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November 21, 2005

-- Game review --

Ruthless game of gold, greed, power

By Stefan Koski

Finally there's a game that combines our love of gold with our love of nineteenth century mining. Face 2 Face Games presents Boomtown, and blowing up saloons has never been so much fun.

In this game for three to five people, players are trying to amass a fortune by owning various mines.

An initial number of mine cards are dealt to each player, one card for each person playing. At the start of each turn, two dice are rolled.

Anyone with a number on a mine matching the roll of the dice is paid the amount of gold, represented by white, red, and blue tokens, shown on the card. Less likely dice rolls, such as a two, usually pay out much more gold than more common rolls, such as eights or fives.

After players collect their gold, a card from the top of the deck is turned over, and players start bidding gold to acquire the card. The card is often another mine card, with the incentive of getting gold on a different roll of the die, or more gold on the same roll.

There's another reason why players will want more mining property, though. The mines are from five different towns: Coyote City (red), Cactus Junction (green), San Narciso (blue), Dry Gulch (yellow), and Cold Mountain (purple). Whoever has the most of one color, or town, becomes mayor.

Being mayor means that anyone else who purchases mines of your color owes you an additional sum of money equal to the number of cards of that color you own. However, if someone else acquires more mines of the same color than you, you'll lose the mayor’s office.

This makes for some intensely competitive mine bidding – even more so because the money for the winning bid doesn't go to the bank, but instead is passed to the player to the right, who takes half and passes it to the player on his or her right, who takes half and passes it on. Even if you win the bid, your money is fed into your competitor's pockets.

A number of different twists lie within the cards. Some mines are labeled "danger," and collapse on a roll of two or 12. In exchange, they are marked with more common die rolls and pay out much more than the average mine.

There are a number of different cards besides mines that are up for grabs.

Thievery cards, such as Hold-Up, Stagecoach Robbery, and Cardshark, allow you to steal gold from other players, or force them to pay money to the bank.

The Governor card doubles the amount of gold players have to pay you for mines that belong to your mayor's color.

Mustang, featuring a proud miner on a horse, and Expropriate, featuring a not-so-proud miner wearing nothing but a barrel on suspenders, allow you to steal other player's mines. Other cards allow a player to change die rolls, or make their mines pay out more gold than usual.

For additional cash, players can bid on the Saloon card, which allows the player to tax another mayor's mines whenever they produce gold. The tax increases with the addition of the Saloon Girls card.

And then there is the Dynamite card, which effectively destroys anyone else's mines or saloons.

Once all the cards in the deck have been turned over, the game is finished. Players total the amount of gold they have, adding in the gold payout of their mines and an additional five gold for each mayor’s office they hold. Whoever has the most gold wins.

Boomtown is best played with a full five people, which makes for more competitive bidding and keeps the process of stockpiling gold much more difficult. While the game states that it takes more than 30 minutes, with five people it's lengthened to an enjoyable 90 minutes or more, depending on the competitiveness of the players.

The artwork on each card is colorful and beautifully detailed.

The governor pictured on the Governor card stands in front of an American flag with dollar signs instead of stars and wears a sash that proudly declares "In Gold We Trust."

On one of the Danger cards a hapless miner sits in a mining cart with a look of shock as the cart wheels off the side of a cliff, and the lascivious women on the Saloon Girls card will certainly raise some eyebrows, justifying the game's 10 and over age recommendation (to say nothing of the Native American vixen wielding dynamite).

The game could actually benefit from more relaxed rules. While the process of bidding on mines, opening saloons, and stealing gold is certainly absorbing, some cards such as the Dynamite card state that the player must use it immediately. It would be much more interesting if the Dynamite could be held onto and used whenever the player wished, perhaps offering to blow something up for a price, or holding another mine ransom.

Other cards, such as the Hold-Up card, have minimal use because the bidding process often makes them cost more than the amount of money they steal. The game could definitely improve by having set prices for some cards instead of bidding for them.

Also, even though there is a 60-card deck, the game could be greatly improved by adding more cards, with more variety in each type. In theory, buying two sets and increasing the card count could improve the game.

These are all minor complaints, though. The game is highly entertaining and engrossing straight out of the box. And at $22.95, it's half the price of the average PS2 game.


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