It was about time to try Steam Barons. I bought it when it was released, but haven’t tried it for some reason. Yesterday we finally got it on the table with three players on the UK side of the board.
In short this Steam expansion always puts six companies in play, owned by different players. The companies build track and move goods pretty much as in basic Steam, but the companies have unlimited engine level all the time. If company needs money, it issues a $5 share on the market to gain more. The companies pay dividends based on their victory point total from the current round and that also affects the share value. The game lasts five rounds, each of which starts with an auction to buy the shares available and ends with a possibility to sell shares at the current market value. After five rounds the richest player wins.
It’s fairly simple and entertaining. There are some oddities in it — shares issued by companies always bring in $5, no matter what the current value is, for example — and I’m not sure if the stock market is dynamic enough. Cheap shares get a small boost and expensive shares get a penalty, which means all shares are pushed towards the middle. That’s odd, too.
Then there’s the turn order. Companies act in random turn order, which is resolved after players choose which shares to sell. Of course, this can be very critical for the values of the shares… Martin Wallace has defended this choice by saying the game would be too calculable and dry without the random order. Some have (apparently successfully) tried a variant where the order is indeed random, but chosen before the shares are sold. That may be a nice compromise.
I was somewhat worried about the length of the game, as some have claimed the game takes up to three hours. I can play 18xx games in three hours, so something this light taking that long is strictly out of the question. Fortunately our game took just 90 minutes or so, less than two hours with the setup and all, so I’m happy with that.
I lost, and badly (56-72-73), as I didn’t really have a clue what to do. I stuck with weak shares and the cube setup wasn’t very good and blah blah blah… I suck, that’s the gist of it. Next time I’ll do better, and there’ll be a next time, despite the fairly miserable ratings my geekbuddies have given to the game. I’m not certain this is a keeper, but I’m not done with the game yet.
I ordered some games from Chili Spiele recently, and first one to see action is Die Aufsteiger (The Climbers for the Americans). This game is about climbing: a mountain of blocks is built on the table, then players start climbing it with their pawns. Pawns can step half a cube height without the help of ladders and can only step on own colour or gray. Each turn you can take one block and move it elsewhere and climb as much as you can.
It sounds fun and looks cool, but in practise wasn’t quite as much as fun as I might’ve expected. Well, I’m not giving up on the game yet — apparently five-player games isn’t the best way to play and I’m fairly sure it takes some practise to do well in this game. This game is a nice activity as it had everybody standing around the table and I guess it was a pretty good ice-breaker as we had couple of new guys in the game as well.
Petri got on top of the pile pretty quickly, lots of yellow visible in the early pile, and stayed there, competing with the purple for the top spots. In the end Petri could’ve climbed a step higher, but also could win the game by staying put and making sure I couldn’t move further (if Petri had moved on, I could’ve used his current location to move a bit higher). So, he won, but not without a fight.
So, this one’s a fun game, and probably gets better with more experience. I still have higher expectations for Die Neue Heimat, which seems like my kind of game.