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Subject: Railroad Tycoon - The Good, The Bad and The Verdict rss

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Scotty Pruitt
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If you are looking for my general thoughts on Railroad Tycoon The Boardgame, skip to the end of this review for my take on The Good, The Bad and The Verdict.

When I read that Railroad Tycoon The Boardgame was going out of print, I stopped by my local store that day to pick up the last copy on the shelf. I considered this to be a good buy because: 1) it was listed slightly below the retail price. 2) I wouldn't have to pay shipping. 3) I have 10% off at the store (yes, I buy that much). During the ride home from work that evening, I tried to come up with a clever way of communicating that I had just spent $50+ on a game I had no intention of buying that morning. I knew I couldn't hide the fact that I now own a 15 pounder that covers our entire dinning room table when it is setup, so I just came out and said "I had to make an emergency purchase". My wife just rolled her eyes and smiled.

Railroad Tycoon The Boardgame is set in the Eastern half of the United States during the 1800s. You play the role of a Tycoon who is trying to build a rail network that can deliver goods quickly and efficiently. Delivering goods will earn you points. The further you are able to transport a good, the more points you will earn. The Tycoon with the most points at the game's end will be the winner. Easy enough.

Components
Once I opened the box and started looking through the bits, I could see why the box was so heavy. There are a good bit of bits.

- Six sets of colored plastic locomotives (each set a different color)
- Paper money ($1,000s - $5,000s - $10,000s)
- Thick cards to track the level of your locomotive (levels 1 to 8)
- Tons of hexagonal track pieces; each the size of a nickel
- Railroad Operation Cards
- Railroad Tycoon Cards
- Empty City Markers
- New City Markers
- First Player Marker (a wooden black locomotive)
- a nice black bag (thanks Mr. Wallace) with many small colored wooden blocks to act as goods
- the board

The board is huge. I will repeat this for emphasis. The board is huge. We have a large dinning room table that easily accommodates 6 and can go to a crowded 8. Once the game is completely setup, you don't have much room for anything else. Most of the components are detailed and of good quality. However, the rule book leaves several questions unanswered. You'll need the FAQ for your first game. Even though you get so much in the box, I can't give the components a thumbs up. My biggest gripe is the poor quality of the board. The edges aren't sealed and it comes in three pieces. There are edges on my board that are already coming apart after 4 plays! I've also experienced some of the warping that many have talked about. Very Frustrating. The second disappointment is the lack of a round marker. Come-on! The game weighs a billion pounds because of the sheer number of bits and you couldn't include a round marker? My last gripe is this: the locomotives are frustrating to use on the point track. I've pulled some extra bits from other games for this purpose.

Setup
Every city on the board has a number printed on it (1 to 5). Before the game begins, choose a city and look at the number on it. Randomly draw a number of cubes from the bag equal to that number and place them on the city. Complete this process for every city on the board. There are 3 railroad operation cards that are always used at the start of the game. Place those face up where everyone can see them. Then draw 2 more railroad operation cards for each player and add them (face up) to the starting 3. In a 4 player game, there will be 11 face up railroad operation cards when the game starts. The last thing is that everyone chooses a set of the colored locomotives and randomly draws a railroad tycoon card. Railroad tycoon cards give bonuses to the player at the end of the game if they complete the goal on the card. Everyone starts with $0.

Onto other things...
Like most boardgames Railroad Tycoon The Boardgame is played in a series of turns. The turn consist of 3 phases: the Auction Phase, the Actions Phase, the Income Phase. Everyone participates in each phase. Once all three phases have been completed, proceed to the next turn. Rinse. Repeat.

The Auction Phase
Whoever owns the first player marker starts the bidding. The minimum bid is $1,000 (the first player may pass to start). The next person to the left may bid higher than the previous bidder or pass. Once someone passes, they are out for that bidding phase. Bidding continues until there is only one person left. That person pays the amount to the bank and takes the first player marker. They have won the right to go first during the actions phase! If everyone passes, the First Player Marker rotates to the left.

