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This bumper box holds a smorgasbord of interesting game design, high production values, engaging artwork, a cacophony of components and more...

Merchants Cove by Final Frontier Games Merchants Cove by Final Frontier Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Kickstarter

This bumper box holds a smorgasbord of interesting game design, high production values, engaging artwork, a cacophony of components and more plastic and carboard than any game should rightfully have.


Merchants Cove sees 1-4 players become a Merchant (*gasp*) flogging their wares to visiting adventurers that have bottomless pockets.  As the shops are in a cove (*shock*), the adventurers always arrive by boat, some stay and some leave to return by boat again, for more gear.


The way in which you craft items in each shop is utterly different and arguably each player is actually playing two games.  The first is played out on the central board and the second mini-game is done on your own shops’ action board.  In terms of mechanics, it’s got a bit of everything, but for me this is simply an engine builder with lots of added chrome.

Gameplay

In the game you play as either a blacksmith, an alchemist, a sea captain, or chronomancer (I must admit I have no idea what one of them is – something to do with using time).  The blacksmith and alchemist sell typical goods and potions; the captain sells fish, shells and treasure, the chronomancer sells artefacts from time travelling … as you can probably tell the theme is stretched a bit thin throughout the game but it just about manages to keep it all together.

This is the board the Chronomancer has to play with

The game will end after three market phases, the player with the most money wins.  Each shop crafts coloured (red, blue yellow and green) small and large items that can only be sold to the same-coloured adventurers on the relevant (small or large goods) pier.  The game end feels like it comes relatively quickly and I’ve not been at a table where this has outstayed its welcome yet.  


The meta-game, played out on the central board is where you’ll get the only player interaction.  This comes primarily from loading boats with adventurers that either help you or hinder your opponents.  Hopefully a bit of both!  However, what interaction there is does feel mean (that’s a good thing), sending a boat full of blue adventurers to the small goods pier when your opponent only has large blue goods is a good feeling. 

Large red goods are in high demand (far boat, all red adventurers at the large pier)

 However, in my experience, it is probably better to optimise for your own play, as there is nearly always a way to mitigate the damage you could cause to an opponent.  For example, your opponent doesn’t have to sell any goods during the market phase and can keep them all for a more favourable market phase. 

The smaller games are played out on each shops’ activity board and are completely different from each other.  Despite their uniqueness, each shop does feel balanced and can score as easily (or not) as each other.  These mini games are the unique selling point for this game and each time I’ve played with a new shop I’ve appreciated small nuances that weren’t immediately apparent at first glance.  I’m sure that some clever game designers could make a big-box game just out of the mechanisms on each shops’ board.

The Alchemist's board.  The marble filled decanter is the mini-game here.

Due to each shop’s uniqueness they have their own rule pamphlet.  This can make for quite a lengthy teach to what is quite a simple game.  If you’re comfortable with your shop the main game is on a par with Catan for complexity and approachability.  This asymmetry has drawn comparisons with Root which although more complex overall, has less asymmetry than Merchants Cove. 


Every single action you take on your turn will have a time cost and potentially a penalty corruption card as well.  This moves your time tracker one or two spaces around a clockface which acts as the game’s timer.  Passing certain points on the clock with your tracker will cause the boats to fill up and eventually trigger the market phase.  Player turn order is variable and dictated by whichever time tracker is furthest back on the clock.  This may allow you to plan a double turn which if timed right could allow you to choose which boats dock at two of the three piers in the cove.

There's mice, because there are...(actually useful but just more stuff)

Shuffling round the clock face or racing to the next market phase is deceptively simple. Invariably I am always looking to get another turn in after the market phase has been triggered.  Which shows that this game has been well balanced and I’m always immersed in the act of optimising my goods production and finding selling opportunities during the market phase.


During the market phase the base value of each of your sold goods (small and large is the same for every player) is multiplied by the number of similarly-coloured adventurers om the pier for your score.  For example, if you’re selling 2 large goods to 3 adventurers you’ll be looking at 48 points. (value 8 gold x 2 goods x 3 adventurers).  There will be some small bonuses for the number of adventurers in the guilds and penalties for corruption cards which definitely should not be ignored.  

