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Keith M. Sandler
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Marlboro
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Review: Boomtown

I’ll admit that when I saw Boomtown for the first time, I wasn’t overly impressed. I bought it partly because I have loved most of the Bruno Faidutti games I have ever played. I had never played any of Bruno Cathala’s games, but I figured how different could two guys named Bruno be. Also, I have a weakness for the Wild West theme.

My first impressions of the box were not overly favorable. I had never purchased anything put out by Face2Face before, in large part because their box art failed to grab me. The graphics didn’t really grab me, and the description was extremely vague as far as game play went. This I have come to expect, however, and I decided it was worth the risk for another filler game.

The bits inside the box are mediocre. The poker chips are kind of chintzy, and the box insert does an atrocious job of keeping them in place. The art on the cards is wonderful (with a bit of eye candy on some of them that may put off some ladies or keep the fellas coming back to play more), but the cards themselves are unfinished, which makes them a real pain to shuffle. The cards are also black-bordered, which bothers some people who believe it causes them to show wear prematurely. This doesn’t irritate me as much as them not being finished, however. Also in the box are 5 different-coloured mayor tokens, ten saloon tokens (2 of each colour), and a pair of standard six-sided dice. The rules book is printed on glossy paper, about the same type that Fantasy Flight uses in their games. Boomtown’s rules are published in no fewer than 5 languages, and the rules booklet fits the box perfectly.

The rules are fairly straightforward. Each turn is divided into three parts—auction, selection, and production. On each turn, a number of cards equal to the number of players is turned face up from the draw deck. The players then, in clockwise order, take turns bidding on who gets to choose first from the face up cards. Once a player passes, he can no longer bid that round, but other than that, the bidding continues around until all players but one pass. While the auctions are fun, the real twist in the game is what happens as a result of the auction.

First, the winner of the auction pays his winning bid to the player on his right. That player then gives half of that sum to the player on his right who, in turn, gives half of that amount to the player on his right, and so on around the table, stopping just before the player who won the bidding. Then, the choice proceeds around the table to the left. That is, the winner gets first choice, the player to the left of the winning bid gets second choice, and so on clockwise around the table. This creates some interesting decision-making, as it can be a valid strategy to bluff the player on your left, bidding them up so their money ends up in your own stack. There is a downside to that, however, as if the player to your left wins, you will be last to choose from the cards on the table. There are plenty of turns when you will either receive a lot of money or end up with a decent selection based on where you are sitting in relation to the winning bidder. These factors are further influenced by the types of cards in the game.

There are two main types of cards in Boomtown—mine cards and special cards. Mine cards are the meat and drink of the game. They provide the bulk of your victory points, and they can also be a source of income throughout the game. Each mine card has a number of gold coin symbols on it as well as a number between 2 and 12 (the combinations of two 6-sided dice). The gold coin symbols are both the number of victory points the card is worth at the end of the game (as in Citadels) and the number of chips a player will receive should the card’s number be rolled during the production roll (like in Settlers of Catan).

The colours of the mines are important, as well. Whoever has the most mines (at least two) of a given colour receives the Mayor figure for that colour. Each mayor figure is worth 5 victory points at the end of the game. In addition, whoever controls the mayor figure for a given colour receives money from his fellow players whenever they choose a mine of that colour. The fights over mayors can be very nasty, and the presence of mayors can be a deciding factor in how one bids for first choice in a round. Some of the special cards can provide an edge in the contest for mayors, as well.

There are a good number of special cards in the game, but not too many as to be overwhelming. Some of the special cards such as Dynamite (destroy target mine) or Expropriation (steal target mine) take effect immediately. These can be devastating to a player, particularly one in contention for a mayor, and thus they tend to up the bidding on a given round. Other cards can be kept for a later time. Telegraph (change one die roll) and Mustang (choose second) fall into this category. The last category of special cards are those that can be kept and used repeatedly. These cards include the Governor, who doubles the payout to a single Mayor, and the Saloon, which requires that players pay the saloon owner 2 chips whenever mines of the saloon’s colour produce gold. This can be a little confusing at first, as players mistake the Mayor payoff for the Saloon payoff, but it does not end up being a huge problem for most games or players. There are other special cards, as well, but I’ll refrain from listing each one here.

The game ends when the entire deck has been used. At that point, each player counts up the gold coin symbols on the mines before him, adds to that the number of chips he possesses, then adds 5 points to his score for each mayor. High score wins. The final count can be very surprising, I’ve found, as it can be difficult to pay attention to each opponent’s score throughout the game. It’s easy to spot who has the mayors and who has the most chips, but it’s a little more involved to know how many gold coin symbols are on each players’ minds. I think being aware of this would make the game much more subject to analysis paralysis, and the games I’ve played have been very fast-flowing and balanced without counting one another’s potential VP’s each turn.

