Posted by: gschloesser | August 11, 2011

Rotterdam

Design by:  Hans van Tol
Published by:  Game Master
2 – 4 Players, 45 minutes – 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

I wasn’t too interested in the latest offerings from The Game Master, a Dutch company that to date has not released any games that have caught my fancy.  I was going to give them another pass at this year’s Spiel until a fellow East Tennessee Gamer informed me that he had played Rotterdam and thought it was a good game.  So, I plunked down some euros and acquired the game.  I good-naturedly warned my friend that if I didn’t enjoy the game, he would soon be purchasing it from me! 

The theme of Rotterdam is nothing new:  deliver materials to secure goods in order to fulfill contracts.  The mechanism, however, appears to be quite original.  Various colored routes lead from the docks to six different industries, each of which produces two specific types of goods.  What makes the game so different is that each player names a color, and ships, if able, MUST move along that color channel.  This often will take a ship past a key intersection, and force it to proceed to a port that was not the intended destination.  While this can be humorous, the sad truth is that it is EXTREMELY frustrating.  For me, this and other rampant randomness dooms the game.

Players each receive three contracts depicting two-to-three goods.  They must attempt to transport the proper raw materials to the proper industry in order to earn the goods required by their contracts.  Sadly, if one is successful in maneuvering his ship to the proper industry, he must randomly draw a goods card from the deck, giving him only a 50-50 chance at drawing the good required.  More randomness. 

Each turn plays in an identical manner.  Provided there is space at the dock, players place ships and load a raw material onboard if desired.  Then, each player names a color, and all ships of all players that can move along a channel of that color do so, moving to the next space.   After all players have named a color and the ships are moved, any player whose ship rests on an “anchor” space receives a shipping card.  I’ll discuss these shipping cards later. 

If any ships have reached a harbor, they unload the raw material they are transporting.  If the industry at that harbor is the correct one – meaning it requires that specific good – the player may draw one of the goods cards offered at that location.  If not, the raw material is returned to the general supply and the player receives nothing for his efforts.  In either case, the ship is returned to the player. 

As mentioned, each industry produces two unique types of goods, and the deck of cards for each industry contains a 50 / 50 mix of the two types.  It can be quite frustrating to make the perilous journey and reach your intended destination, only to draw the good you do not need.  The game does provide a trade phase, but more often than not, players don’t possess many goods, and know that by trading they will often be allowing an opponent to fulfill a contract.  So, the trading rounds usually don’t see much activity. 

Finally, if any player has successfully gathered the required goods to fulfill a contract, they discard those goods and play the contract to the table, earning the victory points indicated, which range from 3 – 7.  It only takes twelve victory points to end the game, so this can usually be accomplished by completing two or at most three contracts.  Mercifully, this only takes about 45 minutes to an hour to accomplish.  Points are earned for completed contracts, bonus shipping cards, and goods remaining in one’s hand.  The player with the most points becomes the shipping magnate of Rotterdam and wins the game. 

Let’s discuss the shipping cards.  These cards add spice to the game by granting the player various powers.  These powers include the ability to steal a good from an opponent’s ship, discard a good from a ship, move a ship backwards, load extra cargo, etc.  There are even cards which earn one or two victory points.  These cards can be extremely powerful, and are often the source of extreme frustration.  There is nothing more maddening in this game than to survive all of the potential pitfalls along the river and reach your intended destination, only to have an opponent play a card that steals your raw material or forces you to swap two of your raw materials, rendering them and the entire journey useless.  Without more restrictions, the cards are simply too powerful.

There is an official variant on the Game Master website that makes the harbors safe and prevents opponents from playing cards on those ships, and this will help.  However, this simply means that the player will play those cards one turn earlier, causing the same havoc and consternation. 

I can’t deny that the ship movement idea appears original and is clever.  However, it is extremely random, and the success of your journey is highly dependent upon the calls of your opponents.  There is a massive dose of randomness in nearly every phase of the game, including movement, acquiring goods and contract cards, and with the shipping cards.  It is simply too much, destroying any promise that the game may have held.  After two playings, I have no desire to navigate the waters of the Maas any further.

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