18 August 2021
The industrial legacy of the humble pasty
There’s a few elements separating Martin Wallace’s Tinners’ Trail from other traditional Euro fare, but there’s one thing that stands out. In defiant opposition to the archetypal Euro box cover depicting an old white guy grasping a map and/or blueprints – Tinners’ Trail opts for an old white guy clutching a pasty. Held aloft as a symbol of pride, thanks, and a warm farewell, this bloated pastry is a small thematic touch which nonetheless invites players into Wallace’s crunchy interpretation of a particular time and place.
Representing individual mining operations in 19th century Cornwall, players will be aiming to accrue the most profit over the game’s four rounds. Players will bid on mining areas, erect and employs various developments to raise efficiency and pump out troublesome water, and extract copper and tin ore to sell at the dynamic market. Time will act as a resource, with different actions costing more than others and the active player being the one furthest behind; planned well, this can result in consecutive turns.
Of course, one of the game’s ancillary actions is to sell pasties – a quick way of snatching some extra cash and a cute nod to its theme and setting. Indeed, I have relatives who reminisce over the pasty’s historic role as calorific sustenance for the Cornish miners – their tough crusts forming the perfect handle for dirtied hands. Naturally, my mind then conjures images of discarded crescents of blackened pastry strewn about torch-lit tunnels…
Anyway, that the game gives this option to make an extra pound here and there is also an indicator of how integral managing one’s own economy is in Tinners’ Trail. Unlike many games, there’s no security in knowing exactly how much particular actions are going to cost. Bid amounts on each established mine can vary wildly depending on various factors, be it the current wealth – which constantly fluctuates – possessed by players, the area’s worth in terms of its positioning and resources (if revealed), or the tensions arising from one player in the bidding having already had a sneak peek at a facedown tile.
The cost of actually mining the tin and copper escalates depending on how much water currently sits in the area. Whilst there is an element of control over how much water can be pumped out through the addition of developments such as boats, trains, and adits - elements of uncertainty still arise between rounds thanks to the randomly determined selling prices of both resources. It’s all good having dried up most of a copper-rich mine’s water, but if the market’s at a low point, is it worth the investment this round?
Perhaps most important though, in regard to the game’s tight economy mechanics, is the relationship between money and actual victory points. At the end of each round, after selling off all their resources, players are given the opportunity to invest back into the industry - essentially trading money in ten or five-pound increments for points. Whoever passed first in the round has access to a slightly better return rate, but the overall rates will drop each round. What this boils down to is often an agonising choice over how much to invest and how much to keep, especially when considering the aforementioned unpredictability around the cost of some actions.
Tinners’ Trail is a great remaster of the 2008 original. Admittedly, due to the mass of components, the board could have benefited from being slightly larger, and the new, expanded player count – catering for two and even solo play – unfortunately doesn’t change the game’s sweet spot of three to four players. But, overall, Tinners’ Trail manages to remain both interesting and innovative.
PLAY IT? YES
Just like the humble Cornish pasty, Tinners’ Trail is a wholesome treat, concealing beefy decision-making within an attractive crust, and packed with a healthy dose of deluxe wooden components…Unfortunately, though, it’s not designed to fit in your pocket.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED BRASS: BIRMINGHAM
A perfect duet of euro-goodness, all within the fascinating confines of the United Kingdom’s industrialist past.
Designer: Martin Wallace
Publisher: Alley Cat Games
What’s in the box?
- Main board
- 4 Development boards
- 3 Custom dice
- 1 Auction marker
- 65 Player pieces
- 46 Development pieces
- 150 Resource cubes
- 45 Survey cards
- 32 Area tiles
- 9 Setup cards
- 10 Solo cards
- 24 Tokens
This article originally appeared in issue 58 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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