Roads & Boats + &cetera

Kim & I are on a bit of a Roads and Boats tear with the new expansion out; we played two scenarios this weekend.

Archipelago features lots of small islands and planes. The plane rules seem incredibly fiddly on first inspection, but all the little details are needed for the to work out right, and when combined with a board like this one that really encourages their use, they are a very nice addition to the system. They are tricky and require planning to really use right, but they helped me a lot in getting lots of goods from a central repository to multiple destinations easily (they can “paradrop” goods – between the planes and the donkeys, it almost feels like you’re playing Burma). This was a cool scenario, with all the small islands there are real transport bottlenecks and the planes make life interesting. There was enough space in general, however, to make the bombs kind of useless – enough space to build all your own buildings, and too hard to get to your opponent’s (planes are a very poor bomb-delivery vehicle).

We were less sold on the River Madness scenario. This is a very rich board, and the rivers and cities make building an efficient transport network very easy (rivers are by far the easiest way to move goods around). Each of us managed to produce not only 4 stock certificates, but a huge number of wonder bricks – there were very few resource or transport pressures. The cities were neat, and in a more aggressive game it might have been interesting to see how heavily fortified the cities would become (I had my Mint & Stock Exchange on my city, which means there was a lot of money lying around at times – it was thoroughly walled in of course, but with the river access and more or less unlimited boards available, a determined assault might have been worth it). Due to these issues, none of the expansion elements much came into play – there was no need for planes (in fact, I never built anything more advanced than Donkeys and Rafts, and I won), fundamental research was a bit questionable (I only researched 3 things – oil rigs, specialized, and renewable mine shafts). Not the best scenario we’ve ever played, much less interesting than the Archipelago and Holland for Two scenarios.

Roads & Boats

Kim & I are big fans of Roads & Boats as a 2-player game, enough that I upgraded our set from the nice but do-it-yourself-feeling 1st edition to the new, higher-production-value 3rd edition. Prior to this, I had only played with more than 2 once, the very first time I played, when we had 5 – too many I thought. When Matt had expressed interest in playing, though, and we had been enjoying the game again recently, so we decided to give it a try with 4 again.

There was even a great scenario in the book, The Handicap Principle, for 2 experienced and two inexperienced players. The two experienced players each get their own tiny island, while the inexperienced players share a huge landmass with plenty of everything. Boat transportation is a real pain in the neck to make work efficiently in the absence of rivers, so since the new players don’t have to deal with it, this helps both make reduce the number of things the new players have to deal with and just makes things overall easier.

The big lesson I took away from this is that you really have to be cognizant of the board layout. It sounds obvious, but playing such an extreme case really hammered this home. Kim & I went about this the way you usually would, building up a base of infrastructure and targeting maybe 3 stock certificates in the end. This is not the way to go in this scenario. The advantaged positions have such an overwhelming resource superiority, any kind of a long game will spell doom. So I think that to counter this, you need to gun for one stock certificate and purchasing as many wonder bricks as possible. Go for the Specialized Mine research and nothing else, build a Raft factory right away, build one mine (all gold), and get a couple clay pits. Usually clay pits pretty much suck, but in this case you want them simply to generate a lot of bricks so that you can trade those in for wonder bricks and shorten the game.

I think this scenario actually works out to be pretty balanced. The new players are of course going to have no idea what to do, and are probably going to over-invest in all kinds of things as the usual trap for new players. The experienced players are up against the wall resource-wise and will find it impossible to get an efficient transport network going, but with focus they can both a) have a chance to win, and b) keep the scenario reasonably short, which is in itself a worthwhile goal for a teaching game.

So you want some advice for the new players too? For your first game of roads & boats, you’ll be struggling just to get a feel for the production tree. My advice is, it’s really easy to over-invest in cool stuff you don’t need. Pick one of wagons or trucks and go with it. Don’t spend too much time on geese, since the amount of research you are likely to need to do is not that great – one transport type, maybe, plus renewable mines and maybe off-shore drilling rigs or specialized mines (big mines never seem worth it, since a winning score is rarely more than 4 stock and your iron needs are unlikely to exceed 3-4 units plus whatever you need to buy new shafts). Fuel is a bit of a pain, you’ll likely need 10 units or so, so the choice between the offshore drilling rig and the coal burner is a tough one; I usually go with the drilling rig if possible, but if you have plenty of real estate the coal burner is much cheaper and gives you something to do with your boards after the early game. Otherwise, the key bottleneck is the Mint and, to a significantly lesser degree, the Papermill. You’ll need a Papermill fairly early, but don’t build anything really before you’re ready to capitalize on it – get the production (mines, sawmill) going full swing before you worry about it. However, the Mint really is the key – the sooner you can get that going, the better off you’ll be.

Roades & Boats + &ceterea

Kim & I enjoy Roads & Boats as a 2-player game quite a bit, so I picked up a copy of their most recent expansion, &cetera, which contains a new terrain type (polder), a new way to score VPs (art), a couple assorted new buildings (Power Plants, Business Schools, Bomb Factories) and two new ways to transport goods (planes and trains, from the previously published expansion with the same name).

We played the 2-player scenario with a lot of polder, plus the Power Plant and MBA optional rules. I really liked the effect of the polder (which alternates between being land and sea as the game goes on), which made things very challenging to play out properly – your transporters get stranded as whole sections of the board switch between being land- and sea-accessible. The power plants seemed like a nice touch, although fairly powerful and repeated play may make building one clearly a no-brainer, although the managers didn’t seem to add much. I think both of these buildings may be a lot more interesting when you play with more players – two players could cooperate to build one between them, as great advantage to both, while if you’re just building one for yourself the advantages are less clear-cut.

While pricey, it does seem like the expansion kit is a good buy (although if given the choice I wouldn’t have paid extra for the bits for 5 and 6 players, since I would never actually play with that many people). The rules are clearly best used one or two at a time – just using polders and power plants made things dramatically more complex, so throwing in the kitchen sink would make this a brain-burner of the first order. Anyway, I enjoyed our game, and hopefully