Gold Rush

Players 3-4
Length 60-90 minutes
Equipment Required piecepack, 8 gaming stones in a color for each player, poker chips in red, black, and yellow and blank business cards cut in half
Designer SethJaffee? and JasonSmulevitch?
Version 1.0
Version Date2004-06>
License Not Specified


Collect as much gold as possible, either by mining it yourself or trading valuable food to the other miners for it. Make your claims, assay the land, and set up a Farm, Windmill, Gold Mine, or Mine to get the resources you need to get you through the day. Trade with other gold diggers and see who makes out the best in this rush for the gold!



Reviews & Comments

Gold Rush is an economic building, trading and resource management game set in the late 19th century, and might most conveniently be described as Settlers of the Klondike, or perhaps Yukon Goa. Three or four players set off to explore and exploit the uncharted northern wilds in an attempt to find their fortunes. The piecepack tiles are land claims that can be worked to produce food, energy, ore and gold (tracked by poker chips or other convenient tokens), while the piecepack coins are special features of each land claim that can independently produce additional, often different resources. Players start with very meager means, only a bit of food and energy. But little by little, everyone stakes more claims (using gaming stones), and uses their limited resources to both improve their existing claims and to produce more of the resources they need. Simply surviving is fairly straightforward, but getting ahead requires optimizing the land and features for resource production, savvy trading with other players, and building and enhancing structures (kept track of individually using cards) to both enhance your own land exploitation and protect your assets. And getting ahead in victory points requires not wasting time doing things that aren't worthwhile. The goal of the game is to have the most points at the end of the game, which lasts nine rounds. Each of those nine rounds is made up of several phases, in which each player gets to act in turn. If you have played any of the popular phase-driven building games that have come out of Germany in the past few years, Gold Rush will be easy to pick up, and finished inside ninety minutes.

There's something to be said for a game author who takes great care to make sure the rules are presented in a clean, easy-to-understand way. Unfortunately, that something cannot be said for Gold Rush. The ruleset, as I received it, was a nearly unreadable mess. I thought it very odd that a PDF would come through so jumbled, and that prompted me to ask some questions. I mean, a paragraph would start out fine, then the next line would consist of only one or two words, followed by blank lines before the sentence continued. Lather, rinse, repeat. It was a real chore reading through a ruleset that had been corrupted like this. As it turns out, this wasn't the fault of the designers, who originally submitted their ruleset in the text of an e-mail message. The forensic evidence suggests that the file mangling came about accidentally when the e-mail message containing the original ruleset was copied into a text editor (such as the notorious Notepad that comes with Microsoft Windows), the identifying information removed, and converted to a PDF using a printer driver style distiller. It was a malfunction of a buggy program that almost cost the Gold Rush designers extra points. But my difficulty wading through the Gold Rush ruleset was ultimately my own fault, mostly for not asking questions sooner. There's a lesson to learn here, folks: If you submit your rules as a text file or as part of an e-mail message, please double check any sort of formatted output before it goes to a cranky contest judge or gets posted on a web site. Better yet, format the document, and include a few diagrams and play aids to make the ruleset more inviting for the reader.

OK, now that THAT is out of the way, there are still some shortcomings with the ruleset itself. While the game structure can be described fairly simply (setup followed by nine rounds of production, free trade, claim staking, development and passing the dice taken in turns, and ending with a final scoring phase), this isn't clearly stated in the rules. Fortunately my gaming group was already familiar with numerous games having this structure, so figuring it out wasn't hard. Also, since the game was originally submitted in the text of an e-mail message, there are no diagrams to help guide new players through the play process. Even a simple diagram of the initial setup would have been helpful. Again, the collective gaming experience of my playing group was a saving factor, and we muddled through just fine. This game also cries out for a few play aids to make life easier. A four-up sheet of reference cards listing the order of the phases, the production costs of the different buildings, and a victory points table would have been ideal. Lesson number two: It's polishing touches like these that elevate an already decent game from "I've never played it because I can't get through the rules," to "Ooh! Cool! Let's play THIS."

And honestly, Gold Rush really is a decent game. Several mechanics are recognizable from other games, but their re-assembly into Gold Rush breaks some new ground that is, on the whole, at least as much as the sum of its parts. One mechanical niggle we had was that a warehouse magnate strategy appears to be the one best way to maximize victory points. To make it work, build farms, windmills and ore mines, and get one warehouse as early as possible to hedge against loss. Hoard food, energy and ore until the last round, then replace as many buildings as you can with warehouses. Why warehouses? Because they are the cheapest and most useful non-production building, and they are worth eight victory points each. This is clearly the surest way to maximize victory points. Consequently the costs for and/or the number of victory points awarded for the various buildings needs to be adjusted to make the game more interesting. Perhaps varying numbers of victory points could be awarded for production buildings as well as non-production buildings? Or maybe limit the availability of non-production buildings? If there were only one warehouse available in the game, other players might be given the option of donating the energy required to prevent spoiled food. The possibilities are great.

The authors may also want make gold more useful within the game, possibly by allowing a one-for-one purchase of any other resource using gold as a means to get past food and energy shortages. Otherwise, purchasing a gold mine after, say, turn seven, is of only marginal value. These two flaws, the unrealistic warehouse magnate strategy and the unrealistic idea that gold mines aren't very valuable if purchased late in the game, detract from the theme quite a bit. We also found that there was relatively little interaction during the free trade phase, which was somewhat disappointing. This was especially true during the early rounds of the game when resources are scarce, no one wants to trade anything.

The mechanical predictability isn't necessarily a bad thing, as many games have standardized paths to victory. But I think they usually take longer to discover. On the other hand, the fact that the optimum victory path is fairly obvious also fits well with the theme. The Klondike is an excellent setting, but there were a few things that everyone had to do before digging for gold, including finding sources of food and warmth. So the thematic and mechanical integration is unusually good for Gold Rush, and the theme receives high marks. As far as the fun factor, Gold Rush is slightly better than average, despite its mechanical problems. There's a lot going on in a relatively simple system. Unfortunately, unless some tweaks are made, its predictability may hurt Gold Rush's long term replay value.

Conclusion: The Gold Rush rules are in need of revision to get the victory points within a more realistic range if multiple victory paths is the design goal. The ruleset is also in desperate need of editing. The writing needs to be cleaned up and formatted, and a few diagrams and play aids wouldn't hurt. But the game itself has tons of potential to become a solid family game in the contemporary German style. Score: 17.84

Clark D. Rodeffer Oct 19, 2004

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