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TIN GOOSE

Reviewed by Kevin Whitmore

TIN GOOSE (Rio Grande Games, 3 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 120 minutes; $59.99)

 

Tin Goose, designed by Matt Calkins (Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan) is about building an airline business at the dawn of commercial aviation in the USA.   It is a handsome game, coming in a large square box. Opening the box, you will find a large map board of North America, a substantial pack of cards, several wooden airplane pieces, wooden demand markers shaped like skyscrapers, a few wooden cubes, various cardboard markers, player screens, and some paper money. All of the materials are of nice quality, although this reviewer opted to use poker chips instead of the paper money provided.tingoosebox

This game is an economic battle. At the end of the game, the player who has amassed the greatest wealth will win. There are several ways to build wealth. Let’s explore what you will face as the CEO of your company.

Initially your airline company has a small fleet of Ford Trimotor airplanes (the “Tin Goose”). But in addition, your company is saddled with five unfavorable conditions:

Unproductive Investments – You can earn money by disposing of this card.

Irregular Safety Procedures – You will be much safer if you dispose of this.

Regional Management – You must raise company income as your first action each turn.

Rural Stops Along Routes – This condition exacerbates your vulnerability to oil events.

Generous Dividends – Forces you to skip your Income phase each turn.

These conditions can, and should, be removed as you improve your company. I found these conditions flavorsome and engendered a sense of management towards my company. Should I improve our unsafe practices? Or should I eliminate the excessive dividends? Depending on my business objectives, I can decide how best to improve the company.

At the very beginning of the game each company has their small fleet of planes and just $40 in capital.   To give everyone a different start and a bit of direction, an opening blind-bid auction is conducted for initial starting cities. This is done by revealing some airmail routes. Whoever bids the most will be able to select the starting city of one of the airmail routes. The second highest bidder will then select his choice, etc. Each airmail route will award a company $40 for connecting to the target city listed. This is a gentle push to work in a certain direction.

The map of the USA shows several cities. The initial set up does take a bit of effort. A number of demand tokens will be placed region by region. The demand tokens look like high rise buildings. A few cities receive a large yellow demand marker that will never deplete. Many more cities will get a few smaller gray buildings that deplete as new airlines bring service to that city. The effect is nice and you can easily see where demand is with a quick scan of the board.   Scanning the map for available demand relative to the potential start cities is a worthwhile pursuit.   The map has three types of cities, small cities, large cities, and international cities. Players will want to visit as many large and international cities as they can manage. But visiting small cities with multiple demand tokens is also of interest as they provide some important revenue during the game.tingooseback

A game of Tin Goose is composed of 7 turns. The first two turns are the “Golden Era”. The middle three turns are the “Blue Era”, and the final two turns are the “Red Era”. Players receive 3 gold, 4 blue, and 3 red cards at the start of the game. These are all the cards a player will have access to for the entire game. Of those cards, 1 for each era will not be used. Players play a single card during their turn.

The cards are a mixture of events and fleets (airplanes). Events are negative – strikes, oil expense, and crashes. It is possible to avoid playing one event. But if you have more than one event in any given era, you will be forced to play at least one. However, the events are the minority of the cards. Mostly players will receive various airplane/fleet cards.

A player’s turn is composed of three phases:

  1. Play a card
  2. Conduct 3 actions
  3. Collect Income

 

On your turn, the first thing you do is play a card for the current era. Often this will be an airplane fleet. These cards will name the plane, indicate whether it is small, medium or large,  how much oil it needs, and how dangerous it is. Playing the card starts a once-around auction with the active player getting the final bid. Normally, each new fleet will give two new airplanes to use. The winning bid is paid to the bank. My experience is that often the active player will win the card he puts up for bid – but not always. Players with a capital advantage cast a big shadow in this game.

Alternately, an event can be played. These penalize players in various ways. Strikes are handled in an alternate currency: “labor chips”. Initially, each player is given two labor chips. You can acquire more as an action. So if you see a player spending an action to acquire additional labor chips, this may be a tell. Another is the “Oil” event. Each fleet of airplanes indicates its reliance on oil. The more barrels shown on a card, the harder the oil event will bite. The third and final event is “Crash”. The board has a display where each player shows the total hazard level his company/fleets have. If a crash happens, the company with the best safety record will receive an income boost, while the company with the worst safety record will have an income loss.tingooseback

After the active player plays his card and resolves the event or auction of a fleet, he has three actions. It’s possible to do a few different things but players will tend to want to build out their aviation network.  At first, small planes are the norm and they must extend from the player’s start city along connecting spokes.   Later medium sized planes come into play and these can range a bit further, skipping to adjacent areas without regard to the connecting spokes. Late in the game, large airplanes may come into play and they may visit any location on the domestic map. If a player finds his ready fleet of planes is dwindling, he can take an “extension” chit and place another small airplane. Each extension chit adds 1 more to the fleet’s oil and hazard totals.

