DISCLAIMER. Unusually I am going to start off by saying this review will not be 100% impartial. Honesty Shock Gasp!
I first discovered Glass Road about two years ago at a game group meet up. In that one play I discovered my grail game (A game that I must own). It took me six months to track down a copy at a respectable price. Here we are 18 Months later and there has just been a reprint. I will now tell you why you should buy this game.
This is one of my top five of all time and one of only a few I will actively suggest when asked (the other being Castles of Burgundy). OK, with that out of the way on with the review.
Glass Road is an action selection game based around the historic Bavarian Glass manufacturing region known by the same name. Here you will be transported back through the 700-year-old tradition of glass-making in the Bavarian Forest. (Today the Glass Road is a route through the Bavarian Forest that takes visitors to many of the old glass houses and museums of that region.)
As well as selecting actions, you will need to manage your resources using an ingenious wheel. As you spend the resources required to create Glass and Bricks, the arms of the wheel rotate.
Despite its diminutive size, Glass Road’s box is weighty coming in at approx 2Kg. But unlike a lot of Uwe Rosenberg’s games do not expect a deluge of wood. This time there is a lot of cardboard (I do mean a lot). Inside you will find:
- One Buildings Board.
- Four Landscape Boards (One per player).
- Four Production Wheel Boards (One per player).
- Four sets of 15 Cards (One set per player).
- 51 Small Landscape Tiles (17 each Pits, Groves, Ponds).
- 40 Goods Tokens (10 per player consisting of wood, coal, sand, water, food, clay, brick and glass).
- 93 Building Tiles (31 each of immediate reward, processing, end scoring).
- One Start Player Token.
The basic way you play Glass Road is by selecting actions that will allow you to produce resources, clear land and construct buildings. This takes place over four rounds of three turns each. Yes you only get four rounds. I promise you that you will come away thinking “damn I wish I had one more round."
You start each round by selecting five of your 15 cards in secret (all players have the exact same set). Of the five cards selected, you will be using three to perform your own action and hoping to match the remaining two with other player’s picks. Once every player has selected their five, each player chooses one card for their first action and places it face down on the table. The first player then reveals their card.
Each card in your set has two actions available, these could be; produce one sand per pit on your board and/or construct a building. You do not have to perform both actions but it is definitely preferential to do so.
If no other player has that card in their remaining hand of four cards (not ones the table), both actions are available on the selected card.
If however at any point a card revealed matches one in your hand you immediately reveal it. This creates a twofold bonus for you. The first bonus is that the active player can now only use one of the actions on the card instead of both. The second benefit is that you will are able to choose one of the actions to use for yourself. You can only match up to two cards each round so that you will have three turns yourself.
You keep track of your resources using the production card which has two wheels on one tracks Glass production the other Brick (the two high level resources). As you produce basic resources you will create gap on the wheel. This causes the arms to move creating the higher level resources. This simple mechanism creates the feeling of using basic resources to convert them into advanced resources without needing lots of bits.
The really ingenious bit though is that you cannot hoard basic resources. As soon as you have produced enough basic resources you automatically create brick or glass. This can lead to a situation where you for example produce two clay, this in-turn creates a space to produce one brick. The wheels arms move round and you are back to 0 clay but have one brick. Thus you are required to think carefully about resource management.
I cannot count the number of times I have produced some resources to build a high scoring building only to watch as they are used up producing brick or glass creating a wasted build action, DOH.
While doing all of this you will also be trying to manage your landscape board. Some of the actions allow you to clear land. This will open up space to use the build actions from cards to construct buildings by spending resources from your wheels. However you need the Ponds, Groves, and Sand pits to produce resources. More thinking required there.
The buildings in Glass Road come in three flavours and you will have a different selection available to you each round as they are refreshed.
- There are immediate reward buildings, cheaper to build but only provide a one off bonus (usually resources).
- There are ongoing reward buildings. As long as you have the resources to spend you can generate new ones through the building.
- The final building type focuses on end game scoring. Providing you with points for buildings adjacent, number of a certain resource or number of ponds are just a few examples.
As I said earlier this whole process only lasts for four rounds. So it is a knife edge balancing act. Then players count up their victory points with the highest score winning.
So what makes Glass Road so great then?
- Well for a start the fine balance you need to strike between actions you need to take and those that would be nice to take. All the while trying to watch other players to second guess what they are planning. Choose carefully and you can take up to eight actions each turn. However choose badly and you might only get three actions (ouch).
- Brain Burn! Seriously your first play will twist your mind inside out as you struggle to produce resources, clear land and construct buildings.
- This is no point salad. Usually with this style of game the final scoring is in the 100’s, not here. If you end up with a score in the region of 20-25 points you will feel satisfied. You have to work for every ½ point (yes it is common to finish with ½ points in the scoring).
- The solo play is a real challenge, not just some tacked on affair to drive sales. You play the game in such a similar way it is great practice for competitive play. With points still hard to come by.
- Scalability is fantastic. Here we have a game that is just as much fun at one, two, three or four players.
- Glass Road is a game that is very easy to learn but until you have played two or three times you won't experience that “Got It” click but when you do OH BOY you will be hooked. It is a game that needs learning time.
- The number of building available is massive 90+ most modern games would have bundles one or two expansions from this number. So replay-ability is huge.
Hold on a minute. I promised to try to give some balanced opinion didn’t I. OK here are some points that even with my obvious love of the game can be annoying or frustrating:
- Glass Road's art work is nice and very “Euro-style” but nothing special.
- The theme of Glass Road does not really stick. As with a lot of Euro games the theme can feel a little bit secondary. If you are a theme lover this is worth noting.
- The wooden resource markers for your wheels are small. I am surprised I have not lost any yet. Every time I play the game I drop one on the floor.
- You need to think a lot.
- This is no gentle romp you better be ready for a mental workout.
There is a possibility of an infinite resource loop which is very very rare but theoretically possible. Boardgamegeek has a section on it where the Uwe recommends the removal of the "Roofing Company" to stop the chance of it occurring. I personally leave the tile in but house rule against the loop being allowed.
Zwiesel - Final Thoughts on Glass Road
So in summary, this is a game that belongs on the shelf of 99% collections. The level of depth in such a short playtime is phenomenal. Glass Road scales perfectly from one to four players. Set-up is quick and table space is not at a premium, this is no table hog.
Glass Road is a keeper. And if you have not already bought it do so now. Your brain will thank you.
Footnote: In case you were curious all the paragraph headings are town names from the real Glass Road itself.
I purchased my own copy of “Glass Road”. I have tried not to let this affect my review or my final thoughts on the game. That being said I bought this game because I had played it previously and enjoyed it.