[Also posted at the Ra’anana Boardgames Group site.]
This week we played the Martin Wallace game Age of Industry.
Abraham and I had played it before. Laurie, Yehuda, and Ofer were playing it for the first time. And, like many of these games, it can take a couple or more turns before the systems and processes sink in. So, those with prior playing experience have a theoretical advantage. Theoretical, because it doesn’t always work out that way. Apart from anything else, unless you have played the game a lot, there are always new strategies to be experienced. And gamers often don’t do what you expect them to do. Unlike Monty Python, everybody expects the unexpected!
The game is a cut down version of Brass, and the theme is the Industrial Revolution. Each player has a number of industries and resources – for example, cotton mills, factories, coal mines, iron works, ports and ships – which he scores points for building on the board. (The game comes with a two sided board showing Germany and USA.) Each industry comes with different technology levels (equal to victory points), but you cannot build the better stuff until you have built or developed (discarded) the lesser material. You can build on top of your industries, for example putting a level 2 factory on top of a level 1 type.
However, with one major exception, you can only build where the cards allow you. The cards are split into industry and location types: industry allows you to build that industry (though you must have a connection to it) whereas location allows you to build freely in a specified area. To make the connections, you build railways between cities and towns. And to fund all of this, you must borrow money. You start with zero cash. Each $10 you borrow requires a $1 interest payment every turn, and costs $11 to repay.
Crucially, many builds – for example railroads – require coal or iron resources (or both). If you build a coal mine or an iron works it has some resources. And there is coal available to be shipped in, or from an off board display where the price goes up the more is bought. How do you receive money? By selling from your cotton mills and factories, you use up ports. Use of the coal or iron resources also uses up the coal mine or iron works.This means the counter is flipped and generates a one off cash payment.
Finally, but most importantly, is the game turn sequence and available actions. The sequence is take actions, determine player order, and pay interest.
Actions: you get two per turn, except in the first turn. The major exception referred to above is that you can give up two actions for the right to do one build anywhere on the board. (Yehuda used this once to good effect.) The actions include building, developing (discarding a resource/industry at the cost of a card) and drawing cards. The discard deck is not shuffled back in, and when you finish the cards the game ends as soon as one player has no cards. Time can be tight as well as money!
Player order is determined by how much you spent on the previous turn, with each expenditure going in a little box beside your wooden colored piece to keep track of this; the lower the expenditure, the earlier you go in the turn. (I only managed to use this to my advantage once.)
And so to our game. It took Laurie and Ofer a little bit longer than Yehuda to see how you generated money. But, by the half way point in the game, we were all mostly debt free. Yehuda and Abraham built good rail networks, with the rest of us trailing behind in that category. I was caught out by how quickly the game finished; previous experience with four player games had been misleading, and I found myself running out of time, just when I had built up the killer card combinations I needed. I think Abraham was in the same position: plenty of cards and options, too little time. Ofer and Laurie had done quite well in getting the balance right, but their slow starts had penalized them. Yehuda, inevitably, got it spot on and won thanks to his ruthlessly efficient building program.
I enjoyed the game immensely, and everyone else seemed keen to give it another go. Some of us even talked about trying Brass out. (It’s supposed to be much more complex.) Age of Industry is well balanced, with lots of tough decisions to take. It’s not for casual gamers, but is an involving challenge for more experienced types. It’s good for four or five players.