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[Review] Boomtown

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  • Tom Vasel
    More than anything else in a game, I value fun. If a game is just pure fun to play, then I don t care if it has great mechanics, a solid theme, etc. Fun is
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3 2:45 PM
      More than anything else in a game, I value fun. If a game is just
      pure fun to play, then I don't care if it has great mechanics, a solid
      theme, etc. Fun is worth the price of a game alone. Boomtown (Face 2
      Face Games, 2004 - Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala) is one of those
      games that provides a lot of fun. Of all the games that I brought
      back from Origins, it's the one that I see people playing repeatedly.
      A few people enjoyed it so much that they took over my job of teaching
      games and started to teach it to others.

      That, of course, is an excellent thing; as I love when games "grab"
      those I teach them to. Boomtown has a lot of luck, and the auctions
      each round are extremely important; but I haven't seen it bother
      people too much. It's so much fun to win an auction, or get the
      property you need, or have someone pay dearly to you because of one of
      your saloons. The artwork, theme, and mechanics are all secondary to
      the enjoyable time we have playing the game.

      A deck of sixty cards is shuffled and placed in a face-down deck in
      the middle of the table. Each player receives $10, in poker chips,
      with the remainder of the chips placed in a "bank" in the middle of
      the table. A pile of mayor pawns (one each of five different colors:
      purple, green, blue, yellow, and red), town tokens (two each of the
      same colors), and two dice are also placed in the middle of the table.
      One player is chosen to be the first player, and the first round is
      ready to begin.

      In each turn, cards equal to the number of players are turned face up
      in the middle of the table. Starting with the first player and
      proceeding in a clockwise manner, each player must bid (higher than
      the previous bidder), or pass. Once all players but one have passed,
      that player wins the auction and pays the amount they bid to the
      player on their RIGHT (counter-clockwise). The player gives half of
      the money they receive to the player on their right, until either
      there is nothing left to give or the bidding player is reached (they
      don't get any of their own money.)

      Once the bid has been paid, the highest bidder takes any of the cards
      from the middle, with each player following in a clockwise order,
      until they have taken all the cards. The cards that can be taken are
      of the following:
      - Mines: Mines have a production number in their top left-hand corner
      (from two to twelve), a number of gold pieces on them (from two to
      seven), and a town they are associated with printed on them (which
      matches one of the five colors). If a player is the first person to
      get two mines of the same color (town), they take the corresponding
      mayor token. If another player gets MORE mines of that color, they
      can take the mayor token for themselves. Either way, if a player
      takes a mine card that another player has the mayor of, they must pay
      that player one gold piece for each mine that the mayor's owner has of
      that color.
      - Dynamite: The player who takes this immediately destroys one
      opponent's mine or saloon.
      - Saloon: The player who takes this card puts a town token of their
      choice on it. From now on, whenever a mine of that color produces
      gold, the owner must pay the saloon's owner two gold.
      - Holdup: The player who takes this card immediately chooses another
      player and a number from two to twelve. They roll the dice; and if
      they roll the number that they chose or greater, they steal that much
      money from the target player.
      - Governor: The player who takes this card changes one of their
      mayors to "Governor" and now receives double payments whenever another
      player takes a mine of their color
      - Expropriation, Card Shark, Mustang, New Vein, Saloon Girls,
      Stagecoach Robbery, and Telegraph all also have a variety of effects.

      Once all players have taken a card, the first player rolls the dice.
      Each player checks their mines, and receives gold for the mines that
      have the same production number as the number rolled. The players
      receive gold equal to the number of gold pieces on the producing
      mine(s). A couple of mines automatically collapse if a two or twelve
      are rolled. Once production occurs, the next turn occurs, with the
      first player being the winner of the previous auction.

