The age of industry has arrived in Astoria—will you be able to make your fortune? Produce key commodities, invest in new towns, and buy railroads to show you’re the savviest Raccoon Tycoon!
What Is Raccoon Tycoon?
Raccoon Tycoon is a game for 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 90 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $49 for a copy of the game (or higher pledge levels for metal coins and additional games). The game is not too complex to learn, but because the economics are largely driven by the players, it still allows for deeper strategies and good player interaction.
Raccoon Tycoon Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. (For instance, the “coal” tokens in this game are black pig meeples.)
- Game board
- 120 Commodity tokens:
- 20 Wheat
- 20 Wood
- 20 Iron
- 20 Coal
- 20 Manufactured Goods
- 20 Luxury Items
- Start Player token
- Money (in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 100)
- 27 Building tiles
- 24 Railroad cards
- 16 Town cards
- 54 Price & Production cards
The components for the prototype included shaped wooden resource tokens; the Kickstarter page currently shows wooden cubes, but I imagine that shaped components will be one of the stretch goals. The paper money (with its “In Badger We Trust” motto) is somewhat odd to me just because I don’t play as many games nowadays that use paper bills; if you dislike those, you may consider springing for the deluxe metal coin set, or provide your own coins or chips for use.
The railroad cards feature animal portraits by Annie Stegg Gerard, in a Rococo style that goes well with the theme’s time period. The game board features the same artwork as the box cover (seen at the top of this post), with some more anthropomorphic animals, though in a slightly less elaborate style. The animal theme is mostly just in these portraits and the names of the towns—the gameplay itself is pretty strictly economic, and in the end I don’t know how much it matters whether you’re a raccoon tycoon or a human tycoon.
The illustrations on the building tiles look a little more like something from a digital game—I could totally see a bunch of these laid out on an isometric grid in a game called Raccoonville. They’re very cute, too, but the style differences between the railroad cards, board, and buildings may bother some players.
The game board has spaces for various building tiles and cards, but oddly enough does not have spaces for the price & production cards or the discard pile, even though there’s plenty of room for them. I usually ended up just placing those cards on the board anyway.
How to Play Raccoon Tycoon
The goal of the game is to score the most points—primarily by building towns and buying railroads.
Set up the board in the center of the table. Place one of each commodity at the bottom of the corresponding price track, indicating its market value. Depending on the number of players, you will remove certain railroad cards from the deck, and then shuffle the deck and reveal the top two. The town deck has the most valuable towns at the bottom and the least valuable at the top, with each tier shuffled individually, and the first card is revealed. The building tiles are shuffled, with the double-sided commodity bonus buildings shuffled and placed on top of the stack (with the +1 side face up). Then the first four buildings are placed onto the available building spaces on the board. Commodity tokens are placed in a supply near the board, as is the money.
Shuffle the price & production cards, and deal 3 to each player. Also, each player starts with $10. Finally, the start player takes 1 resource of their choice, the second player takes 2 resources, and so on. Give the start player token to the first player.
On your turn, you may take one of the following actions:
- Produce commodities
- Sell commodities
- Auction a railroad
- Purchase a building
- Purchase a town
Produce commodities: Play one of your price & production cards. You take three of the resources shown in the “production” section of the card. Then, for each commodity pictured in the “price” section, that commodity moves up $1 on its price track. (Draw back up to your hand size.) You may have a maximum of 10 commodity tokens at the end of your turn, and must discard down if you have too many, though this limit may be increased by buildings.
Sell commodities: Sell any number of one type of commodity back to the supply. You receive the current market price for each token sold. Then, the price decreases $1 for each token sold.
Auction a railroad: You may choose either of the two available railroad cards and put it up for auction. Each railroad card has a minimum starting bid, though you may start higher if you wish. Bidding continues until all players have passed, at which point the highest bidder pays the bank and takes the railroad card. Note that if you do not win an auction that you start, you get another turn, which may be used for the same or different action.
Purchase a building: You may spend money to buy one of the four available buildings, placing it in your playing area. The starting buildings will allow you to produce one additional commodity when you play cards, though you are only allowed to use one of these buildings per turn. These buildings are also double-sided, and you may use a “purchase building” action to flip it over, producing 2 extra commodities per turn. Other buildings may give you new abilities, different ways to score points, and so on.
Note: Your commodity storage increases by 1 for each building you own.
Purchase a town: Each town shows a number particular type of commodity, as well as a higher number of any commodity. You may spend the required commodities to take the town card, placing it in your player area. The next town card is then revealed.
The game end is triggered when either the last railroad card or the last town card is purchased. Finish the round so that everyone has had the same number of turns, and then the game ends.
Towns are worth points equal to their face value, plus an additional 2 points if there is a railroad paired with it. (Each railroad may only be paired with one town.)
Railroads are scored as sets of the same animal—each animal type has four railroad cards, and the cards show how many points you get for that set. For instance, if you had 3 Big Bear cards (pictured above), you would score 13 points.
