Looking for a game to give your brain a workout without straining a synapse?
Need a game with simple rules to explain?
Want a game with a tried and true game system?
Got time to become completely immersed in a game?
I highly recommend a Crayon rail game.
This is a family of games that started with Empire Builder, which was first published in 1980, and has expanded into versions for Europe, Britain, Japan, India, Australia, Russia and China. It’s also left the planet to lay tracks on the moon (Lunar Rails) and Mars (Mars Rails). The basic play is the same, but each map imparts its own twists to reflect the land. I admit I’ve only played this game, British Rails, but after 2 plays I’m very interested to try other offerings in this system.
So, how do you play?
You start with a map covered in dots and triangles which represent mileposts that you’ll lay tracks between– the dots are clear terrain and the triangles are mountains that cost more. There are also numerous cities in three sizes which cost extra to enter and each produces a commodity or two. The game board is covered with a glossy, slick covering so that you can use the wax-based crayons that come in the game to draw your tracks on the board as you build them.
You begin with a basic freight train that can travel 9 mileposts each turn and carry 2 loads. For a cost, you can upgrade your train to either a faster train which can travel 12 mileposts a turn, or to a heavier train which can carry 3 loads. Your train can be upgraded even further to a Superfreight which is both faster and can carry 3 loads. This train is represented by a card in front of you but you also have a plastic token to show where your train is on the map.
And of course you have to have something to haul. How about 27 different commodities? They come on a sheet of stickers that you have to place on the small plastic poker chips. When you move your train to a city, you can pick up whatever they make there or deliver what that city needs as shown on one of your Demand cards.
Lastly is a deck of 156 cards. Twenty are Event cards which can be good or bad; the remaining cards are the Demands. They show you three different cities, what commodity they need, and how much you will earn for the delivery. You will only be delivering to one of the three cities, then the card is discarded and a new one drawn.
SET UP is very easy. Everyone is given a basic freight train card, a crayon and train token of matching color, 60 million in cash to begin building your empire, and three Demand cards.
The game begins with three rounds of Building to get you off to a good start before you move your train. Each building round allows you to spend 20 million on either laying track or upgrading your train. There is no train movement for the first three rounds.
After the three initial rounds, each round after begins with the Operation phase which is when you move your train, pick up and deliver goods, and receive payoffs for your deliveries. You can do these things in any order until you run out of train movement.
After the Operation phase is the Building phase, if you have money to build with. There is no such thing as credit in this game; no loans, no IOUs. Strictly cash on delivery, so to speak.
That’s it. Keep planning, moving and delivering until someone has connected their train line to all of the major cities (hexagon shaped) in one continuous line, and has made 250 million.
What’s so cool about this game?
My family enjoys the logistics, the plotting and planning of how to get around the map quickly (and cheaply), how to move your train without wasting time or running empty, and the satisfaction of putting together a great plan from all of the information you have to deal with, and seeing it happen.
There are lots of small decisions that add up to a wonderfully rich gaming experience. Is it worth the expense to cut across the expensive mountain area but cut many pileposts off my trip? If I have to pay my opponent to run on his line this turn, will my profit still be enough to make it worth it? Should I pick up the flippin’ Jute since I’m all the way up to Glasgow even though no one on my Demand cards wants it…. yet? If two trains leaving London at the same time are traveling at two different speeds… oh, wait, that’s a math question.
What’s not so great?
It’s a little disappointing in this day of amazing components to see a game with paper money, and all black and white components. I don’t mind the paper money but I would have liked to see some color on the commodity chips so they were easier to tell apart, and the same with the different Freight train cards.
And since we’re talking about components here, I’ll mention that my game came with the commodity stickers for Eurorails instead of British Rails so I want to publicly thank user revengeisnotjustice for uploading an image of the correct stickers which I used to print my own. I’m sure Mayfair would have been prompt and helpful in getting me the correct sticker sheet but I didn’t want to wait, I wanted to play! 🙂
Another thing to take into account is if you or someone you’re playing with is geographically-challenged, which all of my family is, than this can take quite a while until you become familiar with the cities. My two games with 2 different opponents took 3 1/2 and 4 hours, but no one complained or even hesitated to keep going. We were all deep into the game and loved every minute of it. I’m sure that familiarity with the board, both in geography and commodity production, will make the game play much faster.
Final negative: I would not recommend this to play with more than 4 people, and that might be pushing it. I loved it as a two-player game, and think 3 would be equally enjoyable. I can’t even imagine squeezing 6 players onto this particular map even though the box says 2-6.
Final assessment: I would jump on the chance to play this game any time someone asked. I want to play right now! I’m haunted by it already. Even if you don’t want to play for 2 hours, you can set a time limit and declare the player with the most money at that point the winner. I think some version of this system should be in every gamer’s collection, it’s that good.