The mechanics in 1987 Channel Tunnel are simple, but beneath the streamlined exterior lie some crunchy decisions and rock-solid gameplay.
Jeremiah & Kara Clark
Publisher: Looping Games
Designer: Sheila Santos
Designer: Israel Cendrero
Artist: Pedro Soto
Game Type: Worker Placement
Game Type: Set Collection
Initial Year of Release: 2019
Age Range: 12+
Expected Playtime: 45 minutes
Number of Players: 2
Theme and What is it?
It’s 1987. France and the United Kingdom have agreed to work together to construct an underground tunnel which will run beneath the English Channel, connecting their two countries. You have been appointed chief over your country’s half of the project, and they expect you to dig faster than your opponent.
Yes, the two countries are technically working together, but just imagine the national pride one would gain for finishing their half of the tunnel first! Yes, someone will finish first– and you’re going to make sure it’s you.
In 1987 Channel Tunnel, players compete against each other, managing their underground workforces to bore through the heaps of earth that lie beneath the Channel. They’ll send their workers to get funding, develop better technology, gain the support of outside countries, and most importantly: dig.
By strategically managing their workforce and building the better tableau of cards, one player will snatch the victory and secure the win for their country.
1987 is a worker placement game with a fresh twist. At the beginning of the round, each player draws 10 colored disks out of a bag and places them in their player area. These are their workers. Workers of the same color are stacked on top of each other; when placing workers on actions, the entire stack of a single color must be sent.
There are 5 action spaces in the game and a space occupied by a worker is blocked, unless you send a taller stack of workers there to bully them out of the way. Any worker disks that are bumped off this way go into the pool of the player who bumped them off. This is such an interesting spin because it means the more stacks you have the more actions you can take. It also means that if you have fewer, taller stacks, you’re more likely to be able to block your opponent, and less likely to be blocked yourself.
Players can use their workers to move their TBM (Tunnel Boring Machine) further into the channel, gain funding, develop new technology, scout ahead for potential trouble areas, or recruit special cards to their personal area.
Play continues back and forth, round by round, until one player completes their side of the channel. When this happens play immediately stops and the game is over. Players tally up their points to see who has the most, and whoever does is the winner!
A game about drilling an underground tunnel – isn’t that “boring”? (ba-dum-psh!) I didn’t have any expectations, but I had heard good things about it so I gave it a whirl. After the first round I was hooked. The turns were fast, the decisions were important, and the gameplay was extremely engaging.
There was this constant edge-of-your-seat tension as I agonized over which action space to take first. Each round was perfectly planned out in my head, but I knew that if my opponent blocked a certain action space my entire plan would be derailed. It made for some truly riveting gameplay.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is the drilling – the game ends when someone successfully tunnels their side of the Channel, but finishing your side first only gives you a handful of points.
The goal of the game is to drill, but there are so many other things you need to do to play well: develop new technology, gain support from other countries, etc. The faster you tunnel the sooner the game ends, and you need to make sure you’re ready when it does.
Game Build Quality
As with most small-box games, the build isn’t great. There are a lot of cards and tokens, but no Insert to hold everything in place. The Channel Tunnel “board” is made of side-by-side cards with little tokens resting on top, and the game box is a little thin.
It’s not all bad though – the game comes with a cloth bag for holding all the brightly colored worker chips, and each player has a custom TBM meeple. The two player boards are surprisingly sturdy, and all the components fit nicely in the small box.
1987 Channel Tunnel has a lot of symbology: On the action spaces, on the cards, on the player boards – it’s everywhere! Luckily, the genius designers were able to condense the entire symbology system down to less than 10 different symbols. This makes the entire system incredibly easy to understand, because you don’t have to memorize an entire picture-language to play the game.
Every inch of the player boards are utilized. The top has rubble-storage spaces, and the bottom has the technology advancement track. The backs of the boards are beautifully illustrated: one with France’s flag, the other with the Union Jack. The cards are also nicely illustrated. The rulebook is dotted with interesting history tidbits — I felt smarter and more cultured after I had read it, so that was a nice bonus.
My favorite artistic decision the designers made is the channel board. The board is made of 6 rail cards laid side-by-side. The rails are covered with face-down rubble tokens, and the backs of the tokens look like water. This is the artistic icing on top of the design cake, because as your TBM plows through the rubble, the rail lines appear, giving you the idea that you actually are building an underwater railway. This simple decision enhances the theme so much – I absolutely love it.
Ever since we played this game, I’ve been itching to play it again. The turns are quick, but they are important. You need to do several actions, but you can only take one per turn. Which should you take first? Which are you afraid your opponent will block?
There’s an awesome feeling of tension as you watch your rival pick up a large stack of workers, and you just hope they don’t block the spot you were hoping to take on yours. It feels like a race as your TBMs inch up the channel, trying to outpace each other — or at least not fall too far behind.
In the end only one player will earn the title “king of boring”, but both players will feel immensely satisfied as they look back over everything they’ve accomplished during the game.
Age Range & Weight
The manufacturer recommended age for 1987 Channel Tunnel is 12+, and I think once they understand the symbols, a 12-year-old could really enjoy this game. The mechanics are streamlined, and the symbology is clear which helps gameplay putter right along.
I would say this is a medium-weight game. The mechanics are really simple, but a good strategy requires some forward thinking, and quick adaptation when things go awry.
1987 Channel Tunnel is a brilliant 2-player game with a clever spin on worker placement. The mechanics are simple, but beneath the streamlined exterior lie some crunchy decisions and rock-solid gameplay.
For anyone looking for a great 2-player game, take a look at 1987 Channel Tunnel!
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