Sunday, 1 May 2016

Through the Desert #2 - Glass Road

I enjoyed writing Wednesday's review so much that I'm doing this one early! But it's just to set up for a regular Sunday column, so long as they don't get deleted ;)

As alluded in last week's comments, I'm steering this series towards the broader direction of games that appear to be aimed at cube-fondling Eurogamers yet might appeal to a broader audience. This time I'll be taking a look at Glass Road. I had this on my initial list of games to cover and the fact I got to play it this morning is another reason I'm writing this up!

So this is one of Uwe Rosenberg's (Agricola, Caverna, Le Havre) lesser-discussed games which I think was robbed of more buzz by unfortunate release timing. It's a pleasant looking building and resource management game, like his more famous ones, but with a really fun and interactive card-driven system.

Here's the player board you'll be working from, full of features you can either harness or remove.

This is mid-game so I've been mucking around with mine a bit, but you get the idea.

Here's a small central display of buildings available to create. Some buggers have already snatched a few of them away - sorry about that.

And here's the slightly dizzying resource wheel showing what each player currently has:

This shows how your 'raw' goods are automatically transformed into glass and brick. If either of the brown numbered spaces are empty, the 'hands' rotate clockwise until there's something in them. So for example, if I were to gain two food on the lower wheel (represented by the piece that looks like an upside down bowl of porridge), it looks like I'd have one brick and two food, coal and clay. But the 'hands' would rotate twice, leaving me with 3 brick and 0 of everything else. Takes a game to wrap your head around!

Finally, the real meat and potatoes are the cards:

Now these bad boys are one of the two key features that make Glass Road stand out. There are only 4 rounds. Every player has the same set of 15 cards, and each round all players will simultaneously select 5 cards that they might want to use this round, setting them face down. I'm always a fan of simultaneous turns like this as it means the game moves quicker and less waiting around for Mr Slow. Believe it or not, that's not always me!

So everyone's picked their 5 cards, what now? The start player chooses a card to reveal from his set of 5. If anyone else also included that card in their 5, they reveal it too and can also use the card. But... each card has two actions to choose from. In this situation all the players who revealed this card can only use one of the two actions. But if no-one else had the card, the start player would get to use both actions instead. Once that card has been resolved, the next player chooses a card, and so on until everyone has chosen 3 cards to put forward.

This central system has so many fantastic layers to it. It forces you to pay attention to what everyone else is doing in what could have so easily been a multiplayer solitaire game. It forces you to think a bit outside of the box and try to go for things that help you without helping anyone else. And it forces you to plan ahead and order your actions carefully to avoid screwage. In short, it dumps a big portion of player interaction into a genre that's infamously lacking in it.

Another key feature is that this game slashes the playtime of the typical lengthy Euro. This one is easily tackled in an hour, what with there only being 4 rounds and everyone thinking at the same time. And it packs a load of puzzling into that time.

For me this is a bit of a gem. It's rare to find a brain burner like this that you can play in under an hour, and there's a lot of fun to be had in trying to read your opponents and work your plans around them. I'm sure the 'peaceful building in the countryside' setting will still struggle to get many pulses racing, but I think there's a lot to enjoy here for a wider audience than it first seems.

Geek rating: 5 units of wood out of 6.

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