How do you pay for winning the auction if you start with no money? Any time during the auction phase or during one of your action rounds, you may issues shares for your company. Each share you issue will generate $5,000 to invest into your company. You may issue as many shares as you want (2 shares will generate $10,000, 3 shares $15,000, etc.) Once you issue a share, it is with you the entire game. You can never get rid of a share. In most circumstances, everyone will issue at least 1 or 2 shares, most will issue more than 5 and some will issue more than 10.

The Actions Phase
The actions phase is broken down into three rounds. During a round, starting with the first player and going clockwise, everyone will get to perform one action.
Once everyone has performed an action, you go onto the next round. Since there are three rounds, everyone gets 3 actions per turn! There are 6 available actions:

1.) Build Track - Track pieces are hexagonal cardboard chits that are placed into hexagonal outlines on the board. The chits have various shapes of track on them. The purpose of building track is to connect cities which will give you the ability to deliver goods. The connection between two cities is called a link (this is an important term). A player may lay up to 4 pieces of track during an action. They must originate from a city or be added to a previously incomplete section of track. You may only add to one link for an action, so even if you complete a link that is two pieces long, you're done for that action! You may only add pieces to your own tracks. The cost of building a piece of track is as follows: $2,000 in open terrain (+$1,000 if crossing a river) and $4,000 in the mountains (+$4,000 is crossing a ridge in the mountains). At the end of the turn after all the action rounds have been completed, track segments that do not connect two cities are removed from the board!

2.)Deliver a Good - When two cities are connected by a link, goods may be delivered between them. Goods and cities are one of 5 colors: red, purple, blue, black, yellow (there are also grey cities, more on these in a bit). A good may be delivered to a city that matches its color. Red to red, yellow to yellow, etc. What are the limitations for delivering a good?

- You must own the originating link - in other words, you must be connected to the city from which the good starts.
- You can't deliver farther than your train level will allow.
- You must deliver to the first available city along the way that matches the color of the good ( you can't skip a city if it matches ).
- You can't go through a city twice or deliver a good to the same city in which the good started.

Everyone starts with a level 1 locomotive. This means you may deliver a good that is 1 link away. Once you upgrade your train, you may deliver a good that is 2 links away. The higher your locomotive level, the further away you may deliver goods. So, why would you want to deliver goods that are further away? The more links you use to deliver a good, the more points you will receive for delivering that good. A one link delivery is worth one victory point. A two link delivery is worth two. So on and so on. Now, for any delivery above a one link delivery, you may use someone else's track as long as it isn't the first link in the delivery chain. The rub is that they get the point for that link. So if you had a level 3 locomotive and planned on delivering a good that was 3 cities away but your opponent owned the last two links, they would get 2 points and you would get 1!

3.) Upgrade your locomotive - You may take this action to increase the level of your train. The locomotive cards have the level of the train and the cost to upgrade to it. You may only increase one level per action and you may not skip levels.

4.)Urbanize - this is where the grey cities come into play. There are no grey goods so grey cities will never have goods delivered to them. However, you may spend $10,000 and turn a grey city into the color of your choice minus red (purple, blue, yellow black). There will never be more than 3 red cites. Once you choose your color, you randomly draw two cubes from the bag and add them to that city.

5.)Select a Railroad Operations Card - There are several types of Railroad Operations cards:

- Green circle cards: You do not "choose" these cards. You "accomplish" them. For instance, one may say the first player to connect Baltimore and Washington will earn bonus points or the first player to make a delivery gets one additional point on the point track. Once the goal is accomplished, the card is discarded.

- Purple diamond cards: You may select these cards and place them in front of you. It may be used once a turn. An example of a purple diamond card is Perfect Engineering. This allows you build up to 5 pieces of track during an action instead of 4.

- Red X cards: once you select this card, you use it immediately. An example of a red x card: city growth - add two random cubes to a city of your choice

- Hand cards: you add this card to your hand. You may play it later. Playing this card does not take an action.

