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Introducing Railways of Mexico



Most gamers will already be familiar with the evolution of one of boardgaming's best train games:
● 2002 - Martin Wallace designs the classic Age of Steam
● 2005 - Age of Steam is reworked with the help of Glenn Drover into the more forgiving and attractive Railways of the World
● 2010 - Railroad Tycoon is slightly revised and reimplemented as Railways of the World

If you're not familiar with Railroad Tycoon or Railways of the World, and are exploring games beyond the regular gateway games like Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Settlers of Catan, I highly recommend taking a good look at Railways of the World. Railways of the World is the new base game of the series, and contains the core components (such as bond certificates, money, empty city markers, trains, and more) needed for playing on all the maps. At present there are four maps that this game can be played with: Mexico, Eastern US, Europe, and England. The latter two require the purchase of two expansions, Railways of Europe and Railways of England and Wales, while both the Mexico map and Eastern US map are included in the base game of Railways of the World. It's a fantastic series, with a very strong pick-up-and-deliver theme, solid economic game-play, and looks amazing as players build railways and deliver goods on an expansive map.



Railways of the World is an improvement over Railroad Tycoon in several ways:
1. some of the components have been slightly upgraded and improved;
2. some of the rules have been slightly revised and improved;
3. a Mexico map has been added.

In this review, I will focus specifically on the Railways of Mexico game, since this will be of special interest to many gamers. The map of the eastern US was already included with the initial version of Railroad Tycoon from 2005 onwards, but the Mexico map is a new addition that has only been included for the first time in the new 2010 version of the game.



COMPONENTS

You'll need components from the base game, i.e. track tiles, engines, bonds, money, goods cubes, empty city markers, and trains. There's more info about those in other reviews (including one forthcoming from myself), so I'll just focus on the components specific to the Railways of Mexico game.

Rules

The rules for Railways of Mexico are just on a single one-sided sheet of paper.



In addition you'll need the rules of the base game, Railways of the World, since they describe most of the rules of the Railroad Tycoon system. There's very little in the rules that needs discussion, since the gameplay is really unchanged from Railroad Tycoon or Railways of the World.

Two things worth noting, however:

1. Railways of Mexico is designed for 2-4 players. In other words, unlike Railways of the Eastern US, it's specifically targeted to a smaller group of players. In a two player game, the number of goods cubes placed in each city is reduced by 1 (as long as there is a minimum of 1 cube per city). For 2, 3 or 4 players respectively, the number of empty city markers needed to trigger the game end is 7, 8, or 9. There are ways of playing with 2-4 players on the eastern US map, but it's often best with at least 4-6 players, so that means that the Mexican map is going to be appreciated for this reason alone.

2. Railways of Mexico is designed as an introductory game. Thus there are no Railroad Barons or Railroad Operation cards for the Mexican map, so there are less rules for new players to worry about. At the end of this review we'll evaluate whether or not this actually works, but the rulebook does explicitly state that this is one of the intentions of this expansion.

Score-track

Unlike in Railroad Tycoon, neither the map of the Eastern US or the map of Mexico have a score track around the board. Instead the score-track is now a separate board.



Game board

Now for the part that everyone wants to know about - the map! Here it is!



It's a good quality mounted board. The matt finish is more pleasant to look at and use than the original US map. It's also fairly narrow, and is a much more manageable size than the eastern US map, as can be seen in this comparison between both maps along with a map of Ticket to Ride.



One thing you'll immediately notice on the map is a reference for "Major Lines".



These routes are permanently available to all players from the start of the game, and the first player to finish a complete link between two cities of a major route earns the bonus points.



They're worth 4, 5, 6 or 7 points respectively, and are fairly well distributed over the map (although a player building the Torreon-Mexico City major line using the San Luis Potosi-Mexico City link, can often use the same link towards the completion of the Manzanillo-Salina Cruz major line).

