28 June 2018
All aboard for a ruthless high-seas economic adventure
In the 19th century, steamships began to replace the sailing clippers that had long carried cargo across the world’s oceans. Faster and more reliable than their predecessors, they revolutionised world trade and, along the way, made their owners seriously rich.
Transatlantic casts you and your opponents as aspiring shipping magnates in this steam-powered revolution. Starting with a single, ageing sailing ship, you’ll aim to establish a mighty fleet, set up a worldwide network of trading posts and build your reputation as the most prestigious company on the Seven Seas.
It’s a tall order, and to pull it off you’ll need to make some shrewd decisions. Should you buy the ships you can afford right now, or save your money for better ones in the future? Should you spread your fleet across the globe, or focus on dominating a single region? Do you have a steady supply of coal, or do you need to find new reserves to keep your engines running and your profits rolling in?
It’s enough to leave anybody hopelessly at sea, but Transatlantic does a fantastic job of streamlining its decision-making process. You’ll start the game with a hand of cards which let you take various actions: purchasing vessels, stocking up on fuel, dispatching ships on lucrative voyages. You’ll choose one to play on every turn, enacting its effects before discarding it.
It’s a setup that will be familiar to anyone who’s played Concordia, designer Mac Gerdts’ 2013 game of trading in the Roman Empire, and it works to great effect here. There are plenty of tough choices to chew over but, with players only ever taking a single action at a time, the game plays at an impressively snappy pace. It also means that it’s crucial to think ahead, because once you’ve played an action, you won’t be able to use it again until you spend a turn to refresh your hand of cards.
Getting it right feels instantly rewarding, but what’s really impressive about Transatlantic is the way it combines a pile of individual elements into a unified whole. There’s the almost deckbuilder-ish way you can upgrade your available actions over the course of the game, becoming more powerful and gaining new ways to score points. There’s a hint of area control, where owning trading stations in different oceans makes your voyages there more profitable. And there’s the way that new ships entering regions can render older ones obsolete, allowing you to force opponents’ vessels out of service in a kind of gloriously passive-aggressive arms race.
It’s let down by the closing stages, though. The game doesn’t end until someone purchases the last available ship, and effectively that means that it doesn’t end until somebody wants it to. The result is jarring slowdown from a feeding frenzy of raw capitalism to a far less interesting attempt to squeeze just a few more victory points out of the final turns. Coming after such a compelling, challenging, competitive experience, it’s like throwing an iceberg in the path of a steaming behemoth.
Transatlantic brilliantly captures the feeling of being a ruthless shipping tycoon, mixing elements of engine-building, area control and light deckbuilding to wonderful effect. It’s just a shame that its pace sometimes falters so badly towards the end.
Designer: Mac Gerdts
Artist: Dominik Mayer
Time: 60-90 minutes
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