Andrés Santiago Pérez-Bergquist
My group has always been somewhat divided over Union Pacific, liking it, but never quite comfortable with some of its problems. After extensive fiddling, we currently employ several sweeping changes that keep the core of the game the same but pare down what we perceive as unnecessary fiddliness and fix some stalling issues.
Problems we perceived and how we fixed them:
Closely spaced scoring rounds don't give players time to feel like they've had any opportunity to develop. — We use errata which spaces the cards evenly throughout the deck (although a misreading of the official errata which we actually prefer).
Track cards take time to draw and use, and really only matter on the occasional turn when you are frustrated by random chance. — Thus, we eliminated track cards entirely. With track cards gone, the board itself isn't that useful anymore. It allows for cutting off smaller companies, but that leads to too much analysis and distracts from the central expand-or-invest quandary of the the game, so we ditched the board too.
The display of available companies gets clogged with garbage no one wants, and everyone just draws from the top of the deck in the late game. — To encourage people to take otherwise undesirable shares from the display, we adopted a bribing mechanism similar to Puerto Rico, except that it allows for player choices to attempt to guide the picks of other players. After some consideration, we went with shares of Union Pacific as the currency of the bribes, eliminating other means of obtaining them.
The end results is a leaner, faster game that lets you set up hard choices for the other players.
Place two trains from each company in rows, then add a third train for the El Paso & Rio Grande (Green). The number of trains in each row represents the value of each company. (This gets rid of the number of trains plus one inelegancy of the original game. It also reduces the maximum value of each company by one relative to the original game, which disproportionately affects smaller companies more than larger ones, and actually helps to counteract the benefit small companies receive from the fact that companies can no longer be blocked off from expansion.)
Deal each player one share of Union Pacific and three random shares of other companies, face-down. Each player selects a share from his or her hand, and they are all simultaneously revealed and placed on the table as initial investments.
Deal four shares face up into the display.
Deal 24 shares into four piles of six each, then shuffle one scoring round marker into each of them. Deal the remainder of the deck onto these four piles, then stack them up to form the draw deck, with uneven extra cards nearer the top. For example, with 4 players, you will wind up with 15 cards, then 7 which contain the first scoring round somewhere in them, another 15 without scoring rounds, 7 with, 14 without, 7 with, 14 without, and the final 7 cards of the deck with the last scoring round somewhere in them.
Randomly choose a starting player.
On a player's turn, he or she must choose between a Building turn or Investing Turn.
On a Building Turn, the player takes one train from the box and adds it to the corresponding company's row. That company's value has now increased by one. (For convenience in counting the number of trains present in each company, it suggested that each of group of five be spaced slightly apart.) Then, the player takes any of the four face up piles of shares, composed of one share of a normal company and any Union Pacific shares that have been added to that pile, or the top card of the deck. If one of the face-up piles was taken, replace it with the top card of the deck. Then, the player must take a share of Union Pacific from the Union Pacific deck and add it to any of the four face-up piles; a pile may have multiple shares of Union Pacific. (There is no limit on the number of Union Pacific shares in the game. You will probably want to use track cards as additional shares of Union Pacific, and periodically reclaim an equal number of invested Union Pacific shares from everyone, as it will not affect relative standings.) It is now the next player's turn.
On an Investing Turn, the player plays any two shares from his or her hand to the table, or as many shares as he or she wishes of a single company (treating Union Pacific as a company). It is now the next player's turn.
When a player draws the scoring round indicator or reveals it when trying to place it into the display, set it aside, replace it with the next card from the deck, and finish the Building Turn as normal, then score all the companies. The player with the most shares in each company earns $1 for each train in that company. The player with the second-most earns half that much, rounding down. If only one player has shares invested in a given company, he or she earns both payouts. If multiple players are tied for a position, add up the relevant payouts and divide it evenly between the players, rounding down.
Union Pacific is special and will pay out to up to five players instead of only the top two, according to the following dividend table:
Dividend Round: 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
1st shareholder $5 $10 $15 $20
2nd shareholder $4 $ 8 $12 $16
3rd shareholder $3 $ 6 $ 9 $12
4th shareholder $2 $ 4 $ 6 $ 8
5th shareholder $1 $ 2 $ 3 $ 4
(Note that unlike the original rules, Union Pacific does pay out on the first round. We believe the original rule was designed to help prevent an early-game rush on the limited amount of Union Pacific available, but with the shares now coming around as a side effect of share choices as opposed to instead of normal shares, this is no longer needed, and the new pay structure is more elegant.)
The game ends after the fourth scoring round, and whoever has the most money is the winner.