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TRANSATLANTIC

Reviewed by Herb Levy

TRANSATLANTIC (Rio Grande Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 13 and up, 60-90 minutes; $64.95)

 

The Industrial Revolution started shrinking the world. With industry came power, power to drive engines and create forms of transportation able to link continents, to bring people and goods closer together in a shorter amount of time. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one of the modes of choice to do this were powerful steamships. The growth and development of these steamships serves as the theme of the new game from Mac Gerdts as players build fleets of these majestic ships to span the oceans in the aptly named game Transatlantic

All players begin with an individual player board, a supply of “Captains” and “Trade Houses”, a “Director” token, an identical set of cards (all in their chosen color) plus an initial bankroll of £150. Sailing Ships are randomly distributed with the one with the oldest ship becoming the Start player.

Rather than your traditional large board, smaller and separate boards representing regions are used: the North Atlantic (or New York) region and as many other regions as there are players. The North Atlantic (or New York) region has room for four steamships; all other regions have slots for three. A deck of “Extension cards” (with more enhanced abilities than the cards in starting decks) with A valued cards on top of B valued cards is created. Five of these are drawn and placed on display. A supply of coal cubes is available to all. And then there are the all important steamships. 

Steamship cards are divided into segments based on their age, identified by the number (1 through 9) on their backs. Each segment is individually shuffled and then stacked in number order with 1 on top and 9 on the bottom. (Depending on the number of players, some ships may be removed from play.) Six of these are placed in the Ship Market.

All ship cards depict their name, a year, a basic price, money generated when they transport, their “flag” (black, blue, green, white or red), tonnage, speed and passenger capacity. In finishing set up, players, in reverse turn order, may buy one of these available ships and deploy in one of the regions. (In initial deployment, the player must place his ship – along with a captain and 1 coal – in the region containing a ship controlled by the player on his or her left.) Now, the game begins.

On each turn, a player chooses one of the cards in his hand and does the specified actions.

Shipyard allows a player to buy one or two ships from market and then immediately deploy one. A ships’s cost is the price printed on its card (in the reddish box) plus any modifiers that appear on the market. (The first ship in the market has no additional cost but, as you move further to the right, additional money is demanded.) Once a ship is bought, the first card left in the row is removed to the “docks”, remaining ships slide down the track and new ships drawn to refill any vacancies. Deployment is a very important action and how a player handles it can be critical. 

Ships get placed in a region according to AGE. A “younger” ship (i.e. a ship with a date closer to today) takes the top slot of a region (where it IS the newest ship), pushing “down a slot” all other ships there. If a ship gets pushed out of the region, it can make a “farewell tour” and transport one last time (providing it has a captain AND a coal). More on this later. There are a few rule exceptions at the start of the game (to help fill out the region boards) but a key point to remember is that placing the fastest ship in the North Atlantic (or New York), gives that player a “Blue Riband” (a marker placed on that player’s individual board). This will prove beneficial and will help in scoring later as we shall see. 

Transport allows a ship to be deployed and for up to 2 ships controlled by a player to transport. Transporting requires that the ship has at least one coal on it. Ironically, transporting does NOT move the ship card. Instead, the ship(s) generate money, the amount shown in each card’s green box. 

Region allows ALL ships in one region to transport but gives the player who puts this card into action a bonus equal to the income of the OLDEST transporting ship of another player there!

Coal allows you to place additional coal on your ships (the number of coal markers  you have on your player board + 2). 

Invest gives you 3 options: Build a Trade House in a region (most regions have room for 3, North Atlantic/New York has room for 4) for the price on its space in the region (from £20 to £50) AND take a green, white or red marker (for freight, mail or passengers) for the individual player board OR if unable to build a Trade House, pay £50 for the marker OR purchase for £50 a coal burner (placing it on his board) and get 2 coal for ship distribution.

Ship Agent allows you to copy the card last played by an opponent.

Director allows you to scoop up the cards you have played but you MUST have played at last four cards before doing this. If at least SIX cards have been played (including the Director), you can claim a coal, passenger, freight or mail marker. If at least EIGHT cards are reclaimed, you can get TWO different markers! In addition, the player may claim one of the “Enhanced Action” cards (such as Fleet which can give you a burst of Victory Points) and play it immediately! This card will be cycled into that player’s deck for future use as well.  (The Director token that all players start with allows a player to COPY and use an Enhanced Action card on display ONE TIME ONLY!)

