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2-4 players, 90 minutes, worker placement, KniziaGave this one a go late one night, but need to replay this when we're not too tired, as there are several elements that take a while to sink in (trains, goods, shares, etc.). This is nothing like Ticket To Ride or Thurn und Taxis, but the theme is very appealing to me. Will play again
The tension and strategy of Through the Desert made better with a hefty dose of tactics, area majority, playing your opponents, and a surprisingly engaging pseudo-economic system. Knizia amazes me yet again; this one's shockingly excellent.
GAMEPLAY Players take on the roles of industrialists rail-bent on getting locomotives to cities and towns while also speculating in the manufactured goods being developed during the era. On a turn, a player has two actions: place or move a station; invest in an industry by placing a cube in that industry; and move a train thereby gaining a share of that train line. When this last action is taken, any player with a share in the line being moved may initiate a movement-veto auction. That is, players can bid shares in said line to change the course of where the line goes. Players score VP in the game by connecting lines to cities causing industry majorities to score and by connecting lines to towns causing station majorities to score. At the end of the game, players score VP for majorities in passengers and industries as well as for majorities in stations and shares for lines that remain unmerged or isolated. THOUGHTS Two things sold me on this game. First, I was smitten by the gameplay of Acquire but had some trepidation about tracking down a copy. After all, how many people do I know would like to play a game that literally looks like a grid from an Excel spreadsheet? Then, when Grail Games announced the reprint of SR and I read that it shared a lot of DNA with Acquire in terms of the core mechanic, my interest was piqued. Second, it’s Knizia’s take on a train game, and how could I pass on a designer stepping into a genre I love? I read that SR is the third in Knizia’s unofficial tile-laying trilogy – T&E and Samurai being the other two. However, I can see why those are more popular as the rules, in particular, the scoring rules are much simpler to grasp than all the niggling things to keep track of in SR. Not that it’s unmanageable but a new player certainly needs to play one game before they can understand what the implications are of the different actions and how final scoring shakes out. That being said, I’m glad I backed it and I look forward to further plays of SR. PROS -The graphic design – Ian O’Toole – is drop-dead gorgeous and the components are likewise top-notch. -SR brings Knizia’s love of tile-laying and auctions together masterfully. This is rarefied air up here. -The veto system feels like it should break the flow of the game, and while this is true to some extent, it manages to feel very natural in addition to being crucial to the identity of SR. NEUTRALS -This is not a game where you hear the rules and you know what to do. Players need repeated plays to grasp the effect of actions and how to time these actions in an advantageous way. CONS -The board is obnoxiously enormous. I get that the trend these days is to make everything over the top but I don’t want to play a game where the board is hanging over the edge of my table and the player aids barely fit to one side. The oversized industry and share section of the board seem most egregious. -The KS created expansion maps but the insert had to be thrown out to fit the expansion maps in the box. If they knew this would be the case, why not make the box a bit bigger or make an insert to take this into account. -I really dislike the player piece color scheme – brown, white, pink, and sky blue. I’m all for making games color-blind friendly but couldn’t we have had something different. Who honestly wants to play with pink?
Acquire-ish with no luck and more positional elements to take into account. There are no liquidity issues in this game, but vetoing adds an element to portfolio management that Acquire lacks, which is interesting. The "Knizia" scoring here is especially convoluted and hard for players to remember, and the fact that there's no capital investment on the players' part keeps this from being a true stock-and-rails game. Make a move, get some stock for free, so it's more typical points accumulation but VP is just disguised as money (except in the new Grail Games edition where the publisher just did away with the illusion of money altogether, and now you score "prestige points".). For Knizia tile-laying goodness, play Through the Desert at a third of the playing time. For stock-and-rails game, give me Chicago Express any time. There's a reason the forthcoming edition is the first time the game has been re-issued in almost 20 years.