Sunday, December 8, 2013
It's a bit unusual for me to do a game review, but my husband has been chomping at the bit to get this game ever since we've been married. This game was originally released as "Boxcars" and then became "Rail Baron" and now is back to the original name. Rail Baron has been out of print for awhile (hence why we never bought it, it's over $100 on eBay) but my husband got really excited when he found out that Rio Grande Games had bought the rights to it. The guy who owns our comic book store is probably tired of my husband coming in to see if he had got it yet.
For reference purposes, I will compare this game a bit to "Empire Builder" (and its spin offs, Australian Rails, British Rails, Martian Rails, etc...) which is produced by Mayfair Games and has been on the market for awhile.
Boxcars is a railroad game with some aspects similar to Monopoly. The current version has both United States and British maps (it's a double sided board).
The game board has pre-drawn rail routes in between the cities. Around the edges are the squares that hold the different cards for the different railroad lines. These cards are like the property cards in Monopoly. Each card corresponds to a rail line on the board and they are arranged by price.
Players get a "home" city at the beginning of the game, which is marked on the game board. After that, players are given a destination city. Then they must roll the dice to travel along the different rail lines until they reach their destination. The cost of traveling varies. If the player owns the line, the cost is free. If the bank owns the line, it's $1000 per turn. If another player owns the line, it's $5000 per turn. Players are given a payout (the amount increases as the distance traveled increases). At the destination, the player is given the option to buy one rail line or to buy an upgraded train. This is the only time you can buy a rail line. The game ends when a player reaches a certain dollar amount and makes it back to his or her home city.
One thing that has really helped gameplay with this version is the app, available for iOS and Android. Instead of rolling the dice and consulting the chart for a destination and payout amount, the app does everything for you. It sped up the game considerably. The chart is still included if you take this game camping or something. If using the app, the dice are only used for rolling on your regular turn.
The strategy in this game is a lot different from Empire Builder. First, loads are general so there is no having to run to San Francisco for sugar and then taking it to Miami. Second, the player has no control over the destination. As the game progresses and lines are owned by players, this can become problematic if the player does not own track going into the destination city. It forces the player to be strategic about buying rail lines. It can also be risky to buy track without enough spare cash for traveling the lines since you do not get a new destination until after you purchase your rail line. Dice karma comes into play because how you roll can drastically affect how much money you spend on each trip (i.e. rolling snake eyes on another player's track is the worst thing ever).
We found the British board to be more balanced for two players. We originally played it with three players and had a lot of fun.