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Introducing Age of Steam

Age of Steam hardly needs any introduction. A search for "Age of Steam" on BGG produces the base game as well as over 30 expansion maps! A game that has such a devoted fan base to support the creation and gameplay of that many expansions, and which is currently ranked #12 on BGG, has to be good! And it is! Age of Steam was the recipient of the Meeples' Choice Award in 2002, and the International Gamers Award in 2003. In fact, Age of Steam is widely regarded as the ultimate train game for gamers. That's exactly what we read on the back of the box: "The Best Railroad Game of All-Time!"



Created by Martin Wallace in 2002, and developed by John Bohrer, it has even spawned other games: the highly successful Railways of the World (2005), and Steam (forthcoming in 2009). Railroad Tycoon was a big hit because it simplified some of the mechanics and gameplay of Age of Steam and featured attractive over-produced components. But diehard gamers were always going to prefer the tougher game play and more meaty experience of Age of Steam. If you're one of those, then you'll want to know more about the third edition of Age of Steam with improved components, just published by Eagle Games in 2009! In this overview, I'll give you a guided tour of what the new edition looks like, how it compares with previous editions, and what alternatives you have.



Note: Since the rules are unchanged from previous editions, this guide will only review the components of the new edition. There are more than enough existing reviews that can be consulted for information about the game-play. There are a few concluding comments comparing Age of Steam with Railways of the World and Steam, however.

Box

Let's start with the game box. It's massive! And it's heavy! Why? Because it's jam packed with goodness! Here's the box cover:



From the back of the box we notice that BGG even gets a mention!



Impressive! But what's inside? If we look inside the box we see all kinds of colourful goodness:



Yes sir, there's all kinds of wonderful stuff in bags here:



Including... trains! Yes, a train game with trains! Are you surprised? Folks familiar with the game will know that the second edition didn't come with miniature trains, so that's already one thing new about the third edition. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. So what do you get with the game?

Here's the complete list of components:
● 1 Game Board
● 1 Goods/Action display
● 1 Income Track display
● 8 Town disks (white)
● 136 hexagonal Track tiles
● 8 hexagonal New City tiles
● 96 Goods cubes (20 red, 20 blue, 20 purple, 20 yellow, 16 black)
● 6 sets of Track Ownership Locomotives (25 red, 25 green, 25 yellow, 25 purple, 25 blue, 25 black)
● 6 sets of Player disks (5 red, 5 green, 5 yellow, 5 purple, 5 blue, 5 black)
● Money (40x $1 bills, 40x $5 bills, 10x $10 bills)
● 1 Turn Track marker
● 6 Dice
● 1 black Cloth Bag
● 2 sets of rules (English and German)

Let's check out everything a little more closely!

Rule book

The glossy 16 page rule book features the same artwork as the box cover:



Also included is a German language rule book. The actual rules themselves are less than 12 pages, and they are very clearly laid out with organized headings and illustrative pictures. The photographic style examples are excellent, and this is a great improvement from the rules in the previous edition. Here's an illustrated example from the new rule book showing how Urbanization works:



Note that there is one small rule (about the last two people in the auction needing to pay the full bid to the bank) accidentally missing from the English rulebook, as described in this thread.
"The first player to drop out of the bidding takes the last player space on the Player Order Track and pays nothing, even if they had bid some amount. The last two players participating in the bidding both pay the full amounts they have bid. Any other players pay half the amount they had bid, rounding up."

Game board

The game board (= map) is high quality:



It's certainly not anything the size of the Railroad Tycoon board, but the colours and graphics are super clear, and it's quality all round. No printing mistakes or colour issues that I'm aware of either! The artwork has been redesigned, and is more vivid and detailed than the simpler and more plain colour scheme used in previous editions.

