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[Review] RollerCoaster Tycoon

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Roller Coaster Tycoon is my favorite computer game. There are definitely flashier games out there - games that probably have much better artificial intelligence out there, etc. - but I’ve always liked the idea of running my own theme park. Even when I create a theme park that terrifies guests, causing me to go bankrupt - I still have a good time, and when I do well - my enjoyment increases that much. When I heard that Roller Coaster Tycoon was being changed to a board game, I had mixed feelings. I was pleased as punch that my favorite computer game was coming to the board game scene, but at the same time extremely nervous because Hasbro was the company producing the game; and they certainly have a poor reputation for producing games that are any fun to play.

However, like several games in the newer line of Hasbro, Roller Coaster Tycoon (Hasbro, 2002 - Craig Van Ness) is actually fairly fun to play! It certainly will never go down in the annals of board gaming history as a game that changed the landscape with incredible mechanics and deep, interesting play. However, for a mass-produced game, I was heartily pleased with the game - it is fun to play, especially for kids and teenagers. There is a large luck element in the game, but some auction mechanics and strategy or where to move, help move this game to a rank higher than most “roll-and-move” games.

A huge game board is set up, with twenty-attractions scattered around the board next to a duel-circular track. Most of the rides are just pictures on cardboard - these are placed around the board, face down on the spot where the attraction will go. Seven guest tokens, one of each color, are placed on start, and two “Closed” signs are placed on the River Rapids space and the Wooden Roller Coaster space. A month marker is placed on the March Year 1 space on the time track. Paper money is sorted out and placed next to the board, with each player given $2,000,000. A deck of Attraction cards, one for each attraction, are shuffled with two dealt to each player and the remainder forming a draw pile. Each player reveals their cards, turns the appropriate attraction markers and places two of their player pieces next to the entrance of each attraction. The players then place the remainder of their player pieces in front of them, while paying the bank the cost of their starting attractions (listed on the attraction cards). All players then decide whether or not they want to hire a handyman and/or a mechanic - both costing the same amount (depends on how many players there are). If they hire either or both, they take the corresponding marker for each and place it in front of them. A player is randomly chosen to start, and then play proceeds clockwise.

The first thing a player does on his turn is to draw an event card and follow the instructions on it. The event cards are varied, but include these things:
- Moving guests. Guests are moved to the bathroom because they need to utilize it, go to the hot dog stand because they are hungry, etc.
- Auctions. The top Attraction card is flipped over, and the players auction it off in a round robin style, with the player whose turn it is making the first bid. Once a player passes, they are out of the auction, and when all players have passed but one - that player gets the attraction - turns the attraction over and puts one of their markers near the start. (Three attractions: the two roller coasters and the Whoa Belly - are three dimensional, and are placed on the board when won).
- Double auction. The same as an ordinary auction, but two cards that are auctioned off together.
- Blind auction. The same as a regular auction, but players bid before seeing the card.
- Double blind auction. The same as above, but with two cards.
- Collect money. The card states an amount that all the players receive. Some cards give money only to the active player.
- Closed Signs: The player may move the two closed signs to any attractions (they MUST move them to different ones).
- Advance One Month: The player moves the month marker down one space on the month track. There is often another instruction - many times a penalty for the player if they don’t have a handyman or mechanic. The player then draws another Event card.

After drawing an event card, the player rolls two dice - a six-sided die and an eight-sided die. The color on the eight-sided die (any color if the player rolls a “wild”) is the guest that the player must move - and the number on the other die is the exact amount that guest must be moved. The player can pick the direction, and which way the guest turns at an intersection, but must move the entire distance. If the guest lands on an attraction that someone owns, points are awarded, otherwise (including if someone owns the attraction, but a Closed Sign is on it) nothing happens, and the player’s turn is over. Otherwise, the player who owns the attraction receives some guest tokens equal to the value of the attraction (from one to five), as does the player who is moving the guest. This means that if the player whose turn it is manages to move the guest to one of their own attractions, they will get double points.

