(2015 – Stronghold Games)
Back when I began this review series, one of my top goals was wanting to teach and instruct others how a particular board game works and plays. One of the first games I reviewed (and one of my all-time favorites) was Matthias Cramer’s Glen More, a wonderful tile placement, set collection game where players are constructing the various buildings and farm areas of their own Scottish town. The element of Glen More that most drew me in however, was the unique Rondel-wheel turn order mechanic. One their turn, players were able to choose a tile to add to their town, anywhere on the turn order track. The further down the track you took a tile from however, the longer you may have to wait until your next turn. It was a refreshing use of strategic balancing, and now 6 years after the game was released, is still a joy to play.
When first reading through the rules of Kraftwagen, I was immediately struck at the similarities in the turn order track, which worked much like the one in Glen More. Then I noticed Matthias Cramer’s name displayed neatly on the front of the box. I knew then that I was in for a treat. While Kraftwagen and Glen More are quite different from one another beyond this similarity, Cramer’s shown that he can design a game with the best of them. Kraftwagen is Stronghold Games’ 3rd title in their Great Designer Series (behind Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Kiesling’s Porta Nigra and Friedmann Frise’s 504).
In Kraftwagen, players are founders of automobile factories in early 1900’s Europe. Throughout the game, players will attempt to put together impressive car designs that they’ll send to the market, with the hopes of attracting the interest of potential consumers. Different consumers have different preferences, so players will need to invest research and development in car bodies, engine performance, prestige, while trying to give them the best price. They’ll also win favor by performing well at the annual Grand Prix race. Players will receive money from the completed cars they’ve sold, placement in the Grand Prix, as well as from completing other objectives. The player that’s accumulated the most funds at the end of the game is the winner.
– Kraftwagen game board
– Player boards
– Grand Prix cars & worker tokens (a set for each player color)
– Start tiles
– Market Price tokens
– Engine tiles
– Car Body tiles
– Award tiles
– Consumer tiles
– Action tiles
– Research cards
– Engineer tiles
– Marketplace marker
– Specialty tiles (optional expansion)
At the beginning of the game, each player receives a player board, which represents the player’s automobile factory. The factory contains an area for their Grand Prix car design, three workshop areas, and a Canteen housing the factory’s workers. Each player begins the game with four workers matching their player color. All player’s Grand Prix car design begins the game with a level 1 engine.
Before setting up the game board, a few items need to be placed on the table, near the board. Players will place the 4 Start tiles, Market Price tokens, Engine tiles, Engineer tiles, and unused Worker tokens in this area. The set of various Car Body tiles are also set near the game board.
The main game board for Kraftwagen is divided into various sections, each that requires a bit of setup before the game can begin. The top left-corner of the board contains the Grand Prix race course. Each Round, a race is resolved here. At the beginning of the game, each player will place the Grand Prix car of their color in the pit area near the course, and one of their worker tokens on the “0” space of the Lap track. During a race, each time a player’s car passes the finish line, he’ll increase his worker on the Lap track to show how many laps he’s completed. When scoring at the end of each Round, players are awarded a number Market Price tokens based on a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place finish, as well as a number of tokens based on how many laps they were able to complete.
To the right of the Grand Prix course is the Action track. During the Action Phase, players will move their worker to the various action tiles in order to resolve that action. The movement of workers works similar to the Rondel-wheel mechanism seen in another of Matthias Cramer’s designs, Glen More. There a six different action types. Some Action tiles contain one action, some have two actions listed, and one of the tiles has three. At the beginning of the game (and beginning in the top-left corner space, moving clockwise), the single Action tiles are randomly placed first, then the dual Action tiles, then finally the triple Action tile. Next, one Worker token from each player is randomly placed in the four spaces adjacent to the 1st Action tile. For instance, seen in the example above, the blue worker was randomly chosen first, then the red worker, the green worker, and finally ending with the yellow worker.