Track Tiles

The game comes with six sheets of Track tiles:



Altogether there are 136 Track tiles, in the following configuration:



Age of Steam oldtimers might notice something different from previous editions - take a closer look, and you'll see that the track is no longer red:



The changes in artwork are slight, but they give the game a more realistic feel, rather than the more clinical appearance of an abstract game. The tiles also have a high quality linen finish.

New City Tiles

A New City tile is placed when a player chooses to Urbanize. There are 8 New City tiles, four black, and one each of red, blue, purple, and yellow:





If you look carefully, you'll also notice that the artwork on the New City tiles has been changed from previous versions.

Trains

We have a map, we have track, what's missing are the trains! Get ready for it, here they come, six bags of colourful train goodness!



If the train miniatures look familiar, it's because they are identical to the ones in Railroad Tycoon:



In my view, the addition of these miniatures certainly enhances the look of the game, and is far more aesthetically appealing than the round disks that were used in previous versions (the original Winsome printing had counters with Locomotives on them, the next two Warfrog printings just used disks). It all helps bring the theme alive! But to be fair, there are others with the opposite opinion, and who prefer playing with round disks. Each to his own!

Each player gets 25 trains in their colour:



Wait, you say, doesn't each player only need 20 trains each? Right! But the rule book does have this note: "The extras are for a future expansion."

Town disks

There are 8 white disks which are used as Town counters:



When track is placed in a Town hex, a Town counter is placed on the center of that track tile. Some track tiles (pictured earlier in this overview) show a Town pre-printed on them. These may only be placed on hexes with a Town (e.g. Milwaukee).

Goods cubes

Since the game is about transporting goods by train, we need cubes to denote the goods! There are five different types:



Altogether there are 96 cubes: 20 red, 20 blue, 20 purple, 20 yellow, 16 black.



The cubes themselves are bright and colourful (the blue and purple are more easily distinguishable than it appears in these pictures) - these are high quality wooden components, even better, in my view, than the ones from Railroad Tycoon. A small cloth bag with a drawstring is also provided for storing and ensuring random draw of the cubes:



Charts

Two help keep track of selected actions, shares issued, turn order, income, and more, there are two charts:

Goods Display & Selected Actions



Income Track & Score Board



These charts are essentially the same as the ones from previous editions, but the quality is much improved. They are made out of nice thick cardboard, and they look and feel very durable.

Player disks and Turn marker

The charts pictured above are incomplete without the player disks that go on them! Since the game supports up to six players, there are disks in each of the six colours corresponding to the trains:



Each player has 5 disks in their colour, making a total of 30 disks altogether:





There's also a turn marker used for designating turn order on the chart:



Money

But now what's this pile of paper in shrink-wrap?



You guessed it: paper money. There are three denominations: $1s, $5s, and $10s (the rule book incorrectly says $25s).



There are 40x $1 bills, 40x $5 bills, and 10x $10 bills. It's certainly pretty and some people are going to love it, while others are going to hate it and prefer the silver and copper tiddlywinks from previous versions. Me? I don't mind paper money, because it gives the game-play an "authentic" feel.

But now let's have a close look at the portraits pictured on the bills - is this an inside joke perhaps? Any guesses as to who is pictured here?



Dice

The game also comes with 6 quality dice, with rounded corners:



Bonus expansion maps

But hey, what's this? There's still more in the box! That's right, the third edition also comes with two free expansion maps: Age of Steam Expansion: Barbados / St. Lucia

Both of these have been created by Ted Alspach (who also designed the other artwork for the 3rd edition), and are suited for play with less players.

St Lucia map



The St Lucia map is for two players:



Barbados map



The Barbados map is for solo play:



The maps themselves are just on double-sided paper, but it's great that these are included - they are good value, and it's terrific that the game also gives options for when playing solitaire, or just with two players. See more details about them here.

What is the game-play like?

