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Subject: Rail Baron: Comparing Nostalgia to Modern Favorites rss

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Ryan Sturm
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Rail Baron: Comparing a Nostalgic Favorite to the Modern Train Games of Today

When I was in college Rail Baron was the train game that we played. Now that some really great train games have just been released and having just played Rail Baron for nostalgic purposes with college buddies over Christmas break I thought it might be fun to see how this game stacks up to two “modern” railroad games, Ticket to Ride and Railroad Tycoon. Hopefully I can help you answer these questions; does this game still have a place on our game tables? Is this out-of-print classic worth its extravagant price tag? If I already own Rail Baron do I need to buy any of these new-fangled train games the kids are playing these days?

The answers to these questions and more: read on……..

 


LOOKING BACK AT RAIL BARON

As I said previously over break I had a chance to play this game again to refamiliarize myself with the game and its mechanics. For those of you unfamiliar with the game the basic concept of the game is you move your piece from route to route around the USA and at the end of each route you are able to collect an amount of money and purchase one of the many rails that cross the united states, forcing other players who use your rail to pay you for use AND giving you a safe rail to use to cross the country. Eventually once all the rails are bought in theory the person with the best network of railroads across the country should win the game.
POSITIVES OF THIS GAME: This game’s rules are very simplistic. It is very quick to explain and easy to introduce non-gamer friends and family. It is also a dice rolling fest, which once and a while is a very fun way to play the game. For those of you who don’t like to take your games too seriously, or aren’t in the mood for a brain buster, this game can be a lot of fun.
NEGATIVES OF THIS GAME: It is a dice rolling fest. A lot of your success in this game depends on your ability to roll the dice. Especially early in the game you must complete your routes quickly in order to obtain one of the “best” railroads. If you roll poorly early in the game you could be in for a long night. And I do mean a loooonnngg night a quick game of rail baron with 4 or more players is defined as four hours and people who struggle early could be playing with no hope for winning for two or more hours, it would be almost preferable to be eliminated from the game. The final and most important negative I will mention is the lack of strategic options in this game. After a few plays the hierarchy of railroads that should be bought first becomes apparent, and it simply becomes a matter of who is able to buy those best railroads first. After all the railroads are bought, there are almost no more strategic choices to be made and you still have half the game, almost two hours left to play. As stated above however, for some players this could be positive aspect, as who really wants to think at 1:34 in the morning anyways.



COMPARING RAIL BARON TO TICKET TO RIDE

Ticket to Ride, was released in 2004 thirty years after Rail Baron offers several advantages to the railroad game lover. First of all like Rail Baron this game has a very simplistic set of rules, making it easy to attract non-gamer type family and friends. But with this set of rules you get a game with a much more manageable playing time, once players are familiar with the game around one hour. This game like Rail Baron moves quickly from player to player without a lot of down time, but each turn allows the player a variety of strategic options. This game keeps all players involved throughout the course of the game. Although luck still plays a large role there is a greater allowance for players to make strategic choices. One pattern I notice that is also similar in between the two games is that from my experience there seems to be “one good strategy” that is just strictly better then other strategies. For the sake of not “ruining the game” I won’t go into further detail, but those people very familiar with the game probably have an idea of what I’m referring to. So this game keeps the simplicity of Rail Baron, with cutting the player time by a fourth, and allowing for more strategy and variety in game play.



COMPARING RAIL BARON TO RAILROAD TYCOON

I have just purchased Railroad Tycoon being it was just released in 2005, and so I preface this by saying I am basing this comparison on only 1 playing, but here are my conclusions so far. For how complicated the game looks from the enormity of the board and the amount of bits, this game’s rules are also easy to grasp. Initially the game play will be a bit clunky as people become familiar with the game, but within the first half hour players start to feel comfortable with the game. This game requires more involvement and a desire to learn the game then the previous two titles but is definitely manageable for even the most inexperienced gamer. However, with the added effort you get a much deeper strategic game. Looking at the playing time, once players are familiar with this game, play should take around two hours. (My play of a four player game with rules instruction took about two and a half hours.) Which is still half the playing time of Rail Baron and let me tell anyone who hasn’t experienced the last two hours of rail baron, those are two LONG hours. Having not played the game many times yet, I am still trying to determine whether the “one best strategy” is a problem in this game as it is in the other two games. I have my theories but I will have to update this review as I learn more. I am curious to hear the other geeks thought’s on this. ( For example, I am sure many will disagree with me that there is “one best strategy” in the other two games) So this game provides more strategic options in play, at the expense of a little more complexity, but with the added bonus of half the playing time.

CONCLUSIONS

For Rail Baron Owners: Give one or both of these other games a shot, I think after you play these Rail Baron will only come to the table for Nostalgia purposes. If you have friends that might be frightened off by a little added complexity, stick with Ticket to Ride. If you have friends that crave strategy go for Railroad Tycoon.

For Ticket to Ride or Railroad Tycoon owners: Unless you played Rail Baron as a kid and absolutely can’t bear the thought of never playing it again stay away from this overpriced out of print game. Invest it in one of the newer railroad games you don’t own. I myself am anxious to check out the next step, which as the geeks would have me believe, is Age of Steam. But that is a whole other article.

I hope you enjoyed this review. I look forward to your comments, questions and suggestions.

Happy Gaming,

Ryan Sturm
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Clay Berry
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So I'm only 8 years late to your post, but there you are.

I did enjoy reading your thoughts and agree that RB only serves for nostalgia. It's really monopoly as others have pointed out.

On the other end I hope you've had a chance to try out Age of Steam (and expansions) as that is great. Also by now you may have tried other Ticket To Ride expansions and maybe even found out it has more strategy and less luck than most people think at first.

Russian Railroads is another train game you should try as it is different, but still a great train game.
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Rob Rob
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Late to the party as well. We too enjoyed this game 30 years ago and was wondering if I should bring it to the next FLGS boardgame night. Your analysis of this as "Monopoly" confirms my suspicion the nostalgia is outweighed by poor gameplay and it should stay on the shelf.
 
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