Being a fan of the pick up and deliver mechanic, I generally like to try most games in the genre. Released back in 2013, I am kind of surprised that I had never heard of The Great Heartland Hauling Co. While I really don’t have any interest in trucking in general, the theme does seem perfect for a pick up and deliver game as the whole trucking industry is about picking up and delivering goods. The Great Heartland Hauling Co. seemed interesting as it looked like it took the typical pick up and deliver mechanic and streamlined it. Living in the Heartland and the general positive reviews that the game has received made me want to check it out. The Great Heartland Hauling Co. does a good job streamlining the pick up and deliver mechanic into a fun game that unfortunately relies on a little too much luck at times.
How to Play The Great Heartland Hauling Co.
- Shuffle the Location cards and assemble the cards based on the number of players (see below). For the base game turn all of the cards so the side with the circles marking the cities are face up.
- Place five Cargo Crates on each Location card corresponding to its Native Good. No Cargo Crates will be placed on the Distribution Center card.
- Each player chooses a color and takes the Score/Cargo card and truck pawn of the same color. The truck pawn will be placed on the Distribution Center card. Each player will take a scoring pawn and place it on the five space of their Score/Cargo card.
- Shuffle the Freight Bills and Fuels cards together and deal five cards to each player. Turn the next three cards face up and place them next to the face down draw pile.
- The player with the best mustache or the longest hair goes first. If there is a tie, settle the tie with an arm wrestling match.
Playing the Game
Each player’s turn consists of three phases:
- Take an Action
After a player has completed the three phases, play passes to the next player clockwise.
To begin your turn you will move your truck pawn to a new Location card. A player can move their truck in two different ways.
First a player can play Fuel cards to move the corresponding number of spaces. Players can add multiple cards together, but they may never total more than three as a player can move at max three spaces on their turn.
Otherwise a player can choose to pay $1 cash for each space they move up to a max of three spaces. To pay a player will move their scoring pawn the corresponding number of spaces to the left on their Score/Cargo card.
If a player has no money or Fuel cards, their truck pawn will be moved to the Distribution Center and they will have to take the Discard action in the next phase.
Some rules players must follow while moving are as follows:
- A player may only use Fuel cards or cash to move, they cannot use both on the same turn.
- You can move your truck vertically or horizontally. You cannot move a truck diagonally.
- You may not move over the same Location more than once on a turn.
- You may move through a space that another truck pawn is on, but you can’t stop on that space.
- Outside of not being able to move on your turn, you may not stop on the Distribution Center.
- You must move on every turn when possible.
Taking An Action
After moving you will choose one of the following three actions to take.
If you would like to load up some of the Cargo Crates from your current location you may discard Freight Bills from your hand to do so. You may only discard cards of one color. If the good you are picking up matches a location’s Native Good you will pick up one Cargo Crate of the corresponding color for each card you discard.
If the chosen good is not the location’s Native Good, you will pick up one Cargo Crate for each two matching Freight Bills that you discard.
After discarding cards you will take the Cargo Crates from the Location card and add them to your Score/Cargo card.
A player may only have up to eight Cargo Crates on their truck at any given time.
On each Location card two goods are pictured near the bottom which are the goods that location will purchase from players. The numbers next to the symbols is how much the location will pay for each Cargo Crate sold.
If a player has Cargo Crates in their truck that match those wanted by their current location, they can sell them to the location. To sell a Cargo Crate you must discard a Freight Bill of the same color. You can only sell one type of good at a location, but you may sell multiple of the same type of good. Each location may only have eight Cargo Crates at it at any time though so you can’t sell goods to a location if it would put the location’s total above eight.
After you have discarded the Freight Bills you will move the Cargo Crates from your Score/Cargo card to the Location card. You will then move your Scoring pawn right spaces equal to the amount that the goods were sold for.
Instead of loading or unloading, a player may pay $1 to discard as many of the cards from their hand as they would like.
After taking your action you will draw new cards until you have five total in your hand. You may choose to take the top card from the draw pile or one of the face up cards next to the draw pile. If you take a face up card it will be immediately replaced with the top card from the draw pile. If a player gets to take two or more cards they can choose to take from both the face up cards and the top card from the draw pile.
End of Game
The game will move to the end game once one of the players have reached a certain amount of cash. This total depends on the number of players.
- Four players – $30
- Three players – $40
- Two players – $50
The rest of the players will get one more turn before the game ends.
Players will lose money for each Cargo Crate left on their Score/Cargo card.