Overall I'm quite pleased with the Mexico map. The purple and blue cities are easily distinguishable (a problem in some of the first editions of Railroad Tycoon) - they don't quite match the colours of the cubes that come with Railways of the World perfectly, but this isn't really a big issue. There's ten urbanized cities (two in each colour) that are well distributed throughout the board, and there's also ten grey cities that can be urbanized as the game progresses. There's also a lot of mountainous territory - combining this with the fact that there's only two cities of each colour, means that building the links needed for transporting goods will not be cheap! But particularly having major lines available for all players from the start of the game (a new concept for owners of the original Railroad Tycoon) is a great concept. As with virtually all the maps in this series, it looks great in play with railroad track and trains.



GAME-PLAY

Set-up

When using the Mexico map, the game set-up is done in the same way as normal - here's the complete set-up for a two player game:



Note that because this was a two player game, there was one less cube per city.

Rule Changes

Game-play on the Mexico map is essentially the same as it is on the Eastern US map, but there are a few small rule changes incorporated into the Railways of the World base game that owners of Railroad Tycoon should be aware of:

Permanent major lines. I've already mentioned that all the Major Lines are permanently available to all players from the start of the game. This prevents the appearance of these cards becoming luck of the draw, and enables players to make more long-term plans about their routes.

Clearer hex classification and costs. The original Railroad Tycoon rules about “following a river” had the potential to create confusion. This has been simplified, so that now any non-mountain hexes with any water (blue) have an associated cost of $3000. Mountain hexes are identified by a dot and have an associated cost of $4000.

No Railroad Barons or Railroad Operations cards. To make the game easier to learn, there's no way to earn extra points via the long-term objectives offered by Railroad Baron cards or the short-term objectives offered by some Railroad Operations cards. This limits the amount of choices you have on a turn, and actually makes the finances of the game quite tough!



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

New maps are always welcome. Any fan of Railroad Tycoon or Railways of the World will be excited about the idea of getting to play one of their favourite games on a new map. In that regard, the Mexico map is a welcome addition to the series.

The quality of the Mexico map is good. I like the matt finish, and the colours are sufficiently distinct. It's also a size that works well. The mounted Mexico map is currently available separately for purchase at the Eagle Games website for $15. This includes a copy of the rules, but not the separate scoreboard, so if you do have the older Railroad Tycoon, you can either use the scoreboard on that map, or else just print one of the scoring tracks in the BGG files (e.g. here or here or here).

Railways of Mexico is especially good for less players. As good as the game is on the map of the Eastern US, the reality is that the US map is less than ideal when playing with fewer players (e.g. 2-3). Having a map that is specifically designed for 2-4 players is fantastic, and in this regard the Mexico game certainly delivers.

It's not really suitable as an introductory form of the game. The game-play is simpler from a rules perspective, but it is not easier. Despite the fact that the rules claim that "Railways of Mexico is designed as an introductory game", the omission of Railroad Operation cards actually makes the game tougher, because the finances become less forgiving. Railroad Operation cards usually give point bonuses to help increase your income, and can also help reduce building costs. It's true that there's less rules to worry about when playing without them, but finances become awfully tight in the early stages when playing without Railroad Operation cards. The two player game requires having one less cube per city, and that leaves even less options, not to mention that building track is frequently expensive because of the many mountains. When combined with a map that requires high costing track, the absence of Railroad Operation cards makes for a challenging game that could be rewarding for veteran players, but is not really suitable for beginners. Playing without Railroad Operation cards does simplify the game, so it's a good concept for introducing the game to non-gamers or new players, but the Mexico map isn't the best to use for this - it's harder to get income, and given the mountainous terrain and limited number of cubes on the board to begin with, the Mexico map actually seems quite difficult to play; I'd instead recommend the England map as more suitable for that purpose, with its shorter links and greater number of cities and cubes.

Adding Railroad Baron and Railroad Operation cards is less than ideal. The rules do state: "Experienced players may optionally choose to use the Railroad Barons and Operations Cards from their Railways of the Eastern U.S. expansion for a longer and more challenging experience." However, removing all the cards geographically specific to the US does reduce the available cards considerably, and many gamers may find this less than satisfactory. If you eliminate geographic specific cards like Service Bounties and Hotels for specific cities, you're left with a thin pool of Railroad Operation cards. Jeff Aaronson has uploaded a file (see here) that converts some of the Eastern US cards for the Mexico map, and that's certainly one solution, although having to substitute city names is somewhat less than ideal.

