each player has free access to a market to swap people for goods. Each faction comes with a special ability (e.g. keep as much gold as you want from round to round) and its own faction deck of building cards. Without special abilities afforded by built buildings, players must discard all unspent goods at the end of each round.

In the solo game, the player plays against a virtual player that attacks at the end of each round by flipping up two cards from an attack deck. The symbols on the deck determine which building the virtual player is attacking each round. The solo player cannot prevent the success of the attack.

Your goal as a solo player is to try to build more faction cards in your settlement tableau than the virtual player (he gets two every round during the card drafting phase and gets to keep those unless the solo player attacks and razes them). Thatís not terribly difficult so the solo play is really more about seeing how many points you can earn in the 5 rounds of the game.

The solo game flies by and you can churn through the 5 rounds in 15-20 fun-filled minutes. Iíve played solo roughly a dozen times and still find fun in the experience. Each faction plays a little differently but in my experience, even with the same faction, scores can vary wildly from one game to the next depending on which cards you draft. If you have a copy, give the solo game a try. I donít think Iíd go out of my way to pick up a copy strictly for solo play but if itís sitting there on the shelf, why not?

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Review: The Great Heartland Hauling Co.

Last November, a member of my game group, picked up a copy of The Great Heartland Hauling Co. from the prize table of a convention we were attending. On the way back from the table, he had several people mention to him that although nobody had taken the game up to that point in the prize giveaway, that it really was a great little game. After the convention he took it home and played a couple times and brought it to game night to share and Iíve got to completely agree.

Heartland Hauling packs a huge amount of game in the little VHS tape-sized box. Players take on the role of a trucking company in this pick up and deliver, set collection game. Each player starts with some money (marked by the position of a cube on a personal card) and each turn you first must move your truck from one card (a city) in the common tableau (map) to another card. You perform this action by either playing ďgasĒ cards from your hand *or* paying money from your personal card (move your cube back). Once you arrive at your location, you can either pick up goods (load your truck) or deliver goods (unload your truck), or discard cards for $1. There are four types of goods available, beans & corn, and pigs & cows. There are less pig & cow cards in the deck but theyíre worth more (usually) when you deliver so it can be a bit of gamble to focus on them too much.

Cubes are loaded by paying matching cards from your hand and you pick up cubes setting on the card and put them into your truck (placing them on your personal "truck" card). Cubes are delivered in much the same way, by discarding matching cards from your hand. After performing your action, you refill your hand back up to five cards from blind draws and/or from a face-up tableau of three cards. Delivering cubes pays out money (move up your money cube) based on the values shown on the card. Cities (cards) produce specific kinds of good and only accept two kinds of goods at various prices so youíll want to find the most efficient way to travel around on the map to pick up and deliver goods to the cities that pay the most for your goods.

The first player to earn a specific amount of money (based on the number of players) triggers the end game and then all other players get one more turn. Players receive negative points for ending the game with undelivered goods still in their truck and the player with the largest amount of money at game end wins.

Iíve played with the entire range of players (2-4) and it scales really well. Lisa and I have been having a blast playing it with two. For us, it scratches about the same itch as Morels does but itís a bit more gamey. It's a fast-paced race to earn points (money), but as players get near the end-game trigger, there can be a lot of finagling with spending money rather than playing fuel cards in a mad dash to unload remaining goods without triggering the end game until one is really ready to. A lot of that ability depends on the cards. So, donít expect to be able to be in complete control of your destiny as getting lucky on card draws can be *very* nice or *very* painful!

All in all, Heartland Hauling is a great little game and itís firmly taken a strong position in our go-to 2-player line-up.

Cabin Con 2015

My favorite ďconĒ, Cabin Con 2015, is over and the long wait until 2016 has begun. We purposefully schedule the con to coincide with the Martin Luther King holiday giving some attendees more freedom to stay through Monday morning. The cabins are only about 90 minutes from Columbus so itís a short drive. We usually carpool down, talking about gaming, family, kids, who brought what food, etc. and in general, we're winding down from the day but building up the excitement to get in some relaxation time. The people in my gaming group are really what make this event great. We've done it enough times now that with the core group, we've got it down to a science. Everybody knows the drill, how to sign up for a meal, what extra clothes to bring in case the power goes out again, or an ice storm hits, etc. We used to cover three meals a day but found with snacks, nobody was very hungry so we dropped back to just brunch and dinner and it works much better.

