This isn’t the first time I’ve got to play Glass Road. It came out a while ago and I wasn’t bowled over by it then despite the praise it got. However, on those occasions I was restricted to 4 player games as at a game group it’s easy to max out player counts. But it wasn’t that I disliked the game as a whole, it was actually one aspect alone that killed it and it’s actually one that most players love about Glass Road. When I thought about it more, I realised that this might have simply being a player count issue and so I needed to see if at lower player counts it would suit me better.
So now Mayfair has re-released Glass Road as a straight up reprint, but apparently the logo change warrants an extra £20 on the price tag from the old days. Weird that, ink must be expensive these days. It’s time to give the game a full going over, all player counts, all modes of play and see if there is a sweet spot for me.
Glass Road is a card game that requires you to manage your hand and resources to build buildings that score you VPs – so basically like every other Uwe Rosenberg game it seems!
Each player in Glass Road starts with a landscape board, fifteen specialist cards and their starting resources. You track your resources on two resource wheels. As you get resources to produce glass and bricks you automatically do so without having to then do some weird conversion action to do so. These resources are used in many of the buildings and are a necessity.
The fifteen specialists, identical for each player let you gain resources, place landscape tiles on your board and build buildings. Each specialist has two actions on their card, but whether you get to utilise both or not depends on your card play in the round.
In each card round, every player will choose a card from their hand and place it face-down on the table. One by one, in turn order, players will reveal their face-down cards and resolve them. As each card is revealed, the other players must check to see if they have that same card currently in their hands (not played on the table), and if they do, they must play their copy immediately. If no one else reveals the same card as a player’s selected card, he may take both actions on that card immediately, otherwise they may take only one of the action,s and this applies to both players.
Some of the specialists allow you to build or upgrade a building. These buildings allow you to convert resources, gain one-off bonuses or add to your end-game scoring if you meet the conditions. After 4 rounds of card play, you guessed it, the person with the most VP’s is the winner.
HOPE YOU LIKE TILES
Because there’s a ton of them. Certainly Glass Road gets a thumbs up in the component quality department, which makes you wonder how they used to sell this so cheap before. You have a ton of building and landscape tiles in the box (bagging is essential for easy setup) and everything is covered in bright, colourful artwork. Nothing that’s going to win awards, but it does look very pretty on the table when you’re mid-game.
But what I really like are the resource wheels, basically Rondel’s that track your resources while also handling the automatic production of glass and brick. I’ll get on to those in more detail later, but they’re very elegant in how they operate and look the business, like having two miniature clock faces on your board. This is how I want Rondels to look, but what strikes me as odd is that Uwe did once mention he was going to utilise this mechanic in future games but we have not seen it yet.
CHAOS IN THE EURO WORLD
Here’s where I talk about the the aspect that drives me nuts. Many who love Glass Road say the the more merrier. Personally, I say the opposite. To understand why, let me explain the thought process in the card playing phase. The card-playing phase of the game is built around player interactivity, which is never a bad thing to see in Euro games where it’s typically a forgotten aspect, but hear me out. You are trying to make intuitive guesses about multiple aspects. Firstly, which 5 specialist cards are you going to use each period. Then also what order you’re going to play them in and what you’re going to keep back as your two cards in your hand. You’re trying to get the maximum utility from each Specialist (i.e. both actions) because let’s face it, whoever does that will win the game, unless they’re really inefficient.
The order in which you play your cards is going to impact on the number of actions you’ll get. You’re obviously hoping to get two actions from every card, but you’ll be lucky if that happens. And you will try to predict by way of educated guessing which cards your opponents will play and when. But that’s the problem. It’s still guessing. You will never know what is coming. You’ve got 15 Specialists, of which only 5 are used in a round and they could be in any order. Unless you are Captain Clairvoyant you will not be able to reliably predict the best order to take when you’ve got to consider 3 other players on the table. Even in 2 player mode it’s not easy, but at least you only have to think about one person and in that aspect it’s a back and forth affair anyway – nobody else gains from 2 players clashing heads.
But with 4 players, it just becomes a chaotic nightmare. And regularly you’ll find your cards getting limited to one action, which isn’t as fun as having two. You have a lot of chances to screw others over, but then also be screwed over yourself. Now I’m not saying you need perfect information, but you want at least some element of control or predictability. But in no way can you factor in all the possible permutations of what cards could appear from 3 other opponents. Take Raptor, a really enjoyable 2 player game from 2016. In that you have to try to predict what your opponent will play from a max hand of 9 cards, but usually less than that. You’ll get it wrong at times, but there’s only so many factors to consider. Now try expanding that to 4 players – would you be able to judge as reliably? Now double the card pool – total chaos.
