Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Yardmaster Preview

Designed by Steven Aramini
Published by Crash Games
2 to 4 players
20 minutes
Set collecting, trading, and train building
Prototype version reviewed, on Kickstarter soon

I won a copy of a prototype version of Yardmaster from a contest on Board Game Geek. I was very excited to get my copy. Yardmaster recently won the ION award from the 2014 Salt Lake Gaming Convention. This award is given to......blah blah blah.

There are a lot of train themed games out there, but I have yet to play one myself that doesn't involve train routes - until I played Yardmaster. Yardmaster seems to be unique in this regard as the goal is to be the first to build or link up your train before your opponents. You are building a train by purchasing railcars using sets of cargo cards. Players score a set amount of points for the different railcars added to their train. First player to the designated amount of points wins.

Components and Rule Book
As this is a prototype I won't be saying much considering that what I played with was only a prototype. That being said, the quality of the prototype cards were very nice and I would be happy with that quality for the final version.

I would also like to say that even though high quality cardboard tokens could work for the exchange rate tokens, I would love to see these produced as high quality poker chips. Or at least an option for such as a stretch goal.

The rules presented in the prototype were straight forward and we'll explained. Simple game play is not over complicated by rules. Seem good enough. I would like to see some other variants possibly (again, maybe via stretch goals). I share some variant ideas a bit later.

The artwork is really cool. It is a good overall analogy to how I feel about the game. Clean, crisp, simple, and enjoyable. Like the rule book, the artwork does a lot by not over complicating things. Words are provided with symbols or depictions of railcars along with an old school feeling color theme that just seems to fit the game so well.

Game Play and Thoughts
Setup is easy. Shuffle the railcar and cargo card decks, put three railcar cards face up and deal out three cargo cards to each player. It may be very small, but I like the fact that it is easy to remember the number of cards as it is three and three and this doesn't change with amount of players. Each player also starts with one of the four exchange rate tokens given out at random.

Game play consists of performing two actions on your turn. You may perform each available action multiple times if you wish although you can only purchase one railcar each turn. Basically there is three different actions you can perform.

Gain a new cargo card
You may gain a cargo card by drawing blindly from the top of the facedown cargo deck, or you may take the top cargo card from the cargo discard pile (you can't perform the later if the top card is a bonus card).

Gain a new railcar
You may purchase one of the three face up railcars from the center by paying the number of cargo cards matching the color and number shown on that railcar. The color represents the type of cargo/railcar and the number on the car is both the cost and point value.

Trade exchange rate token
Each player begins the game with and can utilize at any time the 2:1 exchange as shown on their current token (i.e. If you have the coal exchange rate token, two coal can be any other cargo). As one of your actions you may exchange your token with any other player or with any tokens left in the bank.

The Yardmaster token allows the player to take an additional action (three instead of the normal two). This token is passed to the right after that players turn and play continues to the left. The first player to the goal point value is the winner.

Building your train
When purchasing a railcar from the center, this must be added to your train if possible. The first card behind the engine can be anything, but then cards to be added after must match the color or number of the last car. If a purchased railcar can't be added, it gets stored in a player's sorting yard. Then, later in the game, cars will be added to the train if able, not costing any actions to do so.

Yardmaster is a great light set collecting game. Very easy to learn, Yardmaster still offers some nice strategy while keeping it simple. I really think that the artwork is great and refreshing. The game play is interesting, because players need to balance nabbing a train each turn and waiting to try and get a larger point value train (while risking the possibility that an opponent would nab that same train). Switching an exchange token with an opponent could mess with your opponent's strategy and perhaps keep a railcar still around while you try and get the last cargo that you need. The game is a light card game though, and at times the options seem very limited. I guess that is where some of the other strategy and risk taking comes into play. You will most likely be taking many cargo cards blindly, so that adds a luck element to the game (and yet you have the option of taking a known card - but that is just it - it is only one face up cargo card to choose from or you take one blindly. Interesting.

The train building and sorting yard is also an intriguing thing. You can purchase some higher priced railcars even if they can't be added to your train right now, but you risk not being able to add them at all. Placing lower valued cars is a safer bet that you will be able to continue to add more and more cars, but then again is taking 4 actions to purchase 4 different 1 value cars better than taking 1 action to purchase a 4 valued car? You won't be able to add on your train as easily, but you still have the same color you can add and get the value lower again to match other cars. But I ramble. The truth is, the game has some strategy, the game is simple, and it has a large luck component as well. Is it all balanced? I'm not sure yet, but I can say that it is a fun game that you can start playing within a couple of minutes and provides a nice casual game play that can be enjoyed by a wide range of people and that is How Lou Sees It.

A big SHOUT OUT to Crash Games for the prototype version sent to me free of charge and for the opportunity to review Yardmaster. If you are interested in learning more, I will post a link to the Kickstarter here when available. Video review also provided below. Enjoy!

Variant Ideas
-Sorting yard rail cars must be played/added to your train in order of purchase.
-Play with the exchange tokens face down. Reveal it when you use it. As an action you can take all the tokens and shuffle them face down and pass out again.
-Play either without the exchange tokens, or play with fixed tokens (can't trade them).

(Work in progress, I may add more ideas for variants, or house rules here in the future.)

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