Andrew Carnegie was a complex and interesting character from the 19th/20th century. Depending on your point of view, he’s either an American Dream rags-to-riches success story, a business man of dubious morals or an amazing philanthropist. Xavier Georges' Carnegie seeks to explore all three of these aspects. Let’s see if it succeeds...
Carnegie takes many common mechanics and packages them together into a slick euro game (ie: a game with full information and little to no randomness). It is quite complex, plays with 1-4 people taking 1.5 to 3 hours to play. Each player builds up their personal company board with departments staffed by workers to enable their company to research projects, place projects on the map of the USA, send workers on missions as well as buy and sell goods. Each round, the first player picks a type of action from the four available - personnel, management, construction and research development - and this causes two things to happen. Firstly, either the players get to donate to worthy causes - really a way to generate extra victory points at the end of the game - or players get to retrieve some or all of their workers already on missions in a specified one of the four regions of the US map.
Returning workers are available to work in your company again and also generate income of coins, goods, victory points and new workers based on how far you have developed transport in that region as well as how many workers return and also how many and which type of project you have already placed on the map. The second thing which happens each turn is that every player gets to use their departments of the chosen type which have active workers on them. This creates a strategic dynamism where you want to pick the right action to maximise your benefit relative to that of your opponents. This tension is heightened by limited departments being available as well as limited spaces on the map to build projects.
Competition is naturally highest with four players but there are changes to setup to ensure competition remains high with fewer players. But however many players are around the table this does not feel like multiplayer solitaire - you do have to keep an eye on your opponents’ boards; a good aspect of Xavier Georges' design.
With its multitude of components and busy-looking board, Carnegie can seem initially overwhelming but since each of the 20 rounds follows a similar structure you very quickly understand the initially complex mechanics and then it’s all about strategy, which is for me a sign of a great game. The production quality from Pegasus Spiele and Quined Games is high, and we've appreciated the muted palette used by artist Ian O'Toole.
I would say that although I found the theme interesting, it didn’t really shine through for me as I played. I didn’t feel like I was being a great industrialist or a philanthropist either but instead I was just focused on scoring victory points in an essentially abstract game. I was also a little confused about what a 'mission' is - is it a charity thing? It seems odd then that I’m making lots of income from it too.
The game comes with a solo mode, which is a big plus, tho' I've found it very hard to beat and much less fun than battling it out with real opponents. My key concern tho' is the limited routes to victory; I have tried and failed to win by focusing on building lots of departments at the expense of the map but this just gave too much advantage to my opponents. The end-game scoring is heavily skewed towards projects so all players are seeking to go on missions, research projects and place them, with little desire to do anything different. While I’ve enjoyed my games so far and it’s nice to win by being ruthlessly efficient and outplanning your opponents, but I'd like to have been able to find more varied paths to victory, perhaps with a modified set up that reduced the focus on projects. I also wondered if asymmetric player boards might help to set players on different strategies. I note that the Kickstarter deluxe version implemented some of these ideas so I guess I’m not the only one who’s seen these issues!
Carnegie evokes flashes of Puerto Rico (Ravensburger), Terra Mystica (Capstone/Feuerland Spiele) and 7 Wonders (Repos Production), so it is clearly standing on the shoulders of giants. Overall I think this is a good game and worth checking out but I do wonder whether or not it will stand the test of time when against such classics...
(Review by Paul Moorshead)