Clamouring for small goods

Due to the large scores that are possible and each players hidden corruption cards it is not possible to determine who is winning or losing until the final scoring has been completed.  During my first real play with actual people (!!!) I thought I was down and out going into the last round and there was no way to catch up to my opponent who seemed to have a shelfful of goods.   However, come the final scoring I snuck ahead and the supposed winner actually came last (in a 3 player game).


The reason why I call this an engine builder is due to the set of upgrades and powerups each shop can do.  Each shop has a staff of four actions which can be done when villagers are hired onto your staff.  If you’ve only got one hire then your staff action is fairly weak.  If you’ve filled all four positions you’ll be wanting to do it every turn…although you can never take the same action twice in a row.  Similarly, there’s an element of set collection you’ll be doing which could also provide a massive point swing in final scoring.

Fully employed staff

If you’ve got this far you can tell that this game has a lot of things going on and decision points.  I certainly don’t feel like I’ve explored everything the games got to offer and there is a good deal of replayability.  I am keen to keep playing it although it is not without its flaws.

Criticisms

I think it’s fair to say this game is less than the sum of its parts. However, it has got an impressive array of parts that certainly doesn’t mean this is a bad game. It’s not even a ‘meh game it’s an interesting game.  It’s as if the designer(s) had so many ideas and tried to put them all into a game.  The fact that I want to keep playing it means that it’s a success (it works), I’m just not sure if its excellent, good or just interesting… I don’t feel like there’s anything like it in my collection.

Blacksmith forging dice.

The uniqueness of each shop and their mini-game is impressive but could be bewildering for new players.  I shudder at the thought of teaching this to 3 new players because the teach can easily go on for 20 minutes if you have to explain each shop.  Thankfully the individual shop’s rules pamphlets are fairly concise and could be read by each player during setup and after the main rules have been digested…questions will still come.  I’ve not found an optimised way to teach it yet.


Unfortunately, due to the completely asymmetric shops each one has got their own sizable board to play on as well as the large central board.  Not to mention the unique bits each shop has and the components, this game takes a bit of time to set up.  This is helped by some of the best inserts I’ve ever seen in a game, but it will still take some time, unless everybody is familiar and can help out.  Similarly, this game is a table-hog, you will definitely need a large playing area for this monster.

The Captain's board.

Components

Needless to say, this was successfully funded on Kickstarter.  The components are singularly of excellent quality, the designer is making cardboard do things which it was never designed to do.  It really does look impressive on the table thanks to the light-hearted fantasy art that is dripping off every component.  You don’t get any square / boring edges here everything is shaped, moulded, drawn upon to make everything interesting to look at.

The final mini-game...

There are probably too many components provided for each shop as I’ve never come close to using even half of any shop’s goods.  I still find it difficult to pack it all away despite the excellent insert and the essential packing instructions.  Lose those and you’ll be storing it all across two boxes and will have a lot of broken carboard.  It’s almost a game in itself to pack it all way!

Conclusion

If you’ve got this far you can tell that this game has a lot of things going on and decision points all wrapped up in a really unique game of games.  Sometimes the theme feels quite loose but it’s a testament to the designer, and this game, that so many different moving (metaphorical) pieces comes together as neatly as they do.  All the different merchants feel balanced and everyone is in with a chance of winning right until the end.  I can easily recommend it to any gamer to at least try a few times to see what hyper-modern games can deliver.  


Unlike this review, I have never felt that this game has outstayed its welcome it always seems to finish just in time… 


I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link https://www.asmodee.co.uk/contentpage/find-your-game-store to find your Friendly Local Game Store.


Designers: Carl Van Ostrand with Jonny Pac & Drake Villareal
Playtime: 90 minutes
Players: 1 - 4



Damnation: The Gothic Game is a last-person standing game of killing your friends.  Throughout the game, you will probably find yourself...

Damnation: The Gothic Game - Preview Damnation: The Gothic Game - Preview

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Kickstarter


Damnation: The Gothic Game is a last-person standing game of killing your friends.  Throughout the game, you will probably find yourself cackling with glee as you submit your friends to the fiendish rooms and traps littered throughout the Vampire’s castle.  Of course, everyone will be trying to do the same to you so don’t laugh too quickly.

