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Subject: Railroad Tycoon "like pulling teeth" rss

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Jimmy TheOne
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Good day,

I am a big fan of Railroad Tycoon 2 on PC, so when I found out that a boardgame version was available, I could not have been more excited. I have now played five games (2 or 3 players) and the consensus amongst my gaming group is "this is like pulling teeth".

Our games have followed the same pattern every time. We get off to a painfully slow start as we analyse the board for some level 1 or 2 cash grabs. If somebody decides to issue more than two or three shares, they end up owing more dividends than they can afford and spend the rest of the game in a vicious spiral of issuing more shares to pay for the ones they already have. Eventually, after much scrimping and saving, one player will manage to upgrade to a level 3 or 4 locomotive, deliver a few goods cubes, begin steaming [pun intended] ahead of the pack with no way for the others to catch up, then ... the game ends.

The game has never lasted long enough for any of us to buy a level 5 locomotive or complete a long-distance route. We get very little use out of the event cards since we never get to shift the long-distance route cards that end up clogging the face-up selection. Completion of the players' secret objectives is accidental as we are all too busy just trying to make ends meet. Even with my rose-tinted glasses on, the game just doesn't seem to sit quite right. I was thinking of not reducing the number of goods cubes by 1 for 2-3 players, but I fear this is only a band-aid to a broader set of problems.

I have seen so many positive reviews of this game. Are we playing it all wrong?

I would be very grateful for any feedback that would stop my friends cringing in pain at the mere mention of the word 'Railroad'.
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Bruce Murphy
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Yes you are. If you're taking 20 or 30 loans, you're probably doing it wrong, but people should be taking loans early on to get to a 3 or 4 level locomotive and specifically building track that gives you access to interesting long deliveries, with the idea that towards the end of the game you should be making lots of 4 or 5 length ones, which will just leapfrog your score. It's possible with 4 or 5 players that one person will grab enough of the cards to get a little railway started without taking any loans at all, but rare that more than one person can manage it in a game.

If someone has run out ahead and is about to get lots of points? A perfect opportunity to urbanize a city of the wrong colour along their delivery path to block all of those cubes from longer deliveries, or build track to steal them away.

B>
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Jimmy TheOne
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Bruce, thank you for your prompt response.

What is your definition of "early on" as far as upgrading to a level 4 locomotive? We usually have about 7 or 8 empty cities by the time a player gets to a level 4 locomotive.

Also, we generally do not take out a share unless we will, by the end of the turn (or at worst the end of the following turn), generate enough income to pay the dividends. I generally issue no more than 3 shares per game. Are we being overly cautious?

We all tend to pick up any useful cards in the first couple of turns, but it does not take long before every single available card is a long-distance route, which therefore stymies our use of cards for the rest of the game.
 
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Andrew
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You always have to take at least one share to start; often you'll need two or three in order to fund grabbing a key starting position, especially if you bid hard for first player. However, even having 3 shares only costs you $3,000 interest per year; if you can't use that $15,000 to get your railroad ticking over more than $3k per turn then, yep - you're sure doing something wrong!

Where you lay your first track is usually critical, and you need to consider all the options available to you...
If there's a Railroad card up that offers a delivery bonus then there's 4 points there (plus 1 for the cube), so usually foolish if you don't try for that.
Simply being the first player to deliver a cube is a 1pt bump, so getting a link down as first player that lets you move two cubes (perhaps one in each direction) can get you 3 pts in the first turn.
If neither of those options are available, then have a look at where you can build a two or three short links for less than $5k each, and position yourself to get some two and then three-link deliveries in place... another 3pt bonus if you're first.

Remember, there are three rounds per turn (ie. three actions for each player), and you only pay interest at the end of each turn.

Also, it is a frequently used variant in the base game (and a standard rule in all the expansions) that the long connection bonuses be removed from the deck and treated as commonly available to all players, so first in gets it. But, as you say, you don't want them clogging the face-up cards.

