The latest computer game to board game conversion from Eagle Games tackles the train genre with their usual gusto. A huge board, plenty of great components, and play that focuses on the best parts of train games all combine to create a very entertaining game. Just be sure you have plenty of table space.
The object of Railroad Tycoon is to have the highest point total at the end of the game. Points are generally earned by shipping goods between cities on tracks you own. It is possible for other players to ship goods on your tracks, giving you additional points as well. When all of the goods from a city are shipped, that city is marked as being empty. When enough empty city markers are on the board, the game ends and the winner is determined. Throughout the turns, players can lay track, upgrade their engines, revitalize cities, or choose one of the many special event cards.
Now loading on track 5!
While Railroad Tycoon has many of the same elements as other train games, their implementation is refreshingly different. Track laying consists of three different types of pieces: straights, corners, and cross-overs. There are no Y-type tracks which means laying track, especially in the Northeast where there are lots of towns close together, can become a very competitive challenge. While it is difficult to completely block another player, it is possible to make their track take an overly long route. Another interesting development in track laying is that at the end of the turn, any track that does not connect to a city is removed. This tends to encourage links from city to city rather than long cross-country tracks.
Shipping goods is both simple and creative. All major cities have a color associated with them, while minor cities are gray. During setup, colored cubes are randomly distributed to each city. All a player has to do is deliver the appropriate colored cube to a like colored city. The more cities the good travels through, the more points it scores, so players are encouraged to make large connected networks in order to score the most points. The random distribution of cubes also helps make each game fairly unique as a profitable route in one game may not be there the next. One quibble with the color coded cities is that the blue cities on the board look purple at first glance. A quick look at a purple city shows the difference easily but it can be a little confusing. Eagle Games is working on a solution to replace the blue cities with green via a download.
The way the game starts, it only takes one round before goods can be shipped so there is little “ramping-up” time needed at the beginning. Each turn there are usually multiple equally valid actions to choose from and each player can take a different strategy in connecting cities, leading to interesting conflicts.
Next stop Baltimore!
The financial aspect of the game is handled in an interesting abstract manner. In essence, players can issue stock at any time and get a quick infusion of cash. There is no limit to how many times or how many shares a player can issue, however any income earned at the end of the turn is reduced by the number of shares a player has. Also their final standing in the points is equally reduced, forcing players to carefully weigh the repercussions of raising more capital. Gamers used to seeing a stock market chart on the game board will be disappointed with this financial model, but it is a great method to introduce a financial aspect without bogging the game down.
At the beginning of the game, each player draws a Railroad Tycoon card which tells them who they are and, more importantly, what secret goal they have. At the end of the game, the Tycoon card is revealed and bonus victory points are scored for accomplishing these goals. Most of the goals are long term commitments, like connecting New York and Chicago or issues the least amount of shares. With a random goal each time, replayability is again enhanced.
Another enhancement to the game comes in the form of cards that are randomly dealt out at the beginning of the game and after each turn. These cards represent the more random things that happened in the computer game, such as a bounty for being the first to deliver goods to a city or having the government pick up the tab for laying track. These cards can make a large difference in scoring and can become a competition to see who can complete a goal first. The cards are a neat mechanic to adding a random element to the game without slowing it down.
Land as far as the eye can see.
Eagle Games is known for their almost over-the-top board sizes and gorgeous components, and Railroad Tycoon is no exception. The giant board is beautiful, although it will take up most of a dining room table. It is in three parts and each part just butts up against the other, so any knocking of the board can cause a terrible earthquake, sending train and track pieces flying. Also, the board is big enough to require people to actually get up and move around it to place their track, so be sure adequate movement space is available.
The track pieces are double-sided thick cardboard hexes and seem very durable and attractive. There are plenty of pieces so running out is never a concern. The plastic trains indicating track ownership are likewise well formed and abundant. Probably the best pieces are the empty town pieces. Since the end game mechanic is based wholly on how many towns are empty, it needed to be easily determined at any time. Rather than a counter to set on each city, Eagle Games provides large plastic themed pieces: railroad crossing sign, a water tower, a sanding tower, and a roundhouse. At first these seem excessive, but halfway through a game you realize how helpful they are when you can easily count the towns with large plastic items on them.
The full color rulebook is well illustrated and easy to understand, with plenty of examples and some historical information on the various engines found in the game. One oddity with the rulebook is that the rules for setting up the initial cards available are not in the setup section but in the card section, two pages over. Still other than that the rules are easy to follow. In fact there are very few rules to need to follow, which is very nice. Action summaries are printed both on the game board and on the back of the rulebook, a nice touch.
Railroad Tycoon is a huge box full of fun and plastic. The game takes all of the fun elements of train games (laying track, buying new engines, running goods) and takes out anything that would slow down the game play. With just enough randomness to prevent the game from getting stale and plenty of good competition, Railroad Tycoon is an excellent addition the genre and would be enjoyed by both veterans and novices.