Reviews

Carnegie

 

The Game

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was an American steel magnate and philanthropist. He was one of the richest businessmen in American history, and in the last 18 years of his life, gave away almost 90% of his wealth to charity. The game Carnegie uses the early industrial era in the US as its backdrop. You play business moguls and industrialists who develop new technology, improve the transportation network and complete large construction projects around the country. Every player runs his own company. You recruit employees, establish new departments, train your employees, and send them all over the country to do outstation work. There are many ways to score points, and one of them is to do charity projects. You spend hard-earned money and you gain fame. 

 
The board is divided into four region – East, South, Mid-West and West. No, there is no North. That would be Canada. There are cities and towns of different sizes, with between one to five circular slots for projects. The slots in the medium and large cities specify what project type they allow. The slots in the small towns can be used for any project type. Some cities show a blue heptagon (7-sided polygon). Projects built at these cities score victory points (VP) as indicated in the heptagons. 

 

 
This is a player board, representing company HQ. At setup, you have five departments and one lobby. New recruits and old employees returning from outstation work both assemble at the lobby. You need to use the ability of your Human Resources (HR) department to assign them to a department. There are four types of departments, corresponding to the four types of action you get to perform in the game. Every round, the start player picks an action type, and that round everyone gets to activate his departments of that type. You can set up new departments, and usually their abilities are more powerful than the initial ones. Creating new departments also gives you points. 

 

 
On the left you have the timeline board. This is randomly set up for each game, so there will be some variability. The timeline board is the core engine which drives the game. On the right you have 16 different new departments. There are two units in each type. During game setup, some will be randomly removed, depending on the number of players. The departments available and the number available will vary from game to game. 

 

 
This is the timeline board. At game start, the four hexagonal action markers are at the leftmost positions. The four action types in the game are HR, management, construction and R&D (research and development). At the start of a round, the start player picks an action marker to advance, and places the gear marker on the spot it will advance to. That round, everyone will get to perform that particular action type. What this means is they may activate all of their departments of that type. The spot the gear marker is placed on indicates the event that will occur. There are only two types of events. The first one is the donation event, and it allows players to spend money on charity projects. Donations are an important way to earn points. The second event is the income event. It means you get to return all workers from a specific region on the board. This is the main way you earn money and other resources. 
 
In total the four action markers will move 20 steps, after which the game ends. When a marker reaches the end of its row, it doesn’t mean you can’t take that action type anymore. You can still pick that action type, just that you will have to move the next available action marker, so the event that takes effect will be the one in front of this available marker. 

 

 
Chicago and New York are two of the major cities on the board. They have the link icon. There are four major cities in total. If you link two or more of them up, you will score points depending on your transportation level. 

 

 
This is the scoring table for your transportation network. Let’s use an example to explain this. If you are able to connect Chicago (Mid West), New York (East) and New Orleans (South), your total link value will be 3. If your lowest transportation level in these three regions is the second level (yellow), you will score 12 points. 
 
 
Each of the four regions on the board has a transportation track like this. This records your transportation level. It is also where you send your workers on outstation work. To advance your marker on this track, you need to do R&D. Your position on the track indicates the reward each of your workers get when they return to HQ. On this track you can see that initially each returning worker only earns $1. If you advance to step 4, each of them will earn $7! At the 5th step, they will earn 2VP instead of money. 
 
 
There are 20 different charity projects. Each can be claimed by only one player. In a 3-player game, three of these projects will be blocked off using a neutral colour (black). Charity projects are scored at game end based on specific criteria, and each project may score at most 12VP. Examples of charity projects: 1VP per department in your company, 3VP per industrial project on the board, 2VP for every $5 left. 
 
 
Actions you get to perform are all related to the four types of departments you have. HR type departments move workers about, assigning them to departments. New workers and workers returning from outstation work assemble at the lobby. You need to use your HR ability to move them to specific departments so that they can do work again. For some departments, you must also spend money to train your workers before they can start working. At some departments, activating a worker will send him to the board, i.e. he’s taking an outstation assignment. Such a worker may later return to HQ, and make some profit for the company when he does so. Once he’s back, he’ll be sitting in the lobby waiting to be assigned again. He may need to be trained again, even if he is assigned to a department he has worked in before. 
 
Management type departments usually help you earn some cash or resources. You also need them to set up new departments. 
 
R&D type departments generate study points, and study points can be spent on two things. There are four project strips tucked below the right edge of your player board. You can spent study points to pull these strips out segment by segment. When you expose a segment with a circle, you get to place one of your discs on it. These discs are projects available to be built. When you build a project, i.e. move the disc onto the main game board, you will uncover a reward. From then on, you claim this reward every time any worker returns to your HQ. Building projects increases the profitability of your company. Rewards can be in the form of money, resources and victory points. 
 
The other thing you spend study points on is the transportation tracks on the main board. Doing this also increases the reward you get when a worker returns to HQ. 
 
Finally, construction type departments let you build projects on the board. To build a project, you need to have discs available, resources available, and also the construction department must be staffed. Having all these requires a fair bit of planning and coordination. When you build, your worker will usually go onto the board, vacating their positions in the construction department. To build again, you will need to refill those positions. 
 
The game is played over exactly 20 rounds. Once all action markers reach the final positions on the timeline board, the game ends. Most of the scoring is only done at game end. 
 
The Play
 
I played with Han and Allen and BoardGameArena.com. I quite like the graphic design of the game, and I must admit it was this which aroused my curiosity to try the game. All three of us were new to the game. After reading the rules, I felt I understood them all, but once I started to actually play, I found myself rather lost. I couldn’t quite piece together what I was supposed to be doing. There were many new departments to pick from, and also many charity projects. These choices were overwhelming. I didn’t quite know what was powerful and what wasn’t, or what they were good for. It took some fumbling about before I worked out a more coherent direction. 
 
