Yesterday was the day where I introduced four new players to Steel & Steam in the game’s first 6-player play test. It was also the day where my Canon PIXMA Pro-100 inkjet printer decided that the clogged print head was going to prevent me from printing the latest map & materials that I was going to use for the play test. Like all good demos, it can all go to shit. Being an optimist, and having great confidence in my own abilities to do what I set my mind to do, it’s a lesson that I tend to relearn repeatedly over the years. Thankfully, it’s not a frequent occurrence.

Instead of play testing v0.3 of Steel & Steam, I wound up testing v0.2.5. To accomplish this feat, I printed the 34″x22″ map onto US-Letter (11″x8.5″) card stock on the HP OfficeJet 8600 printer that my wife, Claire, has in her office. In order to achieve that, I had to modify my map making script to handle the new media dimensions, load the US-Letter card stock I had on hand into the OfficeJet, print out the 12 sections, slice off the white margins on my paper cutter and tape them together with scotch tape. Folks were arriving just as I was taping the map together.

In spite of the bumpy, ad hoc nature of the game materials and presentation, it was a great success. Teaching four new players took a bit of time, but the game got rolling after about thirty or so minutes. The feedback was very positive and I finally received a workable solution to the “who owns what?” problem of the game. Also good was seeing the collisions between six players on the map versus a three player game, the latter of which tends to be wide open. My plans were frequently thwarted by well-considered property purchases by the other players; I think I was on Plan G by the time we called the game.

Proper victory conditions for the game continue to elude me. The original Rail Baron conditions, my game’s ancestor, make for a long-ish, Monopoly-esque game. On the plus side, however, the length of the game allows for efficient rail networks to shine over time. The shortened, net worth,  victory conditions suggested at the BottosCon play test in Vancouver, however, are achievable in a shorter amount of time, but don’t really illuminate one player’s network over another’s. In addition to these, I’m considering a third option: connect all the “yellow”, major cities on the map. This might wind up being the “short game” victory conditions I’m looking for.

One possible trouble spot, and it’s subjective to player taste, is that the game takes too long to “get going”.  The initial trains move at a speed of 6 spaces, which is slower by one pip than the original Rail Baron trains, whose average is 7 spaces.  Perhaps the initial trains should be the “8” trains; perhaps starting with the “8” trains should be an optional rule. This one will need some mulling.

The good news among all of this is that the game’s mechanics are solid. There doesn’t seem to be a “do this and you’ll win every time” problem. Best of all, everyone who has played the game has had fun with it and wants to play again. That is the ultimate goal I had hoped to achieve with my first design.