The Last Spike Review

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The Last Spike is a game by Tom Dalgliesh and Grant Dalgliesh, published by Columbia Games. It is for 2-6 players. In this game, players will be working together to build a continuous railway from St. Louis to Sacramento. They will also be competing to collect the most money from buying lands. The person that does this before the last spike is laid will be declared the winner.

To begin, the board should be laid out in the middle of the play area. The land cards should be sorted by color into 9 piles of cards with the cheapest land on top and proceeding to most expensive on the bottom. Each stack is then placed close to the board within reach of all players. Players are each given a certain amount of money depending on the number of players. The remaining money chips are placed in a pile close to the board. The railway track tiles are all flipped face down and mixed up on the table. Players each draw a tile. The closest tile to A1 is the first player. The tiles are then replaced into the pool and all of them are mixed together again. Each player in turn order then draws 4 tiles, standing them upright in front of themself. Once this has been completed, play now begins.

The game is played in turn order beginning with the first player. On a player’s turn, they perform 3 actions. The first action is to lay a track tile on the map and collect payouts if there are any. To lay a tile, the player determines which of their 4 tiles they want to play based on the unique letter and number on the tile as well as the cost. The tile is placed in the matching letter and number. Tiles may be placed next to a city or another already placed tile for the cost on the tile. If this is not possible, a tile may be placed somewhere else for double the printed cost. The cost is paid to the bank. If a player can not afford to play a tile, they must sell land cards for half the price to be able to lay a track tile. If a player is the first to place a track next to a city, they are given a free land card. Land cards can not be bought until the land 0 card has been taken. They also are not able to buy another land card if they gained a free card that turn. Once a tile has been placed and paid for and if there are 4 track sections connecting the two cities, players will collect a payout for any land cards they have of either of the two connecting cities. The amount paid is determined by the number of land cards that the player has for each of the two cities.

The next action that a player may perform is optional. That is to buy a land card. As I stated earlier, if the player collected a free land card by placing a tile next to a city, then they are not able to perform this action. To buy a land card, the player must simply pay the amount noted on the card to the bank. The card collected is placed face up in front of the player.

The final action that a player must perform is to draw a new track tile. Just like in the beginning, the player chooses one of the face down track tiles and stands it up in front of themself where the other players can’t see. Play then passes to the next player.

The game continues until the last spike is played that forms a continuous track from St. Louis to Sacramento. The player that plays this tile collects an extra $20000 from the bank. Payouts are collected just like normal. Players then add up their money and the player with the most money is the winner.

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COMPONENTS
This game consists of 4 things; the board, railway tracks, cards and money. The board is made of cardboard like most of the boards from Columbia Games. However, it’s a bit thicker and sturdier than the others. I rather like the design and pictures chosen for it. It has a bit of that old world, turn of the century feel. The railway tracks are black wooden pieces. Each of these tiles must have a sticker placed on it with the letter, number and cost on it. With them being wooden, they are quite sturdy and easy, even for smaller fingers, to manipulate. The cards are well designed and are color coordinated with the city that they represent on the board. The quality of the cards is really good. The minimalistic design works for me. Normally I’d complain that there was no kind of artwork on the cards but surprisingly, I like the design. The money consists of wooden discs in 3 different colors; red, white and blue. They are bright and colorful and very sturdy. The only problem is trying to keep the costs straight. Thankfully there is a guide on the bottom right corner of the board that shows you that the blues are worth 10, reds are worth 5 and whites are worth 1. While I like the colors and quality of the discs, I wish there had been some number stickers or something to help keep the prices straight. Of course after playing through the game several times, you get used to it. In any case, everything is very good quality and works quite well, despite the 1 minor hiccup.
8 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook isn’t that large, consisting of only 4 pages. That’s due to the simplicity of the game. Each page has pictures and there are several examples throughout the book. Everything is explained rather well and is very easy to understand. There are several game hints on how to best play the game included as well as a full page example of a game ending. There’s nothing difficult about the book and nothing that will cause you any problems. All in all, it gets the job done.
8 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
This is a really great and fun economic tile laying game. It’s really easy to play and doesn’t take very long at all to learn. It was even easy enough that I was able to play it with my 5 year old. She enjoyed it by the way. That said, it’s not a children’s game. Even though it’s easy enough to play, it has a good bit of strategy in buying lands and determining when and where to place a railroad tile. Yes, you can just go through the game playing whatever tiles that you have and buying your favorite colored land cards. That’s fine. However, to best play play the game, you really need to think about what tile will work out best for you at this time and which land card is gonna pay out the best for the least cost. Regardless of how you play it, it’s very enjoyable. I really like the design and love how simple it is. Some people may liken this one to games like Monopoly, where the more corresponding colored cards that you have the more each one is worth. Unlike Monopoly though, you don’t have to purchase hotels to make each land worth something. It then comes down to which railroad tile that you place. If you can get the right land cards and make those cards pay out several times while keeping your opponent(s) from collecting money from their land cards, you can pretty much win the game. Of course, that’s the challenge as the others will be trying to do the same thing to you as well. For me, I really enjoyed the game. It’s fairly short, with most sessions lasting around 45 minutes. All in all, it’s a great game in my opinion.
9 out of 10

OVERALL
The Last Spike is a light weight economic game of tile laying. The game is not very long and can easily be played in about 45 minutes. The quality of the components is really great. The sturdy wooden tiles and discs are superb. I only wish that there had been some stickers or something to more easily differentiate between the money values. The minimalistic design on the cards helps keep the focus on the tracks and can easily be stacked on top of each other to conserve space on the table. The rulebook is full of examples and very easy to understand. The gameplay is really fun with minor player interaction, mostly from determining which tile you place on the board. Fans of economic games or tile laying games should really enjoy this one. I highly recommend it. Don’t miss the train on this one. It’s definitely one that you will enjoy.
9 out of 10

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For more information about this and other great games, please check out Columbia Games at their site.

http://columbiagames.com

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About Gaming Bits - Jonathan Nelson

I'm a happily married man with 2 wonderful kids. I love my family very much. I'm a big fan of board, card and RPG games and have been playing for over 20 years. As a board and card game reviewer, I'm hoping that this blog will inform, educate and entertain you. If you like it, please tell your friends and have them join in on the conversations. Thanks and GAME ON!!
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