This order is important in two ways. One, it represents turn order, with the player furthest from the 1st Action tile going first (in this case, the yellow worker). However at the beginning of the game, it also determines the order in which players will select their Start tile. The player closest to the 1st Action tile (blue) will choose amongst the four available Start tiles, immediately resolving it. Each Start tile contains items that the player will begin the game with. They may contain a level 1 Car Body tile and/or Engine tile that the player will start with in one of his workshops, extra workers to add to his Canteen in his factory, a Research card, an increase in engine level to Grand Prix design, or may even receive a Research card.
Once the player has chosen a Start tile and received the items listed, he will flip it to its alternate side (placing it near his Player board). This alternate side shows that it provides a research development point in car bodies, and one towards engines. Throughout the game, players will collect Research cards that can provide more development points for car bodies and engines if they place workers on the cards to research them. Having higher amounts of development points will allow the player to develop higher level car bodies and engines. After a player has chosen a Start tile, the next player in order according to the Action track will choose one, and so on. The player that takes the last Start tile will also be the player that takes his turn first to begin the game (as mentioned before, this is the player furthest from the 1st Action tile, and in our example is the Yellow player).
To the right of the Action track is where the available Research cards are housed. At the beginning of the game, all Research cards are shuffled and placed face-down in a draw pile at the top space in this area. Then, the top two cards are revealed and placed on the two corresponding spaces. You’ll notice that there is an empty discard space below. When a player takes the Research action, he’ll choose which card to take amongst the two available, then discard the other to this discard pile.
Below the Grand Prix course in the bottom left corner of the game board, Award tiles are available for players for being the first to complete certain in-game objectives. For instance, being the first player to complete a lap at the race course, the first player to have hired 3 engineers, or the first player to that’s sent his second car to the market. Each Award tile grants a listed number of Market Price tokens when collected. At the beginning of the game, these 10 Award tiles are placed on their designated spaces.
The final section of the game board is the Marketplace, which is located to the right of the Award tiles, and takes up a majority of the lower area of the board. At the beginning of the game, the Consumer tiles are placed on their corresponding spaces, according to what is most important to them when buying a car. Some consumers prefer the look of the car, while some prefer the engine performance. Others may prefer the prestige it gives them or even the price of the car. There are two Consumers per preference. The Marketplace marker is placed on the top space of the Market track. When four Consumers have moved from their current “inactive” spaces over the their “active” buying spaces, this marker will move down the track. Once it reaches the final “0” space, the Scoring phase is triggered and these consumers will make their car purchases. Price Markers will also be added to the Marketplace area at the far right corner of the board, but this is only done at the beginning of each Round, during the Preparation Phase. After initial setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
A game of Kraftwagen consist of three Rounds, with each Round containing a Preparation Phase, an Action Phase, and a Scoring Phase. Let’s take a look at how each phase works, beginning with the Preparation Phase:
I. The Preparation Phase:
At the beginning of each Round, a set of Market Price tokens are placed in the Marketplace area of the board. These tokens are color coordinated to help remind players of the current Round number. For instance, orange tokens are placed in the 1st Round, purple are added in the 2nd Round, and blue are added in the 3rd Round.
Next, a set of white Price tokens are placed next to the Consumer tiles. A 2-valued token is placed next to the top Consumer space, while a 1-valued token is placed on the other spaces. It’s possible at the beginning of the 2nd and 3rd Round that previous Price tokens are still present. These new tokens would simply accumulate with the ones already present.
II. The Action Phase:
After Market Price tokens have been added to the board, play begins with the player currently furthest away from the Action tiles on the Action track. On a player’s turn, he must select an available action on the track to move his worker to, and resolve it. He can then, as an option choose to send one of his completed cars to the Marketplace (we’ll discuss how this works in a bit). For those familiar with Matthias Cramer’s other title, Glen More, you’ll be quite familiar with how the Action track works. For those not familiar, it works mainly using a Rondel-wheel type mechanic. The idea is quite simple. The current player is always the player whose worker is furthest in the chain from the rest of the workers/action tiles. Because of this, players decisions on which actions they’ll move to and perform will directly affect turn order. When a player moves to a space and resolves the Action tile there, he’ll move the Action tile to the front of the chain.
For instance, in the example seen above, it is currently the Blue player’s turn (he is furthest in the chain). He could move to the space directly beside him and resolve the Research action here. If he were to do this, he’d immediately be able to take another turn, because he’d still be the player furthest in the chain.
