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Games Night 20th July …………. ‘Canal Mania’ by Ragnar Brothers
After much ringing around, Paul and Liz are expected for tonight’s virgin-game of ‘Canal Mania’. However, at seven o’clock Liz phones to say she can’t make it and Kendall contemplates last minute possibilities. As luck would have it, Robb is available and arrives promptly at 8.15 giving plenty of time to learn the rules. Paul shows up half an hour later, but he quickly convinces Dicken and Kendall that he can remember how to play. It’s an impression that he singularly fails to sustain.
There’s enough text about ‘Canal Mania’ on this site and Boardgamegeek has just started to filter further information. Early responses are very promising. This is the first ‘professional’ production by the Ragnar Brothers which undoubtedly raises the appreciation, but the Geek comments are tending to focus on the tightness of the design. Kendall and Dicken are content to bask momentarily and then the game begins.
Paul has drawn Brindley as his engineer, so gets to go first. He elects to take the Bridgewater canal contract – ‘very historical’. He then draws three build cards as his second phase action and a further build card as his third phase action. Robb avidly examines the reference card, as Paul stumbles on. Kendall’s turn next; drawing the Worcester and Birmingham as his contract. Robb’s choice is the River Severn Navigation, joining Worcester and Gloucester. Finally, Dicken draws the Coventry canal and the Macclesfield – a player is allowed to draw two contracts when one of them is the fifth (last) contract in Parliament.
Cold beer is slipping down nicely accompanied by low-fat Pringles and dips. The French windows are opened to let a cooling breeze into Kendall’s baking front room. For all the world it could be an aristocratic gathering in the 18th century, toiling navvies digging deep trenches in the valley while the chief engineer stands ready with his theodolite. Perhaps not.
Moving into the second turn the choices start to open up. Goods have already been seeded on the map, so canals built now will allow goods movement with resultant points scoring. Paul on the other hand decides to delay. Five more contracts have entered Parliament and, to some surprise Paul draws the Huddersfield Narrow canal and then some more build cards. Kendall takes the Grand Union contract between Birmingham and Northampton and elects to build.
Building is the phase two alternative to taking cards. Consequently players are either building their hand or playing it out. The result (hopefully) is opportunity to plan in advance and less down-time. Build cards convert to tiles. Stretches and locks can be built for one respective card each. Aqueduct tiles require two aqueduct cards and tunnel tiles require three tunnel tiles – reflecting the difficulty of the build. Surveyor cards are wild. Building can be made easier by using one of five engineers.
Enough said – the elements of play tend to inter-connect and this review could end up as another set of rules.
Kendall can’t quite complete the Worcester and Birmingham, but does enough to get to Stratford allowing a goods move (for 2 points) as the third phase action.
Robb continues to grapple with the systems. He’s fairly new to this type of gaming. In fact he lets slip that he recently played a game of ‘Trivial Pursuit’ – oh dear! With a bit of help (and ‘Canal Mania’ tends to be a game where players can’t resist offering advice) he completes the very short Severn Navigation and then moves some goods. He takes the lead, having scored 1 point for building a lock as well as 2 points for the goods move.
Dicken’s play is also somewhat laboured. Not that he doesn’t know what he is doing, but rather that there are options – plenty of options. At this stage it is a question of which of his two canals he should build and which route he should take. Such decisions can make a difference of one or two points, which doesn’t seem much in a game likely to produce a winning total of ninety; but such decisions are cropping up each turn. Good players will tend to make the right decisions more often – pretty similar to most games.
Paul isn’t able to come to Spiller’s September bash. Liz’s grandfather is celebrating his ninetieth birthday and Paul simply can’t get out of it. Spiller is hoping to get eight Ragnars together, but is struggling to get beyond seven. Though there are a number of folk who would fit in socially (e.g. Robb), it’s gaming experience that makes all the difference. Those who have played plenty (hundreds) of games are able to come to a new game and be competitive from the off. Robb (and Paul to some extent) is thinking in terms of ‘…when I’ve learned the rules’ or ‘…next time I play’. No such luxury is afforded at a Ragnar bash.
The folly of Paul’s northern network is coming to light. After manfully cutting through the Pennines he now has canals joining Huddersfield and Liverpool, via Manchester. Unfortunately both Huddersfield and Liverpool are red towns. This means he can’t actually transport goods further than Manchester. He spends much of the rest of the game scoring 2 points for each such goods moves. A well-planned network can produce goods moves up to a value of 6 points.
Kendall’s midlands network is viewed enviously and Dicken wastes no time in proclaiming Kendall to be tall poppy. There is some justification in this as Kendall has a seven point lead already. However, it is possible (to some extent) to dry up the goods coming onto Kendall’s network and Dicken convinces the other two to do just that. Meanwhile Dicken is cannily hoarding goods on his isolated canals. Not so cannily he refuses to move a 4-pointer out of Nottingham, only to have it stolen as Robb builds another arm of the Grand Union into said city.
