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Age of Steam
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Age of Steam

Third Edition

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Product Awards:  
International Gamers Awards
Best Strategy Game, 2003

Ages Play Time Players
10+ 120+ minutes 3-6

Publisher(s): FRED Distribution

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Product Description

Age of Steam 2009: The classic and original version is now back in print and looks better than ever!

This new edition supports 36 expansions which have been created over the past 6 years for this game -- testimony to its amazing popularity!

This game includes the Age of Steam: Barbados / St. Lucia expansion.

Product Awards

International Gamers Awards
Best Strategy Game, 2003

Product Information

  • Publisher(s): FRED Distribution

  • Year: 2009

  • Players: 3 - 6

  • Time: 120 or more minutes

  • Ages: 10 and up

  • Weight: 1,932 grams


  • 1 Game Board
  • 1 Goods/Action Display
  • 1 Income Track Display
  • 8 Town Discs (white)
  • 136 Hexagonal Track Tiles
  • 8 Hexagonal New City Tiles (1 red, 1 blue, 1 purple, 1 yellow, 4 black)
  • 96 Goods cubes (20 red, 20 blue, 20 purple, 20 yellow, 16 black)
  • 6 sets track ownership Locomotives (20 each of red, blue, yellow, purple, green, black)
  • 6 sets of player discs (5 each of red, blue, yellow, purple, green, black)
  • 40 $1 Bills
  • 40 $5 Bills
  • 10 $25 Bills
  • 1 Turn Track Marker
  • 6 dice
  • 1 Black Cloth Bag
  • Rulebook
Age of Steam has the following expansions available:

Age of Steam: The Moon and Berlin expansion Out of Stock

Age of Steam: Mexico / China Expansion Out of Stock

Age of Steam: Time Traveler expansion Out of Stock

Age of Steam/Steam: Beer & Pretzels expansion Out of Stock

Age of Steam: The Zombie Apocalypse Expansion Out of Stock

Age of Steam: Holland / Madagascar Expansion Out of Stock

Age of Steam Box #1 empty storage box Out of Stock

Age of Steam: CCCP/Chile/Egypt limited edition of 120 Out of Stock

Age of Steam: Jamaica / Puerto Rico expansion Out of Stock

Age of Steam: Barbados / St. Lucia expansion Out of Stock

Age of Steam: America / Europe expansion Out of Stock

Spielbox Magazine: 2007 issue 2 includes Age of Steam map & Caylus Magna Carta card Out of Stock

Age of Steam expansion #3 Scandinavia and Korea Out of Stock

Age of Steam expansion #2 Western United States and Germany Out of Stock

Age of Steam expansion #1 England & Ireland Out of Stock

Age of Steam expansion #4 France and Italy Out of Stock

Age of Steam: Sun / London expansion Out of Stock

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 5 in 10 reviews

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Get ready for the rail ride of your gaming life!
January 28, 2009

Design by: Martin Wallace
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
Publisher: Eagle Games / Warfrog / Winsome
Players: 3 – 6
Time: 2 – 3 hours

I first had the opportunity to play this game late one night at the infamous Jung Hotel during my first journey to the legendary Spiel show in Essen, Germany. The room was bursting at the seams with folks playing games, but six of us managed to squeeze into a corner and play the game. Although I played the first half of that game attempting to develop some sort of strategy or plan, I still have very fond memories. Not only was the game outstanding, but we all got a great laugh out of witnessing designer Martin Wallace have a glass of beer spilled in his lap and watching as Dr. Steve Owen, who helped teach and demonstrate the game dozens of times during the Essen show, was mercilessly bounced from the game at the conclusion of the first round by a particularly evil play!

