Union vs. Central
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Average Rating: 4.3 in 3 reviews
This is just an add-on to the very thorough previous reviews. My friend and I have played this game only once (last night). After 4 hours of play (even allowing for newbies), we had been through the deck twice but neither of us had been able to build any track beyond our initial terrain. There are two facts that the other reviewers have not stressed. First, most of the events can only be played once and then their card is permanently removed from the game. Second, disasters are far easier and less expensive to play than their remedies. From this, any real gamer understands that the early part of the game will force him to endure catastrophe like Job. The experienced player will probably realize that the other guy's disasters are his most precious resource and must be metered out precisely to keep said opponent smacked silly as long as possible. My friend and I missed this nuance and entered into a twilight of delight in seeing just how much we could pile disaster upon one another. The result was a straight up in your face pounding that had no outcome except the joy of doing it which we found considerable. We quit only because we had to get up early the next day for gaming.
After repeatedly telling me not to get this game for him, my friend then said he had to have it anyway; I did not offer to sell him my copy.
For the gamer with stamina, the intricacies and subtleties of this game offer a lot. I suspect players who really give it a try will rate it a 1 or a 5 with no middle ground.
A final caution, the lowly bandit event that removes one resource a turn is the nastiest of the events and, of course, is not ever permanently removed from play.
You will not find a better two-player railroad game anywhere. The decision making angst, the player interaction, and mostly, the atmosphere of actually building a cross country railroad, makes this an unfolding adventure. (This is quite an accomplishment for a card game with four pages of rules!)
The components of UvC are typical lackluster Winsome - graphically blah with a kit-type feel. But, also typically Winsome, a ton of fun for your gaming buck. You receive a 4" x 6" plastic, flip-top box with two identical sets of cards and 150 plastic chips that you must first stick commodity (Goods) labels on.
The entire sequence of play revolves around each player selecting one of four actions to perform:
- Dump all four cards in your hand, or
- Production of goods at home and locally along the rail line, or
- Transport the goods to where you need them by train, or
- Placement of a card from your hand on yourself or on your opponent.
Each turn moves very quickly, but be prepared for a loooooong game. The system of rail construction, whereby you must realistically transport all necessary materials to the site, while fending off disasters your opponent gleefully plops on you, will generally permit you to build about two rails per hour of play. And since the game ends at rail lengths of 8, 12, or 16, you can see that this is quite an investiture of time. Also, there is somewhat of a micro-management of Goods to contend with, which may turn off some people, and a couple holes in the rules which Winsome ironed out for me quickly.
Regardless of the above misgivings, if you are into rail games, economic development, a small slice of American history, or a game where you can really nail your opponent, Union vs. Central is a top choice. Just try building a railroad over a forested mountain while being raided by bandits with your workers on strike!
Having been spoiled by the gorgeous recent crop of German titles, the plain components of UNION vs CENTRAL initially failed to impress me (no frills or fancy artwork here). However, once my opponent and I started to play (easy to do; there's only 5 pages of rules), we quickly became addicted to the resource management and many strategy options that were offered to us.
Playing like your typical German style game, agonizing decisions are presented to the players with every single card play. Do I lay down a card to hamper my opponent, or do I use it to increase my own position? What is the best time to place a card from my hand? Should I dump my cards to draw a new hand? Do I produce goods (Steel, Coal, Lumber, Food, Water, or Workers), or move trains this turn? Well, since you can do only ONE of the above functions per turn, the dilemmas are constant.
On the down side, UNION vs CENTRAL takes a fair amount of time to play (3-8 hours). Further, players have to be resilent to stay in the game as there are a ton of cards that your opponent can play to hurt your position. But don't get discouraged since you'll soon be back on 'track' soon!
Speaking of the cards, there are a large variety of period-effect (Derailment, Land Grant, Indians, US Marshalls, Drought, Immigrants, etc.) items that give this game a tremendous feel. No thin veneer of a theme here; you can almost experience the joys and frustrations of actually building a rail line across hostile terrain.
Turns play quickly, the game is tense and balanced, and the replay value should be very high. Victory is determined by producing and transporting goods to certain locations, then constructing buildings and rail tracks to stretch your line a certain length (which is chosen before the game starts, so you can go the short route, stick with medium path, or play the extended campaign).
If I was pressed for time, and only had one opponent available, I'd pick LOST CITIES for a quick play. But when I do have the time for the long haul, I'd definitely choose UNION vs CENTRAL to satiate my gaming desires. Rich and rewarding, this title is a hidden gem.
Especially appealing to rail gamers, strategy aficionados of all types can still enjoy it bunches.
This was my first Winsome game, but you can be sure that it won't be my last. All Aboard!
Life would be a lot less interesting if there were no place in it for the people whose faith in what they are doing is sufficient to enable them to ignore the current dictates of fashion. One's belief in the virtues of diversity gets a further boost when their faith turns out to be justified. This is a long game and long games are currently under a cloud, the present wisdom being that inside every long game is a better shorter one and that the reason we haven't been given it is that the designer lacked the skill and the self-discipline to fine it down. For quite a lot of long games the charge can be made to stick, but not always. Some games are better long. What matters is whether or not they contain enough interest to justify their length. This one does.
