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Railroad Barons - a review by Nigel Buckle

Usually I don’t bother to go into details of game mechanics in a review, but the rulebook for this game is so awful [Paul's note: there is a new set of rules available for download http://lookout-games.de/wp-content/uploads/RB_rules_new.zip] I think it is worth doing so in this case, just so the readers know which rules I was using to play the game that led to this review! I’ll give my thoughts first and then an overview of the rules after for those who are interested.

This is advertised as an 18xx game for 2 people playable in 45 minutes – and it comes in a small box. You get a deck of cards, some wood markers a stock price track and some nice paper money (although I’m sure many 18xx fans would substitute this for poker chips).

The rulebook that comes with the game assumes you know 18xx games, if you don’t it will be rather incomprehensible, and even if you do it will depend on which 18xx games you’ve played. It certainly took me a little while to figure out how to play. There is a revised rulebook on Lookout’s website – but even that is missing a rather crucial rule (you can pay for a railroad company from your own cash if your holding company has insufficient funds, but this is optional – a rather different case to most 18xx games).

I seriously doubt the 45 minute play time – unless both are a seasoned 18xx players and able to calculate income (you’ll have to make calculations such as 23 x 7 and so on) or have a spreadsheet or calculator to hand. Both games I’ve played have taken over 90 minutes.

If you are a fan of 18xx games and want the ‘experience’ of such a game for 2 players in a relatively (in terms of 18xx) short time this game is definitely worth a look – but it does depend what aspects of 18xx you like. If it is the laying of track and building up of routes then this game is not for you – there is no board play at all. Similarly if you like the stock manipulations you’ll likely to find the rather static stock market a bit lacking. What aspect of 18xx is covered then if it’s neither the stock market nor the track building! Well it’s the feel of investing in companies and making decisions about what trains (railways in this version) to buy, when to payout, when to take in and which shares to invest in.

There is an initial auction of investors (the replacement for private companies) – there are 5 but only 4 will feature in the game. Each has a cash value and a special power, because the game is only 2 players rather than an auction one player selects which investor (and in the advanced game the value) and the other player either takes the card for the special power OR the cash value, with the first player getting the other.

The train limit and company operations have been cleverly abstracted with a set of network tokens – you can permanently use one per operating round as a $10 boost to revenue (a bit like a station marker) or you use them to indicate how many railway companies you can purchase this round, or how many railway companies you can own at the end of the round. This is very slick – and different companies have a different number of tokens. It gives you some difficult choices, do you increase revenue at the expense of flexibility over manipulating trains (if you own two holding companies you can switch railways like you can switch trains in other 18xx games).

At the start of each stock round (you have a stock round then 2 operating rounds) to top railway company is removed from the game, so even if the players are not forcing a ‘train rush’ (railway rush in this case) the game will. Start of the game the railway companies are level ‘2’ and generate $50, once these first 4 have been purchased (or removed) then the ‘flip’ railways are available, these are level ‘2’ on one side and level ‘3’ the other, you decide which you want (the level ‘3’ costs more, and is not as good as a full level ‘3’). Once they are all purchased (or removed) then you have level 3, then flip 3/4. Once the first 4 (either flipped to its 4 side or a full level 4) is purchased or removed all the level 2 railways are obsolete and removed. Next are 4/5 flip, then 5, then 6 (which remove the level 3’s), then 8’s (which remove the level 4s). The 8’s are also flip cards – either a $800 railway wit $300 income or a $400 railway with $100 income.

Rather than the typical 20% director share and 8 10% shares, this game each holding company has a 40% director share, a 30%, 20% and 10% share - which makes for some interesting purchase decisions as you have a limit of 9 certificates so really want the higher % shares.

Overall, for a low component, low cost, very portable card game this is a surprisingly good take on the 18xx experience. I was pleasantly surprised – and keen to try it again, initially I thought the limited number of companies and simple stock market would lead to a very shallow game with little re-playability; but my first two games were very different, and we were using the ‘first game’ suggestion of fixed value for the investors. One component lacking is a priority marker, even though the rules refer to it (as does an investor card), we just used a pawn from my spares box.

I just wish the system was extended to support more players, as it is an interesting economic game. I recommend it for fans of games that need thinking and calculation, but be prepared to work through the rules several times before trying to play your first game!

Overview of the rules:

Setup – sort the railroads alphabetically. Each player gets $200. Auction 4 of the investors, the remaining one is returned to the box and both players get its printed value.

