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Automobile covers the history of the US car industry during its birth and growth, from 1896 to 1929. The aim of the game is to make the most money, which means making and selling cars.
The track around the outside shows the models of cars that can be built. Factories will be placed in these locations, going clockwise around the board. You can skip locations by expending additional R&D points. You can have up to three factories in a location, how many determines the minimum and maximum number of cars that can be produced there. Cars come in three general types, cheap cars for the mass market, (brown edging), mid priced cars for the middle class market, (blue edging), and premium cars for those with more money than sense, (cream edging). Demand for each type varies from turn to turn. Early on in the game demand for mid priced cars will be higher than that for low or high priced cars. In the later turns the demand for low priced cars will rise dramatically, while that for high priced cars will grow a little.
The game is played over four turns. At the start of each turn players select one of the six characters shown towards the bottom of the board. Each character confers a special ability. Ford allows you to build an extra factory, Kettering gives you extra R&D points, Sloan allows you to get rid of Loss points, Howard allows you to sell extra cars, Durant allows you to build a new factory immediately, and Chrysler gives you extra R&D points and reduces your Loss points. Character selection also determines the order of play, going from Ford to Chrysler.
Each player will then get to perform three actions, Build Factory, Produce Cars, Take R&D, Place Distributors, and Close Factory. After that players sell cars. Players draw tiles at the start of each turn which give them some idea of the total demand but no the whole picture. Players now reveal these tiles and sell cars from locations, one at a time, going from the most advanced. Once the number of cars sold matches demand then you stop selling. You can attempt to increase the number of cars you sell by spending more R&D points on them or dropping your prices.
Loss points are taken when you do not sell cars and for having older factories on the board. They do not go away easily and the cost per point goes up each turn. You can get rid of them by choosing certain characters or by closing down factories. Loss points force to you keep building out along the track. If you don't, then the number you collect will end any hope you have of winning the game.
After four turns you count up how much money you have and add that to the capital tied up in factories. The player with the highest total is the winner.
Approximately two years ago I experienced a boardgame that grew with the remembrances of seeing it at past regional boardgaming conventions. That game was called Automobile designed by Martin Wallace and was originally published in Great Britain. One of the regional game participants asked me if I wanted to try Automobile. Unfortunately, it took two more years from that convention experience to have the game available from Mayfair. Little did I realize the quality of the game that would result without paper board and an emphasis on game components.
When you open the game--especially if you carry a love-hate relationship for the automobile industry--you are greeted with a spectacular board that has all the parts of the game covered in different sections for the phases. For example, you see General Market, Production Costs, Character Spaces, and Salesroom. In that way, it reminds one of Vinhos with its different parts that I reviewed earlier. You see beautiful drawings of the period in Automobile, including the showrooms of the era. I marveled at the sharp drawings of the photographed automobile pioneers, such as Ford, Howard (the phenomenal Los Angeles car salesperson), Durant, Sloan, Kettering, and Chrysler. You soon realize in reading the rules that eight major steps are essential to play the game effectively. The game only last four turns with eight phases each turn. You are given 28 automobiles, $2,000, 8 salesmen, 6 factories, 2 player tokens (for selection), 1 parts factory, and R & D white cubes (depending on number of players).
Take three actions in the first turn. That becomes Phase 3. Five possibilities exist. You have already been given two R and D (Research and Development) cubes. You will need these cubes to start your factories. One has to remember that it costs an additional R & D cube for each space you move around the board beyond the last factory another player built. For example, two spaces costs 3 cubes; three spaces costs 6 cubes and so on. No cost results with R & D cubes if you build behind someone else’s factory on the board. R & D cubes are important to have. Let’s say you choose Ford as your auto pioneer for your turn as one of your possibilities. At least one factory can be built; two are maximum. At the same time, the gamer decides whether erecting one factory ($500) and avoiding a parts factory will work. The parts factory saves a little on the cost of R & D cubes ($20). Don’t forget Ford gives you one R & D cube.
Your job in the game is to sell cars and make money. Therefore, you may want to choose Howard, the person who sold the most cars for Ford in Los Angeles and in the country. You are entitled to automatically sell two cars with the help of Howard. Howard allows you the highest price for the cars. Therefore, you will not be hamstrung with other players being able to sell their cars without your participating in the sales. I observed one of our three players (game for 3-5) always took Howard in each round, because that player was determined to sell cars every turn.
