The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Dry Gulch Junction Initial Thoughts


(Full disclosure — I know the designer and principals of Hangman Games).

My comments on Dry Gulch include:

the event mechanism begs to be used to greater effect

and that the game is too long. And Alan Ernstein has heard my plea! Dry Gulch Junction takes about 45 minutes, and has the same core mechanism — multiple actions are turned up, but only some resolve.

Not really a sequel, just a smaller game with the same theme, Dry Gulch Junction has players again erecting buildings in the eponymous town. Each player starts with a hand of 8 buildings, which have costs, names and suits. The core of the game (in my mind) sees four improvment cards flipped up. Improvements are 2nd (or 3rd) stories, which have a cost and suit as well. You can only build a 2nd story diamond card on a diamond building. But each improvement also features a claim.

Claims provide money. Each claim has two options — a fixed amount that goes to a players hand, or a higher amount that goes towards a specific building. Some claims go to named buildings ($4 towards a boarding house), some go to buildings adjacent to named buildings ($7 next to the bordello) or to buildings adjacent to side streets (or starting buildings).

During each improvement phase, one more card is flipped up than players … one of those will be the claim, and each player gets an improvement in hand. The player who selects the claim a) gets last pick of improvements and b) passes the start player to their left (becoming last player).

Each turn has two improvement phases, then all claims payoff. Finally, there are two building phases (done settler style … first to last, last to first). During each building phase you can put down a new building, add an improvement to an existing building, or discard a card to get money equal to half it’s value.

The game ends when there aren’t enough improvements left to handle an investment phase. Then you total up the value of buildings and investments, get 1/2 VP for any money left over, and some bonus VP for building arrangements.

In theory, a lot to like:

  • Tough, but not numerous, decisions — Which card to take, which cards to pitch, When to make a claim. Any card pitched for money could become a claim, so you want to pitch cards that you wouldn’t mind having as a claim, as well as keeping the right mix of suit cards. Also, the more cards pitched, the longer the game will last (although this is likely to only be a turn or so).
  • Money (and scores) are usually tight.
  • Its fast. 45 minutes or so.

That being said, there are several potential problems.

  • Being start player to make a claim is great … unless no claims come up that help you.
  • Making the 2nd claim makes you last for the building phase … which gives you two builds in a row. Since buildings score bonus VPs for adjacency, that means you can set up a good play (if you’ve got the money). Assuming a two (or four) player game, if the first player always takes a claim, then the same players will always get double builds.

But the big issue — after each game, nobody knows why the winner won. I was paying attention after my 3rd game, and I think the winner got lucky with an extra claim, but I’m not sure. There’s plenty of luck (you want a great claim to hit when you have first choice, etc), but nothing jumped out at me as “Oh, that’s a winning play.”

Now subtle is fine, and luck isn’t bad, but combining them turns people off. I want to play this again (just to figure out what’s going on, if nothing else), but the reception has been lukewarm. I’ll try to get another play or two in, and report back.

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Written by taogaming

May 9, 2008 at 10:24 pm

Posted in Reviews

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