Snowdonia – lots of fun to be had in North Wales

Last night saw our first play of Snowdonia, the new game from Tony Boydell and Surprised Stare Games. Tony has previous designed games such as Fzzzzt and Totemo, both of which I own and enjoy.

I’d played a final draft of this game at the UK Games Expo back in May, and liked it very much then, so I’ve been looking forward to the release of this game ever since – it was launched at the recent Essen Spiele event in October.

The game uses one of my favourite mechanics: Worker Placement.

All the players are working to complete the Snowdon Mountain Railway, and the gives various actions that players can take: Get Resources, Excavate Rubble, Convert Resources, Lay Track, Build (Stations), gather Contracts or Survey further up the mountain.

The game follows a fairly easy path – each player has 2 workers (though this can be increased to 3) and in each round, he places each of his workers in an area that allows an action to be performed.

Resources for the game are Iron, Stone & Coal. Iron is required to make Steel, which in turn is required to lay track and as a building material in stations. Stone is required to help build stations, and coal is used to power trains that the players can use to transport extra workers for their round.

You get victory points for laying track and building parts of stations, but also for fulfilling contracts. Contracts can be chosen during the game, and each one gives the player who owns it a bonus for completion , plus a one-off special ability.

Also (as it’s Wales) the weather plays a vital part in the game, as it will vary between the odd sunny day, but mainly days of rain and fog which affect how quickly actions (especially rubble excavation and track laying) can be done, if at all.

There are many different strategies in the game, and that coupled with the changes in the weather, and the fact that the game can be played with up to 5 players (even solo) means that each game that you play is liable to be very different.

As an added bonus, because of the way the game is set-up (the track and stations are laid out on cards around the edge of the board) it is actually very easy to produce variants & different scenarios for the game, using the same mechanics. Indeed, the game itself comes with a variant – if you turn over several of the stations the game becomes about the building of the Blaenau Festiniog railways, which has it’s own set of rules variations.

In short, an excellent game. One of the better Worker Placement games around and I think one of the best boardgames released this year. Our game last night was played with the full 5 players, and took just over 2 hours to complete (along with 30 minutes of set-up and rules explanation). It was a huge hit with everyone.

One minor complaint though…I pre-ordered my copy direct from Surprised Stare prior to Essen. They were unable to ship to the UK before Essen due to delays in getting the game from the printers, but it was shipped immediately afterwards. The trouble was, they also shipped all the games to the board game retailers immediately afterwards too, so that I discovered that I received my pre-ordered copy of the game on the same day that a friend received his, which had been ordered from an online games store. OK, mine contained some limited edition cards for the game (4, to be precise), but inclusive of P&P, his copy cost him £8 less than mine.

I don’t think I will be pre-ordering again…

P.S. The limited edition cards, though few in number, do add some nice touches to the game:

Firstly, their is an extra action (H) which allows a player to search through the discarded contract cards and choose one.

There is an extra station, that is placed next to Llanberis (with additional track, if playing in the 1-2 player game), which players can pefrom build actions on. the fact that this station is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which deserves some sort of recognition just for getting it in the game! (And it is rumoured that an expansion is being worked on that will include this station in a ‘proper’ variant)

The last two cards are both extra trains. ‘Jimmy’ is a train (i believe from a children’s book) which always allows you to excavate at least 2 rubble, whilst the other is none other than Ivor the Engine, probably the most famous welsh train, despite being a cartoon character!

I can’t wait to play this game again…

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