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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

Manufacturer(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

  • Manufacturer(s): GMT Games

  • Year: 2001

  • Players: 2 - 5

  • Time: 60 minutes

  • Ages: 12 and up

  • Weight: 1,092 grams

  • Language Requirements: This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item. Game components are printed in English. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English.


  • 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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Fun, beautiful, but a steep learning curve
August 04, 2002

My group played Santa Fe for the first time this weekend and really enjoyed it - once we got the hang of it. We found the learning curve fairly steep, not so much because the game is complex, but because it is unusual. We found ourselves going back to the instructions frequently, but we eventually got it right. The board and bits are wonderful, but they are even more impressive at the end of the game when the rail lines are all complete - it looks fantastic. The game also has the flavor of railroading, so the theme is not just tacked on. This is the second Alan Moon game that we've played, the other being Capitol, and both are outstanding.

Excellent addition to railroad gaming genre.
May 31, 2002

Santa Fe is a simple, yet strategic game of building. It is a bit more cuthroat and much easier to grasp than the 18XX series or even Moon's Union Pacific. Some railroad fans will be lost without stocks or crayons to draw on a slippery board. GMT is producing some good non-wargames and producing them well.

by Chuck
Great strategy, can be played killer or kindly
May 29, 2002

Santa Fe is a fun game. decent components, but the play is the thing. In a cut throat game you might see all the scores under 100, but if your with a less viscous group the scores can more than double. And it plays well and fun both ways. just a great game allaround, good job by GMT.

Quick playing. Lots of fun for the family.
May 26, 2002

This is one of the few games that everyone in my family likes. My son and I usually like wargames, and my wife and daughter usually prefer very simple games (Clue, Monopoly, etc). We all found something to like about this game. There are several viable strategies to pursue, and the decisions get very tought towards the end of the game.

All aboard!
May 25, 2002

Santa Fe Rails is not a railroad game in the 18xx-Series or crayon-rails sense. Like Stephensons Rocket, it is a tense strategy game with a railroad-building theme.

The components are absolutely first-class, and feature a mounted gameboard, colorful wooden track tokens, and beautifully rendered cards representing cities, branch lines, short lines, and actions. GMT -- one of the leading publishers of board wargames -- has done a masterful job on giving Santa Fe Rails a 'German' quality.

Game play offers each player tough decisions on each turn. Which city card should I play? Which rail line should I extend? Do I need one of the special action cards this turn, or wait til next? Or should I keep drawing and playing city cards to increase my potential scoring opportunities?

These decisions aren't easy, particularly as railroad lines near the end of their track limits, and as the game nears its end, forcing some difficult resource management decisions.

Players must also be conscious of other players' actions/moves, and occasionally lay a track to divert a rail line away from where he/she thinks the others' preferred the line to run.

All in all, Santa Fe Rails is one of the best games of the year, and ranks up there with the best of the 'German' strategy games. Highly recommended.

Advisory: This game and Clippers (Eurogames) are both Alan Moon designs reportedly derived from his earlier game titled Santa Fe. There is a lot of similarity between Santa Fe Rails and Clippers.

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.

A Railroad Game from the Right Side of the Tracks
May 22, 2002

This is a highly enjoyable game that works well for casual gaming as well as tournament gaming. I never owned the previous White Wind edition so I can't compare contents but everything is servicable though some components like the money and the box interior could have been better designed. The map and cards are very attractive. The rules are tight and leave almost nothing to question. This is a game in which the basic mechanics can be taught in 10 minutes and the game is on! A very fine railroad game with no stock purchasing or crayons.

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.

Decent but nothing special
June 01, 2002

Its an improvement over the original Santa Fe. Its an ok game but not great.

I found that there weren't any tough decisions. Most choices were obvious, it was just a matter of capitalizing on mistakes or just the normal unfolding of events. I had fun playing it but wouldn't play it again.

A nice looking game, the artwork is improved over the original.

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