Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Rail Baron is a board game for 3 to 6 players. It was one of the first board games with a railroad theme, and helped establish a sub category known as train games . Rail Baron was initially published in the 1970s under the name BOXCARS by the original designers R.S. Erickson and T.F. Erickson, Jr. It was soon acquired, renamed and reissued by the Avalon Hill Game Company where it became one of the company's top sellers.
Rail Baron is played on a map of the United States on which the routes of 28 historic railroads, such as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad have been marked. The map is divided into 7 regions, Northeast, Southeast, North Central, South Central, Plains, Northwest and Southwest, Major US cities which are connected by the railroads act as destinations for travel. Dots on the railroad routes represent small towns along the way, and serve as distance markers for train movement.
The goal of each player is to accumulate money by moving his train token to map destinations which are generated at random via a lookup table. Large cities like New York City and Chicago are more likely to be generated as destinations than small cities. Travel from one destination to the next is accomplished by rolling dice to determine distance that can be moved. Players then move their train token along map dots toward their destination.
Upon arrival at a destination, the player collects a cash payoff, and may use the money to upgrade his train engine to a faster model, or purchase a railroad. Railroad purchases are key to the game because an owner collects substantial fees from other players who ride his railroad during their movement. Meanwhile, the owner can ride his own railroads at very low cost. Thus an important decision in the game is whether to buy a variety of railroads in order to gain access to all areas of the map for oneself, or to buy railroads in a given area in order to monopolize it and collect the valuable use fees from opponents.
To win the game a player must accumulate $200,000 and then make a daring run back to his home city (his first city in the game) before any opponent can catch him via what is known as a rover play.
Winning Rail Baron requires a combination of skillful railroad purchasing, negotiations with opponents, and some luck with the game's random elements. Generally, the Pennsylvania Railroad is considered the best in the game, and players rush to purchase it at the beginning. In matches with 3 players, monopolizing areas of the map is a viable strategy. In matches with 6 players, there are so few railroads to go around that simply getting close to most areas of the map is the best approach.
Several variants are gaining in popularity. The "Home Swap" lets players switch the home city and first destination before moving for the first time in case their first destination is an easily monopolizable one, or if they want to try to get a better home city. "Free Superchief" lets players upgrade to a SuperChief engine at no cost if they already have an Express engine; this both speeds the game and lessens the dominance of the Pennsylvania RR.
Fans of the game have created dozens of alternate maps for play. There now exist game maps of Europe, New York City, Colorado, and many other locations, as well as fictional regions. There is also a computer version which both speeds play and supports online multiplayer matches.
- Rail Baron Fanatics has a shareware computer version, game history, strategy tips, free replacement components, and more.
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