Coal Baron – Working in the Coal Mine, Goin’ Down Down
“Working in the Coal Mine, Goin’ Down Down…” Coal Baron is a medium-light worker placement game in which your goal is to become the richest Coal Baron. To accomplish this you’ll need to acquire and fulfill orders for specific combinations of four types of coal: yellow, brown, grey and black.
I’d never thought about there being different types of coal until I played Coal Baron. So in the midst of writing this I made a little side trip.
<sidetrip>Turns out coal, a fossil fuel (I knew that), is the altered remains of prehistoric vegetation (peat) that originally accumulated in swamps and peat bogs. The energy we get from coal today comes from the energy that plants absorbed from the sun millions of years ago. (That’s deep, man.) As for the four types of coal: after considerable amount of time, heat and burial pressure, coal metamorphoses from peat to lignite (an immature coal somewhat soft and light in color, represented as yellow coal in Coal Baron) to sub-bituminous coal (the game’s brown coal) to bituminous (grey) coal, and finally to the dark, hard and shiny anthracite (black) coal we all know and love. Well, it was the only type I knew about anyway.</sidetrip>
To fulfill your coal Orders with the requested types of coal, you’ll need to Acquire Tunnels from the Lorry Factory – which conveniently come with coal and inconveniently cost money, Mine the coal and bring it to the surface with a series of Work Steps, then Deliver the coal via the conveyance designated on the order (Wheel Barrow, Horse & Carriage, Truck or Locomotive). You can also get more Money at the Bank – you’ll need it to purchase additional tunnels, and take New Orders. For each Order you Deliver, you’ll score victory points; outstanding orders at the end of the game cost you 1 victory point each. Victory points are also awarded at the end of each Shift (round – there are 3 rounds in the game) for majorities on Delivered Orders and penalties are applied at game end for having an unbalanced mine. More on that later.
You begin the game with a Pit (mine shaft), a Pit Cage, a crew of Workers and a few Marks (money). The number of Workers and Marks depends on the number of players: 13 workers and 8 marks with 4 players, 15 and 9 with 3 players, and 18 and 10 with 2. (During setup, you’ll need to place lock tiles on some of the action spaces if less than 4 people are playing.) To set up the board, place Tunnel tiles in the available Lorry Factory spaces. (We place the appropriate coal cubes on the Tunnel tiles, too, to make it easier to remember to take our coal when we acquire a Tunnel tile.) Set the players’ victory point tokens on the 0/100 space on the victory point track, the Shift Hand on the leftmost hand outline on the Shift Clock and the Scoring Marker on the leftmost circle of the Shift Clock. Choose a Start Player. Then turn face up a number of Order cards (3 times the number of players plus 1). Starting with the last player and going counter-clockwise, each player takes one of the face up Order cards until each player has 3. Place the remaining Order card onto one of the 4 Order Spaces on the board and add three more to fill the other spaces. You’re now ready to play the game.
Players take turns placing workers and taking the corresponding action. When all players have placed all of their workers, the Shift (round) ends. The player with the most workers in the Lorry Factory takes the Start Player token: she’ll play first in the next shift. Then majorities are scored according to the Shift Clock.
The worker placement mechanism in Coal Baron is a little different than I’ve seen in other games. Both timing and efficiency are important. On your turn, choose an action space for an action you want to perform – it doesn’t have to be empty. If it is empty, simply place one worker there and take the appropriate action. If the space isn’t empty, move the workers occupying the space to the Canteen, then place that number of workers +1 on the vacated space and take the action. For example: if the action space you want to use already has 2 workers on it – it doesn’t matter who they belong to, they could even be yours – move those 2 workers to the Canteen, then play 3 of your workers on the space to take the action. If you don’t have enough workers to do that, you can’t take the action. Let’s look at the action areas on the game board in a little more detail.
The action spaces in the Lorry Factory (left side of board) allow you to acquire a Tunnel tile and add it to your Pit. Each Tunnel tile has one or two lorries (mine carts) on it. Yellow lorries come with yellow coal and cost 1 Mark each, brown lorries have brown coal that costs 2 Marks each, grey come with grey coal at a cost of 3 Marks each, and black have black coal costing 4 Marks each. The vertical action space on the left side of the Lorry Factory, allows you to take the top 5 tiles from the Tunnel Tile Stack, choose one to buy, then rearrange the rest in whatever order you choose, and place them either on the top or the bottom of the Tunnel Tile Stack. Don’t forget to take the appropriate coal, too.