I managed to eventually get some clarity by focusing on the major city scoring. If I wanted to link up some of the major cities, I would need to build enough projects in a chain of cities linking up those major cities. Building projects required discs, resources and workers at construction departments. To make discs available, I needed to do R&D. By working backwards step by step, I managed to identify my immediate tasks at hand. 
 
Money and resources are not easy to come by, especially in the early game. I was a little slow in realising the importance of sending workers out to the board and then bringing them back to make money. This cycling of workers is basically the cashflow of your company. It needs to be planned for and executed competently. When you look at the timeline board, you have a rough idea which regions may be activated next, allowing workers to return. Planning happens at the stage of sending your workers out. You want to send them out to regions which you know they can come back from soon. You also need to watch where your opponents are sending their workers. They will likely try to pick actions to bring their workers back, so it’s usually a good idea to send some of your workers to those regions.  
 
Charity projects will determine your strategy. Competition is fierce. If two players have built many housing projects, both will try to win the charity project related to housing. Often you already spend money to claim a charity project before you have fulfilled the condition to score the full 12VP. You don’t want to wait too long because your opponent may beat you to it. You must watch your opponents. By observing their charity projects, you can somewhat predict their next steps. 

 

 
This was Han’s company. He had sent a worker to the 4th floor, in preparation to set up a new department. 
 
 
This was early in our game. We did a 3-player game, and black was the neutral player colour. Black discs blocked a spot in San Francisco and a route from San Francisco to Denver. They also blocked some spots in the East region. Han was yellow and started in Chicago in the Mid West. Allen was blue, and started in the South. I was white, and picked Denver in the West as my first location. I planned to connect to only three major cities – San Francisco, Chicago and New Orleans. I didn’t dare to be too ambitious and aim for all four. 

 

 
This was my company. I built projects swiftly in the early game. The third and fourth project strips already had 5 spots cleared, which meant I already had 5 projects on the main board. The money icons uncovered meant I was going to earn a decent sum of cash every time a worker returned to HQ. 
 
 
I (white) had now linked to Chicago in the Mid West and New Orleans in the South. My next objective was San Francisco in the West. 
 
 
The South region transportation track at the bottom right was flooded with workers. We all knew this region would get triggered soon so we dumped many workers there. 

 

 
At this point I had used up all the discs on my project strips. This was bad. No discs meant I would not be able to build any project if anyone picked the construction action. I needed to do R&D to pull my project strips out further in order to make more discs available. 
 
 
Competition for charity projects was fierce. At this point all of us had donated four times (blue, yellow, white). Your first project costs $5. The second costs $10, the third $15, and so on. 

 

 
This was Han’s company. He had created quite a number of new departments. Every new department would score 2 or 3VP. 

 

 
This was Allen’s company. He had an additional lobby at the 3rd level. New recruits and returning workers could go there directly. This saved his HR people some moves when assigning these workers to departments on levels 3 and 4. 
 
In this game we played, I gave up on creating new departments quite early in the game. At game setup, I had picked a construction department, without examining it closely. It was only later I realised that it worked in the exact same way as the initial construction department. It would only help if I needed to build more than three projects at once. That never happened, so picking this department was a waste. I did focus on construction, and I built projects more quickly than others. However as I ran out of discs, Allen and Han eventually caught up. In hindsight, giving up on new departments was a bad idea. New departments make your actions more powerful and make you stronger for the rest of the game. They are a good early investment which will make you more efficient. 
 
The Thoughts

I greatly enjoyed Carnegie. It is a development game. You start with limited funds and resources, and only basic abilities. Throughout the game you keep improving the abilities of your company. You will achieve a snowball effect if you manage your company well. You have pressure to grow because donations become more and more expensive. You need constant and fast growth to keep up. 

I also call this a planning game. With the timeline board you basically get to predict the future. Imagine going back in time with your knowledge of the major events and trends for the next 50 years. You can’t predict the exact sequence of events in the game, but you do have a pretty good idea. That allows you to think ahead and plan. Events are player driven, which means you do have a hand in deciding what happens next, just that you also have to consider your opponents’ intentions and needs. This kind of game is heaven for heavy Eurogamers – complex, open-information with plenty of planning. 

The charity projects are an important aspect of the competition among players. Sometimes you trigger a donation event when you know your opponents can’t afford any donation but you can. You race to claim the charity projects which fit your play best. It is not all about racing though. You also need to consider the cash flow of your company. If you spend more than you can afford at a certain stage of the game, you may doom your company due to a lack of funds, severely setting yourself back. You must maintain liquidity for company operations. 

Charity projects will drive players in different directions, and they are an element which makes this a planning game. When you claim a charity project, you likely have not fully fulfilled its criteria. That means you will need to commit some effort to it. It ties you down somewhat. You would want to fully utilise the charity project if possible. At the start of the game, the main board and the player boards all have plenty of space for development. You have many options. As the players gradually commit to different charity projects and strategic directions, some options will be more valuable to you than others. You want to maximise actions which help you the most, and whenever possible hinder your opponents from doing what would help them the most. The difference in value of the various development aspects in the game is not driven by some random card draw. They are driven by the collective decisions of the players. 

I like that Carnegie does not rely on many different resource types, i.e. cubes in four different colours. There is only one cube type in the game and they are simply called “resources”. Your currency in the game are just resources and money. Well, and workers too I guess. 

Carnegie is a complex Eurogame with high player interaction. It is a heavy gamers’ game. I highly recommend it. Just be prepared for some learning curve in your first game. 

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