The above comments may sound somewhat critical, and that's not my intention. Rather than complain too quickly about Railways of Mexico, I'm first of all grateful that Eagle Games is actively working on improving their products, and rather than just pumping out more copies of Railroad Tycoon, they're adding in an extra map, which can only be a good thing - owners of the original Railroad Tycoon only had the eastern US map, and will undoubtedly feel a little jealous! Including both a US map and a Mexico map makes the Railways of the World base game a more complete package that caters both to larger and smaller groups. But I can't quite understand why the publisher didn't go just that extra mile and include a Railroad Operations deck for the Mexico map right away, because it would have ramped up the value considerably. However, I am reliably formed that this product is still being improved further, and that in months to come we may see yet another revision of Railways of the World, which includes both a more complete expansion for the Mexico map, such as a Railroad Operation deck. Until then, this is still a very pleasing game.



What do others think?

My own thoughts about Railways of Mexico seem to be echoed by others. On the whole, it's very well received, especially as a 2-3 player game. Some find that it's suitable as an introductory form of the game, but most people concede that it is quite challenging because of how tight money is. Adding Railroad Operation cards from the Eastern US game doesn't seem to be the best solution, and instead the game is crying out for its own deck of cards.

It's a good game, especially suitable for less players
"I like the extra Mexico map." - Christopher Seguin
"It's a good game that comes with two maps ... you can play a longer game with several players or a quick game with only 2 or 3 players with the Mexico map." - Paul Rubino
"Played the Mexico map. Seems to be nicely balanced. And playing the introductory ruleset is sufficiently different enough to warrant playing again." - Mr. Bunny
"I liked the Mexico map batter than the Railroad Tycoon map." - Steve Bauer
"Mexico board is definitely better with 2-3 players." - Jeff T
"The Mexico Map addition is surprisingly good! In fact, I really like it for it's tight, fast game play with the heavy use of bonds! Not to mention the perfect board for introducing this game to new players!" - James Barnes
"The base game also ships with a small map of Mexico intended to be a kind of beginner’s map. It’s also great for a shorter three or four player game, and I’d recommend playing it over the US map if you have less than five players anyway." - Michael Barnes
"This smaller, two-piece map is designed for 2-4 players ... The new Railways of Mexico map, with the central mountains of Mexico running down the center of the board, ensures that people will be fighting like true railroad barons to get their goods delivered. It also means that that game will make it to the table more often. In my household ... the Mexico map will surely see the light of day much more often." - David Pazmiño
"The Mexico map in RotW is a great introduction to the game and is playable with two people. Three players is probably the sweet spot for this, it can play up to four but I think with so few colored cities that it would get too tight." - Sean McQ


It's not an easy game, especially suitable for experienced players
"I've played one game each of the introductory game on the Mexico map ... For the introduction game money seemed pretty tight and while overall not a terribly difficult game it took me a little while to strike a balance between how many bonds to take out and when to wait and accumulate the cash. As it was, the intro game wasn't too shabby." - Jim Seago
"It is a simpler game, for certain. However, that does not mean that it is easier. The elimination of cards eliminates early bonuses, which often give early assistance, Meanwhile, all those mountains and rivers mean you're playing a slower game or taking more debt (or both); this gives Railways of Mexico a very different feel from its siblings. If you're looking to teach the basic mechanics of the game, you're probably better off using another map and just not playing with the cards." - William Simonitis
"Mexico is better to be used for a different feel for experienced players than as an intro to RRT (RotW)" - Brian Brokaw
"We played the Mexico map yesterday. Despite what anyone may or may not indicate, it is assuredly not a training map. First, while not playing with cards or the ability to industrialize certainly simplifies the game, it turns it into something else entirely. There's not much competition for bidding for turn order. It just doesn't quite feel like RRT. Second, it is brutal. Painfully so. There are an awful lot of rivers and mountains, which, when compared to a normal game of RRT, require that the players take an inordinate number of bonds or the players play a very slow game. Neither case really gives an adequate feeling for how RRT develops. Worse, new players will feel overburdened by debt or that the game is a terrible drag. Third, the only bonuses available are for the major lines. Three of the four major lines run north-south with one running along the southern part of the map. They cannot be ignored; those 6 or 7 points are huge as there are no other bonuses in the game (service bounties, etc.). Accordingly, new players might feel that the major routes are of inordinate importance in the normal RRT as well." - William Simonitis