It is a card game in the style made familiar by the likes of CCGs and Die Siedler Kartenspiel: each player has a deck with which they will try to create something of their own, while also attempting to sabotage the efforts of their opponent to do likewise. In this case, the thing they are trying to build is a stretch of railway line, a task that will have them grappling with difficult terrain, shortage of supplies and the logistical problems of getting the supplies they do have into the right place, not to mention accidents, sabotage, Indians, bandits and all the Western components that don't involve either John Wayne or the heroine with the unbelievably immaculate hair-do.
Each card is multiple use, with the player deciding which of the possibilities to activate when they play the card. The first possibility covers basic terrain (hills, mountains, etc), terrain features (rivers, forests), settlements (depots, towns, cities), commercial developments (mines, farms, factories, etc), trains and event cards. This use is activated when you play the card on to either your or your opponent's display. The second possibility is to use the card for producing supplies. In order to build and run a railway you need workers, food, wood, coal, steel and water. Each card has some combination of these printed on it and you can collect by playing the card on to your discard pile. The third option is to use the card as a piece of track: each card has a section as its design on the back and so when you are in a position to build track, it is just a matter of taking one of your cards and playing it face down on to the appropriate section of terrain in your display.
Each player begins with three cards which are laid out in a column in front of them. The top one is a section of clear terrain. This card will be the start of a row of terrain cards and it is along this row that your track will be built. Terrain can be either clear, rough, hills, mountains or desert and the more hostile it is, the harder it will be (in terms of supplies needed) to build the railway line. So you will be playing friendly terrain on to your own row and unfriendly terrain on to that of your opponent. The second card in the column is the depot. Further depots may be built as your display develops and depots may also be upgraded to towns and then to cities. Settlements are places where you can both stockpile and trade supplies. In addition, they provide sites for valuable commercial developments such as factories and cattle pens and the more developed ones also generate supplies in their own right. The bottom card is your first train. Trains have the obvious use of moving supplies around, from where they are generated to where they are needed. The more of them you have, the more efficiently you can handle the logistics.
Each player now draws the top four cards from their deck and this is the hand size they will maintain throughout the game. On your turn you do one of four things:
- Change your hand by discarding the cards you are holding and drawing four new ones. There will be times when events -- a shortage of trains being typical -- mean that your current hand doesn't meet your needs. This is a way of cycling through the deck faster in order to find what you want. It is not something you want to have to do very often, but neither is it the seriously bad news that it can be in some other games.
- Generate supplies. This is done by placing one of your cards on to your discard pile and collecting the supplies listed on it. The action also triggers activity from your mines, rivers, factories, etc. A good feature of the design is that the cards that will have the most powerful effect when played on your own or your opponent's display also tend to be the ones that generate most supplies. This gives you some hard decisions. For example, you have a derailment card that you'd like to use against your opponent, but you also need the two each of water and steel that it would produce, not to mention the food, wood and workers that would come in their wake from various facilities along your line.
- Place a card on one of the two displays.
- Transport material. If you opt for this one, all your trains are activated, though any you choose to use will involve expenditure in terms of coal and workers. However, the only way to build anything in this game is to have the necessary materials on site and so efficient transport is essential. This requires not only a reasonable number of trains, but strategically placed settlements.
Turns then alternate until one of the players has a railway line of the required length. This is 8 for the 'short' game, 12 for the 'standard' one and 16 for the 'campaign'. Reckon on about three hours for the short game and proportionately longer for the other two. For a board or card game this is longer than many people are happy with -- though quite a few of the same would be happy to invest that sort of time playing on a computer. ("Darren enjoys spending six hours playing by himself, but is reluctant to spend the same amount of time playing a game with a friend". Discuss.) As far as I am concerned, the question, as I implied at the start, is more one of whether the game has enough interest to justify its length. With Union versus Central, I can't see me ever playing the campaign game, but I'll happily play either of the other two and so for me the answer is yes. The campaign game is there for those who like the ironman stuff and so its inclusion in the package is justified, but you don't need it to get the full flavour of the game. The short game contains enough to deliver most of the interesting strategy and tactics that the game has to offer and almost all of the rest will come with the standard one.
Drawbacks? The mechanics of handling lots of small stashes of six different types of supplies is a bit fiddly, though without a computer to do all the bookkeeping for you, I don't see how it could have been handled better. It is one of those things you just have to accept and the concentration of the stockpiles in settlements does help. The other potential drawback that I was afraid of, which is that in a long game one player will fall behind by halfway and have little chance thereafter, doesn't seem to be there -- which is a tribute to a well designed and tested set of cards. When John Bohrer sent us the game at the final 'blind playtesting' stage, we played two of the short games and in both the winner was well behind at half way before coming back to snatch it on the line.
In summary, this is a well designed game with lots of flavour and lots to think about. The appeal to fans of train games is obvious, but Ben Baldanza, who has also played it, reckons that it would also be enjoyed by those of you who like such games as Die Siedler Kartenspiel.