- Green and Yellow: $1
- Black and Pink: $2
The player with the most cash is the winner. If there is a tie, the tied player with the least Cargo Crates on their Score/Cargo card wins. If the game is still tied, the players share the victory.
There are a number of variants that you can play in order to change up the gameplay.
Short Haul – Players can only have up to six Cargo Crates on their truck at any time.
Fresh Start – Randomly place the Distribution Center among the other Location cards.
Warehouse – During setup put three Native Goods and one of each of the demanded goods at each Location.
Alternative Routes – For a more advanced game flip some of the Location cards to the side showing the triangle symbol (alternative routes). You can have as many alternative routes as you want but you can’t have two alternative route cards adjacent to one another. These cards show symbols on them in one of the four directions which impacts travel into and out of the card from that direction.
- Road Closed (orange bars): You may not travel into or out of the card in this direction.
- Weigh Station (white cube): When moving into or out of this card in the direction of the symbol, you must pay $1 for each Cargo Cube you have above four.
- Toll Road ($): Players moving into or out of the card in the indicated direction will have to pay $1.
My Thoughts on The Great Heartland Hauling Co.
The Great Heartland Hauling Co. is an interesting game. In a lot of ways it fits the description that you can’t really judge a game by initial appearances. When you first see it the game might not appear to be much due to it’s small size. How could you fit anything more than a very simple game inside such a small box I was initially thinking. Then when I opened the box and started reading the rules I started to feel the opposite where the game actually seemed like it would be kind of complex. After finally playing the game, I discovered that The Great Heartland Hauling Co. finds a good balance between simplicity and strategy.
The core mechanic of the game is actually pretty simple. Working as a trucker your goal is basically to haul goods between locations in order to make money. Basically you pick up goods at one location where they are plentiful and then haul them to a location which pays the most that isn’t too far out of the way. To do this you need to use cards and the money you have already accumulated in order to move, as well as pick up and drop off goods. The ultimate goal is to earn more money than the other players.
For first time players The Great Heartland Hauling Co. might look a little overwhelming at first. With locations spread out all over the table along with a bunch of little cubes the game may seem kind of complex at first. The game has a number of different mechanics that may be unfamiliar to people that haven’t really played pick up and deliver games before. The game may take five to ten minutes to explain to new players. New players may not exactly know what they are doing for their first couple of turns either. After the initial learning curve though, the game is actually quite simple where I don’t see most players having too much trouble with the game. The core concept of picking up and delivering goods is pretty straightforward and the various mechanics you use to accomplish that task are pretty easy to grasp. The game has a recommended age of 13+ but I think children younger than that could understand how to play the game.
For a game with such simple mechanics, I was happy to see that the game has a decent amount of strategy as well. The game may be too simple for some as it isn’t the most strategic game, but the game gives players enough opportunities to make decisions and form a strategy which will impact how well they will do in the game. In many ways the game is one where you have to plan ahead if you want to succeed. As you can only pick up or deliver on your turn, you generally need to plan at least a couple of turns ahead so you can figure out how many Cargo Crates to pick up, where you want to move, and what cards you want to pick up. If you just wing it and make your decision when your turn comes up, you likely will struggle to earn a lot of money unless luck is on your side.
With a game built around trucking most people’s first instinct will be to load up their truck with as much cargo as possible so they can drop off a lot of cargo on the same turn. This would save players turns as they could accomplish more on any given turn. When possible this is quite helpful. Usually it won’t work out that way though for two reasons. First the cards you use to pick up are the same that are used to deliver. So if you use all of your cards of one color to pick up, you need to wait until you acquire the same number of cards in order to deliver those goods. You could get lucky and just keep drawing cards of the same type, but this is unlikely. This is especially true as you can only have five cards in your hand at any given time.
Second by loading up your truck with a lot of cargo you are severely limiting your options down the line and potentially creating issues for yourself at the end of the game. As you can only have eight pieces of cargo in your truck at any given time, if you fill it up you are then stuck with only delivering cargo. Thus every Freight Bill in your hand that doesn’t match the cargo in your truck is basically worthless. The locations that you should move to are also limited as you need to go places where you can unload your cargo. You need to unload your cargo quick as you lose points for anything left in your truck at the end of the game. If you are stuck with a lot of cargo you could easily lose any lead you have on the other players.
While you don’t want to overload your truck, you also don’t want to just load one item at a time whenever possible because you are then mostly wasting your turn. Ultimately you need to find the right balance between loading too little and too much. You need to plan ahead so you have the right cards and have a path to a destination to pick up and drop off goods. You need to be willing to adapt though as other player’s actions will likely mess with your strategy. This creates an interesting dynamic as you try to best manage your truck to maximize the amount of money that you are able to earn.