Each building is also worth 1 VP.
Some of the buildings award additional victory points.
The highest score wins—ties go to the player with the most money.
You may play a “sudden death” variant where a player may instantly win if they amass $1,000.
For beginners, you may remove the advanced buildings (all but the commodity bonus buildings).
Why You Should Play Raccoon Tycoon
Raccoon Tycoon is a fairly simple game, rules-wise, but the depths of the strategy is determined by the players themselves. It’s a game about economics, and the economy is entirely player-driven. Prices of goods rise and fall based on the actions of the players, and the value of the railroad cards is based on whatever the market will bear. At first glance, other than the cute animal artwork, it looks like a fairly dry game, but the competition gets fierce, and both the kids and adults in my gaming group have really gotten into it.
Each turn is generally fairly simple, because you only get to do a single action, but deciding which one to do can be a real trick. You need commodities to buy towns, but you need money to buy railroads and buildings. Do you drive the price of wheat up so you can sell it for a nice sum? Will your opponents sell their wheat before you get to cash out? Buildings can help you get more commodities or make more money … but if you’re cash short, your opponents might be able to snatch up a railroad card on the cheap because you aren’t able to bid them up.
I like the way that the production cards work—the commodities that you produce don’t always line up with the commodities that will increase in price. You have to decide how to get the resources you want without putting money in your opponents’ pockets, and quite often you’ll have to make a tough choice. Another decision that comes up often is when to buy a town: if the town requires iron to purchase but iron is also at a high market price, which is a better deal? And if your opponent has enough of the required resource to purchase a town, is it worth spending more commodities because you don’t have the right type, just to deny them?
The railroad auctions may be the most exciting portion of the game, though, simply because that’s an action that gets everyone involved. I’m traditionally pretty bad at auction games. I bid way too much and then am strapped for cash, or else I hold onto my money and wind up missing out when I should have been bidding. How many dollars are points worth? Is $20 for a Top Dog railroad a good deal? Well, in this game, it totally depends on the group dynamics—and things will shift a bit once some players already own railroads, because each additional railroad of that type is worth more points to them. You might have a situation where a railroad card is worth only 4 points to one player, but 8 points to another, and the cost-benefit ratio gets very hard to pin down.
When my kids play, they tend to get into an arms race, everyone just accumulating wealth so that they’ll have more than the other players when an auction finally occurs … but nobody wants to blink first. On the other hand, I’ve played against some adults who are very good at calculating exactly how much they should bid so they’ll be left with one more dollar than the next player. The fact that the active player gets another turn if they don’t win the auction they started means that it’s possible to have several railroads auctioned off in a row, and if the active player gets lucky, they might end up revealing a particularly valuable railroad after everyone else is out of cash.
Once you get past the initial commodity bonus buildings, there are a wide variety of building types that can help drive a particular strategy. I really like the building options, but spending an action to buy a building also means you’ll be short that much money for the next auction—will you be able to make it back in time? And there’s always the tension that if you purchase a building, the next one that you reveal is the one you really want, but then other players have a chance to buy it first. The additional storage space (and victory point)—a rule that I missed the first few times—do give buildings some extra value, but there were times when we wished that we could wipe the buildings and refresh the row because nobody wanted what was on offer.
The players also drive the length of the game, though I think the 90-minute estimate is a pretty good approximation. The game lasts until either the railroad cards or the town cards run out. In many of the games I’ve played, there tends to be a run on one or the other. If one or two players start buying up towns, then you’ll often see many other players paying the higher “any commodities” price so they don’t get left behind. Conversely, once a few railroads have been auctioned off, players will try to put them up for auction before opponents can amass too much money. In either case, you can end up with an imbalance, where one deck is running out and the other has barely been touched—but the best scores often come from having both, so that you score those bonus points for the town paired with a railroad. It does mean that players can rush the end of the game if they think they’re ahead, whether by putting railroads up for auction or buying up towns—though every auction you start and don’t win is points that you gave somebody else.
One thing that I found particularly strange was that the raccoon railroad cards were not used in every game. Depending on the player count, you used different sets of railroad cards, and the raccoons were only used if you had at least 4 players. It’s probably a combination of the fact that the raccoons are the most valuable set and that for lower player counts they didn’t want the points differential on the higher cards … but how can you exclude raccoons from a game called Raccoon Tycoon? I don’t know if this will be changed at all, but it seemed like a thematic misstep.
Overall, though, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Raccoon Tycoon. I haven’t played many games of this nature, where the bulk of the game is just manipulating markets and managing resources. There’s no map, no characters to move around, no complicated card combinations … and yet it’s an engaging, highly competitive game. The kids in my gaming group had no trouble picking it up, but it still provided challenging decisions each turn even for the adults.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Raccoon Tycoon Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes, and this post was sponsored by Forbidden Games.