With that in mind, there are hardly any bad Railroad cards, so your comment about getting little use out of them would, to my mind, be almost certainly sub-optimal play. Most cards are incredibly useful for getting an edge, and in the majority of games I play the fiercest bidding for first player is invariably about getting to a great card.

However, I will say that we always play our own variation of card rules: we start with the three "Start" cards plus one for each player, and add two new cards each turn. Done it that way for so long I can't even remember what the correct rules are.

The reviewers who rave about this game are not wrong. It is a very accessible family game, and a brutally tactical game for hard core gamers who choose to play it that way. In my opinion you are doing the game a major disservice if you choose to give up on it.
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Harald Torvatn
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You can upgrade to a "4" train during the first turn. That is actually a quite good start for one person.
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Steve Duff
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KurganFr wrote:
Our games have followed the same pattern every time. We get off to a painfully slow start as we analyse the board for some level 1 or 2 cash grabs. If somebody decides to issue more than two or three shares, they end up owing more dividends than they can afford and spend the rest of the game in a vicious spiral of issuing more shares to pay for the ones they already have. Eventually, after much scrimping and saving, one player will manage to upgrade to a level 3 or 4 locomotive, deliver a few goods cubes, begin steaming [pun intended] ahead of the pack with no way for the others to catch up, then ... the game ends.


Something's wrong, the game isn't anywhere as harsh as you're experiencing.

I suggest reading through the play by forum game, and seeing where you might have some rules incorrect: Game 3: ideogram, manymoodys, wmshub, Ceej, Welshmilla

(note that they're using a variant rule for bidding for turn order, though).
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J C Lawrence
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KurganFr wrote:
Bruce, thank you for your prompt response.

What is your definition of "early on" as far as upgrading to a level 4 locomotive?


By the end of turn 3 is the default. Turn 2 or even the first turn isn't uncommon.

Quote:
I generally issue no more than 3 shares per game. Are we being overly cautious?


Yes.
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Chris Hillery
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First, as you've probably figured out, this game isn't terribly similar to the computer game. It's actually based on another boardgame, Age of Steam. If you think Railroad Tycoon is unforgiving financially, try that one!

Second, yeah, the game shouldn't be as slow-moving and financially crunched as it seems you're experiencing. It's possible to go into the death spiral of issuing more and more shares just to cover your debt, but it's actually pretty hard to do. I think it's much more likely that you're playing some rule incorrectly.

My first guess would be what Andrew hinted at: are you paying dividends at the end of every round instead of every turn? You should get three actions apiece before any dividends need to be paid.

Also, it does sound like you're being overly cautious. It's possible to win at Railroad Tycoon issuing anywhere between 0 and 30 shares in a game, but as a rule of thumb, between 7 and 10 is a decent range, and the majority of them will probably be issued in the first four turns. If you're all trying to hold yourself to only one or two shares throughout the entire game, it will indeed be something of a slog.
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Martin Boisselle
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Andrew
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KurganFr wrote:
What is your definition of "early on" as far as upgrading to a level 4 locomotive?

clearclaw wrote:
By the end of turn 3 is the default. Turn 2 or even the first turn isn't uncommon.

Harald wrote:
You can upgrade to a "4" train during the first turn. That is actually a quite good start for one person.


Not sure I agree with clearclaw, and respectfully but completely disagree with Harald.

To get to a level "4" train costs $25,000 and takes three rounds - so five shares, $5k interest per turn, and no income yet. Then you need to take another three rounds to build at least three links required to make it pay as a 4pt delivery, which will need another two or three shares at least. So you'd be two full turns into the game, paying out at least $7k interest per turn (and at least -7pts at game end), and still have no money coming in.

Thus, you would have to be able to count on getting several good deliveries out of that sort of investment; whilst it certainly might work, I'd suggest it's a brave move. If you're playing with four or five players then somebody is sure to nab one or more of your end-point cubes, and if you're playing with two or three then there are less cubes per city making multiple deliveries along one route that much harder.