This combination of pretty simple mechanics with enough strategy to keep most players interested creates a game that most players should enjoy. The game is simple enough that it will appeal to people that don’t generally play more complex games as they think they are too difficult. Meanwhile there is enough strategy that players feel like they can actually have an impact on what happens to them. The game shares quite a bit in common with your typical pick up and deliver game, but it has enough unique twists to the formula where it still stands out. For a game in such a small box this is actually quite impressive. On top of all of this the game actually plays pretty quickly. I would guess most games will take around 30-45 minutes. This seems about right where the game isn’t too short where it ends too quickly, but it also isn’t too long where it overstays its welcome.
The Great Heartland Hauling Co. has a lot of good things going for it, but it has one somewhat big issue that does hurt the overall experience. Unfortunately the game can rely on quite a bit of luck at times. I don’t mind some luck in a game as games would be kind of dry without it as every game would basically play out the same way once players have figured out the best strategy. The problem with the luck in The Great Heartland Hauling Co. is that if it is not on your side you are going to have a hard time winning no matter how good your strategy is.
I think most of the luck relies on the cards that you end up drawing. None of the cards are really better than others. The luck comes in getting the right cards at the right times. This is complicated by the fact that you use the same cards to pick up and drop off your cargo. If you use all or most of your cards of a type to pick up, you will end up having to wait until you acquire more of that type in order to get rid of the cargo. Having the face up cards helps some as you have options to choose from, but if the cards you need aren’t one of the face up cards or you end up drawing cards that you don’t need the you basically are out of luck. Players that draw the right cards at the right times will have more strategic options and will be able to pick up and drop off cargo much quicker.
I am curious if some of these issues could have been fixed by giving players a larger hand size. The game had to obviously limit the number of cards that you could hold at any given time as players could otherwise just save up a bunch of cards and make a massive haul getting all or most of the points they need to win on just one delivery. Five cards seems like too few though. With only five cards every single card matters so you don’t want to get stuck with cards that serve no purpose for you. While it sucks to spend money to move, with so few cards you might be better off spending the money just to have more cards that can actually be used to pick up or deliver goods. It wouldn’t have fixed all of the issues with luck, but just increasing the hand size to six or seven would likely help quite a bit because then you could possibly afford to have some cards that you don’t really have a use for.
Along with card draw luck, some luck also comes from the fact that the game can actually be pretty cutthroat at times. Players can mess with each other in a couple different ways. Probably the biggest is simply that a player can move to a location that you wanted to move to. As two trucks can’t be at a location at the same time, another player could ultimately block you from your plan to purchase or deliver goods. This will force you to either delay your plans or pursue a different strategy. On top of this as only eight Cargo Crates are allowed at each location, you could be blocked from delivering goods to a location because another player unloaded at the location before you were able to. Usually when a player ends up messing up your strategy it is a coincidence because they were just trying to do the same thing that you were. If a player wanted to though, they could really mess with you if they knew what you were planning on doing.
As for The Great Heartland Hauling Co.’s components, I generally thought they were pretty good. While the game likely could have utilized some other themes as well, I thought the trucking theme actually worked pretty well for the game. Most of the game’s components are cards which are pretty good as the artwork is well done where information is easily accessible and still works well with the theme. I also really liked the addition of the wood trucks and cubes. I do worry a little about the size of the Cargo Cubes though as they are quite small where they could get lost pretty easily. Otherwise the box comes in a small box so those who are space conscious don’t have to worry about it taking up anymore space than it needed.
Should You Buy The Great Heartland Hauling Co.?
I liked a lot of things about The Great Heartland Hauling Co. The game actually packs quite a bit into such a small box. The game may seem kind of complex at first, but the mechanics are quite straightforward where most people shouldn’t have too much trouble playing the game. Despite the simplicity though the game still has more strategy behind it than you would initially think. The key to the game is to plan ahead and make sure you load the right amount of cargo into your truck. Fans of pick up and deliver games should enjoy the game as it streamlines the mechanic to focus on what is most important. The game can rely on quite a bit of luck at times though as card draw luck will play a big role in how well you do. Players can also mess with each other quite a bit at times.
My recommendation for The Great Heartland Hauling Co. comes down to your feelings towards pick up deliver games and whether the reliance on luck will bother you. If you don’t really care for the mechanic or would rather have a game that relies on less luck, I don’t see the game being for you. Those looking for a simple and yet fun pick up and deliver game though should really enjoy The Great Heartland Hauling Co. and should consider picking it up.