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Subject: WIP: Iron Horses (for Quick Print and Play Design Challenge) rss

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Patrick Rael
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redtraingreentrainbluetrainyellowtrain
IRON HORSES

It is the age of iron and steam. Metal behemoths tame the frontier, leaving settled communities in their wake. You are a captain of industry, seeking to expand your burgeoning railroad empire. Your tools are the railroad cars produced by you and your fellow magnates. Draw cards and place them wisely to earn big points. Vie for control of public railroads and stock to earn extra bonuses.

In Iron Horses, players compete to build the most lucrative railroad trains using a special deck of cards. Each player starts with one train, consisting of a locomotive engine and a tender full of coal. Players will add cars to these trains. The cars themselves are produced by four manufacturing companies, each owned by a player. Some types of cars (a passenger coach, a cattle card) are more valuable than others (like simple boxcars). And adding cars to your train in the proper color order earns bonus points. Don't forget about the public lines, though, which earn points for the players who have contributed most to their construction. Finally, you may purchase stock in other player's train lines,

Ages: 10+
Players: 2-4
Time: 30-45 mins.
Weight: Light

Tags: Trains, card game, hand management, card drafting


Files:
redtrainLatest ruleset (pdf on google docs)
greentrainCard files (pdf on google docs)
bluetrainCard backs (pdf on google docs)
yellowtrainScoresheet (pdf on google docs)


Strategy and design notes:

The inspiration for this game was my discovery of a cool little font composed of woodcuts of nineteenth-century German trains. I had just finished "Plantation" for the contest, and was fiddling around with graphics for a baseball game a friend is developing — and then these appeared. It seemed like a natural to put these trains on cards, and the central mechanic of the game — the following bonus — came just as naturally. All the rest (the drafting mechanic, public line, and stock options) flowed from trying to make the game play like a game — that is, with strategic depth and interesting decisions. (It's always amazing to me how much rules mortar is necessary to cement together the core ideas of a game into something consistently playable. What seems like a little idea turns into something much more.)

I'm happy with the way the game plays. It's fairly clear and fast, though players confront some deliciously difficult moments and decisions. Two elements make this happen: the action/drafting mechanic, which means that there's a very high opportunity cost to every action taken, and the point structure, which directs players to balance a range of competing priorities.

Clearly, the first objective is to try to put together private lines that score lots of points. Optimally, you'll try to fill your hand with high-point cards of the best color and type. Acquiring the two 4-cards (hoppers for red and green and cattle cars for blue and yellow) can be extremely valuable. It's possible to score 41 points on a private line; I've seen trains score in the high 30s.

But when things aren't working out so well for your private lines, there are viable alternatives. The public line is a good way to turn useless cards into points. And we've found the public stock variant to add markedly to three- and four-player games. If you're able to bring this to the table with your group, I strongly suggest adding those rules.

Obviously, this is still a work in progress. I'm particularly interested in thoughts on the point system. Balance is the obvious issue here, but it's also important that any scoring at the end not feel too fiddly, or too inconsistent with the basic principles of the game. BGGers have blessed me with many useful comments so far, and I'd appreciate anything further that might improve the game.


Iron Horses game page on BGG.
This game was an entry for the Quick Print and Play Design Challenge
Please check out my other Quick PnP Design Challenge entry: Plantation
Forthcoming: box art, tuckbox, player aids for back of scoresheets.

Edit: Updated with current rules of play, links to images and files.
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Sturv Tafvherd
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You may want to have a unique icon for each color; just in case the printer doesn't print out the right shade, or in cases where the player(s) are colorblind.

 
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Patrick Rael
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like TtR. good idea.
 
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Sturv Tafvherd
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Right now, without the rules but just using that basic mechanic, I actually like the stark simplicity of it. I'm thinking I can play just this basic mechanic with my son and his cousins (ages range 3 to 6). In a sense, it's like a game of Uno and/or Spit.

So, what intrigues me now are the engines and tenders, and how they might be used to make the game more interesting. At the risk of butting into the game design, I'm going to make a stab at guessing what the rules would be:

Setup: The entire deck is shuffled into a deck. Each player draws a hand of 3 cards. The rest of the cards remain in the deck.

The regular flow of the game would simply be a choice between:
-- draw a card (or two?) from the deck
or
-- play a card (or two?) onto a line.

If the player plays an engine, he claims the entire line (pick it all up and set it aside)

The game ends when a player has played the last card in his hand.
The value of cards in your hand count as negative points to your total.


Some possible twists (but will require changing the cards) :

-- Have each engine score a bonus for having a certain combination of train cars (must be in the right sequence). For example, 2 boxcars and a coach, in that order.

