Union Pacific Strategy Guide

by Pat Brennan and comments (in italics) by Mark Jackson

I've played the game over 20 times now, mainly because the family keeps clamouring for it and its an excellent game to introduce to non-gamers. There is luck in the game of course (and some gamers may scoff that a strategy guide for UP is a contradiction in terms) but managing that luck is the key. A lot of it is just good gaming practice, but here's how I do it.

1. Initial investment card
Play as low a card as you can, but only if you've got a good chance to get two more trains built for it (check your track cards).

2. Second investments
If you can get another line or 2 to yourself, excellent, otherwise invest on other people's lines to stop them getting 1st/2nd combos and get them to defend. This is preferable to trying to be first in 5 stocks - you only have so many builds (roughly 18 to 23 with 4 players) which means you can only build one or two lines to its max anyway.

3. Get your cards down early and quick
Especially in the first phase! It's preferable to tie with someone (get some money yourself, cut their money) than to hold on for another card to make a coup for first place, only to not get a chance to get them down as the scoring card comes up. It also forces them to defend while you do something else.

 4. The rule of three
If you can get a collection of three cards in one stock invested early, people will ignore that stock for most of the game as its too much effort to chase - until it gets real big anyway by which time you'll have been able to pick up some for defense.

 5. Diversity is good
You want to own one top tier line (green, red, yellow) with blank / clear track (the most common track card) or two middle tier lines (preferable as easier to defend) throughout the game so that you always have something to build on (rather than building on other people's tracks). It's good to diversify with the kinds of tracks you own (a good combination would be yellow (open/black track) and light blue (white/dashed track)) so that you never have a useless track card.

 6. Invest on lines that are owned by the player on your left
You'll get first play at the cards he wants as the other players leave them until your turn.

 7. Never pick up cards for stock that is going nowhere
It's better to be second in a big red line that someone else is building for you than first in a gold line of size 3 that you don't have time to build on.

 8. Make every card pickup count
It's better to pick an average card from the draft than be stuck with a potentially useless card in your hand. Make each pick up count - 'the bird in the hand is worth two in the deck'. Conversely, the element of surprise should not be underestimated, particularly against card-counters. This strategy probably varies depending on one's opponents.

 9. Go hard for UP
Once you have three or five cards invested, go hard for UP until you're up by 2 on your nearest competitor, usually even if it means foregoing a place in a stock line (assuming most popular variant of swap card in hand for UP in buildphase). You can always reclaim the line later, you can't reclaim UP. Once you have a lead of two, swap UP for UP to run down the stock. As UP have different backs than normal stock cards, holdings are public knowledge and you can always ask how many other players have.
Here's where I jump in and disagree... I'm one of those folks who believes that the most important thing in UP stock is "not last".

 10. What if the first scoring card is late?
If the first scoring card is delayed, get all your cards, even UP, invested. How often have two scoring cards come out before you get another chance to play? Countless. And its a game breaker if you're the one invested and others haven't, so go for the chance. Conversely, if the first dividend card comes out very early, keep in mind that there won't be another one for fifteen or so draws, giving you a good opportunity to draw a big hand and weed out the useless cards to trade for UP. But don't get caught before you can declare them all!

 11. Best offense is a good defense
Hold a card in your hand of a stock you're leading in for defense, letting you play other investments / builds until someone forces your hand (so to speak) to invest it to maintain first place.

 12. Pay attention
Naturally watch what other people are drawing and plan accordingly.

 13. Don't bother trying to get half of all the cards of any one line
Some will be discarded for UP, some will be at the bottom of the deck and won't come out. A lead of 1 or two with a card in your hand is safe enough. The only exception to this would be the very small lines (6 or 7 shares), where people appreciate their value and may be reluctant to trade them for UP stock.

14. Cut off your opponents
Hem in opponents lines if possible (usually not, but sometimes). Build your lines so they can't be hemmed in.

 15. More UP advice
Coming first or second in UP is ok ... after that you'll need to hit the UP leader's stock investments to catch up ground. Hope they're on your left. If not, don't get in that position in the first place! Never, ever, be caught without one declared UP stock after the first dividend card comes up. The loss of income is inexcusable.
This time, I agreee with Pat - it's criminal to miss out on the UP cash, even if you don't get much of it.

 16. Treading water
If you lead in two lines and could build either, take note of who is in second place for those lines: if it's different people, try to alternate building one, then the other on successive turns. This way you get a $2M gain, while they only get $0.5M each. Conversely, if you are behind and in second place on two important lines, and first place is owned by different people, you can effectively tread water and build on them alternately; you are giving them money but you are also giving yourself an approximately equal amount. This strategy works better the more lines you can devote to it. (But it chews up the draw deck, so don't pursue it for too long.)

 17. Don't have more than 4 stock in your hand
You WILL get caught sooner than later.

 18. First in UP, first in two other lines, a few selective seconds...
Or not... how about: middle in UP, first in one line, lots of seconds & ties?

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Page Last Updated: 4/10/03