Finncon + Board Game Club: Steam over Holland, West Riding

Steam over Holland box

I’ve been too busy to write a session report from Finncon. Well, now I have time. I’ll combine reports, as I just returned from our board game club, where I had a rather splendid little session. So, watch out for another blog entry of epic proportions… I played Steam over Holland in both sessions, so that’ll get some extra attention.

Let’s start with that. In Finncon we had five players: me, Olli, Robert, Ansi and Tombad. All were new. There was some fumbling with the rules, but generally Steam over Holland is pretty simple game — all of us were familiar with other 18xx titles. One of my biggest problems was to remember the 60 % holding limit — common rule in 18xx, but critically missing from my favourite, 1825.

That first game took about four hours. It was slow going a lot of the time… Olli for one is notoriously slow in 18xx (but not in other games), but the others took their time as well. Steam over Holland shouldn’t be very long — after all, it’s just five stock rounds and ten operating rounds, and that’s it. The second game, with four players (me, Olli and two newbies), was just two hours 45 minutes, which was much better.

In both games one thing was clear: there isn’t a lot of money going round. The first two or three stock rounds were pretty quiet, with not much trading going on. People simply didn’t have money to buy shares. That meant that in the first game we played most of the game with five companies and in the second we used four railroads. Steam over Holland has an interesting rule where starting a railroad requires a purchase of N shares, where N is the phase number. That makes starting companies very expensive, so in the late game when you might have the money, it just isn’t profitable anymore.

So, I’m a little wary about that: I would prefer more action with the shares. I kind of miss the question of when to dump the first company and to move on… In both our games starting a new railroad wasn’t really an option. In the first one I decided that my railroad wouldn’t do much, so I dumped it and invested elsewhere (and played as a pure investor or spectator the last four operating rounds, which was somewhat boring). In the second game, I just invested more in my own company.

Robert was very close to going bankrupt in the first game. Had I had 10 guldens more, I could’ve bought a train that would’ve finished Robert off. Instead he survived and went on to win the game with a heavy margin (2264, I was second with 1850). The second game was closer: one of the newbies won with 2106, I was second with 2088 and Olli third with 2024. The other newbie had 1661.

But it’s a good game. I would like to see more stock round action and perhaps more companies in play. I do appreciate the shiny looks and the generally excellent production. This game is a pleasure to play. I need to experient with it a bit more, I suppose… perhaps trying to start more companies earlier or something like that, though I don’t know where the money would come. I’ll have to see… Fun game, and a good intro 18xx in my opinion, except the game is darn expensive (the downside of shiny components).

We also played West Riding in Finncon. West Riding is an auction game: a player chooses a railroad share to auction, and the winner of the auction gets the share and uses the money bid to draw some track on the map. More track means more dividends for the company. Individual company shares can be traded for grouping company shares, which gain value during the game and are very powerful in the end.

The problem with this game was the sheer amount of auctions combined with the difficulty of appraising the value of a company. It’s very hard to say how much a company is worth, which makes the auctions rather hazy. Also, the Riding series system where there is at least one auction per player and then the auctions continue until someone runs out of money is slightly problematic — I’m not sure I like it here.

Our game was a bit strange anyway, as the lower grouping managed to cut quite a bit of the map for themselves, making those companies much better. It didn’t really show in the prices, though, because all shares were terribly expensive anyway.

West Riding is a game for accountants: there’s ton of book-keeping and calculation. The value of the railroads must be constantly re-calculated. Our game took, what, three hours or so, and I’m sure a proper computer version would cut most of that time. That’s the only way to get me to try this game again… I think there might be a good game here somewhere, but it’s drowning under calculation and confusing auctions. As it is, playing West Riding would be a waste of time I could use for better games. Nobody I played with will play the game again — I suppose that says something. These are not weaklings, either, but hard-core euro gamers.

So, in case somebody is interested, my game is up for sale. It’s currently listed in Geek for 30 euros plus shipping, but I’m open to offers. It’s such a small game that the shipping to US isn’t much.

Then fast-forward to today. Our club had a nice turn-out, with four or five games going on most of the time. Plenty of Agricola — we had three copies available, funny enough. I started with some light fillers (Set which I totally dominated, Diamant which I didn’t and some Crokinole, too).

We did play five rounds of Sheepshead, which is the American version of German Schafkopf. It’s a nice little trick-taking game, best for five players (which is what we had). It’s one of those fairly tricky games, an Ace-Ten game with funny trumps. Queens are the highest trumps, then jacks, then diamonds. Each player gets six cards from a 32-card deck and the two remaining cards are a widow.

One of the players is a declarer (first willing player starting from forehand) and the player holding jack of diamonds is the declarer’s partner. They try to score 61 points. It’s simple, if you’re familiar with the type, but in our game few were. Outi in particular got a headache. It was fun, though, and I would definitely play Sheepshead again if I needed a five-player trick-taker where everybody plays.

Qwirkle box cover

After Steam over Holland, I challenged Olli to a duel of Qwirkle. It was a close game, until Olli played some really nasty moves in the end ruining my game. Ok, so I did bump once or twice to my own nasty blocking moves, but that happens… It’s a fun game, and I like playing it with just two players. We got an audience, too, which was fun — I suppose it would be nice to play in a tournament with people watching, that does give some extra boost to the game I guess.

One last game: I didn’t have to ask Hannu twice to play some Le Truc. We played a proper three-game match, which I took home 2-1. The first game was a massacre, 12-2, I got good cards in just about every hand. Then I went and lost the second game 12-2 and finally won the last one 12-4. During the process we had some absolutely smashing hands, Hannu is a delightful opponent for Truc. This is a game I really, really recommend for two players looking for a fun game.

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