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Thinking Out Loud

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Out of Steam >> Why I'm Not A Fan of AoS

Jay Moore (MUKid), one of my St. Louis gaming buddies, recently had a chance to play Age of Steam again after learning from Chester Ogborn (cornjob) at Geekway to the West. It was interesting to read his recap of the game, and he was eager to get another game together... so he sent an email out to me and a few others trying to look for additional players.

That's when I took a closer look at the game and tried to define my dislike for the game. Note that I'm not a "hater" of the game, but simply not that interested in playing again. I currently rank it 5.5 out of 10 on BoardGameGeek.com.

First, I do not like games which become a foregone conclusion during gameplay. This holds true for usually longer games, where after a few bad turns or plays, you're pretty much out of the game and reduced to the role of a spectator. This happened to me early on in Age of Steam, as well as games like Advanced Civ and the various new Risk incarnations. That may not kill a game for me completely, if the other aspects of the game are engaging (or if it has a short playing time) but it certainly detracts from the experience.

I also think I simply dislike the types of decisions required in Age of Steam -- I can see that they are important, strategic/tactical decisions, but of a kind I don't enjoy (such as action selection among various abilities which all seem to pale in comparison to my first choice) or am not good at (the 2+ turns in advance to plan out where you want to build track based on foreseeable shipping paths developing).

I far prefer games with a sharper focus on the here and now, where I feel that optimizing my current turn can have a strong bearing on the final outcome, rather than requiring my current turn to plant the seeds for optimizing a turn later in the game. That's not to say I dismiss games where you need to keep an eye on the future -- I just think Age of Steam requires more of that than I enjoy... or failing to plan ahead far enough in advance can put you in an unrecoverably bad position.

With so many other games I truly enjoy that take about the same amount of time, I can't see what another session of Age of Steam would reveal that would dramatically alter my opinion -- especially after playing Stephenson's Rocket, which I felt was a superior train game all the way around.

By comparison, I rank Stephenson's Rocket a 7.5 out of 10 and would far prefer playing that to Age of Steam. Here's what I had to say about Stephenson's Rocket on the 'Geek: Felt a bit like RK's take on Acquire, with a bit of Age of Steam thrown in. Unfortunately, we had two copies of the german rules translation, which had some significant differences, so the first game was a wash -- but I saw enough to know the game deserves another play.

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