As I write this, we are in the process of reviewing the maps for the first Dual Gauge expansion pack. This adds two new maps to the base game, Honshu, set on the main island of Japan, and Wisconsin, set in the mythical and fantastical land of Wisconsin.
You’re probably wondering, wait a second, what about the base game, which has been out of print since early December? Well, the good news is that we finally got the wood bits we were waiting for, and are also starting the long and tedious process of sorting, counting, and bagging them, with the intention of re-releasing the game in late March. This is also going to depend on when the cards arrive.
And you’re probably wondering, wait a second, cards, what cards, I didn’t know this game had cards! And, hey, neither did we! In fact, part of the whole point of “these discs are both shares and stations” was to avoid having to need both cards and wood bits, as those two items are both ordered in bulk and subject to the vagaries of our cash-flow, which runs somewhat counter to our print-on-demand model. But after the game came out, folks let us know that the Presidency cylinders were a little fiddly, and on the Portugal map especially the company charters were a little cramped. As a result of this, we’re switching over to tarot-sized cards to serve as company charters. These will be packed in with the new copies of the game, and we’ll also be packing the charter cards with this first expansion. (At some point later down the road we’ll offer them as a separate upgrade, but we want to make sure we have enough of them to handle the demand for the re-release and the expansion first.)
So, with that first expansion, you’ll get the company charter cards, plus two new maps, one of which we’re talking about today: Honshu. When I was still working on the base game, Honshu was at the tippy-top of my expansion to-do list. The shape of the long, skinny island would make for a very, very tight map that would stand in contrast to the base game maps.
Portugal has 77 hexsides, providing a hexside-to-track piece ratio of 2.2:1, while Detroit has 103 hexsides with a ratio of 2.9:1. Honshu by contrast has 57 hexsides, which initially gave me a ratio of 1.6:1. I say initially because in playtesting it became apparent that the game was running about one or two turns longer than it should, so I removed six track pieces from the mix, giving the map a final ratio of 1.9:1, which is still very tight and unforgiving!
“Tight and unforgiving” was the name of the game this time around, both in terms of geography – the companies can very quickly get in each other’s way – and the financial aspect. Key to this is the map’s gimmick. At the beginning of the game, there are only five cities in play, and eleven dits. Only four of those cities have an available space to token, and two of those serve as natural chokepoints cutting off access to major revenue centers.
But not to worry! We’re building these railroads during the Meiji Restoration, a period of rapid industrialization. Each of us is going to get two Industrialization discs, which work a little like the Urbanization action in my Irish Gauge (which of course I cribbed from a number of other cube rail titles). Placing one of these discs turns a lowly $2 dit into a bustling $5 city, and opens up a new space to token. Now, we can create chokepoints.
Let’s actually talk about one of those right now: the dit to the southwest of Noto.
Noto is the starting location of the yellow railroad. Yellow’s not a terrible company by any means – it starts with a free standard 3T, and there’s a decent chance, especially at 3P, that the 3Ts will be permanent. But it comes next-to-last in the operating order, and being positioned on a peninsula, it cannot build across the blue hexside to its southeast. If that dit to its southwest gets tokened – excuse me, when that dit to its southwest gets tokened, it can’t build any track, which means it can’t pay dividends, which means its stock price will continue to drop while it withholds $15 into its coffers each turn. Now, it’ll get to pay out during the last turn like everyone else – unless that 3T did rust and they were unable to buy a train because they’ve been stuck in the junk stock zone turn after turn.
This maneuver is as obvious as it is preventable. Because if the yellow railroad manages to plop down a token before that dit gets industrialized, none of that bad stuff is going to happen. So the question you have to answer as the yellow president isn’t, “how do I get a permanent train?”, because you probably are starting with a permanent train, but “how do I get a token down before folks start industrializing?”, and its corollary, “can I token someone else out before they do it to me?”
Which makes this as good a time as any to explain how industrialization actually works. You place one of your tokens during the turn of a company of which you are the president, in a dit to which that company is connected, paying $50 out of your own pocket for the privilege. That’s an important part – it’s your own money, not the company’s, that pays for the industrialization. And you might be wondering, okay, why on earth would I do that? At the end of the game, each player that has one or both of their markers remaining loses $100 for each marker.
This has a couple of important ramifications in the stock round. $50 is a big ask, and if your company comes up early in the operating order, there’s a good chance you might need to forgo a stock purchase in order to have the cash on hand in the moment you need it. Of course, that moment won’t come at all if you’re not controlling any companies. On the Portugal or Detroit map, if someone takes over your company, it might synergize with their other company, but it usually isn’t going to be a huge deal. Take over someone’s company on this map, however, and they’re stuck with their markers, possibly for the rest of the game.
As you can imagine, you generally want to place both of your markers before the end of the game, but that’s not a guarantee of success, anymore than not placing both markers is a guarantee of failure. I’ve seen savvy investors overcome the $200 end-game deficit with impressive portfolios and good runs. And I’ve seen a player who worked their tail off to get both markers placed, only to come in dead last because they skipped a share buy when they shouldn’t have. Getting the timing of it – both in terms of when to place them, and when to push toward a game end trigger – is vitally important.
There are two other wrinkles with industrialization. One concerns player count. At 3P, one of the players is going to start with two companies. In a previous blog-thing, we discussed how the player who wins two companies in the initial auction should end up stuck with the map’s “garbage” company. For reasons that are probably obvious, that company on the Honshu map is yellow. Now, there are garbage companies and then there are garbage companies, and yellow in Honshu isn’t as terrible as yellow in Detroit. There’s a pitfall to be avoided, and one of the best ways to avoid it is to par it relatively high, so that you’ll get to the second row and be able to token as soon as possible. Of course, if you’re starting another company on top of it, it’s going to be a lot harder to par yellow effectively.
But because a yellow that can avoid being kneecapped is Good Actually – again, their 3T is less likely to rust at 3P – a player starting with two companies on the Honshu map has more of an advantage than a liability. This advantage is offset by the burden of an additional industrialization marker for a player who wins at least two companies during the initial auction. This also gives the other players additional incentive to push the game’s timer.
The other aspect of industrialization I want to highlight is the Tokyo Upgrade. By spending $60 of your personal cash, you can plonk your marker down here instead, increasing Tokyo’s revenue by $5. This also increases the revenue for the two destination hexes. So, if you have decent runs connecting to Tokyo or a destination hex, and you get the timing right, it might be worth the extra $10 expenditure. The blue company gets an extra incentive to do this, as its power reduces the cost of the Tokyo Upgrade to $50. Blue also has a quick run to one of the destination hexes, reachable by a single train.
This naturally gives blue a pretty decent incentive to build from Kyoto to Tokyo as quickly as possible. Red, which starts in Tokyo, gets a connection bonus from both destination hexes, the nearer of which is Shikoku, which gives red incentive to build toward it before someone (looking at you, yellow or orange) blocks them by tokening Kyoto. All of this is intended to make a tight map feel even tighter, pushing the companies into each other’s way, each in their own race against the others.