Age of Steam review

Age of Steam Deluxe with 3 expansion volumns plus wooden trains

Age of Steam is a train game where you lay tracks to deliver cubes of a certain colour to stations of the same colour. It’s an economic game where you are trying to balance your outgoings against your incomings without going bankrupt. This is a game with player elimination – if every your income goes below zero you are out of the game (although I have yet to see it).

I backed this game on Kickstarter as I wanted a good economic game that wasn’t Powergrid (as my friend owns Powergrid and all the maps). Age of Steam looked like it would scratch that itch, and three boxes of maps would give me the same flexibility we have when playing Powergrid. The great thing about the maps is that, while usually a 3-5 player game, I have a bunch of specifically 2 or 1 player boards. There are also a ton of fan-made maps you can download. Each different board isn’t just a different map but has it’s own set of rules. So there is an absolute ton of replayability.

Game Details
NameAge of Steam (2002)
ComplexityMedium Heavy [3.88]
BGG Rank124 [7.84]
Player Count (Recommended)1-6 (3-6)
Designer(s)John Bohrer and Martin Wallace
Mechanism(s)Auction/Bidding, Catch the Leader, Connections, Dice Rolling, Hexagon Grid, Loans, Network and Route Building, Pick-up and Deliver, Player Elimination, Scenario / Mission / Campaign Game, Selection Order Bid, Solo / Solitaire Game, Tile Placement, Turn Order: Auction and Victory Points as a Resource

Age of Steam is the first of a series of similar games. Steam: Rails to Riches and Railways of the World both being heavily based on Age of Steam while being less and less harsh. I’d previously played Railways of the World (although hadn’t realised the games were related when I backed it) and I really enjoyed it. Having now played Age of Steam several times I can definitely see how this is a much harsher game.

This is the least “pretty” of the three games with plain green for the background of the board rather than something with bushy foliage on it. The tiles are pretty bland compared to the other two versions as well. But honestly, I love the really simple look. And it’s combined by incredibly good quality components. And with the deluxe box it has trays to store everything in. Money is in the form of mini poker chips which I absolutely adore (and anything that makes a satisfying clunk when I play with it is good by me.

It’s one of those games that is pretty easy to explain as you follow the board phase by phase and it’s really self-explanatory. It’s also one of those games that is really hard to play well. In the early phases of the game you could well be losing money every turn. And your income at the end of the game, and the number of tracks you have built (which costs money to do) determines your final score. So money is everything.

There’s an element in randomness. At the beginning of games you know what colour goods will appear in what stations – allowing for some planning for where to start and where to build tracks. However, goods come out based on the roll of a dice. Some stations may never get restocked following the start of the game.

Turn order is auctioned for at the start of every round, so even if you do have the goods come out, someone could bid to come earlier than you in turn order and steal the goods off you.

So it’s definitely a harsh game. The first time I played I came second (see the picture at the top). The second time I played I came a third out of four with the two front-runners way out ahead (this was the GB board which is evil) . The solo game I played was challenging although ultimately I won.

It’s probably not a game I’ll pick out to solo all that often as I’ve got many more solo games I prefer to play, and it’s one I’ll have to plan to play ahead of time with other people as it can be a long haul. But it’s one I’m glad I’ve got. It certainly scratches the itch of a good economic game with lots of replayability. And the four boxes look so beautiful on my shelf (alongside my other “train” games) even if they do take up a fair amount of space. It was possibly a bit pricey for the amount of gameplay I will get out of it in the end but I’m very glad to have it.

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