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North American Railways

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

Train games are even more ubiquitous than games built around a zombie or Cthulhu theme. There are light gateway games, like the vanilla editions of Alan Moon’s Ticket To Ride USA and Ticket To Ride Europe (both published by Days of Wonder) and there are there are relatively complex investment-based games like those labelled 18XX (named after the game 1829 – designed by Francis Tresham and published by Hartland Trefoil – which was the first of an almost innumerable series of railroad themed stock market titles named for a single year in the 19th Century).

And from TTR to 18XX, there are a great many other railway games in between. One thing that almost all of these games have in common is that they involve laying track between different locations on a map. Not so with North American Railways, designed by Peer Sylvester, originally published by Spielworxx and more recently republished by Flying Lemur Game Studio. The game is being sold in the UK by Surprised Stare, who were demonstrating it at the UK Games Expo (which is where these Board’s Eye View shots were taken).

On a player’s turn, they buy a share in a railway company but they can only choose a share at the bottom of one of the four columns. If they are the first to invest in a company, their payment goes into that company’s treasury and they become the director of the company. On a subsequent turn, to buy a share in a company of which they are already a director, they must pay $1000, of which half goes into the company and half is paid to the bank. If a player wants to buy a share in a company that has another player as its director, he names a price. The director then makes the choice either to allow the purchase or to buy the share themselves at the named price. If the director does buy the share himself, the half he would ordinarily pay to the bank goes instead to the player who had sought to buy the share. If a player’s shareholding equals that of the existing director, then the new player takes the directorship.

After the share buying phase, players can add cities to the network of companies in which they hold at least one share. The cost of adding cities is taken from the treasury of the company. As with the shares, players can only choose cards from the bottom of columns. Finally, players receive dividend payments from each of the companies in which they hold shares. The company receives the income shown on each of the city cards and those earnings are divided out pro rata in relation to the number of shares. Where it cannot be divided equally (there is no unit of currency in the game smaller than $100) then the director takes an extra $100 and any further undivided funds are retained by the company’s treasury.

This all makes for a game with a lot of strategy. The game can be learnt quickly but you’ll soon discover the subtleties of how to use to best advantage the open information you have about shares from the position of the different company shares and the cities in their respective columns. In effect, this is game about insider dealing, albeit one where you are all privy to the same advance information. You’ll also find that it can pay not to take a city if leaving it in its place on a column blocks other players from accessing city cards of which they can make better use. The symbols on the train markers and discreetly reproduced on the shares are a thoughtful gesture that make this game accessible to colour-blind players. Component-wise, the paper money is a let down but the game does require money that can be kept facedown (all the other information is transparent but you shouldn’t be able to glance across to see how much money an opponent has before, for example, you set a price to buy a share in a company of which he is the director). North American Railways plays with three, four or five players. It’s a game with a surprising amount of depth yet it’s a game that you can expect to complete in about 40 minutes. There aren’t many 18XX games you can say that about.

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