Thursday session: Wabash Cannonball, Tarot

Wabash Cannonball box

Thanks to series of unexpected delays, I waited and waited for my copy of Wabash Cannonball. Apparently there were problems in just about every part of proceedings. Well, the game did arrive last Wednesday, just in time for our Thursday games. I don’t mind the delays now that I have the game, so thanks JC, I really appreciate you taking the trouble to act as a dealer.

The rules are fairly short and simple, this isn’t a difficult game to teach. The map shows USA from east coast to Chicago. In the beginning, four railroad companies (familiar from other railroad games: B&O, C&O, Pennsylvania, NYC) start from the eastern side of the board. Players buy their shares and expand the railroads west. Chicago is some kind of optional goal.

Each turn players have three actions to choose from: capitalization, development and expansion. With expansion, railroads can expand their network, bringing in extra income. Building track costs money from company treasure. Development is used to improve the hexes, mostly to increase income. When capitalization is chosen, one share (the player taking the action chooses) is auctioned.

There’s a limited number of each action available and whenever two actions run out, there’s a general dividend where having shares pays off: company income is divided by the number of shares sold and each share is paid that amount from the bank.

After dividends, game end conditions are checked. Game ends when three companies are out of shares or track or when nine dividends are done. In the end, cash in hand wins the game. There are few extra tricks involved, most important of which is the Wabash Cannonball. When a company reaches Chicago, it pays extra dividends to the owners and Wabash Cannonball, a small railroad out of Fort Wayne is founded.

It’s fairly simple and quite quick. We played two games, first took 60 minutes and second just 45 minutes. It’s a tricky game. The game begins with four auctions where one share for each company is sold. That’s a tough one for newbies, as coming up with reasonable values is pretty hard. There are few angles to it: because cash is king, you don’t want to pay too much, but if you get the share for a too small amount of money, the company will be poor and won’t be able to do much. After all, selling shares is pretty much the only way companies can make money. It’s particularly important for Pennsylvania, as that company only has three shares to sell.

In our first game, I took the charge of NYC and drove it to Chicago for big bonuses. I had support from Hannu, who also had two NYC shares like I did. Actually, we had the same shares (two NYC, one B&O) for most of the game. That wasn’t so good for Hannu, because I had more cash. One lesson learnt. Riku’s game looked pretty bad, as he had relatively few shares and he had invested heavily in Pennsylvania, which was kind of stuck. Well, turns out he had lots of cash and that’s good. He won the game. The Chicago bonus divident was my only way of catching him, and it wasn’t enough: 100-89-82-65 (I had 89, Hannu 65).

In the second game, I bought Pennsylvania in the beginning and played it aggressively. I quickly built to Pittsburgh, going through the mountains. I decided not to run Pennsylvania to Chicago, instead I buzzed around the mountains, because mines seemed like a good place to be (they add one to income, two more when developed and only one railroad can build track in each mine hex — they’re much better than cities). Of course, the vultures tried to capitalize Pennsylvania, but as I was able to grab a second share, I could let Olli have the third (and he paid a lot for it, bringing plenty of cash in the company treasury) while I developed the heck out of the company. I quit buying new shares fairly soon and in the end, my victory was really obvious: 112-73-68-66.

All in all, it’s a fabulous game. It looks bad, but the stock certificates and money are the worst bits. There are better certificates in the Geek and money needs to replaced with poker chips anyway. The map is ok, it could be better but you get used to it soon and then it doesn’t really matter. The decision-making is delicious, that’s what counts. There are so many interesting angles to it, all sorts of approaches you could take. Hannu enjoyed the game a lot, Olli and Riku seemed to like it as well, and we’re definitely playing again next week. The length it perfect for our Thursday games, we can easily play two games (seems mandatory, because once is just not enough) and still have time for something else.

This time the something else was Slovenian Tarok. Hannu had missed our session last week and wanted to play. Our game was curious. First four rounds were all successful! First me and Olli played, then Hannu and Riku, then me and Riku and then Hannu and Riku again. The best hand of those was the one with me and Riku: Riku had two kings and picked the third one from the widow. He played all three in the first three tricks and after lots of hesitation, played hearts for the fourth trick, which I won with the fourth king. Four tricks, four kings!

Then came the next hand… I bid two, because I had pagat and taroks 21, 20 and 19 to an otherwise decent hand. Riku raised to one, then called a king I didn’t have. Together, we would’ve crushed the opposition. Left without, I obviously kontra’d the game. Riku said rekontra, which I immediately mordkontra’d. The deal was exciting, it was hard to say which side won. As I had revealed my side, Hannu was able to support me, though his plans were foiled by Olli’s good trumps. In the end, Riku’s team was one point short. That’s -258 points, thank you!

For the final round, Hannu called the game in desperate attempt to beat me. His called king was in the widow, always an unpleasant occasion, and of course I called kontra for the game. Well, he made it and scored the double points. That wasn’t enough, though, and once again I was triumphant. Tarok sure is an excellent game…

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