SR: 28th July 2006 – Canal Mania

Canal Mania 

This week, we tried the new game by the Ragnar Brothers, Canal Mania. Unlike their previous games, this has been released with a professionally produced board and components, rather than the trademark tea towels. I think this is a good step and hope all their future designs follow this course.

Canal Mania is about the rise and fall of the British canal system in the 18th and 19th century, with players taking on contracts to build canals between certain towns and cities and shipping goods between them. A player’s turn is made up of three elements: Firstly, players can choose between accepting a new canal contract (if they are working on fewer than two contracts); enlisting the specialist help of one of the five famous engineers (which give advantages when building); or changing the build cards available in the second hase of the turn. Secondly, players can collect build cards or play cards to construct elements of the canals they are working on. Constructing canals follow a number of rules in terms of the maximum length of the canal and the combination of level stretches, locks, aqueducts and tunnels to be used. Completing a canal then brings a number of VPs according to the make-up of the canal (the more intricate the route, the more VPs are awarded, as beauty of the canal system is important to the client issuing the contract). Thirdly, the player gets to ship goods over the canal network for additional VPs, the further shipped the more VPs. Once someone reaches a given number of points, a couple more rounds are played, after which points are scored for incomplete canals, any remaining goods that can be shipped, and rewards for completing the most canal contracts. Most VPs then wins.

There was a fair amount to think about in this game, particularly trying to put a value on the available contracts and how they might mix with contracts you had already acquired. There was some luck in the cards that became available to take on your turn and Nige suffered a bit in not being able to get decent cards for his Leeds-Liverpool contract and it remained uncompleted throughout the game. I tried to ship goods as often as I could and managed to get a decent four town route through Manchester, which built the points up fairly regularly. Mark G managed to establish a good circular route in the South Midlands but didn’t get the chance to ship as often as he would like due to competition for goods with Mark K. Steve and I had a bit of a spat in the North East, with Steve cutting me off from Goole costing me a couple of cards to my annoyance. However, I managed to get my own back by shipping a good on his Sheffield-Goole canal onwards to Manchester via Leeds and Huddersfield for unexpected points to me. The final scoring was close as Mark K ate significantly into my lead as most prolific builder but I just managed to hold on.

Canal Mania was a good game, although it took a while to determine any semblance of strategy. Next time will be better as we’ll have a clearer idea of what we’re trying to achieve but I enjoyed the game enough to make sure it’s one we play again soon. Nige was less complimentary but he may have been influenced by poor cards, which cut him out of challenging for the win a bit too early. It did take a while to complete but, hopefully, we should get it down to under 2 hours with more familiarity.

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