The Naked Green

2008.2.19 Tuesday

Rail Baron Variations

Filed under: General — Mr. Green @ 9.36 pm

My brother, Stevish and I have been thinking of rule variations for a fun, nostalgic and historical game called Rail Baron. It tends to be too long and some random chance and lack of close competition makes the end of the game more of a relief than a good time with family and friends. So, we’ve decided to change that and, so far, have only come up with multiplying all payoffs by 1.5 (My Dad’s suggestion). I like some of the variations I found on the internet, though and thought I’d list some below for my brother and others to peruse.

Stevish also just made a new improved and secure Rail Baron destinator php script to save lots of time getting destinations and payoffs. It’s available for anyone to use, so check it out!’s Rail Baron FAQ has some good common sense answers to rule questions, but some differ from supposed Tournament rulings at the Train Gamers Association website

Draw Variation:

Drawing RR Deeds
A Variant for Rail Baron
by Mike Isom

We have a group of three who play regularly and have been playing for over ten years. Although we occasionally have more players we have added our own variations in the rules to make the game a little more interesting.

At the beginning of the game we remove all deeds that are under $10k and over $20k. The remaining deeds are put face down in a box and mixed up. Each player draws one card and keeps it secret. When someone goes on that line during the game you flip up your card and they pay you as normal. Now the rest of the deeds are mixed in face down. During the game whenever you hit a destination you may draw a card. Your choices are then to pay for it (if you have the cash), keep it until you can pay for it, or toss it back. You can only purchase or draw when you have made a destination. When you get to your next destination you may draw a card as long as you have paid for any you are holding. If you are holding a card to buy and are forced to sell a RR you must also toss the unpaid for one back in the box.

Another thing we added was the “one out insurance card”. It costs $10k and will add one movement point to your turn only if it makes you reach a destination. It can only be used once per turn and can be used on your “in” or “out” move. It can be real handy at the end of the game when you’ve hit a destination very close to home, declared, and are using your “out” to reach home.

Drawing your railroads adds some unexpected twists to the game as you may not connect well very often. Also, someone cannot buy out in front of you unless they happen to draw that line. Holding the secret railroads makes things treacherous from the beginning as several lines are owned but you don’t know which ones. You sometimes end up circling a destination trying to get a good roll to go in on only to find that nobody owned it after all. Since they weren’t in the draw, the very large and very small lines are safe to use. You also pay attention to what’s been drawn and thrown back as you know it’s safe. There is also trying to decide whether to keep a mediocre line or throw it back hoping for something better next draw. The good part is that the other players may well be getting as unbalanced a selection as you are. With 3 people playing I’ve ended up with as few as 4 lines and as many as 15 (I hold the record there). I’ve lost while owning all the good ones and won when I didn’t think I had a chance. It really comes down to the destinations everyone rolls.

Just for some added information- the box we draw the deeds from is commonly referred to as “The Box of Joy” and catching someone on your “secret” railroad is drawing “blood”.

Game start variations:


Fortunately, there is an easy fix via a simple house rule that I call Home Swapping. Here’s how it works: after a player has determined his first destination, but before he rolls to begin movement, he may state he is Home Swapping. This simply means his first destination becomes his home city, and his home city becomes his first destination. He freely teleports his engine to his new home city, then proceeds normally (rolls dice for movement, etc.). For use fee purposes, assume the player is established on whatever RRs serve his new home city. For victory purposes, he must return to his new home city.


There is a house rule you can implement to have create a more fairly balanced start of the match. I call it Pick First Region. Basically, it allows all players the option to pick the region of their first destination, and do so in reverse turn order. Specifically, here’s how:

1) After the turn order for the match has been determined, but before the first player rolls for his first destination, perform the following steps.

2) The player who goes last has the option to pick the region to which he wants to travel. He then rolls to determine the destination city within that region. This is his first destination.

3) Next, the player who goes next to last does the same thing, EXCEPT he may not choose the region of the first player’s first destination. He must choose one of the other regions.

4) Any player who doesn’t like the regions that remain available can, instead, simply roll the dice to obtain a region just like normal. This random method is the only way he can obtain a region already occupied by someone else’s first destination.

