Board Game Gumbo: Long Live The Queen(s): Part 2: Cable Car
Contributor, Jason Dinger, is back with another entry in his popular series of articles. Jason is the designer of the upcoming release, Captains of the Gulf. You can reach him on Twitter: @jasondingr.
Route building? Yes!
Stock market? Yes!
Quick game that is tons of fun? YES! YES!! YES!!!
San Francisco Cable Car, commonly known simply as Cable Car, is another wonderful little game from Queen. The game comes with the “base” game, Metro, but the core game play is the same when played as Cable Car. The only change is that instead of straight scoring for your own routes, your score at the end of the game depends not only on the values of the routes, but also the number of shares of each color that you own. Having played the game as Cable Car with the stock market scoring, I don’t believe I’ll ever play the straight scoring of Metro again.
From the designer of Alhambra, Dirk Henn, Cable Car is another game that I feel is perfect for a school night. It plays very quickly, doesn’t wear you down mentally, and offers a depth of fun with some interesting decisions to be made throughout.
The Game Play
There are 8 different cable car companies each identified by color: yellow, blue, orange, black, red, brown, green, & purple. One station token of each company’s color is placed on the four sides of the board in a pre-set arrangement – noted by a simple to follow chart in the rule book.
There are 4 decks of share cards in values of 10%, 20%, 30%, and 40% – 1 of each color of each deck’s respective percentage. These decks are shuffled individually and players are randomly dealt a card from each deck so that all players will have 4 stock market cards – 1 valued at each share percentage. The remaining share cards are placed face-down on their appropriate space on the stock market board and the top card is turned face-up next to each deck.
On your turn, you can do one of two actions:
1. Play a route tile to the main board.
2. Trade a share of stock you own at the market.
We play with a variant listed in the rule book that has all players start with a hand of 3 tiles. This gives players much more leeway in deciding how to proceed in building routes on their turn. When placing a tile, there are a few simple rules to follow.
Tiles have to be played either on the outside edge connecting to a station or to an already placed tile. In other words, you can’t just place a tile in the middle of an empty board at the start of the game. Tiles have to be placed in the correct orientation – noted by all the buildings’ roofs facing upwards towards the top of the board. Finally, unless otherwise impossible due to limited options late in the game, tiles cannot be placed so that they immediately close out a route connecting to no other tiles (starting & ending solely on the tile itself without ever moving out to any other tiles). With the variant we use, you draw a tile to replace the one just played at the end of that turn.
Pretty simple and easy to understand…but don’t let that fool you. Deciding where and when to play a particular tile is the heart of the game. Placing a tile in the wrong spot at the wrong time can close off a route that you wanted to go farther to score big. Or it could add to a route to help it score big when you don’t want it to.
That’s the other thing about the decisions to be made here. You’ve got 4 shares ranging from 10% – 40%. Everyone else knows that…but what they don’t know is what colors those different shares are in. The challenge is to raise the profit points of the company colors that you have (especially your 30% and 40% shares) without tipping off the other players as to what you hold in your hand.
You can choose to forgo playing a tile and trade out 1 share of your stock with another of the same percentage. You can take the face-up share of any percentage and then place your previously-owned share of the same percentage at the bottom of the appropriate face-down deck. Then, flip the top card of that deck face-up next to the deck for all players to see.
Alternatively, you can do the same action, but instead of taking the face-up card, you can blindly-draw the top face-down card from the deck. Discard your previously-owned share of that percentage the same as described above. This is a gamble, no doubt, but if your share of that color is scoring poorly and the face-up color is also scoring poorly, it can be a worthwhile venture.
Scoring – Completed Routes and End-Game
After placing a tile on the board, all routes it connects to are checked to see if any of them are completed. A route is completed when 1 end connects to any company station and the other end connects either to a neutral station (printed on the outside of the board near the company’s wooden station tokens) or the central power plant in the middle of the board.
When one of a company’s stations is connected to a completed run, the company’s profit points increases on the score track by 1 for each time a tile is crossed in the completed run. If the route loops back to cross the same time again, it will score a second (or third, if possible) time. If the run ends at the central power station, the profit points of the run are doubled.
Once any company’s profit points reaches or passes 25, players can no longer trade out stocks in their hands. After this, players are stuck with the shares they have in their hand for the remainder of the game.
The game is over after the last tile is laid and the last of the routes are connected & scored. After this, players rank the companies from 8 to 1 based on the current profit points of their company. Leave the company score disk in place on the score track and place a station on space 8 on the score track from the color of the company with the highest profit points. Do the same on space 7 for the company that has the 2nd highest profit points. Continue doing this until a station for the lowest profit points company is placed on space 1.
Players then reveal the company shares in their hand and players score based on the percentage of the share times the profit points of the matching company. If you have the 40% blue share and the blue company’s value is 8, you score 4 x 8 = 32. Continue this for the remainder of your shares: 30% share = 3 x the value of the company with the matching color, 20% share = 2 times company value, and 10% share = 1 times company value. Add these individual share scores up to get your base score.
Finally, bonus scoring is awarded for the player(s) who hold the most shares of any particular company. If there is a tie, both players score the full amount of the bonus points. The bonus points are 1/10 of the company’s profit points, rounded down. If blue’s profit points are 42, the bonus points for any player(s) who own the most shares of that company is 4. After adding any bonus points to your base score, the player with the most points wins.
Pros & Cons
There really isn’t much to detract from Cable Car. The game is light enough that gamers who prefer lighter / family weight games can jump right in, while still offering enough game play in a short enough play time to have appeal as a thinky filler for heavier gamers. If there is one negative, it would be that playing with the base game rule where players only get 1 tile in their hand at a time is too restrictive. Thankfully, the rules list the aforementioned variant that allows players to always have a hand of 3 tiles to choose from.
Cable Car is great to kick off a game day or close it out at the end of the night. It’s a great game to pull out on an evening when you don’t have time for a longer commitment, but still want a game with some meat on the bones. It offers solid game play with little to no downtime for players and the risk of tipping your hand to other players as you try to raise the values of the companies in your stock portfolio is a wonderful challenge.
New copies can be found at FunAgain for $39 and Amazon for $28. For players looking for used copies, the BGG MarketPlace has about 10 copies for sell ranging from $10 – $30. There are also copies available for trade on the BGG GeekMarket.
— Jason Dinger, @jasondingr