Train of Thought: touring Snowdonia – contract cards

Train of Thought: touring Snowdonia – contract cards

Whether they're shared, private or secret, contracts in Eurogames are as old as the hills. Fulfilling specific sets of requirements for victory point pay-outs is practically a hallmark of the genre. Kanban EV's performance goals, Viticulture's wine orders and Ticket to Ride's titular destination tickets are all perfect examples of this mechanic. Snowdonia honours this tradition with its contract cards. And just like everything else in Snowdonia, they buck convention and have hidden depths. Please sign here and we can get started.

What does a contract card do? How do I get one?

Contract cards are obtained via the F action space. The F action allows you to choose one contract card to take from an available selection of 3. These 3 slots will refill from a contract deck of 30 cards. Most scenarios include a certain number of unique contract cards that are used exclusively in that scenario.

Each contract card has 2 important benefits. The top half of each contract is a scoring goal that will provide the player with victory points at the end of the game provided they have fulfilled its conditions. The bottom half is a special effect that can be used for powerful plays once per game.

The back of each contract card also features a weather icon, but since the weather and contract mechanics only interact indirectly, we won't discuss this aspect today.

Are contract cards important then?

Yes – very. I would go as far as to say that you can't win a game of Snowdonia against average or better opponents if you don't take any contracts. This is mainly because of how important the points offered by the top halves of these cards are. Laying track and excavating rubble are the core of the game, but on their own they don't offer all that many points. 

We've discussed this somewhat in previous articles, but to outline it again quickly: the single action it would take to pick up a contract card can transform your 3 laid track worth approximately 10 points to a total of 34; it could take your pile of 8 rubble from being worth 0 points to 11. I think those huge score jumps speak for themselves!

And didn't you say they gave you a special effect as well?

Yes. On top of those juicy points payouts, they also give you an effect. If used correctly, these can easily have the impact of an entire extra worker for that round, if not more. For example, one card allows you to take 3 random cubes from the bag when you take the G action. That's effectively an extra A action, replacing the action you took to get the contract in the first place. Another example is one that doubles your excavation work rate for the turn: if you can get 2 workers on the excavate action, this card has in effect given you 2 extra workers. When the exchange rates on the bonus actions get that high, it can even be worth taking a contract you never intend to score just for its effect!

All of the most explosive and flashy plays in the game are because of contracts: taking the first player marker at a critical moment, making steel faster than usual to lay more track than expected, or emptying the stock yard to prevent a later player from getting anything. They can be a major disruptive force to plans and will catch you out if you don't keep an eye on what your opponents' contracts allow them to do.

This all sounds amazing! What's the catch?

There are several.

1. Limited availability: Everyone at the table wants contracts but there are only 1 or 2 worker spots available for the F action. It's hotly contested.

2. Timing: There are only 3 contracts available at any given time and the contract in the final slot each round will go to the discard pile if it isn't taken. This combined with point 1 means you never have long to grab a desirable contract once it appears and there's a high likelihood someone will want the same one you do.

3. Public information: Once you've taken a contract, it remains face-up in front of you. Other players can use this as information that signposts your goals. This can be dangerous since some of the higher point contracts are prone to disruption. Scoring a big contract could easily be the difference between victory or defeat. It will therefore be in the interest of other players to try to deny you those scoring opportunities, even if they themselves might not gain many points from the manoeuvre.

This presents an interesting fork. You can take your contracts early so that you have clear goals to work towards but at the risk of being interfered with by opponents. Or you can try to pick up contracts that fit you later but at the risk those contracts never come out of the deck. The correct path through this conundrum will, as always, require careful attention to context: what your opponents are doing and the scenario you're playing.

You said the contracts vary by scenario, how does that work?

Yes, many scenarios will introduce contracts that interact with or play off of their unique features. Let's look at one of the upcoming Snowdonia: Grand Tour scenarios as an example:

In the Florida Overseas Railroad, you have to fill in water tiles in order to lay track and later on build the Seven Mile Bridge. As a result there are contracts that will reward you for doing these things. Similarly, they can also help you obtain and score the relatively scarce rum cubes in this scenario. Almost a third of the deck is replaced with these new contracts.

As the above demonstrates, it's a good idea when playing a scenario to keep an eye on the central mechanical changes. With a reasonable proportion of the usual contract deck replaced, the points incentives for various actions naturally change with them.

Hopefully this article will help you to remember to read the fine print on your contracts in the future! They’re one of the more nuanced parts of the game and definitely one that takes repeat plays to really begin to master. 

For the more experienced players, what's the most contracts you've ever scored in a game of Snowdonia? Mine's 6 so far.

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