However, instead he decides to move further up (seen below) to take the Action tile that provides him both the Research action and the Hire Worker action. He’ll then place this token at the front of the chain. Doing this has allowed him to resolve two actions in a row, however he’ll have to wait until the Yellow, Red and Green players pass him on the Action track before he can take another action.
While most of the Action tiles provide one action, some of the provide two, and one of them provides three actions. There are six different types of actions amongst the tiles. Let’s take a look at how each one resolves:
1. Car Body
As mentioned before, various Research cards (along with the Start tiles) will assist in adding to a player’s overall Car Body total. This accumulated total represents that amount of research a player has developed in their factory. When taking the Car Body action, the player will receive a Car Body tile from the general supply that contains a number that matches this research total, and places it on one of the available garage spaces on his player board. Car Body tiles range from 1 to 7.
Two award tiles are available in regards to building Car Bodies. The 1st player to place a level 3 Car Body in his garage will receive the Car Body award tile, worth 3 end-game Victory Points. The 1st player to place a level 6 Car Body in his garage will received the one granting 7.
Similar to the Car Body action, the player may take the Engine action and will receive an Engine tile that corresponds to his current research total in Engines. He then has a choice. He can either place it into an available garage space on his player board, or he can choose to place it on his Grand Prix car on his player board. By placing it in a garage space, this Engine is available to be combined with a Car Body tile in order to construct a completed car. By placing it on the Grand Prix car space, his car token will now move faster along the Grand Prix track.
There are also two Engine award tiles. The 1st player to place a level 4 Engine in his garage receives the award tile granting 3 end-game Victory Points. The 1st player to place a level 7 Engine in his garage receives the one granting 7.
3. Grand Prix
As you can imagine, taking the Grand Prix action will allow the player to advance his Grand Prix car along the race track. The player will move his car a number of spaces according to his current Engine number on his Grand Prix car on the player board. So if he has a level 3 Engine, he’ll move his car 3 spaces. There are 10 spaces occupying the race track, however when moving the car around the track, the player will skip over any spaces containing other cars. So it’s quite possible to move from space 1 to space 4 with a level 1 Engine, if spaces 2 and 3 are occupied by opponent’s cars. Once a player passes through the finish line (moving from space 10 to 1), he’ll advance his worker there one space along the Lap track.
There are two Grand Prix award tiles. The 1st player to finish a lap on the racetrack receives the award tile granting 3 end-game Victory Points, while the 1st player to finish two laps receives the one granting 7.
4. Hire Workers
Workers are needed for various aspects of the game, whether they are placed on Research cards to complete certain developments, or used as a collected service team during the car buying process. The more workers assigned to a particular car, the more likely the “Prestige” buyer will select that vehicle. When resolving the action tile to hire a worker, the player will take one worker matching his color from the general supply and place it in the Canteen space on his player board. This worker is now apart of his crew and available for him to use during the game.
There is an award tile in regards to players workers. The 1st player to have hired all of their workers (meaning there are no longer any available to him in the general supply), he’ll receive this award tile granting him 7 end-game Victory Points.
When resolving the Research action, the player will choose to take one of the face-up Research cards from the game board, with the other card going to the discard pile. If there are no more cards left to draw, the discard pile is reshuffled to create a new draw pile. There are three types of Research cards. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of each:
Development Cards – Development cards resemble the backs of the Starting tiles, in that they can provide research points to both Car Body and Engine levels. In order to activate these developments, players will need to place available workers on the cards. Once all spaces have been fulfilled, the research cards takes effect and provides the player with this increase in Car Body/Engine level.
Engineer Cards – Each Engineer provides a special bonus that the player can use during the game. For instance, taking a look at the two Engineer cards above, the player that has the Ferdinand Porsche card (left) gets to move an additional space on the race track when taking the Grand Prix action. The player with the August Horch card (right) receives two matching engineer tiles, one with a +1 engine, and the other with a +2 engine. During the game, he can use these tokens to increase the engine’s value when moving a completed car to the marketplace. Once one of these tiles is used, it is discarded from the game. In addition, the player can not place both tiles on the same car, and may only place a maximum of one tile when resolving an action, one tile when sending a car to the market, and one tile during the Scoring Phase, per Round.
