Pipeline has a ton of fun in making your pipe network puzzle work out nicely.
Publisher: Capstone Games
Designer: Ryan Courtney
Artist: Ian O’Toole
Game Type: Economic, Tile Placement, Puzzle
Initial Year of Release: 2019
Age Range: 12+
Expected Playtime: 120
Number of Players: 2-4
Theme and What is it?
Pipeline brings you, a new private oil refinery company, a shot at becoming rich. You don’t have much startup capital and may even need to bring in additional investor money. Those investors will demand to be repaid with some serious dividends later. If you can take advantage of the private market and the existing government infrastructure, you can build your pipe refinery to seek massive profit.
Take careful note of end of game bonuses in the valuation cards. These incentives will impact your economic strategies and determine which contracts and orders you fill.
Pipeline has a very unique mix of mechanics. At first it appeared to be worker placement. It has a turn order track and some actions jump to the front of the queue. But since you place only one worker per round and no spots are ever locked, I am not sure that is a useful categorization. There is a core economic aspect to the game as you have very limited funds at the start of the game and need to buy pieces for your engine, raw materials, and ultimately upgrade materials and sell them to be able to continue the process.
While the economic elements are the core incentive structure of the game, Pipeline is all about exactly what it claims: building a pipeline. You need to acquire pipe tiles of various patterns and colors and piece them together like a puzzle to make the most efficient and functional pipeline possible. Everything hinges on this. Success, finances, goals, and all of the fun hinge on how much you like puzzles and how well you can solve them.
This game has a lot of parts! If you love punching and sorting games this is going to be a real pleasure trip. The game really doesn’t have a lot of things going on for gameplay purposes but certainly has a lot of setup parts. We were extremely excited during the process of getting it ready to play for the first time. Especially with how many people I have spotted playing Pipeline at clubs and events.
Game Build Quality
High. The build quality of pipeline is high. The bag for holding pipe tiles, tiles to put over the board to adjust for lower player counts, and the tile version of the main valuation goal are all examples of unnecessary component quality. I love premium components that make the gaming experience better. I was particularly happy that the money tiles are reasonably sized and easy to work with. No pathetic paper money and no difficult to work with coin counters.
Pipeline has a stunning box profile and really great pattern based art within the components. There is not a lot to say about it as it doesn’t feature hundreds of cards with tons of unique images. You can tell for yourself just from these images if you like the style as much as I do.
Pipeline has a ton of fun in making your pipe network puzzle work out nicely. It has a great deal of tension in the actions when others gobble up the exact pipe patterns you needed to make your grand plan come to fruition. I do wish that turns were more consistent in their flow timing.
At some point, you will take several turns in a row just upgrading your crude oils by running your pipe network. If other players are building their network of pipes during that time you will be sitting around a bit watching them struggle to make it work. This can sometimes be compounded by the fact that the last player of the round might buy pipes using an action that jumps them to the front and needs to figure out their next action while trying to slot their pipes. It isn’t a big deal most of the time but in a learning game can be a notable disruption to the flow.
Age Range & Weight
12+ is fair. Pipeline has enough heft to be mildly intimidating at first. Lots of components, several different mechanisms, and so many small details to get used to at first play make it less than easy to learn. That said, I can teach new players pipeline relatively efficiently now that I understand it. The key is not to focus on fine details but the big picture. Most of the fine details either make sense with their iconography, card text, or when they get flowing enough to ask the question that is a good time to learn that rule.
If you are looking for a crunchy, zero luck economic manipulation game, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a tile laying pattern matching game that will be all fluffy grab and add, look elsewhere. But I urge you to pick up pipeline if you want to know how those two things will behave when merged.
The core fun comes from manipulating how the pipes fit together and making the most efficient total network. The tension between players and replay value comes from which pipes you purchase and when. Making your own network better is doubly satisfying when someone else is foaming at the mouth that you took the one tile that fixes the bind they are in. Fitting a perfectly placed machine to do your refining for you is highly rewarding but difficult to pull off.
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