Note that each Tunnel tile is either Lighted with lanterns or Dark. When placing the tile in your pit, you must place it on the appropriate side (light or dark) of your mine and at the appropriate level (by color). At game end, you want to have a Balanced Mine. That is, have an equal number of Tunnel tiles – not lorries – on the Light and Dark sides of your mine. You’ll pay a penalty of two victory points for each tile your mine is out of balance. This is just one of the many layers of strategy you need to keep in mind while playing Coal Baron.
The Bank (top right of board) has four numbered action spaces (some may be locked depending on the number of players) with an always-available action space below that only ever requires 1 worker and yields 1 Mark. The numbered action spaces provide the designated amount of Marks when you take that action.
You can acquire more Orders via the action spaces in the New Orders section (bottom right of board). Note that the New Orders section also has an action space that allows you to take the top 5 Orders from the Order deck, choose 1 to keep and return the rest to the top or bottom of the deck.
The Mining section (top center of the board) is where the real work takes place. Each action space provides a number of Work Steps. Each of the following moves is 1 Work Step:
- Move your Pit Cage down or up and stop at any Tunnel Level.
- While your Pit Cage is at a Tunnel Level: load 1 Coal cube from any Lorry at that level into any free slot on your Pit Cage. Your Pit Cage has 5 slots.
- While your Pit Cage is at the Surface Level: unload 1 Coal cube from your Pit Cage onto an empty Order spot of the matching color or, alternatively, into your Private Coal Storage Shed. (You can store as many Coal cubes as you want in your Private Coal Storage Shed.)
- Move 1 Coal cube from your Private Coal Storage Shed to an empty Order spot of the matching color.
Once you allot Coal cubes to particular a Order Spot(s), you may not move them. If you don’t have the requested color of coal to fill an Order Spot, you can substitute with any two other colors. However, loading 2 Coal cubes onto 1 Order Spot requires 2 Work Steps (1 per cube). Note: Coal is not a renewable resource. The only way to acquire more Coal is to buy more Tunnel tiles for your Pit.
The Delivery section (bottom center of board) has 4 action spaces, one for each of the four transport methods: Wheel Barrow, Horse & Carriage, Truck and Locomotive. When taking a Delivery action, you must deliver all complete Orders that correspond to that transport method. For each Order you deliver, you score the number of victory points indicated on the Order card. Return the Coal cubes to the supply and place the fulfilled Order face down in front of you. You’ll need to refer to it for additional scoring at the end of each Shift.
Victory points are awarded to players with first- and second-place majorities on their Delivered Orders for the elements to the left of Shift Hand on the Shift Clock. Use the Scoring Marker to track which element you’re comparing majorities for.
At the end of the first Shift, you’ll look at how many Order Spots, on their Delivered Order Cards, each player has for each type of coal. The player with the most Yellow Order Spots receives 2 points, the second-most 1 point; most Brown Order Spots 3 points, second-most 1 point; most Gray 4 and 2; and most Black 5 and 2. In the case of ties for first place, tied players each score the full number of points, but no second place is awarded. In the case of ties for second place, all tied players score the full second-place award.
At the end of the second Shift, you’ll award points for colored Order Spot majorities again as well as for any-color Order Spot majorities by each Delivery method (Wheel Barrow, Horse & Carriage, Truck and Locomotive). For example, the player with the most Order Spots (any color) on her Wheel Barrow Delivered Order cards receives 6 points, second place receives 3 points.
After the third and final Shift, score all the afore-mentioned again, plus majorities by colored empty Lorries in your Pits. Every 5 Marks you have is worth 1 point and every 3 Coal cubes is worth 1 point – regardless of whether the Coal is in a Lorry, your Pit Cage, Personal Storage or on an Order card. You lose 1 point for each Outstanding Order and 2 points for each Tunnel Tile that your mine is out of balance. The Coal Baron with the most points wins.
Coal Baron is a quick-and-easy-to-teach worker placement game. While the mechanics are simple and straightforward, there are many layers to developing a winning strategy, which makes for good replayability. The randomness of the Tunnel tiles and Order cards and what other players are focusing on add to that. Both efficiency and good timing are important keys to success in Coal Baron. Don’t overlook the majorities, though. They’re worth a lot of points!
Coal Baron supports 2 to 4 players ages 10 and up and plays in about an hour. I’d rank as slightly more complicated than Ticket to Ride and about the same as Stone Age – another excellent worker placement game. Working in the Coal Mine, Goin’ Down Down…
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