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The young republic of Argentina starts developing its fertile farmland, huge ranches, and rich mines. Six railroads tame the land. Play starts with auctions for the initial track laying for each of 5 railroads. On a player's turn, they can construct track, develop settlements, and/or offer stock as constrained by the Action Deck. When the Action Deck reaches a certain limit, the railroads pay dividends and the deck is reshuffled. After the ninth payment of dividends, the game ends and there is a final payoff from each railroad. The player with the most money wins.
Wow! This game is destined to be a classic.
You buy stock in railroads. You build track. You sell stock.
Stock purchases are paid to the railroad, not the game bank. This money is used by the railroad to construct track.
You develop cities, towns, mines. As they're developed, the rail line becomes more valuable.
The game turn mechanism is composed of 12 action cards: 5 construct track cards, 4 development cards, and 3 offer stock cards. When only one type of card is left, there is a dividend payment for all rail lines.
You pick one action card, perform the action, and discard the action card. You then pass the cards to the next person. You can see, that some actions will not be there when you want them. Game requires a delicate balance. Too many things to do, not enough actions to do them. And even if you could do them all, no one move will make you a runaway winner.
Great strategy. Great tactics.
This is a crayon game. My first. There's a satisfaction to building track and blocking off your opponent. There's a joy to developing your trains connecting points, turning them into valuable destinations, increasing the worth of your train line.
The final reckoning on the 9th and final dividend payment is where we find out who wins. Thers a lot at stake on this final scoring.
Final scoring is a measure of how many stocks you own in a line, the value of the line (how many track links) and you never know where you'll fall in the standings till it's all scored.
This is MUST BUY!
The review by Stuart Dagger (above) very adequately describes Pampas Railroads.
What I found most interesting in this Wallace design was the relationship between the auction of company stock shares and the cash available for that company to build track. All the proceeds for the stock sale become capital for building track. This means that that stock that sells for a high price translates to more resources to build; conversely, a share that sells low generates little cash for the company to build with. This direct link between stock sales and company resources really makes this different from other RR games I have played.
Another important factor in the game is that all but one of the RRs begin in the same city, forcing tough competition between them right from the beginning, as they reach toward the center of the board and beyond to gold mines and other payoffs.
If there's any negative side to the design, it would be that once a player falls behind the leaders, it seems nearly impossible to get back in the competition. Players reaping big dividends from the more successful RR companies early on, can take over control of smaller companies and demoninate the poorer players. The players who jump out into the lead early are tough to catch, and there're not likely to be any surprises when it comes to determining the winner when the 9th (and Final) dividend is paid. Others who have played this game (and similar Wallace designs) have pointed this out as well.
Does this make it less than an excellent game? Not at all. There may be little or no margin for error in Pampas Railroads, but the game is still very competitive and enjoyable, with lots of replay value.
It's more challenging than most RR games on the market, without getting overly complex. I highly recommend it for gamers who want a well-designed RR game that can be played in a bout 2 hours.
Each railway has five shares, and a crayon in its color with which to draw its tracks across the map of Argentina's settlements. Available at the start of each round are: (a) three Actions allowing you to auction one share (highest bidder pays the company's treasury); (b) five Actions letting you draw tracks by paying money from the company's treasury; and (c) four Actions that permit you to increase a settlement's value. You choose one action each turn. Rounds end when one type of Action is exhausted, initiating payments to shareholders based on the values of connected settlements. The entrepreneur with the most money wins after nine dividend payments. Money is scarce and the duration of rounds fearfully uncertain, but these factors certainly make for a rich gaming experience.