First, let me state flatly that I’m a big fan of Volldampf, the TM Spiele version of Wallace’s earlier Lancashire Rails. After hearing me sing its praises, Martin mentioned to me that if I enjoyed Volldampf so much, I would likely love his next game. Well, he was right. Age of Steam is nothing short of fantastic. The game is the next step on the evolutionary track for Lancashire Rails and its roots are plain to see. However, there have been numerous enhancements and twists that elevate the game to a new, more tense and richer level. Perhaps the main change is that the train routes are no longer pre-established. Rather, as in 18xx games, players construct the routes themselves.

The object of Age of Steam is similar to that of Volldampf: construct rail lines and transport goods across these lines to the cities that are demanding those goods. Money is earned each time a good travels across rail line segments. The ultimate objective, of course, is to turn a profit and become the wealthiest rail merchant. Such wealth, however, isn’t easy to come by. If you thought money was tight in Volldampf, it is tighter here than Ebenezer Scrooge’s pocketbook!

The board depicts a cross-section of the Ohio valley, with twelve cities already established. There are fourteen other town sites that may be developed into cities during the course of the game.

Each turn consists of a logical and easy-to-follow sequence of play:

  1. Issue Shares. As in Volldampf, players may issue shares from their railroads and receive $5 per share issued. However, at the conclusion of each turn, they must pay $1 per outstanding share in expenses. Shares may not be redeemed during the course of the game, so players must weigh this regular expense against the benefit of acquiring the extra cash. Further, each outstanding share at the end of the game reduces a player’s victory points by 3. Ouch!

  2. Determine Player Order. This recreates the clever turn order mechanism found in Volldampf, wherein players bid cash to determine the player order for each turn. The first player to drop out of the bidding process will go last in the turn order, but he does not pay any cash for this right. The last two players participating in the bid must pay ALL of the cash they bid when they drop out of the process. All players in between must pay ½ of their bid amount, rounded up.

  3. Select Actions. Not only does the bidding process listed above determine the player order, but also the order in which each player may select their special action for the current turn. These special actions add tremendous spice to the game and are often the focus of heated bidding wars. In turn order, as determined by the bidding process described above, players select one of the seven possible special actions:
    1. First Move. This player may move goods first.
    2. First Build. This player may build track first.
    3. Engineer. This player may build up to 4 segments of track, as opposed to the normal 3 that are allowed.
    4. Locomotive. This player may upgrade his engine to the next level, which allows him to traverse more rail segments when moving goods.
    5. Urbanization. This player may place a new city marker on one of the fourteen possible town locations.
    6. Production. Before placing new goods markers onto the board, this player may place two new goods markers on the Goods Display charts.
    7. Turn Order. This player may elect to pass ONCE during the bidding process and jump back into the bidding.

    All of these special abilities can be extremely powerful, particularly when exercised at critical moments. As mentioned, the desire to grab a particular ability makes each auction round very tense and exciting.

  4. Build Track. Each player may construct up to three segments of track per turn (with the exception of the player who chose the ‘Build Track’ ability, who may build four segments). The cost of building a track segment ranges from 2 – 5 gold, depending upon the type of terrain being traversed and whether a player is upgrading the track from a previously laid track. As in Mayfair’s Streetcar, players can upgrade a previous track segment provided all previous track directions remain intact.

    The objective here is to construct track in such a manner as to form completed routes between cities. It is across these routes that goods may be moved from city to city, earning income for the players who control the segments across which the goods are moved. So, it is critical to construct track routes that your opponents will also be forced to utilize when moving goods, thereby earning you money. It is also wise to construct contiguous track routes, so that you can use primarily your own routes when moving goods.

    Of course, ‘getting there first’ can be important, as it is quite common for players to secure the shortest and most inexpensive routes into cities, or completely block access routes to cities for their opponents. This is why the ‘Build First’ and ‘Engineer’ powers can be vital.

  5. Move Goods. This is virtually identical to the Volldampf rules. Each player may move two goods on their turn, but they may not exceed the number of ‘links’ (city to city routes) indicated by the current level of their locomotive. For instance, if a player has a locomotive level of two, then he may only move goods a maximum of two city-to-city links. This is why upgrading your locomotive is so important. The downside is that for each level of your locomotive, you must pay $1 at the end of the turn in expenses. Did I mention that money is very tight?

