The latest playtest of Steel & Steam was, in my opinion, the most successful yet. As to why…

We actually finished a game within 4½ hours. The faster trains solved the pacing problem w/o adversely affecting game play.

My primary concern with making the trains faster was that it would reduce game tension among the players. One type of tension that the slower trains enabled was the effect of having the player’s race to the destination cities in order to secure the next purchase. However, this type of tension came at a cost of game speed. By giving the player’s faster trains, the game played faster and an existing type of player tension became intensified… that of property purchase and regional and/or city access monopolization, which is one of the cornerstones of the game design. Increasing the train speeds just improved the player experience throughout the game. For me, the overall game tension was improved.
Short Game vs Long Game

Steel & Steam will ship with two types of victory conditions: the short game and the long game.

The long game, which has only been playtested once, will mimic the classic Rail Baron condition of achieving cash holdings of $200,000, but without the home city / robbery mechanic, which I’ve only seen directly affect the outcome of a Rail Baron game twice (maybe) in over a hundred playings.

The short game victory conditions, which I’ve been wrestling with since the Vancouver playtest, finally gelled, thanks to an off-hand suggestion by Elizabeth Hacala, yesterday’s newbie playtester. The short game is finished when the last property is purchased. At that point, the winner is determined by their net worth: property value + cash on hand. As a metric, it is as good as any other. What finishing “early” means, however, is that the network efficiency of one’s purchases will not be borne out in the short game. Hence, the long game.

Tweaking and New Focus

The tweaking is not finished, however. This game can still be simplified. Especially in light of the new short game victory conditions, culling useless properties is a valid exercise.

To that end, the BSP is on the chopping block. Its only raison d’être is the city of Baltimore, which is one of the high probability “any region” cities. Without the BSP, Baltimore is only served by two rail lines, a map property that I want to avoid. So, I’m experimenting with removing the BSP, and adjusting Baltimore’s probability. The current experiment removes the BSP, increases Buffalo’s probability in place of Baltimore’s and adjusts Boston’s and Pittsburgh’s probabilities by a single outcome point. This will make Boston one of the “any cities” and remove a map property which tended to bunch the “any cities” into localized regions.

The N&W is also on the chopping block, for the same reason. With the SAL, ACL and SOU rail lines serving Norfolk, its existence in the game is heavily minimized. One experiment would eliminate the extensions serving Columbus and Cincinnati and give the rest to the SOU, giving it a nice loop and efficient travel network into and out of the Southeast. Removing the Columbus/Cincinnati/Norfolk link would also improve the RF&P’s importance as the North/South bridge line it historically was. Finally, it would also clean up some of the rail clutter in the midwest.

This is just tweaking, however. With the game mechanics working very well, it’s time to work on the rules. This will be the new focus, apart from production, that is.