5th Oct 2023 - Autobahnby Robin. Fri, 6 Oct (Updated at Fri, 6 Oct)
What more natural game to be in the tournament at the Newport Pagnell board games club, than Autobahn? This is the game that combines the two most famous features of our home town into one. Newport is, of course, world-renowned for its famous board games club; but for those people who prefer to spend their time on motorways, they may instead know it for its excellent(?) service station. And Autobahn is the board game about motorway service stations.
So it's filled a gap in the market with the theme; but what about the mechanics and the gameplay? I guess it boils down to a fairly typical Eurogame, with a bit of economics, a bit of pick-up-and-deliver, a bit of bonus tiles, tech tracks and strings of actions. You're basically building roads (and service stations) and transporting goods to make money, and you're using all that to score points. I've hopefully got you all interested with the service-station-chic, and I did like a lot of the mechanics. But we were left with the disappointing conclusion: that this was a good game, but not actually a fun game.
Downtime is always a problem in games that encourage you to build up long chains of bonus actions; and it seemed really bad in this one. It was made worse by the amount of internal processing required: so, in several cases, someone got through most of their chain of actions only to realise that they'd miscalculated something and couldn't do what they thought, so had to unpick it and try something different. This sort of problem may be more about the players than the game, but who knows? Suffice to say that Paul and I were quite glad about our half of the tournament draw: we did just as well as Ian and Andrew, but much quicker...
Ironically, this clunky, too-much-to-internalise kind of problem was very reminiscent of the game I brought to the club for playtesting a few months ago. According to most playtesters, at least. One person who playtested it, at the UK Games Expo in June, was the designer of Autobahn, Fabio Lopiano. Unlike everyone else, he took to my game like a duck to water. Clearly a man with a lot of mental RAM. But it does take a specific kind of player to really thrive on games like this.
Anyway, back to the service stations. Andrew explained how, in the early days of the M1, people used to make a special journey just to visit Newport Pagnell service station. And there was an element of that in this game too, particularly for Andrew who, having gone for the full service-station strategy, got a significant bonus every time he visited one of his own service stations. But is service stations the way to go in Autobahn? I've played the game twice now: once it was won by the player with the most service stations, once by the player with the fewest. And on this occasion, it was not to be for the service stations.
Elsewhere, they were playing Brass: Birmingham. Another game with an intermittent downtime problem, but I was envious: the flow and interaction of that game is much better. Downstairs there was another old favourite in Power Grid, and also Circadians: First Light.
And Voidfall was back - restricted to 3 players in the interests of finishing in an evening - or maybe it just works better with 3? Either way, heavy-duty game though it is, they were comfortably finished before us - as were the next table, who were also playing Autobahn. Ed hung around for a bit to wait for us to finish, until he realised how long it would take. But we got there eventually and went home to dream sweet dreams of service stations 🙂.