Well, some of us had food at the pub first, others stopped off for food on the way and then we had a bit of a gossip about what games are high on our “want to play list”, the end result? We started late again! We were all keen to play the “Feature Game”, Snowdonia though, and agreed it was way too long since its last outing. This was amply demonstrated by the number of rules we’d forgotten – despite the fact that we’d all played it before, running through the rules and setting up took at least half an hour and even then, Blue didn’t have a clue what was going on.
In summary, the game is a worker-placement game about building the rack-railway up Mount Snowdon. Players have two labourers each and take it in turns to choose which of the following actions they will carry out in the round: A) Collect resources from the stockyard; B) Excavate and remove rubble to create trackbed; C) Go to the building works to convert iron into steel or rubble into stone; D) Lay track on excavated trackbed; E) Build a station or an engine; F) Go to the site office and collect a new contract, and G) Move your surveyor further up the mountain. Once everyone has placed all their labourers, the actions are performed in order A to G (thus, any special actions on a Contract card cannot generally be used in the same round).
As in real life, the weather on Mount Snowdonia can be a real pain, work slows when the rain comes and trackbed cannot be excavated and track cannot be laid at all when the fog sets in. Although these are random events, the weather forecast is unusually reliable and you can see the bad weather coming and plan accordingly. At the end of each round, the resources in the stockyard are replenished by drawing them blind from a bag. This is very clever as it adds a small amount of randomness but, as there is a limited number of each type available, if there is a glut of stone, there will be a shortage in the bag making it more likely that other resources will be drawn. In addition to resources, “Events” can also be triggered: although the sequence of events is known in advance, the timing is uncertain as they only occur when a white cube is drawn from the bag. These events affect almost all aspects of the game, including laying track, completing stations and excavating trackbed. Scores are calculated at the end of the game and points awarded for track laid and contributions to stations, however, the largest points are awarded for any contracts fulfilled.
Yellow and Purple were most familiar with the game so went first, and Yellow started by snapping up a nice, tasty contract rewarding him for collecting rubble. Purple then visited the stockyard and started hoarding coal and iron while Green started surveying. Blue still had no idea what she was doing, so in the first few turns collected a couple of contract cards, foolishly choosing them based on the special action rather than the end-game points.
Yellow then added a contract to build track to his contract for rubble and made a concerted effort to excavate and build while the weather was nice. Purple and Green decided to use their hard earned iron to build an engine while Blue faffed about and collected yet more contracts. As soon as Purple and Green had built their engines however, an event cube was drawn and engine maintenance was due. As Green could not pay, he had to return his engine to the shed unused, effectively costing him the both the resources and the actions, all for no gain. To add insult to injury, Blue pounced on Green’s engine, with it adding 9 points to her final score.
Engines allow players to pay one lump of coal per turn to entice one labourer out of the pub to work for one turn. So, in a sudden flurry of activity, Blue used her engine to provide an extra worker for the next round and sent all three to the stockyard, which with a special action that provided two extra resources for that round, set her up with enough iron for the rest of the game. Meanwhile, Purple used her stockpile of coal and her engine to great effect and Green followed suit once he’d managed to get the resources together to buy a replacement engine. Yellow carried on organising his rubble collecting and track laying round the vagaries of the Welsh weather while Green’s Surveyor continued up the mountain. By this time, Blue was just about starting to get to grips with the aim of the game and was belatedly trying to contribute to enough stations and build a bit of track in order to fulfill two of her contracts. Having a large number to choose from helped here, as it meant she could match the contracts to what was achievable.
The game has a tendency to end rather suddenly, as the number of resources in the bag drops so that the frequency of the events increases. This game was no exception and Yellow was scrabbling to complete all the track he needed for his contracts, while Blue would have been completely scuppered without her last station contribution. As she was losing badly, Blue decided to gamble that the events would not end the game, and collected resources and laid track, rather moving her Surveyor. She got lucky and in the last turn, Purple picked up the last of the Rubble and moved her Surveyor up the mountain, Yellow did a little retrospective surveying and Blue used one of her special actions to great effect to take 14 points by contributing two iron bars to the final station, making her final score presentable. In contrast the extra turn did nothing for Green as he couldn’t build anything and his Surveyor had been at the top of the mountain for several turns. With his careful planning and efficiency throughout, it was no surprise that Yellow ran out the winner, however, it was initially surprising that he was only two points ahead of Purple. On closer inspection it became apparent that Yellow had done it without the use of an engine and had relied on careful planning and a targeted strategy. In contrast, Purple had made good use of her engine and the extra worker it had provided and scored lots of points in each aspect of the game.
Learning Outcome: Two very different strategies can sometimes give very similar scores.