Sunday, May 20, 2012

Game Review: Blockade Runner

Blockade Runner by Numbskull Games is designed by Patrick and Alex Stevens and costs about $50.
I had my eye on Blockade Runner at Game Matrix for some time.  It's an ACW game based on the economics of running the blockade.  I was thrilled when I received it as a Christmas gift, but as with all multi player games, it's tough to get enough friends together to play, so last night was the first time we'd walk through.  After an evening of good food and good conversation, Dave Demick, Tim, and Casey agreed Blockade Runner is an awesome game.
A look at the board from the Gulf Coast side.  It is a mounted board, colorful without being busy, and its includes very easy to use charts to track the supply and price of resources.
Interestingly, the game only lasts five turns.  Beginning in 1861 owners of Confederate blockade runners are faced with helping to keep the rebellion going by delivering war supplies.  While war supplies are important to the war effort and ultimately the game, the winner of the game is the player at the end with most cash, and war materials just don't pay.  Instead the blockade runner must run tobacco and cotton out to Havana, Port au Prince and Bermuda, and run back with the obligatory war supplies and black market goods.  So you're Rhett Butler bringing Scarlett back silk and perfume, along with the odd Enfield rifle and Whitworth cannon.  The price of commodities can go up and down based on supply.  The economics of the game are simple but elegant and work well.  As players make money, they use it to buy or load more commodities, bribe officials and bid on additional ships.
Overall look at the game board from the north side.  The blocks are wooden, and the counters are nice and thick.
All this would be fine if players were just playing against each other in a Darwinian economic system.  However, they're also fighting this damned war. Each turn, before the Confederate players move, they get the bad news and the Union Navy has its way. First, the players count up the number of war supplies they brought in.  The fewer they have, the more nasty things the Yankees can do.  Blockading or strengthening the blockade of ports, closing ports through assault, the loss of inland economic centers and the interruption of rail lines. More war supplies means less Union activity, but less profit, so that tension persists throughout the game.  It encourages a certain amount of cooperation, which the game encourages, however no cash may ever exchange hands.
All the Union actions are run from the War Effort Chart.  Just apply the simple mechanics to information from this chart and, bingo,  the Yankees are done in five minutes.
 We all agreed the game works.  It tackles a pretty complex, offbeat subject.  Yet, the simple commodity management system, and the series of straightforward die rolls to run the Union actions don't get in the way of each player executing their actions.  I spent a fair amount of time walking through the rules before we played, and we did reinterpret some gray areas a couple of times, but all the players found the game easy to play and we were finished in about two and a half hours including a couple of interruptions. We all agreed we loved the game and needed to play it some more. Just for the record, I won.  I thrashed my son, who usually kicks my butt in these sorts of games. 

Blockade Runner is a costly game, about fifty bucks, but beautiful in its execution.  It has a fully mounted board.  The counters are nice and thick.  The three decks of cards are nicely laminated to prolong their life. The only drawback to the game is pretty minor.  Each ship has a hole for a colored smokestack to denote which player owns it.  The hole is too shallow or the smokestack is too big, so they fall out all the time.  No biggie.
The game materials are awfully nice.  The cards are laminated and have lots of illustration.  The money is based on Confederate bills.  Probably keeps the game expensive, but still a nice touch.
Patrick and Alex Stevens designed Blockade Runner and it is published by Numbskull Games.  They've done a fine job. I heartily recommend this game with 4 1/2 out of five stars.


DougH said...

Again, you are a good reviewer.
A small ball of blu-tac on the bottom of the ship's stack holes might help that situation.

Kevin said...

Oooh. Good call. I'll have to give the blu-tac a try.

Ted Henkle said...

Thanks for posting the review. I saw this game at the Game Matrix and was debating on whether or not to buy it.