Anatomy of a Genre: Train Games, Part Two — Pickup and Delivery

Last week I started a multipart series on train games. In that article, I suggested that train games are usually built around three mechanics: all train games have connection mechanics, while some train games add on pickup-and-delivery mechanics and others add on stock holding mechanics.

This week I’m going to focus on the second main mechanic found in train games: pickup-and-delivery. I believe that train games using this mechanic are (in general) somewhat more complex than plain connections games … but don’t tend to be as difficult as stock holding games, which I’ll be talking about next week.

Pickup and Delivery

The cool thing about train games (and connections games of all sorts) is that once you have track you can do something with it. This is what gives rise to the second sort of train game, where you pickup goods and then deliver them using your existing network of rails.

Lunar Rails

Lunar Rails (Empire Builder)

There are two classics in the pickup-and-delivery train game genre: the crayon rail games starting with Empire Builder (1980) and the huge mass of related Martin Wallace games that center on Age of Steam (2002). Each of them does its pickup and its delivery in slightly different ways.

In Empire Builder — and the many, many related train games, of which my favorite is Iron Dragon (1994), thanks to its easy-to-find cities and its secondary underground map — there’s almost no contention for pickup-and-delivery. Contracts are privately held, and though goods aren’t unlimited in supply, it’s rare that a player can’t get a good if he wants it. As a result, the game becomes purely one of efficiency rather than competition: the player who is able to most effectively build out his rail line and to best balance multiple demands is the one who wins. Continue reading

IP, Morality, and the Gaming Industry, Part Two: Developers

Steam: Rails to RichesOver the last few weeks there’s been a bit of a ruckus about Martin Wallace’s Age of Steam. It started when Mayfair Games announced that they’d be publishing a new, third edition of the game. There was some confusion over why Winsome Games, who helped bring Age of Steam to market, wasn’t involved in the new edition. Eventually it was revealed that Martin Wallace (the designer) and John Bohrer (of Winsome) had decided to go their own ways, and that Wallace was thus reclaiming his premiere game for publication as he saw fit.

The most disturbing — and for the purposes of this article, thought-provoking —element of the whole split was John Bohrer’s post to BoardGameGeek, discussing what would be included in Mayfair’s third edition of Age of Steam:

It will not have the original Winsome ruleset, nor any other Winsome development work, like the Rust Belt map, point-to-point links, selected actions, etc. Essentially, it will be a different game, just as Railroad Tycoon was a different game. But I am sure that it will sell well with nice bits, just as Railroad Tycoon did.

Continue reading

Expansive Theories (or: The Horror! The Horror!)

Gaming expansions. They’re a way of life — particularly if your game has just won the SdJ, or alternatively is published by Fantasy Flight Games. (If both happen some day, we can only assume that the expansions will have expansions.)

Frankly, I like expansions, or at least I like the basic theory thereof. If a game is well-designed or otherwise enjoyable, I want to be able to play it more, but on the other hand my constant need for novelty requires me to go out and find new games to play. Expansions for games that I already like meet both needs.

However last weekend while playing The Dunwich Horror, the second and newest expansion for Arkham Horror, I increasingly realized that in my mind some expansions work, and others are, to put it topically, turkeys. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Dunwich Horror, and it’s going to get played again, but I also think that FFG is advancing right down the path that makes me most leary of gaming expansion.

Generally, I categorize gaming expansions into four types: permanent expansions; one-time expansions; replacements; and alternative games. As we’ll see, The Dunwich Horror falls into the first category, and the one I like least.

Continue reading

The Multiplayer IGA Nominees: 2006

There are, over the gaming year, five different major awards. The first two are the German awards, the SdJ and the DSP. Then there’s the RPG industry award (the Origins) and finally the American mass-market award (the Games 100). It’s pretty easy to pigeon-hole each of these:

  • The SdJ is a German award for a casual or family game.
  • The DSP is likewise a German award for more serious games, though the results have been getting more casual as they’ve started to let the masses vote.
  • The Origins board & card game awards are, first of all, more beauty contests than anything else — where people vote on companies as much as products. In addition they tend to award American take-that style play. If you’re looking for a new Munchkin, look here. (Since splitting into the Origins award & Choice awards, Origins proper has gotten somewhat better, while the Choice awards continue to be about what you’d expect.)
  • The Games 100 are a very eclectic mix, centering on ultra-casual strategy-light games that’ll appeal to the (American) mass market, but extending somewhat to more gamist games, thanks primarily to the fact that they get to name 100 picks.

… and then there’s the IGA, the International Gamer Awards.

Continue reading

Last Season’s Hot Games: A Top Ten from Essen 2005, Part One

Last year I worked up a list of the top ten games to be released at Essen 2005. Now that several months have gone by, I’ve actually had the time to play through all of them (other than no-show Tempus). As a result, this week and next I’m going to offer up a summary of my opinions about the best (and worst) games from my list.

This week, the top five games, which I grade between an “A” and a “B+”, all well above average.

Continue reading