So what's the final word on the components of the third edition? Overall, the production quality is good, even though some changes will not be well-received, as a result of different tastes. But what about the game-play? Well this Sequence of Play will look familiar to Age of Steam players:



Why? Because it's identical to the previous edition: the game-play and rules in the third edition are completely unchanged from the previous Warfrog edition. I won't repeat here what other reviews have covered about the game play.

What are the key differences with the 3rd edition?

So let's see if we can wrap up the key differences with a concise summary!

What is changed:
● New artwork on the Game Board
● New artwork on the Track tiles
● New artwork on the New City tiles
● Paper charts replaced with sturdy laminated cardboard charts
● Round disks for track ownership replaced with train miniatures
● Money chits replaced with paper money
● Revised and better illustrated rule book
● Bonus maps for playing with 1 or 2 players

What is not changed:
● The goods cubes, town disks, player disks, turn order marker
● The topography of the actual main map
● The actual rules and gameplay

In other words, all the changes are essentially cosmetic. Aside from the new components and revised rule-book, the only new addition is the two bonus maps.



What are people saying about the 3rd edition?

It's still early days as yet, but here are some preliminary comments from others about the third edition of Age of Steam.

Criticism:
"The trains are kind of ugly, and they seem out of sync with the quality of the rest of the components." - skwm
"I actually like the discs better than the trains. Personal preference, though." - Chris Franka
"When I'm playing a hardcore economic game, be it a "train game" or whatever, I prefer to have the components be as simple as possible. I find the game so cerebral, I want to spend time thinking of what I'm doing and what my opponents are doing/planning, not admiring the art or colors. To me, some games need thematic frills. AoS doesn't." - Brian Gomez
"The new re-design lacks the dignity of the previous editions." - garygarison
"The first and second editions had a flat and rather utilitarian presentation that was carried consistently throughout the design. Its very simplicity, plainness if you will, was and is an aesthetic in it own right. The new 3rd edition is not so consistent in its presentation design." - J C Lawrence
"Plastic trains, harder-to-see tracks, and paper money. Three strikes. " - Jim Cote


Praise:
"I'm sure some people like the abstract nature (read: ugly) of the original board and components, but this will give the game appeal to a wider audience." - Tom Vasel
"There was a certain charm to the looks of the Warfrog printings, but this looks awesome as well! Plus, the added bonus of a few of Ted's expansions is great for people just getting into the game." - Chad Krizan
"I'm glad it's not just a straight reprint, but one with extras galore." - Dave Kudzma
"This looks really nice, and the inclusion of rewritten rules, plastic trains and extra maps is also nice." - Mark Crane
"One significant improvement from this version is the rulebook. The new Eagle/FRED rules are a glossy 4-color affair ... the most important feature of the new rules… photo examples! The rulebook looks to be well written and the examples really help to illustrate some of the finer points of the rules that were admittedly more challenging to learn from the Warfrog rules. Overall, the production quality is quite good, and I’m especially happy to see that the goods growth chart and the scoreboard placed on thicker stock." - Dale Yu


Mixed feelings:
"The plastic trains are debatable (the battle rages on between wood snobs vs. plasticophiles), but I know very few gamers who prefer paper money over coins or cards. The nicer board artwork is an improvement in some ways (I was originally sort of turned off by the "MS Paint" look of the original one), but the other component enhancements seem to sort of miss the mark...." - Matt Musselman
"Count me in on preferring the discs to the trains: they're cleaner, organic, and don't obscure the board. The new track art, with grey sleepers, on the other hand, seems like a win." - Devin Smith
"I personally like the art changes, but don't at all care for paper money." - Charles Hasegawa
"The new graphics look great. The locomotives look great as components, but I not sure they're the most practical components for indicating link ownership. I think they can be too big in some situations. However, it's a minor thing in the end. Great to see a new printing of this great game!" - Joakim Björklund


Clearly, much of this boils down to personal taste.

What are the alternatives?

