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John Reiher
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RailRoad Dice
Game company: Wassertal Spieleverlang
2-4 players
60-90 minutes
12 years or older
Web site: http://www.railroaddice.de
€35 + S&H from Germany
$47.95 USD
Game Rating (10 point scale): 7.5

When I first set eyes on this game, I found that I wanted it. Damn the cost of buying it from Germany... how much? OK, Darn the cost of buying it through my local online game shop! I had to have it.

One combined order later I had in my possession the game of my desires. The box itself is fairly plain and with bilingual (German and English) text on both the cover and back of the box, with alternating German and English text along the edges.

The game comes with both German and English rules, though there is a problem with the translation to English that I'll cover later. The components are all top notch and made to the exacting standards one expects of German Board Games. And then there is the dice.

Oh My, the Dice.

You may balk at the cost, till you realize that you are buying 84 dice, 40 railroad dice, and 44 unmarked colored dice, (10 red, 10 yellow, 8 blue, 8 green, and 8 purple.) Suddenly it's not that much to pay for a game. (I went ahead and bought the extra 20 dice, bringing my total to 104 dice!) On each die there are 2 straight track symbols, 2 curve track symbols, one share symbol, and one question mark "?" symbol.

Enough of the dice for now, the other components are perhaps the heart of the game, more so than the dice. There are 8 large terrain tiles, about 4 inches in size, representing four types of terrain: Grasslands, Lake, Small Moutain, and Big Mountain, two tiles for each type. Along with the these large tiles are 35 small, about 1.5 inches in size, and are miniatures of the larger tiles. There are 11 Grasslands tiles, 12 Lake tiles, 7 Small Mountain tiles, and 5 Big Mountain tiles.

There are the five Company tiles, Berg & Tal-Bahn (red), Insel Hopper (yellow), Weiden Express (purple), Uberall Fahrten (blue), and Eisberg Tours (green), and 50 share tiles, ten for each Company. Each Company has spaces for each of the colored die associated with it. They are sorted by both cost, three dice and five dice, and terrain type, Grassland, Lake, and Mountain.

Finally there are four cardboard shields, four pawns, two brown and two orange, 40 small orange disks, 20 larger brown disks, and the starting player tile that depicts a railroad die seen from the corner.

So far, so good. The object of the game is to have carried the most passengers during the game. Passengers are represented by the orange and brown disks. Orange disks represent 1,000 passengers and brown disks represent 5,000 passengers. (You may want to have more counters available, in one game we found ourselves needing a twentys counter.)

How you get all those passengers is the meat of the game. The colored dice are placed on the appropriate Company tiles and the Company shares are set before the corresponding tile. You start out with four dice with the "?" sides face up. You can treat "?" as any other side of the die as needed. These four dice are placed in front of your shield. The player with the most railroad games gets the Starting Player Tile.

During your turn you have five different actions you can do during your turn. You are not limited to just five actions, some can be done as many times as you want, as long as you have the dice to do them with. The five actions are:

1. Take Income.
2. Roll Dice.
3. Buy Shares.
4. Lay Track.
5. Build Stations.

You can only Take Income or Roll Dice once a turn.

After all the players have taken their turn, the round or Year, is over.

Taking Income sometimes can be delayed, as the amount of income you receive depends on the number of built stations for all the Companies you are Director of. If there are 4 or less stations, you get 4 dice placed behind your shield. If you have 5 or more stations, you get a number of dice equal to the number of built stations for all the Companies you're Director of placed behind your shield. If you are not a Director of a company, you get 4 dice placed behind your shield. However, if you just lost all your Companies, you get 4 dice, "?" side up, in front of your shield.

You can only roll certain dice: dice from behind your shield and any "?" dice in front of your shield. When you roll a "?" die from in front of the shield you get an extra die from the bank. Once rolled, you cannot roll them again.

Buying shares is relatively straight forward. Shares cost one share symbol, "?" symbol, or any die from behind the shield. You can buy as many shares as you want as long as you have the appropriate dice. Once a certain number of companies have had all their shares sold, you can purchase shares directly from the Director of the Company. A Director cannot refuse to sell stock.

