- Designer: Stephen Glenn
- Publisher: R&R Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 60 minutes
- Times played: 2
Essen is just about to start, and I arrived a bit early this year to take in some sights and try to avoid being jetlagged for the show. Last night, I ran into Frank DiLorenzo from R&R Games, and we talked a bit about one of his new games, Spike. I am already familiar with this title as I have played the final prototype at the Gathering of Friends earlier this year.
Spike is a railroad game – or at least a game that uses railroads as its theme. Players try to both build a network of rail connections as well as deliver goods to fulfill contracts in order to win the game. The board shows the Eastern United States, with many of the larger cities scattered on the board. The country is overlaid with a triangular array of possible rail builds. Each of the cities has a pictured icon of one of the goods in the game – this represents the type of cargo that can be loaded on a train which is stopped there.
Players start the game with some randomly dealt contracts (between 3 and 6) and a hand of 5 rail cards. (There are 6 different rail card suits). Players also get a Route card which is an endgame bonus card that rewards you for connecting particular cities with your rail network. Finally, each player is given 3 cards which represents their locomotive. The train has attributes for speed (how many rail segments it moves on a turn), power (how many cards you can draw each turn) and cargo capacity (how many pieces of cargo it can carry). At the start of the game, each player can freely choose which city their locomotive starts on.
On a turn, you first get to move your train for free. This ONLY happens if your train is already in motion (i.e. not stopped on a city space). The train moves a number of spaces equal to its speed rating. If it gets to a city and stops there, it can deliver cargo (more on this later).
Then, the player must choose from one of the following 5 options:
- Draw Rail Cards – draw a number of cards up to your train’s power rating – this can come from the tableau of 4 face up cards or from the face down deck
- Build Rail segments – play cards from your hand to build track. All track must connect to your network (the starting point of which is the initial location of your train). You must play cards which match the color of railway on the board where you want to play. You can use multiples of other color cards as wild – they are worth one fewer of the desired color. You must always connect to another city, and when you do, you score points for the cargo type in the city you connect to. There is a chart on the board which tells you how much each cargo type is worth.
- Set a train in motion – start moving your train from a city. It moves a number of spaces up to your speed rating. Before leaving, you could choose to load a cargo token from the city that you leave from. If you move into a city, you could deliver a cargo. (more on this later)
- Movement Boost – move your train exactly one space – this is usually done to get to a city so that you can either load or deliver cargo
- Upgrade your train – each of your three train attributes starts at 1, and each can be raised to 2 (for $3) and then to level 3 ($5). When you upgrade, you can choose one attribute to raise by one level.
Let’s go back to explain the cargo rules.
Loading Cargo – each player gets a set of cargo tokens. You can load one of your tokens on a train if you are stopped in a city. Your train can only hold a number equal to its cargo capacity.
Delivering Cargo – at the start of the game, you are dealt a number of cargo cards. These cards tell you what commodity can be delivered to a number of different cities. If you have the correct cargo token on your train, and if you are in a city listed on the card, you can deliver the good and receive the appropriate payment. Note- it is possible to have contracts which allow you to deliver to the same city; however, you can only deliver one good to any particular city per game.
The game lasts through 3.5 to 4 times through the deck of rail cards – there is a “Wertung” like system to determine the game end on the 4th pass thru the deck. The game ends immediately when the final timing card is drawn, so you’re never quite sure when the game is over. At the end of the game, players will reveal their bonus Route card which will possibly score them some points depending on whether or not they connected cities listed on that card. The player with the most money wins – ties go to the player with the most connected cities on the board.
My thoughts on the game
Spike has been a blast both times that I’ve played it. The rules are easy to grok, and the game plays quickly as there is little down time between turns. Spike takes the familiar hand management and track building aspects of rail games such as Ticket to Ride and melds it with the added activity of moving a train along and delivering goods (you know, as in a crayon rail game like Empire Builder). However, it manages to do this combination without turning the game into the two to three hour length that you typically expect from the crayon rail genre.
With only one free action and one chosen action each turn – the game moves along very quickly. Both of my games have started with an early flurry of card drawing and track building – because you need to have a good network to deliver all your contracts; however, this is balanced by the fact that you’d like to also get your train moving as early as possible since the movement pretty much only happens in the free action at the start of the turn. Additionally, you need a fair amount of time to get your locomotive to move everywhere you want it to go; so you will need to spend a few turns putting your locomotive in motion as well as upgrading your train so that you can more efficiently move. The end result of this is that delightful dilemma of wanting to do more things each turn than you have the capacity to do.
Looking at the board layout as well as your cargo and route cards is paramount at the beginning of the game as you really should have an overall gameplan of what parts of the board you want your locomotive to go over the game. There are enough track sections and variant pick up/delivery locations that you can alter your plans on the fly. The varied payouts on the contract cards also let you be a bit more risky with your planning for possible large payoffs. As you’re never quite sure when the game will end (you only know that it will be in the final half of the deck on the 4th pass), you will have to start triaging your cards at about the 3rd shuffle – trying to figure out how many turns you have left in the game will become an important factor. The game length may be shortened severely if someone keeps drawing cards from the deck!
The artwork is quite nice (done by Pedro Soto), and the quality of components is top notch. The game was printed and assembled in the US, and these components certainly compare well to those done in the more mainstream European printing centers. The punchboard material is quite thick; and if you get the game in Essen, I’d recommend punching the game before packing it. The game probably weighs close to five pounds unpunched, and the punchboard frames probably account for at least a pound of that weight.
Spike will likely end up on the heavier end of the family game spectrum; it offers a bit more complexity than Ticket To Ride but not so much so that it will overwhelm a novice gamer. It will certainly get a lot of playtime over the winter in my house.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:
Dan Blum (1 play of a late prototype): The name’s kind of dumb. But the game is good, and despite having elements in common with some popular train games, doesn’t feel much like them, which I consider a plus. You can’t play this as if it were advanced Ticket to Ride or a shorter Empire Builder and expect to win.
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor