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  Lympago Forums    Board, Card and Role-playing Gaming    Game Reviews  ›  Rail Baron: A Review (Moderators: rdm, leece)

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  Author    Rail Baron: A Review
Mark
Posted on: February 1st, 2005, 5:03pm Quote Report to Moderator
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Well I'm mildly concerned anyway...


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At Genghiscon this year I finally had the opportunity to play Rail Baron for the first time.

I have wanted to have a go at this particular Board game for a couple of years, but have always been put off by the fact it only ever seems to be played at SwanCon in tournaments, and it takes 6+ hours.

Various people seem either seem to love it or hate it, so here's my take.



Rail Baron is based on a railway map of continental USA in the 1900's. The various parts of the network are owned by different railway companies (the bank) at the start of the game. You operate a company that in the beginning travels down other company's tracks, but as you complete various deliveries to cities across the US gain money and buy out these companies.

Once a player owns a company, the other players have to pay 5x the starting amount to travel on that company's rails. When the last independent company is gone this goes up to 10x (nothing like cartel behaviour!).

Destinations are all chosen randomly by dice roll and a lookup table. The skill/strategy component comes in choosing which tracks to buy. This first stage of the game takes approximately 2-3 hours and is interesting enough if not thrilling.

At this stage however the playability of the whole game takes a dive. The next 3-4 hours is taken up with rolling dice to randomly determine destinations, with the first player to make $200,000 and make it back to their starting city the winner.

There is no skill or ability involved from here on in, beyond an ability to plot the least cost path on the rail network between your origin and next destination. If you are playing with a group of capable individuals (as I was) the only thing that determines the winner is luck at the dice and how well planned your railway purchases were in the first part of the game.

Unfortunately three plus hours of dice rolling to find out if you played well is more tedious than I can stand.

The whole game mechanism bears a striking resemblance to Monopoly, except it is even more tedious as determining your destination (and hence success) involves endlessly looking up dice tables.

The only reason I can see people being so obsessed with this monstrosity is that it gives the child in everybody the chance to play trains.

My rating for this game is sadly a 2.5/10, and that only because of the vaguely interesting start.

Cheers
Mark

PS.
The biggest pity is that this game seems to have all the elements of what could be a good game, but it needs to have the whole game mechanism stripped down to a speedy minimum.

With a card stack of destinations (instead of dice rolling), and some elements of skill introduced into the second half of the game I think it could be shortened to 2-3 hours and made much more interesting while still allowing people to play trains.

Last modified February 1st, 2005, 5:04pm by Mark
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leece
Posted on: February 1st, 2005, 5:26pm Quote Report to Moderator
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I think I'll stick to Ticket to Ride and Iron Dragon for my train game fix. This just confirms all I have ever suspected about Rail Baron.
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arcadiagt5
Posted on: February 2nd, 2005, 5:10pm Quote Report to Moderator
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I'll grant that Rail Baron is an acquired taste, but I like it. Within limits. I'm not ever likely to play it competitively with the truly serious players at SwanCon.

Rail Baron does have the virtues of being shorter and less cutthroat than 1830/1870 et al (due to the stock market that makes it possible to bankrupt a minor shareholder by asset stripping the company and dumping it).

It is also worth pointing out the sheer age of the game - the principles of game design have improved greatly in the subsequent decades.

If you cannot see the causal relationship between "I have chocolate" and "Life is Good", you simply aren't trying hard enough.
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Last modified February 2nd, 2005, 5:12pm by arcadiagt5
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steveg
Posted on: February 3rd, 2005, 9:02am Quote Report to Moderator
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I agree with John about the age of the game. And, having played in and won Swancon RB tournaments, if there was nothing happening it was because of uninspired players. You don't just build your network and run your train. You have to think Jim Fisk or Jay Gould and get out there actively bankrupting your opponents.
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arcadiagt5
Posted on: February 3rd, 2005, 10:29am Quote Report to Moderator
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Expanding on Steveg's point, there is scope for tactics in the end game.

In particular who you choose to pay when heading to a lockout. This can range from two weaker players helping each other ("I'll pay you if you pay me) to a degree of kingmaking (I have pay one of the leaders, who do I want to win?).

The fact that money is kept secret until someone has hit 75% of the winning total can make this... interesting.

The, um, challenges associated with the run for home haven't been mentioned yet. For a start it has to be declared at the start of a trip. For a second, if another player intercepts you on the way you get to:
a) pay them $50,000; and
b) divert to an alternate destination.

A mistimed declaration for home can cost you the game (BTDT).

If you cannot see the causal relationship between "I have chocolate" and "Life is Good", you simply aren't trying hard enough.
Pirates of the Burley Griffin
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leece
Posted on: February 3rd, 2005, 10:56am Quote Report to Moderator
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Do you remember who you were playing with, Mark?
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Mark
Posted on: February 3rd, 2005, 5:39pm Quote Report to Moderator
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Well I'm mildly concerned anyway...


Posts: 418
I played Rail Baron with Elaine, Evan Beasley & Matt the Rat. Everybody but myself had played it at least once. Evan had played it many times and still only came second last.

While the game did have some boycott tactics going on, in the main they only seemed to work early on. Matt had 9 railways, Evan and myself 7 and Elaine 5, but Elaine won the game because everybody else kept rolling her cities. The areas weren't locked out, it was just pure chance; Of course she waited to do the end run until she was one dice roll from home. But my basic complaint I feel still stands; Too little tactics and too much pure chance in the 4th and 5th hour especially.

Thinking on it further since my initial review, I think a system of cards issued on completed trips that allow you to modify your destinations & payoffs might add more skill to the game.

Cheers
Mark Sander
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arcadiagt5
Posted on: March 31st, 2005, 12:29pm Quote Report to Moderator
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Mark, whilst checking out the BaHotH errata I found a Rail Baron alternative posted on the Avalon Hill site: the government.

Check it out, it looks like things could get real interesting in that variant...

If you cannot see the causal relationship between "I have chocolate" and "Life is Good", you simply aren't trying hard enough.
Pirates of the Burley Griffin
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