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It isn’t often we have the opportunity to have a go at auction/bidding games, because they are not particularly fun with 2 players. For that reason, when we received Irish Gauge from Capstone recently, I was a bit apprehensive about how gameplay would go. We had the opportunity to play this 3+ player railroad game with 5 players this weekend, and I have to say I was more than pleasantly surprised.

Summary

Irish Gauge is a 3-5 player railroad building game with a strong Auction/Bidding mechanic at the core of its mechanical structure. Instead of collecting resources and building railroads, players have 3 “build” points to spend to simply but strategically place rail cars on hexes across Ireland. The cost to build per hex ranges from 1-1.5 “points” depending on the terrain and how many other train cars occupy the hex. Instead of owning railroads, players take on the role of shareholders, and are able to build railroads (and gain dividends) based on the shares they hold. Multiple players will inevitably own shares of the same railroad, which will result in splitting the dividends.

The game length is determined by the players, as calling for dividends and turning towns into cities results in a diminishing bag of cubes. When this bag is empty, the game is over (which tends to happen around the same time as limited railroad cars are also depleted). Whoever has the most money (including value of shares) at the end of the game is the winner.

Our Experience

We played this session with 5 players. Our group consisted of three heavier gamers (including the two of us), as well as a bright, analytical 15 year old who loves take-that and interaction, rounded out by my mom who has a light-medium weight preference, enjoys co-operative play, and games primarily for theme. It is probably the best test group we can manage, now that I think about it.

Ease of Learning

The game was easy to learn and teach. The rules are one page, front and back. I read through the rules the day we taught the game, and Anthony read them as we were setting up. Teaching was a breeze after we got away from the assumption that we owned and could sell shares (we tried to make it more difficult than it was, as usual).

Calling for dividends is a critical mechanic in the game, and also one that lends itself to misunderstandings if you try to complicate things. Some were under the impression that calling for dividends (a way to score big bucks for shareholders) only impacts the rail lines of which you own shares. This is incorrect. Calling for dividends triggers certain cities to pay dividends to rail lines that run through them. The cities triggered are determined by which color cubes are drawn from the bag. Cubes come in 3 colors, and 3 are drawn at a time when calling for dividends. These colors correspond with cities on the board, which is how you asses which rail lines will pay out.

Overall, gameplay is about 60 minutes. Our first game (with teaching) broke down something like this:

  • Setup: 10 mins
  • Teaching: 15 mins
  • First few rounds: 20 mins
  • Remainder of game: 45 mins

What We Loved

  • The fast pace (especially after getting the hang of the actions and strategy in the bidding).
  • The satisfaction of shareholding without the brain-burning effort of company-management (which would limit the audience)
  • The challenge of “letting go” of a rail line you spent time building initially, and strategically cashing in by investing in other developed lines later in the game

What We Would Love to See

  • A way to play this with 2 players. It would have been great to see an AI somehow, or a variant that gave you the same satisfaction in a two player experience. There is a variant out there, but as we play mainly 2-player, I always appreciate when that count (and a solo) is included in the original design. 

That’s it for this review summary! We would recommend it for anyone looking for something interactive for larger groups. It is one of few that plays really well at 5 and does not leave your players wandering off between turns. To learn more about this title, check out the BGG page.