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Santa Fe Rails
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Santa Fe Rails

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Ages Play Time Players
12+ 60 minutes 2-5

Designer(s): Alan R Moon

Publisher(s): GMT Games

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Product Description

Be a western rail and real estate baron. Unleash the engines of progress in 19th century America, where the rail ruled the west, creating fortunes and fueling economic growth.

In this game about the westward expansion of the railroads, players steer the development of five major railroads and four short lines so as to enhance the values of the city and boomtown properties they conrtol while also earning bonuses for completion of connections.

In Santa Fe Rails, players build the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, Great Northern, Kansas City and Southern Pacific railroads from their bases in Chicago, New Orleans, Kansas City and Milwaukee. The short lines Texas Pacific, Denver & Rio Grande Western, Western Pacific and Rock Island make their appearance in the middle of the game.

Players play City cards to lay claim to end-game victory points for the number of railroads connected to their cities. They lay track pieces to create the connections of the major railroads to those cities. Special cards allow railroads to establish branch lines. Players may opt to grab special cards that allow the laying of extra tracks on a turn. Boomtowns can be created out of small-value cities. Short line railroads can be used to connect out-of-the-way places. The game ends when all the track pieces for the major railroads have been used. The Cities with the higher values and most railroad connections will score the most.

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Alan R Moon

  • Publisher(s): GMT Games

  • Year: 2001

  • Players: 2 - 5

  • Time: 60 minutes

  • Ages: 12 and up

  • Weight: 1,092 grams


  • 1 Map of the Western USA
  • 94 Cards
  • 10 Boomtown Markers
  • 160 Pieces of Track
  • 60 Plastic Chips
  • 1 First Player Train
  • 1 Rulebook
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Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4.3 in 10 reviews

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by Jake
House Rules
December 22, 2003

The first time I played Santa Fe, I was dissatisfied. I knew there was a good game in there, but I would have to find it. Taking a cue from Boardgamegeek, I believe I know how to make this game more straight-forward and play more tactically. Plus, it will finish in 40 minutes or less now:

You start with zero cards in your hand. On your turn, you play a card (if you have one) and then you build either two tracks of the same colour or three tracks of 3 different colours. You may play a branch card in addition to a city card. If you are the first person to reach a city, you can receive either: 1) 2 city cards; 2) 1 gold; or 3) 1 branch card (no other cards are used in the game). The colour-coded cities are worth a bonus of 3 gold.

There is no card limit for your hand, but you can only have a maximum of 5 cards face up in front of you. When you have 5 played cards, you may play a sixth card by replacing one of the five. If you replace a played card, the card that was replaced goes back into your hand.

The game ends when one railway line has been used up.

These rules fixed all of the problems I initially had with the game. I now consider Santa Fe the best of the middle-weight train games.

A step up the complexity ladder from Union Pacific
August 03, 2003

GMT is famous for card-driven strategy games and Alan Moon is famous for Union Pacific (among other games). Combine publisher and designer and you have Santa Fe Rails, one of the best rail games I have played in a long time.

For those who have enjoyed Union Pacific, the board and the sequence of play will be pleasingly familiar. Over the course of a turn a player will play a card (either a special action or a city card) and build track twice. While track placement is a common component of both games, what separates Santa Fe Rails from its predecessor is the variety of cards available to play. To be ultimately successful a player must walk a tightrope between playing action cards and laying down city cards. A city card will score points (often many) at the end of the game, while action cards directly affect the track being played and can also lead to instant scoring possibilities by connecting rail lines to new cities for bonus points. Knowing how and when to play each type of card will separate the winner from the wannabes at the end of the day.

The game itself would do well to have a reference card included. At the time of this writing there are a few that have been uploaded on As another reviewer noted there is a learning curve to overcome - this would be greatly shortened with proper reference materials. Also, the game claims to have a playing time of an hour, but assume two hours when first learning the game and probably ninety minutes to play in an experienced gaming group. The board, track, and cards are all first class. The city cards even have a miniature map of the board with the city location circled for those a little less familiar with the Western United States. The only physical drawbacks are the relatively cheap components used to represent money (I would suggest replacing with play money from a dollar store).

A previous reviewer commented on the low luck factor. I would add that the 2X card allows a player to discard any number of city cards for replacements. This can be used to efficiently cycle cards, thereby improving the odds of drawing quality scoring cards. This will not eliminate luck altogether, but I feel the savvy player will effectively keep quality city cards in hand with judicious uses of the doubler. I would agree with another reviewer as well concerning the 'screw factor' inherent in this game. Because of this Santa Fe Rails is probably not as good as Union Pacific for the gamer who is looking for a friendly family game. Given that, a gaming group will probably enjoy this game far more than Union Pacific if their requirement is an abstract strategy rail game with multiple options and excellent replay value.

Moderately Entertaining
April 15, 2003

Overall, the game is ok. But our group did not like the need to add up each players score at the end of the game. This method of scorekeeping made it more difficult to identify leaders.

In comparing Santa Fe Rails to Union Pacific, we prefer Union Pacific. It has fewer elements of luck (card draw), and more strategic options. I would be less likely to compare this game to a crayon rail game. Still Santa Fe Rails has more room for group interaction and play time is shorter.

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