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Railroad Tycoon: The Boardgame
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Railroad Tycoon: The Boardgame

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Product Awards:  

Ages Play Time Players
10+ 120 minutes 2-6

Designer(s): Martin Wallace, Glenn Drover

Publisher(s): Eagle Games

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Product Description

Can you build a railroad empire from the ground up? Take the role of one of history’s railroad barons and see if you have what it takes to become the next Railroad Tycoon in Eagle Games' Railroad Tycoon: The Boardgame.

Railroad Tycoon with its massive board and beautiful components is a streamlined version of the critically acclaimed Age of Steam by Martin Wallace. One of the best games from 2005, it translates the computer game into one that will reach a wide audience. A tremendous variety of options and strategy allow players to build a network of trains across the East Coast of the United States, transporting goods back and forth to earn the most money. High interaction is evident in this game for up to six players, and every game is different due to interesting Tycoon and Operation cards. Railroad Tycoon is a game that reaches both to strategic gamers due to the vast amount of tactics involved and to folks who simply want a fun, social time.

Product Awards

Games Magazine Awards
Family Strategy Game Nominee, 2007
International Gamers Awards
Best Strategy Game Nominee, 2006

Product Information

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Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4.4 in 8 reviews

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by Greg J. Schloesser
Best game from Eagle Games -- a nice twist on Age of Steam
November 10, 2010

Designers: Martin Wallace and Glenn Drover
Publisher: Eagle Games
3 – 6 Players, 2 – 3 hours
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser

NOTE: This review was first published in Knucklebones magazine

I have been quite vocal through the years concerning my disdain for the lack of development of many games in the Eagle line. While the games are quite beautiful to behold, and contain many clever ideas and mechanisms, there were inevitably significant flaws and development oversights. This was quite frustrating, and potentially damaging to future game sales. I cried for Eagle to improve their development process, and to use outside game groups to play-test their games before final production.

Things seem to be improving lately. Railroad Tycoon is a top-notch game and one of 2005’s best releases. This should come as no surprise, however, as the game is based heavily on Martin Wallace’s award-winning Age of Steam. Indeed, Martin was the main designer of Railroad Tycoon, with some additions and modifications performed by Glenn Dover. Little wonder that the game is a winner!

Players take the role of wealthy railroad tycoons seeking to build rail networks throughout the eastern United States, and reap huge profits from the shipping of goods across their lines. Money is tight early, and players are forced to raise capital by issuing shares. Interest must be paid on outstanding shares each turn, and outstanding shares will deduct from a player’s final victory point tally. The wise player will be conservative in his issuing of shares.

Each turn begins a single auction, with the winner securing the privilege of going first in the subsequent three action rounds of the turn. In some rounds, going first can be critical, as there may be a valuable operations card available, or a track to build before an opponent scan scoop a valuable route. These auctions are often tense early, but lose some of their suspense later in the game as money becomes more plentiful.

After deciding the first player, each player will have three opportunities to perform actions. Actions include:

  • Build Track. The player may build up to four sections of track. Track pieces are placed directly onto the board, and the cost for each track constructed varies with the type of terrain it traverses. The idea here is to connect cities, forming routes over which goods can be transported. Routes must be completed by the end of a turn’s three rounds, and a player may only construct one city-to-city route per round.

  • Urbanize. Most cities have a specific color, which indicate the type of good it can receive. However, there are a dozen or so “neutral” cities on the board. These can be converted (urbanized) by spending $10,000, allowing the player to change it to a specific color. This can be quite useful, as it opens a new market, and also causes two new goods to appear at that city.

  • Improve Engine. Each player begins with an engine which allows players to transport goods to an adjacent city. In order to make longer runs, a player must upgrade his engine in stages. The cost to upgrade steadily increases, but the outlay is critical in order to transport goods great distances.

  • Deliver One Good. Cities begin with several goods cubes upon them. Money is earned by transporting a good to a city matching its color. Each rail line the good traverses on its journey earns a victory point for the owner of the line. Victory points also correspond to income, so it is essential that goods be transported on a regular basis.