If you like the ritzy components of the third edition, and like heavy train games, then what are you waiting for - you know all you need to know, go buy the game! But what if you really don't like the new components of the third edition of Age of Steam? Well you could try to hunt down a first or second edition of the game. But there are other alternatives:

You could get Railways of the World



Railways of the World was released in 2005 by Eagle Games, as a modified and redesigned version of Age of Steam. It was the result of Martin Wallace collaborating with Glenn Drover to make a simpler Age of Steam that was accessible to a wider audience. In comparison to the previous editions of Age of Steam, it had far more glamorous components: miniature trains, and detailed artwork on the board (although there were some issues in distinguishing between two colours with some printings). It's generally regarded as over-produced. Game play is mostly similar to Age of Steam, but somewhat streamlined and simplified. While Age of Steam could be considered a heavier brain-burning game, Railroad Tycoon is more of a middle-weight game, with a slightly less intense game experience, and arguably more theme and greater accessibility, as well as more attractive components. People who like the somewhat lighter experience offered by Railroad Tycoon are also likely to be the players who find these kinds of over-produced components appealing. The contrast between Railroad Tycoon and the third edition of Age of Steam is less pronounced now that the components of Age of Steam have received a face-lift. The components of both games are now on the same level, and the remaining difference is the depth of gameplay. Age of Steam can be hard on new players, and is a tough system, so gamers looking for a less harsh gaming experience might want to opt for Railroad Tycoon instead. But while Railroad Tycoon is a more friendly and fun "Age of Steam Lite," hardcore gamers will prefer the purer strategy experience offered by Age of Steam.

For more comparisons between the two, see the many discussions in threads like these:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/tag/rt_vs_aos

You could wait for Steam



Age of Steam has a long history, sadly one that even includes legal action. I'm not about to get into the politics here, since the purpose of this review is to showcase and discuss the components of the 3rd edition published by Eagle games. But the short version is this: Martin Wallace originally designed the game (as Brummie Rails), which John Bohrer (of Winsome Games) then developed as Age of Steam. Both men appear to have made significant contributions to the final form of the game that became such a success. It was first published by Winsome Games, who then licensed it to be subsequently published by Warfrog (Wallace's own publishing company). With the game set for a third edition, the designer and publisher had a dispute concerning the ownership of the game. The net result is that two "third" editions of the game were developed separately:
● from the developer John Bohrer: Age of Steam 3rd edition (published by Eagle Games, licensed by Winsome Games)
● from the designer Martin Wallace: Steam (published by Mayfair Games).

The Eagle Games edition of Age of Steam is the one described in this review - it's essentially the same as the previous edition, but with new components, and two bonus maps. In other words, the game-play is already tried, tested and true, and a proven success. The Steam edition, however, is a more major revision of the game. It will still be compatible with older maps, but will feature all-new artwork, double-sided track tiles and double-sided map (eastern US/Canada, and Germany's Ruhr Valley), wooden train markers and money tokens. According to Martin Wallace, although you will still be able to play the "classic" Age of Steam with the new game, there is one big change: it will have an introductory version of the game which is simpler and quicker than the original. So Steam will have two different rule sets: "Basic" rules for a quick (less than an hour) railroad builder, and "Standard" rules for more advanced sessions, with auctions, tighter money management, and infrastructure costs. In the words of Alex Yeager from Mayfair Games: "The base game is designed to be more forgiving and quicker than existing versions; the advanced game will ramp things back up. Both will feel closer to earlier AoS editions than, say, Railroad Tycoon." The idea is to be able to bring more players to the game by enabling them to successfully play an easier version, before taking on the more difficult playing experience of the advanced game. Read more details here, and Michael Webb's concise list of differences between the Steam and Age of Steam here.

Recommendation

So should you get the Age of Steam (3rd edition)? That depends:

You don't already own an earlier edition of Age of Steam and don't enjoy heavy games?
You probably want to steer away from this, and either wait to see how the Basic version of Steam (by Mayfair) turns out, or purchase Railways of the World (also by Eagle Games) instead.

