Broadhorns: Early Trade on the Mississippi

Publisher: Rio Grande Games

Designer: James Harmon

Ages: 14+

Players: 2-4

Duration: 60-90 min

St. Louis: the trade hub of the Mississippi. You are a lowly merchant, but you’ve managed to buy yourself a flatboat, or as the locals call it, a Broadhorn. you buy some goods, and sail down the river to the next town hoping to get to the next town and sell them for a profit, and maybe you’ll pick up some passengers along the way too. I hear they pay good money to get down river. But watch your cargo, because perishables can spoil and you might want to sell them quick… unless its winter of course. And sometimes its better just to sell your boart for scrap wood, and head back and buy an even bigger boat with the money you’ve made, and start again… because you have competition, and demands are always changing. Will you be the most successful trader in the early 19th century?

Broadhorns is a economic game, but not an overly complex one. It has pick up and deliver mechanics, along with some push your luck thrown in there. There’s a lot of goodies in the box, but does it glisten like the Mississippi on a sunny day, or does it fall flat like your flatboat?

What’s in the box?

Inside the box there is a game board, 4 broad horn markers in each player colour, 4 gold markers in each player colour, 2 broadhorn cards per player, 1 start player marker, 60 town tiles (6 for each of the 10 towns), 73 expedition cards, 4 player aid cards, and 60 cargo barrels (12 of each) with cloth bag to hold them in.

Look at those pretty barrels, just waiting to fill the market

 

The board is huge, which is nice because it makes everything easy to see and read, no squinting requited. The cardboard is nice and thick, and like the non-glossy finish, it suits the game. I also like how the towns have tiles when they could have easily been cards, it makes it feel really nice. The wooden pieces are good, and the card stock for the cards is good. The components feel good, as is usually the case for Rio Grande. The art is good, it suits the game well and again, the graphic design is well done and easy to read. It may look a little bland in some areas but solid in others. It actually kind of reminded me of another game called Carcassonne: Gold Rush, and then I looked it up and saw the same artist, Claus Stephan, did them both, and I’ve enjoyed his art in the past. All in all, good art and some really great components.

So how do you play?

To begin the game, set up the board and draw 3 random tiles per city: leave the rest in the box. Shuffle and place the expedition cards on their space on the board, and draw 2 barrels of each colour and place them on the 2 & 3 spaces on the board, and the remaining cargo barrels go in the bag. Now each player chooses a colour: they take their corresponding boat boards, boat markers and gold markers. All players place their boat markers in the water next to St Louis, and then choose a start player: that player places their marker on the 6 gold space, and the 2nd player on the 7 gold space, and (if applicable) the 3rd and 4th player on the 8 gold space. Now each player draws a expedition card, discarding any spoil cards until each player has a non-spoil card in their hand: now it’s time to begin the game!

Each turn will always have 4 steps, and I will cover them in detail:

  1. Refresh Market: At the beginning of each players turn, the market should always have 10 goods. If it doesn’t (due to resources being purchased the previous turn), draw resources from the bag until there are 10 total. If there are no barrels of that resource, place it on row 3, and the next one on row 2, and then any remaining  on row 1 (the only row that may have multiples of one resource).
  2. Spoil Cargo: move each of your perishable goods (flour, apples or pork) down once space on your boat. If the resource is on the final cargo space, it will spoil and it must be returned to the bag.
  3. Take 2 Actions: This is where you take the actions in the game. The first available action is the Port action (which is also the first action you take in the game), and you may only do this once per turn. The next action is move, which can be done twice per turn.
  4. Draw an Expedition Card: At the end of your turn, you will always draw an expedition card. If you ever exceed your hand limit, you must discard one of the cards in your hand.
The different size broad horns you can have during the game… just don’t let all those perishable goods spoil!

