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Railroad Rivals: The Robber Baron

Mastermind mergers. Dabble in inside trading. Loot companies. Do what it takes to give you a step up and amass a powerful, unstoppable railway empire for yourself!

Railroad Rivals: The Robber Baron is the first expansion for the railway tycoon board game and is currently on Kickstarter. So what, exactly, does it add?

Robber Baron cards

Gameplay

Railroad Rivals is a railway-themed game in which each round players start by bidding for first player in the turn order, using their points to pay. City tiles and stock tiles equal to the number of players are drawn and players take turns selecting one each until every player has one city tile and one stock tile.

Players then take turns adding city tiles to the board, matching railway line names written along the edge of the tiles in order to legally place them, and placing one of their train meeples between the two matching railway names on the two tiles to show they control it. A number of goods cubes equal to a number on the tile are then drawn from a bag and placed on the tile. After all players have played a city tile, each player may ship a single goods cube from one city tile to an adjacent city tile along a railway line controlled by a player. Players earn points for shipping goods and for having their railway line used. The stock of a railway used also moves up one point when it is used for shipping. Stock tiles earn you points at the end of the game.

Railroad Rivals: The Robber Baron increases the player count to six and adds several new elements and rules and suggests that players should treat these elements as modular, choosing some or all of them, to create the experience that works best for them.

With the advanced buildings, each player starts with a hotel and a water tower. When it is your turn to ship goods in a round, you may choose to place one or both of these on any tiles that do not already have matching buildings. A player owning a hotel on a tile earns one point when a goods cube is delivered to it. When you deliver a cube to a tile with your water tower on it, you may move the cube again, to another connecting tile (you only score points once for the delivery, but both railroads used will increase in stock value). Once you place a building, you cannot move it.

There are two sets of advanced tiles: advanced city tiles and advanced stock tiles (or "stock shenanigans" as they are called), both of which are shuffled into the respective city and stock decks and are drafted like regular tiles.

Stock Shenanigans

The new advanced city tiles are the Transcontinental Railroad (each side of which is treated as wild and can connect to any railway line), the New Industry tile (which is played during the deliver goods phase and allows you to refill any city with a new batch of goods cubes), the Railroad Headquarters (you discard it to allow you to make two delivers on a turn), and the locomotive upgrade (this is placed in front of you and earns you an extra point for each of the goods you deliver).

Stock shenanigan tiles generally allow you to manipulate stock drafting or a railway’s value, such as letting you buy any stock tile from the draw pile, giving the player five points and removing all of a single railroad's stock tiles from the game (you need to own more tiles in that line than any other player), allowing you to merge two companies together so that they earn points as one, or allowing a player to draft an extra stock tile that round.

Finally, at the end of the game, the advanced rules allows each player to make two deliveries, and players also score one point for each of their railways they control on the board.

Wood tiles

First Impressions

The risk of expansions is always that they will overcomplicate the base game. In this case, the modular aspect of Railroad Rivals: The Robber Baron ensures that players have control over how much they want to add and how much they wish to keep the same.

You can personalize your experience easily. The stock shenanigan tiles, for example, have some powerful effects that should significantly change the outcome of the game, but they’re also easy to add or remove as you desire. While the advanced city tiles offer smaller additions, they do have some helpful abilities with a little less impact. In addition, the building tokens add an extra layer to the shipping/delivery phase of the game, that also forces you to think more strategically about your tile placement.

It’s also great to have more flexibility on player count, and the player turns are fairly fast in Railroad Rivals, so a six player game isn’t going to be onerous or too slow.

This isn’t a huge expansion, it adds some extra tiles and a few building tokens, but it seems like it would compliment the base game nicely. It adds a little more strategy without throwing in too many rules, and its modular aspect means you can tailor it to your game group. As always, we recommend focusing on the base game and only adding in expansions once your group feels the need to enhance the game. But if you're already into Railroad Rivals, be sure to check out The Robber Baron on Kickstarter and see for yourself if you wish to add it to your railway empire.

Disclosure: this preview is based on our first impressions of a draft of the rulebook and game components, which are subject to change prior to publication. We received a modest payment to write this article.