Game Overview: Spike is set in the early 1900s in the Eastern United States, where you are a railroad tycoon creating a network of rail lines between cities.  Earn money by connecting cities based on the commodity that exists in those cities.  You also earn money by picking up and delivering goods to specific cities that are on contract cards and assigned to you.  As an added bonus, if you complete certain routes on a route card that you pick, even more money will be coming your way.  This all occurs as you determine the best route and the best course of action for you in deciding how quickly your train will move, how many goods you can carry, and how many rail cards you draw per turn which come at a cost to the player.  Will you have what it takes to become the king of the rails?

Box Contents: There are a lot of components to this game.  It all starts with the large sized game board (20 inches x 22.5 inches) and includes 180 plastic train tracks and 8 plastic locomotives.  There are 36 double sided contract cards, 36 bonus route cards, and 60 rail cards.  There are no compartments within the box to hold everything and you will have to rely on the baggies that are included to store the components.  I had to use extra baggies to keep things separated in a way that I felt was appropriate.

Clarity of Rules:  At first, it appears that the rules are very long.  However, the rules manual includes directions in English, German, Dutch, and French. The instructions are only 8 pages long in a full sized color manual.  They do an excellent job at providing the necessary directions for the game.

Game Play:  Game setup begins with setting the twelve (cows, wood, corn, wheat, coal, oil, steel, cloth, pigs, flour, peaches, and cotton) commodity values, which range from $3 to $1.  This comes into play during the game, when a player connects their rails to a city and whichever commodity is within that city, the current value is awarded to that player.  The value of that same commodity then drops to $1 and all other commodity levels are moved up one space.  Players are then given random contract cards.  The number of contract cards are based on the number of players.  The contract cards provide the player the dollar value that they will earn if they pick up the shown commodity and deliver it to the specified city.  Players are also given one route card, which will allow them to earn bonus money at the end of the game for each part of the route that they have completed, with a maximum amount of $7.  Players are dealt five rail cards and then four additional rail cards are turned face up.  The rail cards are used to build your tracks across the game board.  There are six colored rails found on the game board. To build a rail, your card rail color must match the color of the rail on the game board that you are building upon.  You do have the ability to use the other colored rail cards as wilds to build.  However, you will need to play multiples of the same color to build one.  For example, two white rail cards played would allow you to build one black rail onto the game board.  Players start the game with their train having the lowest speed, the lowest power (rail cards you can draw) and one freight car.  At a cost during the game, players can spend their earned money to upgrade the speed, power, and add additional freight cars.  From our experience, upgrading all the way is not required to win the game  With each turn, players are able to get one free train movement, if their train is in route.  They then choose to take one of the following actions:  draw rail cards, set train in motion, move train one extra space, upgrade your train, or build track.  The game consists of three rounds. The first two rounds end when the rail deck cards have been used. At the start of the third round, three time cards are placed into the rail deck.  When the third time card is revealed, the game ends immediately.  At that point, the player that is farthest ahead on the scoring chart, which runs along the edge of the board, wins.

Replay Ability: You see a lot of replay ability with Spike.  You have 36 contract cards, which are double sided, so essentially you have 72.  In addition, you have the 36 route cards and the variable play with the rail cards coming up to create a different game each and every time.

Appropriate Audience:  The game suggests 14+ and while this could be appropriate due to the strategy, our 11 year old son picked this up very quickly and has become one of his favorite games and so far has been unbeaten in the game.

What We Liked/Didn't Like: We really liked the strategy that is involved with this game.  With the random commodity and route cards each game, you have to figure out the best way to maximize your earnings to win the game.  Add to this the need to upgrade your train and the game not ending at a set time, puts the players on the edge of their seat as the game progresses towards the end.  There are just two things that we don't like, which are not specific to the game play itself.  One is the board and the plastic rails.  You have to be very careful not to bump the board.  Bump it too hard and you may need to end/restart the game as you won't be able to recreate it.  The other thing that my deter some people is the space that is needed.  Yes the board is big, but you will have to go beyond the board and set up additional things on the table.

Add-ons/Other Releases:  n/a