Barrage is a worker placement (euro) game where players compete to product power from hydroelectric power plants. In this review, I will describe my first impressions of the game starting with unboxing and finishing with me stopping a game against myself (me vs. me) at the end of the third round.
The box has nicely printed artwork that conveys a sense of doom. The most prominent feature of the box art is what looks like a Tesla Coil on top of a large tower. I suspect that the artist was trying to convey the ideas of lots of rain/water and power generation. The dam in the picture is more obvious in this image of the box than on the box itself because on my box, the game name covers much of the dam. On my box, it’s hard to tell that this is a damn building game from the box art. The box cardboard seems just a little thin for the weight it holds.
I emptied the box slowly and found bags of wood components and cardboard of various sorts. The cardboard feels just a little thin to me; it seemed to flex a bit more than I would have liked. Compared to a game like Pipeline, the punched out parts are downright flimsy. But they are not so thin that they seem like paper. Some of the cardboard parts seem awesome like the player boards made from two layers to allow for recesses and the construction wheels that seem stiff enough to not warp like every other bit of cardboard does when it gets to the dry climate here. Unfortunately, the player board with their two layers started to curve after about an hour of use. This is due to the drying out of the cardboard on top happening faster or more completely than the thicker bottom layer of cardboard. But so far, it’s inline with what other games have done when I got them out into the air here.
There are two books that come with the game but I’m not interested at the moment in the Automata manual. The regular instruction book is laid out in a clumsy way to me. The intro to the game is nice on a single page but having a few pages to describe the game concepts and having them be the first pages of the book just makes it harder to find the setup instructions after playing a few games. I would almost like to have separate books or sheets so I can do the setup and play without having to skip lots of pages in the book. I did not read any more of the game description text than was necessary and I then skipped to the setup. Things become very clear during setup, including how I bagged the parts wrong when I punched them out. The setup instructions are great and I was only confused by the instruction about covering certain worker placement spaces when playing with less than 4 players – there is a picture on the setup page that shows all of the board and components set up on a table but then there is also a small picture of one area of one of the boards to show how to cover unavailable spaces. That small picture looks like an additional board to unbox and set up on the table and it’s weirdly out-of-place on the main board setup page (which is really two pages with one picture and instructions spanning the pages). That was the only part of the setup where I had to look around and then figure out what to do. Not bad for a heavy eurogame. I also wasn’t sure during setup about how to set up the initial shared dam installations but after looking around and flipping back to the very well documented component list in the instructions, I figured it out. A well done component list with pictures of the fronts and backs of tiles is a great thing to have when unboxing and during the first setup of the game.
I set up the player boards according to the instructions and used the “first time” instructions. Those tell you what colors to use with certain player board – they are slightly different for each player to add asymmetry – and also the player order and a few other things.
Rules and Gameplay
I read through the game rules now that I had a good feeling for all of the game components. It’s good to read the rules after following the setup although for some games, it’s been necessary to read the rules first because the instruction manual is written badly and somethings are ambiguous in the setup without knowing the rules. The rules seemed straightforward and are also fairly well written. The game seems well designed and I had no trouble mostly understanding what to do. I would later flip back to the rules now and then to make sure I was doing things correctly but I was able to take a lot of actions without needing to read the action rules more than the one time.
The Red player went first. The player colors are interestingly black, white, red, and green. I would have expected more typical colors like red, blue, yellow, and green but not all games follow that scheme. The red player had a player board with the special ability to build a base for a dam in any region (mountains, hills, valleys/flats) for the same cost. I saw that there is a basin or lake in the top right of the board that has a conduit connection available that provides 5 power generation. You’ll have to excuse me if I get a few terms wrong in this review since I only played once and there was a lot going on. The cost in this case was three excavators. To build something, a player needs to sequester away excavators or mixers (concrete?). You don’t lose the cost, it goes onto a construction wheel where the cost and a tile allowing you to build that type of item is stuck until the wheel rotates all the way around. The wheel is a very clever way of making construction take up time and resources in the game – you get to build the dam, conduit, or power plant right away but you don’t get the machinery or build tile back for a little while.
The black player has the special ability to build conduits (pipes for water) using mixers instead of excavators and the cost is cheaper. The black player sees that the red player is trying to get that great 5-power conduit connection and builds the conduit. In later turns, if the red player moves water from that dam through that 5-power conduit, the black player will get some money and points so it was a pretty good choice. The red player decides to still take advantage of that conduit and builds a power plant at the bottom of the main board and now power can be generated using water from the mountains flowing through the conduit to the power plant in the valley/flatlands. Some other stuff happens like the black player trying to get excavators back by placing workers to advance the construction wheel and the red player picking up a contract. The red player eventually places some workers to get some water behind the red dam at the top of the board and then on the next turn does a power generating action to move the water. The red player gets 5 power from the length of the conduit and +2 power from using the +2 worker power generation space on the board. The red player pays the black player 1 credit to use the conduit for the 1 water token and the black player also gets 1 point.