6.) Build a Western Link: Once a link has been built to Kansas City or Des Moines, a player may spend $30,000 to build a western link. This represents goods coming from the west into the east. A western link generates 4 red cubes on the city where the link was generated. Along with generating points, any red cube delivered from this city to Chicago will generate 2 random cubes on Chicago.

The Income Phase
Once the third round of actions is completed, players will determine how much money they make (or owe) this turn. There are two numbers on the victory points track. One is your current number of victory points ( 1 to 100 ) and the other is a dollar amount next to the victory point number. To determine how much money your rail company makes this turn, just locate your victory point total and then earn the dollar amount that is next to it. There is a catch though. You will also have to pay dividends to your shareholders. For each share you hold, you will need to pay $1,000 back to the bank. It is possible that you may actually owe money at the end of a turn instead of earning money. If this is the case, you will have to issue shares to earn money to pay the shareholders. Yikes!

End of Game
Once a city becomes vacant (no more cubes), an empty city marker is placed on it. Once all the empty city markers have been placed on the board, the End-of-Game mechanism becomes triggered. This means you will finish this turn and then complete one more full turn before the game ends. If at any time goods are added to an empty city, the empty city marker is removed and added back to the empty city marker pool. This gives everyone the ability to delay the end of game. However, once the last Empty City Marker is placed on the board, the end-of-game mechanism will be triggered. There is no going back. It is sort of like a self-destruct button. How many empty city markers are there? It depends on the number of players. With 4 players, you use 14 empty city markers.

At the end of the game, everyone will subtract 1 victory point from his total for each share he issued during the game. Also, everyone reveals their Railroad Tycoon card to determine if they met the goal. If they did, they will add the specified number of victory points to their total. The player with the most victory points is the winner!

The Good
- A build-track-and-deliver-the-goods train game that plays in about 2 hours - The time required to play seems to be of good length. My 4 or 5 plays have never felt too long.
- Some nice components - The game looks impressive when setup on the table. Tons of tracks and trains and markers that have good detail.
- Interesting money mechanism - The idea of needing to go into debt to get things done, but then having that debt affect you for the rest of the game is very interesting. This leads to different strategies. Do I go into heavy debt to develop my rail network quickly? Or do I take out as little debt as possible and slowly develop? So far, the guy with 10 shares seems to be winning; developing the network quickly has been working better than playing conservatively.
- You're always thinking about your next move. You may experience a small amount of downtime, but as long as you're playing with people that aren't frustratingly slow you won't notice it.
- The Theme - 1800's and locomotives are fun!
- The mechanics and theme fit nicely together.
- Easy to teach - I think this is a good step up from Ticket to Ride. If you have some newish type gamers and want to break them in on something, Railroad Tycoon the Boardgame is a great choice!

The Bad- Some bad components - What is with the board? It looks impressive on the table, but a 4th of it is never used ( Southwest ) and it started warping as soon as it came out of the box. Grrrr. Also, where in the world are the scoring markers and the round marker? The locomotives just don't cut it on the point track. They do not fit. Last thing: the blue cities look like purple cities. I had to print the color corrected cities and paste them onto the board.
- The imbalance of the North East - a NE player has won *every* game so far. I think this may change once our group figures out how to combat the NE.
- The board is huge - I know I mentioned that the board looks impressive. This is good and bad. The reason it is bad is because it takes up so much space! You don't have a place to rest your elbows. Its almost too much board. Its hard to explain but you feel overwhelmed at times. Its also fairly difficult to reach the other side of the board.

The Verdict - 8.2
I like it. Currently, I will not turn down a chance to play this game. The action point system gives an open feel to the game. There is also a sense of urgency and always wanting to push the limit between debt and success. Is it worth taking on more share to get to the level 4 train before anyone else? You'll be paying for that extra share for the rest of the game. It better be worth it!

This rating may change in the future given the size and setup time required. It may also change if the NE player continues to win every time. Again, I think the NE advantage may meet its match sometime in the future.

Was it worth the $50+ I spent on it? Yes.

