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Thursday, 25 February 2016

RPGPundit Reviews: The Last Spike

This is a review of the board game "The Last Spike", published by Columbia Games, designed by Tom Dalgliesh, based on an earlier game.

Columbia Games seems to think that I'm as good a board game reviewer as I am an RPG reviewer. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but since I've quite liked almost all of their truly excellent wargames (like Crusader Rex, Napoleon, or Richard III), I sure don't mind getting them.

This game is a bit different, however. It's not a wargame!  Will it be as good?  I guess we'll see.

The Last Spike comes in the same format as Columbia's other games, in a box with an attractive 'sleeve' cover depicting a picture of a 19th century train moving through a mountainous area.  As you may have guessed from the name, the thematic of the game involves the building of the American railways.

The interior of the box contains some counters, a fairly small folded board (by modern board game standards, I'd go as far as to call it tiny), some wooden tiles and counters, and some cards. Also, a mercifully thin rulebook (just four small pages long).

So, The Last Spike is a game for 2-6 players (3-5 is the ideal, we are told). In the game, players cooperate in making a continuous railway from St.Louis to Sacramento, but they compete to get the most money out of land speculation before the titular 'last spike' is laid.

Incidentally, this is not one of those all-nighter type of games (good thing, because I'm too old to have patience for those, anymore; even if I still love a good all-nighter of RPG play).  The typical game takes about 45 minutes, if the rulebook is to be believed.  I suspect that doesn't include setup time or the learning curve of the first couple of games.

The game map shows a number of US cities (significant to the railroad era), and a dozen routes that could connect them. Each route has four slots.  The counters represent sections of track laid (and have special codes to connect them to a specific spot on the board).  The cards mark the value of land, and are apportioned to each city. The counters represent money, divided into blue, red and white chips representing values of $10000, $5000, and $1000 each.

Players start with a certain amount of money, variable depending on how many players there are in total. The railway tiles are placed face down and scrambled, and players each draw a tile to determine who goes first, and then four tiles that they start with (hiding them from other players by putting them upright and facing them). In each turn, players have to play a tile, and will get a new tile at the end of their turn.

In each turn, players will lay a track tile on the map, in its designated space. They have to be played in a certain order, either next to a city or next to a track that has already been laid. Each track has a cost associated with laying it, which must be paid by the player. If you're the first player to play a track next to a city, you get the first (free) land grant for that city. If you are playing a subsequent track tile, you have the option to buy land at the price indicated (after the free land grant). When all the tracks linking two cities have been played, all the players who own land in either connected city get a payoff based on the number of land cards they own from each city.

Lands cannot be exchanged or sold between players; players can sell their land back to the bank for HALF its listed cost. If even by that means you cannot afford to pay for the cost of laying a tile, you are bankrupt and have lost the game.

The game ends when the last track is laid to form a continuous route from St.Louis to Sacramento. The player who plays that last tile gets a $20000 bonus. The winner of the game is the player with the most cash left on hand (land cards are not counted, except in the case of a tie).

That's about it. The game is pleasantly simple!  I haven't had the opportunity to play it as of this writing, but I expect to sometime soon, and when I do I'll likely post about it. In any case, I expect the game to be simple but entertaining enough that it would work either as a family game or between a group of friends. It would be the kind of thing that could be done to kill time while waiting for missing players to your RPG session, for example.

I don't really think this game matches the genius of Columbia's wargames, but given that it's a lot more approachable and will probably have a broader general appeal to more people than just those of us who are fanatics of historically-accurate wargame scenarios, I bet that it is likely to be a popular part of their catalog.  If you're looking for an entertaining game to pass the time, you could certainly do much worse than The Last Spike.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Egg + Rattray's Old Gowrie


  1. May have to check it out - my friends and I like rail-games, have for years.

    That said, the title f this game would also make a great "Against the Vamires" game title... :)

  2. You're confusing spikes with stakes.