Three days of cinnamon rolls, egg casserole, bbq chicken, breakfast tacos, spaghetti and meatballs, corn casserole, pork enchiladas, peanut M&Ms, beer, wine, White Russians, Bourbon, cookies, spiced-fruit, salads, Funions, gallons of coffee, etc. well, letís just say, my health is glad it only lasts three and half days :-)

We rented the exact same cabin as last year so we knew exactly how to move the furniture around to get the room we needed for the long table and after setting it up and getting in a few short games (Port Royal and Yard Master) before dinner, we sat down for a 6-player game of 7-Wonders with Leaders and Cities.

After dinner, a few of us got in a game of Heartland Hauling and then we grouped back up to close the night with a big game of Las Vegas with the expansion.

The next morning, after breakfast, we split up and played Lewis & Clark on one end of the table and Navegador on the other. After that we broke up a bit to get some fresh air hiking around the woods and hills of the state park (Lake Hope really is a pretty area). Later, some of us met back up to get in a game of Royals while others start working on preparing dinner.

After dinner, we played Brew Crafters and then we finished out the night with Dead of Winter. The Zombies killed us off but the betrayer didn't help us any either!

Sunday got started pretty late after our 2:30am closing time the night (morning!) before but after we cleaned up from breakfast we split up to play Steam Park and Warfighter. While the Warfighter group finished up their game, my end of the table got in games of Red 7 and Machi Koro.

By this time, a few of the guys packed up their stuff to head back to Columbus but three of us stuck it out for the rest of the day and night with two games of Castles of Mad King Ludwig, another of Heartland Hauling with an expansion (great little game!) and I introduced Aquasphere (I like it but the other two...mmmm, not so much).

The day we leave is usually just a rush of cleaning, packing, and getting the cabin furniture back to normal before the 11am checkout but since weíve got a well-worn pattern, we had time to play one last game of Port Royal and it ended up one of the funnest times Iíve ever played. What a great way to end the con. Guys, I can't wait until next year.

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Review: Odin's Ravens

About five years ago I ran across one of the Kosmos two-player games called Odinís Ravens and was intrigued by its high rank and passionate following. At 6.7 on BGG, it seemed like a solid game worth tracking down. Iím always looking for strong two-player games so I started looking but had trouble finding a copy. Published in 2002 by Thorsten Gimmler, there just werenít that many copies available and those that were out there were being held onto strongly.

Iíd never obtained a copy but still had it on my wantlist. The prices started rising and I figured Iíd not see a copy any time soon. Fast-forward to Great Lakes Games earlier this month and when my name was called a second time for the prize table, there was a nearly pristine copy sitting there and I rushed the table and grabbed it. Prices are all over the map from $40-$150 for a copy but I wanted it to play!

This weekend Lisa and I opened it up and played several games and I have to admit, it lives up to its rating. The game is light enough that you can talk and sip tea while playing but thereís enough strategic and tactical options available to keep gamers engaged.

The game is composed of several mini-games (races) ending when one player reaches at least 12 points. Each race is a complete mini-game and only the points are carried forward to the next race. At the begin of each race, nine landscape cards are dealt out in a line establishing the terrains over which players will attempt to advance their ravens.

Each player has a hand or five cards drawn from a personal deck (each player starts with the same cards in their deck). Each card depicts a single terrain type and players attempt to play cards from their hand and from an auxiliary deck (built from previous turns). Terrain cards that match the terrain card in front of their raven, advance the raven. The personal deck also contains Odin cards which have some rule-breaker text on them that allows players to swap terrain tiles, rotate them, move ravens forward or back, or otherwise mess with the other player. Players also, during the race, have a chance to extend the length of the race by adding cards to the end of the track.

In addition to the ravens flight, players can play cards to another area of the table (the Magic Way) depicting two valid terrain types (or the Odin card) and at the end of the race (triggered by the first player to advance their raven to the end of the track) players earn points for having played the most cards to the Magic Way and for the distance (in terrain cards) between the two ravens.

Odinís Ravens is a great game for us. Itís small, packaged in the standard two-player Kosmos square/flat box, light, and easy packs for road trips. And most of all, it packs a lot of game in just a few cards. If you get a chance, try to pick up a copy or at least play it a few times. Youíll not regret it.

CABS - After Turkey Day 2014

Lisa and I meet up once a year with a friend and her son at the Columbus Area Boardgaming Societyís After Turkey Data gaming festivities. This year we arrived around 10am and played straight through until about 9:30pm breaking only for a quick lunch and a light dinner from one of the food trucks that sat outside the gaming area.

