RAIL BARON Board Game- Frequently Asked Questions
This is the official Rail Baron® FAQ. The rule interpretations found below
are those used during the
annual World Boardgaming Championships,
which is host to the largest Rail Baron tournament anywhere. Note: some of
these issues are rather picky and/or esoteric. For RBP computer game
questions, see the software FAQ.
GENERAL RAIL BARON INFO
What was Rail Baron?
Answer: The old Rail Baron was an Avalon Hill board game about acquiring
historic railroads on a continental USA map in order to form the best (most profitable)
network. Players operate trains on the routes and collect money for deliveries
(arriving at assigned destinations). For additional information,
see the game history.
What is Rail Baron® now?
Answer: Rail Baron® is now a registered trademark of
Intersystem Concepts, Inc. (ICI) for its series of railroad-themed games.
Is the old Rail Baron board game currently being published?
Answer: No, it was last produced in the 1980s, then discontinued and
is now long out of print. In 1998, Hasbro Interactive purchased the Avalon Hill game
division from its long-time owner, Monarch-Avalon and ceased sales. Rail Baron®
brand board games of various geographic regions are now produced and
available at this site
Where can I get a copy of the discontinued board game?
Answer: There remain no known sources with stock to sell, but you can
check your local hobby stores for a straggler. Otherwise, you should be able to
buy a used or perhaps even unopened copy by bidding at
It's one of the most expensive Avalon Hill games on eBay and prices
for unused copies sometimes approach $200. Even used copies
in excellent condition can sell for upwards of $100.
We don't know of any source with routinely lower prices.
What other options are there?
I need only the rules.
I have a rules question.
Answer: As publisher of Rail Baron® we maintain the game's official
set of rules. You can send us your question.
Will Hasbro reprint Rail Baron?
Answer: ICI's Rail Baron Fanatics spearheaded the effort for a new boxed
edition which the publisher announced as a "Rail Baron reprint". As part of that
effort ICI has secured rights and going forward will be bringing you more fun content.
Will Hasbro publish a computer version?
Answer: When Hasbro Interactive, the software division of the company, purchased Avalon
Hill in 1998, speculation was that Hasbro would eventually release many of the AH titles in computer
form. But, later in 2000, Hasbro sold off the Interactive division to Infogrames, a French company,
who a few years later sold the rights back to Hasbro. AH authorized ICI to produce the
computer version now available here.
How do I get added to the list of top Rail Baron players?
Answer: The best way is by playing the game at a tournament that
submits results to AREA for ranking.
The annual World Boardgaming Championships operated by the
Boardgame Players Association
is one such tournament, and usually attracts about 50 Rail Baron players.
Generally, you do NOT need to be an expert to play in such tournaments, so
everybody should try one at least once!
BEST RRs IN GAME
What are the best railroads to own in the game?
Answer: The single best railroad on the USA map is the Pennsylvania. In an analysis of over 100,000 matches, the owner of the PA went on to win almost 50% of the time. The next
best railroad is generally thought to be the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.
According to computer analysis, a fair (balanced) price for the PA is around $48000.
FEES FOR OWN RRs
Do I pay the $1000 fee if I ride only my own RRs?
Answer: Yes. The $1000 use fee applies even if you use only RRs that you own. Consider it track and equipment maintenance fees. A house rule that makes riding your own RRs free has become popular; tests with the computer version show it reduces the average game length by about 8%.
ORDER OF ACTIONS DURING TURN
Upon arrival at a destination, can a purchase be made before rail use fees are paid?
Ruling: It seems the answer is yes. Here are the steps:
- 1) roll normal dice
- 2) move train
- 3) if arrived at destination, proceed with step 4; else if no arrival but bonus roll is pending skip to step 9; else skip to step 13
- 4) collect payoff
- 5) make a purchase (if desired and affordable)
- 6) pay for purchase, if any
- 7) if no bonus roll is pending, skip to step 13
- 8) if bonus roll is pending, obtain next destination then proceed with following steps
- 9) roll bonus die (or use previously rolled value)
- 10) move train
- 11) if bonus arrives at (next) destination, collect payoff and make (another) purchase
- 12) pay for purchase, if any
- 13) pay rail use fees for railroads used
Substantiation: From the rules, page 2, Payoffs topic: "As soon as he arrives at his destination, the player collects a cash PAYOFF." Then, from the Purchasing topic: "As soon as he has collected his PAYOFF, the player immediately has the chance to purchase one item from the Bank." From the User Fees topic: "At the end of your turn, you must pay for the rail lines that your pawn used that turn." Since purchasing is clearly part of your turn (it's certainly not part of someone else's!), you do not need to pay rail use the fees until after you are done purchasing.
