Lokomotive Werks by Dieter Danziger is, to use Michael Webb’s term (CortexBomb), very much a meat grinder of a game. While there is subtlety a-plenty it doesn’t hold its punches with the opportunities for calculation or the surrounding machinery to grind the players. It is also oddly charming in a sort of [[plangently|plangent]] intense fashion: the beat of the trains just keeps on going, and going, and…
In short this is the train rust/rush mechanism of the 18XX abstracted fairly cleanly out into a standalone game. As an 18XX derivative it is cleaner, more accurate and more direct than Greentown is the 18XX track planning exercise. Thematically, Lokomotive Werks explains HOW and WHY trains rust and disappear in the 18XX. Players buy factories and capacity for those factories and then produce trains using them to meet demand and make money. Demand is a function of dice with a (roughly) one turn look-ahead. There are four parallel tracks of factory-types and as newer and more profitable factories enter the game the demand for the trains from older factories progressively dries up. The result is similar to the 18XX train rush and has similar levels of aggression, but is not as fast or as deliberately controlled (dice).
As might be expected this is a game of heavy elbows and a relentless player-driven pace. It is also a treadmill-game: players get on and proceed to run, scramble, fall, duck and pull themselves over the heaving bodies of the other players as they lunge for the end of the game. It is not subtle, not gentle, not genteel; elbows to throats and knees to the groin the whole way. Unlike other related titles, there’s a healthy and even heavy dose of randomness in the dice. The randomness can be largely mitigated but it is a bit larger than I’m comfortable with and it can simply be impossible to mitigate effectively if the dice or cash don’t come your way in time. The dice can and will throw the game. It won’t happen often, there is room for considerable skill, but it will happen. The dice also seem to make the game more tactical then I’d prefer, but I suspect that with more long term information early advantages may be be impossible to overcome. The current random factors force a level of defensive play which acts as its own leveling stick.
While not really a calculator game as the sums are not that hard, I could easily see paper and pencil being popular. There’s a lot of nickel and onesy/twosy calculations to do each turn in planning the exact dollar counts each player will have for the next turn and thus the resulting player order for the next turn. (Turn order is in order of increasing cash holdings) This is more than a bit fiddly. I’m tempted to roll capacity purchases and Locomotive Production together into a single seamless round: Player-1 buys capacity and does his first pass Production, Player-2 likewise etc, then iterate on Production until done. This would not change the actual game but would make the painful counting process just before Locomotive Production simpler and hopefully faster.
There is a catch-up mechanism turn order, and it is very good to be early in the turn order, but it isn’t a gift. Turn order only works for you if you make it work, and that requires care and more than a modicum of exacting planning and having the cash to execute on that advantage. Fall too far behind and you are simply toast. Fall a bit behind however and your weapons can be fearsome!
I’ve played 2.5 times now (one was a solo-play). I could see Lokomotive Werks getting down under an hour with frequent play but I’m not sure if any group near me has the tolerance to play it that frequently. I’d like to try. While not a brain burner, it is an intensely focussed exercise that would be hard to play casually. On a similar note: There is a lot of money shuffling, so use poker chips.