Thursday session: New England Railways

Race for the Galaxy box

My Thursday games started with a quick 2-0 loss in Truc and a four-player game of Race for the Galaxy. It’s been a while since I played Race, but I was in good form and able to win (ok, so we had two newbies in the game).

New England Railways box

The main course for me was, however, Winsome’s New England Railways. I was able to score a copy from Northumbria Games earlier this year and now the game got on the table. I’m glad to say it’s a really good game and clearly the best of the bunch I got (West Riding and Dutch Intercity were the other two).

This Early Railways game is an ancestor Age of Steam and shares some ideas: players build railroads on loaned money and move goods to get income. However, there are some big differences as well. The track-building isn’t freeform: there are set connections between cities auctioned each turn. The loans are more expensive, but they can be paid off.

The loans cost 20% each round, like in Age of Steam, but they feel more expensive. In Age of Steams, shares pay 5 and cost 1 per round, while in New England Railways loans start from 10 and cost 2, and it’s not rare to have, say, $100 in loans that costs you $20 per round in debt service. Income, however, is usually less than in Age of Steam. I found that going over 40 income was possible, but staying there for more than one round was hard.

So, ending up in a deadly debt spiral is fairly easy. In our game, it was common to take new loans to pay the debt service on old loans. In that sense our game was a fairly accurate simulation of typical debt-based economy.

Me and new guy Tuukka were more heavy-handed with our debt, while Tuomas was more careful. The difference between me and Tuukka was the health of our railroad networks. I got the best network and after Tuomas’ strong few rounds I was in the lead. Tuukka, on the other hand, took a while to get any income. The result? I was deep in debt but in the end of the game I had paid all my debts and I got $110 in cash. Tuukka was deep in debt and in the end was even more in debt, finishing the game with $294 in the red. Tuomas paid off almost all his debts, ending up with $34.

Add to that the value of the network, and the final scores were 180 for me, 114 for Tuomas and -240 for Tuukka. In this light the mercy of going honestly bankrupt seems welcome… My victory was a result of a good network. I had a strong network : Boston, Providence, Worcester, Plainfield, Hartford, New Haven… I also got plenty of income from Tuukka, as my network connected well with his network. Tuomas had a nice network, but had a bit of a lack of good cubes to ship and support from Tuukka. Lesson learnt: a good, central network is a key to victory, and getting help from friends is nice.

New England Railways has a nice income reduction mechanism, by the way. Each round two dice are rolled. Each player loses 1/(2d6 +1) of his or her income, rounded down. It’s a nice mechanism, less gamey than the income reduction tiers in Age of Steam. There’s some randomness involved, but it hits everybody equally (relative to their income levels). We had few depression rounds when I rolled 3 or so — I lost 11 income twice. That hurt, since getting income was a lot harder than in Age of Steam — I made few 5-link shipments, but mostly shipped three links or so.

So, New England Railways is a really good game. It’s similar to Age of Steam, but different enough. I definitely want to explore this game a tad more. Our session took a nice 1 hour 45 minutes. Of course the production quality is typical Winsome level, but using poker chips and wet-erase pens helped and replacing the low-quality goods chips with wooden cubes would help even more.

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