Tag Archives: Martin Wallace

Bombtrack – Railways of the World review

RotW Cover

The Judge returns once again, this time not to check out something brand new, but to look to one of Eagle Games’ biggest sellers instead! Fancy some old-school networking? Time to pick up a copy of Railways of the World – if your back can handle it!

Gamers, as a breed, are always being swept along in the continual, unending, irresistible Cult of the New. Myself included, by the way. I’m not only a registered, card carrying member – I also have a commemorative t-shirt and have started the fan club. I love new games, as do my gaming groups, so I don’t get as many opportunities to revisit some of my favourites as perhaps I would like.

There are exceptions. Terra Mystica is an evergreen and so is the subject of today’s review – Railways of the World.

When discussing this classic “pick up and deliver game” it’s almost a cliché to begin comparing this with Age of Steam and Steam – they’re all from to the same original Martin Wallace design, after all. However, I haven’t played either of those, so in a refreshing break from tradition, they shan’t be mentioned again!

What I do know is that Railways of the World is my second favourite logistics game. (Roads and Boats is best. Review to come…) Simply put, players take turns constructing track to connect cities together and deliver goods cubes from their random starting location towards a destination city. There are a few interesting wrinkles – you have to pay money to build anything and you begin with zero cash. Until you start scoring points, your income each round is also zero, and to gain points you have to deliver goods on your track. You see the problem?

Fortunately, debt is your friend. Loans (or bonds), can be taken to provide a cash influx to get you started – but may never be totally paid off. Once you take this cash (bestowed upon you by an Age of Steam-era payday loans company) [You said you wouldn’t mention it! – Michael] you are indebted to pay £1 per bond after every round of play. That millstone around your neck may have been an attractive charm to begin with, but by the end of the game, you’re lugging around a significant chunk of Stonehenge.

Does this sound stressful? Good, because it is – the positive kind of stressful though. You could play slowly and build up your infrastructure in a fiscally conscientious manner – were it not for the competition of your other players. Acting like gold hungry ’49ers, players will be scrambling to be the first player to deliver the limited number of cubes, identify profitable network routes, and hoping they can get it done before someone gets in the way.

RotW Play

This is all great fun, satisfying, challenging and a giant, ever-changing puzzle. It also looks gorgeous. Railways has been over-produced within an inch of its life. Rail links are marked with brightly coloured, detailed, plastic trains. The timer for the game is the number of cities that have been emptied of cubes. How should we mark these? A cardboard chit? Or a giant plastic water tower? Yep! It’s the latter. The boards also deserve special mention as they are attractive, graphically clear and HUGE. Currently available are Europe, Great Britain, Canada, Mexico and the East and Western US. You can also choose to play a transcontinental variant by putting the East and West maps together, though for this you will need to hire a small village hall or community centre (not included.)

Any negatives? Well, the random card draws of “cool stuff” or specific, point giving tasks are deliberately overpowered and can give you a huge boost – particularly at the start of the game. That said, the auction for turn order at the start of each round deals with most of those problems. “Taking that card would be great, but how much is it worth for me?” is a question that often comes up. Bidding the right amount at the right time to claim these is another key part of the race to victory.

The game claims it plays up to six, depending on the map. Ordinarily, games that say this are dirty, little liars and force players into lengthy, painful experiences. Railways, because of its micro-turns, is actually very good about preventing downtime and is great (though quite different) with all numbers of players. Play Europe with five or six and you have a super tight, cutthroat, knife fight in a phone box. Play The Western US with two and you could conceivably never meet each other.

I love Railways of the World. It is challenging, highly competitive and most importantly a whole heap of fun. A few steps up from Ticket to Ride, not as long or complex as the 18xx series – Railways hits the sweet spot for me, and guarantees a place on my collection, not least as an immovable object standing in the way of the irresistible force of the cult of the new.

Railways of the World is currently published by Eagle Games. Designed by Martin Wallace and Glenn Drover, it was originally released back in 2005. Between two and six players can get around the table, but be sure that it’s a bloody big one! Thanks to The Judge for his write-up, and be sure to follow him on Twitter today!

