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Back in 2013 designers Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling along with artist/illustrator Dennis Lohausen collaborated with Eggertspiele, R and R Games and Pegasus Spiele to publish the excellent man placement and resource management mining boardgame, COAL BARON. Now, just over 3 years later, they have cooperated again with Eggertspiele and also Stronghold Games, to reproduce COAL BARON as "The Great Card Game" and for once the word "Great" isn't just blowing smoke, it really is a great game.

On opening the box you find plenty of different card decks, 4 Player Boards and several special cardboard inserts to create a box of compartments, exactly enough to allow you to split all the decks separately and keep them safe and easy for setting up next time you play. Each deck also has a unique flip side to help you recognise what type of card it is however you view it. The card design, quality of cardstock used and the illustrations all help towards making this not just a great game to play but also a most pleasant and appealing game to look at.

Each player has their own set of 10 worker cards, 5x1, 2x2, 1x3, 1x4 and 1x5 (the five isn't used in a three-player game) and all the other cards are kept in their separate decks and specifically positioned on the table in two rows. The 40 lorry cards are shuffled, split into two 20 card decks and set face up in portrait realisation to the left of the first row, the 40 Wagon cards are also split into two decks and positioned face up, landscape, next to the lorry cards. The other decks are placed face up in the correct orientation to the pictures on them with the Engines and Orders completing the top row and the Shares, Innovation, Objectives and Action cards forming the second row - there is an excellent diagram and detailed key in the rules book to help you set the game up ready for play. Seven half-circle tiles are used to mark the end of each Shift (Round) and thus are the timers for the game - less players less Shifts played.

Each player is given a personal player board that is long and narrow and sits in a portrait stance, it is designed so that it shows Loading Docks 1, 2 and 3 large enough for portrait positioned cards to be placed alongside it and be seen to be adjacent to its assigned Dock. The left side of the second Dock has a cut-out that allows Mining Row cards to be positioned partially into the board; no cards are ever placed to the left side of Dock 1 but Dock 3 can be used as a Holding or Storage area.

 

Once you have decided who is to play first the game continues neatly in clockwise order. There is no Start Player marker and the Start Player status doesn't move evenly around in turn, instead there is a mechanic (the last player to place one of their personal deck cards on the 0/1 Action card ) in place for the changing of Start Player - nobody plays a card on the 0/1 then the Start Player remains the same as the previous Shift. The area adjacent to each deck of cards is called a Zone and players who wish to take the Action associated with the card on top of their chosen deck have to play cards into the necessary Zone. The mechanic for obtaining cards or simply using their associated Actions (some decks are of one card only that can be used but never taken) has been cleverly thought through.

If you are the first player to lay a Worker card into a Zone then you must lay a card from your hand with the value of one. The second player who wishes to utilise that Zone has to lay a card or cards to the value of exactly two, for the next player to lay a card there it costs exactly three and so on, always exactly one more than the previously laid value of card(s). Play is in Shifts and players may take the same Actions more than once in a Shift, the Shift ending when all players have passed or used all of the cards available to them, quite often the higher value cards (the 4 and 5) have nowhere they can be placed; you may never overpay so you cannot place a value 4 Worker card onto a value 2 Worker card for example.

 

The game is about running trains filled with coal but there are no actual stations to deliver to. There are Wagons that carry the coal from your mine to wherever you have a objective for - basically all you need to do is have the correct amount (or more) of coal in the required Wagons on a train with an Engine - the required amount of coal being that shown on a objective you own. The coal is in rail-lorries, either one stack or two, with the main differences being that the one stack lorries provide additional victory points whilst the two stack lorries are helpful for quickly fulfilling objectives. The Wagons on which you load the coal lorries (slide the card under the Wagon card so that the coal stack is visible) have one or four symbols on them. Those with one symbol show either a Grey Tower, a Red Fox, a Gold Spoked Wheel or a Green Shamrock, those with four show all four different symbols. The single symbol Wagons can only carry Lorries with the same symbol, the four symbol Wagons carry any of the four types, but only ever one card. Engines can pull Wagons of all types, there is no need to try to create Trains of just one symbol type, but they do have to leave from the correct Docks (the Docks also only allow specific Wagon and Load types). Before a train leaves the Station you have to take the Delivery Action (you cannot just decide your train is ready to go), you then take all the cards attached to it and place them to one side, at the end of the game you sort all the cards into their different types and match as many as you can to the objectives you have collected adding up all VPs on fulfilled objectives as well as on the Objectives and Coal stack lorries. Trains cannot move without an Engine but you can place an Engine anywhere in the row of cards that are creating the train.