-- Have each engine score a penalty for having a certain train cars. For example, that engine that gave a bonus for boxcars and coach would also give a penalty for a cattle car.


edit to ask: Are you from North Carolina? I live in Charlotte. I noticed the graphics ... but maybe that "North Carolina" just happens to jump out on the background
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Patrick Rael
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thanks for the thoughts,Sturv! just so happens i was uploading rules tonight.

i tested it last night, and like the way it's shaping up. it's one of those games where players amass points in different ways, but that creates many competing objectives. i haven't extensively tested the "public stock" option, but will do so with my game group on thursday.

i love the ruleset you developed. amazing how such a different game can emerge from the same deck. and i like that the game could be played in a way suitable for little ones. thanks!
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Patrick Rael
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i'm working on a set of "public shares" optional rules, but they're not yet ready.
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todd sanders
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nice artwork there
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Patrick Rael
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thanks -- means a lot coming from you!
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Sturv Tafvherd
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Wow, I wasn't expecting an "economic" twist. Interesting! I might have to skip some of that when I play with the young'uns ... but then again, you never know what they'll pick up.
 
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Patrick Rael
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it's pretty mild, actually -- more like introduction to area control than actual economics. don't play w/the optional "public stock" variant and the little ones should do fine. with them, you could raise the hand limit to 6, draw blind off the deck instead of using the drafting mechanism ("draw array") and ignore the rule about drawing engines. enjoy!
 
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Patrick Rael
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updated rules and files now up.
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Martin Ethier
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Hey this games look great!

I've read the rules and had 4 questions.

1) Is starting a private line part of the "Play a card to a private line"?

2) Start a new public line without a tender allow for playing cars directly to engine. Is the train unlimited in this case?

3) Scoring of private shares. I'm confused. Is your example worth 2 points (1 per car of your color as the text says) or 8 points (sum of the value of the cars of your color as the image shows)?

4) Am I right to assumed that the tender drawing pile will be empty with 4 players and thus action 2 will never be available in this case?
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Sean Forrester
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Google Docs says I don't have permission to open the score sheet pdf...
 
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Patrick Rael
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curious. says it's shared.... here's the link -- perhaps i messed it up in the WIP above. i'll check and fix it....

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&...

thanks for bring it to my attention.

edit: yes, i messed up the URL. should work now.
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Patrick Rael
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Quote:
1) Is starting a private line part of the "Play a card to a private line"?


OMG i neglected this! will fix the rules by sunday night.
starting a new private line is an action. you must start with an engine, and immediately take the top card off the tender deck. if a tender card is not available, you may not start a new private line. instead, you may spend this action to discard an engine card in your hand and replace it with a car card drawn blindly from the top of the car deck (if you draw another engine, repeat the action until you draw a car card).

Quote:
2) Start a new public line without a tender allow for playing cars directly to engine. Is the train unlimited in this case?

yes. thanks for this. will update rules.

Quote:
3) Scoring of private shares. I'm confused. Is your example worth 2 points (1 per car of your color as the text says) or 8 points (sum of the value of the cars of your color as the image shows)?

that's my mistake in the rules. the cars are worth the total *value* of the cars. i will update the rules.

Quote:
4) Am I right to assumed that the tender drawing pile will be empty with 4 players and thus action 2 will never be available in this case?


another rules mistake that i must fix. two car cards, not tender cards, should be dealt to each player.

this will leave 8 tender cards in the tender deck, as 1 will be with the public line.

my apologies for the mistakes, and thanks for your incisive read. this is what happens when you squeeze design work in at the end of a long day. but this is also why it's a WIP.
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Martin Ethier
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prael wrote:

my apologies for the mistakes, and thanks for your incisive read. this is what happens when you squeeze design work in at the end of a long day. but this is also why it's a WIP.


No problem. Been there and done that. The whole reason for this contest is to encourage help each other out. Just doing my part . I look forward to try your game. Good luck with the rest of the design.
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todd sanders
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a few observations:

the last line on page 3 (and probably all of play action #3) should be moved to page 4. i was confused about what example text went with what example image until i figured out the one on page 3 goes with the top image on page 4.


why doesnt the game setup image show a private train engine in front of each player?


1. draw a card
i assume option 3 is only if there is a hole to fill in the draw array.
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Patrick Rael
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thanks, Todd, for the useful comments.

Quote:
the last line on page 3 (and probably all of play action #3) should be moved to page 4. i was confused about what example text went with what example image until i figured out the one on page 3 goes with the top image on page 4.


gotcha. will do.

Quote:
why doesnt the game setup image show a private train engine in front of each player?


thanks. already noted and fixed.

Quote:
1. draw a card
i assume option 3 is only if there is a hole to fill in the draw array.


correct. i'll add wording and re-arrange to make it clear.

thanks for the help!
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Patrick Rael
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playtested again tonight with 4 players, and learned a lot. we figured out new ways to score public lines, and worked through the private stock system. i think i'll add that into the regular rules, as it added a good bit of game value.

might do a mini-retheme around the public line, as it scores on a different principle than the private lines. perhaps a single card (rather than taking up an engine and tender card) that depicts a train station....

now i just need a few hours of free time before sunday @ 10pm.
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Martin Ethier
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3 observations/questions on the latest set of rules.

1) Example 1 of scoring p. 5: Should the blue car be worth 5+3 points? So a total of 28 points.

2) Example 2 of scoring p. 5: Should the yellow player get 14 points (8 for the station and 6 cards played)?

3) Variant: What happen if there is a tie for first? Similarly, what happens if there is a tie for second? I assumed tied player for first would share the points for 1st and 2nd place (hence no second place). Similarly, I assumed that tied player for second place would share the points for the second place.

