TimJim Games, £19.95
by Mark Green
TimJim Games are a small but inventive games company from California. I stumbled across two of their games at Manorcon where I was steered in the direction of some neat Avalon Hill style boxes with interesting titles. One was called Fast Food Franchise and the other, Outpost. Over the next two weeks we played a lot of game of Outpost...
Outpost is set on a newly discovered mining planet. Each player is the director of a small colony and the player who can first achieve 75 victory points will be awarded the exclusive rights to exploit the planet.
The game revolves around two features; the drive to expand your production levels and the race to acquire technological advantage over your rivals. In some ways it is akin to Civilisation as you try to expand your earning potential and buy technology cards which are worth victory points.
Each player starts with one water production plant and two ore mines, plus three population counters to man them. These production units will generate one water and two ore cards per turn which act as money in the barter system. The first clever mechanic is that these cards vary in value; ore cards range from 1 to 5 and water cards range from 4 to 10. It is these cards which you use to buy the other items in the game; more production units, more colonists to man them and colony upgrade cards as they become available.
A cargo ship arrives at the beginning of each turn with a random selection of basic upgrade cards. As the colonies become more established, so more expensive and valuable upgrade cards become available. In the first few turns you will not be able to afford any of these and will be concentrating on improving your production output and thus your credits. You are, however, fairly limited in what you can do until you acquire such things as heavy equipment (allows you to build titanium factories), Nodules (allowing expansion of your meagre population) and Robotics (which allow mechanised production). The upgrade cards must be bid for, often in heated competition, and there is a limited supply of each card. This leads to some tense bidding wars with desperate players paying well over the odds for the last card of a type.
A nasty twist in the game which causes a lot of anguish is the fact that you do not get change when you buy an item. If your card credits do not add up to your bid, you have to lose the excess. This makes for some fun tactical play and small change cards can therefore be very useful. This is particularly painful when you have opted for a Megacard (the safe way of accruing production credits, made possible by economies of scale, compared with the gamble of smaller cards). Using one is rather like walking into a sweetshop with a fifty pound note and having to lose the change.
There are no obvious winning strategies in the game. With 12 different upgrade card types and ten different types of production card (many of which don't come into play till late in the game), there is a wealth of factors to be taken into account. Some players prefer a long term development plan while others rush for short term advantage. With experienced players, the game is remarkably well balanced with the lead changing hands every turn.
The game board and upgrade cards are black & white, which gives a rather basic appearance. The counters for production units are a little thin, but adequate. First impressions are of an interesting but monochrome design. However the production cards are in colour (through they spend much of the game face down) and as soon as you start playing most people are hooked. There may not be a lot of player interaction in Outpost, but this has never stopped games like McMulti, Schoko, Die Macher and Liftoff being very popular. The game is a three hour cutthroat race to the victory point total, so the only time you might ever want to interact with the others is when you outmanoeuvre them in bidding or beat them to opening up a new sector. For those who like this type of game; strongly recommended!
MS: I have to say that I wasn't too impressed by this game. It's okay, but nothing more. There are a couple of key reasons behind this view. Primarily, it is an ordered game of the first category. Players can approach the game with perfect plans, plod through the mechanical system making money (there is no apparent way to lose it, just relative loss compared to other players' performances), with the only variable being whether or not they get outbidded for the key equipment. Otherwise, winning is down to who has the best plan and makes money quickest, presumably keeping an eye on the amount of money you pay per victory point (a nominal 20 credits, though the P/E ratio is variable on some equipment). Outpost is, accordingly, quite a solitary game in many ways. In fact, aside from the auctions, there is next to no interaction which contributes to the lack of flavour (even for a subject that I warm to) and the feeling that Outpost is little more than a boardgame version of Millenium, a solitaire computer game with a similar theme. This lack of involvement (personal and group) is the second problem - I am tempted to say lack of atmosphere, but this is after all a game about a space colony.
All that said, I don't think the game is that far off being passable. It would however need long sessions at Dr Dagger's interaction clinic to emerge as a real game rather than an exercise in planned economy. I would think event cards could be a major aid in getting the thing out of its rut and some method to vary prices may be possible. Perhaps cards to allow choice purchases at cost, cards allowing extra cash holdings, increases in water income etc, could, if handled conservatively, make the game come alive. Also, I can't help thinking that something graphical for the board, showing the equipment, growing complexes and nodules with the cards to one side, would have been a better use of the materials. The components are only average (I'm pretty sure it is all home DTPed) and a little more thought and reallocation could have made it into a better visual spectacle - and it is a game sorely in need of some feel for its subject. It is, however, pretty good value for a quality third world production as far as components go.
The crucial angle here though, and why I am happy that Mark reviewed the game, is that it is going down a storm with the 18xx/Civ players. Richard Clyne seems to like it, Mark is certainly a convert and numerous others have been heard to enthuse. Indeed, this excited buzz (as well as the subject matter) was why I wanted to give it a try. Perhaps it is simply one for The Treshamites (coincidentally, the title of Desmond Dekker's new single) and what we may have is a game that will appeal more to the ordered planners rather than event card junkies such as myself. I am happy enough to cover it in Sumo on that basis, but if you want my personal view it is that there are numerous games out there more deserving of your time and money.
On to the review of Karom or back to the review of Footmania.
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