Gameplay

There are some simple mechanics to this game which reflect the game’s original printing nearly 30 years ago. Move aside roll-and-write; roll-and-move and player elimination are alive and well if this game is anything to go by. Generally, I don’t like either of these dated mechanisms but the designer of this game has taken sensible steps to reduce the annoyance factor of both.  The new design has added an abundance of features and variation to the game to keep fans of the original and modern-gamers appeased.
6 unfortunate souls - ready to die
The roll-and-move irritation is actually turned into a welcome decision space by two of the game's mechanisms; a hand of up to five action cards, and your character’s talents.  The cards can be played during your turn for a variety of effects and each player has access to four talents which may allow them to affect their movement.  Of these talents, two will be common to all players (these common talents allow you to roll an additional movement die or to re-roll a die) and the other two talents will be unique to that character (some also affecting movement).   Together, the cards and talents give you lots of immediate decisions every turn to mitigate a ‘bad’ roll.  Although after multiple plays of this the only bad rolls are those in which your opponents are controlling your movement.  Don’t let this happen.
The Gentleman, about to not be gentle
Once you’ve used a talent you must discard a talent token, you start with three.  During the game, you will recover talent tokens but you can never have more than three tokens and you can never have more than one token on a talent, ready to use. All players have a unique inherent talent which could be used each turn if applicable without spending a token.  I haven’t played enough to see if the characters are all balanced but in the majority of the games, I have had the player who ends up controlling the Vampire is favoured – more on that character later.

It’s a rare thing to play a game with player elimination these days; even if you’re obviously losing and there is no chance to catch-up, a lot of games require you to limp along making weight.  Not so in Damnation: The Gothic Game.  This game outright wants to kill you, apparently there are 49 different ways to die … but I guarantee that if you are the first to die you won’t be looking to join another game, you’ll stay and watch the rest of the carnage unfold.  Not only does the game play in about 60 minutes but it’s so much fun watching instadeath happen to the snivelling git who caused your own untimely demise.
The Aristocrat is walking a dangerous path
During a players turn two d6 are rolled, the first indicates the number of spaces your character can move (a natural 6 allows an additional movement roll to be made) and the second is a ‘castle die’ which can land on 1 of 4 unique faces.  The first is a castle, which allows you to draw a card into your hand or as an immediate event; the candle face allows you to move an extra space – it’s surprising how often that extra space can be tremendously helpful; a trap face, which prevents you moving past any trap during your movement – a lovely sight for your opponent if they have the power of adjacency…and finally a blank face after which nothing happens.
Move 8 (exploding 6) and draw a card
If you end your movement on a space adjacent to another character, or within range of one of your weapons (cards in hand) you can choose to control the movement of that character on their next turn or attack them.  As tempting as it is to constantly attack all the things, the power of adjacency is really where the serious damage can be done.  Moving a character into a trap or slide space is a delicious feeling.  It could either mean instadeath or even better, a slow demise into the depths of hell as they try in vain to escape their doom <Mwah hah ha>
Can you see the Grim Reaper?
Most rooms have some unique rules that apply if a character enters them.  In general terms whenever a character enters a room not only will they be safe from anyone declaring the power of adjacency or attacking them but they will also draw a card from that room’s specific deck of cards.  This could either be an immediate event, an action for later use, or a weapon.  These cards and their inherent humour are really what make this game stand out for me; each deck is themed to the room and the art and flavour text are great, but most importantly their effect on the overall gameplay is a huge positive.
There are lots of cards to enjoy
Just when players are starting to get comfortable with the game's rules, the game will pull the rug out from under your feet after a players death in which a Deathknell card is revealed.  These cards alter the fundamental rules of the game so that each game is never boring or feels the same.  I haven’t seen any ‘game-breaking’ cards in the Deathknell deck, each one I have seen has caused some amusement and then often another quick death followed by another Deathknell card reveal - rinse and repeat.  Once players start dying, it’s often a case of who can hang on the longest and you won’t need to hang around for long!
Every piece of art is unique
However none of that talks about the Vampire, at the start of the game everyone is just your average scum-bag looking to kill every other scum-bag in the castle.  The first scum-bag that enters the Vault will become the vampire and will start mercilessly preying on the rest of the players.   The vampire just has to end their movement on another scum-bags’ space to bite and kill that player.  However this power comes with a great vulnerability, the vampire only has six turns in which to hunt before he needs to return to his coffin.  There are lots of lovely thematic touches like this littered throughout this game which complement the art and feel of this gothic horror world.
Vampire doing his thing
With a full complement of 6 players the game will take a little over an hour.  However, it does reward repeated plays.  On my first two plays of this (with different groups) everyone was initially quite timidly exploring the castle without following the core-ethos of the game, i.e. attempting to kill your friends as quickly as possible.  Just exploring the castle in itself was quite a fun game (due to the card art and flavour text) but nothing like the cut-throat brutality of players who know what to expect and are familiar with the rules and are looking to kill you from the first turn.
Nobody's dead yet
I had a four-player game of this with 3 new-to-the-hobby gamers and we were all playing inside 15 minutes.  I may have missed a few rules out as I was learning myself but it’s not a long teach despite the variety of general rule exceptions.  Once players are familiar with the game a turn will generally be finished inside 20 seconds at the most.  There is already very little downtime for any player and even less if you’ve claimed the Power of Adjacency over an opponent.
The current crop of visitors
I would recommend this for gamers and non-gamers.  It’s easy for non-gamers to grasp the more traditional roll and move mechanic but there's enough here to keep your generalist gamer happy too.  It won’t appeal to many self-confessed Grognards nor anyone with a delicate temperament. If you can’t see the funny side of being kicked when you’re down (figuratively) or have been known to flip a table or two because of a bad roll or an event killing your character, then move on, you won’t like this game. 