[edit on 05.15.07 - Since writing this review, RRT has been replaced by Age of Steam. See my AoS review to see why! - my new rating for this game - 6.4]
 
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Rick Holzgrafe
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littlechild_zu wrote:
The second disappointment is the lack of a round marker. Come-on! The game weighs a billion pounds because of the sheer number of bits and you couldn't include a round marker?


There are extra Empty City Markers. You can use one of those for a round marker.

littlechild_zu wrote:
a NE player has won *every* game so far.


Never let one player own the NE. If there are two players in the NE, then good play in other parts of the board can win.

littlechild_zu wrote:
You don't have a place to rest your elbows.


Shameless plug: hholzgrafe's Modular Score Track solves this problem nicely. You get room for the locos on the scoring track, it's much easier to see what your income is, and the edges of the board are free for elbows.
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/fileinfo.php?fileid=16626

Nice review!
 
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Good review. I had similar experiences with this game. I know AoS is more popular but this one is easy to get new players started especially since it looks so nice.
 
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M@tthijs
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Good work.

I am tempted to cut off the sides of the board (scoretrack), so it'll fit on my table. Hope that will be done in any reprint.
I then won't use hholzgrafe's Modular Score Track (9 pages? Come on!) but we were thinking about using someting like the score track of Carcassonne.

 
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Scotty Pruitt
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rholzgrafe wrote:
littlechild_zu wrote:
a NE player has won *every* game so far.


Never let one player own the NE. If there are two players in the NE, then good play in other parts of the board can win.


Have you experienced the following? If two share the NE, will the Chicago or South East players win more? I think our group is experiencing a little bit of group-think. Everyone feels if they fight for the NE with another player, then the players that freely roam the Chicago or South East will have the edge. So... as soon as the first player goes into the NE, no one feels like fighting for it, so they go elsewhere. I think we realize that we can't let one person dominate, however, no one wants to be the guy that goes into the NE second. I would like to know how many have won going into the NE second.



 
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Glenn Drover
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The strategy that I like is to start in the NE and build south or central (over the mtns). The player who starts in the NE and goes north hits a dead-end and has trouble. Another possibility is to build a small RR in the NE in the beginning to reap some quick points/ revenue and then start another RR elsewhere. Linking the two later when you have more money allows you to use the long-range locos for a late game push to victory.

While this second strategy is risky, it does work.

 
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Rick Holzgrafe
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littlechild_zu wrote:
rholzgrafe wrote:
Never let one player own the NE. If there are two players in the NE, then good play in other parts of the board can win.


Have you experienced the following? If two share the NE, will the Chicago or South East players win more?


Not necessarily. It can happen, yes, but the NE is such a strong starting location that it can often accommodate two players that are still competitive with players who start elsewhere. Everywhere else on the board, either the links are longer or there are lots of gray cities, or both.

Bear in mind that whoever goes into the NE second, paid nothing during the auction. That gives an advantage over whoever did win (usually the first player into the NE). The short distances and lack of gray cities give an advantage over everyone else. This makes a game in which everyone has different strengths and weaknesses: the first player is first (which is big!) and is in the NE, but has competition and should be carrying a significant starting debt. The second player into the NE gets its advantages without debt, but isn't first. The remaining players have no debt but do have more expensive builds and a generally harder time getting started.
 
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Erik Ny
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_Kael_ wrote:
Good work.

I am tempted to cut off the sides of the board (scoretrack), so it'll fit on my table. Hope that will be done in any reprint.



I'm nearly fainting just from the idea of doing this, but it's the only way it could possibly fit on any table in my home...
 
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Roberto Arbelaez
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Well, you could always put it on the floor, and put chairs around it...

 
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Darren M
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Quote:
_Kael_ wrote:
Good work.

I am tempted to cut off the sides of the board (scoretrack), so it'll fit on my table. Hope that will be done in any reprint.



I'm nearly fainting just from the idea of doing this, but it's the only way it could possibly fit on any table in my home...


Or you could just buy a bigger table I'd personally hate to cut up games so they could fit on a table... I'd much rather get two of those cheap fold up plastic style tables and slide them together.
 
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