As there are 60 cards in the deck (45 mines and 15 special cards), the game can be played with the same number of cards for 3, 4, and 5 players. The rules suggest playing with 15 fewer cards (removed at random) for a quicker game with 3 players. This does make the game a bit more random, but it also keeps the play time down to an appropriate filler level (30-45 minutes). I have played this game with 3, 4, and 5, and I think it works equally well with all numbers.

This game is now one of my favorite fillers, and I enjoy it more after each play. There is enough strategy for victories or even close defeats to feel satisfying, but there is also just enough luck to keep the games interesting. While the actions of each turn are the same, the game does not get repetitive or stagnant. For that reason, I prefer to play this over Fist of Dragonstones most of the time, though I do enjoy that game as well. The card draws and production rolls guarantee that each game will be different, the struggles for mayors are exciting, and the victory point count at the end of the game can be surprising as well as nail-biting.

The theme is a bit pasted on, probably because the mechanics simply steamroll over it. I never feel like an old prospector bribing mayors and looking for the right mine to pay off when I play this game, but I do feel extremely competitive in my bidding and in my choice of cards. No, you won’t be talking with a Western accent or calling anyone out for a duel with this game, and it doesn’t evoke the feeling of the West like Bang! or even Wyatt Earp do, but this is still a very fun game. I would include this in a Western game session if only for it’s fun-factor, quick play, and smooth mechanics.

Overall, Boomtown a fast-paced, exciting game that is easy to teach and fun to play. It’s a great game for the beginning or end of a session, plays well with all numbers, and usually yields close scores and fun play. I think this one is one of the more underrated games to come out in the last few years. I think it says a lot for the game's mechanics that I, who can be a bit of a bits snob, always want to bring this one out based solely on how it plays. I always have a great time when it hits the table, and I always walk away wondering why I don’t play it more often.
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Asher D.
United States
Lexington
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Great review keith. Really gives me a feel for the game. Sounds like an interesting game too. I don't think I played it, but the mechanic of passing the money (half the winning) one way and having the cards selected the other way sounds very familiar. Are there other games with this mechanic, or am I just misremembering something?

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Keith M. Sandler
United States
Marlboro
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Boomtown and other auction games

Hey, Asher. Thanks for the comment.

The game that it is most reminiscent of to me is Modern Art. Both games give money from the winning bid to the other players (as does Traumfabrik, but there the money is split up among ALL the other players evenly). In Modern Art, you need to put a lot of care into what you sell and receive money for vs. what you bid on and spend money on. Also in Modern Art, you can be very successful by NOT buying pieces unless they are absolutely necessary to your strategy while making good decisions and having good timing in placing your own cards up for auction and making money that way.

Modern Art can play a bit slower in my experience, but it is indeed a deeper, richer game. The bidding strategies are similar, but there is a much greater "take that" factor in Boomtown.

Both games have auctions as their primary mechanic, but they both overcome the repetitive nature of the auction in different ways. Modern Art allows for many different types of auctions, whereas Boomtown gives variety through the use of Special cards and the production roll.

Also, Modern Art seems to require at least 4 and hopefully 5 players for the best gaming experience (though this is only what I've heard-- I've only ever played with 5), whereas Boomtown plays well with 3, 4, or 5. Modern Art feels a bit meatier to me, whereas Boomtown fills the same niche as Fist of Dragonstones. The reason I would usually prefer Boomtown is that Fist of Dragonstones plays better with more people but can still feel very repetitive due to the single blind auction mechanic. Also, Fist of Dragonstones can be quite unforgiving as every player loses his bid regardless of winning or losing. You do get your faery gold back at the end of a round, but within a round, it can be very frustrating to be virtually eliminated from play with little or nothing to show for it.

Hope this is informative, and I'll try to keep Boomtown in my crate for the next couple of sessions so you can check it out. It's one of the hotter games in my collection right now, so I'm sure it'll hit the table again soon. (BTW: Won't be at DP tonight, but hopefully next week.)

--kMs

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Buster Brown
United States
Maryland Heights
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Boomtown is a favorite with our group as well! Competitive bidding is the name of the game, and we especially enjoy the rivalry that ensues after some scoundrel narrowly steals the mayor-ship of a territory from some hapless miner (say, their spouse). One can always expect retribution in the form of dynamite, hold-ups, stern smack-talk and other dastardly deeds, but it's all in good fun!

Bruno is hands-down my favorite game designer. His games fuel the good-natured fun that I crave when playing board games with good friends. I've come to learn that winning is only a small part of the fun, spending a few hours laughing with friends is the real bonus.

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Steve Oliver
United States
Alameda
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Keith -- nice review!

Normally I don't post questions or comments to reviews since they are the author's opinion, but I will ask you why you consider this game underrated if it's currently rated 6.9? I consider that a very high rating. But I agree with you about how much fun this game is.

