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Rail Baron
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Store:  Family Games
Series:  Rail Baron
Theme:  Train
Genre:  Rail & Network
Format:  Board Games

Rail Baron

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Ages Play Time Players
10+ 180-240 minutes 3-6

Manufacturer(s): Avalon Hill

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Product Description

Only in America! You are living in the heyday of the locomotive. You are Jay Gould. And you have just added another railroad to your vast railroad empire. Flushed with success, you now retire to the sartorial splendor of your very own Pullman Palace Car. The dream ends. You awaken to reality with the thought... "just another fantasy." Ah, but for the grace of Avalon Hill your dream continues.

Here--in Rail Baron--you become a latter day Gould, or a Cornelius Vanderbilt, or any of those menacingly infamous moguls whose wizardry and acumen established the criteria for which business success was to be judged in decades to come.

Rail Baron is played on a large board of the United States RR network. In fact, it comes in three separate boards. Laid end to end, it spells out America and portrays the 28 major rail lines and major cities they connected during the halcyon of railroading.

You start with $20,000--and a train. You make money on trips from city to city. Pretty soon you've got enough money to build up your empire (you can buy the B&O and C&O for just $44,000). More holdings bring more money your way (track rental) from your opponents.

With many new nuances of strategy, it becomes a game where fortunes see-saw until the last rail baron is bankrupt--or has accumulated the $200,000 needed to win.

Product Information

  • Manufacturer(s): Avalon Hill

  • Year: 1977

  • Players: 3 - 6

  • Time: 180 - 240 minutes

  • Ages: 10 and up

  • Weight: 920 grams

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4.3 in 17 reviews

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Best Ever!
March 31, 2006

Rail Baron was invented by a pair of brothers who originally sold it under the name Boxcars. After several years, they sold the rights and the game company modified it slightly and renamed it Rail Baron. This company was acquired by Hasbro about 30 years ago and despite pleas of many serious gamers, they've yet to rerelease it. The game sells for over $100 on e-bay where it is much sought after. In its original form it takes 3-5 hours. By issuing Super Chiefs to everyone at the start of the game it speeds up. There is also freeware available to do the chart lookups on a lap top that cut another 30 to 40 minutes off the game time. (see Rail Baron Fanatics on the internet). Much valuable info is at this website. I especially recommend Rail Baron Honeymoon for 2 players when those frequent occasions arise and you can't find a third. The game was intended for 3-6 players. Don't pass this game up. Enjoy!!!!

by Mattz
Fun game I highly recommend!
February 12, 2004

That pretty much says it all other than its a little based on the monopoly concept. You have destinations to go to and you have to use certain tracks to get there. If you use any of your opponents tracks you have to pay them. When you reach your destination thought you get a chunk of change and can then buy tracks for yourself.

No Doubt Top Ten All Time Games
December 24, 2003


by Ray
Fun Avalon Hill classic.
February 20, 2003

Much can be said about Rail Baron, pro and con, but I think it is a lot of fun. Despite the dice rolling and luck that comes with that, it is fun to build (or try to) a rail network in order to transport yourself around the board collecting the necessary money to enable you to win. Each game is completely different, and you soon discover new ways to develop a network and make substitutions if a competing player buys a rail line you wanted. It isn't a perfect game, but it sure beats Monopoly. A great game for seasoned gamers who just want to have a bit of fun, or for families to play and laugh together. You can try to pick up a copy on eBay, where presently there seems to be an unlimited supply of copies going anywhere from around $35 to over $100, depending on condition and the particulars of each auction. Try to get the single-picture original box cover from 1977 instead of the three-picture second edition box cover from the early 80's. The prices would indicate there are lots of people who really want the game. That says it all. It's a great old classic. I wish Hasbro would re-issue it.

by Ty
I love this game, but it is long!
June 01, 2001

This is a very long game, but well worth it. We have been playing it in our family for years and still play every time we get together. We developed a computer program to speed the game along. If you are interested, please email me at [email protected] cuts game time almost in half.

Forget the New Short German Games! RB is long and Lush!
November 18, 2000

I like the short simple German games as much as anyone, but every once in a while, a play-'til-you-drop Rail Baron marathon hits the spot. Yes, as the wee hours drone on and you are just a few thousand from what you need to win, you find yourself forced to take someone else's railroad. This of course is followed by some small rolls, one more beer, and a hour or two of more playing. As we grow up, we realize that our time is limited. So break out the Settlers, play a quick game and get the kids home. Once or twice a year though, I like to wander back to my ill-spent youth with this classic Avalon Hill game. Since this game was released, we have learned to eat tofu hot dogs, no-fat potato chips and coffee which is identified by its country of origin instead of its name brand. Get the fattest meatball grinder you can, real Coca-Cola and Fritos and return to to the time when games had directions without on German word on it. Return to a time when being a gamer meant fighting the sandman! I love it.