Significance: By being able to purchase before paying your rail use fees, you can sometimes afford a more expensive railroad than you would otherwise. This could be critical to your network. For example, consider a situation in which your network is good in the east, but weak in the west. You arrive, collect the payoff and then have $40,000. You owe $1,000, but want to purchase the AT&SF. If you had to pay $1000 first you could not afford the AT&SF. However the rules let you pay fees later, thus you can indeed buy the AT&SF and subsequently auction a less important RR (say, the RF&P) to raise the money for the $1000 rail use fee you owe. You lose the RF&P, but gain the AT&SF…usually a worthy tradeoff.
ROLLING THE BONUS DIE
Exactly when is the bonus die rolled?
Ruling: A player with a Superchief engine can roll the bonus die at the same time he is rolling the normal dice. Otherwise, if the player is entitled to it, the bonus die is rolled separately (i.e. after the normal roll has been moved) or is re-rolled if a player already threw all 3 dice by force of habit.
Substantiation: This is the approach approved for use at many official tournaments.
Significance: This speeds up the game slightly as the player can roll 3 dice together and move the total of the roll all in one step. However, it does slightly decrease the value of monopolizing cities because opponents know in advance how close the bonus roll will get the engine to a monopolized destination. This makes it easier for opponents to get as close as possible to the city while minimizing rail use fees paid.
BONUS ROLL FEES
I don't have to pay any fees for rail use during the bonus roll, right?
Ruling: Not precisely. For the bonus roll, you only need to pay fees that are in excess of those incurred during the normal roll movement. The simplest way to deal with this is to wait and calculate all the fees after the bonus roll has been moved.
Substantiation: The rules say "At the end of your turn, you must pay for the rail lines that your pawn used...".
I rolled St. Paul as my home city, but someone else already has Minneapolis as a home city. Is that a problem?
Answer: Yes, you must reroll to obtain a new home city. The same situation can occur in San Francisco and Oakland.
Substantiation: The rules state "the paired cities...represent twin cities - each pair is counted as one city in the game." And later "no players can have the same home city." This restriction seems to have been imported from an old board game named "Across the Continent", and serves no purpose in Rail Baron. What real difference does it make?
There are small map differences in AH's printings of Rail Baron. What should we do about them?
Answer: Play the version you have. The difference is illustrated here.
On the left is the map from Avalon Hill's first printing of Rail Baron (the first printing
can be identified most easily by its box: look for the single large picture
on the cover). Note the dot between Philadelphia and Baltimore.
On the right is the map from the second printing (which can be identified by multiple pictures
on the box cover). It has no dot between Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Which is "correct"? That is difficult to say. The image at right is from BOXCARS, an
old game before Rail Baron. It includes the dot, however notice the lines for the PA and B&O
overlap sloppily in the area, indicating someone may have made a last minute change to
the map. When AH printed their first version, they cleaned up this mess, perhaps also via
a late correction: the route lines for the PA and B&O are roughly drawn, indicating hand
editing of the art work. That hand editing may have accidentally led to the dot's
disappearing trick for the second printing. However, the second printing is the most
recent, and so we must assume it's the "correct" version.
Does it make much difference? An extra dot means the owners of the PA & B&O are at
a slight disadvantage since their trips are longer. But, opponents who ride those
RRs have the same movement disadvantage, and that increases the odds they will have
to pay the PA or B&O owner more in rail use fees. Our conclusion is the net difference
is slight, so simply play according to whichever map you have.
When a player cannot fully afford rail use fees, what happens to his remaining cash?
Ruling: If a player cannot afford rail use fees, he is bankrupt, and no opponent collects any rail use fees from him. As a result, a small amount of cash can remain with a bankrupt player, even after he has left the game.
