Broadhorns: Early Trade on the Mississippi
- Designer: James Harmon
- Publisher: Rio Grande Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 75-90 minutes
- Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Rio Grande Games
Broadhorns is one of the new Rio Grande releases from Spring 2018. The designer’s name was new to me, but a quick review of his designer page on BGG shows that he has a number of game designs to his credit, including a Princess Bride game which I had previously played! In this game, players act as merchants, picking up goods and passengers as far north as St Louis and traveling down the Mississippi river towards New Orleans.
The gameboard is a representation of the river with 11 rivertowns shown along the way. The northernmost city is St Louis, and there is a large market here where players can fill their broadhorns – that is, their flatboats. Each town has a number of demand tiles, these are randomly selected and placed next to each town. There is also a deck of expedition cards which is shuffled and set near the board.
Each player starts with their broadhorn token in St Louis and a starting supply of gold. Gold is marked on a track around the board, and it represents both your buying power as well as your victory points. There is a market box next to St Louis and barrels of the five different commodities are found there. There are both perishable (flour, apples, pork) goods as well as non-perishable goods (furs, whiskey).
The game will be played in a number of rounds until five seasons have been completed – starting from autumn of one year through the end of the following autumn. There is a season tracker in the bottom left of the board. The actual number of turns is variable though – this will be explained later.
Each player turn follows the same pattern – going through the same four phases.
1] Refresh the Market – as I mentioned earlier, the Market is in St Louis. At the start of every turn, replenish the market so that it has 10 total barrels there. The price for goods is related to the abundance of the supply.
2] Spoil Cargo – as I mentioned earlier, there are perishable goods in the game. The active player must move all of this perishable goods one step to the right on his broadhorn. If they reach the far right space in their row, the good spoils and must be discarded.
3] Take 2 actions (Move or Port – may repeat actions).
To move, you look at the base speed value of your boat (printed on the boat), and add any modification based on the season (look at the chart in the bottom left of the board). You may move your broadhorn up to this number of spaces – always downstream. If you choose to do this action twice on your turn, you get an additional move action as a bonus – thus allowing you to move up to three times your allowance for the turn.
The port action is somewhat more complicated with multiple steps. First, this can only happen if your broadhorn is in a port space, and you can only perform one port action at a town per expedition. When you are in port, there are three possible things you can do in port (Sell, Buy, Travelers), and you may do any or all of them while in port, though they must be done in the order of Sell, Buy, Travelers.
First, you can sell goods from your Broadhorn. Each town tile has specific needs with payouts shows on the icon for the particular goods. If you sell a good to match, you place that barrel on the matching circle on the tile, and then move your gold marker accordingly. If you have an expedition card that gives a bonus for a sale, you can play it now. Check to see if you earn the bonus gold noted near the town name – you collect this if you have sold two desired goods this turn OR you have completed the town by selling the final needed good. You can also sell goods which have no specific demand; these goods are discarded back into the bag, and you gain a measly 1 gold per good.
If you complete a town tile’s demand – that is fill up the final empty demand circle – the town is full. The player takes the town tile and puts it in front of him, there are wreaths on this tile which score at the end of the game. One perishable good is taken off the tile and placed on the season tracker on the board. The rest of the goods are returned to the bag. The newly revealed tile shows the new demand. If the final tile is taken, there is some information printed directly on the board which then is in effect for that town for the duration of the game.
Buying can happen in any town, but has different rules in St Louis, so I’ll describe that first. In St Louis, your first decision is what Broadhorn to buy. Essentially, each time you are there, you are starting over. Your previous broadhorn has been broken up and sold for lumber, and you need to get a new boat. There are three sizes to choose from, and each has different costs, capacity, speed, etc. Choose one and put it in front of you. Then, you can buy goods from the market. You are really only limited by your gold stores and the number of spaces available in your broadhorn. There is a limit of one good per row on your boat tile. The cost of the desired goods is based on the number available in the market, and you can always take a desired good from the bag for a cost of 4 gold. You are not obligated to fill every good space prior to starting your expedition.
