REVIEW: Barrage

Designers: Tomasso Battista & Simone Luciani
Publisher: Cranio Creations
1-4 players, 90-120mins

Price: £60-80 approx.

Barrage is a game I was drawn to as soon as I heard the first whimpers about it on BGG back in early 2018 (I think) – it may have been a throwaway comment from one of the designers, or part of a larger preview/interview, but I definitely recall it piquing my interest because of the core idea: you build dams to hold and harness waterdrops, and are trying to transform those drops into energy. It should be no surprise that I backed this on Kickstarter as soon as I had the chance — this was back in 2018 when my KS trigger-finger was working all hours and with very little in the way of a filter, or indeed much forethought at all. Thankfully, this game was a really good call…

Alas, while the Barrage KS campaign proved hugely successful (4000+ backers and over €400k raised), the fulfilment aspect of the KS proved a bit of a mess: a subject I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, but also wrote extensively about in The SPIRIT #6 — I’ll spare you the details, but you could do a lot worse than just download the whole magazine using this link and read all about it there…

[GO AHEAD – IT’S FREE!] — The SPIRIT issue #6 magazine.

As mentioned in my introduction, the core principle behind Barrage is that you’re trying to build stuff to help you harness the potential energy from waterdrops, which start at the top of the board (there are four Headstreams). These waterdrops will start flowing at the end of each round, passing through the various rivers and basins down the board only to eventually leave it completely if they’re not caught, stopped or utilised in some way by the players. There are ways of increasing the number of waterdrops in a headstream, and also ways to actually send waterdrops flowing down the board immediately, but this of course is where a lot of the action and cleverness comes in…

Yup, the board is quite something, isn’t it?

The three main buildings you can construct are Dams to catch and hold the waterdrops; Powerhouses that generate energy from them; and Conduits that actually do the hard work of directing waterdrops through set paths to those Powerhouses. A fourth type of building is an Elevation, and this is basically a way of increasing the height of your Dam to catch even more waterdrops, thus potentially creating even more energy in later rounds. A rather neat aspect of building things is the aptly-named Construction Wheel, which is a rondel-type device that will hold and ‘capture’ your resources until the wheel has moved around to let them back out again: a very effective way of representing workers and resources being tied up while they’re building stuff for you. Thankfully, you get to place the building on the board immediately and take advantage of it if you can, but of course, those resources won’t be coming back any time soon.

Those resources ain’t comin’ back yet!

Players start with 12 engineers, a selection of construction tiles, a bit of money, and some Excavators and Concrete Mixers (your two main resources: brown and grey respectively). Construction tiles represent the different core buildings you can place on the board, and in the Advanced Game these can be purchased to allow more flexibility and individual bonuses for players, and the more buildings you construct of a particular type, the more bonuses and income you can earn from them.

Using classic worker placement rules, each round players assign their engineers to designated Action Spaces in turn, and execute that action before play moves on to the next player, etc. This continues round the table until each player has no more engineers and/or actions to complete, at which point the round ends, water flows, and various housekeeping bits get done.

The Energy Track is at the top, and below that is the French player board showing Dams, Elevations, Conduits, and Powerhouses ready to be built. Bottom-right is your Construction Wheel…

Alas, while your main focus each turn will usually be to generate as much energy as possible (to complete contracts and earn additional VPs, bonuses, resources, money, etc) –and this is a direct way of earning VPs at the end of each round– it’s all-too easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re ultimately trying to win by having the most VPs and not by generating the most energy!  Oh yes, and generating the most energy each round will place you at the bottom of the turn order for the next one, and believe me when I say this is not a good thing: turn order matters in this game, and like everything else in this, can be played and gamed for if need be. Completing contracts is the key to victory, here, and that doesn’t necessarily translate to generating loads of energy each round, especially since those Generate Energy action spaces will get used up double-quick if you blink too hard. The game ends after 5 rounds, at which point the player with the most VPs wins.

Apart from what I consider to be a great theme, there are a whole load of other neat things about this game that I love, including the clever design of the board (and the various ‘paths’ of rivers, conduits, and basin placement), the wide variety of options and decisions players have each turn (which dwindle rapidly as spaces get swallowed up by other player’s engineers), and the mind-busting analysis-paralysis that can only come from a game that demands both advance planning and ruthless efficiency. And that’s efficiency not just in what you’re doing this turn and this round, but for the next, and the next, etc. and all quite often at the expense of other players, truth be told!

Barrage is usually referred to as a ‘heavy euro’ and although I’d certainly agree with that statement, it’s not ‘heavy’ in the sense that it’s difficult to play, quite the opposite actually: despite what looks like a hugely intimidating footprint –with a multitude of bits and bobs and a lot of set-up time (at least 10-15 minutes)– the game itself is easy to explain and to play once the main principles are covered. The various Action spaces for your engineers are largely self-explanatory, and the iconography is quite easy to grasp once you start revealing additional ‘unique’ bonuses on your player board, and have seen or completed a few contract and scoring tiles…

Ahh yes, it does have quite a ‘footprint’ on the table, doesn’t it?

If I was to try and summarise why I like this game so much we’ll be here a good while, but the ways all the various systems and sub-systems intertwine gives this an instant likeability for me, and it’s one of those games where you’re so engaged that you daren’t take your eyes off the board for a second, even when other players are taking their turn. Worker placement done right usually warms me to some games, and plenty of options and nail-biting tension does the same. But… when the multitude of strategic options and decision-making process hangs in the balance most turns, and you find yourself clenching your fists and willing players to do stuff that won’t make-or-break your own planned actions every single turn, that’s when you know a game has truly got you by the short and curlies…

To summarise, despite the somewhat disastrous KS shenanigans that plagued this game prior to release, I can’t recommend this game enough: if you have a few hours and get the chance to play it, don’t pass it up!  This is far and away one of my favourite games at the moment (possibly my top pick for 2019, actually), and the so-called ‘Advanced Mode’ is definitely the best way to get the most out of it, although there’s a Solo option, too (which I haven’t actually tried yet, tbh).

The official retail release is at SPIEL ’19 Essen, and I highly recommend this one.

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