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Raccoon Tycoon Preview

Quick Look: Raccoon Tycoon

Designer: Glenn Drover
Artist: Annie Stegg
Publisher: Forbidden Games
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-5
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 60-90 min.

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Raccoon Tycoon. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.


tl;dr: A variety of some of the best game mechanics with a classy theme and art. A gentleperson's game.

Getting to the Game: Setup for Raccoon Tycoon (are we all sure that "raccoon" has two C's in it? It looks weird every time I write it) is quick, and actually helps explain how the game is going to work. Each action you are able to take on your turn has its own place on the game board. Start each of the commodity tracks with a token of the respective type at the bottom. Separate out the cash into stacks, and place near the board. Shuffle the town deck, custom railroad deck (varying cards depending on how many players), production deck, and building tiles, and place them on the board where indicated. Give each player $10 and three production cards. Randomly decide on a first player, who gets one commodity token of their choice. Each player in turn order then gets one additional token. 

Learning to play will come down to mastering when to take each of the game's five available actions: produce commodities and increase the price of some of them, start an auction for a railroad, trade commodity tokens for a town, purchase a building tile, sell commodities for cash. In most games, cash is king, so you're constantly looking for ways to increase your liquid assets, while getting resources to help you net more cash. Raccoon Tycoon flips this script: cash matters almost not at all at the end of the game, so players focused on the almighty dollar will almost certainly lose. It's a means to victory points, the sweet, sweet nectar of board games.

Playing the Game: As mentioned, victory points are the only way to win, and cash doesn't give you any VP's* at game's end. There are two primary sources of victory points: Railroads and Towns. Railroads come in 6 different animal types, and the more of one kind of railroad you have, the more VPs the set is worth. The lowly Skunkworks is worth only 2/5/9/15 VPs, but the titular Raccoons will get you 4/9/16/25. However, it's not as easy as buying them as soon as they come up on the board. One of your turn actions is to start an auction for one of the revealed railroads. Name your starting bid, which must be higher than the minimum starting bid on the card and then players then go around in turn order bidding or passing. Auctioning is one of my group's favorite mechanics, so for us, there was a massive amount of pleasure derived from watching one railroad sell for $12, and then immediately after that, having another one go for over $60. The actual results of the auction are going to vary wildly depending on when in the game it's taking place, so there really isn't a strict way to "cost" the points provided by the railroads. This makes for a wild dynamic, as you try to determine how much cash each player has (their stashes are secret information), and how much you think they're willing to give up. There's definitely a strategy in forcing auctions that players aren't ready for in order to drive them out of cash or to force the price of a railroad down because no one wants to spend money yet. One of the game-end conditions is all the railroads being sold, so burning through the deck early is one way to lock up a game. 

The other primary source of victory points is from towns. Towns are worth anywhere from 2 to 5 VPs, and each gains another 2VP by pairing it with a railroad. Towns aren't purchased with moneythey're acquired by trading commodities. Lower-value towns cost only a couple of a particular commodity, depending on the town, but any town can be had by trading in a higher amount of whatever you got. The more the town is worth, the more commodity tokens you'll pay for it. The deck is organized by point value, so all the 2VP towns will be gone by the time you see the 3VP ones, and so on. This deck is another game-end trigger, so once the last of the 5VP towns is gone, the game will end.

Commodity tokens and cash work on a market scale, and here is where Racoon Tycoon really starts to show its muscle. At the top of the board, there are tracks for each of the game's resources: Wheat, Wood, Iron, Coal, Goods (our least favorite named commodity, as it's a synonym), and Luxury (Wine). The further to the right on the board you go, the higher the price floor. Wheat bottoms out at $1 per bushel, but luxury can never go lower than $3 a bottle. Whenever you choose the Production action, you play a production card from your hand. Each card is divided into two halves, Price and Production. You produce first (even though it's on the bottom half of the card, a minor annoyance), by choosing three icons on the card's production area and gaining one token for each icon chosen. Then, you increase the price of each commodity listed on the Price half of the card by $1. If a commodity is listed twice, it goes up $2, and so on. By increasing the price of a commodity, you're allowing your opponents to beat you to sell that commodity, if they have it. On their turn, they can choose to sell any amount of one commodity in their possession for the market price. The price then drops by $1 for each token sold, to reflect the increase in supply. This becomes a delicate, tense dance of looking around the table to make sure you're not pumping the price of a commodity your opponent might be stockpiling, and risking increasing it anyway because you desperately need cash to earn your fourth Fox railroad. 