Dicken now leads and his score moves onto 50 points, triggering the final turns of the game. Paul surprises everyone again by selecting the Leeds and Liverpool contract and then trying to build it in one turn. He declares a ‘Mulligan’ and completes the Kennet and Avon instead. Kendall completes two lengthy canals, but with build cards left over he knows the signs aren’t good.
And so it proves. The ‘goods decline’ happens and then the most prolific builder is declared. In both cases Dicken comes out on top. He wins by eight points from Kendall. Similar margins separate Robb (third) and then Paul.
It’s late and Dicken is bemoaning the early rise of a social worker. He beats a hasty retreat and the party concludes.
What of ‘Canal Mania’? It sits somewhere near the middle of the transport / railway genre in terms of complexity. It delivers a theme with a good deal more historicity than most other similar games. It looks and feels good. Less ‘eccentric’ than some of the other Ragnar games, it should appeal to a wide audience (including barge persons).
We keep our fingers crossed.
‘Canal Mania’ – last minute testing proves a boon!
Janine arrives bang on 8.15 p.m. - a good sign for someone attending for just a third time. It was also due to be the third evening with Ros and Derek, but family illness has forced them to cry off and return ‘home’ to …. New Zealand! This surpasses several all time great excuses, though it doesn’t come close to the drama of ‘Petroch’s exit’ – but that’s another story.
Dicken arrives and that makes the company complete. Fortunately ‘Canal Mania’ is a 3-5 player game. Before tucking into the rules, Janine is given a glimpse of the drawing for the box-top. Not exactly a Turin shroud moment; but not far short. It really is very good and we gleefully await the addition of colour. Janine it was, who put Ragnar Brothers in contact with the illustrator, Colin Jones. His work will sit on top of the graphics work of the artist recommended by Carta Mundi; Andrew Jones. There is just a hint of ‘Wuthering Heights’ in this venture. Meanwhile, the pace of production is currently registering as ‘slow’ to ‘dead slow’. We had hoped to get the game out for Essen 2005; not 2006.
Still, a little more game testing never harmed anyone. ‘… a game is never finished; it is only abandoned…’ to paraphrase Stravinsky (me-thinks).
Janine absorbs some rules; Dicken absorbs some alcohol. Kendall does the explaining; Dicken does the interjecting. Damned annoying, but at least what Dicken feels compelled to mention is the very thing that the rules say next – another good sign. One rule that stands nervously self-conscious pertains to Goods movement. After all the games you’ve ever played in which Goods movement is the final phase of a turn, Ragnar Brothers have elected to make it the first phase – and this its first outing.
Jacobs Crackers and cheese – cheddar or soft spread – are on offer. Kendall and Dicken tuck in. Janine seems diffident after an earlier, hearty dinner; but then she can’t resist either. And so to the game ….
For those of you new to the site, here’s chance to break off and read up some of the mechanics of ‘Canal Mania’ in a Games Night review earlier this summer and to read the Design Notes which are also hidden away on the web-site.
For those of you who do not feel compelled to do this, read on….
Kendall has 42 points and is munching his way through yet more Jacobs Crackers, always choosing the spread as he is battling the menace of cholesterol. Dicken has 34 points and is onto his fourth bottle of European ale. Janine has 20 points, has given up eating and drinking altogether, and is determinedly building the Lancaster canal. She (who is to be known as Janine, despite Kendall repeatedly calling her Jeanette – how odd, how embarrassing) has mastered everything bar the concept of Goods movement (though this has nothing to do with the phasing). Consequently her canals are numerous, but scattered – reminiscent of Malcolm’s building scheme a month ago.
The game powers on and on and on… Janine and Kendall both run short of Stretch tiles. The time clicks round to two hours plus. This isn’t supposed to happen! Dicken wonders if we’ve missed a rule. Kendall mumbles about not having played that many 3-player games in recent times. Either way Ragnar Brothers have had their pants pulled down in a semi-public situation – and with a young lady present.
Thankfully the final contracts enter Parliament and the final turns come and go. Kendall wins by a great deal, Janine loses by a similar amount. Dicken offers a lift home.
The day after the night before:
A simple solution emerges – and one that had been in play previously. Remove five Contracts as part of the initial set-up. Counter-mix and game length resolved in an instant.
The evening after the night before:
A further test session and the changes are bedding down well. A further improvement (1% ?) is made by increasing the number of ‘final turns’ from one to two. Contract removal, Goods movement phase, final turns …. Three significant improvements. How many more before this game reaches a store near you? (hopefully none! – ed).