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Episode 71 – Essen 2013 Day Two

Day Two from the Essen Show floor with more interviews than you can comfortably handle in one sitting! All of the following fine people are packed into one show:

From NSKN Legendary Games, Andrei and Agnieska! – http://www.nskn.net/en2/

Anne Cecile Lefebvre of Ludonaute Game! – http://www.ludonaute.fr/?lang=en

Designer of Lewis and Clark, Cedrick Chaboussit! – http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/140620/lewis-clark

Nate Hayden of Blast City Games talks Mushroom Eaters! – http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/135508/the-mushroom-eaters

Industry legend Martin Wallace discusses Witches and A Study in Emerald! – http://www.treefroggames.com/

Fabien from Matagot reveals their latest releases! – http://www.matagot.com/

Richard Breese chats about the Key series, including the brand new Keyflower expansion, The Farmers! – http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/122515/keyflower

Timothee Leroy of Blue Orange! – http://www.blueorangegames.com/

Lynne La Placa from Ultra Pro reveals their new lines! – http://www.ultrapro.com/division.php?d=g

Funforge CEO and King, Phillipe Nouhra, talks Tokaido, Quantum and ghosts! – http://www.funforge.fr/US/

Duco designer Henrik Larsson discusses his new puzzle game! – http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/141102/duco

Henry Jasper unveils Grublin Games’ first release, Cornish Smuggler! – http://www.grublin.com/

Want to download the episode directly? Right click and save: http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/4y4vhe/LMD_Episode71.mp3

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Episode 33 – Essen 2011: Day Three

We’re over the hump! Here’s coverage of the third day of the world’s biggest gaming expo, Spiel 2011, straight from Essen in Germany. As you’re now probably used to, the format is a stack of interviews with designers and industry folks from all over the world, all of whom have come to Germany to show and sell new games from all genres. Grab it from iTunes or download it here!

This episode sees me speak with the following lovely examples of humanity…

Sierra Madre Games’ Phil Eklund – http://www.sierramadregames.com/

Hubert Bartos from Rebel Games – http://www.rebelgames.eu/

James Mathe, owner of Minion Games – http://www.miniongames.com/

Rudiger Beyer from Ammonit Games – http://www.ludovin.de/14.html

Andrzej Kurek from SINONIS – http://www.sinonis.pl/indexen.htm

The Z-Man himself, Zev Shlasinger – http://www.zmangames.com/

Vladimir Brummer from Czech Board Games – http://www.czechboardgames.com/

Fragor Games’ very own Gordon Lamont – http://www.fragorgames.com/

Martin Wallace of Treefrog Games – http://www.treefroggames.com/

As always, I’m joined by Paco Jaen from the rather splendid GMS Magazine (which you really should check out: it’s right here) – thanks for listening and be ready for the final episode of Essen coverage… LMDS Episode 34 will be with you soon!

Oh, and thanks to our sponsors for this episode – the lovely Plaid Hat Games and the good folks at Eagle Games. Their support is massively appreciated!

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Disc-overy – Discworld: Ankh-Morpork review

Let’s go back into the days of pre-history, also known as the late 1980s. While the lads would play football on the school field and the girls wandered about in terrifying gangs, I spent the vast majority of my lunch breaks in the school library. Me and my best mate would help out the librarian by covering books in sticky backed plastic, polishing our prefect badges proudly, talking about what we’d been listening to, watching on telly and – of course – reading.

One day he brought in something for me to check out. The cover was ridiculous, huge orcs gazing down on some sort of chest with… are those legs? I read The Colour of Magic in less than a day and moved on The Light Fantastic, Equal Rites and more. A long time adoration of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series was born that still lives on. The books may well have gone years ago, but they’ve been replaced by a stack of files on my Kindle.

Now I have another love: games. When I heard earlier in the year that a couple of games based on the Discworld were due for release, I had to get them on my table. The first to be released was the rather splendid Guards! Guards! from Z-Man Games – but now I also have a copy of Discworld: Ankh-Morpork. And goodness me: it’s really quite excellent.

The... ahem... 'fragrant' city of Ankh-Morpork, in which we make our play.

Designed by the legendary Martin Wallace, the game isn’t actually based on any of the books in the series – a new backstory has been created specifically for the game. Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, has gone missing. Rather than wait for him to return (which he does, as he’s actually just hiding), some powerful characters throw themselves into a struggle to take control of the proud yet pestilent city.

The seven potential roles you'll begin the game with. Different objectives mean you'll need to get thinking quickly as you try and work out what everyone else is up to.

The game begins with every player taking on a role, each of which has a secret objective. Manage to attain that in your turn, be it having a certain amount of money, control over regions of the city or just running the card deck out and victory is yours. As always, it sounds simple – but this is the Discworld! Nothing is easy in such a chaotic environment…

The game is driven by a deck in which each card has one or symbols at the top. These icons signify what each card will allow you do, the trick being to combine as many as possible to gain an advantage over your opponents. Be warned though – you’ll only be allowed to play more than one card if you have a symbol that allows you to do so!