    Goods may only be moved to a city that matches the color of the good being moved. So, the red goods must end their journey in a red city. This forces players to carefully analyze the layout of the board and the location of the goods when making their bidding, building and movement plans. Since the Urbanization ability allows a player to place a new city marker onto the board, this power is usually highly coveted as the placement it allows can give a player some very lucrative movement routes.

    A brilliant addition to the system is the Goods Display chart. These charts list all of the cities on the board, as well as the potential cities. At the beginning of the game, these charts are filled with goods. Each turn, dice will be rolled to determine which goods are placed on the board. Since the location of the goods is pre-determined, players can study these charts and make their plans accordingly. Although the timing of the appearance of the goods is determined randomly, one can ‘play the odds’ with some degree of certainty that certain goods will appear at certain cities. Plans can then be made accordingly. The ‘Production’ ability gives a player the right to place two new cubes onto the charts, increasing his chances of getting desirable goods onto the board at the location most favorable to him.

  6. Collect Income. When moving goods, each ‘link’ traversed increases the income by one space for the player who owns that link. This is recorded on the Income track. During this phase, all players receive income equal to their current position on this track.

  7. Pay Expenses. Time to pay the reaper. For each outstanding share and each level a player has achieved on the Locomotive track, players must pay $1. In the early stages of the game when income is extremely tight, players must exercise the utmost caution in their financial management. If a player is unable to pay their expenses, their marker is moved down on the income track one space for each $1 they are unable to pay. Another “ouch”.

  8. Income Reduction. As the rich get richer, Uncle Sam steps in and increases his taxes. This is a clever ‘catch the leader’ mechanism wherein as players enter certain brackets on the Income Chart, they are forced to pay a stipend to the government and move their marker backwards on the chart. The first bracket is 11 – 20, wherein a player must move back 2 spaces after collecting their income. Brackets rise in increments of 10 spaces, with each subsequent bracket forcing a player to move back two more spaces than the previous bracket. Often, players will attempt to play the movement of goods so that they do not enter the next bracket. Of course, their more devious opponents will often utilize their track as part of the movement of goods so that the player is knocked into a higher level and will suffer income reduction.

  9. Goods Growth. At this point, after the player who selected the ‘Production’ ability places two new cubes onto the chart, dice are rolled to place more goods from the Goods Display charts onto the board. The Goods Display has two charts, one for each side of the board (east & west). Each chart contains columns for the six cities and four possible towns. There are three cubes that can appear for each city and two for each town, plus any that are placed due to utilizing the ‘Production’ ability. In most of my games, all of the city cubes have been placed during the course of the game and a bit more than half of the town cubes.

    As mentioned, since the cubes are placed on the charts at the beginning of the game, players can readily see which cubes will eventually appear in which cities. This information should be used when planning one’s actions and routes. It does remove much of the randomness that was present in the placing of new goods in Volldampf.

    The length of the game is determined by the number of players. With six players, the game is completed after six turns. With three players, the duration of the game is 10 turns. Most of our six-player games clock-in at two-to-three hours, but this time does diminish with experience. Even at three hours, however, the game is filled with tense excitement, so the time truly flies by.

Once the game is completed, players tally their victory points:

  • 3 points for each dollar of income as shown on the Income Track
  • 1 point for each section of track that is part of a completed link
  • -3 points for each outstanding share

In all but my very first game, the games have been very competitive, with the player ultimately winning only slightly ahead of the next few competitors. Certainly, the game rewards careful planning and a player who establishes profitable routes early and manages his finances wisely will be rewarded later in the game with handsome profits. However, it is not impossible to catch the leader as there are numerous actions players can take to hinder his progress and rob him of potential goods movements. Plus, the government steps in with taxes (Income Reduction) which helps reduce the financial lead the front-runners might be enjoying.

