RAIL BARON - Frequently Asked Questions by Steve Okonski
Last update March 2002.
This is an unofficial FAQ for Rail Baron, Avalon Hill's classic railroad
boardgame. As with most board games, the printed rules for Rail Baron contain
several gray areas. 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.
GENERAL RAIL BARON INFO
What is Rail Baron?
Answer: From the box, "Rail Baron is Avalon Hill's trademark for
its empire building game." Rail Baron is a boardgame about acquiring historic
railroads on a 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.
Is Rail Baron currently being published?
Answer: In 1998, Hasbro Interactive purchased the Avalon Hill game
division from its long-time owner, Monarch-Avalon. Hasbro has been selling the
existing game stock it obtained in that deal, but apparently sold out of Rail
Baron early in 2000. In 2002 they turned over responsibility for AH games to
their Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) division. We're waiting for news from
Hasbro/WOTC if they are going to redesign and republish the title.
Where can I get a copy of the boardgame?
Answer: Most sources have sold out of their stock, but check your
local hobby stores for a straggler. Otherwise, you should be able to buy a
used or perhaps new copy by bidding at eBay.
Will Hasbro reprint Rail Baron?
Answer: Rail Baron was one of AH's most popular boardgames, was a
top seller at Amazon.com, and had been "in print" since 1977. If you want to
see Hasbro/WOTC republish Rail Baron, you can try to voice your opinion via
their (very difficult to use) Web site at http://www.avalonhill.com/.
Will Hasbro publish a computer version?
Answer: When Hasbro Interactive, the software division of the
company, purchased AH 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. This will
likely delay computer versions of all Avalon Hill games. Presently, an
authorized shareware version of Rail Baron exists as RB Player.
How do I get added to the list of top Rail Baron
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 from 50 to 100
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 an incredible 50% of the time. The next best railroad is generally
thought to be the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.
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.
ORDER OF ACTIONS DURING TURN
Upon arrival at a destination, can a purchase be made before rail use fees
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
- 9) roll bonus die (or use previously rolled value)
- 10) move train
- 11) if bonus arrives at (next) destination, collect payoff and make
- 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 that 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. This will leave you with no money to pay the use fees,
but you can then auction a less important RR (say, the RF&P) to raise the
money. You lose the RF&P, but gain the AT&SF…usually a worthy
ROLLING THE BONUS DIEExactly 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).
Substantiation: This is the approach approved for use at many
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 FEESI 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 to the same owners 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...".
TWIN CITIESI 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."
BANKRUPTCYWhen 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
Substantiation: If a player goes bankrupt (cannot afford rail use
fees), the rules state that he is immediately out of the game.
Immediate means what it says. It 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.
AUCTION BIDDINGDuring 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 USEDMy train was on a railroad that
was auctioned. Who receives the use fee next turn, and how much is it?
Answer: If ownership changes while your train is on the railroad,
you pay the next use fee 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 current owner. The
$1000 rate is explained in the rules for establishment.
ALTERNATE DESTINATION IS CURRENT CITYI 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
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 CITYMy alternate destination
turned out to be the same as my home city. Do I collect a payoff upon
Substantiation: The rules say "He does not collect a PAYOFF for
reaching his 'home city' unless it is also his 'alternate' destination
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 $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 DECLAREDIt'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
SHARING A DOT WHEN DECLAREDWhen 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.
ROVERED IN ALTERNATE DESTINATIONI 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
SELF-UNDECLARE IN ALTERNATE DESTINATIONI 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: The last step of your turn is to pay use fees. Once
you pay them, it is no longer your turn. You can't arrive until your next
MAXIMUM NUMBER OF RRs PURCHASED PER TURNWhat 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
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 FEEWhen does the rail use fee
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. This is a VERY picky one. 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 / GRANDFATHERINGI 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
ANNOUNCINGWhen do I need to announce that I'm close to
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
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.
IMMEDIATE MOVEMENTAfter 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
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 PENDINGCan 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? You have enough cash. 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
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 OPPONENTSWhat 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,
I know of only one such match in which this happened.
PAYOFF CHART ERRORSWhat should be done about the errors in the
Ruling: AH's Payoff 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
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.
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