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Lancashire Railways is a train game about the birth of the first commercial railroads in Central England in 1829. The Silicon Valley of its day, Manchester was the hub of advanced engineering and manufacturing. Liverpool was the largest port and Manchester needed access for its exports of Cloth and Machinery. Lancashire Railways is set in this era of unrestrained growth and development. Players start railways, build right-of-way and finance these expensive projects with loans from investors and the Bank of England.
This is the third game that Martin has done for Winsome and the first thing to be made clear is that it is not number three in the Ferrocarriles Pampas/Veld Spoorweg series. Like the others, it is a map and crayons job, but that is as far as the resemblance goes: new game, new system.
The map shows the towns of Lancashire, together with a couple of overseas dependencies in the form of Stockport and Scotland. (Yorkshire is tactfully ignored.) Each town is represented by a dot and there are dotted lines joining the towns in places where the railway lines will be built. With the exception of a couple of small junctions, which are there for reasons of play balance, each town also has a box which is used both as a source of and destination for passengers and freight. The basic idea is that you will bid for stretches of line, colour them in to indicate ownership and then ship things round the network to build up your business. The more your lines get used, by you and others, the more your income will rise.
The game is driven by two decks of cards. The first deck names the various stretches of line and determines what is be offered for auction; the second names towns and generates passengers and freight. A number (equal to one less than the number of players) is drawn from each deck each turn.
The main parts of the turn sequence go like this:
I have gone through all that in some detail partly in order to give you a feel for how the game plays, but also to show that, while this is a very simple game to learn, it is not a simple game to get right. There are lots of decisions to be taken and they aren't always easy ones. This is a real game. It is also a very well constructed one in ways that don't become fully apparent until after you have lost a couple of times. I have already mentioned the effect of the "market downturn" rule. A lot of work must have gone into getting that right, but they have got it right. It keeps the game in balance and hits the leader just the right amount to keep things interesting. The way that 'traffic carried' turns into income is also cunning, because over the piece it rewards the player who has built up the network with the best links: the boost to your income when you can do a long run almost entirely on your own lines is very significant. Paul Heald was in the game I played in at Essen, he had played the game at an early stage of its design and was very impressed with the improvements that Martin and the Winsome team had introduced in the polishing and development stage. Congratulations all round are in order. Martin thinks that this is the best of the three games he has done for Winsome and I agree. I'd have hated it if he had got a game about my home patch wrong, but he hasn't. Quite the reverse. Recommended unless you are seriously allergic to train games.