Pipeline Review - The Most Fun You'll Have Being Stressed About Pipes!
Game Type - Economic Resource Management
Number of Players - 2 - 4
Mechanics - Network Building, Tile Placement, Resource Management
Difficulty to Learn - Medium leaning towards heavy
Release - 2019
MSRP - $69.99
Publisher - Capstone Games
Recommended for fans of - Power Grid, Arkwright, Indonesia
Do you remember the old computer game Pipe Mania? It’s the one where you had to assemble a network of matching pipes to keep up with an onslaught of cascading goop. This is not the sort of game you’d imagine would work well spliced together with a dry economic board game, but somehow Pipeline does just that, and it's wonderful.
Pipeline takes place in a world where the government has to decided to make public the previously nationalized oil industry. Each player represents a fledgling oil company competing to be the king of the oil-covered hill by buying pipes, refining oil, and making a pretty profit on said oil.
The gameplay itself is fairly simple. Players take turns choosing an action and then if there is an attached secondary action, they can pay $10 to take that one too. The actions allow you to buy various goods, such as pipe tiles, oil tanks, and upgrades that give special abilities. There are also a number of oil related actions that let you buy crude oil, refine oil to a higher grade, and sell refined oil.
The refining process is the mechanic that really makes this game shine. During the game players will assemble a network of interconnected pipe tiles, each one having a series of pipes in up to three different colors, corresponding with the three colors of oil. You can then use an action to activate some of your pipes and refine oil of matching colors. The longer the pipe the more valuable the oil becomes. With this mechanic Pipeline adds a fascinating spatial awareness element to an otherwise normal economic game.
The other element that makes Pipeline great is the intense need for efficiency. You have a very limited number of actions you can do over the course of the game meaning that it is vitally important to make each action as productive as possible. Whether or not you crash and burn all depends on how well you plan ahead and how soon you get your oil refining engine up and running. This amount of pressure can be stressful, but when you do well it feels fantastically rewarding.
Pipeline doesn’t just shine when it comes to game play, it's an incredibly aesthetically pleasing game too. There’s not a lot of art in Pipeline, but what is there is great. This is also a game where too much art could clutter things up and take away from the crisp clean graphic design. As far as the component quality goes, it's on the same high level as the art. The tiles and player boards are made out of a nice sturdy cardboard stock, which is good considering a big part of the game is arranging these tiles.
As you might have guessed, I think this game is great! The engine building, pressured gameplay, and economic crunch are all things I love in a game, but I do want to warn that those things may turn some people away. While almost everyone I've played Pipeline with has loved it, a couple friends were turned off by the pressure of limited actions, saying it stressed them out and that they felt like they didn't have enough time to really get anything going. However, even those people said that they still liked the game, they just didn’t love it. I, however, do live this game and can't recommend it highly enough. This is easily a top ten game for me and if any of parts I described sound appealing, it just might be a top ten for you too.
Gameplay – Crunchy, brain burning, economic heaven!
Rulebook – Easy to follow, with lots of picture examples, and a breakdown of all the cards in the back.
Theme – It’s rare that games on the dry, resource management side of things convey theme well, but this does it great. You’ll feel like an oil baron in no time!
Set-up/Take down – While not as bad if you micromanage your component bagging, it’s still a bit of a bear.
Components – The design is crisp and clean, the cards have a nice finish, and the carboard bits a chunky and durable. Fantastic production!