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Age of Industry

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Treefrog Games/distributed in the USA by Mayfair Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, 2 hours, about $60)

 

ageofindustryboxAge of Industry is from prolific game designer Martin Wallace and the first game to appear under the new Treefrog Games label (the imprint replacing the more aggressive sounding Warfrog name). In this release, Wallace continues to explore the railroad game genre, a track he has travelled through in previous games such as Volldampf, Age of Steam, Steam, Brass and more.

Age of Industry comes bookshelf boxed with a host of quality components. There are five sets of player counters used to represent the various industries of the game (cotton mills, manufacturing, iron works and coal mines) as well as ships and ports, sets of wooden railway tokens (in five colors), market counters, black and orange cubes (representing coal and iron supplies), a deck of 66 cards, loan counters, player displays, turn order tokens, rules in both English and German, a large double-sided board (one side showing Germany, the other displaying the area of New England) and a rules booklet in both English and German.

All players begin with a set of color counters, a matching turn order token and a player display. The counters are stacked on the display by “technology level”. The cards are shuffled and each player dealt a starting hand (five or six depending on the number of players). Each turn follows the same procedure: player actions, determining player order and paying interest on any outstanding loans.

Players may take two actions each turn from a menu of available options. These include build an industry, build a railway, sell goods, develop, take two cards or simply pass.

Cards are powerful forces driving the game and come in two varieties: industry cards and location cards. Industry cards depict a specific industry and allow you to build that particular industry on the board provided that you are connected to that area by rail or, in some cases, already have a “presence” at that location. Location cards allow you to build any industry (except for coal) in the specified region. Icons and color-coding are used on these cards for easy reference. (At the start of play, since no one has any presence on the board, players can “parachute in” their first industry on the board anywhere a card will allow.) Placing industries, ports and rail lines cost money. This money is placed in a box on the turn order track.

Railways connect areas to each other and help players establish industries in connected regions. The first railway built costs $1; each additional one costs $1 plus a unit of coal and iron. (When coal mines and iron works are built, coal and iron cubes are introduced to the board. Coal and iron cubes are taken from sources closest to the newly built line. If one or both of these resources are not on the board, they are taken from the “demand display” for an additional cost.)

Depleting coal mines and iron works as well as selling goods are major sources of both Victory Points AND cash. When the coal mine or iron works empty (having no more cubes on them) AND/OR if you manage to link one of your built industries to a port that accepts the goods it will produce (even if the links are over railways owned by other players), that industry – and the port or market it connects to – “pops”. That is, they flip to their other sides earning that player Victory Points as well as money. Coal mines will pay anywhere from $4 to $7; iron works pay off from $5 to $12. Industries and ports are good for one delivery. Once “popped”, goods can not be sent or delivered there unless you “overbuild”. (More on that later.) Ports “pop” and generate anywhere from $5 to $11 too while delivered goods add to the total, ranging from $8 for cotton (at level 1 technology) to a significant $27 for factory goods (at level 4). And speaking of factory goods, there are no available level one or two factories. To get to level three (and be able to build at that level), you need to remove the factory tiles that are “in the way”. This is called “development”. By discarding a card, you are able to remove one of those tiles. You may also, as part of your turn, draw two cards or simply pass (and discard a card for that privilege).

ageofi1Once all players have taken their turns, turn order is determined. The player spending the LEAST amount of money will go first in the next round followed by the player spending the next least and so on. Finally, interest must be paid.

Players may take out loans in increments of $10 at any time. Interest is paid at the rate of 10%. Since no one starts the game with any money, taking an initial loan is a no-brainer. But, because cash can be very tight, the “necessary evil” of taking loans must be weighed against interest payments. Spending $1 or $2 or even $3 on a turn in interest payments can put a severe cramp in your rail empire expansion. (Interestingly, you may take out another loan to pay interest due without paying interest on that loan – until the following turn.)

Play continues until the draw deck is exhausted and one player has no cards left in his hand. Once that round is completed, the game is over and scores tallied. Players score for all of their industries built. Rail lines generate a final burst of income, earning $2 for the link plus $1 for each industry it connects to. (So, for example, a rail line connecting to 2 industries on one end and 3 industries at the other will add $7 to that player’s coffers). Cash is converted to Victory Points (at the rate of $5 equals 1 VP). The player with the highest combined total wins.

Although drawing a good deal upon Wallace’s previous game, Brass, Age of Industry manifests a different feel for several reasons. In Brass, “popping” industries boosts your level on an income track. In Age of Industry, there is no income track. Instead the result is an immediate influx of cash. Money is not only essential for upgrading technology and building railways, it will also convert into Victory Points (albeit on a rather expensive 5 to 1 rate) at the end of the game. Another key difference is that, unlike in Brass, ALL built industries, whether “popped” or not, will score Victory Points.

Although factories and ports are limited to one sale or one delivery, they can be “re-opened” by building over them, an interesting strategic decision. One of your built industries can be replaced by another one of your own industries (the same industry or a different one) provided that the the new industry is at a higher technology level. It doesn’t matter if the industry had been “popped” or not. This can generate additional funds and VPs. However, overbuilding is relatively expensive (although not as costly as in Brass). When (and if) to overbuild makes for some tough decisions. You are also allowed to use only one action to ship from MULTIPLE cotton mills and/or factories (to different ports or markets) so if you can set yourself up for this, you can really rake in VPs and funds in one fell swoop.

On both boards in the game, coal is vital. There are relatively few coal mines on the German board and only TWO to be found on the New England board. (New England’s need for additional coal must be met by bringing in that essential commodity through ports.)

Loans are both easy to get and necessary as you start with NO money! While players score for both technology and money, it is technology that fuels the lion’s share of victory. Still, the importance of money should not be minimized. Money is helpful and important (after all, you can’t build your technology without it) but concentrating on cash while neglecting technology is not wise. Technology is Victory Points; money converts to Victory Points as well but, as mentioned, at a discouraging rate of 5 to 1!

Because turn order is determined through the amount of money spent in a turn (with the player spending the LEAST on a turn going first the next), the player going last has an advantage since he will know how much has already been spent by other players and can accurately calculate how much (or how little) he should spend to secure a desirable slot in the next turn’s turn order. This is a clever balancing mechanism. The downside to this, however, is the downtime that can occur because of it. (A player going last can then go first leaving a player who went, third in a turn, for example, waiting quite awhile until his next turn comes around again.)

Luck of the draw concerning cards is somewhat mitigated by the ability to combine two actions into one so that you can build an industry in a location of your choice. You still need to play a card but this combination option can liberate you from being handcuffed by unusable cards. A nice design touch. On the other hand, the presence of ship cards when playing the German board is a design oddity. These cards have no real use there as no ships are built when playing with that board. (While they can be used when passing or developing, ANY card can be used for that.) When they appear – and no one chooses them – they just clog up the card display. We suggest either just resigning yourself to drawing blindly from the deck (if choosing to draw cards) or simply discarding them when they appear (at the cost of ending the game sooner).

In Age of Industry, designer Martin Wallace revisits rail games and comes up with yet another variation on the theme of industrial development. Wallace has tweaked elements he has used in previous releases (most notably, Brass) and has come up with a streamlined (but not gutted) game of building up industry and technology and delivering the goods through a network of railroad lines. Age of Industry is a game that can satisfy both the ardent train game enthusiast and those gamers who dream of carving out a financial empire.

 


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