Itís normally a well-attended celebration, 125-150 gamers playing shoulder to shoulder. This year, however, there was a noticeably smaller number of gamers. CABS has been going through some transitional changes to their organizational structure, increased yearly fees, etc. that I suspect are contributing factors. However, itís most likely an over-simplification to attribute the drop to any one specific cause.

We did, however, play the following games:

  • Port Royal
  • Takenoko
  • 7-Wonders
  • Istanbul
  • Viva Java: The Coffee Game
  • Five Tribes
  • El Grande

This was Lisaís first play of Istanbul and she liked it. Our friend really liked it commenting that there felt like many way to earn points (gems), there was always a Plan B or Plan C, and that it played so fast it always felt like it was your turn. All good points you want in a game!

We got the whole group together and played Viva Java: The Coffee Game for 6 but it felt like there weíre enough blend tiles in the box. The game felt much shorter than what it had felt like in the past but maybe Iím just getting used to how to play it without such a long ramp up time for explanation.

I taught Lisa and our friend Five Tribes and they both really like that (Lisa especially since she won handily!). I had never read the rules and only played after being taught the game once at Great Lakes Games. I can think of about three rules we played wrong at GLG and playing correctly, I think itís a better game :-)

We finished the night off with a classic, El Grande. We started with five for the rules explanation but we lost one before we could start but itís still good with four. I think it ran a little long as the AP started kicking in near the end. All in all, itís a really good game to return to once in a while.

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Images from BGG.CON 2014

I've already posted about my experience as a lone attendee but I figured I'd throw in a post with some images.

The registration line wrapped around three times and then outside the building.

Fun little shoot-em-up western. Cute boxcars do add something to it.

Die Macher for noobs teaching moment. It's not my kind of game but I did have fun playing with the people I was playing with. Three simultaneous tables of Die Macher...now that's something!

The last three minutes of the flea market. Chaos!

Just a wee bit of the game library.

The big room.

My favorite game of the con. The designer, Peter Hawes taught us the game and sat beside me the whole game. We had a great chat about the design and different decisions where made during the process. Very enjoyable game!

I traveled very lightly checking no bags and bringing an extra messenger back to carry back the prize table games. I had just enough clothes without feeling creepy :-) It's probably a good idea I was traveling light because that flea market was oh so tempting!

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BGG.CON 2014

BGG.CON 2014 is done and gone but the afterglow is still there. Iím going to approach this post differently than I would for most of my posts and not make this post a mass of images. Most blog entries youíll read will focus on the great new games they played, the hits and the misses. I played a lot of great stuff, and yes there were hits and misses but this post is going to focus on the experience as a first-timer and the experience of attending by myself.

No surprises, but Iím not an extrovert and find it difficult to mingle, small talk is painful, and Iím not a ďpersonalityĒ. Traveling 1000 miles to Dallas to game with strangers for four solid days is way outside my comfort zone. The cost alone of the plane ticket, the hotel room, and my time off from work was massive. I knew that going in, of course, but for years Iíve wanted to attend the convention and see what the fuss was all about. Great Lakes Games is three days of gaming and I was really looking forward to a fourth day. Knowing what I pack into those three days of GLG I was almost bursting at the seams to get there! Iím certainly glad I did attend and hope to get back, maybe even next year. I did find it a rewarding and enriching experience. However, I do want to capture my thoughts about what made the convention difficult for me and so if youíre interested in that, then keep reading. Otherwise, thanks for getting this far! My yearly After Turkey Day posts are coming up soon as well as Christmas gaming and then my yearly Cabin Con with my gaming group. For those posts, Iíll return to the regularly scheduled program.

The plane flight from Columbus is an easy two hour trip, straight into DFW. To minimize cost I didnít check any bags and only took enough clothes for one change of pants and a clean shirt (and other unmentionables) each day. All that and toiletries fit easily in a small day pack. I also brought an over-the-shoulder messenger-style bag for the trip back because I knew Iíd have a couple of ďgive awayĒ games handed out during registration. American lands at the C-concourse of DFW and luckily when you exit the terminal, you can easily cross a couple of lanes of passenger pick-up traffic, walk through a parking garage, over an elevated walkway and then down into the Hyattís rear parking lot. Within 10 minutes of exiting the plane I was waiting to check into my room.

