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Ride the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio with Rio Grande Games

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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In 2018, Rio Grande Games released a new version of Tom Russell's Northern Pacific, which had debuted in 2013 from Winsome Games. This wasn't Rio Grande's first licensing of a Winsome title — that would be TransAmerica, based on 2001's Iron Road — but it was the first such licensing in many years.

Now, Rio Grande Games has announced a four-game licensing deal with Winsome, with the first title from this new deal being Eddie Robbins' Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, a 3-5 player game that plays in 60 minutes, with this new edition being due out in 2019. (Note that the cover image shown here is not final.) Here's a briefing on the game from RGG:

This game, set in the pre-Civil War Southern United States, gives the players the opportunity to charter and own stock in some of the most iconic railroads of the time. Players represent the founders of early railroads in the Southern United States in the pre-Civil War era. You compete with other players to found companies, expand their lines to new cities, connect with complementary lines, and generate dividends for their shareholders.

Okay, that description doesn't give you a great feel for how the game plays, so how about this longer write-up:

The game board features cities from Richmond to New Orleans, and from Memphis to Savannah. Twenty-three different railroad lines exist in the game, each represented by two shares of stock: a charter share for the player who founds this railroad, and a common share that might be auctioned later in the game. Eight railroads are designated as starting lines, and initially only the shares for these eight lines are available to players. Railroad lines will be represented on the game board with wooden cubes that come in six colors, with the number of cubes ranging from 6 to 32.

On a turn, a player takes one of four actions:

• Charter a railroad: The active player starts an auction for the charter share of a railroad that hasn't yet been founded. Players place bids for this share, with the winner claiming this charter share, placing a cube of the color that's most common on it, then using the money spent in the auction to place additional cubes on the game board at a cost of $3/cube. One cube of the same color is placed in the railroad's starting city (and sometimes you have a choice of starting city), and additional cubes are placed on track intersections and in connecting cities. You must bid enough that you can place this line in at least two cities. If the color of the cube that's most available in the stock is already in this city (thanks to railroad lines previously built), then the active player can't put this line up for auction.

Whenever you build or expand railroad lines, you can't place cubes so that two lines of the same color touch. If a white cube has been placed in Grenada, for example, you can't found the MC or M&T lines in that city if white is the most common color of cubes.

• Auction a common share: Once the charter share of a line has been acquired, the active player can start an auction for the common share of that line, with the winning bid once again being used to expand that line with additional cubes of that railroad's color, although in this case you have no building requirement and a winning bid of $0 is allowed.

After each auction, a "common share" tracking marker is moved, and after the second such movement, players receive dividends from the bank for the shares they hold: $5 for a charter share when that railroad has issued only that one share, and $3 for each share otherwise held.

• Expand a line: If you own the charter share of a line, you can spend your funds to expand this line.

• Pass: If all players pass in turn, the game ends.

When a railroad line expands into a city that's the starting city for a railroad line not yet available in the auction pool, you take the two shares of that new line and place them in the auction pool.

Each time you build railroad lines, you score victory points: 1 VP for founding a new line (with three lines being worth 2 VP), 1 VP for placing a cube in a city (2 VP for going into Atlanta), and 1 VP for the first time that a line connects to a line of each other color (which can occur only in cities). If all players pass in turn or the sixth color of cubes is on the board following the chartering of a railroad, the game ends. Whoever has the most points wins!

All clear? Possibly not — or rather the rules might be clear, but what you're doing in the game and how to do it well might not be. From my experience, Winsome specializes in rules-light games that create highly player-dependent gameplay patterns, that is, the game system is so open that each player contributes a lot to how the game as a whole plays out, creating a wider-than-normal range of playing experiences when compared with something more structured like Agricola.

The second title coming from this licensing deal is German Rails, an Eddie Robbins design that features the same gameplay as Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, but with the game being set in Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This new edition of German Rails is due out before the end of 2019.

The third and fourth Winsome titles to be reissued by Rio Grande Games will be revealed in the future, with an anticipated 2020 release date for both of them.
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