Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 13 December 2018

Thoughts from The Yellow Meeple:- Whistle Stop: Rocky Mountains

Game: Whistle Stop: Rocky Mountains

Publisher: Bézier Games

Designer: Scott Caputo

Year: 2018

Last year Whistle Stop made it into my top ten board games of 2017. It was one of two games that opened our eyes to pick up and deliver mechanisms and cemented it into one of our favourite mechanisms that we always look out for. I even found myself considering trying out an 18XX game this year - then I saw one and backed away.

However, in a sad turn to this story about a great game, that inspired a love for a whole genre, I am ashamed to admit that since the end of 2017, Whistle Stop hasn't hit the table. As board game reviewers, we are quickly sucked up into the cult of the new - seeking out exciting new games. It often takes an expansion to bring an 'older' game back to the table.

Whistle Stop: Rocky Mountains arrived on our doorstep and breathed new life into Whistle Stop, but did it enrich our experience?

Whistle Stop: Rocky Mountains adds a new zone to the modular board. The new, 3-tile wide sections slots right into the middle of the jigsaw border. With its three-layer construction, it represents the Rocky Mountains - an area of more rocky terrain which you will need to expend extra resources to pass whilst building out your railway line. As a result of the new length and difficulty in the game, there are also a few more new features in the expansion, including new upgrade technologies, a new railroad company, new 'unique tiles' with interesting abilities, new common tiles where you can pick up more whistles and new tiles for the end of the line, representing the rewards for getting your train all the way across the board.

Besides being an eye-catching addition, the new board module certainly changes the feel of the game. Firstly, the board is larger, with three more columns to fill with tiles, so the game is inevitably longer. Setup is also longer as you try and locate the specific tiles that belong in each zone of the board at the start of the game. As you might expect, the route across the board is also harder - building a railway over the mountains demands more resources, but, very thematically, being the first to do it gives you rewards, as if people would flock to us the first route that passes over the challenging terrain. The requirement for additional resources can make the game feel like a bit of a grind. We would often dedicate one train to going back and forth collecting whistles and coal. 

Resources are easier to come by than in the base game - especially when using some of the upgrades tiles. The upgrades seem to feature far more heavily when using the expansion, and not being the first to get one can be pretty devastating if it forms a critical part of your resource strategy. Likewise, stealing the upgrades can then become a feature you see far more often.

I feel like the challenge of grinding for resources makes Whistle Stop with the expansion as game that I would only want to play with more hardcore players - not because it makes the game more complicated, but because it makes it a more serious and perhaps a bit less fun as an experience. I've often had the feeling during the game that I'm just not able to achieve my goals in the same was as my opponent. However, I have to credit the game balance, because it always turns out as a very tight game, even if I have had a feeling of unfairness whilst playing. The different end of route tiles, as well as the more challenging terrain seem to add strength to the strategy of buying shares, which is one I often choose that favours end-game over in-game scoring and often allows me to pull back some points after a more frustrating in-game experience.

There are a number of ways in which Rocky Mountains highlights new strategies in the game, and this will certainly be refreshing to players who played a lot of the original game. It might also be more appealing to those who found Whistle Stop to be a little too light in the 'train game' category - for me it certainly gets my brain working harder when playing with the expansion. The added variety is also refreshing with new towns with interesting special abilities, as well as new ways to finish your routes, like the last stop which is a big incentive to speed your final train off the edge of the board.

Ultimately I think I prefer Whistle Stop without the expansion. It's just more likely to ensure a less frustrating gaming experience for me. There are some elements of the expansion that I really enjoy and this makes me wish that it was a modular expansion with just a bigger emphasis on the technology and some variety in the 'end of the line' tiles. I'm still happy to play with the expansion and we will be keeping it for occasional use or use with friends who want a more challenging experience, but, for me it's not a must have. With that said, it's still a strong expansion to a game I love and brought a favourite back to the table. So, for the Yellow Meeple, Whistle Stop: Rocky Mountains is a 7/10.

Whistle Stop: Rocky Mountains was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £27.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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