I generally recommend to starting players that they do at least one link build per turn, one delivery per turn, and get/use one card or do an upgrade, else do a second delivery or second build. This way as soon as you notch up the first few points your income exceeds your interest. Then, issuing another share or two each turn for a little while as you expand keeps you in the black, and you can comfortably be considering three (or maybe four) point deliveries from about turn five.

Once you know the game better, and understand the risk and rewards of fast debt accumulation, then you can learn to be more aggressive. It's not unusual in my group for someone to pick up a couple of shares very early in the game simply to fund their bid for first player.

Always try and grab good cards when they come up, even if you have to bid hard for them. A 4pt delivery bonus, a hotel in a key city, even a free build can all pay for themselves very easily.

And remember, there is no value in having a high level train unless you can make corresponding link deliveries. I personally consider the push to high level trains and big scoring deliveries as my end-game strategy.

I've won extremely competitive games having issued more than 10 shares (once I think I had about 15), but my starting objective is almost always to get my score high enough that I can build a link and deliver at least a two/three cube every turn without issuing more shares. Once there, I keep in mind that every share issued is another point lost at game end, so do it when needed but make sure it pays out accordingly!

Incidentally, I rarely take note of playing for my Tycoon bonus unless it fits into my strategy. Squeezing in a couple of 4pt deliveries is better than any of them anyway.
 
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Chris Hillery
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ausminstrel wrote:
Not sure I agree with clearclaw, and respectfully but completely disagree with Harald.

To get to a level "4" train costs $25,000 and takes three rounds - so five shares, $5k interest per turn, and no income yet.

Not true, at least not in Railroad Tycoon. If you upgrade to level 4 on turn one (and nobody else does), you get the "New Train" starting bonus for 4 points. That's $6 income, enough to pay for the 5 shares you took. Then, on turn two, one build action and you can make a 3-point delivery (using someone else's track for two links) to claim the "Speed Record" starting bonus for another 3 points, plus the one point for the delivery. That's 8 points in 5 actions, you're already up to a net $4-5 income per turn, and you're at a level 4 train well before anybody else so you can start building and taking advantage of longer deliveries faster. It's not a slam-dunk, but it's actually a very strong starting strategy - it's won several tournaments. See this thread for more discussion. Also take a look at the play-by-forum game mentioned earlier - I started with the triple-upgrade opening, and I'm currently in a pretty solid second place.

The big problem with this strategy is that it ONLY works in Railroad Tycoon, not Railways of the World or Railways of Europe or any others, because they all changed the "New Train" starting bonus to "Passenger Lines" (first player to deliver four different cube colors gets 4 points).
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Chris Hillery
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KurganFr wrote:
I have now played five games (2 or 3 players)

FYI, this is also perhaps another reason the game hasn't won you over. The Eastern US map is just too big for a 2-3 player game. The sweet spot is 5 IMHO, or even 6 players. Granted, the problem with playing with 2-3 players is that it's just too easy because you can almost play the entire game without competing with each other for anything, which doesn't sound like the problem you've been having. Nonetheless, the game really wants more players.

If you have access to Railways of the World, the Mexico map is better suited to a smaller number of players. Railways of Europe is also better, although even there the sweet spot is about 4 players. There are a few print-and-play maps here on the 'geek that might suit smaller groups better too; haven't tried any myself.

I have heard some people say that playing Railroad Tycoon using only the middle map section (DC to Kansas City) works very well for a two-player game, so that's something else you might try. I'm pretty sure you don't lower the cube-count per city if you're trying that variant.
 
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Andrew
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Ceej wrote:
The big problem with this strategy is that it ONLY works in Railroad Tycoon, not Railways of the World or Railways of Europe or any others, because they all changed the "New Train" starting bonus to "Passenger Lines" (first player to deliver four different cube colors gets 4 points).