      When the last card from the deck has been drawn and auctioned, the
      game ends. Each player totals their points, adding their money, the
      production value of all the mines they control, and five points for
      each mayor token they control. The player with the most points is the

      Some comments on the gameā€¦

      1.) Components: Boomtown packs quite a few components in the small,
      colorful square box it comes in. The cards feel like thin plastic,
      which is unique for a card game, but I like them (they're washable and
      more durable). The artwork on the cards is very evocative and
      thematic, although some people may not like a few of the provocative
      pictures. The wooden mayor pieces are big and chunky wooden pawns,
      and the town tokens are thick wooden discs. I'm not sure how easy to
      tell the colors (on the wooden pieces) apart would be for a
      color-blind person, but we had no trouble at all. The gold coins come
      in three denominations (white, red, and blue mini-poker chips), and
      the dice are - well, normal six-sided dice. Everything fits in a
      custom made plastic insert in the box. Great components - changing a
      simple card game into something more, just by how it looks!

      2.) Rules: The rules come in several translations (including
      Korean!), with the English rules in a seven-page booklet. The rules
      are formatted very well and are easy to understand, although I think
      an example or two wouldn't have hurt. Still, the game is extremely
      simple to teach. I just explain about the mines and mayors at the
      beginning of the game, and then just explain each special card as it
      comes up. We had no real rule ambiguities when playing the game;
      everything was very easy to work out.

      3.) Bidding: The whole game revolves around the bidding. Players
      have to realize that the other players are getting the money that they
      bid, in a system similar to the one used in Traumfabrik but a little
      more clever. If I let the player to my right win, for example, I may
      get the second pick, but I won't get much of the money he's bid. The
      player who picks last gets the majority of the money, so players are
      constantly (at least in my games) kibitzing as to who should win each

      4.) Taking: While bidding is an important aspect of the game,
      choosing the correct card to take is also rather important. It is
      occasionally obvious what card to take, but players are often
      presented with a few tantalizing choices. They might want the best
      producing mine up for grabs, or they might want another mine in a
      specific color so that they might get the mayor of that color (or
      prevent another player from getting it.) Sometimes players take the
      strategy of not picking a color that they have a majority in, just so
      that someone else has to take it. They are taking a slight risk,
      because that player might eventually steal the mayor from them, but
      they get some quick cash on the way. Each mine is worth a different
      amount to each player, depending on what mines they already have; so
      it's tremendously important to take the right card.

      5.) Strategy and luck: Bidding and taking are the strategic parts of
      the game, while the production rolls and effects of some of the
      special cards add the luck. Some players will be irritated that their
      mines never produce because certain numbers are never rolled (like in
      Settlers of Catan). However, the production, while it certainly
      affects the game, isn't always necessary for a victory; I've seen
      players whose mines never produced the entire game win! Besides, it's
      not too difficult to get an entire range of numbers, so it's fairly
      probable that one of your mines will produce each turn.

      6.) Fun Factor, Time, and Players: The game plays equally as well
      with three to five players, although I much prefer the five player
      game. Either way, Boomtown only lasts about forty-five minutes, which
      is an excellent time for a game of this magnitude. No one is every
      really "out" of the game, because everyone gets at least one card a
      turn; and if you don't bid on much, you'll still get money from the
      other players. Everyone is involved at all points in the game, and I
      can't really put my finger on it; but something just makes the game a
      lot of fun for all. There's a bit of "Take that!" with some of the
      cards and tactical moves (forcing someone to pay you), but not too
      much to make the game mean. Everyone I played it with, which has been
      fairly man, has enjoyed the game; and it's requested often.

      Bruno Faidutti is known for his chaos in games, and I enjoy them for
      that reason; it just gives them the "fun factor" that Vasel enjoys so
      much. Boomtown is certainly one of his typical games, yet plays
      quickly and tightly, and is frankly a good auction game. There's more
      strategy in the game that initially appears; and while luck may
      determine the winner, superior play will usually supersede it.
      Boomtown is one of those games that is quick enough, fun enough, and
      clever enough that I don't care if I win anyway; it was fun just to

      Tom Vasel
      "Real men play board games."
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