SNEAK PEEK SUNDAY – Pacific Rails Inc – Vesuvius Media – Preview

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9/10

Theme and What is it?

10/10

Pacific Rails Inc brings the players to the forefront of the “Trans-Continental Railway”.  Each player represents a country that is charged with connecting many cities with railways.  Ultimately, these trails must link the east and west coast.  To accomplish this, players will engage with a tightly woven worker placement grid to collect resources, transform those resources into a track, and lay the track on the map board.

Pacific Rails has elements of engine building (and not just the locomotive type) pervading the worker placement mechanism.  Ultimately though, the game captures the split goals of the historical companies in this 150th anniversary theme.  Those companies wanted to lay meandering track to as many little cities as they could so they could get paid for each section of track they made.  But they also had the overall race to the finish goal where completing the mission of connecting the east to the west would be very rewarding to those that contributed the most.  

Pacific Rails Inc Kickstarter is in its funding stage until January 27th, 2020.  Be sure to check it out or look into the backer kit if the campaign has already moved on by the time you get there.  Kickstarter Link

Gameplay Mechanics

9/10

On a turn, a player either places a worker on one of the feet spaces of the board or removes a worker they already have.  Either way, that player activates one adjacent action space and receives multiplier bonuses for any other workers also adjacent.  Having the workers placed on intersections of places rather than directly on the desired action forces a higher level of player interaction than is normal for a game of this type.  It also introduces the need for a special mechanism that is really enjoyable.  

It is possible for one player to get starved out of an action space by each adjacent location already having a worker down.  This is particularly easy on the resource collection spaces in the corner with only two adjacent worker spots.  No player is ever actually locked out of these actions, they just have to do something that might pain them a little.  They can place a worker DIRECTLY on the action space and kick out all surrounding workers to their respective players.  Each worker returned grants a cowboy hat (a bankable bonus multiplier for an action).  If a player would gain more than the 2 maximum hat storage capacity, they gain any one resource instead.

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Initial Impressions

9/10

The worker placement mechanisms are fun and force player interaction along with planning a sequence of turns.  You rarely just do a thing because it is free, you do what you need to make the next actions have the required resources and to gain multipliers in the process.  But the real meat of Pacific Rails Inc comes with the train carriages and what can be placed in them.  Train carriages are gained by connecting cities on the map with railway stations.  

Each carriage comes with 3 more storage capacity for resources (which also counts reserved track tiles so it is easy to hit storage capacity quickly), 2 spaces for specialists, and a carriage upgrade.  Specialists have a unique cost to invest in based on the type and which carriage number it is going into (must fill from lowest to greatest).  Carriage upgrades grant resources when activated.  All of these things being attached to your train engine increase your game engine efficiency.  Each time a player uses one of the cardinal direction action spaces to build tracks out of resources, they also activate each of their specialists and carriage upgrades as possible.  A specialist in the 2nd carriage does their action twice!  And a specialist all the way into the 3rd carriage does it three times!  

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Game Build Quality

10/10

This is a prototype version!  The board is pasted on, the components are 3D printed, and the tiles are simple pasted on cardboard.  Even with a prototype, the game has a lot of promise for what the build quality will be.  The best way to evaluate this is to keep an eye on the kickstarter campaign and to trigger some stretch goal upgrades!  You can have expectations for a quality build from Vesuvius Media in the final product.

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Artistic Direction

8/10

Pacific Rails Inc has simple silhouettes for the specialists, one directional but very recognizable track tiles, and art that attempts to pull players into the 1800s feel of the game.  These elements do a good job of complementing the gameplay.  

The only slightly odd part of the artwork is how track tiles behave mechanically vs how they look physically.  A track tile can enter and exit in all 4 directions despite visually only going in a straight line.  There is some possibility the Kickstarter campaign will offer a production version that makes the mechanics and visuals line up better.  It was just something we needed to make clear to the players so they don’t get confused that a straight track has now connected a city directly orthogonal to it.

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Fun Factor

9/10

A big part of the fun was figuring out how to pace the game.  How much should a player invest into efficiency before just building and laying track as fast as possible?  No clue!  We all picked rather different paths to explore.  The player with the most efficiency of actions only lost out because the two with much less exciting turns were blitzing the tracks to collide as soon as possible.  If even one of the other players had tried to maximize a tangential track run, it easily could have had a different outcome.  

It looks completely viable to build track efficiently and run a ton of it in odd meandering routes just to run up the number of objects on the field for end game scoring.  It also is completely viable to try running a small company that is entirely focused on the 15 point bonus for connecting the two sides of the map.

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Age Range & Weight

8/10

14+ is a fair rating, if just slightly high.  The worker placement element really encourages having a plan for the next 2-3 turns and sticking to it as best you can.  But it also requires some adaptability as the map will change and you can get a better benefit by laying track with the new situation instead of stockpiling for a longer build later.  Or the worker spots you wanted might get clogged at the wrong times.  This isn’t going to be an epic brain burner of a game for anyone, but it might be a little difficult for children under the recommended age to plan appropriately.  

Conclusions

9/10

Pacific Rails Inc plays in a fairly short time and offers some really great player interaction.  It hits on a historically interesting theme and has both visuals and mechanics complementing the theme appropriately.  I always enjoy new spins on the worker placement mechanism and this has been a very entertaining one for that.  

Never truly being blocked from any given action (except because you yourself did it by placing all your workers and needing to recall one without any next to the action you want) was something I expected to dislike.  But giving the other players cowboy hats can be so painful!  At least your worker counts as a multiplier for all adjacent zones as well while it is out.  

The senate action, which I have not talked about yet in this review, is my favorite of the neat little twists to the game.  If you get a single senate action, you pay one coin and move down one of the hats to lobby congress and gain some resources or an action bonus (that you usually have to pay for still).  But to take a more powerful senate benefit, you need multipliers or specialists to gain multiple lobby actions.  You can spend 2 or even 3 actions (paying one coin each time) to work on a single more powerful benefit such as just gaining any 2 track tiles of your choice.  

This is all well and good… but the best part is how long to wait before using a single senate action and pay one coin to reset all the lobby actions.  Resetting the actions pushes all the hats back up so their benefits are available again.  For doing this, you gain 1 point per hat moved.  How many points will we let it get up to before resetting?  3?  4?  5!?  

 

Pacific Rails Inc Kickstarter is in its funding stage until January 27th, 2020.  Be sure to check it out or look into the backer kit if the campaign has already moved on by the time you get there.  Kickstarter Link

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