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Workshop of the World

Two of my top ten games have canal construction and the early days of the Industrial Revolution as a central theme. The news that another was coming out, that is was a Ragnar design split in to two eras, a Railway and a Canal era, made me think instantly that the Ragnars were making a game similar to ‘Brass’ or'Canal Mania' - However it bears only a superficial resemblence to either game, and for ‘Brass 2’ we have ‘Age of Industry’ released on the same day as ‘Workshop of the World’ at the UK Expo on Saturday 5th June.

Contents and set up

The major industrial towns and cities of England, Wales and Southern Scotland are depicted on the map (hereafter referred to as ‘towns’); they are connected by rectangular Links in which players can build Canals and in the second part of the game Railways. Most connections between towns are of a one link length, some are two and these tend to be links between the areas at the fringes of the map. Each town has a number on it between two and four which denotes income when a connection is built from the town and also its industrial capacity. Each town is also colour coded to show its industrial output, Heavy Industry, Light Industry, Textile, Craft or Port. The board contains a demand track for each of these industry types. The board is surrounded by an income track (its money that wins this game, not VPs, thematically correct as I doubt many industrialists would trade a bent penny for a VP).

There is also a deck of 39 cards which are either town cards corresponding to a location on the board or wildcards which refer to a town of a 2, 3 or 4 capacity.

Game setup and play is very simple. Each player is given a set of double sided counters (one side Canal and one side Railway) and wooden industry cylinders in their colour , 50 money and two random (and kept secret) demand counters the demand counters correspond to the industries on the board. Six starting cards are separated from the deck, the deck is shuffled and, depending on the number of players, a number of cards are set aside (these have a space on the board as they may be used). The six starting towns which are shuffled and placed on top of the draw deck and a number equal to the number of players are drawn and placed on the board. We are now good to go.

Game Play

The first thing players do is look at their secret demand counters and simultaneously reveal one. This counter is placed on the demand track. (As no one owns any industry on the board yet or has won an auction I wonder why this was not just a random draw?). The second demand counter is kept and may be used at the end of the era, or during the second era.
Before I describe a game turn I better explain what you are trying to achieve. The aim of the game is to acquire as much money as possible, (as stated earlier there is no glory VPs in them dark satanic mills). You make progress up the income track each turn by building links on the board and, at the end of each era for links you have place on the board, with your largest contiguous link being worth two pounds per link, compared to shorter or solitary links which are worth one. You also get money for your industries which are placed in towns that have a demand for their corresponding industry types.

So on to the mechanics.

The number of turns in each era depends on the number of players; six with five players, seven with four and nine with three.

Each turn as many cards from the deck are laid on the board as there are players. Players then simultaneously place coins in their hands (you can bid zero) to bid for turn order. Bids are revealed and the turn order is decided by who paid the most, if there’s a tie (which there will often be) it’s decided on existing turn order (they paid for the order before so why lose it; there is no catch up mechanism in this game. It can be harsh if you value the auctions incorrectly)
Then, in turn order, players pay the amount they bid to the bank and pick one of the face up town cards, place one of their industry tokens on the town named on the card and then can build one or two links starting from that town or from the first link built. Canals cost £3 per link and in the second era railways £2 (this cost reflects the fact that, in real terms, Canals were more expensive to build than Railways). Income on the income track is scored for each town where you have an industry you have made link to with the links placed that turn. At the beginning of the game this will be just one town scored (for example if I take the card for Manchester and build one link to Liverpool then i will score £4 on the income track. If I have an industry in Liverpool as well then I will score £7).

This is one of the only parts of the game that I have found new players finding difficult to grasp that you only score for links built that turn, not for connections made using links built on previous turns. If you take a town card where all the links out of that town are already built then you have the option to either just place an industry on the town or discard the card and draw a card from the set aside pile ; described in the rule book as ‘a gamble is a gamble’. A couple of people I have played with felt this introduced a luck element into the game, however I believe this is factored out by the valuation you place on the cards on the initial selection.

