Dale Yu: First Impressions of North American Railways

 

North American Railways

north-american-railways

In North American Railways, there are five different railway companies, each with 5 shares.  To start the game, these are shuffled and two are discarded to the box.  The remaining shares are arranged in a 4×7 grid on the table.  The 36 city cards are then shuffled and placed in a 9×4 grid.  Each player is given a starting amount of money, and a starting player is determined.

Each turn, the game is played in 3 phases

1) Trade Shares – in clockwise order, players each choose to take a share that is at the bottom of one of the four columns.  Each player must take a share and only gets to take one share in this phase.

img_20161119_210411

If the company is unowned, the player pays ANY multiple of $100 and founds the company. The paid money is the starting capital for the company.  A start city card is placed next to the treasury.  There are two colored markers for each company: one goes next to the treasury to denote ownership, the other goes to the current shareholder as he is the current director.

If the share is bought by the current director of a train company, the director pays a fixed cost of $1,000, half of which goes to the treasury of the train company, half goes to the bank.

If the share is of a company where the player is NOT the director, the player suggests a purchase price to the current director of the company – it has to be a price that both the director and the active player are capable of paying.  If the active player buys it, half goes to the treasury and half goes to the bank; if the active player now has at least as many shares as the current director, he becomes the new director.  If the current director chooses to buy it, he pays half to the treasury and half TO THE ACTIVE PLAYER.  The active player now can choose to end their turn or they can pick another share and repeat the process.  This continues until the active player either ends his turn, buys a share or there are no shares left to be bought.

2) Buy Cities – In this phase, again in clockwise order, players buy cities from the grid of city cards – though in this case, play continues around the table until all players pass and choose to end the phase.  On a turn, a player chooses a company that he has at least one share of and then selects a city which is at the bottom of one of the four columns.  The red cost in the bottom left of the card is paid out of that company’s treasury.  This city card is added to the stack of city cards for that company. A player can only buy one card per company per turn.

img_20161119_210450

3) Receive Income – The green numbers in the bottom right corner of each city card are totaled for each company and then the money is evenly divided per share.  If the money cannot be evenly divided, the director receives an extra $100. If there is still money left over, this is added to the company’s treasury.

The round is now over, the starting player token moves one position clockwise and the game continues. The game end is triggered – when one of three things happen in the course of a round:

1) There are fewer shares left than the number of players after Phase 1

2) There are fewer than 5 cities left in Phase 2

3) No cities were purchased in the Phase 2

The current round will be completed.  In the income phase of this final round, there is one change – if there is money which cannot be divided equally, the director receives half of the remainder.  Then, there is a final payout of “coast-to-coast symbols”.  Each company pays $100 per share per coast to coast symbol seen on its city cards.

The player with the most money wins.  Ties go to earliest in current turn order.

My thoughts on the game

North American Railways is an interesting stripped down version of a traditional railways game – as there is no board or track-laying – all you have is the economic part of the game.  The game is all about the shares and the profits.

Though the components seem simple, you’ll need a fair amount of table space for the game.  Both the share grid and the track card grid take up a decent amount of space.  You’ll also need to reserve some space for the different rail companies and their treasuries – and it’s good to set them apart from each other so that they aren’t mistaken with each other nor with player’s stuff.

Like many 18xx games, there is a certain art for knowing how much to fund a company.  You don’t want to put all your money in a single company because then you wouldn’t have any capital to buy later shares.  However, if you don’t put enough money into the treasury, you won’t be able to buy the track cards you need, and without those, you’ll never get any return out of the shares in the first place.

This game further complicates matters with the whole first-right-of-refusal bit on the shares.  There are times when you want to allow others into the company – as multiple shareholders could trigger multiple stock card buys in a round.  However, the current director is at the mercy of the other player as far as the amount of the offer goes.  A savvy player might even force a company to be undercapitalized by offering shares at a very low price (or, get into a company at a very low cost).