Laying track is fairly straightforward. You pay an extra die, either a "?" or a die from behind the screen, to lay as much track as you want in the mountains, and 2 extra die to lay track across the lake. However, you must have enough track to cross the span of water in one turn. You cannot lay track such that it:

a. It intersects existing track.
b. Prevents more track from being laid.
c. You cannot place track against the edge of the tile unless you can play one more die on the next terrain tile.
d. Track does not end up leading into a lake.

Laying track is when you get to add new tiles to the layout and some of the more interesting mechanics come into play. There at most three large tiles in play at any one time. If current tile has at least five track dice, which includes any built stations long that track, you can then build off the current tile and place a new tile of your choice, as long as the edges of the tiles match. So Grassland to Grassland, Mountain to Mountain. If you're the player that gets to lay the new tile, you gain two "?" dice in front of your shield. You can't use them to build the next die onto the new tile, you have to have that one ahead of time.

And this is where the interesting bit happens. A small tile that corresponds to the large tile is placed in the corresponding position on what turns out to be a small overall map of stations. Once there is track leading off two different sides of the large tile, that tile is removed from the board and returned to the supply. The track dice are placed back in the bank, and any station dice are placed on the corresponding small tile. The two pairs of pawns are used to indicate the current ends of the map as it is built. One pawn is placed on the corresponding small tile, and the other is placed on or next to the large tile that matches the small tile. The small tile has to fit into the existing map, and this dictates the orientation of the larger tile when it is played. Eventually you get this intricate small map covered in colored dice, with the two large tiles with the track ends.

You can build a station only in terrain that matches its column. On each Company tile the station dice are arranged by terrain type:
- Grassland square with three Grassland squares next to it.
- Grassland square with three Lake squares adjacent to it.
- Mountain square with three Mountain squares next to it.

You cannot build a station on the edge of the tile, there must be at least one space between the station and the edge of the tile. You cannot build a station that is next to another station, but you can build one that is diagonal to an existing station. The cost of building a station is printed on each tile: 3 dice or 5 dice. These dice are paid from behind the shield or any "?" dice from in front of the shield. Building the mountains costs an extra die, unless you've already paid that die to build track in the mountains.

At the end of your turn you can have only 5 dice in front of your shield. Discard any dice over that number back into the bank. A suggestion: keep any "?" dice you may have rolled or received.

After the last player has finished his turn, the Year is over and you calculate how many passengers each Company has carried. This is determined by the longest chain of stations on the small map, this chain can fork, but stations on a diagonal tile from the chain are not counted. Count up the stations and this is how many passengers the company carried. The player receives passenger disks equal to this number.

Finally the majority stockholder in a Company receives control of Company. If there is a tie for number of shares, the current Director retains control of the Company.

The Start Player Tile is then given to the next player to the left and the whole shebang starts again.

The game is over when:
- A Company has built its last station.
- All the small tiles have been used up or cannot be placed on the map.
- Both railway tracks dead end.
- The Bank runs out of dice.

If the Bank runs out of dice, the game ends immediately, otherwise you play out the rest of the Year.

On the surface this isn't a too complex game, it has some quirks, but looks to be promising. However, some problems crop up. The End Game is more like hostile takeovers of the 80s and not a railroad game. This is caused by the fact that as you build more stations, your income goes up and up. In one game I ran, one person was able to take 21 dice as income. And the problem with all this income is that you can only buy one thing with it, stock. So in the end game companies go back and forth, each player holding on to the company for a turn, long enough to collect passengers, maybe build a station, and then have the company bought out from underneath him.

As one person said, "Where's the incentive in building up a company if someone is going to take it away from you?" And this is the rub. I must admit that where it got really bad was when I added the extra 20 dice, but it helped point out this problem. I realized that this also happened in the first game I ran as well.

There are strategies to combat this:
Hoard dice. This works as long as you don't mind don't mind doing nothing for a turn except take income. This can end the game in few turns if more than one person plays this way.

Badly develop your company. That is, don't make a chain longer than two stations. Otherwise you make your company a prime target for take over.

Build like crazy. Lay as many tile as you can to end the game by exhausting all the small tiles.

But none of these are very satisfying. So, upon finding a problem, I always try to find a solution. So let me present my solutions or game variants;

Variant One: The Tweak

This variant makes the smallest change possible.