Other symbols allow you to place new minions (needed to take control of the areas on the board) or assassinate them. You can put up buildings (which allow you to pull a bonus ability card for the area you’ve built in), gain extra money, clean up trouble – more on that in a minute – or perform the text action that’s on the card. These are all optional though; you work your way across the top of the card from left to right, performing or skipping the actions in order.

Check out the symbols at the top of the cards - they make up the engine that drives the game.

There’s one symbol you can’t ignore: the Star. It represents a Random Event and if you play a card with a star showing, you immediately draw from the small stack of cards marked with the same design. These cards are Officially Not Good – every single one has an effect on the game, some minor, some ridiculously brilliantly awful. There could be a dragon which swoops down and wipes out everything in a single area. Perhaps trolls or demons will invade the board (though these can be treated like minions and moved by players). Perhaps worst of all is the Riot card which automatically ends the game if there’s too much trouble in the city…

Trouble is a very important thing in Ankh-Morpork. If you move a minion into an area where another one already resides, you automatically add a Trouble marker to that space. This is both a good and bad thing; an area in trouble means that a player may assassinate an enemy minion if a played card allows it. However, while trouble’s afoot, no buildings can be constructed. Timing and planning are key – you need to wipe out the opposition and build in an area before anyone else can because those advantages are really very useful.

A selection of Random Events, many of which are bloody horrible. Riots are especially bad - too much trouble on the board and they can kill the game immediately!

Gameplay rattles along at a decent pace, especially once you know what the various symbols represent – thankfully crib-sheets are included in the package to assist. As with many games of this style, getting a lock on which cards will help you achieve your objective is pretty useful, but those of us who are more than a little forgetful aren’t at a huge disadvantage – just check out what you’ve got in your hand and manipulate the cards however you can to try and get that edge.

As you’d expect from a Martin Wallace game, it’s solid as anything to play. Folks who aren’t fans of Terry Pratchett’s stories will find a well put together strategy game, but if you have even the slightest interest in the Discworld you’ll appreciate it so much more due to the incredible effort that has been put in to the artwork and use of characters. Every single card in the draw deck has a different person (or group or place or… thing) taken from the universe realised in beautiful style by a truly talented team of artists.

The best thing though? That board. The moment I first saw it a few months ago at the UK Games Expo, I wanted one for myself. Not a board to play on but one to put in a big frame and put on my wall. Now, however, when I pull it out of the box I realise that not only is it beautiful, it’s actually part of a great game that brings me back to those days in the library. It reminds me of my first forays into Terry’s books, those characters he has created that entertained me so much (and still do today).

Without that link, Ankh-Morpork is an entertaining game that many people will certainly enjoy. With even the smallest connection though? It’s elevated to something superb, helping you recall stories enjoyed by countless millions as you try to wrestle control of the city where so many of those tales take place. One of my favourite games of the year so far.

Ankh-Morpork was designed by Martin Wallace with artwork from Bernard Pearson, Peter Dennis, Ian Mitchell and Paul Kidby. Released in 2011 by Wallace’s Treefrog Games in conjunction with Esdevium Games, it’s available now at around £30 / $40 for the standard edition – though Gameslore have it for £25! Two other versions of the game (Collectors and Deluxe) are also available for pre-order from the Treefrog site, but this Standard edition is perfect if you just want to get on and play now. So go get it!

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All Together Now – UK Games Expo 2011

So, let’s talk about the UK Games Expo 2011.

In a nutshell, it was a very busy, very enjoyable weekend. Three days of gaming goodness in the UK’s second city with hundreds of like minded people is always something to cherish, but this year was special down to a couple of firsts; I was lucky enough to be able to get there for the entire event – something I’ve not been able to do before down to time or money issues. The main thing though? I was there to work. And who’d have thought that talking about stuff could be so exhausting?

As part of the UK Gaming Media Network, we’d approached the Expo organisers to see if they’d be up for letting us come to the event and provide live coverage of the event to be streamed online. After a bit of convincing that we’d be able to do it they gave us the go ahead – then the hard work really began. Mark Rivera from Board Games in Blighty began collecting together a pantheon of guests for us to talk to, hounding them with emails and booking them in to the schedule as one by one they relented and said Yes.

Just arrived! Those smiles will soon fade through exhaustion!

