Kraftwagen Box

While attending Gen Con, I spent a lot of time at the Stronghold Games booth, first purchasing my copy of Terraforming Mars at 10:05 am on Thursday and then while demoing several of their new games. One that I found very interesting was Kraftwagen: V6 Edition.  The game is a mid-weight Euro that has some very interesting mechanics.  In fact, the game’s main mechanic, the Action Track is similar to one of Mathias Cramer’s other great games Glen More.  I love this element of the game and find the decision to jump ahead or not to grab that game changing action, in the meantime allowing your opponents the opportunity to take multiple turns while you sit and wait, deliciously excruciating and tense.  But enough for now on game play and my thoughts as that part will come later.

What is Kraftwagen?

From the game description we read the following:

In Germany in 1888, Bertha Benz, wife of auto pioneer Carl Benz, undertook the first cross-country drive in an automobile. While making the trek from Mannheim to Pforzheim, her car ran out of fuel in Wiesloch. Mrs. Benz stopped into the city drugstore to obtain the appropriate chemicals to make more fuel, effectively creating the world´s first gas station.

By the year 1928, Germany possessed a dense road network where combustion engines had triumphed over electric and steam engines and where cars were produced via assembly lines. Manufacturers began producing more affordable vehicles for the broader population.

In Kraftwagen, players advance the state of automobile development and production by playing as start-up companies. They must research new technologies and build improved chassis and engines. Early Grand Prix races provide the young companies with prestige and money, but the players must maintain a key balance of fulfilling the demand preferences of buyers at the lowest possible price.

Kraftwagen: V6 Edition includes a new set of tiles, featuring the next technology available at the time, the V6 Engine.

Game Play

At its heart, Kraftwagen revolves around an Action Track mechanism that allows each player to choose to take their actions only when they are in last place on the track. The function of this mechanism can provide a player with multiple sequential turns due to remaining in last place after each turn is taken. The basic premise is that you can choose to take more, maybe even less optimal or beneficial turns in the game, while forcing the other players who jumped ahead of you to wait until you have passed them on the track to be able to act.  Your actions will involve researching technologies that will improve the prestige of your car bodies and engines, provide you with extra workers, allow you to take new car bodies and engines to add to your garage, to attract buyers to the market by offering your designs and last but not least, testing your cars in Grand Prix race.  After all, this is a car game and what kind of car game would it be if there were no races?

The available actions on the Action Track consist of the following:

Hiring Workers (Arbeiter)
You take 1 worker from your stock and add it to your garage. This disc now becomes available to you for use in various other actions.

Research (Forschung)
You take one or two face-up technology cards from the supply. Technology cards are varied and offer any of the following benefits.  They may be engineers, who will provide a lasting advantage throughout the rest of the game (Porsche, for example, allows you to move your race car an extra space every time you take the grand prix action), engine/body upgrades, which must be manned by workers and which increase your engine/body level for the rest of the game, and instant technologies, which provide various immediate benefits.

Car Body (Karosserie)
You take a car body of the highest level allowed by your available technologies. You must be able to store this car body in an empty stall in your garage, of which there are only 4 stalls. This can become an area of concern throughout the game but does force the player to do something with his lower level bodies and engines to make room for higher performing ones.

Engine (Motor)
You take an engine of the highest level allowed by your available technologies. You must also be able to store this engine in an empty stall in your garage or must immediately replace a lower-level engine in your race car with this new engine.

Grand Prix 
You move your race car the number of spaces identified along the race track shown by the engine in your race car. This action is intended to score points at the end of the round with the car being the furthest ahead on the track scoring the most points.

Kraftwagen Action Track

Buyer (Kaufer)
You select one of the 4 types of buyers from the market and move him/her to the active side of the buyer pool. You also receive a coin marker from that buyer if one is available. If all buyer slots are filled, you move the marker (which begins at 2 in a 2-player game) one space down.