The game has some outstanding production values, with thick cardboard tiles, a functional, easy to read mounted map, lots of wooden cubes and markers and plastic chips for money. The rules are good, but not without some ambiguities. Fortunately, the recent Eagle Games edition has clarified most of these.

Age of Steam has just been re-released by Eagle Games, a division of FRED. I am well pleased to see the game still in production, as it is truly one of the best “gamers” games of the past 20 years. Indeed, it captured the International Gamers Award for outstanding game in 2003, and has spanned a dozen or more expansion maps and variants. It continues to be a huge influence on many other game designs, and will likely continue to be played and enjoyed far into the future.

Great heavier game
July 09, 2005
I've played this once so far, and it's a great heavier game. It's mostly for true "gamers" who will enjoy the complexity and concentration required. I don't want to scare you off - it's fun and rewarding, but it's not Ticket to Ride.
Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
Wallace's Masterpiece
November 29, 2004

If Martin Wallace designs a new game these days, I will buy it sight-unseen, on the spot without any question or qualms. Not all of his games are favorites of mine (Lords of Creation, Election USA); but most of them are real winners, being tremendous games of strategy. The single game that turned me around to becoming a Wallace fanatic was Age of Steam (Winsome Games and Warfrog, 2001 - Martin Wallace). When I first picked up the box and looked at the back, I thought that the board was drab and boring and delayed playing it.

Once I saw it set up for the first time, I was floored, seeing little wooden bits all over the table. My first playing was one of extreme fun (after we restarted when I went bankrupt), and I’ve been playing it ever since. It’s one of the few heavier games that plays well with three to six players, although differently with each. There’s certainly a learning curve; but once a player has played their initial game, the lure of trying a new strategy calls it back. When one wins a game of Age of Steam, it is an accomplishment; as the scores reward both good strategy and tactics. Age of Steam has entered my top ten games; and with expansion maps continually coming out, it will probably stay there for quite some time.

The basic game of Age of Steam uses a partial map of America, depicting the Great Lakes area - split up into hexes, with twelve cities and fourteen towns in various places. The twelve cities are split up into two groups - western half of the board and eastern half, each city having a number from one to six and being one of four colors (purple, blue, red and yellow). Each player takes a pile of discs in their chosen color and places several on two-player aid boards. One token is placed at the “0” space on an income track, another is placed at the “2” space on an issued shares track; another is placed at the “1 link” space on the engine track, and one is placed above a selection actions chart; a final one is randomly placed on a player order track, determining the starting order for the beginning of the first turn. A pile of money tokens is placed near the board, with $10 given to each player. A pile of hexagonal track tiles is placed in the box lid, and then goods are placed. Ninety-six goods cubes in five different colors (purple, blue, red and yellow) are placed in a cup or bag, and then two are randomly placed on each city (three on Pittsburgh and Wheeling). Each city has a matching column on the player aid (the Goods Display) with three spaces - in each of these spaces a random good cube is placed. Ten new city tiles (in all five colors) are placed near the board, marked “A” through “H”. These cities also have a matching column on the player aid with two spaces with random good cubes placed in each. A turn marker is placed on a turn track at the start position, and the first turn is ready to begin.

There are ten phases to each turn in which all players participate. The first phase is the “Issue Shares” phase, in which players (in turn order) decide whether to issue more shares. For each share the player issues, they receive $5 from the bank and move their token on the issued shares track up one. Players then determine play order through a bidding sequence. The player in first place must either bid $1 or move their token to the last space on the turn order track. Each succeeding player must increase the bid or move their token to the last available space on the track. If a player took the “Turn Order Pass” action on the previous turn, they may pass once during the auction without having to place their token on the Player Order Track. The top two bidders must pay the full amount of their final bid to the bank; the lowest bidder pays nothing; and all other bidders pay half of their bids to the bank.