Components

I have only played on a prototype prior to the Kickstarter launch and I have no doubt that some of the components and content will change.  However, the thing that most struck me about these components at this stage of development was the art throughout the game.  Every card has unique art and there are lots of cards in this game.  The art also has a very distinct and consistent style across all components, which was not something I was expecting to see of a prototype.  The artists have done a fantastic job.
A difficult, but worthwhile room to enter

Criticisms

The only criticisms that I have not already addressed (i.e. roll-to-move and player-elimination) is one of scaling and a lack of rules reference. The game suggests 3 to 6 players. I would recommend a minimum of four.  At three players the castle feels a little empty, unless there are 3 tortured souls hanging around the table to see the rest of the gruesome death action, (watching their friends’ characters die).  This is a similar feeling I get when playing a league match of blood bowl, often a non-playing coach will attend pitch-side to see all of our respective failed rolls, injuries, deaths and laugh.  As long as you approach this game with the same humour you’ll be in for a good time.  At four or more players the game shines.

The lack of a rules reference meant I was regularly looking up the unique rules of rooms when characters entered them.  I'm sure that knowledge will come after 3 or 4 games but it was a common request to either have an on-board legend for each room or player-aid.  I feel a bit miserly even commenting on this as it is a prototype and I'm sure the designer will want to address this for the final design.

Conclusion

Damnation: The Gothic Game is a self-published production coming to Kickstarter at exactly the right time in its development.  Blackletter games are very much an indie games company taking on the behemoth of the modern board gaming market and they have every reason to be proud of their first game.  It’s often hilarious, mostly bloody and full of surprises.  Go take a look at the Kickstarter page when it launches on October 24th.

Publisher: Black Letter Games
BGG Page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/273955/damnation-gothic-game
Players: 3-6
Designer: Kris Rees - redesign of The Gothic Game
Playing time: 1 hour (ish)


Freedom! is an asymmetric card driven wargame that models a relatively unknown yet surprisingly important siege between the Ottoman Empi...

Freedom! a Kickstarter preview Freedom! a Kickstarter preview

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Kickstarter


Freedom! is an asymmetric card driven wargame that models a relatively unknown yet surprisingly important siege between the Ottoman Empire and the Greek rebel insurgents in the city of Messolonghi.  The siege in question is actually the third siege between greek insurgents demanding their freedom from the Ottoman Empire during the early 19th century, none of which I knew anything about prior to receiving this game.

The designer Vangelis Bagiartakis has written a fascinating designer's diary on bgg that is well worth a read if you're interested in the development or history of this game. https://www.boardgamegeek.com/freedom-designer-diary

Gameplay

Watch my rules overview to get an idea of how the game plays.  However, there are far more professional efforts which I will link to below.