Pampas Railroads is number 4 in the "railroads of the prairies" series that Martin has done for Winsome. The first, Ferrocarriles Pampas, appeared in 1996 and was set in Argentina. This new game returns there and it is fascinating to see how much the system has changed as the designer and developers have worked away at it. That first game was driven by a large collection of chits, something that gave Mike Siggins a certain amount of concern in the review he wrote in Sumo 39/40. He was full of admiration for the central concepts of the game but felt that the degree of randomness inherent in the chit system could easily overwhelm the game as a whole. I made similar comments about Veld Spoorweg, the second in the series, when I reviewed it in the first issue of Counter. The problem was rather like the one that the Wertung cards can cause in games such as Airlines. If they are evenly spread throughout the deck, the game works well; if they clump together, it doesn't. The vital "pay dividends" chits could be similarly capricious here. My suggestion for dealing with this was to split the chits into smaller sets so as to impose the required evenness on their distribution. This would work, but Winsome came up with a much better idea in game number 3, Prairie Railroads (reviewed in Counter 6). Some of the chits were still to be drawn from a cup, but most were now in the hands of the players. The result was more control, less buffetting by chance and a much superior game. In Pampas Railroads the chits have disappeared altogether and no random elements remain, just a perfectly polished version of the ideas that excited Mike five years ago. Mik Svellov, writing on his website, described the result as "a wonderful game" and it received a similarly enthusiastic reaction here in Aberdeen.
The core concept, which has been with us through all four games, is that half a dozen companies build rail networks in a landscape with no complicating terrain features. The "building" is just a matter of colouring in pre-drawn links that run "town to town". Each company has five shares, which are sold by auction as the game proceeds. The money raised by the sales is used by the companies to finance their track building. Each link in a company's network generates revenue equal to the sum of the values of the towns at either end and when it is time to pay dividends, the total earnings of the company are divided among the holders of the five shares. At the end of the game there is a further, bonus payout based on the sum of the final revenue total and the value of the company, with the value being determined by the number of links it has built.
What has changed is the way that all this is organized. In the earlier games a player turn began with the draw or play of a chit -- draw in the first two; draw or play in the third. This chit would say either "construct track", "auction a share" or "pay dividends" and that is what the player then had to do. Now the chits have been replaced by cards, which are chosen rather than drawn, and the "pay dividends" action has been replaced by "develop location", with the payouts being triggered differently.
There are 12 cards in all: 5 "construct track"; 4 "develop a location"; 3 "auction a share". On your turn you choose one that is still available, execute the action and then place the card on a discard pile. Whenever you reach a position where there is only one type of card left, dividends are paid and all the cards brought back into circulation. The upshot of this is that you always have a choice of action and the payouts are evenly spaced throughout the game. Evenly spaced, but not rigidly so, as the choice mechanism gives the players scope for tactics over the precise timing.
The game begins with the auctioning of a single share in five of the six companies, with the purchaser of the share then building a free link for the company. These links all run out of Buenos Aires. The sixth company begins in Cordoba and will be launched in similar fashion as soon as one of the first five gets there. All future builds for companies will have to be paid for.
When a player takes a "construct track" card, they will extend the network of one of the companies in which they are either leading or joint leading shareholder and they have a choice of building either one link at a cost of $5 or two consecutive links at a cost of $15. Because time and opportunity matter as much as money in this game, the second of these is usually the better option, even though it seems expensive at the time. If you take an "auction a share" card, you can either sell off a share that you own or, much more likely, nominate an unsold one from the bank. In the former case the money naturally comes to you; in the latter it goes to the company. When bidding, players need to bear in mind the way in which the company will spend the money: paying $4 for a share is not the bright idea that it might have seemed at the time.
The "develop a location" action enables a player to increase the revenue paid by a town, city, port or mine. The increases are uneven: towns go up from $1 to $2; small cities from $2 to $3, ports from $2 to $4 and mines from a bottom of the range $1 to a highly desirable $5. With the big cities of Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Tucuman and Rosario the numbers tend to be bigger and development can take place more than once. However, even the $1 increases are worth having, because the likelihood is that you will be counting the place more than once -- one for the line in and another for the line out. The only exception to this is the mines, which are all at the end of cul de sacs, but here the jump is so big that you want to go for it anyway. As with track building, there is a "one or two" option: you can either do one upgrade at no cost or two at a price, with the player rather than the company paying the money.
The game ends after the 9th payment of dividends, which makes for a game length of about 2 hours.
Components are standard Winsome: a laminated map, crayons and "good DTP" style cards and money. Fully adequate for the job, but nothing fancy. It is a style of presentation that has some people regarding the games as expensive for what you get, but that is just to look at the components. What Winsome offer is design and development: good solid games rather than assemblies of pretty bits. Decide which you prefer, and to give you a clue I'll repeat what I said in the opening paragraph: this is an excellent game.