Time for a guest post from one of our American cousins! The charming Eric Leath – also known as @Full_of_Chit on that there Twitter – has been in a great big convoy across the USA! Kind of. Here’s what he thinks of Dice Hate Me Games’ newest offering, The Great Heartland Hauling Co.
Growing up in Ohio for the past 28 years, I’d like to think I’ve had my fair share of agrarian experiences: Milking goats, stepping in cowpies, running through cornfields, etc. Even then, however, there was one thing I never got to check off my list. I never got to sit in a big rig and experience the joy and wonder of the open road. Some of my friends’ fathers were truckers, and upon returning home they would regale us with stories of far away lands and cities with ridiculous names.
From mundane trips to Boring, Oregon to dodging raindrops in Spunky Puddle, Ohio to experiencing Intercourse* with a trailer full of pigs (*Intercourse, Pennsylvania that is; don’t get any ideas) there was simply something about travelling from coast to coast and city to city that seemed enthralling.
Now, thanks to designer Jason Kotarski and Chris Kirkman of DiceHateMe Games, you too can experience a little bit of that Big Rigger rigor with Great Heartland Hauling. In this game you—as you might have guessed already—take on the role of a trucker, picking up and delivering 4 different goods [Cattle, Pigs, Soybeans, and Corn] to towns across the country.
To start, a grid of cards is laid out on the table (more players, more cards) and populated with 5 cubes of its native good (i.e. one of the aforementioned crops or animals). On a player’s turn, they will take 3 actions:
1.) Move across the heartland. This may be done by playing gas cards from your hand to move a maximum of 3 spaces. If you don’t have any gas cards, you’ll need to spend some of your hard earned cash to move. A trucker never rests, and your clients don’t take excuses. It should also be noted that you can’t stop in a city in which another player is located, nor can you stop at the Distribution Center (the middle card of the layout), so blocking certain areas of the board can be a good strategy.
2.) Next, you’ll need to pick up or deliver goods. To do this, play a card that corresponds to the good you’re picking up or delivering. If picking up, put the cube in the designated area on your scorecard and proceed to step 3. If delivering, take the cube from your truck, place it on the city card, and move your score marker up the appropriate amount of spaces. You may also pick up a non-native good, but that’ll cost you a bit extra (i.e. 2 cards per cube rather than 1). Considering the maximum capacity of a card is 8 cubes, and it might very well be in your best interest to pick up some non-native goods.
2b.) At times in the game, you may find your engine starting to get gunked up a bit. In this case you may pay $1 to discard as many card from your hand as you desire. Think of this as an Oil Change or a Fuel Injector boost/flush.
3.) Finally, refill your hand to 5 cards. Additionally, check to see if anyone has hit the score threshold (ranging from 30 to 50 points depending on the number of players). If someone has, all other players get one last turn before the game ends.
If this were the entirety of the game, it would be a pleasant experience, though admittedly not one with a lot of replayability. Thankfully, DHMG has packed the game with enough horns and mudflaps (the trucker equivalent of bells and whistles, I’m assuming) to keep gamers occupied until their next well-funded Kickstarter game is delivered. First is the Badlands add-on, which expands the game to a 5 player experience and augments the base game with 2 extra cities. These cities are placed on the outskirts of the initial layout; while they don’t have any native goods, they make up for this shortcoming by having payouts for 3 goods rather than the normal 2. On top of this is the Truck Stop inspansion, which allows players to stop on certain cards and pay an amount of cash in order to gain various special powers such as Ethanol (use corn as fuel) or extra fuel or cards in hand.
If that weren’t enough, each of the city cards in Heartland Hauling is double sided, which allows for an advanced variant that introduces Closed Roads, Weigh Stations which charge for trucks over capacity, and Toll Roads that nickel and dime inefficient travelers. Truthfully, the only bad thing about all these different ways to play is that the game box can barely fit it all.
But enough about the components and how to play; does all this extra “stuff” equate to a good game? To that, I can give an unabashed “Yes.” The game scales well from 2 to 5 (our 2P games even seem to be more cuththroat than our 5P experiences) as well as from novice to experienced gamer due to all the accoutrements thrown in. I’ve had the opportunity to play with 2,3,and 4 as well as with the Truck Stop, Badlands, and Advanced Routes and I can truthfully say that I enjoy all of the options. While there wasn’t a lot of blocking in our two player game, the optimal pick up and drop off combos caused sites to reach the 8 cube capacity quickly, meaning we had to then analyze what the second best option was or how to utilize non-native good pick ups to our advantage. 3 and 4 player games, on the contrary necessitate not only a Plan B, but often times a Plan C, D, and E. It’s also not written into the rulebook, but there’s a certain level of social diplomacy one can garner in the game as well. Players can swindle a deal for “if you go here now, I’ll stay away from this area of the board.” Knowing Mr. Kirkman’s love of social games, I bet he’s smiling as he reads this.
Mind you, this game probably won’t do anything for those looking for a super-heavy pick up and deliver game (e.g Merchant of Venus and its ilk), but virtually everyone else should find something to enjoy. There is a modicum of take-that due to players blocking certain areas of the board or loading a city up to capacity, but it never feels especially spiteful. Likewise, there’s enough to the base game without Badlands, Truck stops, or advanced variants, that you won’t grumble (much) over teaching the game to newcomers.
Overall, Heartland Hauling is a welcome addition to the Dice Hate Me Games family. It’s accessible yet deep, and should provide hours of fun for you and your convoy. As they say around our table when playing this game: “Go Pig or Go home.”
The Great Heartland Hauling Co. was designed by Jason Kotarski and released by Dice Hate Me Games in 2013. For more information, check out the DHMG site! Also, don’t forget to follow guest reviewer Eric Leath on Twitter if that’s your kind of thing. Thanks to him for the article!