Next, let’s deal with the pioneer, Kettering, and what R & D cubes do for constructing factories and parts factories. He gives you three R & D cubes, which can be quite useful. Durant (GM genius) is next. With Durant you must build a factory in an unoccupied production space.
Then, we move to Sloan (writing the book on management theory at GM). He allows you to discard half of the loss cubes (rounded up) before players have to pay for the losses. Additionally, he gives you one R & D cube. Finally, we can choose Chrysler, founder of the Chrysler Corporation before it was absorbed by Fiat. He also deals with the loss phase (Phase 8) and allows you, for example, to discard loss cubes equal to the turn. In Turn 3 if you hold Chrysler you may discard three loss cubes and always gain two R & D cubes. Before that, by holding Chrysler you discard the number of loss cubes equal to the turn number (1 for turn 1 and 2 for turn 2, for examples).
As one looks at the board you can see how all phases are laid out. The board even possesses a Turn Phase Track to guide the players. Let’s look at Phase 1—Draw Demand Tiles. It is important that demand refers to the market for middle-class cars ($150 or $100), mass production cars ($100 or $70), and premium class ($200). You possess a black bag where you draw tiles to indicate, first, what the market is for numbers of middle-class automobiles. You now know how many cars can be sold in that round or turn. After that, you can purchase in all three market types. Phase 2—“Select Characters” has already been dealt with in the previous paragraphs about the auto pioneers. Phase 3—Take player actions (up to three) can now be summarized once again:
The other phases follow in order: (4) sell cars by Howard; (5) sell cars via the distributors; (6) executive decisions; (7) sell cars via demand tiles; and (8) take losses and interests for loans. The turn is concluded. Executive decisions requires some explanation. You can make one of these executive decisions:
Let’s talk about the advertisement markers. Markers cost R & D cubes. One caution: the first advertisement costs two R & D cubes. Other players advertising only pay one R & D. Three ads are available for purchase. Advertisements increase the number of cars that can be sold.
Next, let’s deal with the discount markers (gray disks) for cars. You look at the board spaces where you produced cars. You want your cars to be more attractive to potential buyers. These markers are only used for produced cars. Premium-class cars cannot have discount markers or gray disks. You decide on one or two round gray disks for your discounts. Once placed there, these discount markers are good for this turn. It is conceivable you could have an advertisement and discount markers in the same space in the Executive Decisions Display part of the board. Finally, if you don’t want any executive decisions, you may Pass and move your white disk on the Selection Order Chart. By doing the Pass early, you ensure you may have a more favorable position for starting earlier in the next turn.
No economic game of this type would be complete without a phase 8 for losses and loans. Certain players find they must “pay the piper” each turn with black loss cubes. You check production spaces to see which players receive the loss cubes. One has to remember that each black cube counts -1 against future victory points. Advanced spaces, in general, for selected players help the participants to avoid loss cubes. You go backwards from the most advanced occupied factory space for players. That space does not receive any loss cubes. Let’s say you are one back (production spaces) in an occupied factory space from the leader in middle-class car production. You get one loss cube as player D. Now, player B is two back of you with an occupied factory. In between player B is a closed factory done by player C. You count that particular space as an occupied space. Therefore, player B’s receipt of black cubes is (1 + 2 (including that close factory counted) = 3) is three. It doesn’t pay to be too far back from the lead occupied space. Also, you have to consider whether you are the most occupied premium, middle-class, or mass-produced occupied space. Don’t forget if you have the character tile for Sloan, then, you can discard half of your loss cubes (rounded up).
At the end of the game for winning, you total all your cash and subtract loans. You must pay back $600 instead of the original $500 for each loan. You have already paid interest on loans each turn based on the market in the Turn Track. You have only been entitled to two loans during the entire game. You receive $500 for each occupied factory (original amount paid) as well as parts factories. The player with the most cash is the winner.
What makes Automobile a winner is the number of choices one can make—buy certain factory production, advertise automobiles, take discounts, create executive decisions, or take loans, for examples. Granted, I have not talked about how the cars are sold in the salesroom as well as how the markets are handled on the Turn Track. Still, you may get that special feeling of being in big business. Then, combine the excellent components with well-written rules, and you experience an afternoon or evening of intense game playing. Our scores in the first game reflect this intensity: player A, $3,030; player B, $3,320; and player C, $1,850. I can proudly say a loan was never taken. However, the winning players did take loans. The message: take more loans in such a high-powered game.