Friday, October 07, 2005

Christmas in October?

Or a Cruel Joke Perpetrated by the Game Gods?

Into the game store I flew like a flash,
Tore open the doors and looked at the stash.
The light of the neon shown with a glow,
illuminating the games on the shelf there below.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a fabulous game and eight tiny reindeer.

On Saturday morning my kids were invited to a 7-year-old's birthday party set for that afternoon. I got tagged to run into town to pick up a birthday present. Since my wife had reluctantly given me the checkbook to buy a present, I thought I would press my luck and stop by the game store to pick up Alexander the Great. Since the game store is on the way to WalMart I stopped there first.

As I got out of my car and approached the game store I had trouble restraining myself. I could see my breath in the early morning air. A couple puddles were frozen over in the parking lot. Not a breath of wind to be felt. Ahhhhhhh, my favorite time of year, not too hot, not too cold. I had a premonition there was something magical in the air.

I got into the store and what did I see? Not eight tiny reindeer, but something nearly as thrilling... Age of Steam.

WOOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! SCORE!!!! High fives all around!! CHRISTMAS IN OCTOBER! Alexander was quickly forgotten and I excitedly picked up the only copy of Age of Steam.

I first decided to buy Age of Steam about 10 minutes after it went out of print 2 years ago. It was widely available from on-line stores one day, and, without warning, sold out the next. As soon as it sold out there were promises of a reprint to be available in October 2004, possibly even available by GenCon 2004. It has been a long wait.

After fondling and paying for my latest game I rushed to WalMart, bought some cheap, plastic crap that a seven year-old would like, and rushed home to play with my new toy. I devoured the rules, but I still wasn't comfortable enough with the game to play on Saturday afternoon.

That afternoon we played Rheinlander and Louis XIV after the birthday party, I then pressured everyone at the birthday party to reconvene the next day for a game of Age of Steam.

So, with a better grasp of the rules, three of us got together on Sunday afternoon for our first game of AoS.

Unfortunately, I was the only person who had been anticipating the re-release of this game.

It went over like a fart on a crowded bus.

The one player who is always confused when we first play a game, was still confused, but also bored because I had to refer to the rule book often, generally put-off with my enthusiasm for the game, and sympathetic to the third player who was convinced that the game was broken after I explained how expenses were calculated.

Despite everything, we played a couple rounds. The game was going all right, but we realized all of us had made significant strategic mistakes and mutually agreed to start again. I thought a restart might soften some of the negative feelings toward the game, and bring an air of positivity to the room.

Big mistake.

We should have never restarted. On try 2 there was only one route that was available that could score points on the first round. That route was a good one, though. All the goods could be transported back and forth between both cities. The first two players tied up the available routes between those two cities and left the third guy with nothing.

There were, literally, no goods that could be transported after that. Not even if you were to build a new city. The three of us pored over the board for several minutes looking for a route that could be utilized on the first turn, and there was none, nothing, zip, nada. There wasn't even a route that could be utilized if we let him build 4 rails instead of the 3 he was entitled to.

But forget the first round. Even if you wrote off the first round and set yourself up to transport goods in the second round, you could, at most, before goods were replenished at the end of the first turn, transport 1 good, 1 space during the second round, even with two engines.

Three of us pored over the map looking for any possibility, there were none, nothing, zip, nada.

Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan. I mean maaaaaaaaaaaaan. What are the odds of that happening? That was the final straw. The game was deemed "broken" and everyone found an excuse to leave.

Had I been the third player everything would have still been okay. I would have continued to play, looking for an advantage later in the game. But with feelings running high that the expense phase was broken, the game didn't stand a chance. Looking back, I should have just volunteered to go last. As it was, I was so disappointed that I wasn't thinking clearly.

I may have to seek opponents from outside of the state if I am to ever play Age of Steam again. And, make no mistake, I will play it again.

I was very impressed with the system. The rules were better organized than other Martin Wallace designs, and the game felt well developed to me. After one, partial game, I think the economic system has been greatly improved, yet simplified over other 18xx Railroad games. The player actions seemed a little hokey, but they seemed to be well developed, and appropriate to the goals of the game.

Mark my words, in this The Year of Our Lord 2005, the Seventh Day of October, in the Early A.M Hours Alaska Time. I will fly to Seattle before I will wait another two years to play Age of Steam. I will fly to Botswana to play another game of AoS if I have to.

I was very intrigued. It may be a "10".


Rick said...

AoS may be a 10. Or you may be disappointed.

Anyway, wasn't there a discount to fly to DFW from Anchorage? I think if you hit BGG.CON you'll find plenty of willing players. ;)

huzonfirst said...

I hope you succeed in your quest, CF. Age of Steam is indeed a fabulous game and is firmly entrenched in my all-time Top Ten. If it ain't a 10, it's damn close.

However, I've never played it with three players (I'm not even sure I've played it with less than five). Judging by the large number of expansion maps that claim to be best with three or so, I suspect the original game may play better with four or more. If you really think you'll have limited opportunities to play with more than three, you may want to pick up one of these expansion maps. It should only take you another couple of years to find one! :-)

Anonymous said...

You are welcome in Michigan any time we play. I'll send you a note when we get a game set up. For you, we might even be able to arrange a whole weekend and play all five boards!

I feel your pain! When an eagerly anticipated (by you) game flops, it's a real buzzkill. It's bad when the game stinks like S&M Civ, but it's even worse when you enjoy it, but no one else does. You just know it's going to gather dust between solitare plays.

It may help to get another player. AoS on the published maps is pretty bad two player, decent three player and shines with four and five. There are rumors that folks going to Essen will have access to good two player boards. While I'd certainly be willing to pay the shipping (hint, hint), no matter what I say, my wife will not condone the airfare to pick up Essen only expansions. At least not this year, someday.....

Coldfoot said...


Alaska Airlines did introduce an Anchorage to Dallas flight with discounted tickets. Had I known that was going to happen I would have jumped on it. As it happens, due to scheduled vacations, I now have to work. I got on the vacation bus too late.

Rest of you,

Here's what happened that caused the improbable situation.

We played three rounds of the game, and decided to start over.

For ease we kept the set up pretty much the way it was and just took off excess goods where needed and added new goods to the board where needed.

So, the board wasn't properly randomized. The half dozen easy goods had been transported already. We added a few replacement goods to the board and it just so happened that the wrong colors were added.

It didn't occur to me for several hours as to why there were so few available routes, but this helps explain how it happened.

Coldfoot said...

Our game choices are pretty limited. The one store with games is primarily a comic/miniature store.

Actually, as I was shopping for the seven year-old I ran into his father in the store. His father had bought a Lego set, so I bought a complimentary Lego set.

Legos spark the imagination as much or more than a game. At least they did when I was a kid.

Coldfoot said...

Oh, and Mark.

Actually, I did misspeak. The second player had chosen Urbanization, and had placed a city that compimented their existing route.

I hinted that he/she might give it up in the spirit of sportsmanship, but that suggestion went unheeded.

By that time the other players were looking for an excuse to quite anyway. It was kind of like a bad dream; you remember that it was bad even if the specifics don't sound too bad when you're awake.