Review: Mississippi Queen
|Release Date||2019 (original version 1997)|
Mississippi Queen is a game of paddle wheeler boats racing down the Mississippi River. In this game, players must watch their speed and coal consumption, strategically managing both as they progress down the river. A reprint of a 1997 game, this new version from Super Meeple includes the expansion content that had previously been quite hard to find. This game may be a hit with some families, but compared to modern game designs, it is starting to show its age.
I always jump at the chance to try old Spiel des Jahres winners. It’s fun to see the evolution of tabletop gaming, from old-school staples like Hare & Tortoise and Rummikub to modern classics like Dominion and Azul. As it happens, I also love racing games, so I have wanted to try Mississippi Queen – the 1997 Spiel des Jahres winner – for as long as I have been in the hobby.
In Mississippi Queen, players control steamboats in an old-fashioned regatta. The goal of the game is to reach the end of the river first, with two passengers in tow. To begin, each player chooses a boat and places it on the starting tile; the initial turn order is random. One additional river tile is placed straight ahead.
Each boat has two hexagonal “wheels” on it, one to mark speed and the other to track coal supply. Both are numbered 1-6. Every boat starts at speed 1, with 6 coal.
Turns are taken in order of position in the race, starting with the player farthest ahead and ending with the player farthest behind. If two or more boats are tied, the tie-breakers are 1) higher speed, 2) more remaining coal, and finally 3) closest to the right side of the river.
Before the active player moves each turn, they may add or subtract one to their speed. Then, during their move, they may change direction one time, turning their boat 60°. If they wish to do more – either to modulate their speed by more than one or to turn their boat more than 60° – they must spend coal to do so (one coal for each extra “thing” they wish to do).
The first time a boat enters the forward-most tile, the player finishes their move and then adds a new tile to the river. To determine its placement, they roll a direction die and place the tile according to the result, either on the left, right, or center connector.
When a newly-placed tile has dock spaces on it, passengers are placed on the docks. In order to win the game, a player must pick up two passengers, and to do this, they must sail up to a dock space at speed 1, so the passenger can board. As boats move about, they can push each other, but doing so costs the active player extra movement points.
The game also includes expansion modules, such as tiles with hazards on them, and tiles that let players refill their coal supply. (Normally, coal is finite and when it’s gone, it’s gone.) Additionally, the Black Rose module adds an extra boat that is controlled by the player in last place and acts as portable coal-refill station. Players can mix and match these variants as they please.
The first player to reach the end of the river at speed 1 with two passengers onboard wins!
Mississippi Queen feels different than a lot of race games I have played. Unlike the high-octane Formula D or the trolling-intensive Downforce, this game is a much more relaxed experience. Its peaceful theme, mixed with the need to periodically slow down to a crawl, make for an overall slower pace. I should note that this is not a bad thing, it’s just unlike most other race games out there.
The production quality is top-notch. The boat pieces look and feel great, and the wheels work very smoothly. The sturdy cardboard components bear vibrant artwork that draws players into the theme. Additionally, the passengers are delicately detailed, their crinoline dresses just begging to be painted all different colors. As usual, Super Meeple has made a lovely-looking product.
Overall, I found Mississippi Queen to be an okay experience. Like I said, the vibe and pacing are different than I’m used to, so in that regard, it feels unique. However, it lacks excitement, and it has the potential for a major runaway leader problem. As soon as someone picks up their second passenger, they naturally want to high-tail it to the finish line, not slowing down unless they absolutely have to. Thus, the first player to collect both passengers can easily steal the game. When this happens and it’s obvious that the other players don’t stand a chance, the game becomes boring, since the outcome has been all but decided. Also, since the direction of the river tiles is determined by a die, a couple of lucky rolls can make or break someone’s game. To its credit, I will say that this game plays very smoothly and it’s a breeze to teach, but it feels pretty dated compared to modern game designs.
Mississippi Queen is a decent family game, and it’s worth playing, if for no other reason than it’s a Spiel des Jahres winner. However, it is not likely to blow anyone’s mind in 2020.
A review copy was provided by Luma Imports.
The Bottom Line
Mississippi Queen is a product of its time, a time before the boom of modern game design. Compared to games of the present day, it feels dated, but it is worth a play, if for no other reason than it's a Spiel des Jahres winner.