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"Full Steam" uses the core mechanisms from Lancashire Railways (Winsome Games, 1998) but with a few significant changes -- for one, the game will be produced in full color. Rather than list the changes, the designer Martin Wallace has given an overview of the game:
The map shows the major cities of Germany plus a number of external locations, such as Paris, Warsaw, Milan, etc. All German cities are either red or blue. All western external locations are green, and all eastern external locations are yellow. The locations are linked by possible routes. The routes are marked with one of six symbols, which are also grouped in areas (thus most of the connections around Berlin are marked with a circle, while those around Nuremberg are marked with an octagon). A number of small wooden blocks are drawn from a bag and distributed on the board, their location decided by cards. These blocks are either red, blue, green, or yellow. The basic aim of the game is to move blocks to a destination of the same color, ideally along your own track.
I've played this now a dozen or so times. I've played it with 6 people, all serious gamers, and I've played it 2 player with my seven year old, and 3 players with him and my wife. It's been a fun experience every time, which is why I consider it a 5 star game.
With 6 players, it takes close to 2 hours, with 2 or 3, it can be played in an hour. For those who've played Age of Steam, this is an excellent game for those times when Age of Steam just seems like too long a game, as Volldampf shares many of the same mechanics. The action card system in Volldampf helps keep players in the game to the end, and every multiplayer game I've played has been down to the wire close. Great game.
Alan How's review (above) aptly notes that this design is an evolutionary successor to Lancashire Rails. Since he wrote that review, Volldampf has become the evolutionary stepping stone to Age of Steam.
Having played Age of Steam several times, learning the mechanics and discerning the strategy of Volldampf was a snap. They are virtually the same game system, with the chance element of the action cards and track cards in Volldampf replaced by the laying of track tiles in Age of Steam.
It may seem unfair to compare these two Martin Wallace designs to each other after having played the 'latest & greatest' first, so I want to make it clear that I enjoy both games. I just prefer the reduced chance and additional decision-making options in Age of Steam to Volldampf.
Volldampf is a great game in its own right, and plays more quickly than Age of Steam. It's more sophisticated and more player-interactive than the 'crayon-rails' such as Empire Builder, Iron Dragon, and British Rails. The auction, which determines the selection of the track card pairs and the order of track-building and goods-moving, can be very tense. Careless management of one's own resources is almost always disasterous.
All in all, I recommend Volldampf to strategy gamers, and families with children older than 10 or so.
Become a rail tycoon by shrewdly laying your track sections on the networks connecting German cities so that you can transport merchandise between cities. Track cards, auctioned in groups of three, permit track-laying in certain areas for a fee. To meet your expenses, you must take out bonds; but these require you to pay stiff and frequent dividends. Players whose sections of track are used during transportation earn income. The poorest player at a round's end gets an Action Card; players can also forsake transportation rights to acquire these cards, which offer useful privileges. Whoever has the highest income when all tracks are laid wins. This rich game really delivers the goods.
The latest evolution of the Lancashire Rails system moves the location to Germany and the publisher to TM Spiele. In making this move, the quality of components -- board, cards and overall presentation have been improved too.
If you're not familiar with the system, you're in luck as it has been simplified, resulting in a crisper game, and one that plays in 45 minutes. Yes, a good railway/economic game that plays quickly. In fact, so good is this version, that regular railway gamers may find the game ends too soon.
The game is about laying railway tracks on pre-determined routes. Merchandise transported over tracks earns money, so you try to maximise the income you earn by moving the goods over the track that you have built.
Each time you earn income, you move your income marker further along the income track, which surrounds the map area. At the end of the game, which happens on the end of the turn when the last track card is auctioned, the player with the highest income after taking off outstanding bonds (loans) is the winner.
The large board shows a clear map of Germany, mainly in shades of green, with routes marked out between major cities. Each route shows a number, which is the cost players must pay to lay the track on that route. The cost for each route is shown in a coloured symbol. The routes in different areas of the map have a shape and colour to make it easy to distinguish and for using the track placement cards. For example, the routes in the south east of the map are green and within an octagonal symbol. The overall board has been well presented and is in pleasing colours.
Markets for merchandise are depicted on the map by large square symbols: ten for cities inside Germany and 11 for routes to countries outside. The colour of the square (orange, purple, yellow or blue) determines the type of the goods to be supplied. The goods take the form of 40 wooden cubes -- ten in each of the four colours. Initially one cube is placed in each of the 10 central cities and then a few more are added in locations determined by cards from the merchandise deck. Further ones will be added at the start of each turn.
The tracks are laid by obtaining track cards via an auction which takes place at the start of each turn. Each track card shows a symbol and colour that matches a section of the map. Ownership of a track card allows you to lay a track on one of the vacant routes in that area by paying the price shown on the route.
The auction system is cleverly devised. Depending on the number of players, either 2 or 3 track cards comprise a set of cards and there is a set drawn for each player. The first player offers a bid, which you must exceed if you are to stay in the auction. The first player to drop out pays nothing and gets the sequence card with the highest number (for example 6 in a six player game). The middle players in the game pay half the money they have bid, while the final 2 players left in the auction pay all of it. The winner of the auction is given the number 1 sequence card and gets first choice of which set of track cards to take. He also lays track first and transports merchandise first. So it is important to work out when to stay in the bidding and when to leave it. As the position in all the Lancashire Rail games is of trying to get marginal advantages, the auction is one where you may pay too much for a chosen card or be lucky and be able to get the card you wanted despite dropping out of the auction early!
You can then run a train along up to 6 track sections, transporting coloured merchandise cubes to the matching cities. It is therefore possible to earn 6 income from runs over 6 of your own tracks. You can carry out two transportations each turn. If you choose not to carry out one of these, you get an action card for each one surrendered. The action cards are all positive for the player receiving the card and offer benefits, such as transporting goods over 7 rather than 6 routes, but there are some that seem more powerful (and useful) than others. If you like a random element in your game, then these are fine, as they do not overpower the other game systems. Like Lancashire Rails, you may have to end a run when you reach the first matching demand at a city. Usually you will be able to make sufficient runs, but there comes a time in the game when you may have to accept shorter runs to earn some income.
The game has many of the features of previous rail games. The tightness of money in the early stages of the game, the timing and size of loans feel just like the previous games while the colourful board makes the decisions easier to see. While it seems obvious that you should maximise your own income, it is also useful to include other players in the routes that you use, as they will be better disposed to including your tracks in their train runs.
Having played the game several times now, I belong to the camp that wishes the game would go on longer. I like the system and the changes that have been made. If you haven't played the earlier incarnations, then I highly recommend this one to you.