Rockwell Review

Rockwell game in play

An interesting new game that is releasing later this month at Essen is Rockwell.  (As a note, this review is based off of a pre-production copy, so the pictures do not represent the final components.)

In Rockwell, your group of miners is seeking to gain the most prestige by digging up sweet resources, getting slick upgrades, building mine shafts, and making deliveries.  Each turn begins with an auction.  The winner of the auction gets to go first when placing "vice presidents."  (Vice presidents are used to determine what you are allowed to do on a turn, and how often you can do it.)  After the auction, each of the players gets to perform four drilling actions (moving a drill crew and potentially bribing another crew or hiring a subcontractor, and then checking to see if you can excavate the new tile - thus getting loot).  After the four rounds of mining, some players will get to buy and sell resources (based on vice president placement).  Finally, players will get to perform actions to end the round.  These actions include all of your upgrades, and also trading in resources for victory points.  The number of actions each player can perform is based on the location of their vice president.  Finally, throughout the game, various activities (such as getting 12 gold resources) will unlock achievements (which are worth victory points).  Once a majority of the players have drilled all the way into the center of the earth, or once one player has accomplished at least six achievements (including all three of the last ones), the game is over.  At that point, whoever has the most victory points from deliveries, achievements, and bonus points (earned for end of game resources) is the winner!

The first pro that I have for Rockwell is the tension of where to put your vice presidents.  They can be placed on three different boards, and you ultimately want to place them on all three.  However, you only have two VP's, and so you have to make tough decisions about what benefit you are going to neglect on each turn.  (Though, this decision might be made for you, if you bid too low in the opening auction.)  Are you going to pass on the opportunity to buy and sell goods?  That will allow you to perform actions and be able to bribe or subcontract while drilling.  But, will you still be able to afford the upgrades you want without selling your newly acquired resources?  Alternately, if you ignore the board that lets you bribe or subcontract, will you still have enough resources that it is worth having a vice president that lets you sell?  Ideally, you will take full advantage of your opportunities when they come along, and this will help when you are unable to perform the action later - for example, if you can sell enough resources to make $10,000 one turn, then you might be able to handle not selling resources on the next one.  (Which is really good, because there are not enough spaces on the buy/sell board for every player to place a vice president there, except for in a two-player game!  So, sometimes you're going to miss out - thus adding to the tension, and to the importance of the auction.)

Rockwell game boards
The different boards where you can place VP's
The next pro that I found for Rockwell is that I enjoy how players affect each others' mining results.  Whenever drill crews are on the same space, they work together.  (Aside from each wanting the loot.)  And, so when a tile is flipped, all of the loot is split as evenly as possible.  (Even if one player's drill crews had eight of the nine power you needed, and the other player only had one!)  However, after the even split, the player with "priority" (based on having a mine shaft, then having the most power, then being the one to trigger the excavation) gets all of the leftover resources.  So, you essentially have two choices when mining.  You can attempt to mine by yourself, or with other players.  If you mine by yourself, you will collect drastically more goods every time a tile is flipped over.  However, if you mine with other players, you will collect goods significantly more often.  Thus, the ideal strategy is to do a little of both.  Have some tiles that you are able to flip by using your best drill crews (not sharing any of the loot), but using some of your smaller drill crews to contribute just enough to other excavations to make sure that they still get their share!

The final pro that I will list for Rockwell is that I really liked the achievements.  There are only two ways to score during the game - achievements and deliveries.  It doesn't matter how amazing you are at drilling and gaining resources, if you neglect these two activities, the rest of your game doesn't matter and you will lose horribly.  And so, the achievements encourage you to do things that don't necessarily help "build your engine" (though they are never bad things).  So, sometimes you will make a decision that doesn't help your future mining activities, because if you go out of your way to accomplish the achievement, you might be able to do it first - and the first player scores the most points!  For example, one achievement is to own 10 silver resources.  Throughout the game, there is a good chance that you will mine that many silver, and so the achievement will take care of itself.  However, you could also buy some silver to get to this number faster.  Now, you aren't allowed to buy and sell the same type of resource in a turn.  So, if you buy silver, you will be stuck with it until the next turn - and it will also absorb some of the money that you were going to use for actions.  But, it will allow you to get the silver achievement first!  And that means victory points!  This is what I like about the achievements; most of them will naturally occur while playing the game, but you can choose to make them happen a bit earlier in order to get extra points.

closeup of Rockwell earth tiles
I'm not sure if the final copy has a center of the earth piece
Though I really enjoyed my time with Rockwell, there are a few cons that I will mention.  First, I found that the game seems to have a bit more down time than I would like.  This, of course, will be  affected by the people that you play with.  However, the main time that I have seen this occur is during the buying and selling phase.  As I mentioned earlier, there are not enough spaces for every player to buy and sell each turn.  This is neat, because it makes you think hard about where and when you place your first vice president.  However, if you are the player that is not able to buy or sell on a turn, then you will have quite a bit of time to sit around and wait while all of the other players are interacting with the market.  (This will be exaggerated if the other players are not very fast at math and don't have calculators handy.  Also, as a note - this game has quite a bit of math.  It's generally simple multiplication, but some people will still be a bit turned off by it.)

The other cons that I had were pretty trivial.  One is that I don't see much value in the subcontractor action.  However, I will admit that this might be a more subtle strategy that would emerge in more plays.  In some of my games, nobody bothered hiring subcontractors all game!  The other minor con that I have is related to the components.  Specifically, some of the components were a bit fiddly.  However, if the game is printed with high quality components (and I believe that it will be), then this con will go away entirely.

Overall, I give Rockwell an 8.5/10.  I was quite pleasantly surprised by the game, and everyone that I tried the game with seemed to share my enjoyment of it!  (And, as a final bonus, here's a strategy note - don't neglect deliveries!  Trading in resources for victory points doesn't build your engine, but you win based on victory points, not how cool your upgrades are!  So earn victory points!!)

If Rockwell sounds interesting, you might also check out Belfort, In The Year of the Dragon, and Galaxy Trucker.

I would like to thank Sit Down! Games for providing me with a review copy of Rockwell.

Note: Since posting this review, I have been provided with a link to a video of the final components - you can check them out here if you're interested.

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