This June, I’m lucky enough to be presenting a couple of panels at the UK Games Expo. One of the talks I’m chairing is with a selection of some of the finest game designers that the country has to offer, one of whom is Tony Boydell from Surprised Stare Games. We got to talking about what they have planned for the future and he revealed a small project he’s working on called Paperclip Railways. This isn’t going to be a huge release – in fact it’ll be limited to 120 copies that will be available at the show itself – but Tony asked me if I fancied having a look. Who am I to say no? He sent the files over and away I went.
Now, I have never, ever made up a print and play game. I know that a lot of people are big fans of this most DIY of gaming genres, but for me? Never really felt like making the effort. I like opening up a box after tearing off the plastic cover, pulling cards from their cellophane wrapping, poring over the minis… why on earth would I want to go to the effort of making something when I can just pull something off the shelf? It’d take something a bit special to turn this attitude around. Something a bit different, a little innovative and interesting. After reading through the rules, my interest was certainly piqued.
First thing to do was to scavenge the necessary parts so the game could be played. Paperclips were easy enough to come by (thank you Staples), but the coloured cubes were a little trickier. Despite having a huge branch of Hobbycraft local to me, they were unable to provide what I wanted. Cue a bit of innovation on my part as a I grabbed a few packs of coloured Fimo crafting clay. A couple of hours of solid work and thirty minutes of baking that evening saw me with enough cubes of the necessary colours so up to five people can play – and if I dare say it myself, I think they lend to the cutesy feel of the game. Sure, wooden blocks would be perfectly serviceable, but these look like candy! The final version of the game will, of course, come with all the bits necessary to play it straight out of the box.
The rules may come across as simple, but at its core is a rather challenging game. Three to five players take turns in building and extending a network of towns and sites that are represented on square cards. These cards can be placed anywhere, but when you put one down it must be linked via a track to a place you’ve already got as part of your network. Tracks, made up by the coloured paperclips that give the game its name, can be purchased in sets of three by discarding cards from your hand. Points are scored by adding the amount each town is worth to the number of paperclips in the track that links the two cards. Points can also be lost if your tracks pass over those owned by other players, the string of blue clips that makes up a river, or touch the larger tiles that depict mountains or lakes. Bonuses can also be accrued either immediately or at the game end, depending on the text that is found on the card that you’ve played.
After a fair few plays, it strikes me that the game is a really a mix of two genres. First of all, you’re managing your hand of cards, deciding what you’ll keep in order to grow your network and what can be sacrificed so you can garner more paperclips. Once you have them, you must consider the placement of your cards and clips, shifting the game into spacial awareness territory – do you cluster everything in one area or try to reach out into your opponents’ zones? You’re allowed to build track into towns already set up by the other players (as long as there is space, signified by a cube limit on each card – if that limit is reached, no more building in or out of that town is allowed). The playing area gets pretty full quickly and even halfway through the game you’ll need to think hard about what the optimal placements could be.
So, the simple question: was building my own copy of Paperclip Railways worth the effort? All in all, it probably cost me about £15 to get everything together to get the game up and running and I honestly think that’s a bargain. Despite this being (in Tony’s own words) “a bit of fun” that was dreamt up at last year’s Essen fair, the game is incredibly solid. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the lovely String Railway from Japon Brand, but this is definitely a title that stands up for itself. It’s incredibly easy to get the hang of but sufficiently brain-burning to challenge a wide range of players. As mentioned above, the game will be available in limited quantities at Birmingham’s UK Games Expo, but should you not be able to get there copies can be reserved and set aside by dropping an email to the guys at Surprised Stare. The best thing is, you won’t even have to hunt about for the bits to play it – everything will be provided so it’s playable out of the box! Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org but please remember – there’s no pricing available yet! Tony has also said that reserving a copy will not bind you into buying a copy of the game, but if you even think you may half-kind-of-maybe want one, I’d fire off an email pretty soon.
Oh, by the way, if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a copy? You might want to print off this…