The BGG.CON registration line was forming quickly and since my room wasnít ready yet (it was only 9:30am) I left my bags with the concierge and got in the line just before it exited the building. It took over an hour and a half in line to get my badge, pick my two games, and get back to the concierge to pick up my bags. Iíd recommend just waiting until the first rush of registrations gets through unless youíre there very early or with others and can have some ďin-lineĒ fun. The people around me were mostly heads-down on their phones and didnít really appear to want to talk about anything. I tried to engage them a few times but didnít have any success beyond some rolled eyes and a grunt or two. A few clumps of people in front of me appeared to be having some fun but my pocket of people just kept to themselves.

I did have my first face to face meet ups with some BGG ďe-friendsĒ while waiting in line and that was very nice and I looked forward to meeting up after I got through the line and playing some games. While waiting in line, the hotel left a message on my phone that my room was ready so I got my keycard and took my bags up and got settled in there. The elevators were a buzz of gamers going up and down and the conventional hall was hopping. I started with the Hot Games rooms and within seconds got into a game with five strangers in a light western themed game and had some fun. The group was a bit serious for the game but not knowing anybody Iím sure they probably had the same feeling about me. That game broke up in less than an hour so I went looking for another. I found some e-friends from the line but they were in the middle of a much longer game so I started trolling the room and it was so packed there was no way I was getting in on anything at the moment.

So I headed into the exhibit hall and made the rounds there but that was quick. Not having any bag space I couldnít really shop and I wasnít really there to buy anything anyway. I wanted to play some games! I spun a wheel at a Ravensburger booth and won a Castles of Burgundy expansion which was really great. I love the game *and* the extra player boards are flat and wouldnít be a problem transporting them home.

I then started walking around the big open gaming room and within a few minutes the first inklings began, a foreboding of what the rest of the convention was going to be like. I didnít know anyone and there were only two or three ďPlayers WantedĒ signs out. There were hundreds of people playing games, lots of laughing, smiling, and then me walking around for 30 minutes making attempts to get in on games that looked interesting or that I already knew. I did manage to sit in on some games but some people I could tell were reluctant to add me. After a few ďI guess soĒ responses to my request to play and even an eye roll, I got a bit gun shy. I didnít want to be ďthat guyĒ that sits at a table by himself for over an hour with ďTeacher WantedĒ and ďPlayers WantedĒ signs while surfing the web on his phone. In the middle of one of my games I watched ďthat guyĒ get up, pick up the signs, and walk out of the hall.

Unlike GLG where groups tend to stick together for a few games, groups of strangers at BGG.CON seemed to quickly break apart throwing me back into trolling mode walking by the same tables of people on their second or third game watching me go past for the third or fourth time in 15 minutes. When it started to feel a bit creepy, Iíd head to the Hot Games room to see if I could get in line or something to try a new game. Many of the Hot Games didnít appear to be ďmy thingĒ so I was relatively particular about what I wanted to wait for and after sitting and watching a game for 15 or 20 minutes it starts to get creepy as well.

I did get lucky a few times and was able to sit in on pickup games for new stuff that I really wanted to try but on one occasion I had a thumping headache the size of Montana that I couldnít process the way the mechanics fit together and played very poorly. I know Iíll like the game (thatís a good thing since Iíd already Kickstarted it!) but it felt disappointing that that experience had to happen when I finally got to do something Iíd paid good money for.

I signed up to play an epic game of Die Macher on Friday morning and was really looking forward to that but an hour into that game it really bogged down and I realized that the game really wasnít for me. Thankfully I was playing the game with some fun people but I was glad we declared a hard stop after 5 hours of play especially when weíd only made it through three of the seven elections. After that game, I decided to take a different approach to my attempts at finding playing groups and began seeking out people playing two-player games in the open area. I had much better success at that playing games with young couples, old couples, and even a couple in their forties that had brought an in-law with them. They had been trying to learn La Isla (a new Feld game) and since Iíd played it before I helped them out and sat with them through the game. On another occasion I taught an elderly woman and her husband how to play Amerigo.

I enjoy playing games with strangers but I really get enjoyment out of playing games with people I know really well. Going by yourself takes a lot of effort and energy and I felt drained at the end of each day. My rate of gaming was abysmal compared to Great Lakes Games. Thatís not to say that it was a bad experience but it wasnít what I was expecting. The crowds are great, the space limited, and itís loudÖvery loud. I noticed when Iíd walk into the hallways that they were always packed with people coming and going and there were always lots of single people sitting around looking at their phones. I wondered if they were also in the same predicament as I was.