Players control the two opposing forces and fight out the siege over 6 rounds. In each round, 7 cards will be played for a maximum total of 42 actions per player per game.  The Imperial player, however,  could end the game early if they manage to infiltrate just one of their units into the forts on the wall or into the Southern City, effectively assaulting the city from the Lagoon. 

Ready to go
The rebel player is largely stuck grinding out a victory over the full 6 rounds unless they are able to reduce the morale of the besieging units enough to where they give up and go home. However, nothing about this is a grind for the defending player. You as the defender, are as much a part of the action and must try to follow your own plan whenever possible to get a win. In other asymmetric games, the 'defender' is often just reacting to the aggressor's moves. As the insurgents, it never felt like I was just along for the ride.

I've played three full games of this and in each, they were all well balanced between my opponent and me. The only aberration I experienced was during the very first replenishment of the first game, my plea to the government, as the insurgent player was successful, (I rolled an 11) and had one point in my plea track which made my roll 12, i.e. a successful plea. This allowed my rebels to storm into the lead early on, but I eventually lost the game as my supplies completely dried up in the second period.
An early success for the rebels, unlucky for some
This timing and handling of the plea for government is crucial to manage for the insurgents to be successful.  Likewise, the Imperial Plea for aid is markedly different and nowhere near as significant, however, it is this asymmetry, not just in this mechanism, but in unit's attack, movement and replenishment abilities that really immerse players into a siege mentality, no matter which side you're controlling. There is a constant back and forth struggle, between both players that is evocative of what I imagine a siege to be like.
 
Like other card-driven games, cards are either played for the event or the action points. I should highlight, which for some reason,  it got lost on the editing floor, that when a player plays a card with their opponent's event, the opponent, on their next turn, can discard a card from their hand to have the previously played event happen.  This is an excellent innovation on the standard cdg mechanic, which serves to make the game that bit more accessible and forgiving.  This ability to 'play' your own event previously used by your opponent is unique and I would not be surprised to see the mechanic 'borrowed' by other designers for future projects. 

There are layers of games, area control, tight economic engine, and well balanced between both forces. Integrated into a whole that is engaging for both sides. The insurgents are just as much fun to play as the Imperials.
A selection of all components

Components

I have been sent a prototype and I am stunned by how good the art currently is.  I am reluctant to criticise a prototype's components but I would like there to be unique art for most of the cards. In many cases, the same art is used albeit the card events are similar. I hope they can commission the same artist to do many more pieces for the game.

The graphic design is a little dark in some places and the clouds across the board feel a bit redundant. The overall look of the board is fantastic and I'm sure will only get better as the game raises development funds through Kickstarter.
I'd love there to be unique art everywhere

Criticisms

The biggest criticism I have, and it's probably more justified to level this at our hobby rather than the game, is its theme, it is quite obscure, and serves a niche within a niche. This may serve to hinder the game's adoption amongst potential backers which would be a shame. I think wargamers who may well be very interested in the theme could be but put off by the 'simpler than Twilight Struggle' tag, (let's not discuss whether TS is a wargame or not...). Conversely, casual gamers who would be enticed by a siege game set in the Crusades, or even Leningrad which subjectively are far more accessible, may be put off by a siege in a city they've never heard of, and in a war they don't know.

Conclusion

Any game that I enjoy playing and at the same time helps me to learn something new is, in my opinion, excellent. This game has that property in spades, I knew nothing about the siege of Messolonghi before hearing about this game, and now I know some of the major events of the siege itself from reading the card texts and have also wished for some Messolonghi-related books to learn some more. 
These are glorious, more please...
We often talk about gateway games into the hobby and although this isn't one of those, it is an enjoyable foray into the CDG genre sitting firmly towards the more accessible end of the spectrum. This doesn't detract from the gameplay itself, there's still plenty to consider and mull over each turn. As much as I would like to pull out Labyrinth or TS more regularly, as an introduction to CDGs for interested players, this is a much easier teach and would be my gateway CDG game of choice. 

The underlying mechanics of this game are solid and as polished as any published title from any game publisher. The rulebook itself needs some work and the graphic design across most components could do with a little attention (I do love the art though). Freedom! is coming to Kickstarter at exactly the right time to secure some more funds to push it through the final stages of its design and I salute Phalanx Games for picking this up and giving us the opportunity to support it.  I will follow the campaign with interest. 

