Friday, June 08, 2007

Railroads West

Last night at the Appalachian Gamers meeting I got to continue my exploration of great variants. We played Railroad Tycoon with the California expansion board. I wish I knew who designed this variant (the rules I have don’t have a name attached) so I could thank him for a fine game.

The California map has a more even distribution of cities than the regular map, and there doesn’t seem to be any essential area where you have to guide your railroads. Building costs are higher in this variant, but many cities are close together so higher costs are not a big problem. In our six-player game the board became quite crowded, but players always seemed to have some option open to them.

Many common sense improvements are in place here. Instead of secret tycoon cards that award bonus points, there are a whole series of open bonus point cards available to all that go to the player who best qualifies for them. Two new event cards come into play each turn so that the draw line of cards seldom gets thin.

There are special rules that simulate the California gold rush and its effect on the railroad industry. There are special gold cities labeled with “A,” “B,” and “C.” At the beginning of the game, players can deliver gold to the A cities and earn an extra delivery point. In the middle of the game, the B cities come online and the A cities no longer accept gold. In the final stages of the game, the C cities become destination cities for gold.

There are a whole series of western (or maybe eastern) link locations at the edge of the board. In our game only one player actually made one of these connections, but that is probably because in a six-player game, the game ends before players become super-wealthy. In a game with fewer players, these links may become more viable goals.

There is one oddity. There is a hex labeled “$12,000” next to the city of Yuma, but there is no explanation of what this means in the rules. We decided that the first player to connect to Yuma gets the $12,000. This was not an outrageous bonus for connecting to this out-of-the-way city, and the player who got that bonus didn’t win our game.

Like Age of Steam, Railroad Tycoon has spawned several alternate maps. Unlike Age of Steam, all the alternate maps for RRT are designed by players and can be downloaded for free from Boardgamegeek. If you like RRT and you have the ability to print these maps, then you should try one or more of these variants.

I’m looking forward to trying the India map one day.

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