Substantiation: The rules state "If you don't have any rail lines and cannot pay your penalites, you are out of the game!" Once a player is out of the game, he's no longer there to pay opponents. This also relieves us of trying to figure out what to do with the bankrupt player's remaining cash if he has used the RRs of more than one opponent. Would he pay in the order of use? Pro-rate the amount by player or perhaps by number of dots? It could be calculated and argued any number of ways, and the rules are of no help on the issue.
During an auction, if the seller owes me track use fees, can I use that amount as part of my bid?
Ruling: No, only cash on hand can be used for bidding.
Substantiation: The seller in is debt to you; this debt is an asset of yours, not money. The rules never allow non-cash amounts to be used for purchases. For example, under "Purchasing" the rules say "if he does not have enough money to pay the price, then he cannot buy that item...". Conversely, if assets were allowed in bidding, it could create all sorts of strange situations: for example, auctioning player has $0 cash, owes you $10,000, and auctions his last RR (the RF&P). You have $0 in cash, $10,000 owed to you, and make the winning bid of $3000. But wait, you have no cash, so you can't pay him his $3000! What happens then? Since this converse approach leads to a dead end, and the rules do not state that assets are allowed in bidding, they should be excluded.
AUCTION OF RAILROAD BEING USED
My train was on a railroad that was auctioned. Who receives the use fee my next turn, and how much is it?
Answer: If ownership changes while your train is on the railroad, you pay the future use fees to the new owner. The use fee is the standard $5000 or $10,000, unless you were the prior owner, in which case you are established on that railroad at the $1000 rate.
Substantiation: Fees are always paid to the owner at time the railroad is used. The rules state "who you pay depends on who owned the rail lines when your pawn used them." The $1000 rate is explained in the rules for establishment.
My train ran on my railroad, but I could not afford the use fee so auctioned that railroad. Who receives the use fee, and how much is it?
Answer: After the auction you pay the bank $1000. It was the need to pay the bank this money that triggered the auction, thus you pay as you would had you not been forced to auction.
Substantiation: The rules state "who you pay depends on who owned the rail lines when your pawn used them." The $1000 rate is explained in the rules for establishment.
ALTERNATE DESTINATION IS CURRENT CITY
I just declared, and as my alternate destination, I rolled my current city. Do I lose my turn?
Ruling: Yes, and unfortunately, you are now a sitting duck for the rover play.
Substantiation: The rules say "When he 'declares', the player still rolls for a new destination...". The rules for rolling a new destination state "If he is already in the city he rolls, then he loses his turn that round." The confusion occurs because the rules also say "...the player ignores the 'alternate' destination entirely:". However, notice the colon at the end of that quote; the rules continue on to explain further what they mean by ignoring: "...he may move through it without stopping, and he does not get any PAYOFF for reaching it." Thus, the alternate destination is ignored for purposes of moving and payoffs, but NOT for loss of turn.
Advice: Avoid choosing your current region during the process of obtaining an alternate destination.
ALTERNATE DESTINATION IS HOME CITY
My alternate destination turned out to be the same as my home city. Do I collect a payoff upon arriving?
Substantiation: The rules say "He does not collect a PAYOFF for reaching his 'home city' unless it is also his 'alternate' destination that trip."
Significance: Payoffs are collected before user fees are paid out, so if you are close to $200,000 that extra money might just come in handy. For example, imagine the following (rare) desperation situation. An opponent will win on the next turn. You have exactly $200,000, are 10 dots from home, and are choosing a new destination. Your trip home will cost you $1000, dropping you below the $200,000 needed to win. But, if your alternate destination turns out to be your home city, upon arrival you'll collect a payoff that will cover the $1000 user fee. So, declare and go for it!
MOVING THROUGH OPPONENTS WHEN DECLARED
It's my turn, I'm declared and heading for home, but my opponents are in the way. If I pass through a dot in which they sit, do I get rovered?
Answer: No. You cannot cause yourself to be rovered.
Substantiation: About a declared player, the rules say "The other players then have the opportunity to try to stop him by using the 'rover play'...".
SHARING A DOT WHEN DECLARING
When I declared an opponent was sitting on the same dot as me. Does he rover me automatically?
Answer: No. When it is his turn, the opponent must move to or through the dot (not simply start at it) to rover you.
SHARING A DOT WHILE DECLARED
What about if, while I'm declared, I end my turn at a dot occupied by an opponent?
