Board Game Night - Paris Connection

Number of players: 3-6 (best: 4)
Playing time: 30 minutes
By: Oliver Schlemmer / Queen Games
Rank on BoardGameGeek: 1107th

oHOTmu or NOT's Elyse is mad about trains. Not angry mad, fannish mad, crazy mad. She loves to ride them. She loves to watch them. If trainspotting were a thing in Canada, she'd be out there right now, sitting on a lawn chair in a field with her notebook. So of course, she likes to play train-based games, owns several, and brings them over when we have Game Nights. As Ticket to Ride is perhaps too famous and mainstream for me to spend time on it here, I've instead gone for an alternative we've come to appreciate: Paris Connection.

Paris Connection combines Ticket to Ride's railway-building game theme with a market control game where the winner is the player whose shares are worth the most at the end of the game. There's actually an interesting balance struck between building and investing, since the train tokens (each color a different railway company spreading across turn-of-the-century France) represent both a piece of track/station AND the shares you keep behind a little screen. Players can make use of any color/company, because they're technically investing in each. As each company scores points by reaching cities worth 1 to 3 points, the stock goes up. Each turn, you can either build, adding railway adjacent to the correct color, or trade, throwing back a stock to grab two stocks from a single color. But be careful, the more stock of a certain color owned, the fewer train tokens will be available to build that color's line. It's a juggling act. And there are other limiting factors, of course, like the number of total stocks you can own without incurring penalty, and the end game triggers of either emptying a number of stock piles or reaching Marseilles. Players who think they could win will often make a b-line for France's southern metropolis, in fact.
While a relatively short game that can act as a warm-up or filler, Paris Connection does have hidden depths. Yes, you can just accumulate stock and build railways and hope for the best, but you can also play more aggressively, running certain lines into dead ends to devalue the stock, or tricking opponents into completing lines that will benefit you most. Towards the end, juggling stock to deny building materials might be possible. For bluffers, there's the whole concept of making opponents believe you're going after a certain stock while really investing in another. In other words, the game works on a simple surface level, but more strategic players will also find their due. But it's definitely not easy for the casual player to gauge that "behind the scenes" game, and unless you have a head for it, this depth will mostly elude you unless you play a lot.

Though the build/stock mechanic is elegant, it is fairly abstract and doesn't necessarily always have "real world" analogs. The more an industrialist invests in a line, the more money it should have to build track, not less, for example, the market doesn't just STOP when someone builds in Marseilles, and I'm not sure you COULDN'T build a terminal in a city that has another company's terminal. Are there any mechanics associated with the French locale? No, you could make other versions of this game (London Connection, Fresno Connection, etc.). But there are still some nice ideas, like parallel tracks (no more than two) from different lines and the score track looking like a railway track going round the board. But adding an economy to the basic train-building concept adds to the theme.

The little wooden meeple-trains are nice, but fiddly. Players with a touch of OCD will spend a lot of time rearranging them, not just because they're easy to upset when placing more trains, but because then tend to be placed upside down, which makes them look like rabbits. Other players will prefer to put them on their side to screw with the others further. The little screens are solid and don't fall over revealing your stocks - that's good. They and the stock cards have nice period illustrations. The board/map is fine, but it does suffer from a tame color palette, which you often find when game designers try to mirror a certain era's aesthetic. Everything seems to fall in the same drab shades, which does make the trains pop out, but it's not very exciting to look at.
House Rules and Expansions
I hear some people play without screens or with only their initially drawn stock behind the screen. This "open" play apparently encourages more aggressive strategies, since you know who you should slow down and where to hurt them more readily. Sounds fun if you're into it.

In conclusion: Paris Connection may be a filler game, but its deeper strategies will become visible after you've played a few times. A good alternative to Ticket to Ride, as it's normally shorter and no harder to learn.


Anonymous said...

Sounds pretty cool. You ever play Call of Cthulhu Horror on the Orient Express? Not really suitable for "board game night" as it's basically an entire campaign (and a pretty long one), but the detail about the real-life Orient Express and the cities it passed through is great; Elyse would probably love it.

Mike W.

Siskoid said...

But she is also incredibly sensitive (can't watch ANY movie, for example), so I'm not sure the horror would work on her. Still, I'll mention it.

Orient Express happens to have a train for her, an Agatha Christie link for Isabel, and Lovecraft for Marty (if you can keep my podcasting partners straight).


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