When Eagle Games released Railroad Tycoon The Board Game it caused quite a stir. The game box is huge and the board is enormous. With many creative pieces and game design by Martin Wallace and Glenn Drover, Eagle has a hit on their hands. Everyone loves railroad games and many people consider Railroad Tycoon to be an update from Martin Wallace’s most excellent game Age Of Steam.
Railroad Tycoon came out in the Summer of 2005. I’ve been playing the game since then and decided it was time to Blog about it. In case you are wondering, the board game itself is not very similar in play to the computer game. However, I remain a fan of both.
This game is fun. I’ve played it with 2-players, 3-players and 6-players. Each time the game was interesting and fun to play. The board is huge, and in some ways that may hold you back from purchasing your own copy. There are several plastic pieces that get placed on the board which contribute highly to the game theme.
Each player takes on the role of a railroad tycoon and attempts to build a large rail shipping empire. There are secret agendas for each player and everyone competes for access to cities and their goods. A big part of the fun is putting little track pieces on the board and then marking it as yours with a colored locomotive. Game play is around 2 hours, but I’ve seen it go longer with many players. The learning curve is easy, not as easy as Ticket To Ride, but I’ve experienced 12-year olds playing alongside adults and having them win. In fact, our son Nicholas, routinely beats both Melissa and I when we play this game as a family.
What’s in the Box?
Did I mention that the game board is huge? No kidding. The board completely hangs over our coffee table and is wider than our kitchen table. It’s 45” x 36”.
The board is assembled from three pieces. I fasten the pieces together along the outside edges where they join with some plastic narrow page clips. This works nicely for keeping the board pieces aligned as well as helps to manage board warping. More about board warp later.
Each player gets a sizable collection of train locomotives in their own color.
There’s also a collection of track chits of various kinds (straight, curved, crossing).
Players take these as needed and place them on the game board to connect cities without their own railroad routes.
You place a locomotive of your color on the route to mark it as your own. The little colored wooden cubes represent goods available at various cities on the map. As cities are emptied these brown pieces are placed on the cities.
There are cards for player tycoons (one for each player),
Railroad operation cards,
paper money and Shares,
and railroad engine cards.
A scoring track runs along the two long sides of the board. This is used for both scoring points tracking and income per turn. Each player places a locomotive along the start track at 0.
A tycoon card is dealt to each player. The card is revealed at game end. Different tycoon cards have different game bonus objectives. For example, you could have the objective of connecting the most cities, or have the longest train route, least number of shares issued.
An interesting twist to the game is that each player begins without any money. Instead, players must decide to issue shares to get money. You get income as you deliver goods and achieve bonuses but you need to issue some shares to get enough to start your railroad started. The trick is that for every share you issue throughout the game you deduct from your victory scoring with each turn. I’ve seen people win this game by issuing many shares and building a large railroad quickly, and I’ve seen people win by being very frugal with their shares.
The colored cubes are randomly distributed to the cities on the board at game start. With a few exceptions, no more goods are added to the board. Players examine the board and make decisions about where they want to build their railroad routes.
The players play in 3 rounds per turn and the first player is determined by auction each turn. In your turn you can build track, urbanize a city (causing demand at that city to change), improve your railroad engines, deliver a cube to a city, draw an operations card, or build the Western Link. The Western Link is a metaphor for westward expansion. When completed, that player gains advantages, but it’s difficult to accomplish before the game ends.
Everything costs money, except drawing an operations card. When you deliver a cube to a city you advance your score track marker. When the turn ends everyone gets paid income, after deducting for shares issued.
As cities are emptied of cubes an empty city marker is placed on the city. The number of these markers on the game board determine game end. At game end, secret objectives are revealed and final scoring happens. The player with the most victory points wins.
Early copies of this game had some problems with game board warping. For quite a few owners, the warping was substantial. As I understand it, Eagle has addressed this manufacturing problem but hasn’t identified the board replacement policy yet for early adopters. My own board started to warp, but it really wasn’t too bad. Using the clamps I described earlier, has helped to improve board stability and manage warping.
There are some issues with board colors. The cities have colored hexes around them which indicate demand to that type of goods. However, it is difficult to correctly determine which cities are purple and which are blue, for some people. I always point out a pair of cites, one blue and one purple, on the board before the game begins so each player has a benchmark for color comparison.
Lastly, they misspelled a city name. They spelled the name of my home city Cincinnati incorrectly. Eagle has acknowledged that this will be corrected in the next printing.
This game is great! Even with the complaints about board size, warping and color issues, the game is just plain fun. The game plays well with 2 players and scales as you add players. Playing time is in line with other Euro strategy games. Some folks have said that Railroad Tycoon is a lighter version of Age of Steam. I like it a whole lot more. For one thing, it’s more forgiving. You can make mistakes and still play well and stay in the game. It’s only lightly confrontational. While it can happen that another player can restrict your access to a city, this happens rarely. The size of the board does make it challenging to keep an eye on everything. You need to scan the board to play.
My recommend is to have you go play this game. It’s a good time for all. Just make sure you have a big table!