I like racing games. The goal is self-explanatory, so if I’m teaching someone a racing game, I don’t have to go through a long explanation of how someone wins the game. I get to avoid saying something like, “Okay, so for every worker you will score two points, but you might get more if you have this bonus tile. Oh, you also get points by having a contiguous placement of wheat tiles, but you will get a penalty if you build them next to any tile that has this symbol on it because I think that in Germany that’s the symbol for radioactive sewage. Also, put all completed goals under the magical halibut card, but remember to turn them sideways. No, you can’t call that tapping.”
In racing games, the first person that crosses the finish line wins.
Now that might be complicated a little by crossing the finish line and surviving, or crossing the finish line with this thing in your hand, but really you are just trying to get across the finish line. Not only that, but in most racing games, the concept of who comes in second or third place is still important. In a regular Eurogame, I often don’t care if I come in second place. I usually try to go big or go home, but in a racing game, if I can’t get first place, then I will try my best to make second.
In Mississippi Queen, the first player to cross the finish line wins, but you have to pick up two girls on the way. Don’t worry. They are plastic and easy to pick up. You just have to approach them slowly. This racing game was designed by Werner Hodel and published by Goldsieber, so it’s in one of those big boxes. It was published in 1997, and it was the Spiel des Jahres winner for that year. Mississippi Queen will play from 3 to 5 players, and takes less than an hour to play. It’s a family friendly game and my nine-year old would be able to handle the rules with no problem.
As I mentioned, the goal in Mississippi Queen is to pilot your river boat along the Mississippi, pick up two passengers, and then be the first to arrive at the final port. Your river boat has two wheels that are used to indicate speed and coal. The river is represented by large interlocking tiles that feature river and island hexes. At the start of each round, the player that is farthest down the river will take their turn and move their boat a number of spaces according to their speed. You can modify your speed up or down by one at the start of your turn, and you get one free course modification that can be taken at any time during your turn. See how confusing language can be? I said course modification instead of turn because I had already used another meaning of the word turn. Dumb. If you want to increase or decrease your speed by more than one or make additional course modifications, then you have to spend coal. You only have a limited amount of coal, so you have to use it wisely.
You navigate your way along the river which builds as you advance to a new tile. You then roll a die to determine which direction the river will turn or if it continues along in a straight line. You don’t know where the next tile will be placed exactly, nor do you know where the islands are placed. Obviously, you are not a very experienced river boat captain. Maybe you spilled your mint julep all over your map, or maybe you caught the map on fire while you were smoking a cigar talking about how you tricked someone into painting a fence for you one summer. I don’t know. It seems like you should have a better sense of what’s coming up next with the course of the river. Maybe you are really drunk and nearsighted or it’s very foggy. Whatever. Basically, you navigate the river, pick up two southern belle passengers, and try to get to the last tile before your opponents.
This is all great fun and I don’t really mind not knowing what is coming up next in the course of the river. What I do mind is that you can be bumped by other boats. I could be all set to pick up my petite plastic passenger, and another player can plow into me and bump me into another hex. Now maybe I haven’t spent a lot of time as a river boat captain on the Mississippi, but I’m pretty sure if a river boat plows into another river boat at high speed, it does not ricochet off into another part of the river. I’m pretty sure both boats take heavy damage, and might even burst into flame. At that point, both ships would be in a race to see who gets to the bottom of the river, because they would sink, along with their plastic passengers, cigars, banjos, and mint juleps.
This bumping mechanism means that the last few turns of the game can end up being a little silly, as boats try to bump their way into the final port. Does it kill the game? Not really, it’s still a fun family racing game with good components, and that makes it a winner for me.
Mississippi Queen is out of print, but you might be able to find a used copy online for a reasonable price. If you find one, then grab your mint julep, throw away your map, and have fun! Special thanks go out to Mark Johnson for bringing his copy up to Fresno so that I could have a chance to play it.
This is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 1997 winner, Mississippi Queen, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.