Answer: When it is his turn, that opponent can rover you only by looping back (in a legal way) to or through the dot.
CAN'T BE ROVERED
I'm declared and ended my turn 3 dots away from my home city of Miami. Can I be rovered?
Answer: No. For an opponent to catch you on a spur, he'd have to reach you, then continue his turn by backtracking along track he already used (assuming, of course, his next or prior destination is not a city on the spur). Reuse of routes is against the rules of the game, so you are virtually immune from rovering at that spot. A similar spur situation exists on the AT&SF near San Diego.
BOXCARS did not have a restriction on route reuse. In 1977 Avalon Hill added the non-reuse rule, and, I suspect, neglected to realize the effect it could have on the end game.
ROVERED IN ALTERNATE DESTINATION
I declared but an opponent caught me via a rover play. I happened to be in my alternate destination at the time. How is this handled?
Ruling: At the beginning of your next turn, you are considered to arrive immediately. You collect a payoff, then begin a full, normal turn (i.e. you could declare again if you still have enough cash).
Substantiation: There is nothing specifically in the rules to handle this rare situation. However, the rules do indicate that "arriving" is part of a player's turn, and thus can only be done during that player's turn.
SELF-UNDECLARE IN ALTERNATE DESTINATION
I was declared but dropped below $200,000 after paying use fees. My pawn ended the turn sitting at my alternate destination. When do I arrive?
Ruling: This is handled in the same way as being rovered in your alternate destination (see prior question).
Substantiation: As the final action of your turn the rules require payment of rail use fees. Once you pay them, it is no longer your turn. You can't arrive until your next turn.
MAXIMUM NUMBER OF RRs PURCHASED PER TURN
What is the maximum number of railroads I could possibly purchase in a single turn?
Ruling: Theoretically, three.
Substantiation: The rules let you make one purchase immediately after collecting a payoff for arriving at your destination. Here's how to make 3 in one turn. #1) If you become undeclared in your alternate destination (see prior question) you start your next turn by arriving immediately, at which time you can make the first purchase. #2) You then obtain a new destination and arrive on the normal roll, and can make the second purchase. #3) You then obtain yet another destination and arrive on the bonus roll, and can make the third purchase.
Significance: Trivia. This is an incredibly unlikely scenario. It is somewhat more likely on alternate game maps that have more railroads, such as US2 (since that increases the odds RRs will still be available for purchase at the time a player is declaring).
INCREASE IN RAIL USE FEE
When does the rail use fee increase?
Ruling: The increase in rail use fee (from $5,000 to $10,000) occurs when there are no more private railroads available for sale. If a railroad has been purchased, but is sold back to the bank prior to the increase, for the purposes of this rule, that railroad is considered to never have been purchased.
Substantiation: Ease of play. The rules state "As soon as all the rail lines have been bought, the $5,000 penalty goes up to $10,000…" Imagine the following scenario: someone buys the RF&P, then sells it back to the bank while some other RRs still remain unsold. The game progresses to a point where only the IC and RF&P remain for sale. Then someone buys the IC. Technically, the use fee should now increase to $10,000 even though the bank still has the RF&P. Why? Because all the rail lines have been bought…the RF&P has indeed been bought this game. The fact that it has been sold back is (technically) irrelevant.
Significance: It's much simpler to see if the bank has any RRs left, and when it does not, increase the fee. I think that was the intent of the rule. Why add a bookkeeping chore to the game?
MULTIPLE RR ESTABLISHMENT / GRANDFATHERING
I was in Chicago when the use fee jumped from $5,000 to $10,000. Am I established on the unfriendly RR I rode on my way into the city?
Answer: Yes, you are established at $5,000 on that RR as well as all the other unfriendly railroads that serve Chicago.
Substantiation: The rules describe only one way to lose establishment: ride some other RR. So, until you move, you are established on all RRs that serve the dot at which your train is located. Once you begin to move out of Chicago next turn, you'll only be established on the particular RR you ride. Bet you didn't know Quantum Physics applies to Rail Baron: read up on "Schrodinger's Cat" as well as the Many Interacting Worlds (MIW) interpretations.
