Yesterday I wrote about the magnificent euro game Antiquity. Tonight I’m talking about the other big Splotter game we played while visiting friends last weekend. Roads & Boats is another wonderful example of what board games should be.
It’s another resource management game where you must fight against the clock – in this case a monument that is being built, brick by brick, each turn, for 33 turns – to amass the most valuable assets. However, only assets you actually carry (in trucks, on donkeys or loaded on boats) are considered yours. At any other time the resources and assets scattered around the board are available for anyone to claim as their own.
In order to transport the things that are produced – gold and iron from mines, wood from trees, clay and bricks, etc. – you need, well… Roads and Boats. Now boats can be built using different resources, and can be upgraded from rafts to boats to steamers. These will obviously be used to transport goods to and from overseas areas, as well as for collecting the fuel produced at oil rigs pitched in the sea itself. But it’s the building of roads that’s interesting here.
Roads cost one stone to build. But unlike all other resources, buildings or vehicles there are no wooden or cardboard pieces to represent roads in the game. Instead, a sheet of perspex is laid over the modular hex-map and the roads are literally drawn between spaces using a dry-wipe marker pen. I’m not sure how relevant this inclusion is but it certainly feels new and exciting and avoids the inevitable clogging up of the board with little wooden roads everywhere (there can be a lot of roads since all land vehicles except donkeys need roads to travel along) – there are always a lot of little bits of wood and cardboard scattered across the map and wooden roads would be simply impractical.
Add to this a really neat and intuitive research system allowing better, faster, more productive advances in vehicles and mining and you’ve got a game that has everything done right. It feels like a true sandbox. The only thing that’s YOURS is what you’re carrying and everything else is up for grabs. Since the endgame is ever-approaching there’s no linear path to winning, you must simply do what you think is needed, where you think it’s needed to maximise the value of the goods you end up carrying.
I ADORE this game. Like Antiquity it feels like a perfect example of what it is. There’s not a single baggy mechanic, no odd or unneeded rule. Everything is tight and elegant and every decision is 100% yours, without restriction. This really is what Splotter do best: Games that have obviously been play-tested, broken, fixed, put on a rules-diet and sent out into the world in the best possible shape.