Tuesday, November 15, 2005

#7: Age of Steam

Another game that I (Mark) am not really qualified to comment on - but my interest is growing as I read the glowing comments it has received. (For the record, I loved it's granddaddy... the ugly but very enjoyable Lancashire Rails. OTOH, I detested Volldampf.) It combines a number of different mechanisms (auction, delivery, track-laying) along with a punishing economic system to create what many are already calling a classic game. Anyway, you guys don't care about my opinion... so read what some real fans have to say about #7, Age of Steam.

William Eldard: "In my opinion, the best of the railroad games, combining concpets from the crayon rails, the 18xx series, and Wallace's earlier rail games, into a tight, tense contest that demands skillful resource management. The components are top notch, too."

Larry Levy: "18xx fans will disagree, but for me, this is THE train game.It's a deep, rich game that requires your utmost concentration. The different Actions add great variety and really add to the importance of the auctions. I haven't had the chance to play any of the expansions, but I'm enjoying the original map just fine, thank you. Age of Steam is part of the family of Wallace-designed rail games that includes Lancashire Railways, New England Railways, Volldampf, and the newly released Australian Railways. The Actions and the actual building of routes (as opposed to buying pre-set ones) are unique to AoS."

picture from Board Game Geek

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8 Comments:

Blogger Chris Farrell said...

So, how high up can a game be and still be significantly flawed?

I like Age of Steam. It's a neat game and has a lot of interesting stuff. I like the huge pressure on cash in the early-game, and I like the route-building.

But unlike its (superior, IMHO - but that's just me) competitor 1825, Age of Steam is unquestionably mechanically flawed. The endgame and victory conditions are wonky. The producer is definitely underpowered (at least on most boards). And the balance of the roles is a little questionable in the mid to late game.

Age of Steam is a very good game, but I can't put it in the top 10 with such obvious, even if hardly fatal, problems. It's more of a niche game that a certain segment of the hobby is going to love, but it lacks the design elegance of the greats.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

This from the man who rated Beowulf a '10' !!!

(I'm just playing, Chris. Don't hurt me.)

1:11 PM  
Blogger Chris Farrell said...

Where's my club ... :)

Not sure if you wanted a serious response to that or not, but I was never one to withold once started ... so I'll just say that I think there can clearly be legitimate differences of opinion over whether the amount of luck in Beowulf works for you personally. That's fine, and reasonable (and certainly online folks seem to have a poorer reaction to overt luck than general gamers). But mechanically, the luck works and is appropriate, and is generally less than it first appears.

Which is a far cry from the truly strange bidding and track laying you see in the endgame of Age of Steam because your money doesn't count for anything in the end. And I still haven't seen anyone actually take the producer role on the basic board (outside of the very endgame, when most roles become marginal, so it's more of a dartboard thing if you didn't get +1 Link).

1:53 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

A serious response is just fine. I've only played AoS once, and that was a couple years ago so I couldn't possibly debate you on its merits (or lack thereof).

Beowulf, on the other hand, left me stone cold after two playings. I thought the theme was woefully lacking, and the gameplay itself only mildly interesting. Bid there, won that.

(sorry, but I had to use that expression before Larry Levy beat me to it)

Your '10' rating floored me. But that's cool. Even Pauline Kael liked Star Wars...

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Olivier REIX said...

Chris,

Your arguments to call AoS "flawed" always puzzled me, really (but unike you I do not know 1825 and do not see it as a "competitor"). Personnaly this is one of my two favorite games (the other being Modern Art, if you ask) and I am in the 40-50 play zone.

- The aim of AoS is NOT getting the more money : where is the flaw ?
- The victory point are (revenue-share) with the links used as a tie breaker, isn't that cristal clear ?
- The roles have different strength, for sure, that's why there is an auction to get, them, you see ?

Production will be taken less frequently than Locomotive, for sure, but this can also be a game winner in certain circunstances.

As for the design elegance, it is obviously a matter of taste (and obviously I can not agree with you).

12:58 AM  
Blogger huzonfirst said...

Chris, I was going to answer these objections in detail, but Olivier has pretty much summarized my arguments. So here is a small addenda.

You say AoS is very good, but not Top 10-worthy because it is "mechanically flawed". So does that eliminate Ticket to Ride from Top 10 consideration because locomotives aren't chosen enough? Is Settlers voted off the island because dice rolls are *always* unfair (to someone)? Games are what they are; if you love them, they don't have to be perfect. If, for you, design elegance is extremely important (and if you're consistent with that desire), then fine, you have a way of rating your favorites. But I just don't see equating "lack of design elegance" with "significantly flawed".

And, by the way, the Producer role is occasionally taken in most of our games and I've taken it several times in a few games I've won. Like the Office in Puerto Rico, it addresses a situation that only pops up in a subset of the games, but when that situation occurs, the presence of the Producer is quite important (just like the Office in PR).

Finally, just to emphasize Olivier's point: the roles aren't SUPPOSED to be balanced! An auction for completely balanced items sounds pretty boring, doesn't it?

7:59 AM  
Blogger Fellonmyhead said...

I find 1825 and AoS just too different to compare so directly. Just a few reasons why:

1. 1825 is clearly more the historical simulation, AoS is clearly not; this is evidenced in 1825 by the restricted building hexags, actual locomotives of the period, actual rail companies and a graded rise in technology. All of these are abstracted in AoS, where they're not completely removed.

2. 1825 evolved out of a system over thirty years old, AoS should perhaps be allowed to evolve (something it is doing gradually as evidenced by the number of supplemental maps and rules appearing) before possible dismissal.

3. 1825 players are the shareholders, AoS players are the company. The whole economic system in each game is built around different viewpoints so the effects have to be handled differently.

4. 1825 tends to play over a longer period (though I acknowledge there are shortened versions of the same system available); AoS is considered long in its genre but is significantly shorter than 1825.

In fact, as the theme is probably the greatest similarity perhaps we should throw TtR out of the top ten as well? IMHO it doesn't hold a candle to 1825.

8:33 AM  
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