Glass Road

Reviewed by: Pevans

(Feuerland/Z-Man Games, 1 to 4 players, ages 13 and up, 80 minutes, $64.99)

glassroadboxAfter making a big impact with their first game, Terra Mystica, in 2012, I was intrigued to see what Feuerland Spiele would come up with for 2013. The answer is a new game from Uwe Rosenberg, Die Glasstrasse. Z-Man Games publishes the English language edition, Glass Road, and I managed to pick up a copy in Essen. I’ve been playing it over the last couple of months and it’s been good fun.

The most striking components of the game are the “production” boards, which have a couple of clock-like dials on them. This is an immediate echo of Rosenberg’s 2011 game, Ora & Labora. However, in Glass Road, each player has their own production board and the dials show the commodities that the player has on hand as well as managing the production of the two key commodities: glass and bricks. The dials are divided into 12 segments and markers for all the commodities go on them. Each player’s stock of a commodity is shown by the number at the base of the segment containing the appropriate marker.

The clever thing is how these are used for production. For example: you need 1 clay, 1 charcoal and 1 food to make 1 brick. The clay, charcoal and food markers are on one side of the main “hand” on the dial, with the brick marker on the other side. As soon as there’s nothing in the zero segment on the main side, you move the hands (they’re fixed 120 degrees apart – starting at 8 o’clock) as far as they’ll go. The effect is to give you one unit of brick for each segment moved (up to the maximum) while decreasing each of the other commodities by one. This is so much simpler than having to move lots of chits about (as you would in, say, Le Havre).

The other dial works the same way for glass, but this needs five different commodities to make one glass. Note that charcoal and food are on both dials, giving players a tactical decision when they gain more of these: which dial should they add them to? However, a bigger decision is whether it’s actually worth producing glass and bricks – and when. I described these above as the key commodities but the side effect of producing them is reducing your stock of the other commodities. Sometimes you’d rather have clay or wood, say, than produce more brick or glass.

The main reason for having commodities is to use them for buildings which is where victory points come from. Many buildings simply have a value in points while others give points for other things players hold. In particular, players start with three buildings printed on their personal “landscape” boards and these provide points for their stock of brick, glass and quartz sand (a vital component in making glass) at the end of the game. The other spaces on players’ landscape boards are where new buildings can be placed. Initially, however, most of these are occupied by “forest” tiles and the three types of “landscape” tile.

glassroad2There are three different types of building tile and a selection of each is set out on a central board. These are not replenished until the end of the “building period” so there can be quite some competition for particular buildings. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on what commodities other players have and thus which buildings they could take.

One type of building provides victory points at the end of the game in the way I’ve already described. The second type of building gives the player an immediate benefit: lots of a particular commodity, for example. The third type is related to production, often allowing players to swap one commodity for multiples of another: the ‘Hardware Store’ lets you pay one wood to get two clay, for example. Once you have one of these, you may use it whenever you want, as many times as you want. This can be really useful. However, I often find I don’t get much repeat use out of them – it can be tricky to build up the right commodity to swap.

Okay, you need buildings to get the points you need to win and commodities to get the buildings but how do you actually do any of this? The heart of the game is the set of fifteen “specialist” cards that each player holds. These are specific jobs such as Charcoal Burner or Carpenter. Every card shows two actions and some of them show a cost as well. This last point is important as the cost for some specialists is clearing a forest. This is pretty much the only way of getting rid of forests and players need to do this to create more space on their boards for building (or, indeed, landscape) tiles.

There are four “building periods” to the game and each starts with the players selecting five of their specialists as their hand for the period. Clearly, the cards to select are those with actions you want to carry out. Several cards allow you to place a building. Others produce goods – either a set number or according to the appropriate landscapes. Then there are a few more interesting actions, such as the “Feudal Lord”. This allows the player to take a private stock of buildings (at random) which only they will be able to build subsequently. This can be very useful, depending on just what you get.

Within each period, there are three rounds. To start, players all select one specialist from their hand. Then, from the start player round, each player reveals their card. Ideally, they then pay any cost and carry out both actions on the card. However, if anyone else has the same card still in their hand, they (all!) get to play it. Everybody who’s played the card, including the original player, pays the cost and takes just one of the two actions. Hence, the perfect period is to play three cards that no-one else has in hand and have two cards that other people play. This provides a maximum of eight actions in the period, but getting six is a good result.

The four building periods mean that each player is start player once in a four-player game. There’s a mechanism for deciding who’s start player for the last period in a three-player game and the two-player game is played differently. After the fourth period, players get a last chance to use any production buildings. Then they tote up their points and the player with the most is the winner. At which point you realise that your score isn’t quite enough!

It’s only having got to this stage that you realise how much thinking needs to be done in this game. The first thing is identifying which buildings you want. Then you have to make sure you get them before anyone else does, which means accumulating the right commodities. In turn, this means deciding which cards to select each period, bearing in mind what you think other people may choose and how and when you’re going to play them. Phew!

It’s not just about having the right cards, it’s also about timing. If you need to use two specialists in a particular order, the plan can go wrong so easily! All it needs is someone ahead of you in turn order to play the card you’re waiting to use next. Hence, turn order is also important: going first lets you get down the card you need to play first. However, going last allows you to react to other players’ actions and gives a greater chance that no-one will be able to copy your card.

Glass Road is a clever, beautifully engineered game. It may sound daunting from the description but work carefully through the first round and you’ll realise that the game is actually rather simpler to play than appears. Don’t be put off by the twenty-page rulebook either. Less than half of this is the rules; the rest is detailed explanation of the cards and tiles plus some interesting notes on the game and what inspired it. The rules are well done, too, with little snippets from “Uwe” to emphasise the important bits.

I’ve played Glass Road half a dozen times now and still feel I’m just getting to grips with it. In particular, there are so many buildings that you’re unlikely to see many familiar ones each time you play. This makes each game different but also means that you really need to spend time, at the beginning of each period, looking at the buildings available to see which of them might work together. I’m looking forward to playing this a lot more. I give it 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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