American Rails, first go

American RailsAnother long-owned game finally played: I was able to get American Rails on the table today. This game by Tim Harrison is heavily influenced by the Winsome Historic Railroads games — it wouldn’t miss the mark badly to call it a Chicago Express or Wabash Cannonball variant.

That’s what it is. The game plays a lot like Chicago Express, with few key differences. First of all, the game is a lot more open. Chicaco Express has this scenario where the railroads start at certain cities and head to Chicago.

In American Rails, each company can start anywhere the first shareholder wants and there are three target routes, the triangle between Atlanta, New York and Chicago — building any of those three connections will net a bonus.

Another difference is the action system. Each game year (there are seven, max) is divided in three action phases. In each phase, players get to choose one action from  a menu. There’s expansion (two, three or four steps), auctioning a share, development and funding to draw money to the company. Each action can be selected only once per phase. The actions also determine the turn order: take a better action and you’ll be acting later next turn.

After every three phases there’s a dividend phase, which works just like in Chicago Express: amount of railroad income (which comes from cities visited) is divided by shares in play. In the end, most money wins.

So, very much like Chicago Express, but with crucial differences. The open nature of the game is pleasant and might have better long-term replay value. I would particularly recommend American Rails to those folks who like Chicago Express, but feel the scenario gets boring and stuck to certain routes.

Our game was good fun, and exciting too. Sonja got an early lead and despite aggressive dilution managed to win. However, she only got $9 more than me ($148-139-130-107 being the final scores), so a game one turn longer might’ve had me in the winning position. I got handed a nice fortune in the shape of undiluted green railroad held through the whole game.

My initial impression is positive: Tim Harrison has taken something good and made something interesting and slightly different out of it. If you don’t like Chicago Express, American Rails won’t likely change your mind, but if you like Chicago Express and want more, here’s an interesting, more open-ended game with lots of interesting possibilities.

American Rails board after a game
The board after our game was over. Click for a larger version at the Geek.

Die Sieben SiegelAfter American Rails, we didn’t have time to test Tori, a new game by Finnish designer Kimmo Sorsamo, so we had to play something shorter. Die Sieben Siegel was an excellent choice. I haven’t played the game for four years, but still remembered something, as I was able to win our little four-hand match.

Our play was horrible, though — Sabouter would’ve been the best choice for every one of us every round, even with the slightly higher cost used in the new Finnish edition (5 points instead of 4). Well, practise, practise… I wouldn’t mind seeing this one played more often, especially considering how much nicer the new, smaller edition is compared to the old one with the bigger box and worse cards.

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2 thoughts on “American Rails, first go”

  1. Poor play notwithstanding, what did you think of the change to the Saboteur? I played Sieben Siegel once with three and the Saboteur seems *far* too strong (although probably better balanced with more players).

  2. With three players and the old rules, Saboteur was easily an automatic selection for the first player. It still is very strong with inexperienced players. It probably was fairly balanced with experienced players, where playing a clean game is more likely.

    So, I think it’s a good change, but Saboteur is still very strong (in three-player game it’s now six points, and that’s still fairly strong I think with newbies) as long as players are inexperienced. With more experience, it’s more balanced.

    Of course, as the people in Geek argue, the game design should ensure that Saboteur is in play on most rounds to make the game more interesting. I agree with that.

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