The Players Needed flags work, Iím proof of that but I wonder if there might be a more efficient way to get into games for those alone or those that want more than just two. Might it work to have a small area in the open gaming room where singles can gather and people with games looking for others could come to get them for pick up games. And might that approach be a way for singles looking for games to meet in a non-confrontational way. You know, hey, there are three of us here waiting to get into a game and weíve all got Eurogamer ribbons on our badge, letís go play something rather than waiting for somebody else!

Iíd like to think Iíll find a way to go back next year but Iím not sure I would do it again without a close friend or two. Iíd really like to share the experience with someone that I know and can discuss the experience with over dinner or in the room as we stagger back at 1am. I didnít have that experience this year. I was worn out, exhausted by trolling the gaming rooms, and back in my hotel room by 10pm every night. Thatís not to say that Iím not part of the problem. I recognize that but I canít change that very easily. I was already feeling the pressure of being ďonĒ and outside my element for the entire day.

Was BGG.CON fun? Sure, a lot. I see the potential and would have a completely different experience with close gaming friends at hand. I had a blast meeting people for the first time face to face but those are fleeting and not really relationships you can capitalize on the first time without feeling like the equivalent of a gaming remora, feeding off the fun-shaped detritis of other gamers. I really liked working in the library and would sign up for that task every morning for an hour or two. It really was fun to talk to people as they came through the library, recognizing my avatar or my name from this website. Maybe going back would be a better experience because I could begin to capitalize on those relationships I started this year. Thatís how it all works right? One year at a time?

BGG.CON 2014

Tomorrow, at 6:30am, I'll be boarding a plane headed for Dallas, TX to attend BGG.CON. I'm really looking forward to it but given that it's my first time, I do have some apprehension and anxiousness. I'm not a natural mingler® and since I'm going alone I'm definitely outside my comfort zone.

BGG.CON hosts roughly 2300 gamers and focuses primarily on open gaming. They've got a game library hosting over 3000 games available on-site for attendees to checkout and play. They also dedicate a special "hot games" area for new "Essen" games and will have people available to teach them if you're into the "cult of the new" (YES!).

To date, my longest convention has been 3 days of solid gaming, morning, noon, and night and BGG.CON adds an entire extra day. I know I'm going to be exhausted physically and mentally but it will be nice to meet up face to face with people I've only interacted with online. To help with anxiety, I've signed up for the "first timer/orphan (attending by yourself)" meet-up Wednesday night but I'm sure my anxiety will melt away within minutes of entering the gaming area (fingers crossed). I'm also signed up to work in the game library Saturday morning and on Friday morning, an "epic" game of Die Macher for those new to the game.

I'm planning on taking lots of pictures, hope to play some cool games, but most importantly, meet some really cool people. If I can just get past the waiting...

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Great Lakes Games 2014

Another Great Lakes Games has come and gone. As usual, Dave Vander Ark, his wife, and many others really put on a great convention. I got to play a lot of great games and catch up with people I only get to see once a year. This year was an extra special treat since another member of my game group got invited bringing the total to four. Only three of us could make it this year but it was fun to pile all our stuff into a single car and make the 3 hour trip. I remember my first GLG. I went alone forcing myself to mingle with gamers I didnít know. That was definitely outside my comfort zone but in the end, it was the funnest thing Iíd ever done like that. It was exciting to watch a third friend from my group as he experienced it for the first time. Itís hard to put into words how rewarding and enriching I find the GLG experience. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

GLG features a prize table as an added perk for attending. You're encouraged to participate and bring an in-shrink copy of a ďgoodĒ game; itís left up to you to decide what that means. Many people bring one good game and several used games for the table. Better games tend to go early in the rounds which means you'll get a chance at picking from the table earlier. I brought multiple games this year and walked away with a copy of LíAeropostale, Odinís Ravens, and a copy of Munchkin to give to my son, Noah (he plays with his friends and they have a blast with it).

I'm not fond of mixing reviews with bulk convention information so the rest of this post is mostly just a stream of pictures from the convention. I'm already planning for next year!

Amerigo

Concordia

Euphoria

Evolution

Five Tribes

Greed

Guild Hall

Kremlin

La Isla

Las Vegas

Odinís Ravens (Prize Table)

Ole Kaji

Ole Kaji (look at how packed/icon-rich that board is!)