As the game progresses, Victory Points accumulate. Trade Houses owned in a region by a player give that player 1 VP for each ship that player controls in that region EVERY time it transports. Ships forced out of a region will score VPs before being scrapped based on how much of that color is filled on your player board plus the number of ships of that color in the docks. 

The player board has five columns, each matching a color of a ship’s flag (blue, black, green, white and red). Each row has a value (more valuable the further down that row is filled) used when a ship scores. For example, if a player has enough black (coal) markers so that he is on the 7 VP row of his board and there are three black ships in the dock, a black ship forced out of a region and scrapped will earn him 10 VPs. 

When the last ship has been has been bought from the ship market, that round is completed. After one more complete round, final scoring occurs. 

All ships (and any Headquarters which appear and may be bought as ships are) controlled by a player (either on the board or waiting to be deployed) score. In addition, players receive 1 VP for each £100. Finally, the worth of individual player boards is calculated, Players receive Victory Points for each COMPLETED row of markers, the first row worth 5 VPs, second 10 VPs, third 15 VPs and fourth 20 with points scored for markers in the highest incomplete row (from 1 to 4 points depending on how high it is). The player with the highest combined total is victorious! (Tie? Then the player controlling the youngest ship wins!)

Transatlantic also offers two variants. In the first, a President card replaces the Director and contracts are introduced. The President card, when played, allows players to collect contracts for placing ships with higher values for tonnage, speed and/or passenger capacity getting 1 contract per characteristic surpassed. These contracts can then be used to buy markers (at a 3 contracts for 1 marker rate – but never a Riband) or sold for £20 each. In the second, the Ship Market is modified. Only ships purchased from the first three positions will start with coal, others start without. The President/contract variant gives you more opportunities to fill your player board and introduces another possible revenue stream. The second can be a bit harsh as ships in the latter portion of the market already cost a premium; lacking coal to start is certainly a disadvantage. But if you’re looking to raise the difficulty level, this is certainly a way to do it. 

As you might be able to tell from the Lusitania card above, cards depict actual ships (there is even a booklet provided giving the history of these ships) which adds a nice touch to the theme. The paper money is of very high quality and a pleasure to handle, a sharp departure from the “standard” (or shall we say, “sub-standard” quality) in too many other games. While the cards themselves look good with their portrayals of these classic ships, the dates listed (essential to ship placement and player strategy) can be hard to read, especially from across the table. The black, blue and green colors chosen for them are all very dark and can be easily confused so good lighting when playing is essential. (It would been a good idea to use different styles of flags or icons for each color to help easily differentiate them.)

Mac Gerdts made his reputation by utilizing the rondel game mechanism beautifully in games like Antike and Navegador. With Transatlantic though, the rondel is abandoned in favor of cards. This technique is becoming more and more popular as we’ve seen this used in games ranging from Stefan Dorra’s Kreta, to the more recent Century Spice Road (featured last issue) and now in a variation of the mechanism from Gerdt’s owns highly regarded and popular Concordia. Ironically, this proves to be a two-edged sword.

In past designs, Gerdts has shown an inclination towards empires and world power. (All you need do is look at Concordia and Imperial.) In  a sense, Transatlantic suffers (unfairly) as it appears in the wake of the phenomenally popular Concordia, a tough act to follow. Transatlantic is not as grandiose in scope, less majestic and more methodical. For example, players need to be methodical in completing the rows on player boards which are important in end game scoring while being sure to get the Riband (blue tiles) that are only gotten by placing the youngest ship in the North Atlantic/New York region. This relative rarity compels players to make sure that ships purchased are new enough to be placed there. Speaking of rarity, the game’s mechanism of “docks” smoothly indicates the relative rarity of the different colors of ships; the more of a color in the dock, the fewer of that color is available to be bought, making those ships potentially more valuable when they score. Victory Points are earned slowly in the game at first but, as the docks and player boards fill, a juggernaut is created with piles of VPs generated as ships get scrapped amplifying the pace of play.

Transatlantic can be quite a juggling act. In order to win,  you face the tasks of maximizing coal production, ship transporting and building a valuable fleet of ships while improving your initial card hand to help make it all happen. On the other hand, keeping an eye on building and balancing your player board, the major source of Victory Points both in calculating the worth of your ships as well as in final scoring, matters.  It’s a pleasing predicament! When you couple that with the historical feel conveyed, Transatlantic transcends the typical Euro while transporting gamers into an earlier time where they can enjoy moving full steam ahead!- – – – – Herb Levy


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