Review – Blockade Runner from Numbskull Games

Review – Blockade Runner from Numbskull Games

Designed by Patrick and Alex Stevens

Artist – Patrick Stevens

note – Thanks to Numbskull Games for providing a copy of this game for review purposes

The American Civil War has been one of my favorite areas of military history to read about but one aspect where I know little is in the naval side of the conflict and the Union blockade of the South in an attempt to choke off the Southern economy and bring the South to the obvious conclusion that cessation from the Union was out of the question. So, I was very interested when I saw that Numbskull Games had published a game about this topic, I had high hopes that this would prove to be an interesting and fun game, especially after my experience playing their Popular Front game (see my review here).  

Just to be clear, Blockade Runner isn’t a war game so if  you aren’t a war gamer and you were worried, take a chill pill. It’s all about making money. For, 2-6 players aged 12+, the players own a small fleet of merchant ships and use them to ship out cotton and tobacco for Europe whilst trying to get a cold of war goods and possibly black market goods which you will try to get back into the Southern ports. Of course, you are not doing this just because you are patriotic to the Southern cause. You are hoping to sell at a good profit so you can buy new ships and contribute to the defense coffers to build up port defenses. The military aspects are abstracted through simple mechanics for running past the blockade fleet, port assaults, and inland city capture, as well as being represented through a card deck of historical actions, events, etc. which you can use.

The military aspect is essentially wrapped around an economic resource buying/shipping/selling game. Most money at the end of the game wins. Simple.

The components are of a very good standard. The map is very well presented with ship movement regulated by areas and commodity movement through rail lines and charts for tracking commodity values, War effort, inland city capture, etc. There are cubes representing commodities and various cardboard counters for ships of different sizes  for commodity shipping and speeds, Union blockade, Port defense strength and there are Confederate dollars. Oh yes, there is a matter of the smokestacks for your ships. Colored pegs are meant to be plugged onto the ships so it can be easy to spot which are your ships. Unfortunately they don’t stay plugged onto the ships and need to be gently handled if they are to be any use. A bit of a hassle. Great idea in theory but the smokestacks I received with my copy just don’t work. Minor quibble really.

The rules are well laid out, are graphically excellent with very good visual examples and are only 7 pages and that immediately got my attention as Popular Front had concise rules and played very well. The Numbskull Games crew are very consistent, very professional and have a real eye for effective graphic design.


Gameplay

The game process is very clear and easy to understand. This is not a game that is going to tax your brain too much but has enough meat on the bones to challenge you.

The game is divided into the five years of the war and during each year there are 4 phases -

1) Union Action (impacts to all players)

- Blockade – The ports being blockaded are chosen Union Blockade deck. These can be reduced based on the amount of war goods delivered the previous turn. The number of port assaults by Union forces is also assigned.

- Port Assault – At least 1 port can be assaulted by Union forces each turn. More if the War Effort brings in few war supplies. Ships located at assaulted ports may attempt to escape but may be caught and sunk, along with any commodities on board.  The Union forces may capture and shut down ports altogether.

- Inland City Capture – Other cities will be captured, which makes things tougher – no commodities available in those cities and rail transport of commodities is blocked

- High Seas Squadron – A Union Navy squadron is placed at sea to make things difficult for the blockade runners

- Commodity Management – prices of commodities are adjusted and commodity boxes are refilled

2) Determine Turn order

3) Player turns – each player can take up to 4 actions (or 5 if they delivered the most war goods last turn). Actions can be chosen more than once but count to the 4 action limit

- Load commodities on ships at a cost

- Unload commodities at a port – earn current commodity values

- Move ships, avoid blockades

- Play an action card – each player has a hand of action cards in their hand which can benefit

- Bid on Ships – You may lose ships and need to buy more

- Rail Commodities –  A load action can include commodities shipped from inland cities at an extra cost

The turns move along well. The process flows well, the choices are clear and it is pretty easy to understand and play. There isn’t too much down time and there is a challenge in making the right choices. The there is enough historical aspects to give the a very strong theme which does not overwhelm what is essentially an economic/resource management with a core pick-up and deliver functionality.  The historical elements are very functional instead of the window dressing you find in similar style games. You do get a sense of the strategic situation that the blockade runners faced; not in great detail but enough to get a sense of the situation.

The mechanics work, the supporting Action cards make things nicely interesting and build upon the theme with a variety of historical elements. The design and rules are solid. The designers have taken what could have been dry mechanics and made them work very effectively as you have to fend off the ever imposing Union juggernaut and get as many commodities delivered before running ever greater risks to your ships. The tension grows with each passing turn. Remember there are only 5 as well! Don’t let that fool you though, each turn does require thought and decision making. Just don’t lose sight of your main goal – CASH!

Did it work for me?

Yet again, Numbskull Games have produced a tightly designed, playable hybrid – euro/war/economic mix. The theme is brilliantly functional and integrates well in your decision making. The components are very good. The rules are kept to a minimum and  yet, I don’t feel that there is a need to add anything else. There is a collective challenge in the Union Actions and individual challenge in working around those to run the blockade, hoping not to lose ships to the Union Navy, and then having a balance of choices to pick from. And if you don’t keep bringing in the War Goods…

Another brilliant game from the boys at Numbskull and for this Civil War buff, a hearty well done!   

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 8 out of 10

Family Friendly?

For older kids interested in history, could be a nice game to play.

For more information about Numbskull Games go to http://www.numbskullgames.com/

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