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Gold alone doesn't make you happy! No, you also need... POWER! And in a young booming gold digger town the most influential post is still that of the Mayor. Erect the buildings the city desperately needs and improve your reputation. But beware! Others have the same goal and will stop at nothing to prevent your final victory. A tactical building- and bidding-game for 3-5 players.
Oh calamity! I had such great hopes for this one. The designer has a good track record, the game scenario that he described to us at Essen sounded so promising and the graphics are first rate. It even has an excellent rule for deciding who starts -- 'the player most in need of a shave'. Unfortunately it is the game that counts.
The setting is California during the days of the gold rush. Players start with a small amount of gold. Using this and their subsequent earnings they bid for materials in the form of wood and stone. Using wood, stone and tools they erect buildings, which then produce an income. Buildings don't necessarily last, because this game also features bandits and dynamite, but those that do are worth victory points at the end, which comes when the town has reached a certain size.
It doesn't sound bad, does it? Quite entertaining in fact. However, there is the first tinkling of an alarm bell when you set the numbers in the game-end criteria against those in the estimated playing time. With 4 players, the game ends when the town has 10 buildings; with 5, when it reaches 12. So by the end the buildings per player average is 2.5/2.4. And this will have taken you around 2 hours -- roughly one hour per building per player. You get more immediate and dramatic effects by watching a drip of water trying to erode granite.
The cards are of four types: Goldsack, City, Gold Digger and Building. The first of these are the money cards and there are equal numbers of values 1, 2 and 3. The City deck has materials, events and bandits, with the materials making up two thirds of the total. At the start of the game both of these decks are shuffled and placed face down. Each player is then given 3 Goldsack cards.
You begin your turn by turning over cards from the City Deck until either one or two materials cards have appeared. Whether one or two will depend on the markings on the first one. In the process it is also possible that bandit or event cards will appear and if they do, these are dealt with next. In the case of a bandit card you place it face up in front of you for later. Such cards can be used to rob other players or to blow up their buildings. Event cards either see everyone rolling a die and hoping to escape the bad effects or see you picking up a card that you can use at a later point in order to block an action by another player. Once the bandits and events are out of the way, the material card(s) are auctioned off. You then perform two or more actions. Here the basic allowance is two, but extra ones are gained once you have erected one or more of the higher status buildings.
The building cards are double-sided. The back shows a building permit and a list of what you need in terms of wood, stone and tools; the front shows the building itself. Taking a building permit from the pool and taking a tool marker are two of the actions available to you. In both cases your acquisition is placed in front of you. You can also take a dynamite marker and this would be placed with your other possessions. A third option is to put up a building, which you do by turning over one of your building permits to its face-up side and handing in the required tools and materials. Buildings come in three categories, with the higher ones needing more resources than the lower.
The last two items on the menu concern bandits: you can either use one that you already have or you can try to take one from a rival. Both activities see you and your intended victim rolling the die. The sort of things that bandits can do are steal materials, tools or dynamite; steal a building permit; blow up a building. The last of these obviously also requires that you have the necessary dynamite.
After each player has taken a turn, it is time to receive income. Players who have yet to erect a building in either of the higher two categories are given two cards from the Goldsack Deck. If there is only one player with a higher category building, they receive three cards, but if there is more than one they determine how much each gets by using the Gold Digger cards to play what is basically a hand of pontoon. This deck contains cards of values 10, 20, 30 and 40 together with a couple of "doublers". Each player in this subgame is given one of these cards and thereafter it is a case of going round the table posing the question "Stick or twist?", just as you would at Pontoon. The aim is to get as close as you dare to 100. Anybody going over this total is bust and gets no income. (The rationale being that your gold prospector customers have caused so much damage to the premises that your profits from their visit have been wiped out.). Otherwise it is a case of top player gets four gold cards, bottom player gets one and the others get two. The round is then complete, the 'start player' marker moves one to the left and a new round starts.
If all this took place in a game lasting about 45 minutes, it would be fine, but it doesn't. The game is one where you advance slowly and by inches, with intermittent knockbacks from bandits and events. The whole thing takes over 2 hours and there simply isn't enough to hold one's interest for anything like that length of time. The Germans have a word "Sitzfleisch", which describes the ability to sit still for very long periods of time. If you have it, you may well like this game. More impatient types should steer clear.