July 6, 2008

Tinners' Trail - first impressions

by Susan Rozmiarek

Continuing ever onward with our Wallace lovefest, we tried out Tinners' Trail at Mark's Thursday group. Tinners' Trail is about mining ore in Cornwall, England during the 1800s. You are bidding against the other players to place your mines in regions on the board so you can mine the tin and copper ore there. Apparently one of the biggest challenges miners faced was water filling the mines. Much of your energy in this game goes toward dealing with the ever annoying water that makes it pricier to mine the ore. Several developments are available in the game to deal with this in varying degrees - ports, adits (a new word for me!), trains and pumps. Adits also add additional ore to the mine and miners, trains and ports allow you mine more ore at once.

Money is tight in this game which is no surprise given its designer. You get a chance to buy victory points with the cash you earn each round but you'll have to decide how much to save in order to buy mines and extract ore in the following round. To make that decision even more agonizing, you get more VPs for your money in the earlier rounds, but that is also when you want the bidding power to grab the juicier regions on the board, particularly since it is advantageous to have your mines adjacent to each other for adits and on the coast for ports. Selling ore that you have extracted is the primary way to make money in the game but there is one more that gets you a tiny amount - selling pasties. This seems to be primarily a default action when you have nothing better to do or you are really short of cash.

An aspect about mining that you have to consider is that every time you take ore out of a mine, a water cube is added to it, making it more expensive to mine ore the next time. There is a limit to how much ore can be taken out with a single mining action, but you can increase this with a few of the developments, making it more efficient. Of course, you'll also want to add developments that take away the water added. Each mine can only hold one each of the various developments so you have to time their addition wisely.

There is some luck in the game which can have a big impact. This will give some people fits. You have to speculate how much each type of ore will be worth as you are required to sell any ore you've extracted at the end of a round. At the beginning of each round, the selling prices for each type will be determined with a die roll. So, if you say, leave the copper in your mines for the following round in the hopes that the price will go up and it goes down instead, you're hosed. There is a ceiling and floor for the prices, though, and a modifier applied if it is at the top or bottom. Another bit of luck is how much ore is available to be mined in each region. The amount of ore and water in a single, unexplored region will be determined at the end of each round with dice rolls. However, you can speculate and put up an unexplored region for auction. The winner pays and places his mine before the dice rolls to determine what's there. A bad roll and you've wasted your money on a mine full of water and little ore. These lucky elements fit well with the theme and I enjoy the uncertainty they bring to the game. But, some people are going to be quite bothered. You have been warned!

The turn order mechanism also makes for some tense decision making as well. It is very similar to the game Thebes. During a round, players take turns doing a single action that can be either building a mine, building one of the improvements listed above, mining ore from a single mine, or selling pasties. Each action costs a varying amount of time which is tracked on the board. After each player has taken a single action, a new turn order for the next series of actions is established starting with the player who has taken the least amount of time so far. In addition, you can drop out of the round entirely at any time and not do any more actions. Turn order for the start of next round will be in order from the player who passed first to the player who passed last. A limited number of improvements are put out for grabs each round, so if you really, really want something, you might have to pass early and forgo some precious actions in order to get first choice in the next round.

Tinners' Trail is another excellent game from Martin Wallace. It's a little leaner than many of his games, rule-wise, but the game play still has a lot of heft to it with a little luck thrown in to keep you guessing. It is very thematic with a unique, historical theme. I like Brass a little better, but I'm very fond of train/connection games so that isn't surprising. I'm looking forward to the next game in the Treefrog line although I'm not looking forward to the hefty price of a game that has to be ordered and shipped directly from the U. K. I'm happy that Tinners' Trail has been worth that price so far.

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at July 6, 2008 7:15 PM

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