One thing my group gets a kick out of with this game is the seating, since who you sit next to (on either side!) can make a big difference in your strategy. If you know someone in your group can't resist overbidding then of course you want to be downstream from them.
 
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Tiggo Morrison
United Kingdom
Bridgnorth
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Keith, nice review thanks. We enjoy this game a great deal, but I'm surprised you find the theme 'pasted one'. Whenever we play, someone is always singing 'Wandering Star' or 'I talk to the trees' as an accompaniment!
 
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Keith M. Sandler
United States
Marlboro
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I'll be honest, I wasn't thinking only of the BGG ratings when I called this game "underrated," though it is only 293rd in ranking. I guess for my group this game seems to have been overlooked quite a bit, and now we're just re-discovering it. Every time I play this game, I wonder why we don't play it more often. Now, of course, we're playing it more often. Still this game hasn't gotten nearly the hype it deserves.

And I agree with you about the seating. I find the game plays DRAMATICALLY differently if I'm sitting on the left or right of certain people. It's kind of like Poker in that regard.

Thanks for the comment!

-kMs

 
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Hubert
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This game is also one of my favourites-very immersive, strategic and engaging gameplay. The action cards, mayors and saloons add plenty of depth and strategy to the game. Unlike settlers of catan, where the board is fixed, the situation here keeps changing after every round. As the game develops, there are numerous factors to consider when looking for the right card/bid.

-prob. of no. appearing x gold income
-avoid paying mayor
-any of the action cards for sabotage
 
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Keith M. Sandler
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Now that you mention that, I'm kind of curious as to whether any of the Settlers games have done anything like this; used the production roll mechanic but stemmed its be-all-end-all nature the way Boomtown does. I've only played SoC with Seafarers & Cities & Knights. Do Starfarers or any of the German historical expansions do anything like this? Elasund, maybe?

Good post--thanks for the reply.

--kMs
 
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Hubert
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Also most action cards save for saloon and expropriation are overrated, once used they are discarded and don't contribute points to your final total. And as there are relatively few turns in a game compared to SOC, luck matters much more.
 
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Keith M. Sandler
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I don't know about overrated. The bids are never overly high for those cards in my group, and the cards do tend to generate gold or make others pay gold, so they directly influence VP's, as well as the ability of other players to make an effective bid on whatever comes up the next turn.

--kMs
 
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Lyman Hurd
United States
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firexed wrote:
Also most action cards save for saloon and expropriation are overrated, once used they are discarded and don't contribute points to your final total. And as there are relatively few turns in a game compared to SOC, luck matters much more.


Few things approach the fun value of creative use of dynamite! Of course this often leads to the "who volunteers to knock down the leader at their own expense" dynamic.
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Paul Doherty
United States
McKinney
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Dark Son wrote:

Hey, Asher. Thanks for the comment.

The game that it is most reminiscent of to me is Modern Art. Both games give money from the winning bid to the other players (as does Traumfabrik, but there the money is split up among ALL the other players evenly). In Modern Art, you need to put a lot of care into what you sell and receive money for vs. what you bid on and spend money on.


I'm not sure if there are different versions of Modern Art rules, but there is no type of auction in my version where the money paid gets split among all the players; you either pay the auctioneer, or if the auctioneer wins they pay the bank.
 
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Glen Oakland
Australia
Inman Valley
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pdoherty wrote:
Dark Son wrote:

Hey, Asher. Thanks for the comment.

The game that it is most reminiscent of to me is Modern Art. Both games give money from the winning bid to the other players (as does Traumfabrik, but there the money is split up among ALL the other players evenly). In Modern Art, you need to put a lot of care into what you sell and receive money for vs. what you bid on and spend money on.


I'm not sure if there are different versions of Modern Art rules, but there is no type of auction in my version where the money paid gets split among all the players; you either pay the auctioneer, or if the auctioneer wins they pay the bank.


I would say he is thinking of the double auction, when if two players put up a card each, then the money is split between them both.
 
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Kawi Santosa
Indonesia
Jakarta
DKI Jakarta
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I like the mechanic,
We enjoyed this game

But i dislike the quality of the cards, and how they put the bad mix of colours for all the cards..

If only the card's images are brigther, it will be a lot better
 
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Keith M. Sandler
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Marlboro
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ancoll wrote:
I like the mechanic,
We enjoyed this game

But i dislike the quality of the cards, and how they put the bad mix of colours for all the cards..

If only the card's images are brigther, it will be a lot better


I still break this one out about once a year. I'm not put off by the colors, and I dig the art, but the cards could definitely use a better finish, that's for sure.

And the poker chips? Nightmare to store, especially if your box spends any time sideways at all, but I guess they're functional.

-kMs
 
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