This project is live on Kickstarter right now, visit the project at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/phalanxgames/freedom
These comments are all based from a prototype version of the game which is subject to change. 

A preview from the designer himself:


Bonding with Board Games preview:

Detailed review from the Players Aid:

Publisher: Phalanx Games
Players: 2...
Designer: Vangelis Bagiartakis
Playing time: 2 - 3 hours

Overview Brass: Lancashire is the latest version of Martin Wallace's classic game set during the industrial revolution of ...

Brass: Lancashire Deluxe Edition Brass: Lancashire Deluxe Edition

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Kickstarter




Overview

Brass: Lancashire is the latest version of Martin Wallace's classic game set during the industrial revolution of England.  The original game was released in 2007 and owing to its popularity was reprinted in 2009 and in 2015. The 2018 Roxley edition eschews the drab-art of the original and provides gamers with the most lavishly produced game I think I have ever seen.

2-4 players take on the role of a Titan of Industry during the late 18th century in the industrial powerhouse of England, i.e. Lancashire. Through the game, players acquire Victory Points by building and using their industries and providing others with resources whilst expanding their own network of canals and rails.

Players compete with each other to fulfil the markets' demand for coal, iron and cotton at the same time as using the same coal and iron to expand their empire. The economic mantra of 'buying low, selling high' and the euro-gamers mantra of 'do what others aren't' are pivotal for success here.

Halfway through scoring the Canal Era
This version of the game was kickstarted by Roxley Games and as a frequent consumer of Kickstarter projects, I can honestly say that this was the best campaign that I've ever had the pleasure to be part of. I think Roxley have set other publishers the gold-standard of how to do a Kickstarter and I will consider backing any future campaign they run purely on the merits of this Kickstarter.

Gameplay

The game consists of approximately 16 rounds split over 2 eras. In each round, every player will take a turn of two actions by playing cards from their hand. Each round the player order will alter depending on how much money players spent during the previous round with the least amount going first.

On their turn, players will be doing 2 of 5 possible actions; attempting to sell cotton, building industries, building connections between towns and markets, taking a loan from the bank or developing their industry to get more bonuses when it is eventually built.

Handy Player Boards
The industries in which players can invest and use are (left to right in the image) cotton mills, ports, shipyards, iron works and coal mines. As you would expect each of them has different yet thematic attributes which provide a benefit to the owning player and often the other players as well.  Just as in the real world no industry will thrive without customers.

All of these actions and industries are played through the use of a hand of cards. The cards depict either a location on the map or a specific industry type.  Every action must be 'paid for' by discarding a card. The build action, however, requires the correct card to be used. For example, a player can place any industry into the specified location on the card, or the specific industry on the card into a location that is part of or adjacent to their own network.

Card Art Example
However, having the correct card to build an industry is far from the only consideration players have to think about when building. Some industries, require access to and the use of coal and/or iron in order to place them. Exhausting the resources of connected players may provide them with a larger benefit than building your own industry does to you. Your cards may lead you to focus elsewhere requiring a change of tactics. Money is also quite tight in this game and often you will not have enough money to build what you want without taking a loan first.

Constraining each player to two actions per turn does lead to some agonising choices, particularly around shipyards, that have very limited possible spaces on the board and iron works, whose market cycles far quicker than coal or cotton.  I nearly always wish that I could do a third action thereby, for example, preventing another player from building the iron works before I can afford it, or have access to coal in the right area and allowing me to fulfil the iron demand and 'flip' my tile.

Player tokens and flipped industries
Flipping a tile is done when it's resources are depleted. When you first build an industry a certain number of coal or iron cubes are placed upon the tile to show on-map availability of those resources. As they are exhausted the industry tile is flipped which will score Victory Points for the owning player at the end of the canal and rails eras and an immediate income bonus. Each industry is quite different from in this respect; shipyards flip immediately providing large amounts of VPs and little income. Cotton and Ports have no resource placed on them and are only flipped when the sell cotton action is taken.

Generally, earlier industries provide more income bonus and later ones provide more Victory Points. Striking the balance between building industries and developing them, i.e. getting access to the later industries is key.  However, another important source of Victory Points, especially in the Rail Era are the connections. Each industry tile at either end of a connection will score a Victory Point per connection. So a single rail link may be worth up to 7 Victory Points to its owner; there is normally a mad rush at the beginning of the rail era to build as many links as possible, primarily for this reason amongst others.


