I generally don't care for racing games because they tend to rely heavily on chance or luck. So when Jeremiah said, "Hey, let's try Mississippi Queen!" I grumbled a little inside, but decided I would give it a try -- for love.
Jeremiah & Kara
Theme and What is it?
“Too fast, too fast,” you mutter under your breath, teeth gritted in stoic panic. You’re the captain of a beautiful Mississippi Queen steamboat and you’re in the middle of the biggest steamboat race in the country. In your eagerness to put some river between yourself and your opponents you failed to give yourself enough space to turn the bend. You try to jerk the wheel further starboard, but no luck — it’s turned as far as it can go.
“Captain! The Shore!” your first mate cries. Beads of sweat drip from your brow. There’s nothing more you can do. You brace yourself, but the impact still knocks you off your feet. Grinding and groaning, your precious ship runs aground for several meters before coming to a shuddering halt. By the time you get to your feet, the maintenance crew is already on the ground assessing damage and trying to get the boat back in the water.
“This is going to take ages,” you growl. A honk from the river catches your ear and you turn to see another Mississippi Queen glide effortlessly around the bend. The opposing captain catches your eye and gives you a smug smile with a lazy wave of his hand.
Anger surges through your veins, and you spin back to face your crew. “Put your backs into it!” you bark at your men “this race isn’t over!”
Mississippi Queen is a steamboat-themed racing game. By planning ahead and strategically maneuvering their ship, one player will successfully glide across the finish line and earn the title “Queen of the Queen” or something like that.
In Mississippi Queen, players act as the captains of their own magnificent Mississippi Queen steamboats. During their turns, players will first decide whether they’d like to speed up, or slow down. “Slow down?” you scoff, “That’s ridiculous — this is a race!” Right you are, my friend. However, a boat must move a number of spaces exactly equal to its full speed, and players only get one free 60-degree rotation per turn. Extra rotations require coal, which is super important for maintaining speed and course, and players only have 6 coal to spend during the entire game. This means players might have to slow down in order to avoid crashing into islands, sandbars, or leaving the board entirely.
Also, in order for a player to win the race, they have to arrive at the finish line with two passengers aboard their ship. There are docks scattered along the river map, and players can port there to pick up a passenger. The tricky thing is that a boat must slow down to a speed of 1 in order to successfully port. This might sound annoying to some people, but it’s actually a genius mechanic — by forcing players to slow down and pick up passengers along the river route, it becomes nearly impossible for one player to run away with the lead, making the game close and competitive the entire time.
There’s also a great 2 player variant. I was worried at first that a 2 player game wouldn’t be as fun or exciting, since there would only be 2 boats, and 2 boats can’t crowd or block the river as effectively. However, the 2 player variant has players controlling 2 ships each, with the player in last place also controlling a 5th ship called “the Black Rose”. In this variant, players control a team of ships, and only one must cross the finish line with 2 passengers to win. Ships on the same team can transfer coal back and forth between them and work together to block the other team. It’s a really cool variant that makes for an immensely satisfying 2 player game.
Mississippi Queen also has an ‘advanced’ mode, which adds extra river hazards to the board, making the game even more strategic. The advanced mode also adds coal depots where players can restock their coal reserves.
I generally don’t care for racing games because they tend to rely heavily on chance or luck. So when Jeremiah said, “Hey, let’s try Mississippi Queen!” I grumbled a little inside, but decided I would give it a try — for love.
The rulebook was brief but thorough. Everything was clearly explained within a few pages, and it only took me about 5 minutes to read. Setup also was lightning quick — We all chose our steamboat colors, popped our speed and coal wheels in place, shuffled up the river tiles and voila! We were ready to go.
Game Build Quality
The component quality of Mississippi Queen is fantastic. The river tiles are large, sturdy, and snap together snugly. The box is nice and thick, though I do wish there was a better insert. The passenger miniatures are solid and easy to grab, but the best thing in Mississippi Queen is definitely the awesome steamboat miniatures.
The boat miniatures are amazing! Not only are they super cute and fun to look at, but they’re also practical. Each boat has hubs for 2 wheels: a red speed wheel which tracks the boat’s current speed from turn to turn; and a black coal wheel which indicates how much coal a player has left to spend during the game. These wheels make it so easy to tell exactly how fast each boat is going. It’s a simple, yet ingenious use of miniatures that gives me hope for the future of humanity.
The artwork in Mississippi queen is vibrant, yet simple enough that it’s not distracting to players. The boards are water-blue with little waves painted in to give the river a lively look. There are different helps and hazards that players will encounter along the river race; islands and docks in the basic game, as well as sandbars, debris, and coal depots in the advanced version. All the different hazards and the different kinds of docks are nicely illustrated and easy to tell apart.
One part of the game I love, is that when players start the game, there’s just a single river tile ahead of them. As soon as a player’s boat reaches that tile, another one is added on. This continues on until all the river tiles have been placed on the map. This gives the players the illusion of progression and discovery as their tiny boats paddle along their cardboard river. One thing I need to mention though is that by the end of the game, the river board is HUGE! Because of how the tiles are attached to each other, the board can easily reach 4-feet wide and 5-feet long. So if you want to play this game, make sure you set it up somewhere where you’ll have plenty of room!
As I mentioned before, I don’t usually like racing games, but there’s something about Mississippi Queen that I just adore. It’s fast, it’s strategic, and the decisions you make feel important. Do I spend my coal now, to speed up and get ahead of my opponents? Or do I save it for later in case I get stuck and need to turn around? Do I try to beat my opponent to this dock to pick up its last passenger? Or do I speed ahead and try to port at the next dock? There are so many important choices to make, and it creates a thrilling atmosphere of excitement and suspense.
Even though there are a lot of important strategic decisions to make during the race, the game is surprisingly lenient. A player can make lots of poor choices and end up way behind everyone else, but as long as they make really great decisions later, they can still have a shot at winning the game. I love this, because it keeps players from feeling upset or discouraged about being in last place. Most of the time the game is so close that literally anyone could snag the victory, which helps keep players engaged the whole time. I don’t normally stand up during games — I like to sit comfortably in my chair — but this one had me on my feet the entire time. Who knew steamboat races could be so intense?
Age Range & Weight
The suggested age for Mississippi Queen is 10+, but I think kids as young as 8 years old could play this one as well. Sure, the game requires quite a bit of strategy and planning, but the mechanics are simple enough that anyone who has mastered basic addition, subtraction, and counting could play.
For the most part, the game chugs along steadily, but there have been a few instances where a player takes an extra long time to figure out how to navigate through a tricky traffic jam, or around a dense group of islands. They generally figure it out pretty quickly though, and the game moves on.
I think Mississippi Queen is a great, strategic racing game. It has great artwork, awesome steamboat minis, and a really unique theme. The rules are simple, but the gameplay is deep — and not just because it’s on a river. Mississippi Queen would be especially enjoyable to those who love racing games like “The Quest for El Dorado” and “Downforce”, but I think people who don’t usually like racing games (like me), might be pleasantly surprised by this one too.
For a medium-weight racing game full of excitement, strategy, and fun, consider Mississippi Queen!
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