Orient Express makes debut at WBC
Orient Express, by Rio Grande Games, was introduced to the WBC brand new in 2017, and it seems to be starting off well with a couple dozen attendees and 5 unique four or five player games in the first two heats.
Europe is a continent that is both insular by nation, yet hopelessly entangled economically as a whole. As a player, you have decided to be a part of the growing railroad boom. All over the European continent, rails or ferries are needed to connect disparate regions for business and recreation. As your lines cover more ground, it is likely that they be coveted by the very governments you have chosen to support. Eventually they will nationalize your work. Of course, you will be well rewarded, but your company will have to start all over in new locations to keep moving ahead. Victory will come to those most able to merge the private and public demands. You may be the mogul that creates the Orient Express, but eventually all of your hard work will become property of the people.
Orient Express is the sequel, some might say a remake, to 20th Century Limited. Players create passenger routes which remain on the board. The can also make Regional Company routes, which when they are scored, they are removed from the board as those routes have been nationalized. The game is very flexible, allowing players to choose which regions to build in and which ones to connect. The difficulty is deciding when to leave the tracks down to score for the passenger routes, and when to pick them up to score the commercial routes. There are multiple routes to victory, and, indeed, multiple ways that the game can end! The mechanics are actually quite simple, as a player can lay track or pick it up, and any card play, scoring or discarding, will result in drawing a new card to keep the hand size constant.
Since this was a brand new game to many people, Skip Maloney, the Rio Grande representative, had been hosting demos of Orient Express and other Rio Grande games throughout the week in open gaming. There was an enthusiastic turnout at the scheduled Demo, with almost a dozen or so newbies seeking to learn an exciting and colorful new game. Orient Express falls in the genre of railroad games, similar in many ways to TransAmerica or Ticket to Ride.
There were two heats scheduled for the game, and the general rule is win one heat and you advance. Orient Express should be a 2 hour game, and with gently applied GM pressure, most of the games were finished in less than two hours as hoped. The first heat had 3 complete games and the second heat had 2 more for 5 games total. Most games were four player games although two were five player.
With 4 individual heat winners it was agreed to dispense with the semis and go straight to the finals. Advancing to the finals were Richard Irving, a two point winner in his first game, Akihisa Tabei, a 24 point and three point winner, Curt Collins, a 30 point victor, and Pierre LeBoeuf who won his game by 21. By virtue of his top second place finishes in the initial heats, Francois de Belle Jeuille was awarded the fifth spot at the finals table to make for a better game.
Orient Express offers up three special bonus cards as an incentive to diversify your train routes for added victory points. In the final, the cards selected were the Danube Express worth 17 points, Eurorail worth 8, and German Dominance worth 5. To score at the end of the game, each player totals up the sum of their victory points which come from a variety of sources. There are points awarded for completed Passenger and Commercial routes, bonuses for being the first, second or third to claim a commercial region, bonuses for matching sets of passenger routes, and bonus for sugar cubes, aka payouts retained at the end of the game.
In the final, Akihasa scored the most points for completed passenger routes with 113 including the aforementioned German Dominance. Curt was a close second at 103 while the others were in the 80s. It is interesting to note that all the passenger cards were drawn and either scored, discarded, or remained in the players hands at the end of the game for no penalty. The commercial routes are recycled as are their trains when completed. Regional Bonus Chits which are of the values 4-2-1, were scored between 7 and 14, with Akihisa at 11 and Curt at 13. Both Richard and Pierre had 14. For the passenger set matching bonus, the values were from 6 to 16, with Akihisa at the top for 16. Lastly, there are the sugar cubes, used to pay to use someone else’s routes, with Francois scoring a whopping 18 bonus points.
Winning the final was first time WBC winner Akihisa Tabei with 147 points, which should surprise no one since he won every game he played! Curt Collins came in second with 130 total VPs and Francois de Belle Jeuille was third at 122. Pierre LeBoeuf came in fourth with 114 and poor Richard Irving who had managed to secure the Danube Express for a whopping 17 points, came in fifth with 111. As a piece strategy advice, Richard noted that he spent too much time and effort going after the Danube Express at a cost of regular route points. Akihisa is to be commended for winning by virtue of coming in first in both the passenger/regional cards completed, as well as the passenger bonuses, which should not be overlooked. Those two leads were insurmountable, as he also had respectable scores in the regional bonuses and the sugar cubes!