Game Play – Stock Round, followed by 2 Operating Rounds, until a Holding Company reaches $350 value, at which point the game ends at the end of that Operating round. Player with the most cash (in hand and share value) wins.

Stock Round – Remove a railway company (not the first round), then starting with the holder of the priority each player may first sell any number of shares they like (if the director sells the price drops 1 box, can’t sell if 50% of shares of that company are in the bank). Then may buy a share (but not in holding companies they’ve sold this round). First share bought must be the 40% director share. The company floats (so operates) when 50% is purchased. Certificate limit is 9.

Operating Round – Companies operate in a fixed order. First place tokens – 1 (maximum) can be converted to a network token, rest are either on a + space or a v space. Then calculate revenue = value of railways + any investor held + network tokens, revenue is either taken in (company receives all of it) or paid out to share holders. If paid out stock price increases one box. Then railways can be purchased and/or investors taken (one per + token), then railway limit is checked, company can hold one railway per v token (excess removed from the game).

Navegador - a review by Neil Walters

As a fan of the rondel mechanic, there was little chance that I was not going to like this game. The only question for me then was, what does Navegedor add to the series, particularly compared to Hamburgum to which it more closely resembles in play, to make it worthwhile buying or indeed playing. Without knowing the precise answer why, I do feel this is a better game than its predecessor. The only thing that I can possibly pin it down on is that Hamburgum seems a tad too scripted in what actions you need to take to do well. From plays so far this certainly hasn’t been the case with Navegador. What I am absolutely certain about however is that I’ve already played Navegador twice as much as ever I did Hamburgum in the four weeks since its Essen release, so that must say something I suppose.

Many of you reading this will know the rondel series well, but for the uninitiated it is a very clever but simple device for controlling all the player’s actions. It consists of a circle drawn on the game board divided into eight segments. With the exception of one particular segment, the Market action, which occurs twice, each of the other six are completely different. In your turn you advance your marker up to three segments (you can move further but it’s prohibitively expensive to do) and complete the action on the segment you finally decide to land on. There is no blocking so you have the freedom to plan your future moves as you wish. It also has the advantage that you can see what your fellow players are up to as well. Tension comes with those actions where there is an incentive to get to a particular segment first, as some actions have a limited number of resources or benefit to pick up, or the resources become increasingly more expensive as cheaper ones have already been taken. In my view it is one of the most innovative mechanics to have come out in the last ten years. It’s clean, simple and totally transparent with the added attraction of very little down time in play. Even in five player games it’s your turn again before you know it.

But it’s not good enough having a great mechanic if the rest of the game doesn’t cut the mustard. No fears here either. Set in the 15th century, you are a Portuguese explorer building a colonial empire. You can explore the seas and oceans going east, found colonies, sell sugar, gold and spices for profits to invest in ever more ships to continue your quest eastwards. Or not. You could also be that “stay nearer to home type” of explorer. After all sailing long distances is time consuming and expensive. So why not hang back a little and snaffle up a few colonies that the others have left behind, and perhaps build lots of factories to process the goods for lots of cash instead. Both alternatives might work and can work. I’ve seen both happen successfully. Along the way you can also build churches to recruit workers, shipyards to build your ships and also obtain privileges for instant cash and future victory point potential. It is a game of maximising the efficiency of your actions both in your selection on the rondel but also the volume of benefits you can manage to reap in a single turn. It is also a game where you have to keep a close eye on what the other players are doing, as the market for selling and processing goods is dynamic. Prices could easily have dropped by the time your turn comes round again. You need to be particularly aware of what your right hand neighbour is selling, and be prepared to adopt a flexible strategy. All this adds up to just my type of game.

On the components front, the wooden and cardboard playing pieces are what you would expect of a modern euro game. The artwork on the board is the very best combination of great to look at and total clarity. To be honest, I’m really struggling to come up with any negatives to say about Navegador. There may be some, but if so they’re not immediately apparent to me. Navegador is not totally original of course, but my feeling is that there is a natural progression in the rondel series and on this evidence the games keep improving as they go along. If you liked Hamburgum, you will certainly enjoy Navegador. If you haven’t tried any of the rondel series before, then I think you should consider treating yourself to this one.

As a footnote, I also need to play Hamburgum again as well just to check it out and remind myself what it does different, perhaps with the new Antwerp expansion that apparently includes some new rules. If I do, I’ll let you know.