Short ending variation:

The worst part of the game is the ending. This says that you have to reach the point where you have $200,000 in cash and then succeed in getting it back to your original starting city. Moreover, you must tell the others when you are commencing this home run. They then interrupt the journeys they are on and try to intercept you. If one of them succeeds, you pay them $50,000 and have to head for an alternative destination. Only after you have done that and again got enough cash can you attempt another run for home. This game of tag can get pretty tedious as first one player and then another is hauled back from the winning post. The cash target is high enough and the game more than long enough without this piece of time consuming nonsense. Fortunately, there is a variant that does away with it. It is the suggestion of Gary Gygax, of D&D fame, and was part of an article on Rail Baron that he wrote for The Dragon. With this you play as normal until the last rail company is bought. You then roll an average die and play that number of complete turns more, ending with the player who bought the last company. Then you tally up: cash plus companies and trains at cost. Richest player wins. He also added in small cash bonuses for locks on various cities, but for that you need copies of the tables in his article and they don’t make enough difference to be worth the bother. Played this way you retain all the most interesting part of the game, but it is much shorter and you avoid the long, slow and dispiriting slide into bankruptcy that is otherwise the lot of those who aren’t doing well.

The Euro (debt) version:

* The 28 Railroad deeds are selected or auctioned and not purchased.

* All players start with an Express Train.

* A Super Chief upgrade costs $20,000.

* The PA has a new value of $38,000.

* The “Home-Swapping” variant is used (Basics: a player may opt to make his first destination his home city, and his previously determined home city his first destination. He freely teleports his engine to his new home city, then proceeds normally). Record the name of your home city as it is used at the end of the game.

* Deed Selection Rounds. A deed selection is required at the start of each player’s turn (before a player’s train movement or trip determination) and continues several game rounds until the following distribution is met:

o In 3 player games, each player selects 8 deeds and four are owned by the bank
o In 4 player games, each player selects 6 deeds and four are owned by the bank
o In 5 player games, each player selects 5 deeds and three are owned by the bank

* Choose a starting player (each player rolls two dice and the high number wins the starting position). During the initial RR deed selecting rounds, the starting position rotates clockwise to the next player from the last starting player after each round. Once the selecting rounds are complete, the player order changes to a normal clockwise rotation beginning with the player to the left of the last deed selecting player.

* Once the deed selection portion of the game is complete, each player should secretly count up his Railroad Network Cost (RRNC equals the total of the printed value on a player’s RR deeds).

* Players cannot auction or sell back to the bank any Railroad. If a player has insufficient money to pay usage fees, he is allowed to receive business loans in increments of $5,000 from the bank. Each $5,000 loan (plus a $2000 interest fee or a total of $7,000) is added to the player’s RRNC total. Loans cannot be asked for in order to pay auction bids or upgrade engines.

* After all players have reached their free required number of deeds, the remaining deeds that are owned by the bank are available for auction. When a player reaches a city and after they have chosen to upgrade their train (or not), that player can call for an auction. The player calling the auction selects a bank owned Railroad and begins the auction with a $500 bid. Once a high bidder has won and paid the bank, the winner takes the deed and adjusts his RRNC total accordingly. RR deeds that are owned by the bank (the ones remaining after all the player selection rounds) do not have to be auctioned and purchased. Some or all may remain owned by the bank for the entire game and usage fees are paid to the bank per the standard rules.

* When a player has accumulated enough money to pay his RRNC, he can declare at the start of his next trip his intention to go home instead of rolling for a new trip. There is no chasing to tax the caught player. The first player to get back to his home city with enough cash to pay the bank his RRNC is the winner.


  1. You and I were doing the same thing today… I wrote up a sheet of all the variations I could find that sounded (remotely) good, including a couple of our own. I tried to split them up into individual rules so that we could pick and choose, and easily communicate which rules we are using and which ones we aren’t. The doc file is at

    Comment by Stevish — 2008.2.19 Tuesday @ 9.52 pm

  2. That’s funny!

    Can you list it in html format, so it’s easier to view?

    Comment by Mr. Green — 2008.2.19 Tuesday @ 9.57 pm

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