I remember the first time we went to Gen Con, well over a decade ago, as we took our first steps into the world of board games. We walked around the halls and ballrooms, taking everything in, and we happened upon a section of the 500 Ballroom that was nothing but train games. “Train games?” we thought, “What could be so interesting about trains that you would want to make a board game about them?” Oh, my sweet summer children, if you only knew…
Iberian Gauge is an economic “cube rails” game for 3-5 players that plays in about 60 to 90 minutes. We recommend playing Iberian Gauge with either 4 or 5 players for your best experience.
In Iberian Gauge, you are a train magnate trying to build railways across Spain and Portugal in the hopes of having the most valuable portfolio of stocks at the game’s end. Play is broken up into two different types of phases: the Stock Phase and the Building Phase.
During the Stock Phase, players can purchase shares of stock in five different train companies, each of which has a limited number of shares to buy over the course of the game. Share price is set by the initial buyer, but will fluctuate over the course of the game. Money used to purchase these shares is paid by the players to the company.
During a Building Phase, shareholders use their company’s money to build rail lines, with the goal to be to connect to a city hex by the end of the phase. Companies can either pay money to the bank to build rails on an unoccupied hex, or can pay other companies to lease existing rails. If a city hex is reached, dividend and stock value increases are awarded, but a stock value penalty is assessed if this goal is not met. At the end of the Building Phase, shareholders receive a dividend payout from the bank. The Building Phase takes place for all 5 companies sequentially.
Iberian Gauge consists of 4 rounds, each with a Stock Phase and a Building Phase, and an extra Building Phase during rounds 2 & 3. At the end of the 4th round, players cash out their stocks for the share value, add it to their own money, awarding victory to the player with the highest total.
When most board gamers who have been around for a little bit hear “train games,” they usually tend to think of 18xx, which may mean you’re playing a game that only 10 versions exist, or that you need a spreadsheet program to help run it, or that you need to set aside 8 hours of your weekend to learn rules and to actually play (or all three, for that matter.) Iberian Gauge could not be any further from that—a game that has all the rules on a single sheet, that is quick to explain and fast to pick up the basics, and that plays in about an hour. We have successfully converted friends who have looked at us askance when we’ve suggested a train game, into wheeling-and-dealing train magnates.
While it is not terribly fair to compare Iberian Gauge to established 18xx titles, it does integrate concepts from them that are easy to explain and implement within the rules. The concepts of “personal funds” and “company funds” is an idea that took me a good deal of wrangling to be able to understand when I tried out my first 18xx, but Iberian Gauge presents them in a context and framework that is easy to grasp. The same goes for the stock market and dividend payouts—what are complex mechanisms in more advanced games are simplified for ease of digestion.
However, let us not mistake “simple rules” for “simple game.” There is a ton of strategy in Iberian Gauge for a game that has such a straightforward rules set. Being able to manage your own personal finances to have enough money to buy stocks, thinking about where you want to build your next connection, deciding if you want to take a short-term loss for a long-term gain, worrying about whether or not one of your fellow shareholders is going to try to tank your company… there is a lot to think about, and a lot to keep track of as you progress through a limited number of rounds.
One of the concerns I have is whether or not we are playing “correctly,” for lack of a better term. Our plays have generally been mostly friendly and cooperative, but I have definitely done my best to figure out how to be a sneaky and underhanded train magnate. In our very first play, I messed with one of the companies by draining its capital off to a company I had a majority position in, by leasing rails. The look on my opponents’ faces was priceless, but it showed everyone that while it might pay off to be in the beginning, knowing that the game can take a turn towards the backstabby is important. I have found some of our plays have been a little lackluster when everyone at the table decides to engage in a giant group hug, but it may just require other non-huggers to adjust their strategy accordingly. Like I said, a lot of depth and choice in strategy.
While I tend to avoid mentioning components, the money in Iberian Gauge needs to be addressed. Playing cards, while good for some titles, do not necessarily work here because of the continual number of transactions and money moves that occur over the course of the game. Although not required, we picked up a set of poker chips and found it enhanced and sped up the gameplay quite a bit. They are worth investigating if you find yourself loving Iberian Gauge (as we did) and want to level up your game.
Iberian Gauge is a great entry point for gamers who want to dip their toes into train games, and a solid title for experienced players who are looking for a quick locomotive fix. With rules that are easy to explain, a fast playtime, and a ton of replay value due to the level of depth and strategy present, Iberian Gauge is the kind of game that can find a home on any gamer’s shelf.
Final Score: 4.5 stars: An outstanding game. Choo-choo motor-forkers!
• Some games can fall flat depending on choices made by players
• Cards as money in a game that requires lots of transactions is not the best
• Requires at least three players to play (not really a miss, but just a fact)