Rail Baron Tournament Results – Avaloncon 1998
by Steve Okonski
Each year about 1000 board game enthusiasts make the pilgrimage to Baltimore for Avaloncon, the Avalon Hill Game Company's annual game convention. Attendees seem to particularly enjoy Avaloncon's notable dearth of commercialism, and its serious (but fun!) tournaments. Based on the number of participants, Rail Baron is one of the most popular games at Avaloncon. My friend, Paul Van Bloem, decided to keep detailed notes of this year's Rail Baron finals. Based on his information, I've written a "play-by-play" of the game that I hope you will enjoy.
As Game Master for Rail Baron, Chuck Foster oversees the scheduling and arrangements of the tournament. Initially, Chuck's plans were to have 25 first round winners play 5 semi-final games, with the 5 winners advancing to the final. However, so many people competed (over 100) that there were 30 first round games. The 30 winners advanced to 6 five-player semi-finals matches. The six winners who advanced to the final were (in turn order): Cathy Kratz, Chuck Foster, Mike Pantaleono, myself (Steve Okonski), Eyal Mozes, and Larry Kratz.
The final featured 66 rounds of play with an exciting finish in which three of the four remaining players had victory within their sight. As you read, see if you can predict the winner. The game was played with the "roll-and-move-immediately" courtesy rule enforced strictly, which added to both the tension and the length of the match.
At the start of the game, everyone's first destination was safe, except for Cathy, who was forced to go to Portland, ME from her Salt Lake City home. Mike was first to arrive (Minneapolis to Billings) but to everyone's surprise, chose an express instead of the B&M. Of course, at that time he could not know there would be a total of six visits to Portland and Boston. Eyal also arrived (Richmond to Detroit) during round 2, and grabbed the B&M. During Round 3, despite a $5,000 payment to Eyal, Cathy was able to afford the NYC. Steve arrived (Louisville to Fargo) and purchased the NYNH&H. The next round, Chuck arrived (Spokane to San Antonio) and purchased the PA.
It did not take long for two players to encounter difficulties. Steve had the misfortune of rolling Portland, ME next, and before he could get close, Mike bought the B&O, and Eyal the C&O. Larry witnessed firsthand the problem of going last in a six-player game: by the time of his first arrival (Norfolk to Pocatello) the closest RR he could get to the important Northeast region was the N&W. During the course of the next three rounds, Steve traveled to Portland and then unfriendly Detroit, paying out $25,000 in the process, which quickly reduced his game position to one of survival.
The game proceeded fairly typically. In round 12, Larry rolled Rapid City. Cathy was the first to arrive afterward, and grabbed the C&NW before her husband could get on it. By round 15, the RR ownership was as follows: Cathy: NYC, D&RGW, C&NW; Chuck: PA, WP, ACL, UP; Mike: B&O, IC; Steve: NYNH&H, RF&P; Eyal: B&M, C&O, SAL, AT&SF; Larry: N&W, SOU. Larry did not get to keep the SOU long, auctioning it to Cathy during Round 17 for $16,000. Meanwhile, Cathy was travelling from Richmond to Pocatello, both unfriendly destinations, and she was only able to afford the T&P as her next purchase. The final RR did not sell until Round 27, after about 2.5 hours of play. The holdings at that point were: Cathy (50.6%, 0.8%): NYC, D&RGW, C&NW, SOU, T&P, MP; Chuck (71.5%, 2.8%): PA, WP, ACL, UP, NP, CB&Q, SLSF; Mike (47.7%, 1.2%): B&O, IC, L&N, SP; Steve (19.7%, 0.0%): NYNH&H, RF&P, GN; Eyal (59.9%, 4.5%): B&M, C&O, SAL, AT&SF, CMStP&P, GM&O; Larry (19.0%, 2.0%): N&W, CRI&P. The numbers following each player's name indicate the percentage of cities served by their network, plus the percentage they monopolize (i.e. control access to).
With the RR use fee increased to $10,000, both Larry and Steve found themselves unable to maintain their holdings. In Round 30, Larry was also forced to auction the N&W; Cathy got it for $19,000. In Round 31, Steve auctioned the RF&P to Chuck for $10,000. In Round 34, Steve auctioned the NYNH&H to Eyal for $19,500; at the time it seemed a high price, especially for a RR unconnected to the main part of his network, but Eyal did not want Chuck (who had the PA) or Cathy (who had the NYC) to get it. Even Mike, who visited three unfriendly destinations in a row (Fort Worth, New York and Jacksonville), had the creditors banging on the door and was forced to auction (IC to Chuck for $21,000) in Round 37.
