Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Board Game Review - Canal Mania

Here's yet another review from my old man. It's starting to become a habit. It's a good thing his last name is also Drake, or I would have to rename the site.

First off, just to get this off my chest, how did anyone imagine that a game with the title “Canal Mania” would sell? From the title you’d think it was in the same genre as “Party Mania” or “Monkey Mania.” May I forever be exempted from playing games with the word “Mania” in their title! But my friend has wanted to play this game for quite a while, and he defers to me at times, so I acquiesced. Good call – “Canal Mania” is actually a very good game.

Theme: I love history and have studied it since I was kid. Well, my knowledge is stunted in the period this game covers. Seems that in the late 18th century in England there was a rash of canal building. (Who ever heard of that?!?) So players build canals to towns and cities, and then move goods along the canals. Does this sound familiar? Think “Age of Steam” and “Railroad Tycoon” with canals instead of tracks.

Game Play: Just as you do in AoS and RRT with track, in CM you build canals between points. But CM has a twist of its own reminiscent of “Ticket to Ride”. Instead of destination cards, in CM you have a stack of cards that are contracts from Parliament to build canals between specific towns and cities. Now here’s one of the MAJOR differences between track-laying games and CM. In CM you don’t have any money, nor do you have stocks. You never know where the money to dig these canals comes from. You just have a contract and you “get ‘er done.” To build a canal, you draw cards that allow you to build locks, aqueducts, and even tunnels. (A canal through a tunnel?!? REALLY?? My historical knowledge is feeling threatened.).

What is probably the biggest difference between Canal Mania and most railroad games is in moving goods. In many railroad games the players place blocks on cities during game set-up, and move the goods as the cities are connected by tracks. In Canal Mania no goods blocks are set on the board during set-up. Players have to take a card with a goods icon and place a good in the appropriate city. This is radically different! The rules dictate where the goods are to be placed – and there are only “goods,” all one color, with no differentiation on which city they GO TO. No, in this game, the rules dictate where the goods START, and you score points according to the number of cities and towns the goods cube goes through until it reaches its destination. When I first saw this mechanic, I didn’t like it. It was a conservative knee-jerk reaction. But there are some very real weak links in the way the goods are placed in the rail games (no pun initially intended, but then I liked it), and as I played Canal Mania I began to appreciate this new way of placing and delivering goods. After one game play, my mind is pondering this and wondering if there isn’t a way to combine the ideas to come up with an even superior goods mechanic. Well, point is, this does radically change the game strategy over rail games. At the beginning of the game I was building canals like crazy, as I would in RRT. But then goods began to move between cities and I found I hadn’t built my canals strategically, and I wasn’t moving any goods. In games that will follow I’ll know to build FROM cities and not just connect towns.

For what is a smaller version of a rail game, Canal Mania does take a while to play. After a few plays you might be able to get it down to 90 minutes, but the three of us, all veteran gamers, took over two hours for our game. Actually, I love long games, but to a lot of gamers this can be an issue.

Components: Canal Mania is not a slick production, like RRT or other Euros. Don’t let that deter you. The components are of good quality, but on the small side. The game board is absolutely functional, but it doesn’t show any attempt at artistry and you won’t need a table the size you’d use for RRT. The pieces are also perfect for game play, but again they don’t show any panache. The canal pieces are small, but they work great for playing the game. The cards, as well, don’t show much of an attempt to be works of art, but again (broken record here?) they’re great for playing the game. If you’ve been spoiled by the Euros on the market, you might be a tad disappointed, but don’t let that put you off. It’s a great game.

Final thoughts: This is a Euro, so that means luck is at a minimum. Three of us played the game, and there were times when we were each in the lead, and other times we were each dragging the tail end. We ended in a close pack, though I’ll admit I came in last, due to the fact of my rush to build canals between towns and wasn’t starting from cities. I’m looking forward to playing it again, and I have some definite strategic ideas that should let me accumulate a lot more victory points.


A fun, lite game.
Components are of sturdy quality.
Allows for different strategies.

Not up to the component quality of most Euros.
Game length could be an issue for some.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, 'man, where can I get that game?' Unless you're thinking, 'I do not want to play that at all,' in which case, I did not actually know what you were thinking. OK, to be perfectly honest, I don't have any idea what you're thinking. You could be thinking about dolphin farts (and if you weren't before, I'll bet you are now). But in case you were thinking what I thought you were thinking, here's a very handy link to my good friends at Noble Knight Games:

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