When MIW is considered to represent another, higher-than-3d dimension, it accounts for quantum entanglement: our generation of a particle pair entangles our universe with another universe at a higher-than-3d dimension. The pair of particles remains close to each other at the higher dimension, thus when we measure a property of one of the particles, the other of its pair is close enough at the higher dimension (i.e. the entangled universe) to quickly adopt the state corresponding to what we measured. So, what looks like spooky-action-at-a-distance in 3 dimensions is not far away at all in 4 dimensions. You read it here first (August 5, 2015).
When do I need to announce that I'm close to winning?
Ruling: Only the first time each player crosses the $150,000 cash level is an announcement to this effect needed.
Substantiation: Common sense. "A player must announce immediately he has over $150,000 in cash." Technically, this implies a player must continuously (perhaps each turn) announce if he has over $150,000. Since this would get annoying, and because the rules allow opponents to ask if a player has over $150,000, it makes sense to announce it just once. Besides, this falls into the courtesy section of the rules, and therefore is open to flexibility.
Significance: Frequently, players' cash levels will bounce up and down near $150,000 as they pay rail use fees, collect payoffs, then pay more rail use fees. One announcement is enough to alert opponents that the player is nearing the $200,000 cash level.
After I roll the dice, can I think about how I want to move my train?
Ruling: The rules state you must move your train immediately after your roll, with no pausing to count dots. Since a loophole in this rule lets you count dots to handle every possibility before you roll the dice, we do not enforce this rule. For similar reasons, while you are moving your train, we allow a player to redo a route at any time until he begins to pay rail use fees.
Substantiation: One of the courtesy rules states "You may count dots and trace routes when it is not your turn. As soon as you roll the dice, however, you must start moving immediately – no pausing to count." Most people ignore this courtesy rule because doing so helps to speed up the game. By ignoring this rule, a player can figure the optimal route for just his roll, rather than spending time in advance of his roll figuring a route for EACH of the up to 16 different rolls possible. Does anyone really want the game to take longer? Besides, this is a courtesy rule, not one meant to be strictly enforced. If someone did not move immediately, what would be the penalty anyhow?
Compromise: Once a player lifts his pawn to begin moving it along the route, he must keep moving it non-stop until he consumes his roll. Prior to that (and after the dice roll) he can count dots and plan his route.
Significance: Relaxing this courtesy rule speeds up the game, and reduces the instances of mistaken route use. I would not feel good about winning a game and/or collecting rail use fees because an opponent was rushed to move and used my RR by mistake.
WINNING WHEN BONUS ROLL IS PENDING
Can I win when my bonus roll is still pending?
Ruling: In the following scenario, a strict interpretation of the rules can produce a conflict at the end of the game:
- 1) you are declared and arrive in your home city
- 2) you have $205,000 (winning cash is $200,000)
- 3) during your normal roll, you used another player's railroad
- 4) your bonus roll is pending
Do you win? No. You momentarily have enough cash, but the rules are in conflict here. They state that you win only if you have $200,000 or more after paying all rail use fees. However, they also indicate the fees are not paid until after the bonus roll is used. If you don't use your bonus roll, must you pay the fees? We say yes.
Substantiation: The rules are very explicit that you win only if you have $200,000 or more after paying all fines and penalties for the turn. We handle this conflict by calculating your pending fees, and only if you would still have $200,000 or more do you win (in which case your pending bonus roll is ignored). In the example above, you would not be crowned winner because you owe $10,000 in rail use fees.
WINNING BY ELIMINATING ALL OPPONENTS
What happens if I bankrupt all my opponents?
Ruling: If all opponents go bankrupt, the remaining player is immediately declared the winner.
Substantiation: Logic. It is not documented in the rules.
Significance: Only for the computer version. Computers need to worry about all the possibilities, even the extremely unlikely ones. To date, we know of only one such match in which this happened.
PAYOFF CHART ERRORS
What should be done about the errors in the Payoff Chart?
Ruling: There are several errors in AH's Payoff Chart. For example, the chart shows two different values for a trip between Miami and Jacksonville: 3.5 and 3, depending upon whether you scan across or down the chart. We use a value of 3, since it is the one below the "zero diagonal".
Substantiation: AH's USA payoff chart states that the payoffs are "the same no matter which is the destination city or the start city." We use a value of 3, since it is the one below the "zero diagonal" where all the other payoffs are located. Consider getting the improved chart.
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Rail Baron is a registered trademark of Intersystem Concepts, Inc.