Governmental Take Over!
A Variant for Rail Baron
by Stephen Taylor
My gaming group consists of only 3 players. Rail Baron, like many other multi-player games, is better with more players. We have created a variant which creates the effect of railroads being purchased by a full complement of players. The simulation of other players is what we call "the Government" in this variant. Using this variant, Rail Baron will be more competitive and exciting, particularly when three players are in the game. In fact, you can play this variant with only two players.
During the game, the Government will take over railroads. More railroads will be taken over when there are fewer players. Money management and careful selection of which railroads to buy will determine who will win the game. This is because the price of a railroad may vary from 50% to 150% of the cost stated in the game. To guarantee the purchase of a particular railroad, you will have to pay a premium. To get a railroad at half cost, you must take your chances on a random draw and must participate in an auction with the other players. This variant described below uses all the standard rules except as noted.
1. The Home City has no effect on the game except to determine where the player starts the game. There is no "rover play" (see step 8).
2. When a player reaches a destination, he may buy an express train for $4,000 or a Superchief for $25,000. There is no change in the Bonus rules. This makes the Superchief a viable option by lowering the cost.
3. When a player reaches a destination, and after he has decided whether or not to purchase an express or Superchief, he must select one and only one of the following options:
4. Whenever the last player reaches a destination, and after step 3 of this variant is conducted, a railroad owned by the bank is selected at random and given to the Government. For example, if there are three players, this step will only be conducted by the 3rd player. Hence, the fewer players there are, the more times this step will be performed.
5. You do not have to pay any user's fee to travel on the your own railroad. This simplifies the game by not having to pay $1000 when using your own railroad, and it now becomes more advantageous to use your own railroad rather then the bank's railroad.
6. If a player uses a railroad owned by the Government, he must pay a user's fee of $6,000. The fee increases to $12,000 when the bank runs out of railroads. When using a railroad owned by another player, the fee increases to $10,000 when the bank runs out of railroads. Note that there is no need to keep track of money paid to the government because the Government cannot win the game.
7. If a player cannot pay a user fee, he must sell one or more of his railroads to the Government, not the bank, at 50% of the price listed on the card. Now these sold-off railroads can be purchased by other players, but they are bought from the Government at 1.5 times the cost! See 3b.
8. The game ends when a player has $200,000, and the last player has been given the chance to complete his turn. The winner is the player with the most money. This simplifies the victory conditions by eliminating the "rover play", and now all players will have the same number of turns at game's end.
If you wish to see a more detailed description of this variant with historical perspective and more detailed rationale, see our article in Avalon Hill's General, volume 28, number 3.
If you try this variant, I'd be very interested in your comments.