Spotlight on Games > Reviews
A Review:
The Old Pacific:
From California to New York in a Packard Automobile

Board Game by Ron Toelke, published by Chatham Hill Games, 1993

The subject of the game, which is part of the company's American Adventure series, is a 1903 Packard trip from San Francisco to New York completed in sixty-one days. It was not the first, but the third such journey completed, nor was it the fastest motor vehicle to have so done, it having been done previously in fifty days by motorcycle. But in the superhighway/jumbo jet era, it is almost impossible for us to imagine what was required to drive unreliable cars over such a distance, especially in the west where roads and communication facilities were so few and far between. The game's two-page historical article, apparently prepared by personnel at the Henry Ford Museum, does a good job of detailing the historical background.

Also with this game for 1-4 players comes a non-resealable plastic bag with a map, four cut-out car pieces (in two varieties), sixty-three points pieces and a spinner. All of the above material comes on heavy paper. Also included are plastic parts for a spinner and two pages of instructions.

The map is an old-style representation of the United States in two broad swaths, the top from San Francisco to Kansas and the bottom from Kansas to New York. The instructions mention that the board is designed to be cut lengthwise and joined together at the ends to show the proper geography, but that this is not strictly necessary. Indeed, to do so would be to cut in half the article which is printed on the back of the game map. Superimposed on the map are sixty spaces in which the paper cars may move from coast to coast. Each space is rated for terrain conditions, e.g. "Good Road", "Desert and Sand", or "Mountain Roads and Trails."

Players all begin on the Start space with five points and move one space forward each turn. A space may have a number in it – upon arriving there, a player receives this number in points. The more difficult the terrain in a space, the higher the number – they range from zero to three. After landing in the space, the player spins the spinner and consults one of six tables that make up what is called "Mr. Tom Fetch's Complete Guide to The Great Transcontinental Automobile Trip." This table will have some effect on the player's fortunes, ranging anywhere from "lose a turn" or "go back 1" to "advance 3" (on good roads).

The instructions are clear and leave no doubts about the correct way to play. Two ways of playing are offered. One version gives victory to the car which acquires the most points, with finishing first contributing to that while the second version is purely interested in minimizing the number of turns.

In terms of strategy, there is not much here of interest. There are three decisions to be made along the route depending on which route the player wishes to take, but they seem to not make much difference. Or, if one route can be proven to be better than others, there is no reason to prohibit everyone from using it. If cars could interact with one another in some way, or if special conditions of some cars gave them certain proclivities toward one fork or the other, those could contribute toward the route choice, but such things do not exist here. Players must always resolutely move forward at a speed of one. If instead they were allowed to vary their pace, they might have had an interesting tradeoff to make between points and speed in the points version of the game. But the rules state that each space entered provides points, regardless of whether or not the car stopped in that space or merely passed through it via table. The table events do not permit any player choices either.

The game states that it is designed for ages 8 to adult which is somewhat at variance with the website which states 10 to adult. Regardless of the lower age bound, without any apparent strategy considerations in the game, the upper bound is questionable to me. It appears that game should be mainly of interest to players who have recently reached a decent reading age and at most, a couple years beyond. Perhaps in that audience, this racing game may awaken some interest in a little-known segment of American history and encourage them to read more. Beyond this educational use, there isn't much mature game value.

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Spotlight on Games > Reviews
Reviewing the Reviewer
Thu Jul 3 11:54:09 PDT 2003
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