Steam is a light 18xx Euro game – laying rail tracks and trading goods to ultimately earn points on a small and tight board. This moderately heavy game is covered in my short review, but if you are looking for some tips that might edge you passed the usual winner in your group, here are my initial thoughts:
During the game:
First Build: The first time you build you should be looking to find a two link route; in other words this is a short route of three tiles that cross three towns (origin / in-between / destination). Of course, at least one of the goods should match the colour of the town at the other end of the route! Why? In your first trading turns you will upgrade your train once and then trade that one good across two links to earn back two income. It would sound the same as not upgrading and doing two value 1 trades, but that would leave your train less developed and you would have one less link on the board – both of which tend towards lower end game scores.
Upgrade Each Turn: At least for the first 3 turns (i.e. until reaching delivery 4), you should be thinking about building a new route each turn, upgrading your train each turn and trading one new good at the maximum route value that you can. This is relatively feasible if you take the town upgrade bonus, the new town bonus or the 4th track bonus. Keep doing this and you will find your income stays strong and you can switch earlier to earning victory points.
Stop Upgrading and Start Delivering: Then comes the key decision – stop getting income and start getting victory points only. With either 3-4 turns left you are going to start doing this for both trading turns. You might be at level 4 trains or all the way at level 6 trains, but what matters is that you will from now o be able to consistently deliver this level. Keep looking for new tracks to ensure this!
Keep Building Links: These are points at the end of the game, and even short links jutting out from the side of your main loop will help add new distribution and new points in those last couple of turns. Also, watch out for cities getting closed off by other players and for the chance to build through tracks to reach blocked cities.
Picking Bonus Actions: When selecting which bonus to take at the start of the turn, it should come as no surprise that the value is in the ones that lead you to go latter in the next turn. These actions boost your trading; new resources in old towns, quicker route to upgrading your train or even a new town. The new town is equivalent to a fourth track tile with all track tiles touching it connected – this is why it’s the most expensive option!
Bidding: If you play this game a few times you will introduce bidding for the starting player position. It seems to go for just under 10 (or 2 in income) and this is consistent with the high value of taking the first town / laying early tracks etc, but watch out for the opportunity to take second place for much less – this is still a valuable spot. Just make sure not to pay too much for fourth with the best of the bonus actions definitely going to the first three players!
Loops and Links: Building a large loop can be beneficial to circulating goods as you build your train delivery value. Don’t let this inhibit new route development, but look for opportunities to bring new towns into your loop network. Sometimes, it’s even good to build a few loops to create ways of making a good take longer to get to it’s destination – you can’t visit the same town twice, but you can take the long way round to get paid more! (Not at all like taxis….)