In Coal Baron you are, unsurprisingly, rival barons in the coal industry seeking to baron the best.
Each player begins with their own mine shaft in front of them, complete with a lift for extracting the four different types of coal. During the game you’ll dig up the coal, use action points to get it out of the mine and fulfil orders to score points. How all this is achieved is via the many workers you have at your disposal: at least fifteen (in a two-player game) or more (with three or four players).
On your turn you place a worker out on the board and take the associated action – collecting money, orders, digging coal (which costs money) or spending action points removing it. Loading, moving, and unloading the lift all costs one action point, but fortunately there are up to ten available in a given turn – if you have enough workers to claim them. For as well as taking an empty space on the board you can also take an occupied one – with the caveat that it costs you extra workers: to take an occupied space (even from yourself) you need as many workers that are there already, plus one more.
So you’re scoring points for completing orders, but at the end of each of the games three rounds there are more points to be scored: in round one, for whosoever has delivered the most of each type of coal. In round two, the same again but also with rewards for the method of delivery (cart, carriage, truck, train) and round three is as round four but with big points to be scored for the empty spots in your mine.
I really respect these designers and despite the – possibly underwhelming – theme of coal (sci-fi fans might want to move on) this is a decent game in slightly prosaic dressing. It’s not a game I’d probably request very often, but I would happily play if it’s on the table – lining up your ducks (or coal) to pull off a great loading combo is far more satisfying than it sounds, and this is to me a fun way to spend an hour, and one I think easily outperforms its card-based successor, Coal Baron: The Great Card Game.
There's no stealing of coal or shooting of barons, but you can certainly grab wagons and orders that you know other players are after. Beyond that it's just about grabbing the juicy spots on the board before they become overpopulated with workers.
It's a little more complicated than most card games, but far less complicated than it looks at first glance. So once you're familiar with the rules, play is fairly speedy.
It's all about delivering those orders with the least possible expense. As the board fills up with workers you need to react tactically, with at least one eye on those end-of-round bonuses.
Coal cards and orders come out randomly, and you can play a game of different strategies too - scoring the fast bucks on simple orders, or aiming high on the harder to achieve ones.