My Minnesota

[Also posted at the Ra’anana Boardgames Group site.]

This week’s session was a much requested return to Age of Industry, this time using the Minnesota map (one side of the Minnesota/Japan expansion board, ordered from Treefrog and delivered in lightning fast time).

Hydro power in Age of Industry

We had six players, but the game only runs with up to five, so I helped out Nadine as she had virtually no experience of the game. When I say “helped”, I mean that in the loosest sense of the word, but more on that later.

The board comes with special rules, delivering a different gaming experience. The core mechanics are the same, but with enough variety to freshen things up. For example, in Minnesota the city of Chicago features as the only source of coal, and the new mechanics allow players to sell iron to newly available iron markets. As another example, one area of the board increases the output and monetary value of iron plants, and another replicates hydro power by eliminating coal building costs. The board is compact and fills up quickly. Graphically, it is ok, though Duluth has been wrongly rendered as Deluth. (Not quite in the class of Chilli instead of Chile in the 1st edition of GMT’s excellent Twilight Struggle, but embarrassing enough for the native board designer.)

Chicago - at the heart of the action

I thought there would be a rush to grab the available connections to Chicago, and so there was. However, if I recall correctly, Yehuda actively passed up that connection – though he had the opportunity. His strategy was to focus on the limited ship slots available, and get Victory Points on the board.

Laurie, on the one hand reveling in playing on familiar territory, also confessed to being confused by the twists to the selling mechanism. That rather handicapped her progress, but she gamely plugged away and succeeded in depriving other players of some key Victory Points.

Nadine went for a railroad strategy out of Chicago. She got her railroad down, ok, but when it came to building industries, there were precious few spaces left and the game was finishing. She can justifiably blame me for that poor judgement. To balance the picture, she did have the best VP score of all the players from rail connections, and was not that far away at the end.

The board fills up

Ofer looked to have a solid combination of connections and industries, but in a cruel twist of fate was blocked in the last couple of turns, just when he was looking to cash in his industries. Ofer’s fate was sealed by the good play of Abraham and Yehuda. It looked to me as if getting the turn order right at the right time was key.

Abraham had a similar strategy to Ofer, but was one or two card plays ahead, and that also made a difference in final positioning. (There is some luck in the game, primarily in the card draw. For example, a good starting hand means a player will not waste actions and time in trying to get better cards.)

Yehuda’s ship building empire brought him first place, just ahead of Abraham. The other players were a few points back, but it was a reasonably low point spread from top to bottom.

I’m pretty certain at some time we will be playing the Japan side, as it has a different set of twists. It looks as if the expansion board is going to be excellent value for money.