Chris, thank you very much for your comments. You are correct.
I upgraded my Railroad Tycoon game to Railways of the World some time ago, and we always use the newer rules and cards now, so I had forgotten about the old "first to level 4 train" card. My apologies to all for the misdirection.
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Chris Hillery
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I usually play with the Railways of the World changes as well. On the whole they're improvements. Even without doing the "triple upgrade" opening, it wasn't too hard for one player to get both "New Train" and "Speed Record" since they're so similar. But hey, I'll happily try to take advantage of it if we're playing "classic" rules!
 
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I have seen players do what I think you are describing. They build a bit of track to do some 1 or 2 link deliveries, use up all the cubes in that area, then abandon that track and start again in a different area, doing more 1 and 2 link deliveries. Instead you should extend off the ends of your initial track into a great big linear route.

The problems are:
*Short runs don't generate much income or points
*Building too much - you are having to recreate what you've already done and not reusing the existing track.
*Over-building and Under-delivering leads to more debt and less income.
 
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I've just noticed that you are playing 2-3 player. That's not a good number, I think 5 or 6 is best on Eastern USA. 4 is okay but not great.

I played a few 3 player games when I first got the game, but like you I found the game ended too quickly - there are far too many towns with only 1 cube. I think the magic number for empty cities should have been higher.
 
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Agent J
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Your first link you build should be capable of a 6 point delivery at some point during the game, either to or from it. You should know what that delivery is and have a strategy to keep others from taking your cube. Take loans if you need them, but with a 4-train, you can gain 12 points in one turn... that'll be plenty enough to pay for it and you'll run away from all the people who wouldn't take shares to pay for their train. 5 or 6 shares will do you fine, I've found. But never be afraid to take more shares if you can pay for them...
 
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Christopher Hill
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Jimmy,

When you pay dividends, you are collecting income as well, correct? And I am assuming everyone is only paying $1,000 per share.

In our games 6 to 8 shares is about the norm, although I have seen folks take as many as a dozen and still win the game.
 
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Chris Hillery
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kinga1965 wrote:
When you pay dividends, you are collecting income as well, correct? And I am assuming everyone is only paying $1,000 per share.

And also, you collect income first, then pay dividends (usually with some of the money you just earned).
 
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Jimmy TheOne
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Thank you all for your helpful advice. We are playing the income rule correctly. When I first started playing I read the guide written by rholzgrafe on this website; although I am quite happy to admit I may have misread it, it seems to advocate a very conservative approach to share numbers. I will try to play more aggressively and see how it goes. I will also investigate the other maps though the USA one has nostalgia value for me based on the PC game.
Regarding cards, the rules state that the 3 starter cards are placed face-up, as are a number of cards equal to twice the number of players. Are these in addition to the 3 starter cards? (ie 7 cards total for a 2-player game)? Also, when placing a new card at the end of each turn, can the total number of cards exceed the starting number (ie either 4 or 7 based on my previous question)?
 
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They are in addition, and yes the total can, but probably will quickly dwindle.
 
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Tony Chen
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I don't remember the game being as harsh as that. We didn't have problems upgrading to level 5s, or using the events, etc.
 
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Agent J
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He's looking real sharp in his 1940's fedora. He's got nerves of steel, an iron will, and several other metal-themed attributes. His fur is water tight and he's always up for a fight.
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Also, I'm very glad it turned out you were playing wrong. This is a great game that shouldn't be tight like that. What exactly were you doing?
 
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Jimmy TheOne
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We would generally issue 1 or 2 shares on turn 1 for the bid & first link, then we would exclusively use income to purchase everything. We wouldn't issue anymore shares unless it was a dire necessity. Also, because we were limiting the number of visible cards to twice the number of players, it did not take long for all visible cards to be green dot ones, so there were never any cards to pick up. I'll be playing a game today and will let you know how we go.
 
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He's looking real sharp in his 1940's fedora. He's got nerves of steel, an iron will, and several other metal-themed attributes. His fur is water tight and he's always up for a fight.
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I can usually keep it to around 5 and still consider myself 'conservative' so go, kick their butts, and then everyone's play will improve. I hope. Heh.
 
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