Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Elementary Canal

The games collection is undergoing a purge: I'm shedding games that don't get played and trying to make front room of our house looks like it belongs to a reasonably sane human being rather than a meeple-obsessed hobbit.

Tangent to that is the idea that I actually play the games I've bought and work my way through the guilty dozen (probably more than a dozen, I imagine) or so games that are sitting lovelorn on the shelves. Recently I've blitzed through A Feast for Odin, Black Orchestra, Euphoria, and Trajan. Feast is now a firm favorite after a shaky start, and Black Orchestra seems to have hit the right spot with myself, Andrew and Stanley too - the pair of us played again last night, and although we didn't get arrested the curfew Nazi curtailed our fun.

 Bedtime for Hitler

After Stan and Joe were settled I duly put on my specs and set up Panamax, the game of shoveling ships though the Panama canal. If that seems an odd choice of verb, just you wait! Ships get shoveled.

"Just push him out the way!"

Despite the location, the theme is very Euro-y, with each player the CEO of a shipping company that is loading ships and taking their cargo through the canal in question. But after that it gets more interesting. For a start, the winner is decided not on the most valuable company, but, in a celebration of rampant capitalism, the richest individual. The straightforward route here is to develop your own company and take payouts from it, but you don't have to do that. You could be a little more creative and, in a celebration of rampant capitalism, let your company go to the dogs whilst you load your cargo onto other players ships at opportune moments and buy shares in their companies instead. Let them do the hard work! As long as you get your money, right?


The only thing is, the more shares you buy in your own company, the more likely you are to get the 'best CEO' bonus; just like the way those rampant capitalists love to reward themselves for dicking people over in the most anonymous possible way. Plus - the more your company is worth, the more dividends you get...

This meddlesome intrigue gets thicker still when we come to the movement of ships. Each lock in the canal only has a certain amount of space, so any ships coming in behind a full lock will shovel everything forward to the next space in the canal - meaning you can just get in someone's way and have them do the hard work by pushing your cargo forward!

The dice bubble continues to grow

All of this stuff has a random generator too: available actions (12 each round, over 3 rounds) are decided by 12 dice being rolled at the start of the round, and on your turn you take a die, activating the action: get and load an order, move ships. When your ships reach the far end of the canal (routes go in both directions) both the company and you get paid for delivering it. The company gets the pip value of the dice, and you get $2 per die, or you can sacrifice this income to hire some kind of specialists - the stern-looking captain (movement!), the walkie-talkie-wielding stevedore (loading!), the big-chinned financial advisor (money!)

The big-chinned financial advisors are important because they define what you earn at the end of the game by giving you a set of criteria to aim for (you get one at the start of the game too) and make no mistake, these are not optional bonuses á la most-euros you can think of - they really define your plans for the whole game. Like if a real financial advisor tells you to ship goods from China, are you going to start loading a cargo of bratwurst and croissants? - Of course not.

three men called Max

Turn order is important here because going first puts you in the box seat - you have more chance of getting in someone's way and forcing them to move your boats for you. But by the same token, there's an element of risk in this - if nobody takes the plunge then all ships occupying space at the end of each round has to pay for the privilege. So there's a bit of brinkmanship too.

As well as the player ships there are also Cruise ships and military ships that zig zag back and forth - the cruise ships will take a little cargo for you, whereas the military will - potentially - pay you when you shovel them forward. This seeming afterthought makes for a canny tactic, as if you've shipped lots of Chinese goods then the Chinese military adore you and will give you a big payment every time you shovel their ship forward.

After three rounds all players sell their shares and receive cash, plus whatever bonuses their financial advisors bring them. Richest capitalist wins!

just pushing this Military ship through a lake

These are the designers who did the perfectly-serviceable but not that exciting Nippon - on a first impression I think this is streaks ahead of that game. The theme comes through strongly - you're literally pushing boats along the canal. The goal is more disgustingly evident. And the player interaction, which is minimal in Nippon (take an action before X does), is much more present here. I can see quite a few GNNers getting a kick out of this - and getting a kicking too!

Panamax survives the purge.


  1. I've heard a lot of good things about Panamax, but have not yet had the opportunity to try it, so would be keen to give this one a whirl at a GNN session sometime.

  2. You know, whenever I saw Panamax on the shelf I always thought "oh, that's new. We can play it later."

  3. I have a friend whose had an unplayed copy of Panamax for over a year and we finally played a few games of it last month and really enjoyed it so I'd certainly be up for a GNN session

  4. How did you get on, Matt? It seemed to me in my two-player run-through with Dirk that the game contained lots of screwage potential!

  5. We played 3 player and it worked well. I think 3-4 seems best for screwage potential. We played nice during the first game as we got our heads round the rules but there was certainly screwage during the second game, both intentional and unintentional.