Buying Shares: This action can be taken as many times as the player wants. At the start of the game Shares may only be bought directly from the Bank. Later on in the game, players can buy shares from the Directors of the company. This occurs when the shares for a number of companies equal to the number of players are completely bought out from the Bank.

To pay for a share, you must use a die from in front of your shield that has either a share symbol or a "?" symbol face up. You cannot use dice from behind the shield.

All other rules in the game are the same.

This forces people to take dice from behind their screen and roll them and take a chance of rolling nothing but track dice. It does add more luck to the game, but it would reduce the number of hostile take overs that currently occur.


Variant Two; The Bodge

This variant makes a more drastic change.

Buying Shares: This action can be taken as many times as the player wants. At the start of the game Shares may only be bought directly from the Bank. Later on in the game, players can buy shares from the Directors of the company. This occurs when the shares for a number of companies equal to the number of players are completely bought out from the Bank.

The cost of a share depends on the number of stations built by that Company, minimum price is one die. For every five dice station that has been built, the price goes up by 2 dice. This die can be a "?" or Share symbol die from in front of the shield, or any die from behind the screen.

All other rules in the game are the same.

As a company becomes more successful, its share price rises. This can slow down the inevitable, and force people to only buy one or two shares at a time. But it also encourages a Director to build stations as fast as possible, raising the share price at the same time.


Variant Three: The Rebuilt

This one makes the most draconian change to buying shares by combing elements of the first two variants.

Buying Shares: This action can be taken as many times as the player wants. At the start of the game Shares may only be bought directly from the Bank. Later on in the game, players can buy shares from the Directors of the company. This occurs when the shares for a number of companies equal to the number of players are completely bought out from the Bank.

The cost of a share depends on the number of stations built by that Company, minimum price is one die. For every five dice station that has been built, the price goes up by 2 dice. To pay for a share, you must use a die from in front of your shield that has either a share symbol or a "?" symbol face up. You cannot use dice from behind the shield.

All other rules in the game are the same.

This one is most drastic and has several repercussions:
1. You can only have five dice in front of your screen at the end of your turn.
2. This means that at best you can buy shares that don't exceed a cost of five dice. Once they go above five dice, you have to take a chance and roll dice.
3. You definitely benefit from building stations. Your may not own all the stock in your company, but you're fairly safe from a hostile take over unless someone has a lucky roll of dice.

I like the game, a lot. This is why I'm trying to fix it. Let's hope the folks from Wassertal Spieleverlang are listening.
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Joshua Bluestein
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Re:User Review
Kedamono (#36512),

Just wanted to point out that the 'Tweak' you refer to in your review is actually the proper way to play the game. Shares can only be purchased with dice in front of the screen.

I actually like the idea of increasing share cost as more stations get built. Combined with the fact that you can only spend dice showing, it's still not an insurmountable obstacle, since there are a lot of ways to add dice to the front of your screen -- building stations, building onto new tiles, rolling dice...

Josh
 
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John Reiher
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Re:User Review
Kedamono (#36512),
Sorry, there is an error in this review. When I played this game, I misread the rules about buying shares. The correct rule is that you may only buy shares with "?" and Share symbol dice from in front of your shield.

So some of my conclusions are erroneous, and I'll be posting an addendum to this review to reflect correct gameplay!

Again my apologies, especially to Wassertal Spieleverlang for this mistake.
 
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John Reiher
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Re:User Review
jbluestein wrote:
Kedamono (#36512),

Just wanted to point out that the 'Tweak' you refer to in your review is actually the proper way to play the game. Shares can only be purchased with dice in front of the screen.

I actually like the idea of increasing share cost as more stations get built. Combined with the fact that you can only spend dice showing, it's still not an insurmountable obstacle, since there are a lot of ways to add dice to the front of your screen -- building stations, building onto new tiles, rolling dice...

Josh

Thanks Josh, I got raked over the coals for this mistake in other forums.

Increasing share cost might help keep companies from switching often, but after the price gets above 5 dice, it will be too expensive to buy out the leader and keep him from reaping the benefits of his station building. See the thread about runaway leaders for more information.
 
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