It's begging for its own deck of Railroad Baron and Railroad Operation cards
"Another minor issue is with the use of the Railroad Baron and Railroad Operation cards in the expansion for Railways of Mexico. The rules state that if experienced players want a more difficult game, they should add these cards when playing with this map. But many of these cards have specific goals associated specifically with the Railways of the Eastern U.S. map. I played one time by sorting through the cards that had generic goals and playing only with those, but the flavor of those cards seemed lost on the new map." - W. Eric Martin
"A nice map for a tight, shorter game. At times with no Operation cards to take or cities to urbanize, there was simply nothing for some players to do on a turn later in the game on their turn that made any sense other than pass (which isn't technically allowed in the game). I can already see that if I decide to introduce the Operation/Baron cards to the game that I will be less than satisfied when I am forced to remove all geography-specific Baron/Operation cards from the U.S. deck. Any chance of an official release containing Railroad Operation, Baron and Major Lines references cards for Railways of Mexico?" - Ben James


To summarize: Railways of the World is an excellent addition to the series, with a great map that's particularly geared to playing with 2-4 players. But the absence of Railroad Operation cards and mountainous territory means that the gameplay is actually quite a challenge - something that might be appreciated by experienced players, but is not entirely suitable for beginners. Adding cards from the Railways of the Eastern US game is a good temporary solution, but what the Mexico map really needs to live up to its full potential is its own deck of Railroad Operation cards.



Improving the Game with an ArtsCow deck

Fortunately some BGGers have come to the rescue, cooperating on a project to create an ArtsCow deck for Railways of Mexico. Big kudos to Bobby Warren for initiating the project, and especially to Jason Spears for the graphic design. You'll find the fantastic deck on ArtsCow here (alternatively, download a PDF here), and until May 12 it can be yours for only $3.99 including shipping (with the help of a coupon).



The cards are decent quality, and the artwork and graphic design looks very professional. They come in a plastic case:



There's 54 cards altogether, which includes four reference cards:



There are twelve Railroad Barons, some of which are tailored specifically to the Mexico map. (Small change for Railroad Tycoon owners to note: players can draw two at the start of the game, and choose one.)



Finally there are 38 Railroad Operation cards. The intention is that you only use 25 of these, but 13 extras have been included (marked with a star symbol) so that there's lots of flexibility and potential for swapping new cards in. I like the fact that the artwork on the different Mexico specific cards is unique to each card (e.g. Hotels and Service Bounties), and that there are new Railroad Operations cards to try, like Engine Upgrade, Express, and Civil Engineers.



Trading Depot and Operations Growth are two other new cards.



Service Bounty and Hotel cards have been customized for the Mexican map, while the bulk of the Railroad Operation cards will already be familiar to Railroad Tycoon and Railways of the World players, like New Industry (very useful on this map!), City Growth, Government Land Grant, Tunnel Engineer, and Railroad Executive (see this post for a complete break-down of all the cards included), as well as three Start cards.



Overall, the quality is good, the cost is inexpensive, and the enhancement to the game-play makes it more than worthwhile. Certainly Railways of Mexico works okay as it is, especially for those looking for a challenging map to play on with 2-3 players, and if you find a way to make the Railroad Operation cards from the US map work with the Mexico game. But it feels as if it could have been so much more, and the addition of the customized deck from ArtsCow really brings it to the next level. Big kudos to the BGG community, and to Jason Spears in particular, for rising to the challenge and helping make Railroads of Mexico really shine! Perhaps we'll see cards similar to this appear in a later edition of Railways of the Mexico, but meanwhile gamers will only be too happy to have them available already now, in order to get maximum possible mileage out of the great Mexico map!



What do you think?

