After last week's big attendance, we were down to three this week and Mike, Steve & I played Rails of Europe, which I had just acquired.
This is an alternative board and cards for Railroad Tycoon, which we played a few times when it first came out, a game I quite enjoyed, but I think there was some agreement that it has a few major flaws, both physically and in terms of game play. After this playing, it seems that these flaws are to a large extent corrected, by this new version.
The board of Railroad Tycoon is really too big, making it difficult to find a table to put it on and because it is in 3 pieces, combining 2 tables (maybe not quite level) meant that the individual pieces did not join up properly. In addition to that there is a large area of the board which is somewhat superfluous, as it does not seem to get much use. The Rails of Europe board is still large, but not as much so and is a one piece affair, which has fewer cities seemingly more evenly spread, which lets the game spread over the whole board. I was not so keen on the shiny service, which gave some glare under the lights and like the original; there is some problem with colour contrast between the dark coloured cities. I did not find that as much a problem as in Railroad Tycoon, but Mike was a bit confused on more than one occasion.
The set also includes new decks of cards, which replace those of the original. The new Baron cards replace the Tycoon cards and seem to be pretty much along the same lines. The new operations cards are a big improvement, mainly due to the fact that the Major Line cards which gave players bonus points for being the first to link 2 cities have gone, these could be potential game breakers, if they came up conveniently for one player or another granting them a major points windfall because they just happened to have built their lines in that direction. It could be argued that you could plan for this, but this is risky as there is no guarantee that the cards will come up. In Rails of Europe, the Major lines are printed on the board and are always available from the beginning of the game, so the random element of this is removed. In addition the range of Major line bonuses is from 4 to 8, so you don't get the potential major swing like that of 20 points from the Kansas City – New York line.
Also gone are the Perfect Engineering and Government Land Grant cards and some new types of cards have been added in. Capital charters score points when people build to a city you have the charter for and City charters, which exclude other players from the city named. There are also potentially useful Tunnel Engineer cards, giving half price building in mountains.
There are some other lesser improvements such as the simplification of the rules for building in hexes containing water and it is nice to see the provision of player aid cards showing the actions and costs, together with the major lines available. The only way, to me, in which the original is better is in the quality of the cards, which were of nice cloth type.
As to this playing, I don't think any of us could be said to have played that well on first attempt. We all started on the basis of what cubes were on the board, trying to find places where there was scope for early shipments and initially completely forgot about the bonuses for the major lines. Mike won the auction for first turn and started with a route from Brest to Paris, while I followed with Amsterdam to Berlin. Steve started at the top of Italy, I think with a Marseilles/Milan route. It was in this early period that I think I lost out due to not being able to pick up any of the bonuses on offer. I extended up to Hamburg and upgraded my train to level 2 seeing a few 2 link deliveries, while the others built disconnected links and picked up service bounties and other bonuses. The Moscow service bounty was picked up by Mike with a link between there and St. Petersburg which also gave him the Passenger lines bonus for first to ship four different coloured cubes, while Steve picked up the bounties for Marseilles and Madrid. I think the only bonus I picked up all game was the speed record for first 3 link delivery and I was forced to give Mike a couple of points when I made that run or he'd have beaten me to it. As a result of this early play I was behind on income and had been forced to issue more shares than Steve, which was crucial as my Baron was Bismarck who required that I issue the fewest.
After this opening, Steve had a bit of a lead form Mike with me lagging, but Mike moved ahead when we remembered and started claiming the Major lines, he got Marseilles/Amsterdam and Moscow/Vienna, while Steve got Rome/Berlin and Madrid/Milan. I picked up just the biggest Paris/Constantinople, but I was also starting to see the benefits of better shipping possibilities and moved up into contention.
It was not until near the end that we saw the Tunnel Engineer Cards turn up, by which time it was pretty much too late, the cards would have been a great benefit to Steve earlier on who had spent a lot of money building through mountains, similarly the Paris Capital charter also turned up, but by that time Paris was pretty well fully built out. The city charters for Prague and Essen-Ruhr did appear but nobody seemed to be interested, so it remains to be seen whether these new cards have any great affect.
At the end of the game, it was very close. I had nudged into the lead by 1, but when shares were deducted, Steve & I were level with Mike 2 points back, so the Barons were all important, I had known that I had missed mine from early on and Steve had one of those requiring the most money, but I had more so he missed his as well. Mike had King Charles Albert and had succeeded in making the most consecutive links, so he won by 3 points and I missed out on the links tie break to finish third. If only I had taken a bit more notice of the bonuses early on I could have won this as the close end scores show I must have been well ahead on goods shipping.
After game discussion was agreed that this was a great improvement on Railroad Tycoon and from my point of view, I can't imagine ever wanting to play the former if this is available, I may play it if not available, but there's a good chance that I'd find something else preferable.
Rails of Europe 150 mins
Until next week.