Designed by Dirk Henn
Published by GoldSieber
Reviewed by Stuart Dagger
Mike Clifford, who is much more familiar with his games than I am, reckons that Dirk Henn gets a lot of his ideas from other people's back catalogues and it is certainly the case that the first thought anyone has when looking at this game is Linie 1. However, although that was almost certainly the original inspiration, the end result is quite different and for me that is what matters. I don't mind a game being derivative, provided it has something new and entertaining to offer and provided it works. Iron Horse does both.
The board is squared and on it you lay tiles showing sections of track, nominally railway track, although they have so little to do with real railway track that they could just as easily be pieces of spaghetti. The centre four squares are out of play and represent a city. Round the edge of the board are 32 depots and 32 stations. The depots are divided up among the players as far as they will go, subject to everyone having the same number. By the end of the game there will be a line running from each depot and terminating at either a station or at the central city. Each line then scores points for the owner of its starting depot: if the terminus is a station, the score is the number of squares visited (with squares visited more than once being counted more than once); if the terminus is the city, the score is twice the number of squares visited. The highest total score wins. So already you can see that the objective is completely different from that in Linie 1. In Linie 1 you just have one line to worry about. It has pre-determined endpoints, which are not known to your rivals, and two or three places, also not known to your rivals, that it must visit en route. Subject to these constraints you then try to build as direct a line as possible. In Iron Horse you have several lines, there are no secrets, the endpoints of the lines are not pre-determined and the object is to keep your lines alive and growing for as long as possible.
The next difference between the two games lies in the tiles. In Linie 1 you usually start with simple pieces of track and promote them later as you try to cope with the difficulties that the others have, either wittingly or unwittingly, put in your way. In the new game there are no promotions and also no simple tiles. Each edge of each tile has an entry point and an exit point for track. That makes for four pieces of track on each tile and means that every tile laid has significant implications for most of the lines in the neighbourhood, helping some and either closing off or cramping the development of others. With an initial 30-32 lines on the go on an 8 by 8 board, the result is an enjoyable piece of chaos, with lots of cursing and scope for insincere apologies, as the tile you have laid, purely to extend one of your own lines, jams someone else's into a terminus for a low score.
In the basic game, which is the one you should start with, the tiles have a fixed orientation and each player has a hand of one tile. On your turn you either play your tile in hand and draw a replacement, or draw a tile from the face-down pool and play that instead. Later, when players have got the hang of things, you can try relaxing the rules on orientation and allowing hands of two, or even three, tiles. This will increase the skill factor of the game, but, because the players will have more options to consider, it will be at the cost of an increase in the playing time.
The components are DTP, hand-assembled using sticky-back plastic, Daler board and a Stanley knife. It is not up to Chris Lawson standard, but then Chris Lawson standard is very high. This is substantial and serviceable enough and comes nicely boxed. I don't know how easy it will be to get hold of a copy, because db-Spiele are obviously a very small outfit, but if you like tile laying games, particularly slightly chaotic ones, it is worth looking out for. I think it's fun.
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell