Posted by: gschloesser | August 12, 2011


Designer:  Wolfgang Kramer
Published by:  Jumbo
3 – 5 Players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Tycoon is the eagerly awaited game from Wolfgang Kramer, the designer of the highly acclaimed El Grande, a Spiel das Jahres winner from a few years ago.  Kramer has made a bit of a departure in theme, as Tycoon has a decidedly business flavor to it as opposed to a colonization theme.  However, one of the main objectives remains the same … that of acquiring a majority in as many territories as possible.  So, in spite of the change of theme, Kramer has kept some of the mechanics similar.  Unfortunately, this game pales in comparison to El Grande.

The idea of the game is to establish hotels and factories in as many of the nine cities represented on the board (New York, Mexico City, Rio De Janeiro, Monaco, Cairo, Cape Town, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sidney) as possible.  In order to accomplish this, one must carefully manage his money and make optimum use of the flight tickets which are available.  Each turn, there are six charter flights available and two scheduled flights.  On a player’s turn, he can purchase flight tickets (which give routes he can travel) and fly from city to city.  He is allowed one build at the end of his turn, which he can use to either construct a hotel or a factory.  Construction, however, can only take place in the city where he is currently located.  Hotels generate money at the end of a round based on whether the player has the majority or secondary position in a particular city (based on number of hotels there).  Factories will pay an additional secondary position to its owner.

The value of the payoff usually increases with each hotel built in a city, regardless of who the owning player is. Eventually, however, the market becomes over-built, and the value of the hotels begin to decline.  Further, there are spaces on each city’s hotel track which require the oldest hotel, which has served its usefulness, to be removed.  This, of course, can alter the majority and/or secondary status quickly and must constantly be watched for.  Each city has a limited number of hotels which can be built there, and can only hold two factories total.

The price for constructing a hotel varies from city-to-city.  Each city has two airports.  The first player to land at that city occupies the first airport, which allows construction of hotels at a lower price.  If the first airport is currently occupied, a player must land at the second airport if he wishes to land at that city, and, thus, pay a higher price to construct there.  The same principle is applied to factory construction – the first factory is cheaper to build than the second one.

A round ends when a player constructs six hotels.  All other players then get one more turn.  Three rounds are played in total.

At the conclusion of each round, players earn income. Cities pay revenue to players who have the majority or secondary position in each city, while players who have factories in a city receive an additional secondary bonus. In addition, the city which has the largest number of hotels (called the longest chain) pays any player who has a factory there a majority bonus.  Finally, players earn income based on how many cities in which they have constructed at least one hotel – the more cities they are present in, the better.

In the early going, money is very scarce.  Each player begins with only 15 million and it is highly unlikely that a player will be able to make it through the first round without finding it necessary to take out a loan.  Loans can be taken out in either 16 million (which must be paid back at the end of a round at 20 million) or 10 million (requiring a 12 million pay back).  However, in order to take out a loan, a player must spend a turn flying back to his home (off board) and pay to fly back on his next turn. If a player decides not to pay back a loan at the end of a round, he MUST do so at the conclusion of the following round and at a drastically higher rate (30 million for a 16 million loan and 20 million for a 10 million loan).  At the conclusion of the final round, all loans must be paid off.

One of the apparent design flaws in the game is that there doesn’t seem to be any reason NOT to remain at home on your first turn and take out a loan.  A player will not be able to make it through the first round without being forced to take a loan (or, if he does, will likely have constructed too few hotels and/or factories and be virtually out of contention).  So, in order to avoid the time and expense of having to fly back home to secure a loan, then purchase another ticket to return to the board, it seems logical to simply remain at home on the very first turn and secure a loan.  One wonders why the designer simply did not give the players more than the 15 million starting money at the beginning of the game.

The game is one of managing one’s money, taking advantage of the flight tickets available that round, and trying to keep in a majority or secondary position in as many of the nine cities as possible.  One must also keep an eye on the hotel tracks in the nine cities to take advantage of situations which would allow a player to usurp control of majority or secondary positions.  Opponents, however, are always messing with your grand designs.

I’ve played a few games of Tycoon, and … I don’t know … it lacks something.  It seems to have all of the elements of a very good game, but somehow misses the mark for me .  I get the sensation that I am performing the same action every turn and my turn is over very quickly.  It has a feeling to it that is too rigid and mechanical.  I know that this opinion is not shared by many who feel this is a masterful game.  I do think it plays much better with four than three players, but it still doesn’t move into the category of a really good game.  Maybe, though, I am just expecting too much from Kramer as his El Grande ranks as my favorite game.


  1. Very good game. Each city has it’s own benefits and drawbacks. This was later redone as El Capitan. 6/10
    Re-implemented as El Capitan. Better and much, much prettier game. Efficient travel is important. Every penny (?) is important and could separate you from the pack. Beautiful board and cards but it is still hard to read upside down. The location spots on the single city cards is the best detail by far. 7/10

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