  • Take Rail Operations Card. Each turn, several cards will be available. Some are goal cards, which earn points for the first player to achieve their conditions. Others can be taken by the players and used to give them specified abilities. Many cards are quite beneficial, and their presence often causes the first player auction to be quite spirited.

  • Build Western Link. A player who completes a route to either Kansas City or Des Moines may construct a “western link”, albeit at a hefty cost of $30,000. This does allow the player to possibly ship extra goods into Chicago, which can be quite lucrative.

Players alternate taking actions until all have completed their three actions. At this point, income is earned based on a player’s position on the income / victory point track. Players must then pay $1,000 for each outstanding share they possess. Shares may NOT be paid-off during the game, so this is an ongoing expense.

When goods are delivered to a city, they are returned to the off-board supply. As cities are emptied of goods, they are marked with various markers, which are completely superfluous, but nonetheless quite attractive. The game ends when a certain number of cities are empty, the number varying with the number of players. Players must keep a careful eye on the amount of empty cities, as this is a harbinger of the game’s end.

At game’s end, players must subtract the number of outstanding shares they possess from their tally. Of course, the player furthest along the income / victory point track is victorious, and the new railroad tycoon.

The comparisons to Age of Steam are inescapable. Indeed, the game is its brother, with slight differences. Those differences, however, are significant.

  • Money is much more plentiful here. Shares can be purchased at ANY time, and not just at the beginning of a turn. As a result, there is no danger of being eliminated from the game. This makes the game much more forgiving, and much accessible for folks new to the system. For Age of Steam veterans, however, it does sap much of the tension and tightness from the game.

  • Huge board. The folks at Eagle games are enamored with HUGE boards. In a conflict oriented game wherein massive armies must be assembled, I can understand the need for large spaces and territories. That just isn’t necessary here, however. The new boards simply encompass too much territory, and much of the board never comes into play during the course of a game. Further, other than the northeast, there isn’t much congestion in the development of routes. A smaller board would not only have made the game more table-friendly, but would have forced a more competitive game.

  • Operations cards. These are clearly not part of Martin Wallace’s original design. While not completely random or chaotic, they do detract from the pure strategic element of the game’s ancestor. While the goal cards are available for everyone to potentially achieve, the other cards shake-up the game, oftentimes dramatically. I personally don’t mind the cards, but Age of Steam purists have derided their inclusion here.

  • Railroad Tycoon Cards. Each player randomly receives a historical personality, which contains a goal that, if achieved, earns the player bonus victory points. Seems interesting, but the problem is that there are duplicates for two of the personalities. Since the cards are dealt-out randomly, it is quite possible some players will have goals that are uncontested, while others will have to compete with opponents to achieve their goal. I’m really surprised this wasn’t caught in play-testing.

Railroad Tycoon is, in my opinion, the best effort from Eagle games to date. This is largely due to the fact that the system has been adapted from Martin Wallace’s stellar Age of Steam. The changes are, for the most part, acceptable, and some are even quite good. The result is a game that is often tense, and forces players to make important decisions throughout its duration. While dominating the northeast can lead to victory, several players should be competing in this profitable area, making that strategy less likely to succeed with experienced players. The result is that there are numerous strategies to pursue, and no one sure path to victory.

Is the game as good as Age of Steam? That will certainly depend upon who you ask, and perhaps what you are seeking. Experienced gamers will likely prefer the purity and tightness of Age of Steam, while folks who enjoy games with a bit more randomness and freedom may well find Railroad Tycoon more palatable. Both are quite good, though, and should please the majority of folks. I hope Eagle opts to undertake more collaborations with established designers.

Fun game but...
January 06, 2007

We have played the game 5 times so far and every time the winner was the player that built his RR in the Northeast. Those that started in Chicago, the Southeast or the South were not competitive. Every other item in the game is excellent. It flows well (no long waits between turns). The mechanics are simple. The components are first class and the board is huge.

