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CRUDE: THE OIL GAME

Reviewed by Kevin Whitmore

(Stronghold Games, 2-4 players, ages 13 and up, 90 minutes; $69.95)

 

I have enjoyed playing the game, McMulti a number of times. So it caught my attention when Stronghold Games announced that they had tracked down the long lost author of McMulti and obtained his permission to release an authorized 3rd edition of his game. For you see, there is a bit of a back story to Crude: The Oil Game and in this article, we will explore this interesting story, as well as examine in some detail the changes, both substantive and cosmetic, to the new English edition.crudebox

The storied history of Crude/McMulti

James St. Laurent is the game designer and the original publisher of Crude: The Oil Game. (The new Stronghold release is seen at left; the original game is shown in the photo below it.) He gave an excellent interview about his adventures as an aspiring game author/publisher (which can be read on BoardGameGeek here: (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/2025/james-st-laurent-… ). As he explains, the game was not a financial success and he went on to other pursuits, ignoring boardgames for the majority of the rest of his life.crudeorigiinal

But unbeknownst to James, the infamous German game publisher Hexagames reprinted his game, even releasing it in two distinct editions. (Photos of both Hexagame editions are found further below.) These games were, simply put, pirated editions. James received no compensation for either edition released by Hexagames. By the time he learned about the republication of his games, Hexagames had folded, leaving him no recourse.

But McMulti achieved some notoriety as a “grail game”. It received admiration for its clever use of dice, giving shared effects on a player’s turn to his neighbors and for the awesome plastic pieces depicting drilling rigs, gas stations, oil pumps, and refineries. Combined with its relative scarcity and high prices, McMulti was generally a game most players had only heard of and often had never seen a copy.mcmulti

So when Stronghold Games announced they had found James St. Laurent, it caused a stir and the news that he had agreed to publish a new edition of his game was met with rejoicing. And yes, the new edition would come with all the wonderful plastic playing pieces similar to the ones used in the unauthorized McMulti edition! In a twist of irony, as it happened, James St. Laurent passed away shortly before the new edition of Crude was released.mcmulti2

Crude: The Game

While there are rules in the box for playing Crude as a 2 or 3 player game, I’ve never done it and I have no real interest in trying it. One glance at the board and how the dice sharing works is enough to convince me that this game has been designed for exactly four players.

I don’t wish to restate the game rules but I will summarize just a few of the elements to give some feel for what you do in the game. Basically, Crude models the petroleum industry. A player can participate in many different levels of the petroleum market chain. Build rigs to explore for oil. Establish oil heads to pump oil. Build refineries to process crude into gasoline. Operate gas stations for access to the lucrative consumer market, or if you prefer, wholesale oil/gasoline in domestic or international markets. There are a lot of options available to you. Follow your entrepreneurial spirit as you will. Further, there are ever changing economic situations, and even governmental interactions that must be considered. One central rule is worth calling out. Each turn a player will roll dice. This mechanism is clever as the dice work on a coordinate system whereby the player’s own facilities as well as his immediate neighbors facilities are activated. Take, for example, what happens in the following situation.

With a throw of a black 3 and a red 4 (as shown in the photo below right), the active player will discover oil at the intersection because of his (black) drilling rig. In addition, the active player will be able to use his (orange) refinery but be unable to use his (green) gas crude3stations because they are not situated on either the row or column that was activated. His LHO (left hand opponent) will be able to pump oil and also sell gasoline due to the black 3 activation on his turf. The player directly opposite is unable to do anything but the RHO (right hand opponent) will also be able to sell gasoline (after the LHO).

While you might think this is old hat as Settlers of Catan (Fall 1996 Gamers Alliance Report) has common dice rolls and this has been a staple of “Euros” for years, bear in mind Crude was first published in 1974, years before Klaus Teuber penned Settlers. Give James St. Laurent a nod of appreciation for this innovative design element.

Crude gives each player a starting sum of $200M with the goal of achieving $750M to win. McMulti had a goal of $1B so the game duration has been cut down. An initial round has players committing to their initial set up. The game gives total flexibility to the players so they can buy whatever facilities they wish and attempt to win their fortunes at any level of the oil marketplace. Turns wheel around at a good pace and since every turn involves the active player and his left and right hand neighbors, it is only when the player directly across from you is active are you reduced to a spectator. So you often have things to do for 75% of the game. (Compare this to games like Tikal, where you can only be active on your turn, perhaps only 25% of the game!)

In Crude, the economic situation is going to change periodically. This is important, as the price you pay for facilities will vary widely and knowing the range of prices is important, along with knowing the probable path of the next economic change. The game handles this with a few “Economic Situation Cards”. The prices are shown and an indication of the six possible ways the economy might change after this card becomes invalid.

