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There are four to seven shares of each of the five railroad companies. Each turn, one of the share cards is revealed and an auction ensues. Players earn money by dropping out of the auction, but the last player in wins the right to take the card or sell shares he already owns. Points are kept on a scoring track.
Michael Schacht is a man with game ideas coming out of his ears and he uses his own company, Spiele aus Timbuktu, to publish the ones that he likes, but which haven't been picked up by the big companies such as Kosmos or Queen. At Essen the label had a set of three small games, each with a railway theme, though in none of the cases is the theme to be taken that seriously. They could be bought individually, but if you got the set, this was "the one on the right" and the one also that the grapevine had decided was the best. It is a first cousin to Don, the cardgame that Schacht and Queen published in 2001, but that kinship is not a matter of shared or borrowed mechanics. Rather it is that both games are built round the idea that players use a clever and novel bidding method to buy cards, with the aim of buying cards of the same colour. In Don the cards bore the names of districts of Chicago, which was the sole connection between the game and its title. This time they are shares in 19th century American railway companies -- though they could just as well be districts in Chicago.
There are five colours corresponding to the different companies and each card shows two of them, one as a main, central colour and another as a border. The central one is the one that determines the company; the other has to do with selling shares and hence with the method of scoring points. The game begins with each player being given one share in the Great Northern Railway (brown) and six chips. The remaining share cards are shuffled and placed in a face down deck. The bottom four cards of this deck are then removed and the game-ending 'crash' card added to them, before they are reshuffled and replaced back under the others.
Each player turn now follows the same pattern. The top card from the deck is turned over and players bid for the right to one of two actions. The first of these is the acquisition of the card and the second is the right to sell certain of the shares you may already possess. The winner of the auction chooses one of these and the runner-up then takes the other. The shares that you gain the right to sell by this procedure are those belonging to the company whose colour forms the border on the card that has been turned up.
The auction procedure is both simple and different. On your turn you may either add a chip to the pot and thereby stay in or take the chips currently in the pot and drop out. This continues until first and second place in the auction have been determined.
If you gain the right to sell shares -- and have any of that colour to sell -- the price you get for each is equal to the number that are on display round the table. So, for example, suppose that there were five players and that the first card turned up was blue with a brown border. Each player at this stage would only have on display the one brown share which they had been dealt at the begining. That makes five brown shares on display altogether and so the person gaining the right to sell could hand in his brown share and score 5 points. If, later in the game, he had two such shares and there were four on display, he could sell both of them for 2x4=8 points.
That is the only method of gaining points during the game, though you can surrender some if, before an auction starts, you decide that you are in need of extra funds from the bank.
The game ends when the 'crash' card is turned up and at that point the players then add to their current points total one point for each five chips in their possession. As you can deduce from the number of chips with which each player started, this final addition is not going to produce any dramatic swings, though it could tip the balance in a close contest. Unsold shares are worth nothing.
Our reaction to all this was much as it had been with Don. The auctions were interesting and fun but the hit and miss method of the scoring left us with an "Is that it?" feeling when the game was over. Buying two or more cards of the same colour is clearly the target to aim at, but you then need to be able to sell them and that is a matter of a card with the right colour border being turned over at a time when you have enough chips to be able to gain the right to sell. Hoarding would obviously help here, but you are still heavily dependent on luck as to when the right colour border arrives and one 10 point hit is unlikely to be enough to win.
However, we were in the minority on Don and I suspect that we may well be here also. The advice, therefore, is that if you enjoyed the earlier game, you are likely to enjoy this one as well.
One piece of advice to finish: card counting will increase your chances, but in order to do this effectively you need to know not only how many shares there are in each company, but how many there are with each colour of border. The former is recorded on the cards, but the latter is not and so a pre-game count, with the information then being made available to everybody, would be a good idea.