Coaster Park – Pandasaurus Games – Review

Theme and What is it?

Coaster Park is a bidding game where you take on the role of a Roller Coaster designer. Over the course of the game you’ll be competing against the other players to design the best roller coasters. You will do this using a three dimensional system of cardboard ramps and hills to run a marble down the track and see how well your coasters work. In the end will you thrill your customers or will you jump the track?

Gameplay Mechanics

For the most part Coaster Park is an auction game. Every round players set out a number of cards. Each card represents both a type of hill and an assistant. Each player takes a turn as auction head. During their turn they choose a card. They may either buy the card as an assistant for the listed price giving them an action, special ability, or on going effect. They may also decide to place the card up for auction as the hill it represents. Players choose a starting bid and go around the table giving each player a chance to accept the bid and buy the piece. If the bid returns to the player they must pay that amount for the hill.

One of the other mechanics in the game is a closed economy. If a player buys a hill piece on someone else’s turn they pay the active player the cost of the hill. If the active player buys the hill then they pay into the bank.

The next big mechanic is physics. Once players have purchased a hill they will either store it or add it to an existing coaster. During their turn they may choose to test one of their coasters as an action by paying one dollar to the bank. This involves rolling a marble down the coaster to see how well the coaster works.

 

The type of hill players will use effects not just how well the coaster works, but also their score at the end. For every hill a marble successfully completes at the end of the game players will receive a number of points based on the hill. Every hill has a number of flags on the side denoting their value. Bonus points can be awarded for certain types of hills and where they are placed in your coaster. 

Initial Impressions

I was immensely excited about this game. I saw them bring this out a GenCon and was so happy to see a roller coaster game with three dimensional bits. The kinetic feel of the marbles and the promise of building my own coaster got me very hyped for this game. If it hadn’t been completely overshadowed by Fireball Island less than a minute later, I think it would have been the talk of the show. I was even happy because I thought that even if it was bad as a game I could at least build roller coasters out of it and play with it that way.

Game Build Quality

This is a tough one. Based on the separate elements of the game I think the quality can be called good. The cardboard was sturdy and didn’t warp at all. The tokens were nice and chunky. The coaster parts hooked together well. Card quality was nice. I wish they had been a little thicker, but overall they were pretty good.

 

The rules are well written and cover the game pretty well. We messed up one of the rules in our initial play-through but fixed it on subsequent plays. We thought each hill was only worth one point each. We didn’t notice the flag rule until later. There are a couple of pictures on the back of the rules showing how the track is supposed to look when finished. I wish there had been a note somewhere directing us there. We had problems setting up the tracks at first. The set up for the loop is non-existent. I had to go online to find a tutorial. This isn’t game breaking since the loop isn’t used in the game. It was just annoying. 

Artistic Direction

The art is fine. It’s hard to get meaningful art on a card for a hill. It does its job by letting us know what we’re looking for without being over-crowded. The graphic design for the game is fine. Everything is readable and easy to follow.

 

The cover of the box is really good. It shows skulls, dinosaurs, tanks, and castle parts. None of that is represented in the game at all. I was a bit disappointed by that. 

Fun Factor

This game is meant to be a mix of auction game with a healthy dose of physics. The joy of this game is supposed to be found in the creating of the roller coasters and watching your marble roll down the track. I’m going to stress the words “supposed to” there. The auction part of the game is fine. I have a different view of the physics part.

Age Range & Weight

The box says 8+ and I think that’s a good range, sort of. I think the auction mechanic and how you pay who in the game will frustrate younger players. However, 8+ is a good age for the coaster building part of the game. If you just want to build coasters then 8+ is a good age for it. However, I have significantly more to say in my conclusions.

Conclusions

I really wanted to like Coaster Park. I went in with such high expectations. I enjoy game about building theme parks and thought this could be a lot of fun. I also figured that if I didn’t like that part I could have fun with my niece just building roller coasters.

Here are the problems with those ideas.

First, the game itself falls apart a little. You don’t generate money in the game unless someone buys a hill from you. This encourages you to charge less for the hills however because other players are trying to go for the same things it means that they aren’t likely to bid for anything unless they really need it. There are so many alternatives for each hill most of us just waited for our turn to start an auction or to see if another hill that worked would come up later. This meant that my group bought most of our hills from the bank. Since there is no regular way to bring money into the game it meant that we found ourselves with an ever decreasing cash flow. One of the assistants you can get will give you money at the beginning of your turn but they’re a bit unreliable. You don’t know when they’ll show up or if they’ll be available when it’s your turn. This meant that we were running very low on cash very quickly. It would have been nice to have some sort of income mechanic in the game to offset this.

The second problem is the coasters themselves. Building the coaster was frustrating. More often than not the marble would fly off the track and bounce away. It was hard to get the marble to do anything on the coasters at all.

I did find a video from the company that walked you through how to build hills, roll the marble, and assorted other tips for playing. The problem was they wanted me to practice the marble rolling in order to get good at it. This is supposed to be a family weight game and they’re suggesting I practice it. The video claims that Coaster Park has a minor dexterity mechanic in rolling the marble. I don’t feel that’s an accurate statement for this game. The only dexterity element is how hard you push the marble down the track. This is a physics game. My ability to push the marble shouldn’t come into it.

Also, and I get this is minor, the rules and the video both say that you should use a support on top of the first hill to keep the rails together. I also recommend this since if you don’t your marble will most likely fall down in between them. However, if this was so important that you posted in the rules and had it in a video you made, why not have notches cut at the top of the hills for the support so I don’t have to try and hold it while rolling the marble?

The other part of the coaster, playing with my niece was complete bust. I thought it would go fine at first. She was having a lot of fun playing with the coasters and building hills. This lasted for about fifteen minutes when she turned the hill bits into soccer goals and started flicking marbles into them. She got frustrated with how poorly the marbles rolled down the hills.

I really wanted to like this game. I had high expectations for it. In the end that may be the problem here. I wanted this game to do so much that maybe it just couldn’t live up to my expectations. As it is right now, I just felt it was broken and unplayable. I’ve tried a couple of times to get in and enjoy the game only to just have it fall flat.

I always try and look for what worked in a game so other people will know if they would like it. Even if I didn’t enjoy a game I figure there will be someone out there who can enjoy this and maybe my review will be the thing they see while trying to decide. That’s why I work hard to describe the game as neutrally as possible. I just couldn’t do it here. I’m very sorry about that. I wanted to do a better job for the reader. I just think I wanted too much from this game.

I always say try a game before you buy it. I mean that here as well. If you’re still interested in this, please try it out before putting your money down.

 

Anyway, that’s it for me. Sadly, this game just missed the mark for me. 

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