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A Review of Lunar Rails
Let me start by saying, Lunar is probably one of my favorite rail games… I’m not completely sure why, considering the random disaster-factor that can completely knock you out of the game (this happened to me once). I decided to write a review on it because I finally played it again a week ago (it had been a while). It seems there are more impacting disasters in this game then in the normal rail games, but most of this is made up for in the cheap train upgrades ($10m) and variation options. So, below I have discussed an overview with periodic suggestions that make the game more fun, and why I think this (so you can decide for yourself).
Overview of Game-play:
In all of the rail games, the goal is to make money by finishing train-rails networks and delivering resources. The winning condition is to be the first player to connect rails through seven of the eight major cities and to have 250 million dollars. Once this winning condition is met, play continues through the end of the round and if someone else also meets the winning condition, the amount of money is compared to determine the winner. This is not a list of the full rules in the game, but is an overview of how things work.
Components- Lunar Rails contains many of the same components that you may be used to in other rail games, including:
Moon Board (six pieces, unique in the circular shape with connecting sides),
Train Cards (Starting with a Level 1, you can purchase upgrades for $10m to upgrade how many resources you can load or how fast you can go),
Demand (Resource) Cards,
White Chips (Resources),
Money (Starting with $60m),
The board in Lunar Rails shows a legend for the cost of rail-building, which is nice as a reference point. In the first round of the game, each player gets to build $20m in railroad/upgrades… in the order Player 1,2,3,4,5,5,4,3,2,1 (this is an example with 5 players). By the end of this round, every player has had an opportunity to build up to $40m in railroad. In future turns, a max of $20m can be spent per turn on either rail building or train upgrades… or a combination of both.
Each turn a player moves the train as many spaces as their train allows, then has the option to either build more train rails or upgrade to a faster/more capacity train. The number of Demand cards in play depends on the rules and variations used. I usually play with 3 personal demand cards and 3-5 community demand cards… this tends to make the game go faster, and increases competition on the community cards, in my opinion. Each card is like a list of cities that need specific goods. Some cities need a good that is available in a near-by city, so you will not get paid as much to deliver it… but if you need the cash flow, and the delivery is an easy one, this delivery may be the best one to make. You are only aloud to make one delivery per card, so pick wisely.
With the goals of winning in mind, it makes since that the strategy for building rail lines is completely dependent on the cards with resources that you think you can deliver. To deliver a resource you must first go to the city which makes that resource (labeled on the board), then deliver it to the city that needs the resource (choices labeled on the card). Note: If you don’t have a rail built to a city you need to get to, but someone else has it built… you can rent them for $4m/turn. A player must allow renting on his/her line unless the player cannot pay the $4m. We allow for deals to be made when a player is short on cash (ie I’ll give you the renting money when I make my delivery), but a player doesn’t have to allow renting on his/her line IF the other player cannot pay them.
Once you have made a delivery, you collect your money and draw a new card from the pile. The card will either be another delivery to plan OR an event. Event cards in Lunar Rails can be disastrous… as said before, I’ve been completely knocked out of a game from them before, because there were 3 in a row which knocked out too many of my lines to make any deliveries, and with the money I had left… I couldn’t rebuild enough to go anywhere. So, let me suggest to play the alternate rule that a person who is legitimately unable to continue should be able to borrow the minimum amount of money to rebuild a rail to continue play. This alternate rule has penalties associated with it, you have to pay double the amount back for example.
Also, it is good to know that cards should be visible to everyone during play, but money is private unless the tax event is drawn.
Another variation that we play with is the “Golden Spike” Award. This is a $20m award for connecting the sphere through the wrap letters (2 awards 1-North/South, 1-East/West). In general, the more money flow and resource deliveries available to choose from, the quicker the game tends to go (so if you like longer games, don’t play with my variation suggestions).
If you are new to rail games, my suggestion is to play something with easier geography, like Euro Rails (which is similar in many ways). If you have played other rail games, you’ll notice some minor differences in the rules of Lunar Rails, and I suggest skimming the rulebook prior to play… mainly because you will find Lunar unbalanced without the changes. For example, the first time I played we paid $20m for train upgrades, and you could only build or upgrade in a turn, not both… since I said before that the events in this game are devastating, you can imagine that this hit on the pocketbook doesn’t help matters.
Overall, as I said at the beginning, Lunar Rails is one of my favorite rail games. I really like the global sphere connections, and with some of the variations in play the game seems well balanced.