November 10th, 2009

83. Train Series - Steam

I don't claim to be well versed in the facts, but here's how I understand it. In 2002, designer Martin Wallace and publishers Winsome Games came out with a game called Age of Steam, which remains one of the first games people think about when they think of train games. In 2004, a second edition was released that changed some of the rules. However, in 2007, Martin Wallace wanted to release a third edition with Mayfair, and Winsome took him to court, asserting that they owned the name. A very tense battle ensued, and Winsome won the rights to the name Age of Steam. A third edition of Age of Steam was then produced without Wallace's blessing and released by FRED Distribution. Wallace and Mayfair went on with their game, which got renamed to the game I'll be talking about here - Steam: Rails to Riches.

(BGG images by users AlexYeager and l10n0fjudah)

Steam was produced in 2009, designed by Martin Wallace with art by Jared Blando and John Austin. It is a game for 3-6 players, and is published by Mayfair. 350 copies were produced with the cover on the right, calling it "Martin Wallace's Totally Renamed Train Game". This is a reference to "James Ernest's Totally Renamed Spy Game" that was forced to change from "Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond". The Age of Steam system has been used in many games, including Railroad Tycoon, but this seems to be one of the most streamlined incarnations, so this is the one I'll be talking about. In the game, you'll be transporting goods from city to city in the US or Germany.

I need to note that Mayfair is one of those companies that won't publish their rules. So, I'm going to be cobbling this overview together out of what I can find on BGG. I apologize in advance for anything that is missing or inaccurate.

(BGG image by user domus_ludorum)

The game comes with a number of cardboard counters - 136 hexagonal railroad track tiles, 10 city growth markers, 8 new city tiles, 68 money tokens (in denominations of 1, 5, and 10), and 7 action tiles. The game also comes with 144 players tokens, 24 in each of six colors. There are 96 goods cubes, and a cloth bag to hold them. The game comes with a wooden locomotive that will be used as a turn marker. In addition, there is a double sided board.

(BGG images by user Uncle G)

Each side of the board shows a different layout - on the left, we have the US, which is a setup better for 3-4 players. On the right, we have Germany, which is a better setup for 5-6 players. Each side has an identical set of tracks. Going around two sides of the board is the VP track where you'll keep track of your score. Next to that is an income track, ranging from 10 to -10. Next, we have the goods supply spaces. Next is the locomotive track, which tells you how far you can move goods in one turn. At the top of the board is a place that summarizes the 7 action tiles and a track that indicates turn order for the turn. Above the 6 space turn order track is a turn track where you will keep track of how much game you have left. In a 5-6 player game, there will only be 7 turns in the game. For four players, there will be 8 turns, and for three players, there will be 10. This is where the locomotive piece will go. On the map itself, you'll see lots of terrain, and several town and city spaces. The cities are the colored spaces, and towns are just places with no color. You'll be moving goods to the cities throughout the game.

(BGG image by user jimb)

At the start of the game, each city gets seeded with as many cubes as the city space indicates. For example, Syracuse has a 3, which means that it gets three random cubes from the bag. Albany has a 2, so it gets two. (In a three player game, each city gets one less than indicated.) Each goods supply space also gets three cubes that are randomly drawn from the bag. Each player takes one of their markers and places it on the 0 spot on the VP track, and another on the 0 spot of the income track. Another marker will go to the turn order track, and another goes on the 1 space of the locomotive track. You're ready to go.

Determine the starting player by auction. The winner of the first bid goes first, then each subsequent space is also auctioned off. If you pass, you're out for that space. You'll pay for your space based on your bid. But, wait a second! You have no money! No problem, just issue a share in your company by moving your income marker down one space for every $5 you need. If you won the bid with $3, move your income marker down one space and take $2 from the bank. If you won with $6, move it down two spaces and take $4. This is the way you'll raise money in the game, by bumping down your income. So, yes, you'll be starting the game in debt. You'll need to climb out of debt, or you're going to have a bad time. If you need money but are already at -10, you can spend 2 VPs for $5. If you can't spend any more VPs, you are bankrupt and out of the game. So be careful out there, alright?

(BGG image by user helioa)

There are six phases of each round:

  1. Select action tiles
  2. Build track
  3. Move goods
  4. Collect income and pay expenses
  5. Determine turn order
  6. Set up the next round
PHASE ONE - SELECT ACTION TILES: At the beginning of each round, you will select your action tiles for the round. This will be done in turn order. Each tile has a special action associated with it, and each has a number for easy reference:

  1. Turn Order - By choosing this tile, you will be the first player in the next round. The first turn order is done by auction, but all future turn orders are determined by which tile you chose.
  2. First Move - You will be first to move goods in phase three, regardless of the turn order.
  3. Engineer - You may build up to four tracks in phase two.
  4. First Build - You will be the first to build track in phase two, regardless of the turn order.
  5. City Growth - You may add cubes from the goods supply to a city during phase two. This action costs $2 to complete.
  6. Locomotive - This allows you to improve your locomotive immediately (generally, this may be done in phase three). This action costs $4 to complete.
  7. Urbanization - You may convert a town space into a city during phase two. Take one of the city growth markers and place it on one of the town spaces and add cubes from the cube supply. This action costs $6 to complete.
PHASE TWO - BUILD TRACK: Each player now gets the opportunity to build up to three tracks extending from any city or from one of your preexisting tracks. Each track costs $1 for each edge of the hex that track exits. This is a fancy way of saying that tiles will usually cost $2, or more if there are extra links on the tile. You must pay an additional $1 to cross a river, $1 for crossing a town space, and $2 for crossing a hill space. Once you have placed your track, place one of your markers on the track to claim it, even if it is incomplete.

In this phase, the player who chose tile #4 goes first, then play proceeds in turn order. Engineers get to build an extra track; city growth and urbanization also take place in this phase.

(BGG image by user henk.rolleman)

PHASE THREE: MOVE GOODS - Each player will get an opportunity in this phase to perform two actions one at a time, going in turn order (if someone chose tile #2, they go first). One action you may take is to improve your locomotive by moving your locomotive marker one space ahead. You get two actions in this turn, but this one may only be done once.

The other action you may do is move goods. You may take a cube from a city and move it to another city that matches that cube's color. You may not move along more links than your locomotive number. If you are on one, you may only move the cube one space. On two, you may go two. You'll score one point for each link used. You may use opponent links to deliver, but your opponents will also score one for the links you used. You can use those points as VPs, or you can advance your income track. It's your choice.

PHASE FOUR: COLLECT INCOME AND PAY EXPENSES - If you have a positive number on the income track, you collect that much money. If you have a negative number, you pay that much money. So again - don't let your debt snowball.

PHASE FIVE: DETERMINE TURN ORDER - Based on the order of your action tiles, arrange your pieces on the turn track (1 is first, 7 is last).

PHASE SIX: SET UP THE NEXT ROUND - Return action tiles to the side of the board, and advance the turn marker.

Repeat for as many rounds as there are.  At the end of the game, you get one VP for every two positive points on the income track.  For every negative point on the income track, you lose two VPs.  So, +2 only gets you one VP, but -2 loses 4 VPs.  +1 gains you nothing, -1 loses two VPs.  Every completed link you have on the board then scores you another VP.  The player with the most VPs wins.

(BGG image by user Rob in Richmond)

I have just described to you the basic game of Steam.  There is a standard game which is a bit more complex, but I'm not going into at this time.  Read more at BGG, and expect to pay $55 in an FLGS.  One more train game to go, and I'm kind of on the fence about what to cover.  We'll find out next time.  Happy gaming!