There is also an Award tile associated with these Engineer cards. Once a player has acquired three of these Engineer cards, he’ll receive the Award tile seen below, worth 7 points.
Time Cards – When a player receives a research card with a clock on it, this provides a bonus that resolves immediately. For instance, the time card to the left shows that the player immediately receives 3 workers from the general supply and will add them to his Canteen on his player board. The time card to the right shows that the player immediately receives a Car Body tile and Engine tile, both in levels that correspond to his current accumulated research levels in these items. Once resolved, these cards are added to the discard pile.
6. Activate Consumers
At the beginning of each Round, the Consumer tiles are placed in the non-active column in the marketplace section of the game board. Once these consumers are ready to start looking to purchase a new vehicle, they are moved to the numbered column on the right. When a player resolves this action tile, he’ll choose one of the four consumers and move them from the left column to the lowest numbered space in the right column. Any Market Price tokens that were beside the consumer are collected by the player when making this move. The order of active consumers is important, in that during the Scoring Phase at the end of the Round, consumers will resolve their car buying from the top of the column to the bottom. So the higher the consumer, the more likely he’ll get his preference.
For instance, the Green player has chosen to take the Consumer action and chooses to move one of the consumers preferring the best car body type to the active column. Because he is the 2nd active consumer this Round, he’s placed in the 2nd space of the column.
The Green player also collects the two “1” valued Market Price tokens that were beside this consumer when moving it. As you can see, another player can still choose to move the other car body consumer to the active column, however he’ll collect no Market Price tokens as a bonus.
There are two consumers per preference type. The first player in the game to choose the 2nd consumer of a particular type and activate him, he’ll receive the associated Award tile worth 3 points.
If all four spaces on the active column are full when a player decides to resolve this action, the Marketplace marker is instead advanced one space down the track. When this marker reaches the “0” space of the track, the Action Phase has ended once the current player’s turn has ended, and the Scoring Phase triggers.
After the player has resolved his action tile, he can choose to send a completed car to the marketplace before ending his turn. A completed car consist of a car body, an engine, at least one worker, and a selling price. The player will choose a car body from his garage, an engine from his garage, a number of workers from his canteen space, and a price marker from those available on rightmost section of the marketplace. These items are all placed together on one of the six available car buying spaces in the market. If you’ll remember, each of the four items directly corresponds to the four different consumer preferences. Car body value, engine value, prestige (number of workers), and price. So players will need to keep in mind who the active consumers are, and the order they’ll resolve their purchasing in when deciding what items to add to their completed car. If all 6 spaces of the market have been filled with completed cars, the Scoring Phase triggers (as there are no more room to add cars to the market).
For instance, the Yellow player has resolved the regular action on his turn and now has a chance to send a car to the market if he chooses. With the top two active consumers preferring car body and prestige, he decides to send a completed car that consists of a level 4 body, a level 2 engine, 3 workers, and a market price of 8.
It may seem like sending a lot of workers if you have them is ideal, but keep in mind that player’s workers are not returned back to them once they’ve been dedicated to a car, therefore when the Yellow player chooses to send 3 workers to this car, he’s essentially spending these 3 workers for good, and will need to hire new workers to replace them.
The last Award tile is associated with sending cars to the marketplace. The first player to place his 2nd car in the market receives this award tile, worth 3 points.
III. The Scoring Phase:
During each Scoring Phase, players will score Victory Points based on how well they did in the Grand Prix race, as well as which cars the consumers have decided to purchase. Taking a look at the Grand Prix track, you’ll notice that players will receive a number of Victory Points based on their current place when the Scoring Phase begins. White Market Price tokens (Victory Points) are awarded for the following:
– 2nd place receives 4 points
– 3rd place receives 2 points
– 4th place receives no points
Players will then receive additional Market Price tokens based on how many laps they completed. As seen on the Grand Prix lap track, players will receive:
– 3 points for completing 2 laps
– 5 points for completing 3 laps
– 6 points for completing 4 laps
– 7 points for completing 5 laps
– +1 additional point for each additional lap
Players will then resolve the marketplace with consumers purchasing the available completed cars for sale. Beginning with the consumer on the top space of the active marketplace column and moving down, each consumer will make one car purchase based on their preference. For instance, when it’s time for the consumer who prefers the best engine to buy a car, he’ll choose the car with the highest engine level (in the example above, this is the car with the level 4 engine). If more than one car contains the same highest engine level, he’ll go with the one amongst them with the lowest price. Any ties in this way are always broken by the car with the lowest price. Consumer preferences are as follows:
– Car Body (purple) consumer will purchase the car with the highest level car body.