Building your network is a way to reach the important cities which pay out at the end of the game.   But you can earn important revenue during the game by visiting cities with demand tokens.   Income is handled in an interesting way.

Bringing service to any “unserved” city will increase a company’s income.   But the unfavorable condition “Generous Dividends” forces companies to skip their income step. So what do you do? The author has provided a vibrant solution: If you bring service to a city with a demand token, you will increase your income but, more importantly, you receive your income level for each demand token present. So for example, if your income is 7 and you visit a city with three demand tokens, you earn a quick $21. Cash is tight in this game so finding these paydays is of key interest.   The map is structured such that you really must visit several small cities on your way to the large cities. You may as well visit the ones where a meaningful bonus is possible.   Of course, demand tokens slowly deplete as they are met so you will have to watch your nearby opponents lest they swoop in on a city you were planning on serving.

There are a handful of other ways to increase your company income but the bonus for serving cities with demand tokens must be considered.   Eventually you may want to retire the generous dividends so you can actually collect your income. But even if you don’t, the income level is germane due to the bonus structure.

It is not possible to solely improve your domestic network. The need for capital may require you to issue a bond, the Regional Management condition will force you to directly improve your income level, and you might even decide you need some additional labor chips. But the other big action you really need to consider is when, and how often, to visit international cities. Visiting an international city is a huge effort, requiring 2 of your 3 actions, a plane of the needed size, and a fee.   Using two actions is a huge cost, especially if your first action is still being mandated by the Regional Management condition.   International locations only provide a benefit at game end, so this is a long term investment.

After a player has conducted his three actions, his company should, in theory, have an “earn Income” step.   However, our experience was that this phase often didn’t happen as players wanted to retire other unfavorable conditions, and thus the “Regional Management” condition precluded this step for most of the game. Consequently, we found we were forgetful of this phase even after we should have been receiving income.

A large part of the game is the auction for new fleets. The auction is just once-around, so players must bid with some vigor in order to either grab a fleet, or force their competitor to pay more than he wanted.   Further, all events have negative financial impacts. If you can plan the play of an event so as to surprise your opponents, you should. The game play is a struggle to achieve your aims. Money is tight, actions are tight, and player adversity is stout.   Attaining an advantage in capital is powerful. Once a player has a bit of cash, he can use it to force his opponents to spend much more than they would like.   Because of this, I urge players later in the order of play to remember that issuing a bond, or tow, can make up for going later in the order.

I am really impressed by the initial five unfavorable business conditions. This is something I have never encountered before. I found the desire to remove these unfavorable conditions very motivating. But I will comment that I wish there was some variation in them. All players receive the exact same starting set of unfavorable conditions. Slightly asymmetrical starting positions would have been nice. Perhaps my company could be slightly more vulnerable to strikes, while my opponent’s safety record was a bit worse. I can understand balancing such variations would be a design challenge. But having differing start positions would add interest to the game for me.

Another nit is how the final game turn is handled. Any airplane cards played in the last turn are discarded without effect. This is understandable but it felt a bit clunky to me. With no new fleets possible in your last turn, this requires some attention to your needs for the end of the game well before you get there.

I have one more quibble – the color text on the cards are bordering on unreadable. They are lightly printed in a super small font.   Younger players will likely have no issue. But older eyes may not be able to read the color text. No effect on game play, but a detail that could have been caught.

If you like friendly games of Carcassonne or Settlers, you may want to avoid Tin Goose as Tin Goose is a “mean” game. If you like games where you can pick on your opponents and grind them down into the dust, Tin Goose may appeal.  Overall, I am pleased with Tin Goose. It is a game I look forward to playing many more times. But I will not be casually offering it to all the players in my life.  I view it as an economic warfare game, and will want to play it with people who don’t mind playing games with their “elbows out”. – – – – –  Kevin Whitmore


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