Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
BARRAGE (Cranio Creations, 1 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 120 minutes; $89.99)
Published by Cranio Creations in 2019 (thanks to a kickstarter campaign with more than 4.000 backers), Barrage, from Simone Luciani (who has given us great designs like Tzolki’n: The Mayan Calendar and The Voyages of Marco Polo) and Tommaso Battistas, is actually in the top 100 for strategic games and in the top 200 in BGG overall. Barrage takes place in a dystopic 1930 where hydroelectric energy provided by the rivers is the best source. Players compete to access water and use it to work their powerhouse.
Each player represents one of the international companies who are gathering machinery, innovative patents and brilliant engineers to claim the best locations to collect and exploit the water of a contested Alpine region crossed by rivers.
Barrage is a worker-placement, resource management game with some clever and innovative ideas: first the construction wheel and second the mechanism of the water flowing from the mountains down to the plains.
The map is divided into 3 areas: mountains, hills and plains. Each area has 3 or 4 basins with places for bases, conduits and powerhouses.
Each player has a personal company board with wooden structures: Bases, Elevations, Conduits and Powerhouses. Like in Eclipse or Terra Mystica, placing your structures on the map activates the board’s special powers and abilities.
The game is played in five rounds. There is an evolution from round to round, something I appreciate. Usually the early rounds are used to set up your engine that can be fully activated in the fourth or fifth rounds. You really feel like you are building up your company, claiming basins, rising dams, building conduits and powerhouses. All companies are different and, in the set-up, every company is combined with a random Officer Tile (from 7 different), making every session a different game experience. Company and Officer tiles offer special strategy twists but the core of the game is to build dams to access water and make your powerhouses work the best.
Water is a common, shared resource; every player also has credits, excavators and concrete mixers used to build structures. These resources can be increased during the game; credits are spent but excavators and mixers are just used and put in the construction wheel and again available later. Before going in the details of the game round, a short description of the construction wheel, the core of the game (probably inspired from Tzolk’in’s gears), is warranted.
The construction wheel is a great mechanism used to manage water flow. Every time you use a water drop, it flows through your powerhouses and proceeds to the next basin. Your strategy involves queuing your dams and powerhouses or getting the water passing through opponent’s powerhouses. Every time you build a structure, you place appropriate technology tiles and the needed resources in the wheel and move the wheel one step. Every time you use the wheel, the used materials move one step forward and after 6 steps are again available. So, as an example, if you build a powerhouse using 2 mixers, you can’t use the “build a powerhouse” action and the 2 mixers again until the wheel rotates 6 times. That require a lot of planning. Barrage is certainly more strategic than tactical with almost no randomness.
Every round has 5 phases: Income and Headstreams, Actions, Water Flow, Scoring and End of Round.
In the Income Phase, all players get their active incomes on their company board. Water Drops are also placed. In the beginning of the game, these are randomly placed, one headstream tile on the top of each of the four mountain basins. The tile display shows how many drops will appear in each basin in each of the first four rounds.
The Action Phase is the core of the game. Every player has 12 engineers that can be used to activate actions both on the personal board, on the common management board and, with the complete rules, in the patent office board. Every action space can require from 1 to 3 engineers and sometimes credits can be required as well. Like most worker placement games, every action space can be occupied just once but some actions can be activated by more than a single action space costing more engineers or credits.
There are four construction actions used to build structures on your personal board. The resources required can vary from structure to structure and from position to position; building a dam in the mountains is much more expensive than building it in the plain.
Management Actions can provide you extra excavators and mixers, can be used to produce energy, to get contracts, to manage water, to get money and to advance your construction wheel.
To produce energy, you need to bring water to one of your powerhouses. The water can be taken from one of your dams or from a neutral dam and flow to your powerhouse by one of your or other players’ conduits. No one can steal water from your basins and no one can use your powerhouses. An important part of the game is related to building up structures in the proper way to be able to access water and bring it to your powerhouse. Every time you use a drop of water thanks to the produce energy action, you produce an amount of energy related to the water used and to the power (length) of the conduits. You can get from 1 to 5 energy from a single drop.
Producing energy is the main way to score points since, at the end of the round, the player that has produced the most energy gets 6 points and the second one 2. Energy produced will also give you income (credits) for the next round.
Every time you produce energy, you can try to fulfill a contract. It is very important to wisely plan your actions to be able to get and complete contracts that can offer you points, credits and resources.
Finally, with the complete rules, you can also get new technology tiles with the Patent Office action: the special technology tiles usually let you combine a normal build action with some special activity.
Once all the engineers are used, the action phase is over. Now the Water Flow starts as every drop will move until stopped by a dam.
In the scoring phase, players with the highest energy production will score points. Bonus points, according to objectives varying from game to game, are scored too. In the beginning of the game, there are some random setups that help to make every game different: 3 neutral dams, random headstream tiles, a final objective tile, 5 bonus tiles and 6 national contracts.
In the End of Round phase, player get their engineers back and the new turn order is set, starting from the player that has produced less energy, a sort of “catch the leader” mechanism. The game end at the end of the 5th turn. Players score points for the objective tile and also for resources and water drops held by personal dams.
Playing Barrage is a great and intense activity. Like most well designed worker-placement games, you have more actions to do than workers and sometimes the choices are tough. It is a game where you have to wisely plan moves and strategies making it another great gamers’ game. You will love it if you like games where you have to carefully plan 2-3 rounds in advance! The game is very interactive with competition for action slots, basins and water drops and works very well with 2 and 3 players but is really great with 4 (and can accommodate 5 with the expansion). Barrage is a masterpiece. – – – Andrea “Liga” Liagbue
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