The crux of this game is valuing the auctions correctly. This requires you to not only know what taking each town is available is worth to you but also what it is worth to the other players. If all of the towns are equal value to you then a low bid is fine, however if you need one and only one then you have to bid higher, however if that town is only useful to you then you might consider a lower bid. You might also make a small bid to keep you ahead in turn order looking ahead to potential tie breaks in the next round. Cash remaining at the end of the game is victory points. For the first six turns you only have 50 pounds to bid with and build links and you need to budget for this. You can raise additional cash by going back on the income track two spaces for a pound but this is a an uneconomic exchange. The game winner will be the person who has the best understanding of the value of the auctions.

At the end of an era the players receive cash equal to the score on the income track (which is then reset to zero), two for each link in their largest contiguous network of links and for each industry in a town that has demand for its industry (for example if I have two industries in ports and there are three demand tokens on the blue port track I will receive six pounds). Before the demand income is awarded each player has the opportunity to place their second demand token on the corresponding track. All of the canal links are removed from the board, however all the industries on the board remain.

The second, Railway era, then begins. All the town cards are shuffled together and the same number as the first era set aside. Each player receives two randomly drawn demand tokens and all players simultaneously select a token (this might be one retained from the first era) to place on the demand track.

The only difference from the canal era is that links, now railways cost only two pounds to place. Whilst the mechanics are the same the auctions have a different character in the second era because there will be a lot of industries on the board and the payoffs for building links is higher and the cost of building is lower. In the first era building a second link on your turn can be a loss making move (cost £3, payoff £2 or £1). In the Railway era the second link is likely to break even, and more importantly might just block a rival from placing a link they desperately need (to say join two railways networks into one contiguous network). Strategic placement of industries in the first era will pay off in the second; it can worth paying a little extra in the auction to keep your industries within easy linking reach for big payoffs in the Rail era And if it’s in the centre of the board you have set yourself nicely (assuming you have not overpaid)

Each town has a capacity of two to four industries, and should a player select a card where the capacity is reached he replaces another players industry with one of his own. This can happen early in the game (most likely in the two capacity towns), but is much more likely to happen towards the end. This adds another factor to add into the auction valuation.

When the Railway era finishes (there will be no more tows cards to draw), each player may place one more demand token and the scoring is calculated the same way as the first era. The player with the most money wins.

So what do I think of the game?

I like it. The rules are easy to understand and players quickly get a feel for the amounts they should be bidding in the auctions. I usually struggle with games that require an auction for turn order, especially where the bid will go the bank regardless of how successful my bid was. I don’t in this game because the immediate pay off for you bid is not to difficult to calculate, what takes a little longer to get a feel for is the strategic placement of you industries and the values other players will place on the cards available. This is not rocket science though and after a couple of turns most players will get a feel for the auctions. The game feels like it passes quickly, there can be a short delay as players decide on how much to bid, and occasionally if they have a tough choice from the town cards. The three games I have played have taken less than 90 minutes.

In the design notes the Ragnars have credited ‘Brass’ and ‘Canal Mania’ as an influence, however this game does not feel like either game and I am struggling to make to think of a game this closely resembles. If you are looking for a reprise of either of these games you are going to be disappointed. It’s lighter, the decisions are easier and the ripple effect between the eras is much less than in ‘Brass’. And the game, for a Ragnar design, feels far more abstracted than in previous games.

One of my gaming buddies likes heavier economic games did not like ’Workshop’ , however it was liked by gamers who like lighter games and most importantly it’s a hit with my wife who is my main gaming partner.

The game is for three to five players (there is a two player variant in the rules book which i have not tried yet). I think it plays best with four or five, the board is a bit more congested, it is harder to build a network and the fewer rounds with four or five players make each auction feel crucial to get right and therefore more interesting.

Production quality

The graphics are bright and clear. The production is not quite up to the standards of the most recent Ragnar games but it is functional and the bright colours help game play rather than get in the way. The rules are clear, short and unambiguous.


I have seen players wildly over bid on the first turn of the canal era and this has crippled them. For a light to medium complexity game this might be a flaw if you are intending on playing it with casual gamers. I now advise new players to, if in doubt, underbid on an early round

The plastic coins provided with the game. The ten pound coins are only really used as money storage as they are too large to be held in small hands for bidding.

However, these are mild complaints and in balance I would recommend the game.

The game is available from the Ragnar website http://www.ragnarbrothers.co.uk/html/workshop_of_the_world.html

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