Convention Hall

Port Royal

Ruhrschifffahrt

Rum & Pirates

Russian Railroads

Steam Donkey

Review: Ruhrschifffahrt 1769-1890

As early as 1770, coal barges reached deep into Germany, up the otherwise unnavigable Ruhr river to load up on the rich coal deposits that lined the river. The river was littered with dams and mills and the barges could only travel short distances downstream until they would need to transfer their loads into barges waiting on the opposite side of the obstacle. Every transfer reduced the quality of the coal and by the time it reached Ruhrort it was sometimes only dust. After the barges reached their final destination, they would be drawn upstream by teams of horses. Over time, 14 locks were built along the river to allow the barges to freely transport their cargo from as far deep as Witten all the way to Ruhrort without transfer. By the end of the 19th century, the water-based coal route was replaced by a railway.

As you might imagine, Ruhrschifffahrt 1769-1890, gathers 2-4 players to transport and sell coal along the Ruhr river and to make it as profitable as possible.

BGG classifies the game as a pick-up and deliver and a worker placement game but in my opinion thatís a bit misleading. At the core is a set collection mechanic that players strive for to match patterns on an individual player board. Match specific patterns of delivery and youíll unlock other features of the game allowing you take actions other players cannot and to establish board position to gain end-game victory points.

The board is split into two halves with the downstream half (the left western half closer to Ruhrort) ďunlockedĒ at the beginning of the game. As the game progresses, players will gain the necessary tokens opening up the eastern half of the board.

The game lasts 12 rounds and in each round, an historical event occurs. In most cases this is a positive event but in some cases it represents a negative point in the history of coal transport. In addition to the historical event, an obstacle/demand marker is drawn from a bag. The demand tiles place money on delivery points along the river representing a higher demand for delivery (this money sweetens the deal when delivering to these locations). In other cases, they represent some limiting factor for the round (low water, etc.)

After the event/demand/obstacles are dealt with, players choose a single action and pay itís cost. These actions allow players to haul their boat up the river to a coal deposit, uncover a new coal deposit, the freedom to ship farther downstream than is normally allowed, etc. Once chosen, the playerís coal barge is placed next to a coal deposit (a die). Some drawn obstacle tiles block the use of some of the actions for the round. Players are required to haul and deliver coal to a destination every single round.

After all players have placed their barge next to a coal deposit (taking debt to pay to haul their barge up the river if theyíre out of money), players ship their coal (the die) downstream to a delivery point, selling it for money. If the coal passed obstacles it loses value decreasing the amount of money the destination city/port is willing to pay for it.

Players place resource cubes on a personal player board depicting where theyíve delivered coal and of what type (black or white). These resource cubes establish a pattern and if the pattern matches those of the individual tiles on the board (you can see the little dots in boxes above the tiles in the image below), the player earns the tile, unlocking a new feature of the game. Players start the game with a matching set of permanent game features they can unlock but there are some limited, one-time use markers that players can earn and then use when itís most effective for them.

Players are then free to purchase items with the money theyíve earned but youíre limited to what you can purchase based on what features youíve unlocked in this and previous rounds. Players can build locks, build warehouses in the cities and coal depots, in Ruhrportís export area, etc. Building things earns the players immediate victory points and helps establish end-game victory points depending on what features youíve unlocked during the game.

I really like this game. Iíd read that the rules were a mess so I stuck to the rewritten rules available at BGG. Even using the rewritten rules requires some persistent reading. Thereís a lot going on in those 12 pages of densely packed text. But stick with it; itís worth it.

The game rewards a player that sticks to a strategy but can remain flexible in the short term to weather particularly nasty demand/obstacle tiles or the effects of other playerís actions. The game also features a highly variable turn order mechanism as one progresses through the different phases of a turn. As players vie for different positions to load high-valued coal and deliver it to locations needed to unlock feature of the game, turn order must be taken into consideration as itís always east to west, down the river (highest upstream to lowest downstream). Some resources are limited and if you donít go first you may miss out or at a minimum have to pay more to stick to your strategy. There is a lot of indirect player interaction taking spots other players want or need before they can making them shift tactics, pay more, or take debt at just the moment when they can least afford it. Points are tight, with the end-game in the low to mid-thirties in my experience.

A copy of Ruhrschifffahrt is a bit hard to come by. I managed to pick up a copy in a BGG auction for about $50. Donít be surprised, however, to pay $70 or more for a NIS copy.

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