By Round 39, both Steve and Larry were barely hanging on, with Larry auctioning his last RR, the CRI&P to Eyal for $29,500. Steve soon thereafter netted $42,500 by auctioning the GN to Cathy who had lacked access to the Northwest. Larry survived until Round 43, and Steve until Round 47. The match was now down to just four players. In Round 50, Chuck was the first to announce reaching $150,000; Cathy did so in Round 53, and Eyal in Round 55. Chuck proceeded to make a trip to Albany and then Miami, neither of which were friendly. Cathy did similar, travelling to unfriendly Phoenix and Des Moines. Meanwhile, Eyal had one unfriendly trip (San Antonio), but was in and out on the same turn. Most players chose to pay Mike, when possible, because he had not yet announced, and had only three RRs (B&O, L&N and SP).
After San Antonio, Eyal traveled to friendly Oakland, arrived during Round 61, and the $19,000 payoff made him the first to reach $200,000. His next destination was Buffalo, a cross-country trip, but a city not far from his Richmond home. As in the semi-finals, it was easy to tell when a match was nearing completion: all the players now stood, and would remain standing for the rest of the match. During the same Round 61, Cathy arrived in Houston, and Chuck in Boston; both now had approximately $175,000. Cathy's next destination was Portland, OR, and Chuck's was Birmingham. For a moment, it looked like Eyal would win easily, but Chuck made it all the way to Birmingham on his next turn, and rolled Pocatello as his next city, just 8 dots from his Spokane home. Chuck's bonus 6 out of Birmingham, followed by a 10, put him on the UP just 9 from Pocatello. Meanwhile, Eyal worked his way across the continent to a position 7 dots from Buffalo, which was 9 from his Richmond home.
Someone was going to win this game soon, and the tension built as Chuck planned his next move. Recall that the roll-and-move-immediately courtesy rule was in effect, meaning Chuck had the unenviable task of planning in advance what he would do on every possible roll. Cathy was heading for Portland, and might have enough cash to declare and make a run for her Salt Lake City home. However, Chuck was more concerned about Eyal, who would probably arrive next turn, and with no opponents in the vicinity of Buffalo, would be able to declare without risk of being rovered. Chuck lacked the same luxury because both Cathy and Mike were not far away. Ideally, he wanted a roll that he could consume on the way to Pocatello, thereby delaying his declaration until the next round; this would give him a three-dice roll to move 8 to Spokane. After about 5 minutes of planning, Chuck rolled: 9, plus a bonus of 1. The 9 would get him to Pocatello, but then he'd have the 1 bonus left over!
Due to the pressure of the roll-and-move-immediately rule, Chuck was unsure if it was possible to consume his entire roll and arrive exactly on 10, and so he diverted north via the Billings connection. Eyal then rolled, but failed to get into Buffalo with a bonus to spare. He did collect $28,000 though, which gave him over $220,000, enough to cover the $20,000 cost of his shortest way home. Chuck then rolled a total of 9, arrived in Pocatello, and collected $20,500, putting him over $200,000; he declared on his bonus roll, and moved to a position just 7 from his home. The game now rested on Eyal. He was 9 from home. As expected, Eyal declared while departing Buffalo; he proceeded to roll a 10, just one more than necessary to reach home and claim victory! It was an exciting finish to a well-played almost-six-hour game. It turns out Chuck made the right decision when he diverted through Billings, as he would have been rovered otherwise.
I hope you enjoyed reading this game recap, and hope you can join us at the 1999 convention. Due to the planned acquisition of Avalon Hill by the Hasbro game company, a new group, the Boardgame Players Association, will operate the 1999 convention. Please consider joining the BPA (link below) and participating in the planning of the new convention. In the meantime, if you want to practice for next year's tournament, download a copy of the RB Player computer version from the Rail Baron Fanatics Web site (link below).
BPA Web site: http://www.mindspring.com/~roll_tide/bpa/bpa.htm
Rail Baron Fanatics Web site: http://www.insystem.com/rbp/