Friday morning rolled round and a very early train got me to Birmingham. I met up with Chris Bowler from Unboxed – our fixer! – at the station just after 9am and we headed to site. After grabbing our passes from the door team, we were shown to our little area and set up the gear for a few test broadcasts. I’d done a test run the previous weekend but I had no idea if it’d actually work out in the wild – thankfully the show organiser Richard Denning was on hand to help out, showing off a couple of his new designs (Hastings 1066 and The Great Museum) as I fluffed around with cables, cameras and computers. The first recordings had a few sound issues, but the problem was soon sorted after a few wires were jiggled about. If you’d like to check out the live streams, they’re all to be found at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/uk-games-expo

After dealing with Richard’s two games, we were joined by the ace Patrick Ruedisueli who was over at the show to promote his upcoming board game Existenz, based on their already available card game X610Z. It’s a beautiful looking game that got a lot of good notices at the show. With luck, they’re aiming for an October release – check out http://www.x610z.com/ for more information (and expect a review of their Living Card Game soon). We also met up with the guys behind Zombie Close, the first release from Braincandy.uk. While it had a few nice ideas, it also had some issues that needed dealing with – the rulebook especially needed a bit of tightening up, but it’s always good to see first time attendees getting their stuff out there. We also got the chance to meet the wonderful Lewis Pulsipher who was appearing on a couple of our panels – his joyously sardonic ways were to appear more than once over the weekend.

Happy in the knowledge that everything worked, we derigged everything and booked into our various hotels, then managed to get in some gaming over at the Strathallen Hotel. I met up with Chris O’ Regen (one of my colleagues from videogame site spong.com) to get some revenge at Yomi while other gamers took over every available flat surface available. We also broke out a three player game of the excellent Alien Frontiers (review coming soon) before a bunch of us headed for dinner. The evening then drew to a close with what can only be an epic Battlestar Galactica game…

 

It all began well enough. Five players assumed their roles after a quick description of the rules – Mark, Chris, Chris’ mate Sam, Brett from 55 Cards and myself (although I dropped out a little way in, with Steph taking my place). The paranoia levels were high from the start. Suspicions and accusations flew with abandon as characters were thrown in the brig on a regular basis. After a bit of a rules fluff (Mark didn’t get that Cylons can reveal any time and begin using their own locations so ended up in the brig for a good hour) everything quickly went downhill for the poor humans. President (and former Admiral) Brett was sure that Chris and Steph were Cylon traitors – but how wrong he was. Mark, who had by now revealed his toaster tendencies, was causing merry hell while Sam was secretly scuppering everything he could lay his hands on. Resources ran lower than any game of BSG I’ve ever seen – everything was down to 1 with the humans still far from home, and the final Crisis Card decreed their fate. The Cylons were victorious, and Sam hadn’t even officially revealed himself. A very entertaining game indeed, even as an observer. By the end of the game (around 11.30pm) there were a lot of tired folks about and the various games rooms were winding down… time for bed.

One of the *many* game rooms at the Strathallen Hotel. This was around 11pm on Friday.

Saturday morning rolled round with another early start (sensing a theme here?) and saw the team traipsing over to the Expo site with bleary eyes. With everything set up, tested and ready to go by 8.30am, I took some time to wander the rooms and check out what was on offer before the crowds descended. I love checking out the various stalls, coveting the thousands of games on offer – window shopping was pretty much my limit this year though. Any money to be spent on games was coming from the few bits I had put into the always impressive Bring and Buy room. I did actually come out with about £40 after my games sold, but £20 of that went on a book for Steph while £14 was dropped on a copy of The ElfQuest Boardgame (don’t ask, it was a gift for a friend of ours). The trifling coppers I was left with still managed to be exchanged for a copy of Mini FITS though. Nice to walk out with something, no matter how small!

The stands were all pretty impressive, notably Triple Ace’s effort – you’ve never seem so much shiny stuff. A special mention has to be made for Surprised Stare whose giant Paperclip Railways gets the award for “Thing I Would Most Have Liked To Steal”. I think Tony Boydell (the game’s designer) saw the crazed look in my eye and gave me a bunch of promo stations for the regular sized game simply to stop any potential criminal activity. The Stupid City tile was particularly impressive…

The public soon began to swarm in and the work of the day began. A parade of designers visited our little corner of the room to show off their games, all gathering little crowds around our table. Between Mark and myself, we spoke with them all – and dare I say it, I reckon we did pretty well (Chris even jumped in for a couple of demos on the Sunday and was equally good!). However, the big things were yet to come – the panels.