Each time you take an action, you move the action marker you used to the end of the action marker line. At the end of each of your turns, you may offer one of your cars for sale by placing it in the market. To do this, you will take one of the car bodies from your garage, add an engine, and add a worker and place the whole assembly on an available market space. You will then put a price marker on it. I love this part as this is very strategic as you are trying to match up your available cars with the wants of the buyers that are present.  This might mean you will place a lower valued car because a buyer is looking for value over substance.  The various buyers might be interested in the cheapest car, there are buyers who look for the best body, the best engine, and buyers who prefer prestige, which is abstracted in the game as simply the number of workers present on the car (This didn’t happen in our short demo). The player whose car best fits the category desired by each buyer receives the price marker placed on the sold car and ties are broken in favor of the car with the lowest price. Any unsold cars are simply removed along with their price markers.

Kraftwagen Buyers
The many types of buyers who are distinguished by the icon in the upper right corner.

After evaluating buyers, you will evaluate which player’s race car performed the best at the Grand Prix. The player whose car is furthest ahead at the end of the round after moving via the Grand Prix action, gets 7 points and the remaining players get fewer points. In a 2-player game, dummy cars are placed on the 3 and 6 spaces of the race track and remain there throughout the game. Additionally, if you have managed to go around the race track several times, you will receive a bonus for having done so.

Kraftwagen Race Cars
Vroom, vroom! Gentlemen start your engines.

In addition to gaining points for sold cars and for winning the Grand Prix races, you can gain points during the course of each round by completing objectives. There are 10 objectives and the first player to satisfy the conditions shown on the objective chit acquires it. Objectives reward things such as being the first to produce a level-4 or level-7 engine, being the first to have 3 engineers, and being the first to go around the race track once or twice, etc. The points scoring system was simply over my head at the beginning of our demo (mainly because I was trying to take pictures of the board and components for this post) but once I got the concepts squared away in my mind, I began to very strategically develop cars to attract those high point scoring buyers and complete objectives!

At the end of the game, players tally their points and the player with the most points is declared the winner!  While I didn’t get pictures of the expansion parts for the game, the V6 expansion does add additional action tiles that are rotated in each round and are removed from the game once taken by players.

Kraftwagen Game Board
The nicely laid out and compact game board! I liked the blue.

 What I Liked about Kraftwagen

Nice Simple Design and Layout – I enjoyed the layout and color of the board and components.  The board was compact and it was easy to focus on the action track and the all important buyers and their desires at the same time.

Tense Action Selections – I loved the decision that had to be made each round where I was choosing what actions to take on the Action Track.  I could either move way far ahead of the field to grab an amazing, game changing technology or take my time and move 1-2 spaces each turn so that I would be able to take 2-3 turns to each turn for my opponents.

Buyers Beware – Having to focus on the needs and wants of the buyers was delightful.  I could either try to do something I was good at and get good points or go for the gusto and try to meet the demands of one of the high rollers to get maximum points.  I really liked this part of the game and would have liked to have been able to see other types of buyers and see how their presence would have affected things.

Fast Playing – There was very little downtime in between player turns, even though it was a demo and we all were playing the game for the first time.

What I didn’t Like about Kraftwagen

Set Up Time/Too Many Pieces – crazy lots of little pieces from buyers, to engines, to bodies, technology tiles, action discs, etc.  I am usually a fan of lots of bits but this game has a bunch of them and they are all important.

Technologies are Game Changers – I felt that some of the technologies were very good and potentially can decide a game early on.  To compound this problem, the way the discs come out is random and if the good technologies all come out early, the player that happens to be last may not get a chance at them. I am sure that this is balanced but in the demo a few of the technologies seemed overpowered.

Summary/Conclusion

I liked Kraftwagen very much!  It was an enjoyable and thinky medium weight Euro that has a lot of good theme and components.  I am a fan of Matthias Cramer and can definitely see that this game is a good solidly designed game that will bring many hours of play.  For a 20 minute demo, I was able to get a good feel for the game but was unable to truly delve into the various strategies of it and would truly like that opportunity. I have added Kraftwagen: V6 Edition to my wish list!

-Grant