A great game to replace Monopoly
April 24, 2000

This game, Rail Baron, is such a great game that I cannot stop playing it.

This game is very similar to Monypoly, as you just do 'roll-move-pay-buy'. However, the destination is not fixed as you need to roll dice to decide your starting point and the destination point. This is more challenging than playing Monopoly, in which cannot change your plan.

One disadvantage for this game is that I and my friends need to refer to the chart very often when playing this game and all we think that this would waste a lot of time. I hope the designer of this game can correct it and make a more perfect game in the future.

A definite must-have for train fanatics and historians
March 08, 2000

When given a choice of long (2-4 hours) games to play, my daughters invariably pick this one. It combines an excellent balance of chance and logic, while helping you understand the advantages of modern day railroad mergers. We have created some house rules to shorten the game a bit, but the planning and execution are totally at the mercy of the dice. The real fun of the game comes after all of the available railroads have been purchased, and the cost to travel on them is $10,000 a turn. At that point, determining the best, fastest and cheapest route to your destination becomes crucial. It is also of educational value on a few levels: reading the tables is one, as well as learning about actual rail lines that are represented accurately from a geographic standpoint. The only drawback that we have found is that this is a very long game. In order to keep it interesting, we often play in one to two hour sittings, and then take a break. Even with this disadvantage, it continues to be one of two (Empire Builder is the other) of my daughters' favorite long play games. From a price standpoint, this was an outstanding value considering all of the times it has been played.

Rail Baron is a family favorite
December 22, 1999

Rail Baron rates really high for a game that is well-suited for players of varying interests/knowledge bases and levels of ability strategy-wise. Unlike trivia games, players need not have and use a large cranial database, and unlike word and mathematical games, they needn't be accomplished in those skills as well. Thus, a player at age 10 can succeed on par with someone much older, with a little luck and some reasonable simple strategy. This game is most similar to Monopoly and Risk in those respects. That is not to say that this is a mindless or luck-driven game. Player's decisions in regards to railroad purchases and routes taken do substantially effect the eventual outcome as to who achieves Vanderbilt status first (who wins). This game is a classic.

Fascinating and educational, but long
May 06, 2004

Rail Baron is a fascinating game. It is a believable simulation of the actual rail network that existed in the U.S.A. during the first half of the 20th century. If this were a Milton-Bradley game, you would be just as likely to have to travel to Pocatello as to New York City. But this is Avalon Hill, and so it is culturally realistic, with the most crucial destinations being on the East and West coasts. Even the payoffs are weighted to reflect the regional economic realities of our culture at that time. Because the game is highly quantifiable, it is possible to go several layers deep into the mechanics of the game, and watch winning strategies emerge like a photo in a dark room. Victory hinges almost entirely on making the most judicious possible purchases. You can only make these purchases at the end of a trip, which may take several turns or only one, depending on how far across the country you have to go. The trade-offs between efficiency, opportunism, and raw speed are subtle but vital. Luck plays only about a 10% role. The game is basically a protracted and excruciating race, usually lasting upwards of 4 hours. The length of the game is its main drawback, but also part of what makes it such a great re-creation of the rail empire building experience. Overlooked in the other reviews are the educational aspects of the game. These are the real railroads, principally as they existed just a few years ago. With a well-scaled and printed game board representing 70 cities in the U.S., and 27 major railroads with the actual logos printed on the deeds, the game is a geography lesson, and many sights you've seen all your life take on a whole new meaning. Sitting at a railroad crossing or hearing a train song will never be the same again, after you've played this game. It is a fabulous piece of Americana, highly recommended.

Monopoly Goes To Rails
March 03, 2002

This classic beats the stuffing out of a former(not so) classic called Monopoly. Rail Baron gives you more strategic choices and theme than Monopoly ever will. With that said, both seem to go on forever at about 3-4 hrs. Thank goodness I have found a diamond in the rough(Prairie Railroads).

Classic Game! Except for...
December 23, 2001

This game is truly a classic! I can't even begin to count the number of sunrises I witnessed back in my college days because my buddies and I were still huddled around an all-night game of Rail Baron! Ahhh... now THAT'S gaming.

As I got older and time grew shorter, Rail Baron faded from the gaming repertoire simply because it took so darn long to play. Then technology came to the rescue! A few years ago, a friend wrote a little program on the Mac to automate the many lookup charts in the game, and suddenly it became possible to finish a game before the bars closed! It still takes the better part of an evening to play, even with the help of automated lookup tables and reduced victory conditions, but at least it's reasonable enough to get played every now and then.

