Fixing the Pennsylvania RR Problem
by Steve Okonski
Most experienced Rail Baron players know the incredible importance of the Pennsylvania Railroad: the Pennsy gives its owner a roughly 50% chance to win the game. No other railroad comes close to offering such dominance.
The problem is so many people know about this that the game has devolved into a race to buy the PA. The player whose first destination yields a payoff in the $15000 to $20000 range will be able to snap up the PA. Destinations are generated at random, and thus one random element, the dice roll for first destination, has a disproportionately huge impact on the outcome of the game. That's the definition of something broken.
I've invented and tested many possible remedies for this problem, including things such as repricing the RRs, changing the destination probabilities, adjusting RR connections, altering the cost of locomotive upgrades, and more. After much exploration, I've come up with a simple change that helps a bunch.
The change is so simple you might doubt its effectiveness: play as if the B&O extends two dots northeast from Philadelphia, adjacent to the PA, so that it also serves New York.
This is supported by history: the B&O did serve New York, albeit somewhat awkwardly, and had extensive railroad operations on Staten Island, one of the boroughs of New York City. There's a nice description at http://jcrhs.org/B&O.html.
Normally the PA easily tops the list of railroads most often associated with victory, while the B&O languishes near the bottom. As confirmed via computer simulation, this fix helps balance the disparity. After the B&O extension, the PA remains very important, staying near the top of the victory list, while the B&O gets a nice boost toward the middle.
The result is a single luck factor, that of a player's first destination, no longer dominates the outcome of the game. Yes, players might still choose to purchase the PA before the B&O, but now the B&O owner has a fighting chance in the match. The fix rewards skill and opens more strategies.
Copyright 2009 by Intersystem Concepts, Inc. Rail Baron is a trademark of Intersystem Concepts, Inc.