Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Aaron Lauster


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Upon reading the rules my first impression of Days of Steam was that the game actually was much lighter than many other train games, and indeed the whole game had a duration below 40 minutes. No gameboard is included, but instead the players are required to construct a gridwork of rails during the course of the game. Thus, several dozens of square rail tiles showing all kinds of straights, bends, forks and crossings were shuffled and placed face down at hand. Each player is dealt a starting hand of three track tiles. An additional deck of town tiles also is shuffled, and whereas one random card from this deck is placed at the center of the table as a starting tile where the locomotives of all players are placed, two more town tiles will be openly placed next to the deck of town tiles. All three of these town tiles will be assigned to random cargo cubes (out of four different colours), and during the course of the game the players will try to transport cargo cubes to cities of matching colours in order to collect the cubes as victory points.

Apart from their locomotives and their staring hand of track tiles the players receive a small locomotive tile on which the current steam level of their locomotive is marked. The steam available to a locomotive will be needed to determine its movement possibilities, but before a movement becomes possible the players first have to lay a bit of track. Thus, during a player's turn he can either move his locomotive, play a new track tile or - if the locomotive stands at one of the rare water towers - pass a round to tank water and gather steam. The first few turns of the game are dominated by the players laying their first few track tiles from their hands, always replacing laid tiles with new tiles from the stockpile. Slowly the players develop a gridwork of rails, but since every tile also gives its player a small allowance to increase his steam level the locomotives soon will start to move. Only a few rules will need to be observed, most prominently that there may be no sudden dead ends of track, and the players also are free to place one of the revealed city tiles provided it can be placed at a position which is at least two rail away from the next city. Such a placed city tile then is replaced with a newly drawn city tile from the deck, and once again two random cargo cubes are placed on the new tile.

At that time the locomotives will start to move in earnest, since they now have the aim to load cargo cubes and deliver them to cities of a matching colour. The locomotives must pay one steam for every tile they enter, and an additional steam must be paid if they enter a trail section on a hill or which is occupied by another locomotive. Quite nice are the rules for forks, since here the directions of the track and the forks must be observed, so that a player who wants to turn into a fork which does not face his direction needs to end his movement on the fork so that he can start a backwards movement in his following turn. The loading of a cargo cube is also quite easy, since a player can place it onto his locomotive when he moves through the town with the cargo.

Thus, no dice is required for the actual movement of the locomotive, but a dice comes into the game if a locomotives moves more than two track tiles in one turn. For each bend the locomotive drives through at this speed, the player needs to make a derailing check. Thus, a dice must be rolled, and the result must be alt least equal to the current steam level. If it is lower, the locomotive derails and is returned to its starting point, but it loses all steam which the player wanted to invest in this turn.

As indicated, steam is mainly gained through the placement of new track tiles, but the steam level also may be increased by four if a player decides to let his locomotive remain for a full turn at a water tower. Furthermore, the game gets into its final phase once the last town has been placed, and now each player receives an additional stockpile of five coal cubes. Players now are free to trade in any of their coal cubes on a one-to-one base at the beginning of their turns, and this results in a final race in which the players try to collect the required victory points.

The game is won by the first player to collect 13 victory points, and each cargo cube which a player could delivery counts for him as two victory points. However, a bonus point can be scored during the track placement phase when a player places the last track tile which is needed to complete a full loop of tracks, and further bonus points are awarded if a player succeeds in collecting different colours of cargo cubes. Cubes of two colours provide one bonus point, cubes of three colours three bonus points, and a player who collects cubes of all four colours gets five bonus points so that he instantly wins the game when he gets a cube of the last missing colour.

It seems that the name of the game Days of Steam has been chosen quite thoughtfully, since in comparison to games like Warfrog's Age of Steam this new game is lighter and plays much quicker. True enough, there have been quite a few track lying games over the years, and if you go back more than a few years you might arrive at titles like Linie 1 from GOLDSIEBER or the even older Rock Island which was one of the first games from HANS IM GLÜCK. Both games were about track tile placement and the movement of locomotives (or trams in case of Linie 1), but as a matter of fact the movement rules in Days of Steam offer a much more interesting, strategic approach. As indicated, no dice are removed for the direct operation of movement, but instead players control their movement allowance through their coal level, and the dice only needs to be rolled if a player wants to take a risk. Especially these movement rules with the listed specialities for forks, hills, coal and water towers let the game stand apart from other tile placement games which led to a somewhat random race in the final phase of the game, and to my mind Days of Steam is the ideal starting point for getting deeper into the world of railway games.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany