Train of Thought: touring Snowdonia – the surveyor

Train of Thought: touring Snowdonia – the surveyor

In many of the previous Train of Thought articles, I’ve made comparisons as to how Snowdonia and its mechanics fit into the wider canon of board games. Today’s topic however, I’m slightly more stumped to find an easy analogy for. Eurogames generally follow a formula:

  1. Take an action to get something 
  2. Take a different action to leverage the something you have into points. 

The surveyor (G) action defies this formula by simply giving you points. The rate of return is lacking and generally speaking is not as exciting as laying track or making buildings. Many games of Snowdonia go by in which the surveyor remains at the start of the track until the end of the game, untouched since set up… but even here, in possibly the simplest part of the game, there lies some interesting discussion to be had. So grab your levelling staff (I had to google that one) and let’s get started!

So what exactly do the G action and surveyor do?

When you take the G action, you move your surveyor up the track to the next station. This happens completely independently of the rest of the game. How excavated or built the track or any of the stations are is irrelevant, it is effectively a points track. The G action can also be taken by an unlimited number of workers each round meaning you can never be out-competed when taking it. It does not require or consume any resources.

At the end of the game, you will score points equal to the value in the corner of the station your surveyor ended at. This starts at 1 if you only move your surveyor 1 station but grows in exponential increments, awarding 21 points if you move them all the way to the end. Getting your surveyor to the summit will take 6 to 8 actions depending on player count.

So I get points… for free… and nobody can stop me? Sod this railway business, I’m off to buy a levelling staff!

There’s something you’ve not considered there though… your workers. The G action might not cost steel like laying track does… but you still have to place a worker there and you only get on average 20–30 of those before the game ends. See, in my opinion, our friend the surveyor is here to teach us an important lesson about the value of our time. It’s appropriate he carries a measuring stick, because that’s exactly what he is.

How so?

In previous articles, we’ve sometimes viewed in-game gambits by the number of points they score for the number of actions we’ve invested. I’ve used those metrics to determine if an action is good or bad. This is an incredibly useful principle across all of gaming and the surveyor here demonstrates it perfectly.

Let’s assume a 3–4 player game, meaning there are 7 stations in play. You take the G action 7 times and are rewarded with 21 points. 21÷7=3. You got 3 points per action you spent. This is the easiest and simplest action to points exchange in the game and therefore becomes the bar by which we should assess everything else we do.

Let’s take this play line instead:

Action 1 – take a contract card that gives you 21 points for 16 rubble

Action 2 – take a contract card with an ability that doubles your excavation rate

Action 3 – place a worker to excavate while the work rate is 4, activating your contract card to make it 8.

Action 4 – place another worker to excavate 8 more rubble.

You have scored 21 points from your rubble contract and a practical  minimum of 3 points from station bonuses you excavated in the process. 24÷4=6. That’s 6 points per action on a conservative estimate and you still have one contract ability and one contract scoring goal in pocket.

The simple maths around the surveyor is a wonderful tool to help you intuit how good or not your other possible playlines are.

I see, so… the surveyor really is just bad then?

Not always. The one edge the surveyor has is that you get points immediately with no extra steps. This makes the G action a good fallback in a pinch. Late in the game or late in turn order, that might be the only way to get points available. The surveyor is also better than any redundant non-scoring action. If you end a game of Snowdonia with many surplus resources, those could have all been G actions worth a few VP instead of nothing.

You’ve always banged on about how Snowdonia is more complex than it looks on the surface… is there really not any more here?

Of course there is! This time in the scenarios. Many of Snowdonia’s scenarios change-up the way the surveyor and the G action works quite significantly. Throwing much of the damning assessment and stats in this article straight out the window. This is even more true of the scenarios in Snowdonia: Grand Tour which seeks to shake-up the G action, the Surveyor or both in practically every scenario:

In the Florida Overseas Railroad your surveyor gives you excavation bonuses based on how far up the line they are. However, past the midpoint these bonuses decrease again as the victory points offered increase.

In the Isle of Wight your surveyor is taking part in a yacht race. The G action will advance your boat as usual but so will excavating, building, laying track and the weather! There’s also shortcuts you can take at the risk of being pushed back by event cubes. 1st place awards the most points so the race is on.

In the Tokyo Metro, your surveyor navigates the network in a non-linear open ended map, collecting contract style bonus objectives as it goes. You might want a particular goal but do you have the time to move your surveyor there to pick it up? You also have to watch out for other players that might get there and claim it first.

As you can see though the surveyor might be a very simple part of the base game, the playspace opens up much more!

So there we are, the surveyor. In a game about trains and building railways, this guy with a stick still has something to say.  How do you feel about the surveyor? Which scenarios do you feel make the most interesting use of the G action? I’d love to know!

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1 comment

  • Derek

    Really wish it was easier to find copies of Snowdonia for sale … had a friend visiting in the UK last Christmas and could not not one shop or online store able to supply him a copy. :(

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