The final action of purchasing a building tile with cash will let you cheat some of the game's rules in sometimes very game-altering ways. Tiles let you do anything from produce an additional named resource (or two!), increase your production yield from 3 to as many as 5, to even gaining $1 whenever someone sells a listed resource. It's this last one that has a tendency to be overpowered. That particular tile costs $10, and if you nab the one that gives you $1 for every Iron or Coal commodity sold early enough, it's going to net you a lot of money over the course of a game. In one of our games, one player got that tile in the first couple rounds, and rode it a very long way to a large stack of cash. Now, I'm hesitant to call this out as an issue. It's possible that in your game, you'll never see it. It's also possible that your fellow players will ease off selling those so as to avoid benefiting that player. The latter is somewhat less likely, as that's cutting off a third of the game's market, and those particular commodities represent the middle commodities, so they're traded often. 

Overall, Raccoon Tycoon feels very balanced and not broken in any single mechanic. I think that some of the building tile costs still need to be tweaked. Building tiles overall feel not-quite-ready. Buying a building tile means flipping over the next one on the stack, but not being able to buy that one until it's your turn again, if it's even still available. With five players, flipping over a tile that's undercosted, or very, very good feels very, very bad, even if the one you bought is one you really did want. It drove several of us to not buy them because we were afraid of losing out on a good one. The tiles are also of varying strength. All of them are beneficial, but some (I'm looking at you, "increase hand size") aren't worth their cost.

* There's a building tile that gives you VPs for cash, but only one player can own it.

Artwork and Components: The artwork across the board (literally and figuratively) is incredibly well done. I'll give the usual caveat about pre-production components here, but if this game was shelf-ready today, I would honestly be ok with it. The railroad art depicting masculine and feminine of each named animal in high-class dress is just phenomenal. The art on the actual game board is watercolor perfection. Iconography across cards is great and easy to distinguish. Overall, attention was clearly paid to these assets and it shows.

The components are less-ready, but I'm assured they will be. The town cards all feel sort of same-y, and the Production cards are upside-down. The wooden bits are really great, but my bag has black wooden pigs for coal and blah gray squares for iron. Again, these are just placeholder and if they end up being as good as everything else in the box, then this game will easily earn a spot in your "most beautiful game that's also incredibly fun" collection.

The Good: Tight mechanics, fun and tense gameplay. No runaway victory problems. Assortment of things to do feels fresh and exciting. Art is absolutely phenomenal, and the overall feel of actually playing is top-rate.

The Bad: Building tiles feel unbalanced and dangerous. Paper money is double-sided, and is supposed to be secret. This leads to a weird dance of holding it under the table, stacking it up and being very careful with it, etc. Solutions to this could still be in the making (single-sided cash? a cardboard wallet?).

Score: Despite my misgivings above, I can't recommend Raccoon Tycoon enough. It's early enough in the process that tweaking could still be made, and that's really all this game needs to be one of the best in the business. The sheer variety of mechanics combined with a fun theme and art, the excellent balance of interaction without feeling too cutthroat, and even the game's attention to preventing a player from getting ahead and staying ahead all feels just spectacular. I'm giving Raccoon Tycoon a score of Top of the Food Chain.

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About the Author:

Nicholas Leeman has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints, a professional baseball team. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.
Raccoon Tycoon Preview Raccoon Tycoon Preview Reviewed by The Madjai on June 13, 2018 Rating: 5

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