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Subject: So this is a crayon rail game, huh? rss

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Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Happily playing games for many, many years.
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The folk at Good Games Ballarat have recognised that I'm somewhat of a sucker for train games. I've aided them in that assessment by bringing in a succession of such games in to play with them: Ticket to Ride (multiple versions), Age of Steam, Steam, Railroad Tycoon, Rails of Europe, Rails of England and Wales, 1856...

TransEuropa hasn't made the journey yet, but they wouldn't be surprised.

When you look at my collection, it's just a small portion of the games I own, but it's a significant portion. And so, when reviewing new games to stock the store with, when they saw "Martian Rails" they thought, "If we get that in, Merric will probably buy it!"

What they didn't know is I grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian adventures and Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, and a bunch of other Mars-related adventures. So, a train game set on Mars? I was sold!

And so, I bought my first actual crayon-train game. With actual crayons. (Unlike TransEuropa, which may have started life as a crayon game, but was solidly a wooden rail game when my copy was printed).

I read the rules on Thursday night, looked at the (rather long) playing time, and decided that I'd most likely get a game sometime in the future. However, I brought into the store on Friday afternoon after work, and was delighted to find Pat there willing to give it a go.

The game comes from a different school from most of the goods delivery games I've been playing - which are Age of Steam variants. You're not really building up a network of trains. Instead, you have one train, which makes very specific deliveries. And travels quite slowly over the track. By the end of the game, there's a lot of track!

Each player gets dealt three cards that each detail three orders for goods and the reward you get for delivering them. So, deliver Red Martians to the Skyhook or something like that and get $40 million. So, you first have to build your track (which is moderately expensive) from a major city to a place like Helium that has Red Martians, take your train to Helium, connect up your track to the Skyhook, and take your train to there. Your train travels quite slowly around the map, so it may be several turns before you make your bigger deliveries. Trains can get upgraded to hold more goods and move faster - but not really that much. Well, the upgrades are significant, but you're still going to be slowly moving around the network.

The rules of the game are simple. However, playing the game well is significantly harder. It all has to do with visualisation and familiarity. There are a lot of different goods, and many only can be found at one or two locations. If you can find it at three, it's common! And with the slow speed of your train, if you're not careful, you'll find yourself needing to cross the map again and again and again!

Picking up goods that will be useful later is very important. If you get a chain of closely-related pickups and deliveries, so much the better!

And yes, even with two people, this is a pretty long game - much longer due to the fact that it takes some time to get used to the board and the locations of everything!

Pat took some time to the concept of "limited money" and would often find himself running out of money to get to where he needed to go - and then needed to discard his cards and draw new ones until he got deliveries he could make. A few turns were wasted that way. One time, he started wandering over my rails (which requires a rent of $4 million per turn to me) and ran out of money in the middle of the track. Hmm. That's an elimination, but for this learning game we just put him back on his track. Making accurate calculations was not Pat's strong suit.

As the game went on, Pat finally got the hang of keeping enough money in hand, and started making reliable deliveries. I feel he was much, much better than I was at seeing the best links to travel his train across. His problem was a simple one: I was so far ahead, all he could do was play catch up.

I made a few really good deliveries, such as picking up two lots of Solar CDs from Olympus Mons (only location that supplied them) and then delivering them to two locations that wanted them, netting a cool $80 or $90 million.

The victory conditions require you to connect five of the six major cities together and earn $250 million. I'd connected four and was well on my way to collecting the money. Pat had the five, but moneywise he was far behind, and so it stayed for the remainder of the game, although, as I mentioned, he was making some good linked deliveries. However, it didn't take me that long to finish up and make my $250 million and some change (about $272m all told!) Pat had around $150m, which gives you an idea of how much his early mistakes had cost him - but the next game, he's going to be someone to watch out for!

I can see how with more players this game is going to take a while. Four experienced Martian Rails players would be very interesting. Interaction is basically low, but not non-existent: there is the possibility of denuding a location of a good an opponent needs, but more likely is your track interfering with the best plans of another player! Being able to gauge the right time to rent track rather than building your own will also be key.

Mechanically, the game isn't as successful or tight as more modern designs, as the ancestor to this game is now a few decades old, but it was a game I played with a fair deal of pleasure, especially for the many references to the Martian fiction I've read over the years. (No A Rose for Ecclesiastes references in the game? That's a shame). It'll see the table again - possibly tonight, if I can persuade a couple of people to have a game!
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Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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This series plays much faster once you learn the system and the map, and if everyone pays attention. If I play this 2-player with my wife, we'd expect to finish in no more than 90 minutes.
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Werner Bär
Germany
Karlsruhe
Baden
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MerricB wrote:
And travels quite slowly over the track.

Some people will suggest using the "fast train" variant rules; but they won't change the playing time, only the feeling. Moving 12 dots for 4 turns or 16 dots for 3 turns doesn't make a difference; it's the new hand evaluation each time you get a new card that takes most time.

MerricB wrote:
And yes, even with two people, this is a pretty long game - much longer due to the fact that it takes some time to get used to the board and the locations of everything!

Familarity is the major point. i haven't played martian rails yet, but for other games of the series, we need 30 minutes/player for experienced players, and 60+ minutes per newbie.

MerricB wrote:
Pat took some time to the concept of "limited money" and would often find himself running out of money to get to where he needed to go - and then needed to discard his cards and draw new ones until he got deliveries he could make. A few turns were wasted that way.

We use the variant rule "Loans" (from the rule book). Basically, you can borrow a limited amount of money, but have to pay back double the amount from your next earnings. It speeds up the early game since you don't have to carefull calculate whether your money will be enough for the route you need to build, even if your opponents track hinders you, or a river floods.
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