Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Driven to Extraction

Last night as part of the new disciplined gaming strategy, I bashed through a game of Copper Country with myself and Dirk. 'Bashed' is probably putting it a bit strongly - it took a while. I find the only way to avoid glazing over whilst reading rules is to read them aloud, so that's what I did.

In Copper Country the players are squabbling over the metal in question in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, starting in 1840 and continuing up into the 20th century. The by-product of mining in Tinner's Trail is water, but here - I guess things are geologically specific - the by-product is poor rock. A track of poor rock runs around the board which slowly is added to the board, revealing certain progressions in the game - new eras mean more advanced buildings can be built, and card-hand size increases, representing your growing company.

Mine, all mine

Each turn is pretty simple - take two management actions and one labor action. Management actions are (broadly speaking) about gathering resources and building buildings, whereas labor actions are mostly about mining.

The game reminded me just slightly of Beowulf. Miners (and buildings) minus poor rock equals how many shifts you can work in a mine; each shift represented by a production card being flipped over. If you have all the resources to take the production card, you pay them and take it. Or you can pass, or you can stake a claim - taking the card, but not the copper until you meet the requirements at a later date.

But the other thing that can happen - and happens more the longer the game continues - is that the pass option is no longer available, and if you can't meet the resource requirements your miners either go on strike, or die in a horrific underground accident. Neither is good for business.


Fortunately there is a constant stream of immigrants arriving in Michigan willing to risk their lives for you, so you can replace dead miners quite easily (one management action) or negotiate (also one action) to get the striking miners back to work. Tired miners also take an action to get them ready for another shift.

perky miner, ready for his demise

So it's pretty simple up to a degree. New eras and business and event cards triggered by the poor rock track are straightforward, and give the game extra replayability. But the way the buildings work is more complex - there are three types, each of which can be built from a particular era onwards. The first (company houses) allow you to take more shifts in adjacent mine spaces, and give you a little bonus depending on how many you've built. After that the buildings (shafts and hoists) begin to combine together: as long as one vertex of the hex they are adjacent to joins with one vertex of a hex the other building is adjacent to, then all the hexes any one building is adjacent to receives the benefit of those buildings ...It's a little more fiddly than Tinner's Trail at this moment.

you can't build these until you can

When the poor rock track is totally empty, the game is over.  I didn't get as far as the third era though, as having started just after 9pm, I quit at 11.30. I never built a hoist house or indeed use the shaft house I'd constructed. I did kill off about three miners, alienated a couple of others, and - as always happen when I play for myself and Dirk - I lost to my imaginary German friend.

I'm not totally bowled over by that first play - but I am intrigued enough to play it again. I could see that with more than two players opponents would start to get under each others' feet - you can nip in and mine where an opponents miner is based, filling up the space with poor rock and, essentially, pissing on their fire. You can also mount hostile takeovers - stealing an opponent's company card (which work the same way as a claim) before they secure it for themselves.

And I have to give kudos to the detail here. The designers have even included a history of Copper Country in the rulebook, which includes a list of the all the deaths by country in an industry sustained almost entirely by immigrants. Wouldn't happen now, of course - they'd all be plotting to blow up Finland.

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