Although Rail Baron is a venerable classic worthy of gaming worship, it does have a significant flaw. The first third of the game is spent scraping together money to buy railroad lines. This is the heart of the game where all the interesting decisions are made, and where the addictiveness lies. Once all of the railroads are purchased, the game pretty much goes into auto-pilot until the final stage when players who have accumulated enough revenue start making their 'victory runs'. This last part can be very intense and fun.

Here's the problem: once all the railroads are purchased, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion who WON'T win. Usually only two players, (occasionally three) end up owning a combination of rail lines good enough to profitably span the country and ultimately have a shot at victory. Everyone else will just barely eke out an existence, or slowly bleed to death, for the remainder of the game.

This wouldn't be so bad if the entire game only lasted a couple of hours. But by the time the last railroad is purchased, if you're not one of the top two or three railroad owners, you're in for a very looooong and boring evening. I've seen players suicide out of the game at this point, and frankly, I can't blame them.

Playing with fewer players can minimize this unfortunate shortcoming. Rail Baron is actually one of those rare games that shines with only 3 players. Even with 4 players, the distribution of railroads is usually such that everyone has a reasonable shot at victory, especially considering the possibility of a 'Rover Ploy' near the end of the game. But with 5-6 playing, there will definitely be players left out to dry. For this reason, I can't give Rail Baron a full 5 stars.

I'm surprised Avalon Hill/Hasbro have not re-issued Rail Baron yet. It is definitely accessible to the casual gamer, and would benefit tremendously from a facelift and fancier bits. If they can solve the 'haves and have-nots' problem and do something about the time-consuming lookup tables, they'd have a near-perfect game on their hands!

If I can only find the time.
June 28, 2001

Let me start by saying, I love this game. It is a true classic. Understanding which railroads to buy is critical to success (buy that superchief FIRST), and make sure you have rails that can get you from one side of the country to the other. The only complaint I have is the length of the game. To be honest, I don't think I have ever technically completed a game of Rail Baron. If you have the time, and can find this game, it's great. (Add a star if you don't mind looong games.)

Long, but fun
December 14, 2000

This game is long. You can effectively die early due to bad luck with your first destination. The three-piece board has to be held together with clips of some kind. You can throw the game to a chosen opponent after you are effectively gone. There is a lot of luck involved with any dice game.

All that aside, this game is a blast to play with a good group of friends. With a bit of luck and decent strategy, you can have a less than perfect setup and still win the game. If you own the SAL and a more well-setup opponent has the bad luck to have to hit Miami twice late in the game, Hey, that's luck, but it happens. The game is just fun.

by David
This Monopoly type game is on the right track
April 07, 2000

It does not look like Monopoly but it is the same type of game. You travel from city to city gaining money along the way. You also need to buy railroad networks to make it cheaper for you to travel and hopefully make the other players pay you to use your tracks. I've been playing this game for about 20 years and it has not gotten old. One of the best of this type of game and fun for the whole family.

Too long a game for so few options.
November 23, 2000

I first played Rail Baron when Avalon Hill published it in the '70s. At the time, we really enjoyed it. But it does tend to get stale after repeated playings. I agree with almost all of the comments below by James from Louisiana, so I won't repeat them here. However, it's good enough to give it 3-stars; the same I would give Monopoly, a spiritual cousin. A game this uncomplicated just shouldn't take 2-4 hours to play.

by James
This one is far too dicey
March 08, 2000

Rail Baron is a good game for gaming novices or those who don't mind having the dice make most of the decisions for you.


  1. Rail lines are historically accurate.
  2. Easy to learn.


  1. Game time typically exceeds 4 hours.
  2. Limited player interaction, ie, you do nothing when it's not your turn.
  3. Game is too dicey. (see 5, 6, 8)
  4. Rail lines are not fairly valued. The most notable is the Penn. It is undervalued by at least $5K in my opinion. It is often the first purchase for this reason.
  5. Early game luck with the dice can be a game breaker. Having the misfortune of paying an opponent $10K in the early game is often crippling. If a player is really unlucky, he will go to Miami in the early going. This will cost him a fortune and leave virtually no chance for recovery. If such a player manages to survive, he can look forward to 3 more hours of torture.
  6. The rule requiring a player to move immediately after rolling the dice is difficult to enforce. One player in our gaming group would determine how he would move his train for each possible roll before he rolled the dice. This is perfectly legal and good strategy. However, it lengthened an already long game. We finally decided that a player could roll the dice and then determine how he would move. This (mercifully) speeded up the play.
  7. It is too easy for a player to throw the game to a selected opponent by riding the appropriate railroad.
  8. The victory condition requiring a player to return to his home city is crazy. I have seen games where a player with enough money to win could not get a destination anywhere near his home city. As a result, he ended the game with over $300K and lost.

Summary: I don't like this game. There are many other railroad games that are much better. Rail Baron sits on my shelf collecting dust. Change the name to Dice Baron and I might give it 2 stars.

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