PAMPAS RAILROADS - Reviewed by Mike

Category/Format: Business/Board Game

Very intriguing railway building game from Martin Wallace, set in Argentina. Players bid for stock in 6 railroads, expand their networks, develop certain features on the map to make the networks, drawn in by crayon on the laminated board, even more valuable and then declare dividends to the shareholders of the various railroads. This sequence of events occurs until a total of 9 dividends have been paid, after which a Final payoff is calculated and the player with the most money at this stage is declared the winner.

Of course things are not that straightforward on several counts. Firstly, the money bid when buying stock goes into the railroad's treasury, not their own. In subsequent phases players will use this money to extend the network of this railroad and connect to various features on the mapboard.

Alternatively they will use some of their own personal cash to develop a Mine, Town, Port, City or Metro area, which will increase the value of any railroads that connect to the developed facility, thereby increasing its appeal on the stock market. Each of these developments are subject to a cost, and certain restrictions, which have been very cleverly thought out by the designer.

A game round evolves around the players use of the Action Deck, which consists of just 12 cards, these being split in the following distribution : 5 Construct Track; 4 Develop Settlements; 3 Offer Stock. The players choose one of these options, execute it and it is then removed from play for the current round, thereby reducing the options for subsequent players. Once there is only one Action Type left the current round ends.

For Construct Track the railroad will pay $5 for each length of track built, paid for from its treasury. As the track connects to a feature on the board the Railroad Income chart is updated to reflect it. This is important as it determines the amount of money players receive when dividends are calculated(see later).

For Develop Settlements the first such action is free; the player may choose to use their own personal money, at $3, to finance further expansion. They will choose features that are on railroads in which they have a stock holding, or perhaps intend to gain one in a subsequent turn. The development is recorded by marking it on the map in crayon.

For Offer Stock the players will offer up more stock in a railroad that still has stock bonds available, in order to replenish its treasury. However it does not necessarily follow that they will be the winning bidder for the stock, so care must be taken in getting your bid just right.

Paying Dividends. This is done 9 times throughout the game and is the means by which players gain cash to finance their expansions and bids for more stock. It is calculated as the current Income divided by 5 and rounded up. It is sometimes worth considering investing in another development to tip the Income level over to the next threshold e.g 55/5 = 11, 56/5 = 11.2, rounded up to 12.

As the railroad networks develop you have to be careful that ones you are 'nuturing' are not cut off from their sought after destinations by the other players choice of action. If you have stock in more than one railroad( a highly likely scenario) you can increase the value of all of them if they connect to the same development that you have can enhanced. Another thing to consider is the amount to bid for any stock. You might think you've done well to get a stock for say $8, but when you try to expand the network for this railroad later it's $5 per section so the $8 only buys you one extension....better to have bid at least $10 in the first place!

This is all very clever stuff with players having to constantly evaluate their position. It builds nicely to a climax in about 2 hours, slightly longer on your first game as you get used to the mechanisms. The effort is well worth while, as it gives a rewarding gaming experience and Martin Wallace can be proud of his design.

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