So let’s go into more detail of the actions in the game, and explain your first turn. In everyone’s first turn, you will always take a port action in St. Louis, and here you will buy your first broadhorn. The smaller the broadhorn, the cheaper it is to purchase and faster it moves, but the less cargo it can hold. You can only buy in St Louis, but in every other port you may sell and then buy (and it must always be performed in that order). Each town will have empty spaces, and you may sell the resources on those empty spaces and receive the gold amount depicted on them, and if you sell more than 2 barrels or fill up the town, you receive the town bonus. You may also sell any resources not on an empty space for 1 gold each, and you may redeem a delivery card (and only one) to get an additional 2 gold. When you fill the last empty space on a town, it is considered full and you not only get the town bonus, but the tile as well. Each tile has a number of wreaths, and they will be used for end game scoring. Then you will take one of the persihable goods in the game, and place it on the seasons track on the game board (more on that a little later).

You will also be able to buy goods in each town, and the goods will be on the tile. the price will always be what’s available in the market plus any additional costs on the tile. So for example if there are apples in the $2 and $3 spaces on the market, and the board has apples with +$1, then the cost of the first apple is $3 ($2 and the +$1) and the next apple is $4, and then any more would be $5 (you can always buy a good for $4, and then the +$1). Once you finish buying, the port action is over.

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Summer is almost over, and that apple shortage will come to an end!

The next action is move, where you will move spaces up the the speed of your broadhorn as well as any multipliers based on cards or the season. You can use both your actions to move, which will allow you to be able to do a 3rd move action if you wish. The bigger the broad horn, the slower it will move (but the more cargo it can carry) so do keep that in mind.

At any point during the game, you may choose to end your journey. If you do it in a port action, you may also sell your broad horn for the price listed on it, and then they move their broad horn marker back to St. Louis, and if they still have an action they may perform their port action there to begin their new journey.

The expedition cards that are drawn during the game also provide bonus effects you can apply during the game:

  • Current cards go in your hand, and you can discard it to move 2+ spaces on a later turn
  • Peddler cards can be discarded during a port action and allow you to buy any good at +$1 above the market cost
  • Ice cards can prevent spoilage, or be used to get +$1 when selling a perishable good
  • Delivery cards can be discarded to get +$2 when selling the good depicted in the town depicted
  • When you draw a spoil card, you immediately play it, and every player must move that good down one spot if they have it on their broad horn, and then you draw until you have a non spoil card, resolving any subsequent spoil cards drawn.
  • Traveler cards go in your hand, and you can play them in the city they are picked up next to your broad horn, and then if you carry them to their destination city, discard them for the gold shown on the card. If you choose to stop your journey at any point in between, you leave that passenger in the slot of that city and any other player may pick them up. Remember, all broad horns have a certain amount of passengers they may carry.
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Various cards you can get in the game. Those spoil cards are extra vicious in the summer!

So what’s with all the seasons. Well, as soon you you fill a city tile and add a barrel to the season track, and there are 3 in a season, it moves to the next season. Each season has certain attributes:

  • Autumn: nothing happens for the first season
  • Winter: spoil cargo step is not used in winter, but your broad horn has -1 speed
  • Spring: all broad horns have +1 speed
  • Summer: when you draw a spoil cargo card, ALL perishable cargo is spoiled, not just the type depicted on the card

After you finish summer, harvest happens, and all the barrels on the season track are returned to the bag. Then one more Autumn season occurs and when the last barrel is placed, play continues so all players get an equal number of turns (unless the last player finished the game). Then you count all the wreaths on your town tiles, and players with the most get points based on the player count. Then you can sell any barrel left on your broad horn for $2, as well as get the resale value of your broad horn. Player with the most gold is declared the winner!

Is it any good?

I like economic games, especially games that have genres mixed into and its not purely economic. But I don’t like when they are too dry, and especially then they are overly complex and your brain hurts and the game is designed to make you suffer (I see that they need leather here, but I need to build a farm and harvest cows, but the cows need hay so I need to plant a field, but to do that I need land but land is too expensive and I need to feed all my workers and my family at the same time…), so when Broadhorns came to the table, it seemed to offer the economic experience on the lighter side with some planning and press your luck… and I was pleasantly surprised on how much I enjoyed it.

