International Velvet – Snowdonia review

I’ve been thinking a lot (dangerous, I know) about Spiel 2012 – and more specifically, the games that were released there. Since I got back on Monday I’ve had a LOT of emails asking the usual stuff; did I have fun (yes), how many interviews did I do (just about fifty) and – the biggest question of all – what was my Game of the Show?

In all honesty, this is a very difficult one to answer. As I was running around like a mad thing for most of the show I didn’t actually get a huge amount of time to do much in the way of playing during the four days of Spiel. Sure, there was a fair few games in the evening at the hotel but it’s only really now, post event, that I get to sit around the table with friends and play all those boxes I dragged home. Suburbia is certainly up there on my hotlist, as are Tzolk’in, Space Cadets and the very lovely new version of Sentinels of the Multiverse, but I think I’ve finally decided.

Snowdonia by Tony Boydell is, in a word, wonderful. A middleweight Euro for between one and five players, the premise sees you building a railway up the side of Wales’ finest, foggiest mountainside. Rubble must be cleared, stations need to be built and… well, that’s about it for the story. However, the game itself is packed out with a depth that is rarely so easy to get your teeth into.

Each turn you’ll be able to take a couple of actions (potentially three if you’ve planned ahead well) that will help you in your quest to get that railway constructed. If you boil it down, Snowdonia is essentially a race for points, but the theme is reflected in the opportunities available to you. With only seven different possibilities, you may initially think that the game is somewhat limiting but the realisation kicks in soon that it’s all about building the most efficient engine as quickly as possible. Iron ore is changed into steel bars that can be used to lay track or get your hands on a train (more on that shortly) while rubble can be compressed into stone then used to build stations. Almost everything you do in Snowdonia can score you points, but you’re not going to win this game without some rather lucrative contracts.

These cards set out precisely what you need in order to get some very hefty bonuses. Whether it’s collecting a huge pile of rubble or making sure that you’ve built a decent amount of tracks and buildings, completing them often sets you on the path to victory. As well as points, they also offer you the chance to bend the rules each turn – many can be triggered during certain action phases and will bestow benefits on you and your opposition, so choosing the right time to use them is a major part of the game.

Another way to turn things in your favour is to pick up a train card. They’re costly – most will set you back a couple of steel bars so they can eat into your resources – but will give you a permanent bonus. Whether it’s getting an extra resource each turn or simply more points at the end of the game, choosing the right one is hugely influential. They also allow you to spend a coal cube before each turn in order to get a third worker out of the pub – a great way to get more and more stuff done and work your way along the stations.

Snowdonia in all its cube-driven glory! Click to embiggen.

Of course, this being Wales, you’re going to be slaves to its ‘glorious’ weather. An ingenious little system shows what’s happening meteorologically and this does actually effect how the game plays out. The backs of the contract cards show whether it’s sunny, wet or foggy and by seeing what’s coming up you’ll be able to hopefully plan ahead. Work can progress when it’s bright or raining but should the fog descend everything grinds to a halt – the perfect time to stock up on resources or send your surveyor further up towards the summit; the higher the better as he can again pull in some decent points at the end of play.

Once track has been laid to the final station, the game draws to a close, points are tallied and a winner is declared. Play steams along at a decent pace, especially when you get into gear and start putting your plans for domination into place. A system has also been built in where the game will start laying track and finishing off stations by itself, so hoarding resources and turtling up will do you no favours! You’re forced to get on with it, spend freely from the very beginning and get your presence on the board sooner rather than later, especially in a game of four or five players.

It’s well known that Tony is a fan of Agricola (just look at his slightly deranged blog right here) and you can certainly see Uwe Rosenberg’s influence on Snowdonia – both have a simplicity and straightforward manner of play, and fans of medieval farming will easily slip into the ways of mountainous railway construction. While there’s a lot of information going on in the game, everything is clearly presented and you’ll never get overloaded with detail; another sign of an excellent design.

Also included in the box is a whole new scenario which switches up the gameplay and adds yet more replay value to the package – work is also apparently going on by certain other designers to produce new card sets too, so it looks like Snowdonia is going to be well supported for some time to come. I’d suggest you get in early, grab a copy and get playing before this one starts picking up awards and it becomes hard to find. Who’d have thought that hard labour could be so entertaining? It’s bloody marvellous.

Snowdonia was designed by Tony Boydell and is published by Surprised Stare, Lookout Games and uplay.it. Between two and five can play, with a slightly different set of rules available if you fancy some solo action. It’ll cost you around £32 for a copy, but Gameslore have it available for £26.99. GET IT. NOW.

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1 Comment

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One response to “International Velvet – Snowdonia review

  1. I’m something of an Uwe Rosenberg fan myself, so I’ll have to look for this one.

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