Great American Railroad Game
remake of Stephensons Rocket
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This product has been canceled by Rio Grande Games.
An excellent game that is very well designed.
It a combination of British Rails and Acquire.
Easy to play, easy to set-up, and involves no luck.
As the game draws to a conclusion, it seems that everyone still has a chance to win.
The game is also very elegant: as playable tiles are running out, so are available stocks and resources.
There seems to be exactly the proper amount of each item.
This game has become a regular with my gaming group.
This is the type of Game that shows that game designing is an art. The rules are short, there is very little luck, you can play several games in one night and it's fun. I am a fan of several railway games. I must admit I have greeted the sunrise more than once after an all night Rail Baron session and I enjoy the [page scan/se=0428/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]18XX games. (I also think Union Pacific is one of the best games on the market.) This game is different. It isn't as realist as other railroad games. (On the other hand when I play a wargame I don't need to smell napalm.)
Each game has the feel of a close Acquire match. It has suprising depth for a multi-player format. When you give up shares in the veto round to try to get the train heading for another city you better let your head and not your emotions be in control.
Knizia has given us another great strategy game, and I concur with the earlier reviews posted here. Not unlike his classic Taj Mahal, the player must contemplate numerous modes of scoring points, and select his/her strategy accordingly. Unlike Taj Mahal, there is absolutely no luck of the draw, or roll of the dice to influence play.
Hard-core railroad devotees may be disappointed in Stephenson's Rocket as a railroad simulation along the lines of the [page scan/se=0428/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]18xx series and the 'crayon rails', but make no mistake about it: This is a wonderful strategy game that will get many playings. I highly recommend it.
This great designer's first railway game is another splendid example of the multiple ways in which he entertains and teases his fans. However, expect to play it several times before you fully appreciate its subtleties. Starting with seven locomotives and some money, you win by becoming the wealthiest entrepreneur--either by moving the trains to gain company shares, by merging lines, or by preparing for the trains' arrival at manufacturing centers (rewarding players who have collected most of its commodities) or railway towns (benefiting those with most stations on the line). You can try to change a train's direction by calling an auction, during which owners of its company's shares bid and the winner of the bidding forfeits his shares. But be warned--it's usually difficult to determine the merits of this ploy. Be prepared for a great trip, even when you only have two players.
I will state up front that this is by no means an unbiased review. I am deeply fond of railway games in general, and Reiner Knizia is easily my favourite game designer. If Francis Tresham produced a dozen games a year (or even one!) then there might be a contest, but as it is I own and play more Knizia games than any four other designers put together. It follows that the promise of a Knizia Railway Game was enough to set this man's heart fluttering, and it was never likely that I was going to hate it.
The theme is the railway boom in 1830s England, and the box contains plenty that is superficially similar to 1829. There is a nicely drawn map of southern England; share certificates for seven familiar railway companies; a wodge of cash; and 60 track tiles showing straight track on one side, and a gentle curve on the reverse (no tile 7s in this game, chaps). You also get a wooden loco matching the share certificate colour of each company, a clutch of city/commodity and passenger tokens, and a set of wooden station-markers for each player. The rules are logically presented with full colour illustrations, clear examples, and running to all of four sides. So, there are plenty of decent bits for your money, but how does it play?
The purpose of the game is the straightforward accumulation of cash. You start with nothing, and there are no opportunities to spend money during the game, so this is simply about grabbing more of it, and quicker, than the next man. A player turn consists of picking two of the following options:
Whenever a railway reaches a city, cash is earned by the players holding the relevant city/commodity tokens. Similarly money is doled out whenever a line reaches a 'railway town' with the money going to the player(s) having the most station markers on that railway's network. Payouts also occur whenever a railway company is absorbed by another. This occurs in a similar manner to Acquire--a railway that builds next to another is immediately taken over. First and second majority share-holders get a cash payment, in proportion to the size of the company, and shares are then traded in at a ratio of two for one. This can, and sometimes does, result in the mighty LNWR being absorbed by the feeble SER, but not often! Crucially, any existing shareholder in a company may call a 'veto round' to prevent a line being extended somewhere unwelcome. Each player with shares in the moving company may bid a number of shares. The phasing player must then either match the bid--surrendering that number of shares, or lose control of the move. In that case, the player who bid the most, surrenders the shares he bid but immediately gets to build in an alternative direction. Cunning this, because although the vetoed player has lost control of the move, he still has the share he gained, while the player who stopped him now has fewer. Vetoing is thus a powerful, but expensive, option--and not to be used without careful consideration of the impact on respective share holdings.
The game moves along at a cracking pace with player turns often lasting no longer than it takes to grab a token and bang down a station. Cash holdings are kept secret but token and share holdings are open. Even so you will have your work cut out keeping tabs on what your opponents have done, never mind working out what they might be planning. Veto rounds do occur, but not that often because shares are simply too valuable to surrender lightly. The development of the various railways is highly tactical as players seek to maximise their own earning potential, and make things difficult for the opposition, and the devious will look for any opportunity to provoke a rival into calling an injudicious veto.
Play finishes either when all sixty track tiles have been used, or else when there are only shares of one company left available on the board. At that point there is a final payout to the majority shareholders, and station-owners in surviving companies. The bigger the company, measured in towns and cities connected, the bigger the payout (Acquire again). Commodity tokens pay a flat rate to those with majority holdings in each type, and the player with the most cash at the end of this final feeding frenzy is the winner.
Overall, this game is a bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing. Packaged for the family market, with artwork allegedly designed to appeal to female buyers, the chances of casual games players taking to this are probably small. Having played twice in Essen with the Brit-pack and twice since I got home with family, on each occasion, opinion was split down the middle. Others report similar hung juries with as many people hating it as wanting to play again. In my view this is very much a gamers' game with lots of tactical options available on any turn, a range of possible strategies, and no luck factor whatsoever. The theming is better than adequate, and stronger than say Ra or Samurai of recent Knizia designs. However, don't expect any deep railway-building experience such as the 18xx games offer. Stephensons Rocket is clearly NOT the killer railway design that will supplant 1830 as the railway freak's game of choice. What I think it is, is a very clever, tile-laying, middle-weight game, offering an original twist to the railway genre, and a challenge that is worth an hour of any gamer's time. Excellent, but clearly not to everyone's taste.