Author: Richard Berg
Publisher: Against The Odds
Style: Historical Themed Boardgame
Page Count: 52+rules insert (Magazine)
Available Formats: Print (Ziploc) & Print (Boxed)
Print (Ziploc) – Through magazine subscription only
Print (Boxed) USA – $49.95 (includes shipping)
Print (Boxed) International – $74.95 (includes shipping)
Against the Odds (ATO) Magazine is a periodical within the wargaming community and has been a staple for quite a number of years. Each issue published includes a single wargame (typically) and a whole slew of interesting articles on a variety of topics of interest to wargamers and history buff alike. Additionally, each year they publish an “Annual” issue which usually has more robust articles and can include two complete games. Confederate Rails was featured in the 2016 Annual issue. In September of this year, 2018, it became available for purchase. So, sit back and let’s take a ride on the Confederate Rails.
Confederate Rails: Railroading in the American Civil War 1861-1865 is a 2-5 player game that allows the players to operate the historical railways of the Confederate States of America (CSA).
The object of the game is to be the player with the most money when the game ends. To earn money, the players will undertake contracts to deliver Loads from one place to another, for which they receive a Payout.
As the game progresses, they will spend their hard earned money on a variety of competing necessities:
• train operation
• repairing broken Trains and line segments
• usage of opponents’ lines
• paying bribes to other players to do things (or not do things), which is fully allowed at any time
• various onerous penalties
While all this is happening, the Civil War is going on. Aside from the many outside events, this introduces, it means that the rail network will gradually shrink over the course of play—rather than growing as in most rail games. The trick is, when you have the chance, to make sure that it’s your opponent’s ability to deliver goods that shrinks, not yours.
Confederate Rails begins just as the War starts. It takes about 3-4 hours to play, depending on your familiarity with the system—as well as how quickly the Union defeats the Confederacy. (Section 1 of the rules)
The overall production quality of ATO magazines and their respective games is always above average and Confederate Rails is no exception to that standard. The game map is printed on a nice durable paper stock and has a nice clean appearance. The “player” areas on the map that serve as player mats are nicely arranged and easy to use during gameplay. The counters are laid out well on the countersheet and the die cutting was nice and centered. The counters themselves are easy to read and color coded. Colorblind players will notice that each set of player counters also include a suit or symbol. This thoughtful touch makes the game more approachable to a wider audience.
In the production quality standpoint, I wish they had included a printed set of player aid cards (PAC) (2 of them) separate from the rules in the magazine. The PACs are nicely laid out and well organized, but to facilitate gameplay, I had to photocopy them from the magazine. Not a show stopper by any means! I do want to point out that the PACs have three printing errors/anomalies that we found during play. Of three, two were anomalies that appeared to be legacy items from playtesting and should have been caught during editing. The third is an error. The PAC calls for a specific pick up location for cargo (Pendleton, SC), but that location is not on the map. After consulting with ATO support and the developer, the PAC should have said Anderson, SC instead of Pendleton, SC. Not a show stopper, but something that would have been good to know going into our first game.
Aside from the errors just mentioned, I am very pleased with the overall production quality of the entire package.
EXAMINING THE RULES (rules can be downloaded here):
The rules of Confederate Rails are not overly complicated and handles from 2 to 5 players with ease. Players will strive to collect the most amount of money by the end of the game, like most train games. What sets this game apart is the simplified mechanics.
There are three prime mechanics at play in Confederate Rails. I will describe these in more detail below but know that there are other rules at play as well. I’m just covering the big three. It should also be noted that there are advanced optional rules included with the game for players seeking to play a longer, tougher and more “what if?” style of game.
Cargo movement – The entire premise for the game is to get contracts to pick up and move specified cargo from one location to another. During setup, players will take on contracts that they will start the game with. Each player, in turn, takes a contract that they want to “secure” and will place their “pickup” and “drop off” counters on the designated locations. During gameplay, designated trains will move from their current location (see next section) to the specified pickup location and proceed to move on this and future turns to the drop off location. Once the cargo is dropped off at the drop off location, the player is paid the specified amount of money for that delivery. Players will then secure another contract by randomly drawing a “load” counter from the draw pile and then accepting it or selecting one from the “available” box if they do not like the one from the draw pile. If the counter from the draw pile is not excepted, it is placed in the available box and the counter that was taken from the available box is placed on the player card. This all pretty straightforward, but there are random events mixed into the draw pile that, if drawn, have to be played and the player will then have to draw another counter on a subsequent turn. If for some reason, a player wishes to abandon a load on a specific train, they may do so, but it costs $300. This is particularly useful if one of the necessary locations has been taken over by the North or now behind the front lines.
