Named after it’s board game predecessor Coal Baron, in The Great Card Game you are – well, coal barons. Seeking to score the most points via the shipment of coal. It’s a game that might sound a little prosaic at first, but beware: coal barons can be mean.
The cards are set up face-up in a series of shuffled decks, the meat of which are all about digging, loading and delivering coal: lorries, wagons, engines and orders to fill. There’s an innovation deck to bring you some kind of in-game benefit, a shares deck to capitalise on any deliveries you make, and an objective deck that will – hopefully – score you points at the end of the game.
Last but not least, there are action cards, which we’ll explain momentarily.
Each player begins a loading area in front of them, and a hand of worker cards that have a value of between 1 and 5. On your turn, you simply play a card next to one of the decks and pick up the top-most card. If it’s a lorry, it goes to the left of your loading area. If it’s a wagon or engine, it can go in any three of the loading bays to the right. You can play workers to an area someone has already been to, but the value of your workers must be exactly one higher than the last card/s played there.
So at first, your trains are empty – and that’s where the action cards come in. When you play workers here you don’t pick up a card – instead you get to move coal, loading your lorries – in order, from right to left – into one or more of your trains. The catch is that the lorries, loading bays and wagons all have one of four crests on them, and these have to match – you can’t be loading coal from a green lorry into a red wagon, for instance.
If you have enough coal in your train to meet an order, you can play worker cards to the delivery action, meaning the train leaves the station: flip all the relevant cards face-down until the game end, at which point they’ll be scored. The game continues like this for a set number of rounds, at which point players score for their deliveries, any wagons that score points, plus any shares that match their delivery destinations (there are several) and any objective cards they’ve successfully met: for instance, having a certain number of engines in a particular colour, or delivering a certain amount of coal to a specific destination. Most points: wins.
I usually enjoy games by these designers but Coal Baron: The Great Card Game felt slightly messy: the game takes up so much room, with three of us we ran out of space on a reasonably-sized table. It functions perfectly well, but it felt a bit – well, functional. You can screw each other over but everyone in our game was too preoccupied with their own business, so interaction was absent. A decent game, but there are many others I’d choose to play over this.
Potentially high. Other players can - purposefully or otherwise - leave you stuck with a lorry you can't load by taking the wagons you desperately need.
After those first couple of plays, low. But it's a tactical game where plans need to be adaptable, so there might be the odd, short, pause while the aforementioned adapting takes place.
Moderate. Assuming you've not been priced out of anywhere, you've a few places you can send workers and some options will be more productive than others.
All the decks are shuffled before play, and strategies can vary too: going for small deliveries or big ones, objective cards or shares... much replayability here.