COAL BARON: A Strategy game from the imaginations of Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Kiesling
Published by Eggertspiele in Hamburg Germany / English version by R & R Games in Florida USA
The game is for 2-4 players, aged 10 and upwards, and lasts around an hour.
The Ruhr area of Germany, Essen to be precise for this game, was, at the beginning of the 20th
Century, a wealth of industry, particularly the mining of essential minerals such as coal. In this
game, coal is the main resource, and also for the purpose of the game coal comes in four colours;
Yellow, from the first level, Brown, second level, Grey, Level three and finally down on Level four
the good Black stuff.
The game is about scoring Victory Points by mining and delivering coal. The players need Order
cards, these show how much coal is required and by what delivery transport - Steam Engine, Horse
and Cart, Hand Cart or Truck - it is to be carried. The cards also show the value of each order, which
you score in VPs at the time of delivery.
Each player has their own coal mine, for game purposes this comprises of a board with a column
cut out in it's centre - forming the mine shaft - into which a card strip is placed which is slightly
thinner card than the board so that the tile for the lift (elevator) can be ridden up and down the shaft.
This mine is good chrome, unnecessary, but good just the same. The same effect for play could just
as easily been created less expensively using a flat board with the mine shaft printed on it, but there
is no way it would have been as visually impressive.
The shaft starts at the top of the mine at surface level with a hut over the lift entrance. The miners
enter from the left (figuratively) and the coal exits from the right. The lift travels up and down as
required, stopping at the entrances to the tunnels - each tunnel travels to the left and right. The left
tunnels have lighting but the power is down on the right hand side - the coal truck tiles depict this
and have to be positioned on the correct side when you place them.
The players have a set number of mine workers, in their chosen ID colour. The main board has all the
options the players can take, one action per turn, using the workers to mark the options taken. This is
the part of the game which is both clever and frustrating. Everything you want to do costs in workers.
If you are the first player to take the action you place 1 worker on the option space. The next player to
take the option, even if it's the same player using the space again, has to spend 2 workers, then 3, 4, 5
and so on. So even though you may begin with a large number of workers, they soon get used and of
course you never have quite enough to do everything you want to.
Everything costs workers. To get an Order card you need to buy it off the board using workers, the same
as you get transport and mine tunnels / coal - the tunnel cards show one or two mine carts and as you put
these in your mine you add the correct number and colour of coal pieces to them. Thus as you dig deeper
into the tunnel you mine coal - the previous tunnels being barren (No! not as in Coal Barren!) after the
coal cubes have been removed.
Played over three shifts - a shift is over when all players have spent all their workers - there is more to
the game than just adding tunnel tiles and mining coal. Yes, the coal gives you VPs, but while you are
gaining Victory Points you are also having to make sure you don't also lose them. At the end of the game
you need to have the same number of tunnels on either side of your mine - not necessary the same for
each level, just the same total; this is the number of tunnels not mine carts. So it is indeed another new
take on the popular resource gathering game with the addition of having to keep the balance in mind.
The mine lift mechanic is quite clever. On the main board there are spaces which give the player Actions.
By playing a worker, or workers into one of these areas you get a number of Action Points to spend for the
turn that you claim them - APs cannot be saved if not spent. To move the lift from one level to the next or
from top to bottom or bottom to top, in fact any one stop, costs 1 AP. To collect a single coal cube costs 1
AP. To remove a coal cube from the mine to the Order card costs 1 AP. Order cards can be filled piecemeal
but points aren't scored until the order is completed in full.
A nice touch is the Shift "time" clock on the board. You have an indicator hand that is moved from I to II
and on to III as each shift ends; the clock is set into 12 portions which show the order of scoring all parts.
As you would expect from Eggertspiele the quality of the components and artwork is splendid. I have one
minor complaint about the art on the Order cards. These are designed to look like an order sheet on a clip-
board. This is a very nice touch, especially as the order looks like it is on a sheet of paper. The art is so good
that it makes the order sheet look like it has been folded, and thus it makes the cards look like they are bent.
It is a super optical illusion but it creeps me out looking at it, plus I keep trying to flatten the cards.
A very fine game, fun to play, annoying in just the right way, with enough options to ensure all players have
options on every turn.