Reviewed by Herb Levy

RACCOON TYCOON (Forbidden Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, 90 minutes; $49.99)


Astoria is a prosperous place where towns, factories and railroads are appearing on the landscape, the harbinger of even greater economic times ahead – and we don’t want to be left out! So, we business tycoons seek to benefit from this great potential growth to become the richest and most successful in this new design from Glenn Drover: Raccoon Tycoon.

The large board of the game contains a Commodity Market on top with the rest of the board devoted to Building Tiles, Town cards and Railroad cards. 

The Commodity Market tracks the fluctuating values of the commodities in the game: Wheat (yellow stalks), Wood (brown logs), Iron (gray anvils), Coal (black coal cars), Manufactured Goods (red packages) and Luxuries (green bottles). One of each commodity is placed at the bottom of their respective tracks. The Railroad deck (with some railroads possibly removed based on the number of players) is shuffled and two revealed (on either side of the deck). The Town deck is arranged in Victory Point order and placed in its assigned spot too. 

Six basic Building tiles are mixed and four randomly displayed for initial availability. (Remaining basic tiles are removed from play.) The other tiles are shuffled and stacked to be the used to replace Building tiles when bought.

The deck of 54 Price & Production cards is shuffled with each player dealt three. They also begin with an initial bankroll of $10.  The start player is randomly chosen and chooses one commodity token. The next player then chooses two tokens, the next three and so on. The only stipulations are that these starting commodities must be different and no one may start with 2 commodity tokens of the same kind. 

On a turn, a player may do ONE action from the following possibilities:

Production – Price and Production cards have a top and bottom. Take 3 (and only 3) of the commodity tokens shown on the bottom of the card. Then, raise the value of each commodity shown at the top by $1 on the Commodity track. That card is now discarded and a new one drawn. (There is a limit of 10 commodities that may be held at any one time.)

Sell a Commodity – Any amount of a single commodity may be sold for its current value on the Commodity track. Once done, the value of that commodity decreases by the number of units sold.

Start a Railroad Auction – One of the two railroad cards on display are chosen. The minimum bid for that card is on the card itself. Starting with the active player, players bid or pass. High bidder gets the card but, if the player who started the auction does NOT win the auction, that player goes again! (A new railroad card is drawn to fill the empty spot on the board.) 

Purchase a Building Tile – Four building tiles are on display and one may be bought for its listed price. Buildings bestow advantages upon the owning player including additional commodity production, a “commission” on auctions, the ability to hold more than 10 commodities and more! A few of these are double-sided. The double-sided tiles may be purchased and then “upgraded” with a subsequent “Purchase a Building Tile” action.

Purchase a Town – Unlike Building tiles, purchasing a town requires spending specified commodities. If a player does not have the stipulated commodities, they may spend “any” commodities instead but this costs more. 

The game continues until either the last town card is bought OR the last railroad auctioned.  That round is completed (so everyone gets an equal number of turns) and then we score.

A significant number of Victory Points comes from Railroad and Town cards.  Railroads are collected in sets; the more of a set you have, the more Victory Points you will earn. (In the example at right, 1 Big Bear card will get you 3 VPs but, managed to get all 4 and you will earn 21 VPs!) Town cards display VP values. In addition, every pair of Railroad/Town cards is worth 2 VPs more. (These Rail and Town cards do not need to “match” in the standard sense. ANY Rail card will match ANY Town card.) Finally, every building tile owned is worth 1 VP. The player with the most VPs claims victory. Tie? Then having the most money serves as tie-breaker.

Graphic quality of the game is very high, from card quality to commodity pieces to building tiles. Names and numbers are written large and are easily readable even across the table. How often have games failed to do such a simple thing to improve playability? (I would have, however, reversed the tops and bottoms of the Price & Production cards to synchronize with the order of their actions.) But what’s with that name?

Railroad games are popular. In fact, this is the second game in the series, following Railroad Rivals (designed by Glen Drover as well and featured last issue). So, of course, you want to differentiate this railroad game from the million or so railroad-themed games out there so I can understand a different sort of name. Perhaps this kind of whimsical title will attract gamers who found Ticket to Ride and The Settlers of Catan just the right style and level of difficulty. But raccoons have NOTHING to do with the game or the theme! (Raccoons do appear within the game – for example, the large first player marker is a wooden raccoon! – but they are not the only animals to appear. In the cards pictured here for example,  the animals are BEARS!) I fear that some might be put off or misled by the name. That would be a mistake!

Drover’s design strikes an intriguing balance between amassing Victory Points and collecting money. Money is essential for buying Buildings potentially greatly enhancing your abilities. For example, one Building will grant you a commission on every auction held providing a steady stream of income throughout the game! Powerful for sure, but not the only Building that provides income from others’ actions.  Well played Production and Price cards can increase your  holdings and boost their value at market which forces you to calculate just when to pull the trigger on a sale to both maximize your profit AND, in some cases, minimize the income potential of the player who may have a supply of a commodity that you have just devalued! Money enables you to win auctions and accumulate valuable Rail cards; Commodities will allow you to claim Towns. The juggling act is beautifully handled here. 

In the best games, you always want to do more than a single turn allows as well as having meaningful choices and decisions to make each turn. So it is here. Different approaches to victory must be possible and viable. So it is here. It helps when the game’s graphics enhance play. So it is here. Raccoon Tycoon is what can be called “smooth”. All of its mechanisms flow together smoothly and logically with a learning curve easily conquered. Glenn Drover has done a host of games but this may be his best design yet. This game has more than enough to it to satisfy the demanding gamer while being completely accessible and enjoyable for those less experienced.  Highly recommended!  – – – – Herb Levy

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