31 January 2019
Trash pandas find treasure in trading
Raccoon Tycoon is a curious creation. Behind its whimsical anthropomorphic looks lies a game with a heck of a lot going on – and yet it travels the path between cutesy and chewy straight down the middle, never once straying into disposable fluff or needless complexity. Its sweet-but-serious tone is sort of like a small, furry animal that’s secretly a business-minded captain of industry… you can see where we’re going with this.
While it doesn’t seem it as you read the relatively brisk rules or play, if you begin to examine the various strands that make up Raccoon Tycoon’s pelt you begin to appreciate a design that takes a number of intricate mechanisms and makes them seem stunningly basic. There’s a dynamic economy, for instance, that shifts the price of selling staple resources: wheat, wood, iron, coal and the catch-all ‘manufactured goods’ and ‘luxuries’. Producing the right goods and knowing when to offload them is crucial to building up a healthy wad of cash, but the game simplifies the actual doing so – all you need to do is play one of your three cards, which dictates both what you’ll produce and which values go up. Sell some of your wares and the price drops accordingly, reducing the worth for your opponents. As with some of the very best games, all of the complexity is contained in the players’ decisions and their consequences, rather than the operation of the mechanisms at play. It works a treat.
On top of the reactive market are layered several extra considerations. Goods (either those listed specifically, or a greater number of any type) can be used to buy town cards, granting victory points. Or the money earned by selling goods can be used to purchase and upgrade building tiles, potentially making production actions more fruitful and adding extra ways to score points. You won’t want to splash all your cash, though, as there’s also an auction element at play, as players bid on railroad cards that grant further points – and combine with town cards for bonus score. These railroad cards feed into a set-collection element, with matching groups of aristocratic cats, bears, dogs and more ramping up their worth at the end of the game.
It sounds like a lot to consider, but what could have become a convoluted mess of interlocking ideas and gameplay balls to juggle is instead kept tight and tidy by a straightforward approach. Players only have one action a turn, and each of their five options – produce or sell goods, auction a railroad, purchase a building or town – is individually quick and easy. There’s enough opportunity to plan ahead and strategise effectively from turn to turn, without finding your chance at victory completely ruined by the player interaction that occurs passively in the up-and-down resource pricing and directly during head-to-head auctions.
If you want a more immediate sign of how little flab has made it into the game, know that a not insignificant portion of the box is dedicated to a sizeable wooden raccoon that serves as the first player marker. As with the magnificently rendered illustrations of besuited woodland creatures and clear iconography, the entire game has an impression of care and quality. The only blip where style overtakes substance is in the inclusion of paper money.
Paper bills aside, Raccoon Tycoon’s beautiful presentation and smooth play are only hampered a little by the feeling that all of its separate parts are things you’ve seen before, meaning it’s likely to seem a tad over-familiar and fleeting to economy game devotees. For those looking for a comfortable introduction to concepts that can feel overwhelming or frustratingly elaborate elsewhere, though, this is a delightfully approachable game set in a world stuffed with charm.
Although its artwork and name may be cute, Raccoon Tycoon offers a properly satisfying game of trading and investing to dig into – without any of the usual complexity and fiddliness involved. If you’re in the neighbourhood for a superbly well-crafted take on gameplay that you’ve likely seen before, this is a beautiful experience inside and out.
Designer: Glenn Drover
Artist: Jacoby O'Connor, Annie Stegg
Time: 60-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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