Radio Review #59 – The Great Heartland Hauling Co.

 

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(2013 – Dice Hate Me Games)

 

“You pick a place to go….and just keep truckin’ on….”

 

Dice Hate Me Games has brought a breath of fresh air to the board gaming hobby, with their unique if not unusual concepts for games, beginning in 2011. From a game involving the brewing unique flavors of coffee beans (VivaJava: the Coffee Game), to one revolved around creating chemistry compounds (Compounded), the publisher has generated a nice amount of success and following. The Great Heartland Hauling Co, from the mind of first-time designer Jason Kotasrksi, is Dice Hate Me Games’ first foray into the pick-up and deliver genre, combining some of the basic mechanics seen in Ticket to Ride, and more recently Cinque Terre.

In The Great Heartland Hauling Co, players are in charge of their own freight truck, competing to load and unload goods across America’s heartland. As they do so, they will collect income depending on the demands from the towns they visit, depending on the town’s demands. Players must manage their goods and fuel, as the most efficient player that has obtained the most profit by the end of the game is the winner.

 

 

 

Components:

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– Distribution Center card

 

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– Route cards

 

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– Cargo cards (cattle, corn, pigs, and soy beans)

 

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– Cargo tokens

 

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– Fuel cards (1s, 2s, and 3s)

 

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– Player markers

 

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– Truck cards

 

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– Score markers

 

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– Summary cards

 

 

 

Setup:

The main play area is configured using the various Route cards, depending on the number of players in the game. Since these are randomly displayed, each session will present a unique map, tailored to that specific game. Before these are laid out however, the West Morgan Distribution Center card is always placed in the middle of the play area.

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This will represent the central hub, in which players start at beginning the game, but also references the penalties for having specific types of leftover cargo at the end of the game. Players will place their player markers (in the shape of trucks) on this space to start.

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Once the Distribution Center is in play, cards are placed around it depending on the number of players in the game. The standard map setup for a 4-player game is seen above, though players have the option to place the Route cards in any shape they wish. In a 2 or 3 player game, less Route cards are used. Each Route card has two sides. The side that shows a “white circle” near the route’s town name is used for the basic version of the game. The opposing side of each card shows a “white triangle” instead, and these sides are used for the advanced version of the game. When playing the advanced version of the game, players can choose which routes they wish to be placed on the alternate side (triangle side) as long as no two alternate routes are adjacent to one another on the board. For the purposes of this review, I’ve decided to explain how the game works using the advance rule set (triangle side up).

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Each route contains a town, and that particular town references a type of good that is produced in that town. At the beginning of the game, five Cargo tokens are placed on each of the Route card. The type of Cargo tokens placed on a particular card is determined by the type of Cargo represented by the large icon on the card. So for instance, five Soy Bean cargo tokens will be placed on the route featuring the town of Eureka. Each Route card will receive five of these tokens at the beginning of the game, except for the Distribution Center.

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All of the Fuel and Cargo cards are shuffled together to make up the Refuel Draw Deck. At the beginning of the game, each player receives five cards from this deck. Each player also receives a set of Truck cards and a score marker that will be used together to keep track of a players Victory Points throughout the game. The Truck card also has spaces available to place Cargo tokens that they will collect in order to ship them elsewhere during the game. All players begin the game with 5 Victory Points.

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After players have been dealt their cards, three cards are drawn from the Refuel Deck and placed face up next to it. Players will have the opportunity during the game to draw these into their hands. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:

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Gameplay:

In The Great Heartland Hauling Co., players will compete to earn the most funds by loading and unloading cargo in the various towns amongst America’s heartland. During a Round, players will each take a turn, before play resumes to the next player, in a clockwise fashion. Each player’s turn is made up of three phases; the Movement Phase, the Action Phase, and the Refueling Phase. Players are required to play these phases in order, and must resolve each phase during their turn. Let’s take a look at how each phase works.

 

 

The Movement Phase:

Players must attempt to move on their turn, and are not allowed to end their movement in a space with another player, or backtrack over any route (except for the West Morgan Distribution Center) that they pass during the same turn. In order to move, the player must either discard Fuel cards from their hand or pay Victory Points, however they can not do both. The player also may never move more than three spaces each turn.

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Each Fuel card has a number referenced on the card itself. Either a 1, a 2, or a 3. Players can discard any number of Fuel cards from their hand and total these amounts in order to move exactly that many spaces. The number moved though can not exceed three. When players are moving, they must move up, down, left, or right. They are not allowed to move diagonally. Alternatively, a player can choose to pay $1 (referenced as a player’s Victory Points) to move 1 space. He may do this up to a maximum of 3 spaces.

