Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rails Over Europe vs Railroad Tycoon

I had the chance to play Railroad Tycoon twice over the last few weeks, once with the original map and again with the Europe map (published version). I did well in both games, coming in second behind a very strong performance by Chris (aided by a late game card that doubled his already large lead), and winning a come-from-behind squeaker last Friday. The US game was played with six players, and the Europe was with four. Here's a quick comparison of the experiences...
  1. Europe features a lot more cities that are close together, but nothing like the northeast corner of the US which is just nuts. Think of it as a more even distribution. 
  2. Europe has very clearly marked mountains, which at first glance don't seem to dominate the board, but in fact they do. Mountains play a big role on the US map, but they're in only one centralized area (the Appalachians), and there are a lot of ridges to deal with. In Europe, few ridges. 
  3. Rivers and coastline are a much bigger obstacle in Europe, where if there's *any* water feature in a hex it costs extra. There is also no "following" rivers in Europe as in the US to save money. 
  4. Europe has pre-determined routes that you get points/income for regardless of cards being available. As I remember, this was one of the cards that Chris got points for late in the game on the US map. Since they're all available in Europe from the game start, there's less chance of that happening, and it's probably worthwhile to just make those cards available at the start. 
  5. Because of the more difficult terrain, you'll need to take out a lot more shares to accomplish things. On the US map, I like to keep my share distribution down as much as possible, and generally can get away with only taking one or two shares. Since I almost always draw the "get points for taking the fewest shares" Tycoon card, it's also often a requirement. By comparison, I was more or less forced to take eight shares in the Europe game, as my rail routes through Italy and Spain averaged $10,000 per three-track route. 
  6. The maximum income level in Europe is $22, compared with $25 in the US. I think that the income amounts ramp up quicker in Europe as well, although I'm not sure.
  7. There is no Western Link space or mechanism in Europe. 
I really liked the Europe map, partly because I thought that the "bad" chaos elements had been removed to some degree. I still think that the Tycoon cards can cause problems, as some will net you as many as eight points while others will only give you six. Even if one is easier than the other, it's a little stupid to hobble a player in this way. However, I got the sense that the Tycoon cards were a little less stupid.

I also liked the more even distribution of cities. There are only two red cities (Berlin and Paris, which are fairly close to each other). Competition for routes wasn't limited to one part of the board as in the US, and the pre-determined bonus routes made it easier to have a strategic plan that would pay off. Perhaps part of the goodness was fewer players, although since our host was not what I would call a "brisk" player downtime was roughly equivalent to a six-player US game. 

The Europe game was particularly interesting for me. I started out kind of slow, building routes from Rome through Milan, then over to Marseilles and down to Naples. Midgame I built up to Paris, then on to Amsterdam (when I noticed that there was a four point bonus for Marseilles/Amsterdam, right about the time the guy to my right had the same route almost completed). I'd drawn the card that got me two points for each Spanish city I'd built out of (remember that Lisbon is not in Spain), but since someone else was building there early I decided to just build those routes later when I had money laying around, and did so successfully. Somehow, I never found myself without cubes to transport, which is not always the case in the US map when I've played, as there seemed to be a lot of cubes on the board to start. 

Aaron had a big lead going into the final rounds, and we all figured he would win easily. However, because I built a route into one of the Spanish cities from Bordeaux right at the end of the game, I was able to score 3 points moving a cube from there to Rome when I would normally have taken a cube from Brest to Marseilles. The extra point proved critical, as Aaron had 14 shares issued to my eight, and I caught up a bit with my Tycoon card as well (his only scored six points). We ended up tied, but I had about $30,000 stored because I was operating more efficiently and I won the tiebreaker. Cooley's Law strikes again.

Interestingly, the people I played with didn't like Age of Steam because it was too unforgiving and you could always just take out more shares if you got into trouble. Funny, I thought that was a selling point of AoS! 

The good news is that I found the Europe map to be much more fun than the US map, partly because of the rules tweaks, some of which can easily be transferred to the US map, but also because of the even distribution of towns. I also enjoyed playing with four, as there was a good amount of competition for space, but not too bad. Considering my cube-tradin' route really only ran from Naples to Milan to Marseilles to Amsterdam (and later to Brest), and I was behind a good part of the game, at the same time I did a great job of having a network of cities that I could get just about any cube to any destination city with only a 4 train. 

I hear this expansion is out of print, and I'm very glad that I got a copy. Railroad Tycoon in it's original form is one of those games that doesn't come out much, partly because of the oversized map, but also because it's an inferior game in many respects to almost every other railroad game I own (I prefer Union Pacific with six). Europe makes this playable at about the right level of interaction with four and fixes many of the design flaws present in the original. If you can score a used copy, or have let the Europe expansion sit unplayed in your collection for reasons similar to mine, I strongly recommend you pull it out and give it a whirl. I was sure pleasantly surprised.


dave said...

I kinda like the extra stuff in the RT system, but AoS wins hands-down based on functionality of components and number of maps. I can appreciate why some folks prefer RT, yet I find myself irrationally annoyed if stuck playing it.

Matthew said...

I love RRT and am jealous of your Europe map. I didn't know they ever actually published it. I got the version available online but have never yet printed it out and put it together.

I've had a lot of success teaching RRT to casual gamers and it's one of my favorite games. I haven't played AoS, but I suspect I wouldn't like it as much with the way my tastes run these days.

Chris Brooks said...

I agree on all counts, and like others prefer AoS but the Europe map is going to be more approachable (on multiple levels) for many folks new to the system. By having the competition for the long routes visible, Europe addresses the key random element that hurt the original RRT.

Greg W said...

I'm jealous you got to play! I agree on pretty much all counts though the quirks in RRT don't bother me as much as you all. B&B has RoE in stock and RDG doesn't list it as special order so they probably have it in stock as well.