9th Feb 2023 - Tramways

by RobinFri, 10 Feb (Updated at Fri, 10 Feb)

The route-building games that I've played are broadly divided into two groups. There are the simpler, benevolent ones like Railways Of The World and the lighter cube-rail ones. And then there are the killer ones like Imperial Steam, where you have to string together a precisely-planned sequence of half a dozen actions just to build anything. Tramways, which we played this week, turned out to be in that killer group.

The general concept is simple enough: it's a pick up and deliver game, moving people around a city, RotW style: you get more points and money for moving them further, and try not to depend on anyone else's track. There are a set of different building types that give different benefits for shipping to, set out on a modular board (or sometimes not on a modular board - more on that later).

Where it gets more complicated is the need to play particular cards to do specific things; and you have to buy the right cards in a deckbuilder element, burning though your deck and hoping you draw the right combination each round. And it becomes a real killer when you come to buy the cards, and bid for turn order, with the bizarre auction mechanic. The rub is that, each time you bid, you pay the entirety of your new bid. So, if you can win the bid at the first attempt, you pay once - and go first; whereas if you don't, you can potentially pay 3 or 4 times, often totalling more than the original highest bidder, and still end up going 3rd or 4th.

Over the course of the game, we all probably got shafted equally by the auctions - but the pain of when it was our turn to suffer lingered longest. It's certainly a game that lends itself to screwing other people over, be it accidentally or on purpose. And so it turned out much like Imperial Steam, in that you spend the whole game thinking you're doing terribly, only to find that everyone else did just as badly, more or less.

This game was good - not a patch on Alban Viard's other game, Clinic, but I would play it again - once I've washed my brain out after this time. There are a few clunky bits in the rules, and particularly in the expansion: one of the symbols on one of the cards means something different in the expansion, and you just have to remember that fact - ideally before you plan your entire turn around it. The (non-modular) New York board added some much-needed thematic richness - though having played it once I think I'd prefer the randomising element of a modular layout next time.

On the other tables this week, we had another visit for Mosaic, which seems to be a very popular new game - I should probably try it. And a return for the Stefan Feld classic Trajan. And we had another new game, Revive, for which John was keen that players knew the rules in advance - presumably because it can run long. It ran fairly long, but of course they were all finished while we were still tearing our hair out over our dreaded auctions 🙂