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[Review] Age of Steam Expansion #3, Korea and Scandinavia

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Joined: 03/23/2011

It’s amazing how many times a year I play Age of Steam, considering that it’s a game with a decent length and isn’t what most people would consider a “light” game. I just love the variety and intrigue of it, and there’s a reason it’s in my top ten games - it’s a phenomenal achievement in game design. At the same time, I was certainly interested in seeing some of the expansion maps; so when I heard about Age of Steam: Expansion 3 - Korea and Scandinavia, I was very fascinated - wanting to play a map of the country I currently reside in (Korea). Both maps play extremely differently, and both will please AoS fans.

Scandinavia: This is certainly a very difficult map, and one that I would never introduce beginners to until they’ve played several games of the original. The cities are spread out all over the map, and very few routes are obvious. There are four “sea routes” on the map, which can be claimed for $6 and count as one link in the rail. These sea routes are of the utmost importance, and I can’t see a game where three of them aren’t claimed on the first turn. (The fourth connects two towns and can’t be built until the towns are both urbanized). If one player gets two or three of these links, they have an immense advantage over the other players, and this can frankly be a crippling blow for new players. However, at the same time a new action box is added on the board: Move by sea. This allows the players to move one cube from one coastal city (and a good number of the cities are on the coast) to another during the move goods phase. I enjoyed using this action box and found to my regret that using it as my only strategy did not win me games. Used in moderation, it can be useful both offensively and defensively (get that good away from another player.)

Korea: I love this map, and not only because I live in the country (although there’s something fun about playing with cities you are familiar with). The map at first glance appears to be quite hard, since the majority of the map is covered with mountains that cost quite a bit to build through. Therefore, the routes that appear first are the routes that are actually here in Korea - connections between Seoul and all the close cities, and Pusan and its neighbors. After the initial connections are made through the only available valleys, then the battle to build through the hills begins. This alone would have made the map interesting, but what really makes the map fascinating is that cities have no colors. Instead, each city is the color of the cubes currently in the city. This means that cities are constantly changing colors and that cities are often more than one color. This allows a clever player to manipulate the colors of certain cities and allows for some skillful play. At first, I thought that this might lead to mass chaos, but the shipping phase quickly aligns the cubes so that players control what color most of the cities are. The place two cubes action is much more useful on the Korean map; and since new cities are built with two cubes immediately on them, there is a lot more stuff to ship. This is a truly excellent map.

I think the expansion is worth getting, but only for experienced players. There is definitely a bit of a challenge to playing these maps, and newcomers will probably be otherwhelmed. Both maps require some deep thinking and are a definite switch from the basic map. Not only are the cities in different places, but the game also has a definite different “feel.” The maps are incredibly hard with the Scandinavia one being the harder of the two, one I’ll only play when I’m in the mood for a real challenge. On the other hand, I absolutely love the strategy of the Korean map and will gladly play it multiple times. If you like Age of Steam and want challenging maps, then look no further; because these two maps provide both strategy and adventure.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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