In both of the games that I’ve played thus far, we had at least one newbie to rail games – and that has led to low share prices which in turn caused low capitalization of companies which in turn caused the companies to run out of money and not be able to buy many shares.  To me, that’s part of the game – dealing with the differing amounts of money injected into any given game – but it also highlights some fragility in the overall economic system.

The purchasing system gives you a number of choices on your turn, as there are usually four different cards available for you to choose from.  You might also look at the card in the second position because you should also be aware of what you’re making available to your opponents.

Assuming that you are able to buy shares, there is an interesting decision between buying shares which provide income on a turn-by-turn basis versus shares which have the shields giving the end-game payout bonus.  Also, depending on how much money you have in the treasury, you might be able to buy multiple small cost shares versus a few more expensive shares.

In a 4p game, I’d expect the game to only go 5 or 6 rounds – as you are forced to offer at least one share per player turn – though you can keep offering up shares if the active player doesn’t win the offered share.  So, there isn’t a lot of time to accomplish what you want to get done.

The games that I’ve played so far of North American Railways have been pleasant, but it seems like there isn’t enough there without the track building and all the other stuff; and frankly, there isn’t enough in the economic system alone to keep my attention.  This might serve as an interesting primer to a railway game newbie as you can learn how the train company economics work in a short period of time.  The games here run in about a half an hour, and it might be helpful to have played something like this prior to jumping into 1854.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Alan How: I have only played once, but my regular games group has a bias towards railway and economic games. I think that means that we like North American Railways as a filler, with enough decision making to make it worth the time spent, but not much taxation of the brain. The set up means that there is variation in the game play, but not in the type of decisions that you need to make. It’s decent but not great.

 

Larry (1 play):  This isn’t so much an 18xx card game as a card version of a Winsome cube train game (like Wabash Cannonball/Chicago Express).  It’s very simple mechanically, although my opponents kept getting confused over when money went to the bank, the company, or the player.  A short player aid would clear that up quickly.  The whole game revolves around the decision to select a share of an opponent’s company:  which company do you choose and how much do you offer?  Doing this properly requires a lot of insight, planning, and subtlety.  I liked the reasoning involved and the game worked a lot better for me than the Winsome cube train games I’ve played; it was more calculable, for one thing, while still being hard to fully grok the ramifications of each choice.  Not sure everyone else at the table liked it as much as I did, but I think it will get more plays.  One concern I have is replayability; even though the share and city order affects things quite a bit, it remains to be seen if the decisions become samey after a few games.

 

Once again, Spielworxx screws the pooch with their physical production.  One company has purple shares, but white train tokens.  Turns out this was because purple wasn’t available for the tokens, but white was, but obviously proper planning would have allowed them to compensate for that.  The money comes in pads (like a pad of paper) and you have to tear off the bills; I haven’t seen anything like that in a game in 30 years!  And the city cards are designed so that you have to see the whole card in order for all the information to be displayed; it wouldn’t have been hard to design these better, so that the cards could be overlapped and precious table space be saved.  All of this might have been acceptable if the goal was to provide a low price point, but this is far from a cheap game for what you get.  A reasonable percentage of Spielworxx titles are good games, but their components are so consistently bad that it has to influence whether or not to buy their stuff.

 

Joe Huber (1 play): I was not very taken by my play of North American Railways – I ended up selling my copy without playing it a second time.  It’s a very bland game – it does avoid my usual annoyance with similar games of share dilution having unrealistic effects upon the game, but there aren’t enough interesting decisions to make to make the game fun.  I would consider playing it a second time, but I’m fine with it not happening.

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Alan H, Larry
  • Neutral. Dale Y, Joe H., Doug G.
  • Not for me…Karen M
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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2016, First Impressions. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Dale Yu: First Impressions of North American Railways

  1. Pingback: Dale Yu: First Impressions of North American Railways - eJouer.info eJouer.info

  2. dbvanderark says:

    Your complaints about production include these in relation to the price point, yet that info is lacking in this review. What’s the MSRP?

  3. Dale Yu says:

    Those complaints are Larry’s – but I can answer for him. I actually am not sure what the MSRP is – but it is available online at Funagain for $35

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