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Subject: How American Rails Differs from Chicago Express rss

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Tim Harrison
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A review of American Rails by the designer, Tim Harrison.

Have you played Chicago Express? This review presumes you have.

American Rails is often compared to Chicago Express, and rightfully so. As I've mentioned elsewhere, Chicago Express (Wabash Cannonball at the time) was indeed my primary inspiration for the game. Since the differences in gameplay may not be obvious though, I thought it would be helpful to outline them. My thoughts behind my design decisions and how they impact the game are in italics:


Variable Starting Auctions
In CE, shares are auctioned in a fixed order. In AR, the order is determined by the players.

Variable Starting Positions
In CE, companies have fixed starting locations. In AR, the first shareholder determines each company's starting location.

Higher Starting Capital
In CE, players start with just enough cash for exactly two shares. In AR, players start with enough cash for two or three shares.

The practical result of fixed starting locations, a fixed auction order, and low initial capital in CE is that the initial shares are almost always sold for half a player's starting capital +/- $1. In AR, the prices of shares in the opening auction can vary wildly from game to game, based on the order the companies become available and what starting locations are chosen.

More Actions to Choose From
In CE, players are free to choose from two or three actions each turn. In AR, there are seven actions, but each action can only be chosen once per turn.

Variable Turn Order
In CE, turn order is fixed. In AR, turn order is variable.

In CE, fixed turn order encourages "temporary emergent alliances" between sequential players with common interests. In AR, variable turn order diminishes temporary emergent alliances, but requires players to evaluate the importance of turn order.

Variable City Values
In CE, the value of a city is (for the most part) fixed. In AR, the city values frequently change.

AR introduced the ability to reduce a city's value through "city dilution," resulting in another way for players to attack the value of companies (in addition to share dilution).

Variable Number of Shares
In CE, an unpurchased share is returned to the company. In AR, an unpurchased share is removed from the game.

Thus, a well-timed auction can prevent further dilution of dividends through the purchase of shares.

Simultaneous Expansion
In CE, only one company may lay track during an expansion action. In AR, more than one company may lay track during the same expansion action.

Designed for Five Players
CE is arguably best played with 3 or 4 players. AR was specifically designed with 5 players in mind.


As you can see, American Rails is much more than simply a variant of Chicago Express. They both belong to the cube rails family, but their gameplay is significantly different -- in the same way that games like German Railways and Paris Connection are different from Chicago Express.

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Abdiel Xordium
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The thing I love about Wabash Cannonball are the emergent alliances (though I disagree that turn order dominates them as much as you seem to imply). Could you go into a little more detail regarding why the alliance aspect is diminished in AR?
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Tim Harrison
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abdiel wrote:
The thing I love about Wabash Cannonball are the emergent alliances (though I disagree that turn order dominates them as much as you seem to imply). Could you go into a little more detail regarding why the alliance aspect is diminished in AR?


In my experience, emergent alliances in CE are largely dependent on the fixed turn order, and in many cases, the fact that one alliance member plays immediately after the other.

Consider, for example, a four player game where one player finds himself a share behind the other three players. If that player finds himself last in turn order for a round, the other three players can take consecutive auction actions and pass, preventing the player from getting the additional share he desperately needs.

The variable turn order in AR admittedly makes collaborative "screwage" like that more difficult to pull off, but replaces it with turn order tension and the uncertainly of selecting an action one might desperately need.

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J C Lawrence
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Without a fixed turn order the Gotham Gambit wouldn't work.
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Fabricio Bandeira
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clearclaw wrote:
Without a fixed turn order the Gotham Gambit wouldn't work.


Yeah, neither the Heimlich maneuver.
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J C Lawrence
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Except that the Gotham Gambit is a named and documented opening tactic in Wabash Cannonball and the Heimlich maneuver isn't in either.
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Fabricio Bandeira
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clearclaw wrote:
Except that the Gotham Gambit is a named and documented opening tactic in Wabash Cannonball and the Heimlich maneuver isn't in either.


And everybody should know that. In any case, I did my research and loved to read your plethora of analysis of Chicago Express. I learned a lot.
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J C Lawrence
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Yes, after reading my post, yes, I expect that those interested that are not currently aware of the tactic will search out and read Ben's article.
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