Pacific Northwest Rails
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While most reviews tell you how the game is played, I wish to review how the game was fun. The most fun in playing this game is in well thought out realism worked into everything. From the artwork of authentic turn of the century loco's to the cut-throat strategies that would make even Hill or Vanderbuilt take notice, this game has it all. You can play the operator and move to make run after run reaping the benefits of the bonuses; or you can play the market buying and selling to take advantage of other people's greed. The game always seems to bring a new strategy to light. No matter how many players are involved--a three player race or a six player slugfest--you will always come out on top. Because of the random nature of the card decks replayability is very high. I would highly recommend this game to everyone, from the train buff to the strategy gamer, or even to the person who just wants to play something different. You will not be disappointed.
Combine Monopoly with Silverton and you get an inkling of what PNWR is about. The play emphasis of this unique game is on acquiring stock and making runs among various towns in the states of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon in the US at the end of the 19th century.
The long box and laminated map give an initial impression of a crayon RR game in a tube, but this abruptly changes upon closer investigation. This is not a clone of some previously established system! The map consists of a perimeter of squares that the players move upon. Some of these permit you to buy and sell stocks; others show a departure or destination city. These cities are connected within the interior of the map by a criss-crossing of railroad lines. The flavor of the game is greatly spiced up by the obscure short line runs that only a native would have even heard of. Yes, the major lines, such as the Great Northern, and Northern Pacific, are included, but how many of you have heard of the Astoria and Columbia River Railway? Or the Coer d'Alene Railway and Navigation? Three decks of cards -- Stock Certificates, Dispatch Cards, and Movement Cards -- along with a pile of money, six pawns, stock market markers, and a die, round out the remaining components. All are very nice quality for a small company. The Movement Cards are true works of art containing lithographic quality drawings of various period engines.
At start, all of the movement cards are dealt out, and everyone begins in the city of Spokane with $1200 divided by the number of players. Play begins with the turning over of five Dispatch Cards (or more, depending upon the number of players). Each shows a run from a specific city to a specific city and the railroad(s) that you must use to make the run. Also shown are the dividends paid to stockholders, along with a bonus paid to the player who completes the run. Player turn order is determined by bidding money from your meager initial funds. Being first in the turn order is auctioned off, then second, etc. The established order can be very important since this is the player order for the entire game(!), and getting a jump on the other players can greatly assist you in the early going.
Each player turn is a very basic `move then buy or sell stock', but the how and the when are the questions to be answered to maximize your gain. Movement can be done in three ways: By playing a Movement Card (which range from 1 to 6), or rolling the six-sided die, or paying $1 per space (up to six). When making a run, you can only run on lines that you have stock in, so a general strategy might be to own at least one share in each of the fifteen railroads. But, since you gain money per share of completed runs, multiple shares can be extremely profitable. As runs are completed, new Dispatch Cards are turned over and some are year end tax cards. These tax you $1 per share times the number of years completed! This can really eat into your expense budget. The winner is the first player to accumulate $1500 in cash, or is the player with the most cash at the end of ten years. There are twenty year end cards in the deck, so this provides a nice uncertainty to the finish.
The price of each stock is adjusted up when its stock is bought and when a run is completed. A year end card also randomly alters the price of a stock up or down.
So, you just move around the board, buy stocks, and make runs. What makes the game unique? It's also a race! The Dispatch Cards in play are for all the players to use, and only the first player completing the run gains the substantial bonus that goes with it! Now, the player that starts a run first will almost always finish it first (see, I told you turn order was important), but identifying what run each player is vying for is the strategic guessing game that is constantly taking place. A very nice twist.
This is not a thrill a minute game, there are no actual commodities to deliver, and it does take four hours to complete the ten years or to attain $1500 (but you can easily play for a shorter number of years). Though, if you are in the mood for an 18xx game, but want something different, this suits very nicely.