I bought this game on a whim because of the gimmick. Not just because I thought it was cool, but because I thought it would be the kind of game that induces two kinds of interesting reactions from people. First, it has an element of tense uncertainty that will have players groaning or shouting excitedly, something few euro-style games have. Secondly, it has an attractive gimmick that will bring people to the table, asking “what are you guys playing?”
Since it was that gimmick that brought me to this game in the first place, I suppose I’ll mention the components first. Component quality is quite high. The quarry machine builds out of cardboard tiles and slots into the board itself, keeping it steady. There are a bunch of wooden disks representing stones, and almost everything else in the game is a cardboard tile, all of which punched nicely. It’s not a colorful game, but it’s attractive.
The game itself is a short, light euro with a mild dexterity element. Players take one of four actions on their turn:
1: They can take income in the form of gold coins or wooden “stones” as indicated on one of the available cards. (They might take both, once income becomes scarce)
2: They can lay down any tiles they may have, building down the road and gaining points for building larger tiles.
3: They can spend gold coins to move their marker down the road, but can only move onto paved tiles.
4: They can play the quarry “mini-game”, loading one of their wooden discs onto one end, pushing it in with the paddle, and collecting tiles that match whatever discs fell off the other end.
One of the things I like most about this game is the number of different ways to score points, with such a simple mechanism. You can gain points by racing along the road to the new cities, by laying the actual road tiles themselves, or by laying the most road tiles in one of the legs of the journey, but all of these things rely on the same cards-to-stones-to-tiles-to-spaces cycle, and feed off of eachother. If one player is laying down a ton of tiles, he might be scoring big, but he might also be facilitating another player racing ahead and scooping up bonus points.
That leads into the biggest fault I could find with this game. An interesting (but maybe not good) thing about the game is that each action you take has a substantial risk of setting another player up for a better move. This is most clearly illustrated by the quarry. Pushing a disk moves everything closer to falling off the edge, and anything that you don’t knock off, the next player has a good chance of getting very easily. Additionally, if no player ever pushes a big disc onto the quarry, nobody will ever get a big (5-point!) road tile… but if YOU load the big disc onto the quarry, you’re opening up that opportunity to all players. There are similar pieces of tension with the other mechanisms in the game. There are usually seven income cards which deliver the player’s choice of either coins or stones, but the last 3 to be chosen award both coins and stones, and the FINAL one to be chosen awards a bonus token allowing a player one additional push when using the quarry! Building stones opens up the road for another player to move onto it, and moving gives other players “free” places to build stones that won’t help you. There were a few times when doing as little as possible for as long as possible seemed like a good idea. That isn’t usually a positive. This game is very short (around 45 minutes), though, so it didn’t bother me as much as it could have.
The game is a nice gateway-level euro, not outstandingly thinky but rewards a bit of look-ahead and awareness of what the other players are doing/can do. The tokens for majority in a given section are hidden, as well as coins, so being aware of whether or not opponents will be able to move forward onto tiles you build, or if you need to place more tiles in that segment to have the majority, can mean a difference of several points. There are interesting choices about where and when to push stones into the quarry, making for a surprisingly non-obnoxious addition of dexterity to a nice lightweight euro. This is a solid buy, if a bit pricey, but hour-long games tend to get a lot more play, so I think I’ll be getting my dollar’s worth out of this one.