I have two complaints: 1) Too heavily weighted towards the NE (I suppose that is realistic) and 2) There are not any "Y" tiles and it is easy to get locked out of cites, especially in the NE (this is realistic also). However, what I an tell you at this point, the winner will be the player that gets the upper-hand in the NE. The rest of the board is almost irrelevant.

I want to give this game 4 stars because it is fun and beautiful, but the problem with the NE dominance keeps it at 3.5 stars.

by Graves
Great RR strategy Game!!!
December 29, 2006

This game was highly recommended on several websites, and the owner of a game store that I frequent, upon discovering that I was interested in rail strategy games, while giving the thumbs- up to several railroad games that I had questioned him on, recommended Railroad Tycoon as 'the game to get'. My son bought this game for me at Christmas, so this is "the game I got". AND WHAT A GAME IT IS!!!

The first thing that you are struck by when looking at ‘Railroad Tycoon’ is the HUGE gameboard depicting the eastern half of the United States. You almost expect to find a blurb stating ‘Actual Size: Scale -1 mile + 1 mile’ somewhere on there (OK, so I exaggerate a bit, but it is quite large).

The quality of the game components is also outstanding. The plastic miniatures are pretty cool (and sturdy), and the brightly colored wooden blocks representing ‘goods’ are pretty indestructible. While cardboard counters would have sufficed, the wood and plastic pieces make it a lot easier on the eyes (especially those of us who are nearsighted). The cardboard track hexes are also quite sturdy. The massive gameboard allows for bigger hexagons (a really nice feature), and has a printed block that lists the actions that can be taken as part of a turn and the cost for building track over different kinds of terrain. And then there is the instruction manual, which contains a scant ten pages and is printed in color. It is clear, concise, and well organized. The only minor detail that was a bit of an annoyance was that the ‘blue’ cities appear a bit on the purplish side on our gameboard, which wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t also purple cities. So we just got used to the dark purple being ‘blue’ – not a major issue.

The game itself is not difficult to learn. Usually, by the end of one or two turns you can get the hang of it. You start out with no money and have to issue shares of your railroad company in $5000 blocks. You draw a Tycoon card to play as one of several railroad magnates, each of which has his own objective. A few other action cards are displayed, cities are stocked with goods, and you’re set to go. You use the money that you get to buy track, upgrade your train engine and urbanize towns, among other things. The idea is to create links between cities and deliver goods along those links. A turn consists of three phases: the auction phase, the action phase, and the income/dividends phase. The auction is to determine who the first player is for the turn, and the income/dividends is pretty routine. The action phase needs a little more examination.

The action phase consists of three rounds. Each player, in turn, performs one action per round, so in total there are three actions for each player per turn. An action is one of the following tasks: Build track; Upgrade your engine; choose a card; urbanize a town; deliver goods or; build a Western Link. Developing a strategy for which actions you do (and when to do them) is the deciding factor in succeeding. But don’t think that the same strategy will work all the time. The cards that that are revealed and what goods appear in each city are variables that keep each game fresh. The game can usually be completed in about 2 hours. It ends when a predetermined number of ‘Empty towns’ (dependent on the number of players) appear on the board. The winner is the person with the most victory points, which combines the action points you get during the game, any bonus points for completing the objective on your Tycoon card, and subtracting the number of shares you’ve taken.

You may say "Gee, that sounds a bit complicated… but is it any fun?" The answer is “YES! YES! YES!” This game is positively addictive. My son and I played back-to-back games (about 3-1/2 hours) on the first night and could’ve gone again if it wasn’t close to midnight! We immediately began thinking of people that we could teach it to. Though we’ve only played the two-player version as of this time, I think the game appears that it would be even more fun with more players (the game accommodates up to six players), each having conflicting strategy and objectives.

My only regret it that I have only two thumbs to put up, because I’d give this game three thumbs up if I could!

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