You don't already own an earlier edition of Age of Steam and do enjoy heavy games?
You can either purchase this third edition of Age of Steam (by Eagle Games), or hunt down an older edition, or wait to see how the Advanced version of Steam (by Mayfair) turns out.

You already own an earlier edition of Age of Steam?
The chief difference is in the components, so if you enjoy the game and you're a sucker for nicer bits, then you might want to consider getting the third edition as well.

If you like heavier games and train games, you can hardly go wrong with the box full of goodness you'll get with Eagle Games' Age of Steam third edition!



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The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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John Bohrer
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Super Report!!!
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Aubrey Miles
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That's it. I'm getting this. Thanks for talking me into it!
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DancingMoogle wrote:
That's it. I'm getting this. Thanks for talking me into it!


So which method from your geeklist are you going to use for getting THIS one past your hubby?


Since I already have Railroad Tycoon, I think I will wait and compare this one to Steam when it comes out. One or the other will likely replace RRT in the near future! devil

Cheers,

goo
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Taj Mahal, anyone? (I didn't drive all the way down here to play Keltis. I mean, really.)
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EndersGame wrote:


You could wait for Steam





Exactly.
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Jesse Dean
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This is amazingly lacking in content beyond the pictures. Where is the actual review?
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Gordon Watson
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Thanks for the report - very informative.

Thoughts:-

- The boards, tiles, rulebook and box all look great.
- There's nothing wrong with the wooden bits or the plastic trains when judged by themselves - although I agree with the above poster who mentions the blue & purple look remarkably alike. However the mix of wood and plastic pieces is a bit of a muddled design choice. Wooden meeple engines would have been a better upgrade option from the original.
- FRED involvement means I fear a high retail price and remembering 'Through the Ages' I would wait until others get a retail copy to see if there are first printing issues.
- Will also be waiting to see what Steam is like before deciding which to go for.
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David Gray
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So when is it available commercially?
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Great report on a game that I've long considered buying. Now the quandry, should I get Age of Steam, Steam, Chicago Express, Steel Driver or Rails of the World?
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Jesse Dean
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Steel Driver and Chicago Express are very different games then Age of Steam, Steam, or Rail of the World.

I would personally recommend Chicago Express and one of the latter three. (I personally like Age of Steam, but the rest sound pretty good too.)
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Bill Eldard
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Great report, Enders! Seeing as I own a 1st edition of Age of Steam, your thorough description and super-photos provided all the information I might have hoped for in making a decision to get the new edition.
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Jesse Dean
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So, EndersGame, what do you actually think of the game? I read over the review again and I wasn't actually able to tell. Have you played it?
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Luke Moscrop
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DancingMoogle wrote:
That's it. I'm getting this. Thanks for talking me into it!


Better check with the other half first...or find another clever way to sneak it into the house!
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Could you take some pictures of the trains in (artificial) gameplay situations? Would be nice to see how the board looks when there's plenty of these trains on it.

I even watched through Tom Vasel's video review and he didn't show the board like that either..
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
This is amazingly lacking in content beyond the pictures. Where is the actual review?


Given that the rules, and therefore the gameplay, have not changed from the previous edition I think it is valid for the OP to focus the 'review' on what has changed, i.e. the components and production quality. And this he does very well.

If this was a review for Steam - which has a revamped rule set - then I would agree with you that we would need some commentary on how the game plays and not just the 'bits'.
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domus_ludorum wrote:
doubtofbuddha wrote:
This is amazingly lacking in content beyond the pictures. Where is the actual review?


Given that the rules, and therefore the gameplay, have not changed from the previous edition I think it is valid for the OP to focus the 'review' on what has changed, i.e. the components and production quality. And this he does very well.

So the definitive guide to Age of Steam does not need to include a review because its an older game? Doesn't sound very definitive...
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domus_ludorum wrote:

Given that the rules, and therefore the gameplay, have not changed from the previous edition I think it is valid for the OP to focus the 'review' on what has changed, i.e. the components and production quality. And this he does very well.