In all the other towns on the river, if you choose to buy, you are limited to buying cargo types which are shown on the banner of the town. The cost of the goods is calculated from the current base price in St Louis for that good plus the modifier shown on the town banner for that good. The purchased good barrels are still taken from the market box in St Louis.
Finally, you can deal with travelers – which may already be next to the town on the table or might be in your hand of cards. If you pick up a traveler, place the card face up next to your boat. Each traveler has a pickup location and a destination. If you take a port action at the card’s destination, you can deliver the passenger and take the shown rewards. If your boat has gone further downstream than the destination, the passenger is simply discarded as your boat can never go upstream.
4] Draw an expedition card – draw the top card from the Expedition deck. If this card is a Spoil card, it is shown face up and it will affect all players immediately. Otherwise, the card is placed in your hand to be used later.
Spoil Cards – These cards show a type of good, and ALL goods amongst the players that match that type are moved one space to the right on their respective broadhorn. If the game is in the Summer season, ALL perishable goods, regardless of type, are moved to the right in response to a spoil card.
Ice cards – can be used to skip a spoil action, whether from the normal course of a player turn or in response to card action. It can also be sold with a perishable good for a 1 gold bonus.
Delivery cards – If you deliver a certain good to a certain town, you get a 2 gold bonus
Traveler cards – show pickup, destination and bonus on them
Peddler cards – allows you to buy any good at any town for market value +1 – you are not limited to what is shown on the town tile.
Good Current cards – these cards give you +2 movement when you play the card.
You have a hand limit as shown on your broadhorn. If you ever exceed the limit, you must discard from your hand. Delivery cards that are discarded are placed next to the town on the card. Any player can claim this bonus going forward as long as they meet the conditions. Traveler cards are placed next to their pick up city, and any player can pick up the passenger if they take a port action at that town.
At any point in your turn, you can decide to end your expedition. Any unsold goods are simply returned to the bag. If you are in port, you are able to sell the wood from your ship as lumber. If you are on the river, apparently you just let the logs drift downstream and you somehow swim back to St Louis. Your broadhorn token magically shows up back in St Louis, and if you still have actions remaining, you may immediately take a port action in St Louis, to buy a new boat and start filling it up with new goods barrels.
Once the player has taken both of his actions, the next player in turn order goes. As I mentioned earlier, the trigger for moving along the season track is the completion of a town tile. Each time a town tile is finished, a single goods barrel is placed on the track. The current season is the season where the last cargo barrel was placed. Each non-autumn season has special rules which apply. In winter, there is no spoil step in the player turn, but all speed is reduced by 1. In spring, all boats have increased speed by 1. In summer, all perishable goods spoil in response to a spoil card. Finally, when the second autumn season begins, all of the barrels previously placed on the season track are returned to the bag to make them available once again.
The game continues until the final space on the season track is filled. At this point, the game completes the current round so that all players have had the same number of turns. Players receive 2 gold for each unsold barrel at this point and all players receive the resale value of their boat. The only endgame bonus scoring comes from the town tiles collected by players. Remember that these tiles have different number of wreaths printed on them. In a 4p game, 15/10/5 gold is awarded to 1st/2nd/3rd most. The player with the most gold wins. Ties go to the player with the most town tiles collected.
My thoughts on the game
When I first read the rules to the game, it seemed like it might just be another processional pick up and deliver game. I’m happy to say that the game has surprised me, and over my first four games, I’ve found that there are actually a number of different strategies which can be employed in the game, and a fair number of interesting decisions to be made along the way.
In our games, winning scores have tended to be in the 40-50 point range, so each point gained along the way can be quite valuable. Of course, players will likely gain more than 100 points in the course of the game, but plenty of those points are spent back to the bank in order to buy more goods or new boats during the expeditions.