Halway through scoring the Rail Era
There are a plethora of difficult choices per turn for each player whereby you have to balance immediate tactical benefits with longer-term considerations, and the cards that you've got available with the actions/areas that your opponents are playing.

Components

I feel like I say this for most board games these days but truly Roxley has delivered a game with the most superb components I've ever seen. Granted the iron and coal are standard wooden blocks but this is entirely functional and does nothing to detract from the gorgeous art that permeates the rest of the game. The artwork on the board is second to none, likewise, the cards are similarly designed. I appreciated the industrial flourishes, littered throughout the game.

Flourishes aplenty
However, the best components in this game are the Iron Clays. These are the poker chips that are provided with the Deluxe edition of the game. They feel wonderful to touch and are the most tactile poker chips I have ever used. I normally substitute cardboard or (heaven forbid) paper money with poker chips in games and my generic chips feel and look terrible compared to these. Apparently, there is a Kickstarter for Iron Clays from Roxley later this year (or early next, considering we're almost in December) that I will definitely be backing to replace all of my chips.

More please!
The poker chips are only in the deluxe edition of the game which can still be ordered. The retail version features cardboard token for the money, and I'm sure they're functional and perfectly fine, but if you can and you're interested I would definitely recommend the deluxe version as these Iron Clays are something special. I even learnt to shuffle poker chips because I enjoyed handling them so much...

Criticisms

I wouldn't recommend learning this game with 3 new players or trying to learn where all 4 of you are new, you must have an experienced player to instruct.  I taught this to two of my group; they came over requesting a 'brain-burner' and this was a perfect choice.  It did take the best part of 3 hours despite only reviewing the rules for about 20 minutes or so before we got into it. However this isn't really a criticism as any more-complex game will suffer from a similar learning curve. However, don't think that this is overly complex as the rules fit into just 10 pages, the duration came from every player suffering similar 'hard decisions' as mentioned above.


I've played several games with less experienced players now and they thought that they were largely at the mercy of the cards they drew. There certainly is an element of randomness induced by the cards but experienced players should be able to manage and mitigate any 'bad cards' by strategising their hand and current opportunities. I've played the original game, and the excellent PC (also available on Android and IOS) many times and I don't think this is a valid criticism.  I would however, love to see a collaboration between Cublo and Roxley to update the app with Roxley graphics...

In most of my games with the Roxley Deluxe edition, we have run out of coal cubes by just 1. Especially at the beginning of the Rail Era when lots of coal mines have just been built in preparation for the Rail Era. I have also seen bgg forums suggesting they've had games where they had run out of iron cubes, which I find hard to understand how that is possible. However, this doesn't affect game-play as you can substitute anything else for the missing cube but one or two more coal cubes (maybe iron cubes as well) would have been nice.  This is a very minor nit-pick though.

App screenshot
Conclusion

All elements of this game play subtly different from each other, for example, the cotton market can be exhausted, whereas coal and iron will always be available in the market. Each industry tile has different rules regarding their bonus and utilisation, canal links and rail links have different rules regarding their building and coal and iron themselves have different rules to determine players access to them. These differences are all clever design choices to more thematically represent the industrial revolution in this medium-to-heavy Euro economic game.

The game is littered with hard choices and the ability to deny your opponents spaces and opportunities is rife, especially if you manage to pull off a last/first turn order combo effectively getting two turns on the bounce. You're constantly having to reevaluate your position with respect to your cards the available resources and it is certainly a brain burner that warrants its playtime and reputation in the hobby.

Despite the over-the-top production, I thought the price remained reasonable and for the retail version is an absolute bargain. It's not a game for everyone though, as there are lots of subtleties to grok before you're going to be competitive and there is a significant but-easily-surmountable-with-an-experienced-player learning curve.  The next time anyone requests a brain-burner, this is the game I'd recommend.

I'd like to thank Roxley Games and especially Paul Saxberg for providing the review copy of this game.

Publisher: Roxley Games
Players: 2 - 4
Designer: Martin Wallace
Playing time: 60 - 120 minutes
Deluxe version: Pre-orders still open for $75 + shipping
Retail version: Best price (delivered to UK) at time of review: £46.10
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