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As grey traces of dawn tinge the eastern sky, the three travellers, men of Willowdale, emerge from the forest's shadow. Fording the river, they turn south, journeying into the dark and forbidding lands of The Necromancer...
TransAmerica and TransEuropa both sport very simple game play. Connect up the rails on the board as soon as you can to create a network that includes all five of your cities. Everyone shares the tracks connected to their starting token, so the winner is typically the player that best exploits the track laid by his opponents. If a player has to deduct more than 2 or 3 points from his score during a round, then they have had a horrible round. Typically, the player winning the round finishes only one turn before most (if not all) of his opponents would be finishing their own network.
But what if you could prevent other players from running on your carefully crafted track network? That is the idea behind Vexation. Each player receives three (3) sections of track in their own color (rather than the normal black color of the track sections). On your turn, you can use a piece of your colored track in place of the black track. Other players CANNOT use your colored track in order to trace their connections. A maximum of two (2) pieces of colored track may be laid connected to a single map node. As one might expect, these colored track pieces tend to show up in mountain passes, river crossings, and ferries. Why let the others get a free ride? Let them build their own connection! This results in each round lasting an average of 4 or so track laying turns longer and occasionally causes an anomaly such as a player scoring -8 or more points in a round.
Vexation takes a very simple and friendly game and adds a small element of strategy and cutthroat play. So...is this new element good, bad, or indifferent? My (somewhat PC) answer is...it depends upon the players. If your group is a hardcore set of strategists that delights in the occasional "take that!", then Vexation takes the very light TransXX games and makes them a bit more challenging and enjoyable filler between games of Imperial and Tigris & Euphrates. If your group is a friendly, family type gathering that takes more enjoyment out of the social aspect of game play than the won-loss record generated, then Vexation allows for a more aggressive player to "ruin" the game for the others through "unfair" play of colored track. My group enjoys Vexation and my only beef is the pricing. With an MSRP of $5.00, you can probably pick this up for around $3.50 at an online vendor. That breaks down into around 20 cents per track piece, which seems a bit pricey. Especially considering that you can pick up an entire TransXX game for around $16.00 or so (and that includes the board, cards, start markers, scoring markers, and scads of track pieces).
In summary, Vexation provides a bit of a twist and a nice change of pace for the TransXX games. Will it be a hit or a flop on your game table? That depends upon the play style of your group.
I would quibble on one point in that intellectual property and profit must account for some percentage of breakdown of prices not just the cost of components. In this case, $3.50 seems entirely reasonable to me.
I'll be picking up this expansion set.