Published in 2002 by Queen Games and designed by Dieter Danziger, this economic game pits 3 to 5 players as investors in building factories that produce locomotives and aim to sell them to a dice-driven market where turn order is critical.
Locomotive Werks’ main gimmick is “obsolesce”; the idea being that the demand for older trains dries up, often at a very quick pace to the point where older trains become removed from the game entirely.
This mechanic is often referred to as the “Train Rush” part of an 18XX game.
So how is the game played?
The game is a race for coins, specifically, 300 coins (its actually 330 coins once 10% tax is added on); whereafter the game will end and the player with the most coins will win.
Player’s play in a sequential turn order flow in rounds which are split into 5 phases which are: Purchase Locomotives, Purchase Production, Selling, Pay Taxes, Market Demands.
The first phase is allowing Purchasing Locomotives, where players have the option to buy a new locomotive factory plant; however they can only buy 1 factory and can only purchase each factory once.
Further, if its the first to be purchased; then the next factory will become unlocked and available to buy.
This can cause a chain reaction where players will often buy the next factory because they give a better return on investment.
Once all players have completed this phase, players move to the next phase: purchasing production.
Players will go in turn order and optionally choose to buy production units.
Players must weigh up whether they will be able to sell their production and how long their investment will make a return.
After purchasing production, the next phase is Selling; this phase is 100% automatic whereupon all locomotive factories sell and fulfil the demand as per the die roll they have; giving the players owning those respective factories a financial payout. Except sometimes, dependent upon die rolls and demand fulfilment, some players may not get any payout at all; and this is where player turn order becomes important.
Once everyone has sold, everyone will pay taxes of 10% rounded down; so if you have 10 coins, you’ll be paying 1 coin as a tax.
After tax, if any player has over 300 coins; then the game is ended, with the winner being the most coins; if not, then the game will continue play.
The final phase is Market demands, where new orders are given and older generations start lose demand and slowly become obsolete.
For example, if there are 2 green generation train factories on the market; then the older factory will steadily lose dice and lose potential orders to the point where it has no orders at all and is considered obsolete.
Worse still is there are 3 green generation factories in play then the eldest locomotive train is removed from the game.
Players with those factories are lumbered with produced units that they can’t sell and their only resort is to shift production to better technologies.
So, what are my thoughts on the game.
The game is about sales fulfilment speculation, buying production and sales turn order; with players usually aiming to grab a monopoly as they will be the only one to sell for that factory.
There is one major downside to the game. Everything in the game is public knowledge; and feels like a game with perfect information.
This opaqueness comes from the fact that all players’ factories, coins and ability to produce is publicly visible to all players; so you already know who can sell what, how many they can sell and whether they will sell at all!
From this point of view, new players will feel that are hardly any real meaningful decisions; except one — will you buy production and will you sell this round, and if not this round, can you manipulate turn order to sell the next round?
At lower player counts the ability to sell becomes even more opaque and our group felt there were no real decisions to be made, except whether to buy a factory, whether to produce or not.
The factories are also lined up in a sequential list order; this means you know that better tech will pay out better than lower tech. For newer players; the better technology is almost always better to buy whereas the more astute players can manipulate sales turn order in their favour; even buying on factories that are due to be obsolete; just so they can squeeze the turn order further.
This linear progression of each train’s costs, incomes and production costs further enhances the illusion that the only decision in the game is to keep buying new locomotive engines; except I feel that this is a newbie mistake.
This opaqueness and linear progression really masks the true modus operandi of this game — its really all about manipulating turn order so that you can sell first and have certain factories with low competition.
If players realise this, then the turn order’s importance will result in players’ buying a lot of production so that they don’t hit the tax threshold and going earlier in next round.
However, no matter how many times I’ve played this game, people go through the motions and it sadly feels the game is playing automatically, that there are not enough hard decisions to be made and that because everything is opaque that unless people try to compete in factories you can play without humans as all decisions seem to be automatic and binary.
Further there are no other routes to success; you have no direct impact on sales; you cannot influence it via sales people or use marketing as a way to drum up business.
Despite all of this, I’m still drawn to playing Locomotive Werks; I see it as a good way to teach kids about sales forecasting, and also the train rush aspect of the game can be interesting every now and again.
In all, I believe the game really only shines at 4 or 5 people; and is something I would play every now and again but isn’t in any way a game I can recommend to purchase except to 18XX and train fans.