Advent reviews: Snowdonia

I used to live in Wales. So last year, when I heard that Snowdonia was about to come out at Essen, I asked a friend to buy it for me. It’s not the greatest worker placement game of all times, but I like it.

What kind of game is this?

In Snowdonia, you play contractors building a railroad up the Snowdon Mountain in Wales. You need to clear rubble, lay track and build stations in order to create the railroad.

At the beginning of the game, you lay out station cards around the edge of the board, and put cards between them, representing the amount of track that needs to be laid to get from one station to the next. As you lay track and build station, you will place cubes on the parts you have built, earning you points at the end of the game.

As in all worker placement games, the main focus of the game is placing the workers on spaces on the board to carry out certain actions: Collect resources, clear rubble, lay track, build stations or trains, take contract cards and a few others. Each round, you will place first one worker, then another, on the board. Once you have a train, you can pay a coal resource in order to place a third worker. When all workers have been placed, the workers will be taken off again, going from the first action space and continuing onwards. As each worker is taken off the track, the player may perform the action connected to that spot. This means that actions are always performed in a certain order, making it possible to gather resources, convert those resources into track and then lay that track on a space that was just cleared – all in the same round.

There is a finite supply of resources that are drawn from a bag each round. The bag also contains white cubes are laid along a track. This will make certain actions occur – spaces will be dug out, track will be laid and stations will be built (representing, I believe, other contractors). All of this will have the effect of progressing the game towards its end – particularly if players are stockpiling resources.

One important way of scoring is by way of contract cards. Each contract card gives you points for having achieved certain goals at the end of the game: digging a certain amount of rubble, laying so much track or building so much station. Each contract also gives you a special prover that you can use once in the game.

The contract cards also determine the weather – which affects the amount of digging track-laying you can do each action (rainy, muddy ground means you can’t work as fast, while fog prevents you from digging or laying track). There are three possible kinds of weather: sunny, rainy or foggy. You will have three discs out, showing the “weather forecast” for the next three turns. Each round, you will move  the discs up the track, then fill the lowest space on the track with a disc corresponding to an icon on the back of the top card in the contract pile.

The game ends when you have built track all the way to the last station. Points are earned from contracts, track laid and station built, and from certain train cards.

How many people should you play this with?

The game box says 1-5. I have tried with 3, 4, and I believe I’ve played it with 5. I think 4 is the sweet spot. 3 is fine, and I think 5 was fine as well. I’m a bit hesitant to recommend playing it with 2. The solitaire game is a game unto its own; I don’t think I would play that at all – mostly because I’m not much of one for solitaire games.

What do I think of this game?

The game is not perfect, but it has a charm that I like. The mechanics are pretty simple, but it forces you to gamble on whether someone else will remove the rubble you need to lay track, and whether the game will build that track you are saving up to build next round.

Another thing I like about it is its pacing and rhythm. The rhythm of placing and removing workers almost feels like a train in motion. The way the game completes sections of the board can be very frustrating, but it paces the game and drives it through a conclusion. Not least, it means the end of the game is not ultimately controlled by any player – if players try to stall, the game will force the game to end. This limits the number of points you can gain in the end, and makes for a very tense last couple of rounds.

The game comes with two different sets of stations. There are two expansions out, featuring a total of three different train lines to build, each with their own special rules. The Daffodil Line has you fill canals and gather daffodils, while Jungfraubahn and Mt. Washington has you set off dynamite. I haven’t played with either, but it sounds like fun ways to mix it up.

Snowdonia is probably not the smoothest and most ingenious worker placement game, but it is a nice and enjoyable game.

A few interesting things to note

  • This is a game about building a train line – but it is not a train game the way that Ticket to Ride or Trains and Stations may be a train game. It is a construction game, and you just happen to be building a train line.
  • This game has a lot of interesting ways of forcing players to act. Hoarding resources will make the game bring out more random actions, reducing the potential points each player may gain.
  • One worker placement particularly distinguishes from all others by the specific ways of placing and removing workers. In Snowdonia, you are putting your workers in a particular order – you know what will happen before and after, and that makes removing them both  very quick, but also interesting, as you depend on the decisions of the people before  you.

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