The Mississippi river flows for 3730 km from Lake Itasca to the gulf of Mexico. The river derives its name from the native word Ojibwe “Misi-ziibi”, meaning “great river.”
When picking up my copy of Mississippi Queen by Keep Exploring Games / Super Meeple, I was confident to find a great board game inside the box. It being a winner of the Spiel Des Jahres award (1997), such an assumption is safe sailing, right?
What is Mississippi Queen like?
Mississippi Queen is a race game in which players are captains of sidewheelers – river boats propelled by two large paddle wheels, one on each side. The aim is to reach the river end first, having picked up 2 passengers along the way.
Mississippi Queen supports up to 6 players. Once all boats have left the docks, the turn order is indicated by the progress along the river. The one furthest ahead moves first.
To move and maneuver, players need to manage their speed and coal wheels. The number on the speed wheel (1 to 6) determines how many spaces a player must move on their turn. At the start of every turn the boat’s speed can be increased or decreased by 1. Before or during movement the boat can turn once at an angle of 90%. For all additional adjustments the player needs to spend one coal and the coal stock on board is very scarce so maneuvering is cumbersome
Picking up passengers is very tricky as players have to moor on the docks with speed 1. And the same goes for finishing at the river end. This requires carefully planning ahead, as coming in too fast (speed 6 to 2) makes docking impossible. Therefore, players might need several spins around the target (dock or finish). Furthermore, bumping against an island, obstacle or border is penalized with losing all speed and skipping a turn.
But, even the best captains at the wheel will be thrown off course, as rival racers can use their movement points to push each other in the wrong direction.
The more players join the race, the more the game will turn into bumper boats. However, it’s better not to get too caught up bumping other boats. The only thing that can keep a runaway leader from finishing first is an unforeseen river bend. A die roll determines the flow of the river. Whenever the leader of the race finishes their movement on the last tile in play, they roll a custom die and hope they didn’t wander off course.
Was Keep Exploring Games right to salvage Mississippi Queen and let it reemerge 23 years after receiving the Spiel Des Jahres award? Sadly, I can’t answer “yes” to this question with complete conviction.
Let’s start with the positives:
It has some real quality components. The boat-minis with 2 rotatable wheels for keeping track of speed and coal are nifty. The passenger minis instantly transport you back to the right zeitgeist.
The 2nd edition is made with replay-ability and value for money in mind. Players can adjust the difficulty by adding modules (sandbanks, driftwood, coal supplies) or the praised Black Rose expansion which is included in the base box. The modular game board means players never know the course of the river. The unpredictability of the race track seems intended as a catch up mechanism, as the next river turn is only revealed after the leading player has moved (in the wrong direction?).
But then, a few things make Mississippi Queen go under for me.
Safe sailing is what this game is about. Your boat feels like this huge bulky colossus on a long winding river full of obstacles and very gently, intently you’ll take it from A to B. That might be theme appropriate: sidewheelers don’t seem fit for racing by appearance. When playing a racing game I expect a thrill. I want my need for speed appeased.
Pick-up and delivery is a game mechanism I like quite well. Picking up the passengers at the docks is a very tricky job and the best moments in the game are when you are all equally stuck circling a pier scraping past the target. Me and my friends did have some very good laughs on these occasions.
Often though, these are the moments that another player escapes and takes a strong lead. The randomness of the die determining the course of the river proved not enough to stop a runaway leader. That’s quite alright for a family aimed game. Have a good laugh together and pack up the game again. Surprisingly, the game rules state that the player finishing first is the winner but the game only ends when “all but one boat has docked with their 2 passengers on board.” It feels like such an odd and outdated rule. The game punishes the winner by forcing them to sit out multiple turns with nothing to do. In addition, the game forces strenuously stranded players, who were having a good laugh at their situation, to push on and lose anyway.
Keeping all of this in mind, here are my personal tips to enjoy Mississippi Queen:
- Make sure to drop that outdated end game rule.
- Add as many modules and expansions as possible to maximize the very funny bumper boat situations.
- Wear your gaming friends out from the top notch racing board games of current times.
Time hasn’t stood still since 1997, but nostalgia is a seductive liar.
- Fun-looking and nifty sidewheeler-mini’s
- Modular board for an ever changing “race track”
- Catch up mechanism: funny on the rare occasion the leader does completely miss the turn
- Value for money: modules and Black Rose expansion already included
- Once 1 player has reached the finish, the game loses its momentum
- Not giving the expected thrill of a race game
- Doesn’t fully withstand the test of time
- Players: 2 – 6
- Playing time 45 minutes
- Suggested age: 10+
A review copy of Mississippi Queen was supplied by Keep Exploring Games