A Deckbuilding Look at A Study in Emerald

A Study in EmeraldTo date, very few deckbuilding designers have returned for a follow-up try at the category. It was therefore really a pleasure to see a second deckbuilding design from Martin Wallace — one that feels both like an evolution of his A Few Acres of Snow and also like a new and innovative design.

The Game

A Study in Emerald (2013) is a big game that includes deckbuilding as one of several moving parts that together create an intriguing multi-faceted game design. Continue reading

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

New to Me: Summer, 2012

Here’s my newest quarterly listing of games I’ve played recently that I’d never played before. As usual, this list tends to focus on brand-new games, but on occasion the odd older game shows up that I just hadn’t tried out before. This time around there was a little glut of games in the 2007-2008 range.

I’m happy to have seen a couple of terrific releases (Village and Small World: Realms) which made the Summer a great time to be gaming. Sadly, there were also two total failures in D-Day Dice and (very belatedly) World War 5.

Everything is arranged in approximate ranking of personal like, from most to least.

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A Deckbuilding Look at A Few Acres of Snow

A Few Acres of SnowIn my deckbuilding article on Eminent Domain, Jessey mentioned Martin Wallace’s A Few Acres of Snow as another game that integrated deckbuilding as part of a larger game. Now that I’ve played it, I agree — it goes even further than Eminent Domain in using deckbuilding as a mechanic rather than as a genre of game.

The Game

A Few Acres of Snow is on the one hand a wargame. Like Martin Wallace’s densest wargame, Waterloo, the most obvious victory requires the capture of specific villages. However from there it opens up into a more common Wallacian euro-warfare design, where the combat actually happens through the play of cards. There’s also a fair amount of additional resource management, as players build up their holdings of villages and towns. In some ways, it reminds me the most of Wallace’s Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, as both games center on the play of cards which are full of symbols that enable actions.

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Brass Tacks

BrassFor a while, I was playing quite a few Martin Wallace games. I haven’t exactly left them behind, as I’m still happy to play a new Wallace offering when it’s put on the table, but I’m less likely to actively seek them out now. I think I discovered that he was more logistical and mathy than I generally like. In any case, this was one of my very few strategy articles, probably encouraged by the fact that I’d just started writing at BGN and wanted to dazzle the audience. It’s also the first of several articles about Wallace’s designs —SA, 3/15/15


Brass was Martin Wallace’s last board game release of 2007. Moving away from his war gaming themes of recent years, Brass instead returns Wallace to his most successful area of design: logistical gaming. This time he’s focused the game on his native Britain, detailing the Industrial Revolution in Lancashire—which is to say northwestern England.

I was really wowed by Brass when I first played it. It’s rare that a game of this length and complexity has me returning for more, but the economic modeling and strategies of Brass are both unique enough that I thought they deserved the attention. And thus it’s those exact two topics that I’m going to be looking into in more depth today.

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Give Me a Light … No, Civ Light!

One of the Holy Grails of modern game design seems to be “Civ Light”, a game that inexplicably is like Francis Tresham’s 1980 masterpiece Civilization, yet at the same time is not. Every year lately one or two games come out that are proclaimed — by designers, fans, or both — to be this Grail, and every year each and every one fails to live up to the standard — potentially because it sets an impossible bar.

In this article I want to look at first Civilization itself, then the many contenders for the “Civ Light” throne. In the process I’ll give each game a “Civ Score”, which is a 4-point score based on how well the game mimics the four core Civilization gameplay elements of civilization advance, resource management, trade, and warfare and measure the “Weight” of the game, based on BGG stats. Though both stats are clearly somewhat arbitrary, I think they offer relatively analytical measures of how each game approaches the Civ Light ideal.

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The Problem with Indie Games

Last Thursday I played my first game ever of Mall World. It’s a game that I was really enthused to pick up when it was released by Rio Grande Games. The tile-laying was probably what appealed to me first; I like building games. However when I saw the first pictures of it, with its geomorphic tile designs, I was totally won over. It looked neat.

It arrived at my door as part of a large box of games. I quickly ripped through all of them, ogling pieces and reading rules. But afterward Mall World began to gather dust as it sat atop my to-play pile, for days, weeks, and eventually months. I took it out a couple of times to play, but it was rejected each time. At least once this was because I didn’t want to play an auction game with the minimum number of players, but more often there was another reason that I couldn’t bring myself to play the game: the rules.
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