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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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Played Euchre last night for the first time in a year or two. It was sort of a surreal experience. I found myself thinking about the game quite a bit differently than I used to. I think that game playing in general, for entirely different kind of games, has led me to different ways of approaching game mechanics. Euchre is pretty simple, and I don’t know that I played particularly better, but the approach I used was a lot different.

I don’t know if I can better codify what I’m talking about here, but it’s interesting to me how exposure to different game systems and mechanics make me rethink familiar systems and mechanics. There’s something here in common with programming languages and methodologies, where exposure to functional programming changes the behaviors and philosophies used in procedural languages.

Anyhow, more on that later.

I finally managed to get Martin Wallace’s (unequivocally possessive for the moment) Steam: Rails to Riches to the table last night. Visually, the game is extremely cluttered compared to all of the different versions of Age of Steam. As much as I love Wallace’s designs, I hate the visual aesthetic of most of his games, and Steam is no exception.

The changes to the game mechanics are not subtle; the modified approach goods growth is a game-changing adjustment. The separate VP and income tracks provide another tactical decision that needs to be made; income reductions for share issuance and recurring share costs are entirely different concepts, especially in the endgame, despite the seeming isomorphism. Most of the other changes are minor.

I think the game is a bit more accessible this way, and perhaps a bit more balanced. I’m not yet sure if that’s a good thing. I haven’t played it enough yet to be confident, but I think the game may be somewhat better balanced. Steam seems less likely to promote massive endgame score disparities, and makes it much harder to bankrupt yourself or go “too far” into debt. I’m not sure that this makes a difference to who wins and loses in the end yet, but I think it compresses the point spread in the endgame.

By itself, I like Steam, but I think the edge may be a little sharper and less forgiving with Age of Steam, which speaks to my tastes.