Another element of each Economic Situation Card is how it affects the retail price for gasoline. As retail sales transpire, the price inevitably is reduced. Once the economy changes, it generally perks up although in this new edition, there are a couple of situations where the price can remain stagnant or even be reduced further! McMulti players will recognize this as a change, as prices always went up in McMulti when the economy shifted.

One nice feature of a new edition is that the News events have been refreshed. The news events in Crude are tied to more recent developments in our news that affect the oil economy. Also, the new edition has very impressive thick cards for the news events (better than in McMulti).

Crude: The Oil Game is nicely produced. The plastic play pieces (shown in the example above and in the photo below) are all well-made and more “3D” than the older McMulti edition. The game money is nice although I admit I prefer to use poker chips. The game is split over two boards. I admit to preferring the single board of McMulti but in Crude, they needed a bit more space as one central rule was changed. In previous editions, the economic situation would change whenever doubles were rolled. In Crude, a “dice difference” track is used. Simply compare the two dice rolled and compute the difference, moving the marker up on the dice difference track one box for each point. This has a fundamental change to the game but it also probably tipped them into using two boards: one for the players’ play areas, and the other for general bookkeeping.

Doubles vs. Dice Difference

As explained, two different mechanisms have been used in Crude/McMulti to drive the occasional change to the economy. This is a major design element, and is worth some examination.

Doubles: In the first edition of Crude (1974) and in the McMulti reprint, the economy would change every time a player rolled doubles. This meant the game could whipsaw violently, where at one extreme, four players in a single round could all have a different economy they were working under. The other extreme would be where no one ever threw doubles. If no doubles are thrown for an extended period of time, the game would not have an economic change, gas prices would fall, and profits could become impossible.

Dice Difference: In the new edition of Crude, the dice difference track drives an economic change. Whenever the difference becomes 8 or more, an economic change is going to happen. This means the economy will change somewhat predictably. While it is likely that players will roll doubles occasionally, there are many more opportunities to roll non-doubles results, forcing the economic changes to show up predictably often.crudepcs

While the “dice difference” mechanism does prevent the game from falling into a bad state of depressed retail prices, it also gives a bit “too much” information to a player who starts a turn with a high number on the dice difference track. If you start a turn with a dice difference of “7”, there is a very high likelihood that you will trip the change. This “near perfect” information was not available to a player under the old system. One of my opponents thought this dice difference track was a wonderful change. I’m a bit less sure. I’m not opposed to this new system, but it gives a very different feel to the game.

The new edition is nice and I am pleased to own it. I expect to play it many times with friends. But there are still a couple of issues worth calling out. The Economic Situation cards are somewhat hard to read. I wish the font had been significantly bigger. There was plenty of room for larger numbers. I also wish a few more barrels of oil and gas had been included. I had to dig into my copy of McMulti to handle all the oil we were using in my last game. Finally, a handy player aid is sorely needed. Each player needs the information on every Economic Situation card at all times. Knowing what prices facilities may likely cost in the future is a key data point in this game. This information is keyed into the several Economic Situation cards. Rather than constantly passing these around, it would be far better to have a concise play aid for everyone.

Strategies

Alas, this reviewer has to admit it. I’m not especially talented at this game. Veteran players of McMulti can probably offer better tested strategies than I can but I will offer a couple of observations.

The game has positive feedback loops in place for production. At the start of the game, you might consider buying drilling rigs for every space on your field of play. This will guarantee that you strike oil on your first turn. You can gradually dismantle your array of rigs, making room for other facilities. There also seems to be a pretty good advantage to going first and second. At the start of the game, prices for oil and gasoline are rather cheap on the wholesale markets. The first two players should seriously consider stocking up. The first player can be active in one of the wholesale markets (Foreign or Domestic), and the second player may then use the one the first player ignored.

It is always important to watch what the potential news events could be. There are taxes on facilities and on inventories. It is worth adjusting your strategy to minimize these taxes if they go into effect. At least, you want to insure you have a reserve of funds handy to cope with them should the hammer fall. And as I’ve already mentioned, pay attention to what the likely next economic situation might be! You can make, or lose, a fortune buying and selling facilities. The change is random, but weighted, so you can play the odds.

In summary, Crude: The Oil Game is a fun game to play, with enough luck to give all players hope that they are in the hunt while presenting lots of meaningful decisions. Every player I have played it with has responded nicely to this game and it is a welcome addition to the modern board game scene. Not bad for a game that is now over 38 years old! – – – – – – Kevin Whitmore


 

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