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For instance, Player A decides that he wants to move from Mount Berry to Midville, which is 3 spaces away. However, in his current hand, he only has a #2 and a #1 Fuel card. In order to move these 3 spaces, he would need to discard both cards, which would give him a total of 3. If Player A did not have enough Fuel to discard, he could have paid $3 to move those 3 spaces, instead.

 

In the advanced version of the game, there are certain symbols located of the different routes (north, south, east, and west) leading into and from the towns on the map. When moving from one town to the next, players must keep an eye out for these symbols, as they will affect how movement is resolved or even allowed in certain cases. Lets take a look at what each symbols means:

 

 

Road Closed

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Taking a look at the southern route leading out from the town of Fort Lee, when can see the symbol for a road block. This means that the route from Fort Lee to the southern town below has been closed, and players can not move directly between these two spaces during their turn.

 

 

Pay Toll

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The northern route leading to and from Midville contains a pay toll. Unlike the road block, players are allowed to move directly between the two spaces connected by a pay toll, however they must pay $1 to go through.

 

 

Weigh Station

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Weigh stations were primarily put into place to help pay for the upkeep of road maintenance. Particular trucks were taxed according to the weight of their cargo. Both the eastern and southern routes leading into and out of the town of Popinjay include weigh stations. Trucks that contain four or less units of cargo will not need to pay anything when passing through a weigh station, however they must pay $1 per unit for every unit over four.

 

 

 

The Action Phase:

After players have moved amongst the numerous routes and towns on the map, they are required to take an action. Players have three options to choose from during their Action Phase. They can either choose to load cargo from a town, unload cargo into a town, or discard cargo cards from their hand in order to draw new cards. Players may only perform one of these three actions on a turn.

 

 

Loading Cargo

Each player’s truck can carry a maximum of 8 units of cargo goods. Players will drive their trucks to the various towns on the map in order to collect these goods, depending on the type of goods that particular town contains. Players are only allowed to load 1 type of good into their truck, per turn.

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For instance, the town of Eureka currently contains soy beans and pigs, as represented by the green and pink cargo tokens on its route card. When a player takes a load action on this space, he can load either soy bean tokens or pig tokens onto his truck card, as long as there are available spaces.

 

 

These units of cargo can then be exported and unloaded into towns that demand those particular goods, in order to turn a profit. When a player has finished his movement, he can choose to load cargo from the current town that his truck is stationed. There are two ways in which players can load cargo from a town:

1.) If the cargo good is native to the town (the large icon represented on the route’s location card), the player can discard cargo cards matching this icon, and will receive one available cargo token of this type for each matching cargo card discarded.

2.) If there are available cargo tokens on a route, but are not the native good that the particular town produces (they do not match the large icon), players can still load them into their truck. However, the player must discard two cargo cards matching the cargo type for each cargo unit loaded onto the truck. As the game progresses, and players continue to load and unload goods across the map, there will be many towns that contain multiple good types that are not necessarily native to the town itself.

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The town of Troy currently contains 3 cargo units of cattle, 2 units of corn, and a single unit of soy beans. Player B has moved into Troy and decides to either load a unit of cattle or a unit of corn onto his truck. Since cattle is the native good of Troy, he would only need to discard 1 cattle card, however since corn is not native to this town, he would need to discard 2 corn cards to load 1 unit onto his truck. As seen above, he decides to discard the cattle card from his hand and in doing so, takes 1 of the cattle tokens from the town of Troy and places it in his truck.

 

 

 

Unloading Cargo

Instead of taking a load action (or discard action, as we’ll take a look at next), a player can choose to unload goods on his turn. Players will earn money (Victory Points) by unloading their collected goods to the various towns demanding those goods on the map. Located on each route card, beneath the native good icon, are smaller icons which represent the types of goods that are in demand for that town, along with a monetary figure representing how much that town will pay for each unit of that particular good.

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For instance, Cameron is known for the best barbeque amongst the heartland. Not only are pigs the native good of the town, but Cameron will also import this type of cargo at $3 a unit. You’ll notice however, that while the town of Cameron is popular for loading and unloading pigs, it also contains two different pay tolls from the eastern and southern routes, leading into town.