 

When players obtain Wagons they place them on one of the appropriate Docks to the right of their player board. When they obtain Coal Lorries they place them to the left og their boards beginning in the cut-out and then laying future lorries adjacent to the left of the last played lorry. If you want to place the lorries onto a train you have to choose one of the Mining Actions first, this gives you 0-1, 1-2 or 2-3 Mining Actions depending on the card chosen. It costs one Mining Action to move one stack (not one lorry unless it only has one stack) and two Actions to move two stacks, a double-stack lorry or two single stack lorries. Always remember that the lorry cards have to be taken from your board, the right-most (in the cutout) lorry first; the lorry cards are slipped under the correct Wagon cards so that the coal and symbol show. If you have a right-most lorry that you cannot or do not want to place you can pay it's Mining Action cost and move it to the left of your Dock 3, placing it in storage; it will cost you if/when you want to move it out later in the game.

 

This is a very clever and most enjoyable game of resource management and worker placement. But there is so much more to it than just placing workers and moving coal under objective. There are so many other things to consider, such as Shares that can be attached one per fulfilled order, there are bonus points for Sets as in matching the destination illustration on Coal Lorry, Shares and Order cards. Creative use of the Innovation cards can allow you to do more than one thing in your turn. Innovation cards are in two types, Action and Worker. The Action Innovations allow you to access actions in the Display and the Worker Innovations are used as Workers and have a spread of numbers rather than a fixed number value. As you can use Innovation cards as well as your normal Worker cards in your turn they are both extremely important and useful, plus you can hold them until you need to use them.  

There is a modicum of card counting; by watching what cards the other players have played it is sometimes possible to play your Worker card(s) in such a way that it blocks one or more of the other players getting to play out all of their Worker cards. This blocking is legal as long as the card you use as a blocker is legitimately placed, meaning you can never place a Worker card unless you can actually fulfill the action you place it on. The designers have thought of just about everything to ensure that this is a forever game, a game you will keep and play over and over.

Everything has been designed to make play comfortable and as logical as possible; for example, the symbols on the Coal Lorries and Wagons are different colours, different shapes and large enough to be seen and identified across the table. The one thing we did decide was a must when we play was that instead of sitting side by side as we normally do at the table, two on one side, one or two on the other, it is best to sit around the table, one player per side. This is because you need a fair amount of room to lay out your cards left and right of your player board as well as keeping completed trains out of the way, and yes you do need a fair sized table to play on.

 

Although Glück Auf/Coal Baron: Das Grosse Kartenspiel/The Great Card Game is by the same designers, illustratiors and publishers as the Board Game of the same name (less the Kartenspiel/Card Game part of the title) it is not a direct boardgame to card game copy. Of course it has similarities but if you are concerned because you already own the board game and do not wish to pay out for the same thing but in a smaller box and with less components then let your concerns be quieted. It is similar but not the same and part of the similarity is that it is also a Great game.

If what I have seen online is correct you can pick up a copy of this game (the card game) for under €20.00 (I've seen it for as little as £14.00+£2.80 [postage] ) and that is ridiculously inexpensive for a game of this magnitude. Check out your local game store as well as online; I highly recommend Coal Baron:The Great Card Game (and I'm not being paid to say so). It's a gem!

 

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015