Broadhorns offers a simpler take on the economic system, with the rolling market as in a lot of games, but a lot of what it offers also blends nicely into the theme. The more something is offered, the less valuable it becomes but at the same time, the seasons track takes a perishable good every time a city tile gets taken, meaning you take one of those resources out of the bag and that creates a shortage until fall comes again, and we have a harvest. It’s actually quite thematic for a game like this, and I feel it just adds a lot of thematic flair to the game that a lot of games in this genre lack. Same with the limits or bonuses of the seasons, like no spoiling in winter or faster movement in spring. A lot of thought was put into that and it really shows in the gameplay

Welcome to port, hopefully they’ll be buying what you got to sell

The spoiling mechanic is really great too, and adds some tension and press your luck. Do you continue farther down the river, and sell at a higher cost… but risk the chance that your apples spoil? Or stop and sell for less, buy some more cheap goods and sell them along the way? The spoiling mechanic is unexpected, especially in the summer when a card drawn can make everything spoil. It adds some tension to the game with a press your luck element and it’s a welcome mechanic that again, adds some thematic flair.

Broadhorns can also get quite interactive, because the race down the river is on, and sometimes you’ll just stop and spoil an opponents plans and they have to adapt, or they just sold the good you wanted to before you were in port… and thats a lot of fun. At 4 players, it becomes way more cutthroat, and 2 players is a lot more relaxed but you still don’t let your guard down. I found 3 to be the best, but only marginally and scales really well. And the game takes about an hour to an hour and a half, and because of the season mechanic the times between different player counts don’t change much.

As I said before, the components are really well done (especially those barrels). The art isn’t especially eye popping, but the palette works well with the theme and the graphic design works good, and the board being so large really helps everything have a place, and it does look really great when its on the table. I wish the game would have come with more bags to help sort everything better, but aside from that the components and presentation are great.

But… the one major thing was that aside from the thematic flair, the overall game didn’t feel too new. The mechanics have been done before, and at times it really didn’t feel that new, and felt like this game should have been released 7 year ago or so to feel really fresh. Don’t get me wrong: its a lot of fun to play, and I’ve enjoyed every play, but sometimes it just feels like this has been done before, but wrapped in a more thematic package. Thats not a bad thing if you haven’t played a lot of games like this, as it will really stand out to you. But if you’ve played hundreds of games like me, Boradhorns probably won’t offer you too much new, but will still give you a solid experience throughout.

The only real part of the gameplay that also didn’t stand out to me were the cards. Not that there is anything wrong with them, but they just feel kind of random. Sometimes you will get a hand of just delivery cards, with goods you have no intention of delivering and you just feel like they are there, while some players will get lots of ice and current cards, or peddlers to buy whatever goods they desire. It’s a bit random, and while they do add something to the game, they can be random and not helpful at all sometimes.

Broadhorns ends up being a fine trip all the way down the Mississippi, so get on board and have some fun

All in all, Broadhorns is a solid experience, and I would definitely call it a gateway economic game. The rules are simple, and the thematic parts actually really help you teach and learn the game because it all makes sense when the wheels turn. It looks great and plays great, and offers a fun game that plays in a good time frame. If you are looking for the next Le Havre, this won’t be it. But if you want a fun game that keeps you engaged and adds some press your luck, then Broadhorns is one great ride down the Mississippi!

Pros:

  • Surprising thematic elements that aren’t found in this genre
  • Scales well between player counts, and can be really interactive
  • Spoiling mechanic and the seasons track really creates some tension
  • Components are really great, and game has nice table presence

Cons:

  • Aside from the thematic elements, it doesn’t really offer too much new to the genre, and feels like it’s kind of been done before
  • The cards are kind of random, and they don’t do much to improve the gameplay

*Thank you to Rio Grande Games for supplying a copy of Broadhorns for this review. You can find out more about them and their amazing games by clicking here *

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