Break Time — Pluto Scarab Rails

A few years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to a board game called Empire Builder. The player is in charge of a railroad and is competing against the other players, who are also running their own railroad lines. Given a limited supply of money, each player has to build track, move his or her train, pick up goods, and deliver them to towns that demand them. The particularly neat thing about Empire Builder (outside of the fact that it was a train game, which gets bonus points in my book) is that each player is given a crayon, and the player’s railroad line is literally drawn on the board! The board has some sort of special coating that allows crayon to be erased. Consequently, the game has affectionately been given the nickname “Crayon Rails”. The success of the original game spawned a host of sequels, including maps in various regions of the world such as Europe (Eurorails), a fantasy version (Iron Dragon) and even the moon (Lunar Rails)!

Fortunately for us, Bret Mulvey has created an excellent freeware Windows game (based on Eurorails) called Pluto Scarab Rails. Rails runs under .NET, so you will need to have the .NET framework installed to use it. Rails includes a fantastic random map generator, an easy to use interface, and competitive AI so it can be played solitaire.

Upon starting the game, you begin with 50 million euros and no track. Mouse-hovering over various cities show the goods that they produce. To the right of the game board, you will see all of the contracts available. These contracts represent the current demand for goods. Hovering over a contract will show you the city that demands the good, along with all the cities that produce it. You make money by fulfilling contracts (that is, picking up a load of goods from the city that produces them, and deliver them to the city that demands them). Of course, to get there, you will have to connect the two cities with track, which costs money. And, of course, your competitors are also building track. Once two adjacent pieces of land are connected, that route is “taken”. So grabbing up non-mountainous, non-bridge routes before your competitors is important! Once you deliver a contract, the contract, along with the two bottom contracts are replaced with new contracts (note: contracts you are in the process of delivering may disappear when this happens, so be careful which ones you select, and in what order you deliver your cargo).

Your beginning train has 2 cars and a slow steam engine. Once you have picked your starting spot, clicking on the train icon allows you to upgrade either the number of cars or the engine type of the train for 20 million euros.

The game ultimately is a game of optimization. You have to decide where to build track, where to drive your train, what goods to pick up, and how to most efficiently deliver them. The game comes with brief, but excellent documentation. I suggest you give it a quick read-through before beginning. The average game takes a couple of hours, but can be changed by lowering or raising the amount needed to win.

Thanks, Bret, for a fantastic version of a wonderful board game.

Go to: Pluto Scarab Rails website

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