Age of Steam expansion #4
France and Italy
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French and Italian maps for Age of Steam. This expansion contains a hard-mounted board, more track tiles, and region-specific rules to play these maps.
(I assume the reader already knows how to play Age of Steam)
Even though Railroad Tycoon has passed Age of Steam as one of my favorite games, I'm still a huge fan of Age of Steam, simply because there are so many expansions out for it. I had heard tales of the nastiness of the Age of Steam: Expansion # 4 - France/Italy (Winsome Games, 2005 - John Bohrer) and was very eager to try it out.
Let me state quickly that I think that Italy is really an evil, nasty map, while France is a nicer, yet crowded one. Both play best with three to four players - but Italy should only be played by those who are experts at the game, while France would be okay with beginners. Here's a quick rundown of the changes in both maps:
-Paris is a major city - players can't afford to ignore it during the
game. Not only is it of all four colors, but it also gets half of the
resources in the game added to it. This causes the game to center
around Paris to a degree. It also makes delivering cubes easier.
There's always Paris!
- There are two types of difficult terrain - regular and very difficult. Ordinary terrain cost $2, while "very" costs $4. However, players may only build on it if they take the Engineer action. Since the bottom corner is covered in this terrain, taking Engineer is probably worth it.
- Players can't go bankrupt. This is a nice rule added for beginners.
- Overall, the board is WAY too crowded with 5+ players, and maybe even four. But if you want to teach two newcomers how to play, then this is a good choice.
- There are no black cities in the game; and no black cubes are placed
on the board at setup, although they are included on the goods display
and in the bag. Once black cubes land on the board, players may move
them like an ordinary cube, but they simply subtract one income from a
player for each link that they cross of that player's color. A player
with a high link value can do some real damage with this ability, and
it can change the course of the game. Two things govern my thinking
of this. First of all, a player has to give up shipping a good of
their own to hurt another. Secondly, there are people mean-spirited
enough to do this. With them, the game can get nasty quick.
- The Urbanization action now allows a player to replace two black cubes, whether on the board or on the goods display with two new cubes. This action is taken a LOT, since players don't want to have a link attached to a city that has, or has the possibility of, black cubes.
- The Engineer allows a player to either build or replace one track for free. Since some of the track on this board can be quite expensive, players choose this one quite a bit.
- Rome is a double city and has two numbers on the goods display. This isn't as powerful as Paris in the France board, but it's still a critical city.
- One of the most interesting things about the game is that players cannot build unfinished links. Instead, they can build as much track as they want from one city to another, as long as they take the shortest route possible. Because of this, I've built links that were seven tracks long - it's not really practical, but an interesting idea. At the bottom of Italy, cities are rather far apart, and thus this rule is necessary.
- Also of interest are several new complex track pieces - some of them so odd that I'm not sure they'll ever be used. In the games that I've played, only a few of them have been used - and it's a rare thing. Still, they're neat pieces of track and can come in handy in the VERY crowded upper section of Italy.
- Even though the game is much meaner and nastier (due to crowded conditions and the black cubes), some things have gotten easier. There is no income reduction, and players can take shares at any time, although they only get $3 if they do so outside the normal share phase.
- Italy with more than four players is horrifying to newcomers and those that love peace. I'm not sure that I've enjoyed it very much. I like that the board is long, as it adds an interesting dynamic, but I've never really thought that Age of Steam needed more confrontation, which is what you get here.
Perhaps getting this expansion will satisfy your entire gaming group. The Italy board will please the bloodthirsty folk who like ways to negatively affect other players. The France board is a great introductory board. Combine them for an interesting expansion to Age of Steam. It's not the one that I would buy first - but it's certainly interesting!
"Real men play board games"