 

Similar to the load action, a player may only unload 1 type of good per turn, and the good must match the good icons that are in demand from that particular town. To take the action, the player will discard a number of matching cargo cards equal to the number of units of that good type that he wishes to unload at the town. Keep in mind however, that much like the truck, each town can only hold 8 total units of cargo.

 

 

Discard Action

Sometimes, players may need to load or unload goods on their turn, but may not have the necessary cargo cards to take those actions. Instead of loading or unloading, the player can choose to discard any number of cards from his hand, and draw back up to five cards from the draw pile. Taking this action allows a player to filter through the cargo cards he doesn’t need, while also helping him gain additional fuel cards the may need to move during the following turn. Taking a discard action will cost a player $1 (1 Victory Point).

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Player C currently has a hand of four cargo cards, but no fuel cards and no cattle cargo cards. He currently has 4 units of cattle cargo in his truck and would like to be able to move to a neighboring town and unload as many of this cattle cargo as possible. Since he would normally draw up to five cards at the end of his turn, and he already has four cards, this means that he would not be able to get both a fuel card and a cattle cargo card.

 

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Therefore, Player C decides to take a discard action by paying $1. He discards two soy bean cards and a corn card, for a total of three cards. This leaves him with only one card, therefore allowing him to draw four cards from the draw pile. Currently, there is a cattle card and a fuel card face up near the draw deck. He will take both of these, which are then replaced with the next two face up cards from the draw deck (a corn card and another cattle card).

 

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He then takes the new cattle card, bringing his total hand count up to four cards.

 

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The next revealed card is another corn card. Since Player C doesn’t really want any of these face up cards, he chooses to take his last card from drawing off the top of the deck. He receives another fuel card, now giving him a total of five cards.

 

 

 

The Refueling Phase:

At the end of a player’s turn, they will always draw back up to five cards from the Draw Pile. If players took the discard action and already have a hand of five cards (see above), they will skip this part of their turn. Drawing cards during the Refuel Phase works exactly as explained above with the discard action. Players can choose to either draw a face-up card or a card off the top of the face-down deck. When a card is drawn from the face-up row, the next card is revealed from the draw deck. After a player has completed their Refuel action, the next player (moving clockwise) will start their turn.

 

 

 

End-Game Conditions:

The last Round of a game triggers when a player reaches a certain amount of money, depending on the number of players in the game.

 

– In a 2-player game, the first player to $50 triggers the final Round.
– In a 3-player game, the first player to $40 triggers the final Round.
– In a 4-player game, the first player to $30 triggers the final Round.

 

When the first player triggers the final Round, all of the opposing players receive one more turn. After the game ends, players will calculate any lost profits from not being able to deliver goods that are still in their trucks.

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Players will lose $1 for every unit of soy bean and corn still in their truck, and $2 for every unit of cattle and pig leftover. After calculating these losses, the player that has made the most money, has won the game.

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Thoughts:

The Great Heartland Hauling Co combines the card draw mechanic that’s recognizable by most from Ticket to Ride, with a pick-up and deliver mechanic similar to that recently seen in Cinque Terre, with a bit more emphasis on hand management. This all in a size box that dwarfs in comparison to the two. Because of the simplistic and straightforward rule set, advantageous strategy revolves around the balance the player can create between obtaining the fuel cards he needs to move, and the cargo cards he needs for loading and unloading. The limitations in regards to movement with the advanced version of the game, provides for a deeper game, and one where players will need to manage the most efficient ways to increase their profit in the shortest amount of time. Since the route cards are randomized with every game, formulating a strategy between which towns and routes work together the best, will also change.

There is not a large amount of player interaction other than competing for goods on a space and potentially blocking another player from being able to load or unload goods in a town. When formulating a plan of which routes you will take, and in what order you will load and unload goods, its important to keep in mind that players are not allowed to be in the same town at the same time. Creating and developing a backup plan for this can keep you from wasting turns waiting to unload cargo at a specific town, or wasting time having to redirect your truck across the map to find another town that has a demand for that good.

Some will criticize the game for not containing a game board or even thicker tiles as opposed to cards being used to make up the play area. But it really depends on your preference. Being able to contain these routes and towns on cards makes the game extremely travel friendly. It’s really impressive from a design perspective, the amount of components and cards that fit in such a small box. And while the game comes in such a small package, it wouldn’t be fair to categorize it in filler genre. The Great Heartland Hauling Co., while containing a simple rule set, is a game that provides a lot of decision-making, strategy, and is a great addition to the pick-up and deliver genre. It’s a game that has the ability to be the main focus of any game night.

 

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