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Pioneer Rails

Along with roll & write games, flip & writes have proved popular with publishers and public alike. You might think that with so many on the market they may have run their course but, with Pioneer Rails, Matthew Dunstan and Jeffrey D Allers have designed a flip & write game played over four rounds with a strong theme and enough charm to make it an instant favourite with the Board's Eye View team.

As usual, everyone has their own sheet on which to draw. The game comes with two thick pads of double-sided sheets (two different layouts for each of the two designs and with slightly different Wild West focuses for each design). The map sheets might initially look busy but they are pretty straightforward. The box also includes four stubby pencils and an eraser, tho', as with all flip & write and roll & write games, we always recommend laminating a few sheets so you can reuse them with dry-wipe pens. Note also that the player count isn't limited to four: you can play this game with any number of players, and all players play simultaneously so there is no downtime and playing with, say, six or eight players doesn't make the game any longer than playing with two. There's also a solo/solitaire mode.

For two or more players, there are some shared objective cards, and you'll use three from the 21 supplied. These give points for completing the indicated goals, with double points going to the player who is first to complete each objective.

In keeping with the Wild West theme, the game is played with a cutdown deck of Wild West themed playing cards (just 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace in the four suits). Each turn, three cards are revealed and the 'dealer' (active player for the turn) chooses one to draft for use; other players simultaneously make use of either of the other two cards. You record the rank of the card you are using on your sheet with the aim of making a high scoring poker hand over the course of each of the five turns that make up each round. The suit is used to determine which rail network you are extending (the map sheets have a starting hex marked with each of the playing card suits): you draw three rails extending from the chosen suit or from the end of a rail from that suit that you've previously drawn. You'll be earning points when your rail networks link cities and for bordering various location hexes. Some hexes need to have rails along just one edge to score but others require rails on two, three or even four edges...

With art by Javier González Cava, Dranda Games have done a great job with the production of Pioneer Rails, and there's no doubt that the evocative Wild West theme adds hugely to this game's appeal. We've loved tho' the brisk simultaneous gameplay and the fact that the game and its scoring criteria are largely intuitively. We've especially enjoyed the dual-application cards: often posing players the dilemma of whether to focus on rank or suit. As with most flip & write games, Pioneer Rails games are mostly multiplayer solitaire but there's scope for interaction in the 'dealer' choosing a card to deny an opponent a high-scoring poker hand.

Aside from the two map sheet designs with their different layouts and scoring requirements, the game also comes with a couple of mini expansions, including a deck of 'company owner' cards that act as event cards that are drawn at the start of each round to modify the scoring rules for that round only. These help to further spice up the game, and they do so without notably increasing complexity.

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