Paris Connection Board Game Review
By MARK WILSON
Year Published: 2010
Playing Time: 30 Minutes
Paris Connection sits in the “cube rails” genre of board games, which is one that I was introduced to via this game and a couple others. No definition in gaming is airtight, but many in the cube rails genre feature placement of cubes (or, in more recent versions, train-meeples) on a point map or hex grid to simulate railways.
Additionally, these games generally feature fluctuating markets in which stocks or shares of companies/railways are what determines your purchasing power and, often, endgame scoring (either in points or money).
A few of you are probably thinking of the far more complicated 18XX genre, which also shares some of those characteristics and generally features a strong train theme. But those are deliberately more dense with rules and rules systems. The final characteristic of cube rails is that they tend to be rules-light compared to many modern games with similarly serious themes, and certainly far lighter than your average 18XX.
They balance this simplicity in the rule set by hiding a lot of depth in the shifting markets, and how your actions affect everyone else around you. Ideally, at least.
Rules and Length
Paris Connection is among the lightest of the cube railers, one that is often referred to as a quick filler, despite a board sized in such a way to suggest a meatier experience. Even at max players, it occupies a roughly 30-minute window.
Teaching does not add to this length considerably. The rulebook is all of two pages and can be taught in a few minutes. You have two basic options on your turn: extend a railway (there are 6 colors to choose from) or trade for additional stocks in a particular railway, provided any remain. Everything else is just explaining how those two actions work.
It was pointed out to me when discussing this game that “filler” is often used as a pejorative. I disagree that it needs to carry such a negative weight, since I see no problem in describing what something does: in this case, fill a gap in a game night between longer games, or before someone shows up, or while someone has to step out to take a call, etc. This says nothing of a game’s quality. It’s a logistical descriptor. These games are necessary in our hobby, and often quite spectacular. I’ve filled many excellent game nights with a string of delightful fillers, and these nights are often more fun than those dominated by a single, lengthy game.
Distillations and Evocations
I include that aside on fillers for a reason. Paris Connection isn’t perfect, but I think it’s excellent for its length. There are games that would drag at 90 minutes, that are not only palatable but amazing at 20-30 min. Paris seems to me to be one such game.
For a comparison, almost anything else in the cube rails genres will offer more depth. Most will have more going on with auctions for company stocks, and longer-term shifting for advantages. Even at its best, Paris Connection doesn’t match this depth.
What it does, however, is distill such games down to their tensest, most interesting moments, then repeat that moment over and over until the game ends.
Some of my fondest experiences with simple games feature this sort of repetition. Cockroach Poker is the singular moment where you stare into a Poker player’s eyes and call their bluff, repeated over and over. Can’t Stop is the heart attack of pressing your luck at the roll of a die, over and over. These aren’t deep games. But they are intense.
In Paris Connection, the tension is between making your existing stocks/shares worth more, or adding to your share portfolio. Over and over. But it’s an exciting tension, one that rarely has clear-cut answers (there’s enough hidden information that you’re rarely certain of outcomes, even if some napkin math can be done with some decisions).
Amusingly, the game also allows you to tank a competitor’s railway by extending it without increasing its value. Since there are limited cubes/trains to place, you limit their point total. But you also sacrifice the chance to improve your own standing for that turn.
So it’s these simple battles that will take purchase in your psyche, and will provide the game’s enjoyment. And enjoyment it is, unless you dislike the very nature of that decision point. Cockroach Poker falls flat for some as well, because maybe you don’t like bluffing. And if you don’t, that game is your nightmare. But for those who enjoy the uncertainty, in any of the games mentioned (including Paris), the net effect can be heady.
So Paris Connection is more an oblique evocation of what cube rails are generally known for. It boils off any ancillary bits and gives you the toughest choices, however simple they may seem on the surface.
The Limits of Distillation
For clarity, this repeated tension is only tense and interesting for some. The appeal for many gamers in stock and/or train games is exactly those longer-term implementations of one’s strategy. Removing such strategic considerations, then, lessens the experience. Paris Connection is undoubtedly tactical. At lower player counts, you can plan a bit in advance. But your game is still played in the moment, adapting to what the board gives you on your turn.
In distilling the idea of cube rails to such simple decisions, it also has to make some concessions for realism, which is another appeal for some gamers. In many such games, for example, you need to own stock in a company to be able to expand the company’s rails. No such barrier exists here, and you can tank a company you hold no ownership in, merely because the game’s mechanics allow you to. This will rankle some who enjoy blocking competitors out by creating pseudo-monopolies, another long-term play that is unavailable here.
There’s the narrative element of that as well. A more full-realized setting will tell more complete stories. In this sense, Paris Connection trends toward the abstract side of the genre’s spectrum. There’s still drama, but it’s in the micro actions, not the macro-level story the game tells.
Standard caveats around this style of game also apply. It would risk feeling repetitive if it were longer, or across multiple plays in a tight timeframe. These are not negatives in my book, but are considerations for those thinking of purchasing a game. Frankly, I don’t play many games often enough that gameplay I normally find exciting would become repetitive and boring. But there are others who need more variance to sustain their interest.
Paris Connection – Conclusions
I don’t think this needs to be a stepping stone to more complex games, in cube rails or otherwise. To-date, Paris Connection is one of my favorite cube rails game, and that includes a fair number played by this point. I haven’t actually found one I dislike (it’s an eminently solid genre from what I can tell, with vanishingly few duds for those who enjoy this style of gameplay).
But don’t let someone wearing a conductor’s hat excitedly tell you about their 4-6 hour strategic behemoth after seeing you enjoy Paris Connection. Unless you want them to, that is. Maybe that’s your jam too, and you’ll ride the rails all the way out to the far reaches that the genre delivers. But if this is your final destination, it’s a really good one.