Boardgames in Blighty Game Review – The Last Spike from Columbia Games
Thanks to Columbia Games for providing a review copy of this game.
Designer – Tom Dalgliesh
Players – 2-6
Time – 45-60 minutes
Age – 10+
I haven’t done a game review in a while as I simply haven’t time anymore but I thought it would be worth investing time to do a review of The Last Spike from Columbia Games, primarily as it is certainly a departure from their usual wargame fare.
I will say up front that I am a fan of Columbia games and therefore there is a bias but I will try and give a fair minded review here.
First some background from the Columbia games website –
The Last Spike was first published in 1976 as a family game; the 2015 edition has been re-designed to appeal to strategy gamers, eurogamers, train gamers, and is still suitable for families.
In The Last Spike players cooperate to build a continuous railway from St. Louis to Sacramento. Different routes are possible and some towns never get a railway link. Each player competes to accumulate the most money from land speculation before the “last spike” is played.
The game components are up the the usual Columbia Games standard with –
48 wooden track blocks and matching stickers representing the track pieces
Deck of 45 Deeds, 5 each of 9 cities.
Wooden Game Money
The game board depicts the USA from St Louis west to Sacramento. Routes for the railway may include Omaha, Dodge City, Denver, El Paso, Laramie, Yuma, and Ogden. The eastern part is relatively flat, but there are some wide rivers to cross. West of Denver are the high Rockies where track building budgets soar. I will say that I like look and art on the game board. My only qualm is that it seems more functional than geographically correct (although I could be wrong) which I would have preferred. Having said the board works perfectly for the purposes of the game.
The presentation and and quality of the components is very good. I really like that Columbia don’t over develop the components. They are functional and attractive without the need to overcook with ostentatious bling. The artwork is very nice, cards and sticker for the blocks are easy to read. The money is represented by coloured wooden discs. It all works just fine.
To win The Last Spike, you must end the game with the most money.
The Last Spike is a simple game and is aimed at the family market. There are only 3 steps for the players in a turn.
- The player must place a rail tile on the board and payouts are made if a rail line is completed
- The player then has the option to purchase 1 property card for any city
- The player must then draw a new rail tile to replace the one they placed
It’s as simple and straightforward as that.
Each player begins the game with 4 rail tiles drawn randomly. Each tile has a financial value ranging from 1k to 7K.
To place a tile, the player must pay the face value if it is placed on it’s assigned space on a rail line (as indicated on the board and the tile). The face value is payed only if the tile is placed adjacent to a city or adjacent to a previously placed tile. Otherwise, double the face value is paid.
All of the players are essentially cooperating in building the train lines. There is no “ownership” of any train line. As the players consider which of their tiles to play, they will need to consider how much they are willing and can afford to pay. Also, in the placement of tiles, the players will be considering where the other players may place tiles as they seek to complete train lines.
When a train line is completed by any player, players who have property cards for the 2 cities linked by the completed trin line are paid according to the value and number of cards for each city held.
It took me the first third of the game to get a sense of the need to not just place tiles, but to weigh up potential risk and reward compared to the potential for other players which raised the level of interesting and challenging choices.
Players can optionally purchase property cards during the game. In fact, they need to as by collecting the property cards, the players are trying to put themselves into a position to get the most lucrative payoffs possible when train lines are completed. Like Monopoly, multiple cards for the same city mean a larger payout. Having said that, there are no guarantees that all of your carefully chosen properties will pay off as not all train lines are guaranteed to be completed before the end of the game. Cashflow may be an issue as the players have to consider when to buy, and when to hold off. Players may also need to consider how long they can hold out before completing train lines. If players run out of cash, they will need to sell back properties at half value to the bank in order to get cash to pay for placement of tiles.
The players will choose a tile randomly to refill up to their 4 tile limit. When the tiles run out, the players continue to play using the tiles that are left in their hand, until a routes is established between St. Louis and Sacramento which immediately ends the game. All of the tiles may or may not be used in the game. It is also not likely that every train line will be completed before the game ends.
At this point, the money held by each player is totalled and whoever has the most wins. Ties are broken by the player with the highest total cost of the property cards.
Do I like The Last Spike?
Over a number of plays, I found this game to be a lot of fun as did my family members and friends. It has a solid design, is easy to learn and to teach. Overall the game plays smoothly and there is little downtime waiting for other players to take their turn. It plays quickly enough and easy enough for non-gamers to become engaged and so I would not hesitate to use it as a fun social game and also an introduction to games other than Monopoly.
What is really nice in particular is that as you get into it you can see that there are choices, some tough, and the mix of cooperation and competition is well balanced and interesting.
Some of you may have an issue with the blind randomness of choosing the rail tiles. I will say that I didn’t find it to be a problem as the game plays fast and simply enough. It works well. Having said that, I may experiment with a house rule of choosing 5 tiles to start and returning 1 so there is a bit more choice and say in your strategy. Also, I want to try choosing 2 tiles and keeping 1 to replenish your hand of tiles. Again, this will add a bit more control of your strategy.
The Last Spike is a fun game and the desire of my family and friends to play again says it all for me. A clean, tight design, nice components, straightforward gameplay means this is one to check out and play for sure.
For more information go to http://www.columbiagames.com/cgi-bin/query/cfg/zoom.cfg?product_id=2201