Tinners' Trail is a very Dave boardgame. You build and run mines in Cornwall during the industrial revolution in a fairly abstract way but with really luxurious art.
It's an area control, auction, economy game. You'll be scouting locations, bidding on them to place your mines, upgrading mines, extracting ore, crying about groundwater, selling ore, and buying points.
I played the two player version so the bidding didn't feel super important. There were two nice moments where I tricked my opponent into buying a terrible plot and sniped a good spot while my opponent had no money.
Extracting ore at the right time is key. There's a market that's essentially random and at the end of each round you sell all your extracted ore. Digging it up when the price is high is a good idea. Each cube of ore costs the amount of water that's currently in your mine. Extracting ore increases the amount of water in the mine. You see the mechanic there? You can upgrade your mines in two ways: by removing water, and by increasing the amount of ore you can extract per action. Water only increases once per extraction so if you sequence things correctly you can pull out 5 ore for free.
Points! You win with them! You get them by buying them with cash at the end of each round. Each round points get more expensive. So you have to weigh up wether spending your early gains on some efficent points is better than building your engine for big payoffs later. You also take it in turns to buy so there's a will they/wont they aspect to buying them.
Turn order is cool. Each action takes a certain amount of time to perform and that moves you along the round tracker. You always move up to the top most row in the column. The turn order goes left to right/top to bottom so doing something expensive like building adits means your opponent gets a 2 unopposed actions. Funky.
The market. You roll 3 dice which total define the price for each ore. You add/subtract one from the result if in the previous round the price was at the bottom/top to favour a more volatile market. The rulebook says this can be considered to mimic the price swings as new deposites are found outside of Cornwall, I can believe that and I think works well.
Tinners' Trail is a cracking game. It doesn't outstay its welcome. Actions feel important and there seem to be plenty of decisions to make. The elements of randomness help stop Deep Chess Brains from destroying me mercilessly. The presentation is absolutely cracking. There are expansions which look to add more complexity that I'm not sure I'll ever need.
It's not all perfect:
- Once again we mask the horrors of the industrial revolution, painting it as a lovely walk through some nice spreadsheets. Really really nice spreadsheets to make you forget about the children down those mines.
- The cubes really do cram up the board. I'd have liked to make the ore/water tokens stackable with little markers to put them on, something Stonemaier-like.
- There's a lot of arithmetic that will put people off but I love a game with arithmetic so deal with it.
- The copper tokens are red? Make them orange like in Brass please.
- Not enough pasties! There's one action called "Sell Pasties" which earns you £1. I want pasty tokens and performance enhancing pastries. Maybe an expansion will add that one day.
I'm keen to play it with higher player counts to see how the bidding changes. There are quite a few exceptions/tweaks to the rules for 2 players which will take some unlearning.
- Playability: 10
- Sound: Smooth Jazz
- Flavour: 3 cups of coffee
- Time: ~2 hours including initial rules grokking
- Replability: Yes please
- Graphics: Phwwoooar look at that pasty