Players then, in turn order, choose one of seven different actions: First Move, First Build, Engineer, Locomotive, Urbanization, Production, or Turn Order Pass. Each of these actions takes place in a specific phase, except for Locomotive, which allows the player to immediately increase their token on the Engine Track by one.

The fourth phase is the Build Track phase, where players build track tiles on the board. If any player took the “First Build” action, they go first; otherwise, all players build in turn order. Each player may place a maximum of three tiles on the board, unless they took the “Engineer” action, allowing them to place up to four tiles. The player who chose “Urbanization” may also choose any of the unused city tiles, placing them onto any town spot on the board, upgrading that town to a city, replacing any track tile that might be in that square. There are some rules when building tracks...

  • Simple tracks (straight or a simple curve) cost $2 to build.
  • Complex track (crossings or two co-existing tracks on the same tile) can replace a simple track - costing $3 for a crossing, and $2 for a coexisting.
  • A track placed on a space with a river running through it costs $3.
  • A track with a mountain terrain costs $4 to place a track in it.
  • A track connecting a town costs $1 for the town, plus $1 for each connecting track.
  • If a player connects two towns and/or cities, he places one of his disks on the track to show ownership of it.
  • If a player does not connect a city and/or town with their track, they place one of their disks on the track to show that they own it; but if they don’t complete the track the following turn, the disk is removed, leaving the track up for grabs.
  • There are a few other rules regarding terrain, connecting towns, etc.

The next phase is the “Move Goods” phase. Starting with the player who picks the “First Move” action (if any), and then in turn order, each player may either move one good cube or increase their maximum links by one on the Engine Track. A good can only be moved to a city that matches its color. Each section of track connecting a city or town counts as one link, and players may only move cubes the amount of links equal to where their token is on the Engine Track. For each link of their own color that the cube passes over, the player moves their token one on the Income Track. If the cube passes over other players’ tracks, their income is also increased by one for each link passed over. Once all players have shipped a good, increased Engine Track, or passed, the same thing is repeated one more time.

The next two phases, Collect Income and Pay Expenses, can be combined. Each player receives an amount of money equal to the number their token is on the income track. However, they must pay to the bank the sum of the shares issued and the number of links their token is on the Engine Track. If the player doesn’t have the money to pay the bank, they must reduce their income track marker by one for each dollar owned. If a player’s token goes below $0, they are eliminated from the game.

In the Income Reduction Phase, players move their tokens back a certain amount of spaces on the income track, if they are above 11. The number moved back is determined by how far their token is on the track. There is then a Goods Growth Phase. The player who chose the “Production” action can randomly draw two goods cubes and place them in any empty boxes in the Goods Display. After this, four dice are rolled for the western cities, and then four for the eastern cities. Each city whose number matches a number rolled has the first available good in their column on the Goods Display placed on the city. Multiple cubes might be placed on the same city, and cities with no goods in the Goods Display ignore the rolls. The New Cities columns are lined up with some of the numbers, so they might also have goods placed on them.

In the last phase, Advance Turn Marker, the turn marker is obviously moved one space. If it reaches a space declaring game end (different depending on number of players), the game ends after the next turn. Players then sum up their victory points:

  • Points equal to three times the number their disk is on the Income Track.
  • One point for each section of track they have on the board.
  • Negative points equal to three times the number of shares they have issued.

The player with the most points is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: I stated that at first I was less than impressed by the board; but after playing the game, I was glad it was so plain, as it was very easy to place tracks and see what was going on. And even so, once all the tracks are laid out, with cubes and discs on the board, it really does look really cool. The map of the Great Lakes area is very well done, and it’s fun to connect cities you know (for those who aren’t Americans, maps are being done of many other countries). The track tiles are of a good thickness and are very clean and easy to see on the board. The money is different sized Tiddly-Wink pieces (seems to be common in many games), and the tokens and cubes are nice sized and easy to handle. There are a LOT of pieces in the game, but everything fits well in the box when bagged, and I was even able to fit an expansion board in the box also. The player aids are impressive, managing to hold a wealth of information on them in an orderly fashion. Warfrog has done an outstanding job on the components, which are certainly equal to the price of the game.