I have to admit I was really worried about them. The first on the list was a “Meet the Media” kind of thing where Chris, Mark and myself were going to talk about gaming in the UK and what we’re doing to try and promote it. We were a couple of minutes late thanks to us having the pleasure of Martin Wallace talking about his upcoming Discworld game Ankh-Morpork (which I’m very excited about – it’s beautiful and very solid yet accessible). I didn’t even think we’d have more than a handful of people show up, but walking into the room… I was totally made up. There was a good 50 people in there to start with and Lewis Pulsipher was sitting up front holding court until our arrival. We took our seats, talked for a while about ourselves (which got easier) and answered a bunch of questions from the crowd which actually got bigger. What’s even better is NOBODY GOT UP AND WALKED OUT. Consider me shocked but also pretty pleased. Thank you to everyone who came to listen to us babble!

After our panel was done, I was left behind as the others returned to run more live demonstations. I wasn’t abandoned though, just assuming the role of host instead of panelist as I took control of the RPG Designers Seminar. Joined by Sarah and Ian from Cubicle 7, the ever present Lewis (there as he’s written a fair bit of stuff for D&D) and the brilliant Eero Tuovinen, there was discussion on what’s good to play, how to get kids excited about RPGs, approaches to writing and much more. Again, the room was packed and a splendid time was had by all. More thanks are due to our esteemed guests – it was a pleasure, especially hearing how Finnish players are coerced into games. Basically it seems to boil down to kidnapping people who are smaller than you from malls and demanding they play… whatever works, I suppose!

The packed out Board Game Designers Panel. Initially terrifying. Ultimately fantastic.

A hastily grabbed sandwich (after realising I’d eaten all of one cereal bar in 8 hours) gave me a bit of an energy boost – well needed, as after watching a couple more demonstrations going out live, I was back upstairs for what was one of my highlights of the weekend – the Boardgame Designers Panel. Again, I was a bit nervous – after all, we had the cream of the crop all on one room. Tony and Alan from Suprised Stare, Gary and Steve of the Ragnar Brothers, John Yianni, Gordon from Fragor Games, David from Backspindle, Alessio Cavatore from River Horse and Martin Wallace – having them all gathered in the same place was amazing, and to be in charge of wrangling them all was an honour. Everyone was in grand form, the standing room only crowd had a pile of great questions that all the designers were happy to answer and there was plenty of banter flying about. A truly great hour – I only wish it could have been longer. Here’s hoping for a repeat next year.

Tony Boydell (Surprised Stare) demos Paperclip Railways. Mark looks on, impressed. Honest.

By now the halls were a little quieter, but there was still work to be done. I presented the final few videos of the day then had another wander around before packing up all our gear and heading back to the hotel for a break (and – of course – to watch Doctor Who). Steph and I got some dinner then returned to the Strathallen, but could we find a table? Nope. Some judicious hanging around meant we eventually got one, but by then everyone we saw was involved in a game, so we set up for a 2-player Alien Frontiers (where I snatched victory by having more Tech cards – I’ll take what I get). Again, it was getting late so we skulked back to the hotel knowing there’d be another early start on Sunday.

Which, of course, there was. There were also a couple of fire alarms in the night, which were not exactly conducive to sleep! Fuelled by crappy coffee and yet more cereal bars, Team UKGMN ran yet more demonstrations and live videos. Mark conducted an impromptu interview with Larry Roznai, the President of Mayfair Games and I had the pleasure of introducing Lewis’ “You can make a game, but can you make a good one?” Lew definitely had some interesting ideas – all of which you can find on his site: http://pulsiphergames.com/ – and one lucky attendee walked away with an unpunched 1986 copy of his classic Britannia (which I happened to have sitting in my collection and was in need of a new home).

More demonstrations followed at our area as the final day drew to a close. After a quick run around the halls to say goodbye to the many fantastic folks I’d met over the weekend (and grab a copy of AEG’s amazing War of Honor), it was time to pack up and leave Birmingham for another year. All in all, it was a tiring but amazing weekend – new friends were made, faces were put to many many names and a good time was had by all. Here’s hoping that the 2012 Expo will be as much fun!

Thanks to all the UKGMN team for your efforts – I honestly believe that we added something a bit special to the weekend. Cheers to everyone who watched our live stream and videos (especially those who helped out on Twitter on Friday morning as we were testing everything) and thanks to all the designers and publishers who came to demonstrate their games at our table. Massive gratitude has to go to the Expo staff who were all so helpful – special applause has to go to Richard Denning, the show organiser for letting us in to do our stuff. Finally, cheers to all the people who came up to me over the weekend with kind words to say about The Little Metal Dog Show – they were all greatly appreciated.

So… see you all at Essen?

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