So you can make judgement calls all you like, but the frustration of having your cards regularly limited mainly due to a wrong guess (i.e. luck) kills my enjoyment in 4 player mode. So you have to essentially plan your turn on the assumption you’ll only get one action per card and take any additional ones as a bonus. OK, that’s fine and all, but that one person who manages to slip through unscathed by good fortune is going to be a forerunner to win the game simply by being able to do more each round. And is only doing 3 things a round fun? It’s why 2 player mode is hands down my favourite way to play Glass Road and 4 is my least. The problem is, everyone wants to play this 4 player and 2 player games are hard to get to the table for me. 3 is a reasonable compromise, but far from my ideal. I can understand why people prefer 4 players, but in those circumstances I’ve actually managed to do better at the game than other players by randomly shuffling my chosen 5 cards before laying them out, I kid you not.
YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH GLASS
On a positive note though, the resource wheels as mentioned before are probably my favourite aspect of Glass Road. You really have to pay attention to exactly what is happening every time you gain or spend resources. The automatic glass/brick production can mess you up at times if you’re not careful, thinking that you’ve got some much needed resources only to then lose them for making glass which you might not have needed. It’s neat mechanically, though from a theme perspective, it’s a bit of a disconnect to have to consider putting food or charcoal on the ‘0’ space to act as a kind of stopper. Certainly don’t play Glass Road if theme is your major priority.
With over 100 building tiles in the game, this definitely has replay value in spades. Even with 4 players you won’t see all of them and so each game will play out very differently. It kind of reminds me of how Caverna feels with all of those buildings available, of course that one being more complex and heavy in comparison to this one. Glass Road is by no means a gateway game at all, there’s too many options to consider, but it’s not very complex in how you play.
As for play time, 20 minutes per player is actually not that far off. Typical games are 90 minutes with 4 players including teaching and setup, and if it goes on much longer you’ve got some analysis paralysis going on. 2 players can wrap up in an hour tops easily, though of course, add on a little bit of time for new players or learning the game. Thankfully Glass Road is a short affair because many a time you will notice a bit of a runaway leader issue when you look at the player who’s managed to get the most actions during the game.
UWE NO MATES
There is a solo variant in Glass Road as well and . . . . I actually think it’s a decent variant which is on par with the two player mode. The game has a fixed system of detailing in each round how many cards you can choose from from the specialists. You then choose a card and only use one of the actions on it. You then repeat this process until you only have two cards left, in which you choose one to utilise both actions on and the other to discard. Then in the next round you cannot choose from those specialists again, thus you have to make use of as many different specialists as possible.
It’s a neat variant that is in the same vein as most Euro’s where you strive for the best score, but it’s a great efficiency test and you still get to pick which Specialists you have access to, but still have a slight random element in which ablilities you’ll get to do. I enjoy it and it certainly is a quick game, though not as optimistic as 20 minutes as the box would have you believe, probably doesn’t even allow you the time to pick up your mug and take a sip of tea in between turns.
VERDICT ON GLASS ROAD
There’s plenty to like about Glass Road, but it’s very dependent on player count for me. It’s a simple Euro, not gateway level, but not too complex that people should be freezing up either so turns are pretty quick. The Rondel resource mechanic is very neat and is probably the highlight of this game both visually and mechanically, even though the other aspects of this game we’ve seen a hundred times now in other games.
But what almost kills my experience is the chaos factor of the card play at higher counts. In solo mode it’s handled really well with a little bit of randomness, but also some knowledge that you’ll have at least so many actions in a round. In a two player game it’s perfect, mainly because you only have to consider one opponent. But as you increase the player count you also increase the randomness of clashing with other players. You can try to predict their plays all you like, but with 3 and especially 4 players, you have too many factors to consider and will regularly be forced to have limited actions.
So it’s hard to place Glass Road for me. I like it a lot solo or with 2. I can tolerate it with 3, but I will need bribing to play it with 4 again. It’s a wide berth of love and hate between 2 and 4 players for me, but I know many will actually love the way 4 players handles. So if it sounds up your street and you don’t mind the added chaos, then you should grab this game because you will love it. But consider your typical player count and how much you like best laid plans being messed up outside of your control or influence before doing so.
PERSONAL RATING – 7 (if solo/2 Player — 5 otherwise)
YOU WILL LIKE GLASS ROAD IF:
You enjoy Uwe’s usual style of Euro games with resource management.
You want a quicker, simpler iteration of his style – this is probably the shortest one he’s done in this vein.
You are either happy with the added chaos for more players or will mainly play this solo or with 2.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE GLASS ROAD IF:
You hate the randomness factor that will arise with more players.
You want a game that’s more complex with resource management – in which case there’s plenty to choose from.
The increased price tag puts you off – it used to be much cheaper in the old days.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.