‘It’s a train game, but … not really. Actually it’s a slightly mad, complex, deep, balanced worker placement game – full of scenarios and every variant and twist you could think of.’
Snowdonia Master Set is a Fanatic¹ level game of Full² length for 1 to 5 players.
The best bits of this game are:
1. the challenging decisions it forces on you as you balance the order and availability of actions – just when you think you’ve got your next few turns planned…. that weather mechanic!
2. the ‘events’ mechanic which sees events happen in a predictable order, but with unpredictable timing. This is just great – it gives each game a feeling of progression and requires flexibility and risk mitigation; and
3. the sheer breadth and range of the scenarios – you don’t have to settle for the original Snowdonia railway: travel to Germany, Japan, Tibet or even time-travel as you play. I mean, when it includes scenarios put together by designers as eminent as the great Hisashi Hayashi – and that’s just one of 18 major scenarios – this is a lot of game!
The worst bit of Snowdonia Master Set is the stencilling on the wooden pieces – the workers and surveyors look weird and pretty ugly, to be frank, and the goats (mini-expansion, included) are hideous. Also, this game has a significant cost and limited availability.
This review does not cover the Botdell solo mode in detail – I’ve played against that once, am still getting the hang of it, and will probably do a separate solo play review of that.
Snowdonia really captures the feeling of toiling to carve out a rail line up a mountain – clear rubble, lay track, prepare the stations, and race to the top! There are multiple ways to gain points as you play, and you’ll probably need to exploit all of them to some extent, if you want to do well.
Contract cards introduce a neat dynamic: end-game goals which can deliver big chunks of points, but each also has a one-off in-game benefit, which can be a real boon.
The engine building in Snowdonia is limited, but literal- you build engines (but just one at a time) which are a sacrifice to build, but deliver ongoing benefits.
The components in this game are fantastic – chunky, colourful and well produced.³
In addition to the scenarios there are a range of optional mini-expansions included – for example seasons, and wagons, which I think I would include in every game from now on, and … more whimsical ones like the Abominable Snowman, which might only get a run occasionally.
Replayability? Well, it’s ridiculous. With 18 major scenarios, mini expansions and countless promo expansions (you use 6 trains per game but they give you over 100 😵) – I think you could play this game hundreds of times and still find it challenging and interesting.
BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2.89 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review). Honestly I think that is way under what it would be rated if the many, many scenarios and variants in the box are taken into account.
Snowdonia Deluxe Master Set is expensive and of limited availability – currently just via Guf in Australia ($200). Totally worth it though, and definitely comparable or superior in content to similar deluxe games like the Eagle-Gryphon games.
These are, of course, our opinions only.
¹ I debated whether to rate this as an Enthusiast or Fanatic level game. I consider the decisions about when to excavate, build, convert and take other actions to be quite tricky, and a suboptimal choice can be quite punishing and hard to recover from- there are no significant catchup mechanisms in this game. For me, that puts it into the Fanatic category. Besides, if you buy this massive beast of a game, you’re clearly a fanatic 🤣😝
² some scenarios are quicker than this, and over time you’ll definitely get faster, but this game has a significant setup and pack down time, mainly due to the vast number of cards, options and scenarios.
³ except for the horrifying goats mentioned previously. Seriously, you might have nightmares.