– Engine performance (orange) consumer will purchase the car with the highest level engine.
– Prestige (green) consumer will purchase the car with the highest quantity of workers dedicated to building it.
– Price (blue) consumer will purchase the car that is least expensive.
When a consumer purchases a car, the owner of that car (referenced by the colored worker token attached) receives the Market Price token from the sale of the vehicle. If the Price consumer is the one purchasing the vehicle, the owner receives a value-matching white Market Price token along the one that the vehicle sold for.
Once all consumers have purchase a vehicle, all items (car body tiles, engine tiles, worker tokens, and leftover market price tokens) are returned to the general supply. All active Consumer tiles are returned to their non-active column, and the Marketplace marker is returned to its start space. Grand Prix cars are placed on the start space of the Grand Prix track, and the player’s worker there is placed on the “0” space of the Lap track. Players then start a new Round, beginning with the Preparation Phase. Once the 3rd Round is completed, the game ends.
At the end of the game, all Market Price tokens collected by a player, as well as points from Award tiles are considered cash. Players will total all of these points together, and the player that’s made the most cash (total accumulated points) is declared the winner.
Kraftwagen is a tightly designed, well-crafted, automobile themed economic game. As with Glen More, the heart of the game’s structure lies within the Rondel-wheel track and how it resolves. One unique contrast between the two games in regards to this track is that unlike Glen More, Kraftwagen’s tiles may contain more than one action when selected, with one of the tiles even containing three. After a few turns, these multi-action tiles are well shuffled amongst the single-action tiles, making for some fierce and interesting decision making between players. Do you take the single action tile you really need, or the multi-action tile your opponent needs (which actions will probably help you in the long run). It’s also important to note that taking more actions in this game (even though you can) will not necessarily result in a better outcome. Kraftwagen is about efficiency and timing of actions resolved, not the quantity taken.
As with all solid game designs, the theme emanates well throughout. You never seem to lose the sense that you’re working towards manufacturing the best possible car designs for the best possible price, based on consumer demands. All actions resolve around this basic function in some way, and even placement in the Grand Prix race adds to your auto company’s recognition. But even with the singular goal of earning the most money in the long run, Cramer provides a wealth of ways to do this. This is important, as there may be many times when you’ll find yourself unable to perform a particular action without jumping all over the action track, as opposing players continue to resolve it. Kraftwagen’s designed in a way that multiple actions can eventually award you with the similar results. Unable to work on a higher level engine because multiple players are resolving the Engine action? Take a few turns to focus on the Car Body instead, until that Engine action tile is closer. Or maybe activate a consumer that’s not focused on engines so that engines are less important this Round. The various paths to victory are abound in the game, and will open up more and more with each play.
As a side note, the Award tiles are also a nice inclusion and help to move the game along. A player could attempt to sandbag and hold out until he has high level car bodies, engines, and numerous workers (for prestige) before sending a car to the market, if they wish. However by doing this, he’ll most likely miss out on many of the “1st to complete” Award tiles. It’s a nice balance that was much needed and assists with keeping the gameplay to a comfortable length.
I’m probably a bit partial because of my allegiance to Glen More, but Kraftwagen is the best medium-weight Euro I’ve played this year. The combination of theme with mechanics, along with the exceptional Rondel-wheel action track, multiple paths to victory, and flexible decision making and strategy makes for a outstanding game. Many may pass this one as another hefty, plodding, automobile game at first glance, but nothing could be further from the truth. Kraftwagen’s a proper classic in the making.