Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Game Central Station: Mississippi Queen

Rulings & Variants

Let's start with the opinion of the conductor... I think this is one of the best games of 1997. It plays quickly, it's easy to teach, everyone in the game is subject to the same level of randomness (via the selection of the river tiles), and it looks GREAT laid out on a large dining room table. Go buy the new English edition from Rio Grande Games NOW!

OK, we've gotten that out of the way.

Some folks don't agree with me... or they have some problems with the game and/or need some clarifications to the rules. So, the information below is to help you (and them!) "see the light".

End Game Problems(?)

One of the most commonly mentioned problems is the end game. Evidently, some gaming groups have a great deal of trouble with "the endless push war standoff that almost always happens at the end of a game of Mississippi Queen. Last night we played a 3 handed game and ended up in a draw, cyclicly pushing the next boat to move out of the way because that was the only way to prevent that boat from winning." (comment from Robert Derrick) Mind you, we've never had a problem with it around here...

Here's a quartet of possible solutions:

  1. From the demented mind of Geoff Engelstein: "We just ignore the rule that you need to have a speed of '1' to win. Works well and captures the 'spirit' of the game (in that if you're in front with passengers going into the last tile you're in good shape). Always fun to watch the spectators flee in terror as the steamers barrel towards the docks!" I'm thinking we don't let Geoff drive we if go out to dinner...
  2. From Game Central Station: We've tended to use a variation on George's "full speed ahead" rule, allowing players to finish at a speed of 1 or 2.
  3. From Jeff Goldsmith:Disallow ships from being pushed straight backwards, that is, they cannot be pushed into the hex whence they came last time they moved. To simplify bookkeeping, perhaps you could simply disallow ships to be pushed directly astern. (He notes this idea is untested.)
  4. From Kurt Meyer & the Westbank Gamers: One can reach the final dock only if he is traveling at the exact speed. Thus, if one is two spaces away, he can reach the dock by traveling at a speed of 2. (This is has "river-tested" by the Westbank Gamers and they use it regularly.)

Determining Movement Order

One of the biggest debates involves how to determine movement order. The following process is distilled from an extended conversation on rec.games.board.

First & foremost, turn order is determined for all players BEFORE a new round and does NOT change once the round begins. (This seems simple enough, but confused a couple of folks out there in Internet Land.)

  1. A boat on the tile ahead of boats on another tile are ALWAYS ahead. (This is not in the rules, but makes sense. In the words of Russ Williams, "This has the virtue of simplicity. In terms of "realism", one can of course construct situations where a boat on the further-ahead tile is actually farther from the finish than a boat on the farther-back tile, but we've found it difficult to actually specify an simple unambiguous way of defining who's truly ahead. So I think we'll just go with your simple solution, since it's very clear and simple, and worrying about realism is silly in a game like Mississippi Queen."
  2. For two boats on the same tile, work back from the next tile to figure out which one is ahead. (There will always be at least one tile or the finish tile, so you can always orient the direction the river "flows".)
  3. If two or more boats are even, then the one moving faster goes first.
  4. If two or more boats are even and are moving the same speed, then the one with more coal remaining goes first.
  5. If two or more boats are even and are moving the same speed and have the same amount of coal remaining (yes, this does happen), the the one on the right goes first.

Starting Order

"It still begs the question of why the numbers on the start tile are wrong. Do people really play that boat #1 goes first, even though it's not farthest to the right, or to the left? Is this just a special exception for the first turn?" says Russ Williams. In fact, Russ isn't the only person who's asked that question... he's just the one I decided to quote.

The answer is, Yes, we do play that boat #1 goes first. Why? I don't know... but it seems to work so who are we to argue?


There are a variety of other variants wandering about... here are a couple that caught our eye here at Game Central Station.


From Rich Shipley:

The pushing boat has its speed wheel reduced by one. Rich finds that this seems to make the game work a bit better.


From Wolfgang and Brigitte Ditt (thanks to Godwin Solcher):

Each player is given an additional chip (not provided) and can use it during the game as an iceberg (obstacle). The iceberg must be played during your turn. If a river section with an iceberg is removed from the board (due to all players passing it), that player receives his iceberg back, which he use again on a later turn.

If a player drives into an iceberg, because he cannot or will not use coal for an evasive maneuver, he stops in the space before the iceberg and removes the speed wheel from the ship. On the next turn, the ship can only be accelerated to " 1 " (by replacing the speed wheel).

An iceberg may not be set directly in front of a ship. There must be at least 1 space between the ship and the iceberg. As well, an iceberg may not be used to block the river completely... a route through must remain theoretically attainable. Finally, icebergs are not allowed on the first two river boards or on the last river section.

Editor's Note: This is a paraprhase of a AltaVista Babelfish translation... frankly, my German stinks. This may not be exactly what the author(s) intended, but hopefully it's close.Also, what about those icebergs on the Mississippi? As folks say down in the South, "Boy, you ain't from around here." Heck, call 'em big rocks... it's still a good variant!

Sand Bar & Log Alignment (The Black Rose)

To make a great game even better, Goldsieber published The Black Rose expansion, which adds more paddlewheelers and more river, including sand bars and log jams. There are some questions about how they work, which we're happy to answer for you right here.

When pushed into a sand bar or logs, the boat being pushed keeps it's current alignment and moves over pointed the same direction as before.

This ruling is confirmed by Jay Tummelson, head honcho of Rio Grande Games with the following strategy note: "This is the way it was intended when I wrote/edited the English rules. And, yes, it can result in a player being 'pushed' out of the race - so be careful near the sand bars."


Here's a couple of reviews of Mississippi Queen...


Russ Williams said...

Ha, what a blast from the past, remembering those old debates about what the intended rules were about turn order in Mississippi Queen. :) I haven't played the game in years, but I still remember it fondly.
-Russ Williams

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...


You're still around... are you still doing RussCon?

BTW, posting has caused me to put MS Queen & Black Rose in the box for Fresno Gamers tonight.

Russ Williams said...

RussCon stopped in 2005, since I moved from Austin to Poland! (My BGG profile "russ" has more details on that.) I also sold and gave away almost all my games (including Mississippi Queen) before the move, and I have been rebuilding a new collection more judiciously. (So the games actually get played!)