2.) Slight Problems: Warfrog is known for their errors in games (although it’s really quite miniscule, people tend to talk about it.) The problem in AOS is that Detroit is numbered incorrectly. This is extremely easy to ignore or fix - Warfrog issued a sticker to correct the problem, or you can download it off the internet. Also, the goods and city colors are identical to the player colors. For an experienced player, this is no big deal but can be confusing to new players. (It is expensive to do 11 different colors, however.) Notice that even with these minor problems, I still rate the game a “10” which shows how nitpicky these problems are.

3.) Rules: I usually criticize Warfrog for their formatting of their rules, but AOS’s rules are the best from that company. They are seven pages of nicely formatted rules with illustrations and many examples. Everything is laid out in detail, making the game easy for someone to understand. Learning the game itself can be a task, often depending on how good the teacher is; but once learned, everything runs fairly smoothly.

4.) Learning Curve: At the same time, new players are at a definite disadvantage in their first game. Even with the more experienced players coaching them, helping them realize what good decisions are, I’ve rarely seen a new player win their first game. At the same time, because the game has an excellent way of stopping the “rich-get-richer” problem (Income reduction), games are usually close, with even the losers having a good time and not caring that they’ve lost. I always warn new players about bankruptcy, however (I’m sensitive since it happened to me); and very rarely have I seen it happen, as long as players realize they are on a short leash financially.

5.) Finances: One thing I love about the game is how tight money is at first. If a player breaks even in the first couple of turns, they are usually ecstatic, knowing that they’ve done well. Only near the end of the game do players have a lot of money, and by then it’s good for nothing. Knowing how many shares to take and when to take them is crucial. And even players who make little money in the beginning of the game can still do well, as long as they keep their debts down.

6.) Strategies: There are whole series of articles written on strategy of the game - most of which I haven’t read, since I like to form my own strategies with games. But Age of Steam, one of the few games I have a high winning percentage at, is so well designed that you can see exactly how your strategies are implemented. Of course, strategies vary greatly depending on how many players are in the game; and while I think that the optimal players is four, I love playing with any number of players. (I even heard that there’s a two-player variant available, but I’m not interested in it. I prefer it as a multiplayer game.)

7.) Fun Factor and Interaction: This game, even though it’s sometimes head-scratching strategic, is a blast. This is helped in great part by the player interaction in the game. From the auctions, which can get fairly tense at times, to the special actions (“Hey! You took Urbanization, and my strategy revolved around that!”), to cutting off other players with your tracks, to shipping your goods over other players’ rails, to shipping cubes just before others players, there is massive interaction in the game, and one must watch all other players at all times so that they don’t lose. I’ve played several games that have been won and lost by only a point or two, and making one small critical mistake can cost you. The joy of winning and the joy of losing (the game is that fun) make this one a game that I’ll pull out often.

8.) Expansions: There are several expansion maps from both Winsome and Warfrog, as well as unofficial maps that can be found online. These maps with different layouts and special rules allow the game to have a great variety. I would be satisfied with the map in the box, but the extra maps make the game even more fun. (My current favorite is Korea.)

This is a great, great game, and one should not hesitate to pick up a copy of it if they can. It’s certainly not a light game, and one in which all the players should be ready to match wits and tactics, but it’s fun and involving. Seeing your tracks laid out on the board gives one a great feeling of satisfaction, and the theme really fits the mechanics well. Until I had played Age of Steam, I had never been interested in rail games; and this game has really sparked my desire to play more, although I’ve yet to play one as good as this one. This game is Martin Wallace’s masterpiece and is certainly one of the best games of the decade. If you like good strategic games, buy this one; you won’t regret it!

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.

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