Physical movement of trains – Each train, the number of which varies base on the number of players, is permitted ten (10) movement points (MP) on each turn. Moving from location to location cost 1-point of movement, but there are a number of factors that will increase the cost to enter or exit a location. Your ten movement points can be used up very quickly in heavily congested rail lines. Here are some examples of increased costs: 2 MPs per location on another player’s rail line (if you haven’t paid the one-time usage fee), +2 MPs when you have to “overland” transfer cargo or enter a station that has a congestion marker, +1 MPs to use a ferry, to pick up a load, to drop off a load or abandon a load, and there are a few others. As previously mentioned, your MPs will be used up quite rapidly. It’s import that load selections are smartly made in an attempt to mitigate some of the additional MPs spent when possible. Overland transfers and ferries were a real thing during the Civil War period. Rail companies were very territorial and protective of their lines, stations, and depots. Rail gauges could differ from company to company, thus having usage agreements to share resources and equipment is needed.
The War – The third big thing going on in the game is the Civil War. When any event counter is enacted or any War Material load is undertaken, a roll on the War Progress Chart is required. A simple 2d6 roll is made and the chart is referenced. The chart will specify one of the following: a specific station is now under Union control, the rolling player gets to choose where to place a Union-occupied marker (there are placement parameters that have to be adhered to), the player has to pick one of the unoccupied victory stations, or no station is taken. This mechanic forces players to battle a diminishing rail network which increases the movement costs due to congestion, abandonment of load due to locations being no longer in play, and worse yet, the removal of a train caught behind the front line.
As I stated above, there are other rules at play, but these are big three that really impact the game in a big way.
A very interesting topic that’s not covered in any other train game
Elegant game design
A rail game that does not force players to build rail lines
Smooth gameplay once the rules are internalized
Well written and very concise rules
Some train game enthusiasts may not appreciate the “no-building” approach
Play can bog down when deciding which load to take under contract
GAMEPLAY FEEDBACK (from the players):
One of my players has provided some really great comments on his play experience. I have included his comments verbatim. The following comments by Pat Daily:
Overall, a solid game, I liked the historically correct setting, kind of like Ticket to Ride with war and actual economic and logistical realities added in. I like the events that occasionally help certain players but usually hurt, adding risk and a growing sense of urgency as the Union takes over depots.
I like that war-related loads are worth more and soldiers have priority and can’t be refused.
With a few exceptions, the map is easily read and becomes easier to navigate once you’ve played a couple of rounds.
Movement is a little fiddly, with several modifiers to keep track of as you move along the lines, but the players can keep each other honest by paying attention to transfers and who owns what lines. After a couple of turns, it goes much faster, but you still have a lot to keep track of.
That said, the player aids are well done. They help keep track of loads, pick-up points and drop-off points, although the chits on the map itself can easily get lost in the stacks. Using the player aid charts and the railroad company cards in conjunction with your players load track is crucial for locating your chits in the map. This is the only real drawback in the game, but with a full play through, it got easier as we went. A second play through would be much faster and subsequent games would be easily played in half the time.
We played with three people and since we were learning, we helped keep track of each other’s moves, loads and locations. A full 5 player game would add a fair amount of complexity to movement due to line ownership and stacking limits, but that is to be expected and not an issue, just something to note.
We only noticed 2 errata, one load going to a depot not on the map as far as we could tell, unless the listed depot was in error, but all the cards and player aids agreed on the location. Another depots name was shorted in the player aid, making it harder to find scanning the map with the full name.
Map and chits were well made, though I personally think brighter colors in the chits would have been easier to see/differentiate. The symbology on the chits was nice and with the muted colors a necessity for color-blind players, heck, even for people that aren’t.
I had fun and I would play again and definitely recommend this game to fans of historical games and wargames looking for a change of pace. Sorry I was so slow getting this to you.
Confederate Rails is a breath of fresh air in the world of train games. It gives you a historical perspective not found in any other train game (that I’m aware of) and by doing so, it places players in situations to make some really hard decisions. I personally enjoy games that force me to make tough choices and live with those consequences, good or bad. This game is one of those game, at least for me. We found the rules to be very well written and very concise. Once we had played two full turns we really had a good grasp of the rules which sped up gameplay. Speaking of gameplay, the game can bog down slightly when players are choosing which load contracts to accept, both during initial setup and during the game following a load drop off. We all like the idea that certain war materiel contracts had to be accepted regardless of the other rules; this played heavily into the overarching theme of the game.
The long and the short of it is, we thoroughly enjoyed our play through and we’re planning to play it regularly. The plan for repeated play is due in part to the fact that we all like train games, but more so to the fact that it is just a damn good game. It plays well and has a refined, elegant, and light complexity ruleset. After 20+ years in development, playtesting, and trying to appeal to a company to bring it to market, it better be a good game!
If you like train games or Civil War-themed games, I suspect this will be a game you’ll enjoy for years to come!