When the month marker reaches the end of the Month track, the game ends immediately. Each player receives one guest point for each $100,000 they have, and then all players total up their guest points - and the player with the most is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: Good grief, there are a lot of bits in this game! Even after bagging everything, the box still seems extremely crowded, and initial setup isn’t quick. As it is an American game, everything is cardboard, and while I would have preferred some things differently (such as a track for points as opposed to little “coins” and wooden player entrances instead of cardboard strips) - it’s still pretty impressive. The attractions themselves are extremely attractive, with the two coasters and the Whoa Belly being the pinnacle of the lot. Three-dimensional figures mounted onto plastic bases - they were certainly a pain to put together, but look pretty spiffy once completed. I added glue because the stinkin’ things kept popping out of their bases, reminding me of Pitchcar. All counters are double sided, which is extremely nice, and I especially liked how the face down attractions fit onto the board in an almost camouflage way. Speaking of the board, it’s a giant one - and one that really invokes the theme park. The cards are extremely clear, and are of good quality. It’s a shame a game that came with such great components didn’t include a plastic insert, but other than that, I was heartily pleased with the amount of components I got for the rather low price.

2.) Rules: The rules were not horrible, printed on six pages, and did include some illustrations (albeit in black in white). The formatting was not what I’d prefer, but pretty standard for a Hasbro game. Teaching the rules, actually, was incredibly simplistic, and anybody who’s played a roll-and-move game will pick it up instinctively, even though the game play is much more than that.

3.) Roll-and-Move: Some people instinctively duck for cover when the Hasbro name is mentioned, and for good reason - a majority of their games, for lack of better wording - suck. Much of this is due to the lackluster fun in rolling the die and moving your piece around the board, awaiting the inevitable conclusion of a boring game. Roller Coaster Tycoon at first seems to emulate that same idea until people suddenly realize that, hey - the tokens can be moved by anybody, and none of them belong to any of the players! Now, of course, this concept is nothing new to fans of “German” games, but it is unique to those who only have touched American rubbish. At the same time, I don’t think Euro-gamers should shy away.

4.) Hasbro: Sure, the strategy in the game is not the same as El Grande or San Marco, but there is still more than your average Hasbro game. I don’t think that I’ll ever bring this out in my die-hard gaming group; there are too many games that are better. BUT, the game offers enough strategy that it can act as a gateway to get your everyday person into the wonderful world of gaming. Hasbro’s games have recently started including games such as this, and one can only hope for better things in the future.

5.) Strategy: The strategy in the game is not as minor as it might appear. Besides typical auction strategy (although it’s a little risky with the blind auctions), knowing what guest to move where can be quite important. Is it better to give myself two points, alone - or to take four points, while giving Bob four points also? These decisions aren’t mind-boggling, but they aren’t always automatic, either. I will grant that some decisions, like buying the handyman and mechanic (very similar to the insurance policies in the Game of Life) are no-brainers.

6.) Computer Game: The game certainly looks like the computer game, using the same graphics, and having some of the same entities (handyman, guests, etc.). But all of that is really only a small connection, as the game play - especially the auctions, isn’t much like the computer game. I can’t see people liking one, and disliking the other, however - so the game could even be a portal for computer gamers.

7.) Fun Factor: The game is a lot of fun. The thrill of winning an auction, the ability to snag an expensive attraction, the stealing of others’ guest points, and the Event cards - all add up for a fun time. I doubt you’ll see too many session reports on the internet, but don’t be fooled- this is a game the general public will enjoy.

If you have contact with a lot of people who are not a big fan of “designer” games, this may be an excellent choice for you. It certainly isn’t a bad game by any means - as it is visually stimulating and has fairly good mechanics. That fact that it’s fun, based on an extremely popular computer game, and easy to learn help, also. No articles on strategy will be written about Roller Coaster Tycoon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if several lists of “How I became a Gamer” have it at the beginning of their list.

Tom Vasel

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