The actions that I described above are all worker-placement actions. They are fairly typical and function like most other worker-placement games where you place a worker and either do something or get something in return. Barrage is unique in that many of the actions require more than one worker and a player can place as many workers at the same time to take the one action they want to take on their turn. In this way, workers are a bit like a cost and if you want to use an action someone else has taken, it will usually cost you more workers and sometimes a few credits. The action spaces can fill up, and they did for me since I was playing with two players and a lot of action spaces unavailable. But it took a while to get to the point in the game where competition from the other player or from my previous actions was an issue.
The game went on and the black player (both players were me) made some fairly bad choices. Not generating power and getting credits and points from the red player generating power was nice but at the end of each round, players are judged by the game and the black player was always far enough behind to lose a few points and gain a few less credits. The red player tried to build power plants and generators while the black player kept trying to get in the way and build the conduits that connected them. Eventually, both players had a few of everything including a very tall dam built by the red player. The taller the dam, the more water can sit behind it before flowing downstream and being lost to the ocean, or wherever the water goes after it gets to the bottom of the board (like into the little bag of blue water tokens).
Impressions and Summary
The components and box are of okay quality with the cardboard being a little thin for my taste – this is not a deluxe version of the game for sure. But the player boards and construction wheel are nicely made and the number of cardboard tiles and wooden tokens makes this a heavy (pounds-wise) game. Every part is acceptable and I was happy about what came out of the box. I would grade the components at around a B.
The rules are well written and having a starter game setup is a good choice for a game like this. Had I not played a lot of complicated games in recent years, the beginner setup would have been important. I like seeing pictures of the components in the rule book and having the various tiles mentioned by name using the same name everywhere show that the writer(s) care about consistency and clarity. My only issue after I finished playing was that the rule about using another players conduit seems to only be described in the book and is not shown on the board anywhere. Every other rules about costs and benefits seems to be printed on the board or on the player boards. I would grade the rule book at around a B+ or A-.
The board is fairly large as is the worker-placement board (which has a name I can’t recall right now). If you don’t have a small table, you will be fine with two players – I have a 44″x44″ card table and two players fit just fine. Three would be tight and four might be impossible. On a 4’x4′ table, I suspect that three will fit fine and four will be a tight fit. I hope to play against other players on Sunday and Ill try to post an update if I learn more about table size. The main board, the placement board, and the score board for power generation, all fit together in a rectangular area. If you change the positions of the boards, you’ll get an L shape of some sort but that might work on certain size tables. I always have trouble setting up Through-the-Ages because of it’s five different shared/main board of varying sizes. Barrage is not bad at all with the beginner or first-time setup. The artwork is okay. It’s not elegant or fun or high-tech. The worker placement boards are all utilitarian in design but do have a bit of an industrial-revolution style to them The main board has a lot on it and it’s a little hard to see where conduits go and where the streams between basins go. bit like a lot of the game, it is very usable and works just fine. The player boards have some worker placement spaces on them and they are clean and easy to read. The income benefits you get when some spaces are uncovered (like when you remove a dam to build it on the map) are marked with a tiny barely readable indicator above the space but also have a bigger readable copy of that same marking under the component. it’s nice to see where the income is and then be able to read it more clearly when you remove a piece form the player board. The curve cutout where the construction wheel fits is a nice touch and the wheel itself works rather well if you don’t try to turn the turning part of it with just one finger. I would grade the main board components at around a B- and the player boards at around an A-.
Game-play was easy except that I was never sure if I was making a good move or a terrible move. That is the nature of heavier board games and I totally expect to be in over-my-head (no pun intended) in this hydroelectric dam building game. having lots of tough choices and difficult-to-find strategies makes game s like this fun. A few of the worker placement spaces filled up a bit in the third round and without a lot of credits or extra workers, both players were stuck not being able to generate more power when they both wanted to. This makes things interesting and very competitive. I would grade the game-play at around an A. This is my first impression so I have not yet been exposed to shortcomings in the game-play.
So far, I like the game and look forward to playing against someone other than myself in a game with more than two players. I suspect that the large amount of player interaction, which is a bit unusual for a euro-style worker placement game, will make this very fun and challenging. I didn’t add up or average the grades but it feels like the game should get a B+. If the cardboard was thicker and if the player aid or other components showed how to pay another player for using their conduit, it would get an A for sure. Just take this review with a grain of salt since I played against myself for three rounds out of five for a complete game and I used the beginner setup without the patent office board and without players getting random player abilities. I also had no idea how to play when I started.