Thus far, I’ve seen a number of different strategies have success in Broadhorns. I’ve seen someone win while staying with his initial 20-foot boat, and alternatively, I’ve also seen a 40-foot broadhorn fully laden with goods obliterate the competition. A lot of it depends on good timing, and some depends on luck with the cards.
Players can try to stay with rapid deliveries to towns close to St Louis. They will not lose many turns having to travel all the way downstream, and they can quickly and easily restart an expedition at the top. Of course, the payoffs for deliveries to nearby towns is not great. Alternatively, you could try to take double moves (which really, in essence, are triple moves) and get further down the river to reap the higher payouts for goods down south.
Making good use of the cards is also important, and this can certainly shape your strategy. As I mentioned earlier, with a final score of 40-50 often being enough to win, getting +2 coins for scoring a delivery card is a pretty big deal or +4 for a passenger huge. This also makes the decision of discarding cards which other players can swoop in and score quickly a difficult one at times.
One other viable stratagem is working to complete the town tiles – first, you’ll always get the delivery bonus for the town when you deliver the final good. Additionally, the horseshoe bonus at the end of the game can sometimes be as much as a third of your final score. Definitely something worth striving for!
The tempo of the game is surprisingly fast at the start, as the northern towns get plenty of deliveries early on as players work to develop their engines (that is, gain enough money to buy larger boats filled with trade goods). Then after the early rush, which might get the game all the way into Spring, the game slows down a bit as players tend to work on getting further south for bigger payoffs. This movement ends up slowing down the rate of town completion.
Near the end of the game, managing the timing of the endgame is very important. While you do get a payout for undelivered goods at the end of the game (2 gold per good), this payment is much smaller than what you would get for delivering them in Natchez or New Orleans. You’d like to be able to maximize your return by delivering as many goods as possible. There is definitely a strategy in hastening the end of the game if you think you can deprive your opponents of a big payday.
The components are serviceable, though the matte finish (and seeming lack of double cutting) to the punchboards could lead to easy tearing while punching out. Use extreme caution when prepping the game as I found that the outermost layer of paper is susceptible to tearing if you are not extremely careful in the process. The cards are fairly easy to read, and the icons are easy to interpret. The player aid is a nice succinct reminder which helps keep the game moving smoothly. The only thing I’d like to have on the board or the player aid is the endgame bonus scoring for the horseshoes on the city tiles. There is plenty of room for this to be printed somewhere, and it’s frustrating for people to need to keep looking this up – especially with the large effect of this scoring on the overall totals.
Broadhorns is a solid game, and one that deserves mention in the pick up and deliver genre. I like the way that you can continue to purchase goods as you travel to prolong expeditions as well as the varied strategies that you can employ throughout the game. I’m not yet sure if it will be a keeper in the collection yet, but the fact it has received four plays in a month does point towards that fate.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
James Nathan (1 play): I found Broadhorns to be a cromulent game. For me, it fell too far on the tactical end of some strategy/tactics continuum. The profit margin is often quite slim, and purchasing something from the market at the wrong time won’t mesh well with the cards you’ve been dealt, and you need to make a decision of following the path the market has presented to you or the cards. The season changes can be frustrating to time right as well, and you may find yourself on the wrong end of a frozen river, and scrambling to find a useful way to spend a turn as you fall one movement short of your needed destination.
Dan Blum (1 play): I tend to like pick up and deliver games if they’re of reasonable length and have some interesting aspect, and Broadhorns definitely meets those requirements. Here the main interesting aspect is the one-way movement, and I give the game extra points for having an interesting mechanism which is thematically appropriate; I’m not a big thematic gamer and am in general perfectly happy with non-thematic mechanisms which make for good gameplay, but I do enjoy it when a game sneaks in some theme in a natural way as opposed to tacking on chrome.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Craig V,, Dan Blum
- Neutral. James Nathan
- Not for me…
While Broadhorns wouldn’t be on my purchase list, you have at least made me want to try it – sounds a little bit like Ulm with significantly different gameplay…?