1987 Channel Tunnel: A four-sided review

The 1987 Channel Tunnel board game is a two-player euro-style action selection game. It should take just under an hour to play and is suitable for gamers aged 10+.

One player represents France, the other Great Britain, as the two sides race to complete their half of the ‘chunnel’. The two sides are slightly asymmetric, and the changes mimic actual issues in building the tunnel. This is a nice touch, with the little bits of history explaining them included in the rulebook. Overall this is far more a euro than it is a thematic experience. But it’s a unique, nicely realised theme.

In the thick paperback-sized box you’ll find two small player boards, 33 wooden tokens, 20 cardboard chits, 60 cards and a cloth bag. The component quality and artwork are average, while the iconography is clear and works well. The rulebook is straightforward and overall, for its size, it’s a great little package. You really get a lot of game for the price, which should be around £25.

Teaching 1987 Channel Tunnel

1987 is played with all information visible, so it’s easy to answer questions as you go. And the core rules are pretty simple, so you can get up and running pretty quickly. Your aim is to score the most points – while not deviating too far from your tunnel’s course. Really, don’t do that – it means instant defeat. Getting to the middle (meeting) point will end the game and give you bonus points. But will it be enough to win?

At the start of each turn, players draw 10 wooden discs from a bag. It holds 25 – five in each of five colours – which are used to take actions. In turns, you place ‘all’ your discs of any colour on an action space (depicted by a hard hat). If there are discs on the space, you can only go there by placing more discs than are there. Then, you get the bonus of taking those discs and adding them to your stock. The colour doesn’t matter. For example, if a spot had one black disc you could go there with two blue discs, taking the black disc and adding it to your stock.

There are five action spaces: two fixed and three that change as they’re used. Each permanent space has two options: ‘plan’ or ‘tunnel’; and ‘technology’ or ‘finance’. Each player has nine rubble markers on their route. ‘Planning’ allows you to flip one over to reveal its colour. ‘Tunnel’ allows you to remove a flipped marker by paying one disc of the matching colour. This rubble is placed on your player board. You also flip a card to see if your tunnel deviated. If so, you’ll probably want to fix it later.

Improving your technology

Using ‘technology’ advances one of two tech tracks on your board. This mostly gives endgame victory points or extra discs from the bag. But when you hit a wall on the tech track you need funding. ‘Finance’ allows you to take one of the temporary action cards (see below) into your tableau for its cash value. These cards are used to get through those tech paywalls – and to fix any deviations in your tunnelling.

The other three action spaces are more fluid. Each has a card placed by it which can be used in one of two ways. Either way, it will immediately be discarded and replaced with a new card. But the action discs stay, so the spaces work in the same way as the others. Each card has one of the four basic actions on it, so can be used for that. Alternatively, by paying the cost, you can claim the card. Some are free, but most cost 1-2 rubble discs. You need to do this, as you need to clear nine rubble – and your board has room for three. This is the only way to remove rubble from your board.

some cards simply give points, while others give one-off abilities (activated by spending the rubble tokens). These are euro-typical – break little rules, give extra goes, make an action cheaper etc. And that’s basically that. See what colour your rubble is, dig it out, and use finance to fix things and advance your tech. Advance your tech to get discs and points, while claiming cards to get even more points and stronger actions. See you in the middle and may the best drill team win!

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: While not a huge part of the game, I’m impressed with the nods to history in the asymmetry. The Brits failed to adequately waterproof their drill, so drawing ‘blue’ rubble is more hazardous to the British player. And we didn’t have enough space for rubble – so the Brit needs to advance his technology to open a third rubble space. Small details, but they do make a difference.
  • The thinker: There’s a nice flow here that makes sense thematically, but also strategically. After a few turns you realise you need to think very hard about how to use your precious discs. How will your opponent respond? What colour may they use to take a spot – and can you then use that to your advantage? This purely abstract and highly interactive puzzle becomes a game within a game. And has a huge impact on how you play the more solitaire euro game that’s running alongside. It’s a very clever – and pleasing – abstract-euro hybrid.
  • The trasher: You only get to play the euro well if you first get to grips with the abstract battle. There’s a bit of luck here though. You may clear a temporary card to stop your opponent using it – only to reveal a better one. But those calculated risks are necessary. It’s a fascinating game of cat and mouse. The euro element doesn’t really do it for me. That said, the race element kept me interested. Scores can be very tight, so deciding whether to push forward or get points in other ways can be key.
  • The dabbler: The 1987 Channel Tunnel wasn’t a theme that interested me lol – but at least it’s something different! It also looks pretty bland, but the rules explanation was quick and I got into it surprisingly quickly. I wouldn’t describe it as my kind of game, but I did enjoy my plays. I guess it felt a little long for what it was and some of the decisions felt a little forced. I’m not sure there are as many real choices in the euro part than the game wants you to think. Basically, I would’ve like a a shorter game more concentrated on the abstract part.

Key observations

1987 Channel Tunnel comes with a six-card mini expansion included which is, frankly, rubbish. It adds an extra bit of swingy randomness and little else. Worse, these swingy points are pretty big and often decide a tight game. A sadly pointless and strangely misjudged addition to a really solid design.

In terms of comments, it has been described as a little repetitive and lacking excitement. ‘Excitement’ is subjective, but here it comes from tension. This builds as you try to monitor how close your opponent is to reaching the centre. And while you balance that with how many points they have, or can grab, before the end. As for repetitive, I think that’s harsh. It’s a sub-hour game with four distinct action types plus a large deck of action cards.

It’s fairer to say it’s a little on rails, as you must do largely the same thing to succeed. However, as every good euro game player knows, the key is efficiency of actions. And that is where the abstract parts of this puzzle really shone. By making the disc system truly interactive and thought provoking.

Conclusion: 1987 Channel Tunnel

My introduction to Looping Games was 2018’s 1906 San Francisco. That game packed a full 2-4 player euro into the same sized box, putting the company firmly on my radar. So the combination of Looping and a fascinating them (for a 40-something Brit) sold me on this from the start.

And it has just about met my high expectations. The coloured disc action selection mechanism works well and feels original enough to stand alone. The euro elements are cleverly intertwined, forcing you to clear rubble by either accruing points or gaining special actions. While the race to the middle ads just enough tension. For me it’s another winner and I’m already looking forward to this Essen’s offerings.

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