Guru note : I am in total agreement with Neil. Navegador is my most played Essen game, every game has evolved differemtly, all have come in at about 90 minutes. The best Mac Gerdts design so far.

Civilization the board game

Thoughts, feelings and first impressions after three plays

I had a very long break from boardgaming, not long after Francis Tresham’s masterpiece Civilisation was released, throughout my twenty year long board gaming hiatus Sid Meier’s Pc series was my game of choice, and when I got back into board gaming iIfelt at home because so many of the choices, attempts at efficiency and conflicting prirorites i had enjoyed in the PC game were present in modern board games – and even better you got to play with real human beings. For me a board game of Civilisation is the perfect subject matter, marrying my love of this hobby with nostalgia for night long sessions in front of the PC racing to build my space ship before the Greeks.


You have watched Drakkenstrike's video so you have a good idea of what to expect in the box. There’s lot of it, its nicely produced and when you get it on the table the overall effect if spectacular. The tiles create a varied landscape filled with cities, buildings, scouts and army figures. Each player needs a fair amount of space for their Civilisation card, pyramid, tokens and army unit cards.

Rule book

Its 32 pages long, its one of the best from Fantasy Flight that I have read and after your first game you won’t have to refer to it more than once or twice. The player aids that come with the game have a useful summary of actions and unit costs; I would like to have seen a player booklet with the techs, wonders and buildings described because until you know the game you are going to spend a lot of time leaning over the board looking at the options. I have printed out Kopernicus’s summary and I’d recommend doing the same, there’s a lot of information to take in and having a print out is much easier than constantly having to squint at the cards or put your arm pit in your neighbours face stretching across the table.

The game

The mechanics and actions are straightforward, however when you sit down to play the game you might now how to do it but you don’t know what to do with it. I was immediately struck by the similarity but difference with the computer game experience. You are in a very familiar world but whereas I might restart my sandbox Civilisation game on the PC on a whim, here you can’t – there’s almost instant pressure to get things right and your very visible opponents sitting a few feet away are plotting your downfall.

Each player chooses one of six civilisations to play, grabs there starting tile and slots on to the world of tiles. The Civilisations have different benefits and starting technologies, in the games i have played the winners have played to the strength of their civilisation, for example the Germans start with an extra two armies and gain a unit card whenever they unlock a tech that gives them a military upgrade - this points them towards a military victory, the Romans move up the culture track when they build a wonder or found a city so a cultural victory beckons. However, it’s not that straightforward, advancing towards all of the victory conditions provides its own benefit and putting all of your ‘meepeggs’ in one basket can backfire, i think it’s worth while keeping your options open until the finish line is in sight. A tech victory is within sight of all the players, and you are not going to progress quickly without adding to your pyramid so it’s one that you always have to keep moving towards. In my three games victory has come by Tech, Culture and Military – no one has got close to a coin victory and i suspect it’s the hardest to pull off.

I won;t going into detail about the game mechanics, suffice to say you build cities, trade with other players (this bit has been fun as players swap resources or agree who will be the beneficiary of a tech effect that helps two players), build stuff or collect stuff with your cities, move and fight, then research one tech. Repeat.

What’s obvious and what’s not

In my first game (and I have seen the same in people I have taught the game to) there seems to be some obvious things you need to do – like the computer game. The first thing is to get some buildings in the 8 square outskirts for your city to boost trade, hammers or culture. It also seems quite important to get technologies out as quickly as you can and to get the second city founded asap. Following these ambitions is not going to hurt you, however it’s not a disaster if someone has got a jump on trade production or hammers because there are two very powerful investments you can make for the future which are not obvious. The first is moving up the culture track, the first time i saw this very long long ladder to victory I wrote it off as too difficult to achieve and the action of devoting your city to the arts as time wasted that could be better spent on improving my industrial machine. I was wrong! Every step on the culture track rewards you with either a culture card or a great person. Both are powerful – and the further you get up the culture track the more powerful the cards become – they give you resources (more on these later), they allow you to swap techs, the can kill off opponents units, impoverish their lands. Moreover they are kept hidden so they have the advantage of surprise. ‘Great Persons’ work like buildings, there are six types and they really give a boost to the city they are placed in. The second thing you can do at the beginning is explore the map and take down the huts. The huts have a random resource which you claim when you move into a hut space and these resources can influence which techs you are going to want to research.