I've played several games before writing this review, but my experiences with the Mexico board are still somewhat limited. To begin with, I've only played it as a two player game - which features a high level of interaction and is excellent. Hearing from others will only help create a clearer picture of the strengths and weaknesses of this version of the game. This would be a great place to get some discussion going on questions like these:
● How well does it scale from 2 to 4 players?
● How suitable is it as an introductory form of the game?
● How does it play without Railroad Operations cards, and is it as tough as I've made it out to be?
● How playable is it using the Railroad Barons and Railroad Operations cards from the eastern US game?
● How essential is the ArtsCow deck?
If you have played Railways of Mexico, please share some of your experiences - it would be good to generate some further discussion about this particular map, and how it plays.



Recommendation

So what's the final verdict on Railways of Mexico? Overall it's a great addition to the Railways of the World series, especially in the way it caters for 2-3 players. But it is not quite the introductory game it has been billed to be, and will best be appreciated by those who already know and love the game, and don't mind the challenge of a map where building track in mountainous territory is expensive, and where tough decisions need to be made about the number of bonds to take out. It's an excellent game, and I'm grateful that they've included this with the base game. But with the addition of custom Railroad Baron and Railroad Operations cards from ArtsCow it becomes very good indeed. If you are going to be riding the train in Mexico, bring ArtsCow on board, and the trip will be even more satisfying. Railroad Tycoon just keeps getting better, and by the sounds of things, we haven't reached the end of the line just yet. Highly recommended!

mb Another pictorial review by EndersGame



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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Brian Brokaw
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It's not a damn moped!
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I'm immortalized in an Ender review!

This sealed the deal for me buying Jason's Mexico deck. I can't wait to try it out with my friend's copy of RotW. (I just have RRT.)
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Nicolai Broen Thorning
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Thank you!

We have the base game and though we have only played the Eastern US map with 2 (not a great experience) we very excited by the game.

It is great to hear the 2nd map can be of good use - and thank you for the tip on the ArtsCow deck - highly appreciated.
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Stephen Shaw
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Amazing, Ender -- thank you so much! Talk about useful -- Eagle and Artscow should both thank you, as your review made it easy and necessary for me to order both the expansion and the deck!
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David Anderson
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Two Time Cancer Survivor - Never Give Up. Never Surrender. -Jason Nesmith from Galaxy Quest (1999 movie)
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I own Railroad Tycoon. It looks like you can buy this map on Eagle Games website for $15.00. It does not look like they offer the score sheet though.
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Bob Xyzp
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Thanks for another great review! The Mexico map has been fun for wife and me to learn Railroad Tycoon. I'm now looking forward to trying Eastern US with more players.

One thing, as was pointed out in another forum on the Mexico map: the rules say that the new city markers are not used. I guess it's another step towards simplifying the game for beginners.
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Mexican Train sounds like a sex act.

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Paul Rubino
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Excellent review.

Agreed it's not a beginner's map and it's a mistake they have it as such. I'd say it's more a map for a quick game.

The mountains are brutal and can put you in debt really fast if you don't play correctly.

I'm quite pleased with the map as well.
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Andrew Brannan
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EndersGame wrote:
The mounted Mexico map is currently available separately for purchase at the Eagle Games website for $15.



Just FYI, I tried to order a copy of the Mexico map just a few days ago, and was informed that the item was not available. Apparently, all the components on the Eagle Games site come from damaged games, and they had no more Mexico maps from damaged copies of the game.
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Brian Brokaw
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I'll stop at my FLGS on the way home tonight and damage some boxes for you. Give it a few weeks for the components to show up in Eagle's stock for sale. devil
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Andrew Brannan
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Thanks! The damaged games just got back and my map order went through! With the new Artscow cardstock and coupon, I'll be ready to go in a few weeks.
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Ender Wiggins
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To coincide with the release of a Railways of the World reprint (which features a few cosmetic improvements), Eagle Games is making Railways of Mexico available as an independent self-contained expansion. It includes the fan-made cards (which will also be available separately for people who have the first printing of RotW). Great news all round for fans of the series!

For more details, see my post here:
Preview: The separately available Railways of Mexico expansion (now including cards)

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