Railroad Honeymoon (Rail Baron for Two)
by Steve Okonski
Ever get in the mood to play Rail Baron, but can only find one opponent with a similar urge? If you have ever tried, you know that Rail Baron with just two players is quite boring. There are enough rails for both players to get just about (or close to) everywhere on the map. What you need is a menage a trois: a third player. But, before you place an ad in the personals, you might consider spicing up your game life with the following variation.
As mentioned, the main problem in a two player game is the overabundance of railroads. You need an easy way to reduce the supply. The solution: create a fantasy third player. For the purposes of this article, let's call her Michelle. For other purposes, imagine she has large Belpaire boilers, and, umm, oops, sorry, let's get back on topic. During the course of the game, periodically give Michelle railroads chosen at random. Here's how: give her one immediately after four railroads have been purchased in the game, then another after the real players purchase two more railroads. Each time the real players purchase two more railroads, give Michelle another (we choose one at random from an upside-down stack of the deeds of unowned railroads). Repeat until the railroad supply is exhausted. So, for example, if you and your real opponent uniformly alternate purchasing railroads, the supply of unowned railroads will eventually dwindle to two. A real player will purchase one of these two, and Michelle will be given the other, leaving each real player with 10 railroads, and Michelle with 8. If a rail is sold back to the bank, subtract one from the number considered purchased.
When you ride on Michelle's network, calculate fees as you would normally for using a third player's railroads. However, pay one half of this fee to the bank, and the other half to your opponent. This fee splitting technique helps to simulate the fees Michelle would pay to the real players if she had an engine in the game. It also helps to retain most of the value of city lockout (monopoly) strategies.
If you are daring, here are a few other variations to consider. If you dislike the randomness caused by the dice, simply eliminate them from movement: assume all movement rolls total 12 (8 for the normal roll, 4 for the bonus). Note that this variation reduces somewhat the value of certain monopolies, such as Miami. With a bonus of 4, a player can safely escape from Miami to the Atlantic Coast Line railroad.
For a quickie, I mean, a quicker game, try any or all of the following. Assume everyone starts with a SuperChief engine. Roll the normal and bonus dice together, and move the combined total. If you roll doubles on the white dice, count both sides (the total is always 14). If you roll triples (the same on all three dice), move 20.
The main variation described in this article makes Rail Baron with just two players a pleasurable experience. In general, self play is not recommended: you'll go blind (from reading those tiny numbers on the payoff chart, of course). But, if you still want to play by yourself, you can get as many opponents as you want via the RB Player computer software for Windows. Download it today from the Rail Baron Fanatics Web site: http://www.insystem.com/rbp/. Satisfaction guaranteed!
While writing this article, Steve's lovely bride, Michelle, was away on a short business trip.