The three options you may take with your city is to build (a unit, a wonder or a building), ‘devote to the arts’ which collects culture tokens or collect a resource from within the city boundaries. In my first game I focused on buildings, however using one city as a feeder by collecting resources from its boundary or scouts you have sent out can feed other Cities Wonder building or culture leaps. Having a city surrounded by buildings helps with trade and hammers, but the resource effects on the tech cards can be a subtler and more efficient way of achieving the same end

What’s not obvious is the tech tree, there a mind boggling 36 to choose from, and most have multiple effects; either unlocking the advance that allows you to buy specific buildings or instantly upgrading them, unlocking new government forms, upgrading your army units, increasing your culture hand size, allowing you to spend a resource or multiple resources to some effect – some technologies do multiples of the above. You also have to plan in advance what techs you want to use, because the tech victory requires you to reach the fifth level of the pyramid your selections become more crucial the further you go up – choosing five out level one techs is not too difficult but you only really have three choices at level three and they must all count. I find myself constantly referring to what techs I have and the tech chart to plan it out as efficiently as possible, you don’t want too many duplicates so researching at techs that incrementally upgrade your units from 1 to 2 to 3 can be wasteful (unless of course there is another effect that you need). In all the games I have played I have missed a few opportunities at some point because by the time you are at level three you might have 6 or 7 resource fired options available to you.

The Czech elephant in the room

Should I face execution on the morrow my last request will be for a Steak and the gaoler to sit down for a game of ‘Through the Ages’. It’s my favourite game, my only 10. Civilization is the officially licensed game of the computer series, Through the Ages is its unlicensed heart and soul in board game form. They are very different games, with a different approach to creating the Civilisation experience; Fantasy Flight’s franchise game feels more like the recreation it is, ‘Through the Ages’ a re-imagining. Combat in Through the Ages is a brutal, Zero sum, affair, it can wipe you out of the game and sometimes it is difficult to spot it coming or prepare for it whereas in Civilisation you see it marching across the board towards you, you can delay it, you can build up, hell you might even get lucky with the card draw. What both games share is a tempo increase towards the end, in ‘Through the Ages’ you are seeding the deck with end game bonuses in Civilization the options explode as more techs layer on to your pyramid and you start to accelerate towards one of the victory conditions. The biggest difference between the two is the need to live within your means, in ‘Though the Ages’ there’s lots of it in Civilisation there’s none. Where TTA is closer to the Pc game in that you have to keep your population happy, fed and plan production so you don’t go corrupt – all when known to the PC devotee. In Civilisation these are taken out of the game, but it’s no bad thing as you have so much else to deal with and my thematic rationalisation is that all I do is set with the constraints of living of a balanced society. There are some small constraints in that if i can only build one starred building (Temple, Barracks, Market) in each city and the level two technology ‘Democracy’ prohibits me from attacking other cities (if only in real life....). In summary ‘Through the Ages’ feels like a Euro, Civilisation is a step closer to the dark side.

Flaws and the lack of them

I have not found any to be honest. It is, in part, a multiplayer wargame, so there is always the problem A bashes B then C bashes A and D has a right good laugh about it. There’s a steep to vertical strategy learning curve – for a four hour game this might be too much for the ‘play it twice’ and move on brigade, the flip of that is that after 3 plays and 12 hours I feel like I am scratching the surface and I want to dig deep into what this game has to offer. Another thing I have noticed slowing up play is the amount of counting trade symbols and hammers players have to do. You should be able to remember it from turn to turn but with so much else going on every turn is Groundhog Day. These are not really flaws, more reasons some people might want to steer clear of the game. I have not found the combat part of the game that exciting (apart from the end game capital city bash) , though it’s easy to grasp and does not take very long. I think given the game takes a long time to play its as good a system as could be fitted into a reasonable game length.


Fantasy Flight makes great games, but i don’t play them very often. I recognise that they are imaginative, often innovative and well produced. My problem is the subject matter – i am really not interested in the fortunes of the inhabitants of Terrinoth or the Warhammer universe, and though, for example, ‘Chaos in the Old World’is a stand out game I battle with indifference towards the’ Nurgle’ and friends. But I do care about the Egyptians, Romans and the rest, and the endless bits and pieces that accompany a big FF game make sense to me in Civilisation. I think Euro gamers whose gaming imagination is engaged by the historical and the real will enjoy civilisation – and if they have avoided FF games to date are in for epic treat. And the rest of the world you know already you are going to love this game