Ah, Snowdonia. A train game unlike any other.
Perhaps my favorite part of doing these little game reviews is finding out more of the backstory behind them. Snowdonia’s research didn’t disappoint.
The game is based on the real Welsh mountain of Snowdon, whose Welsh name is the nearly unpronounceable “Yr Wyddfa.” Designer Tony Boydell said he wanted to design a single railway game and was inspired to base it on Snowdon, which he had visited as a young boy. The original working title of the game was Mountain Railway, but luckily the publishers thought Snowdonia had a little more zing to it and rightly changed it before publication. Oh, and for what it’s worth, Boydell says the Welsh name is pronounced “Ear with-fuh.” If you’re interested in reading the full interview, you can find it here.
I also want to drop a quick shoutout to Boydell, of whom Papa Bear is a big fan for his witty BGG blog, Every Man Needs a Shed. It’s fun to love a game and find out the designer is pretty cool too.
Time: 30-90 minutes
BGG Rating: 7.5*
Baby Brown Bear Status: Owned
The year is 1894 and you are the head of a company that provides labor for the construction of the great Snowdon Mountain Railway. You must allocate your laborers wisely, perhaps by earning contracts or making use of your additional, drunkard worker, to excavate, lay track, and build the rail and stations up the mountain. The weather is ever-changing, though, and you must pay close attention to the forecast as it greatly affects your construction abilities. Whichever company contributes the most wins all the glory (and victory points).
Snowdonia is mainly a worker placement game. In keeping with the theme, the game ends at the end of the round when the last track has been laid and the railway has completed its ascent.
*The top-ranked games have ratings of ~8.3/10.
Despite its many components, Snowdonia is not a very complicated game. Below, you can see the initial setup for a five-player game.
In the center of the board, you have the stock yard, where you find the following resources: iron ore (orange cubes), stone (gray cubes), and coal (black cubes). Underneath the stock yard is the event track. If a white cube is drawn when you replenish the stock yard, an event space is marked and the game completes the corresponding action on its own.
To the right of this event space is the weather forecast. While it is a little hard to see in this picture, the weather is determined by the back of the contract cards, which are seen here face-down in the bottom right-hand corner of the board. In this example, the next two rounds show sunny weather (yellow discs), which increases excavation and track work rates. Blue discs represent rain, which decreases those rates; gray discs represent fog, which prevents any excavation or track work. These work rates are shown in the two tracks above the contract card deck. The contract cards, meanwhile, have various bonuses both for a one-time boost during the game and extra victory points if they are fulfilled at the end of the game.
Across the top of the board are the action space cards, where you assign your laborers each turn. Surrounding the board are the track cards and station cards. On them are brown cubes that represent rubble to be excavated before track or stations can be built.
Below the board are the train cards, of which each player may only own one. The trains are helpful in different ways, but they all allow you to hire your extra (third) laborer and send him up the mountain to do some work.
Each round consists of the following:
- Assign laborers. Each player starts with two laborers. In clockwise order, each player assigns one laborer to one of the action spots along the top of the board. Once all players have placed both laborers, each player with a train may spend some coal to hire their third worker from the pub and shoot him up the mountain. Available actions are:
- Take resources from the stock yard
- Excavate rubble
- Convert resources into steel bars or stone
- Lay track
- Build stations or buy a train
- Visit the site office to select a contract
- Move the surveyor up to the next station
- Resolve actions. Starting from the left (action A) and working your way to the right (action G), actions are resolved in numerical order. Contract cards may be played during this phase according to the action shown on the card. For example, if a contract card has an A on the bottom of the card, the player can use it before all A actions are resolved.
- Restock contract cards. Someone needs to shift the contract cards over and discard any card that is in the left-most position. Each space should have a card.
- Check the weather forecast. Someone also needs to shift the weather discs to the left and look at the top contract card on the deck to see what the third weather spot should show. Take the disc of this color. Then, move the track and excavate work rate tracks according to the current forecast.
- Restock the stock yard. Finally, someone needs to pull the appropriate amount of cubes out of the supply bag for the number of players in the game.
- Complete any events if applicable. If any white cubes are drawn, play the next available event spaces.
Any time a player claims a track or part of a station, she places a cube of her color on that box. This is how she will tally up her points at the end of the game.
Here you see the middle of a five-player game. Some of the rubble is gone, some of the stations are built (as indicated by the colored cubes on the station cards), and two of the surveyors are out at stations one and two. Three event cubes have been played so far and laborer assignment has started for the next round.
These actions continue until the last track has been laid as a result of a player action. Then, each player counts victory points by category (station cards, track cards, contract cards, trains, and the surveyor).
This shows the end of the game. As you can see, the last track has been laid by the purple player.
This one is pretty simple.
Honestly the only con I can think of is that we have all these other games I want to play, too, so I can’t justify playing Snowdonia all the time. I suppose another is that we don’t have any expansions, but that’s not the game’s fault either!
There’s just so much to love about this game. Let’s see…
- Weather variables. The fact that the game has a weather component is really interesting to me. In real life, a sunny day would allow you to get more work done, just like a rainy one may slow you down. Apparently there is snow in an expansion that actually forces you to put rubble back on the board, which is a brilliant addition to the theme. I haven’t played that version yet, but I’m excited to check it out.
- Length. Once you learn how to play, which doesn’t take long at all, Snowdonia is pretty fast no matter how many players you have. Even with all five players, I don’t think I’ve ever played a 90-minute game as stated on the box.
- Straightforward. I really respect a designer who can create such an entertaining game without making it extremely complicated. Snowdonia is very straightforward but still multi-faceted, and I admire Boydell for that.
- Player count differences. As I’ve stated before, I love when games play differently depending on the number of players present. Snowdonia definitely does that. The unique thing about this game is that I actually have no preference for the number of players because they all play so well. Yes, they’re different, but they’re all really fun and engaging.
- Choices. Like any great strategy game, Snowdonia is a game of meaningful choices. One of the neat things here is that when you’re assigning your laborers, you can choose any open spot on the board, regardless of the spot’s number. For example, I may want to excavate the last pieces of rubble off a station so I get those victory points. But I know based on the future weather forecast and the work rates that the second person to excavate will get those points. Well, I can put my laborer on spot two and hope someone else puts it on spot one without realizing my sneaky behavior. It’s unlikely it would go unnoticed, but hey, you gotta try. The surveyor is another neat choice you have. It seems like moving him might be a wasted turn (though not as much so in expansions, from what I’m told), but I’ve been part of many games where that surveyor has crept up enough to score game-winning points.
- Event cubes. The number one thing I love about this game is that it advances itself no matter what you do. You think you’re competing against the other players, but man, when those event cubes start coming out rapid fire, you realize that you’re all just playing against the game. It’s like a ticking clock, really. A beautifully designed ticking clock.
I absolutely love this game. It’s actually probably my favorite to date. I can’t think of a single other game where I don’t have at least a little preference of how many people play; I’d play this one with any number of people, any time they want to play. This is even a good solo game! And I don’t even like solo games. At $70, it was a little more expensive than most of our games, but its cost-per-play is probably at about $3 now. I’d say that’s worth it.
Any other Snowdonia lovers out there?