If this was a review for Steam - which has a revamped rule set - then I would agree with you that we would need some commentary on how the game plays and not just the 'bits'.


Sure. He obviously put a lot of work, which I appreciate, into putting together pictures of the game (probably on a reviewer's copy, considering the fact that he has a copy and it is not yet even in stores), and presenting what has physically changed about the game. But this is not a review, and does not belong in the review section. There is no indication of what he actually thinks about the game.
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
domus_ludorum wrote:

Given that the rules, and therefore the gameplay, have not changed from the previous edition I think it is valid for the OP to focus the 'review' on what has changed, i.e. the components and production quality. And this he does very well.

If this was a review for Steam - which has a revamped rule set - then I would agree with you that we would need some commentary on how the game plays and not just the 'bits'.


Sure. He obviously put a lot of work, which I appreciate, into putting together pictures of the game (probably on a reviewer's copy, considering the fact that he has a copy and it is not yet even in stores), and presenting what has physically changed about the game. But this is not a review, and does not belong in the review section. There is no indication of what he actually thinks about the game.


It is a deliberate 'review' of the component quality, which is the only thing that has changed in this edition - unless FRED have messed up printing the rules! The OP makes the point in his text that he won't comment on gameplay as it is unchanged and that there are already lots of reviews for that (20+ at last count).
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Ed Sherman
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jwoodall04 wrote:
It is a component review.


Then it's hardly a "Definitive Guide" then.

On the plus side: best paper money in a game ever.
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Jesse Dean
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Sure, but the components aren't the game. If I decided I wanted to right a review of a game's box, would that belong in the review section?

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doubtofbuddha wrote:
Sure, but the components aren't the game. If I decided I wanted to right a review of a game's box, would that belong in the review section?



Well, Jesse, I can tell you from personal experience: to some people, the components *are* the game. Everyone is different.
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
Sure, but the components aren't the game. If I decided I wanted to right a review of a game's box, would that belong in the review section?



Yes.
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Gil Hova
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
This is amazingly lacking in content beyond the pictures. Where is the actual review?


Quote:
What are the key differences with the 3rd edition?

So let's see if we can wrap up the key differences with a concise summary!

What is changed:
● New artwork on the Game Board
● New artwork on the Track tiles
● New artwork on the New City tiles
● Paper charts replaced with sturdy laminated cardboard charts
● Round disks for track ownership replaced with train miniatures
● Money chits replaced with paper money
● Revised and better illustrated rule book
● Bonus maps for playing with 1 or 2 players

What is not changed:
● The goods cubes, town disks, player disks, turn order marker
● The topography of the actual main map
● The actual rules and gameplay

In other words, all the changes are essentially cosmetic. Aside from the new components and revised rule-book, the only new addition is the two bonus maps.


Since the only real changes in this version are the components, the rulebook, and the maps, it makes sense that this review focuses on those and not the rules.

If you want a review of the rules, here's an early Tom Vasel review that covers them pretty well.

I can understand the word "definitive" being a little misleading, but knowing the original game, I found this review very informative.
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IngredientX wrote:
If you want a review of the rules, here's an early Tom Vasel review that covers them pretty well.


How about a recent Greg Schloesser review? It is pretty thorough.
 
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
Sure, but the components aren't the game. If I decided I wanted to right a review of a game's box, would that belong in the review section?



This is an interesting use of the word right. Would that be right as in: "to right a wrong?" Or did you happen to mean "write" as in when someone types. Maybe it means "right" as in the review was upside down and to "right" it... would mean to turn it over perhaps.

Snicker...

Great review of the updated version! Doubtofbudda, there are many reviews of the rules and the mechanics of this game elsewhere. If you search the geek as well you seem to have searched this review... you might just happen to stumble upon one.
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