Look forward to trying your game .
 
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Patrick Rael
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thank you so much, Martin!

you are correct on all counts.

1+2) i updated examples and blew it on the details. will add an errata to the WIP page and post new rules once voting ends.

3) absolutely. make sure to round down.

hope you enjoy. if you play, please post your thoughts here, positive or negative. and i'm happy to take suggestions, particularly on the scoring balances.

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No problem. Will do.
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Martin Ethier
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I’ve tried the game a 4 player game with 3 fellow gamers of mine. We played with the public stock variant. It is a very interesting design. We especially liked the art and the many different ways to score points.

General observations:

1) The component list should be updated (8 engines, 8 tenders and 2 stations).
2) In the examples of valid play, I don’t see how a tender could be played after another tender. We never have tender in our hand unless I’m mistaken.
3) Scoring example 1: The bonus for the blue card should be 2 so its score should be 5+2.
4) Scoring example for the variant is confusing. We are scoring yellow by looking at cubes of other colors. I think what was meant is to say that blue player has 2 yellow cubes, green player has 3 yellow cubes and red player has 1 yellow cube.

Specific observations:
1) We came across a problem due to the rule of everybody discarding a card when an engine is not taken. What happens if nobody ever takes the engine? We decided that if the engine was left for a whole turn, it was removed from the game.
In our game, late in the game, an engine came up due to player D drawing a card from the array. Player A had 4 cards in hand. Player B and C had 1 card and player D had none. Player A could not take the engine, so everybody lost a card (only A had cards left after this). Player B didn’t want the engine as there was only a few turns left and many other more profitable actions to perform. Everybody lost a card (only A at this point). Same thing for C and D. So A ended up with no cards even though he had 4 and there was nothing he could do about it. At that point we removed the engine altogether because nobody wanted to take it.
May I suggest to either 1) Remove that rule; 2) Make it that if an engine appears the rule can be applied only once by the player whose turn it is; 3) Make it that a player has to take the engine even if he has 4 cards in hand. I prefer option 2.

2) Another thing happened is that nobody wanted to draw at the end of the game. When there is only 2 cards remaining, there is no reason to draw as it means that you will probably not have another chance to play that card anyway. Only the player drawing the last card may play it if he has room in this train. So the second to last has no advantage to drawing. This means that players will perform any other actions until somebody is forced to draw because it ran out of actions. It drags the game unnecessarily. May I suggest removing the rule which allows for playing the cards immediately and allowing all players one last turn instead.

3) As it is a Car of a color (let’s say yellow) is always bonified by 3 if followed by a car of the same color (yellow again). This means that it is always always better to play cars of your own color if you can (because they score their base value twice plus a bonus of 3 for you and you alone). I would like for the cars to be more diversified in the bonuses present and rarely be bonified for playing the same color. Thus forcing players to play cars of different color and making combos of cars of the same type even more joyful to play.

4) The station was almost not used (2 cards only) as we though the gamble was too great. Maybe it would be good if not only the player with the highest value had points it would make it more profitable. Furthermore, I don’t see any real advantage of starting a public train. You are losing a turn to let, most likely, others profit from it. Two stations seemed enough.

Those observations had important repercussion on gameplay but should be easily fixed. It does not change the fact that this game has lots of potential. Good job!
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Patrick Rael
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Martin,
Thanks so much for playing, and for these helpful responses! I'll add rules fixes only to the "errata" section of this WIP page. (I don't think it's in the letter or spirit of the contest rules to change anything now.)

Quote:
1) The component list should be updated (8 engines, 8 tenders and 2 stations).


Thanks.

Quote:
2) In the examples of valid play, I don’t see how a tender could be played after another tender.


Correct. This was a holdover from an earlier iteration. Errata updated.

Quote:
3) Scoring example 1: The bonus for the blue card should be 2 so its score should be 5+2.


Already noted in errata.

Quote:
4) Scoring example for the variant is confusing. We are scoring yellow by looking at cubes of other colors. I think what was meant is to say that blue player has 2 yellow cubes, green player has 3 yellow cubes and red player has 1 yellow cube.


I'll clarify the text. Something like:

Quote:
Scoring the public stock of the yellow company:
The green player wins, and so receives 12 points. The blue player, in second place, earns 6.


Next:

Quote:
1) We came across a problem due to the rule of everybody discarding a card when an engine is not taken. What happens if nobody ever takes the engine? We decided that if the engine was left for a whole turn, it was removed from the game.
In our game, late in the game, an engine came up due to player D drawing a card from the array. Player A had 4 cards in hand. Player B and C had 1 card and player D had none. Player A could not take the engine, so everybody lost a card (only A had cards left after this). Player B didn’t want the engine as there was only a few turns left and many other more profitable actions to perform. Everybody lost a card (only A at this point). Same thing for C and D. So A ended up with no cards even though he had 4 and there was nothing he could do about it. At that point we removed the engine altogether because nobody wanted to take it.
May I suggest to either 1) Remove that rule; 2) Make it that if an engine appears the rule can be applied only once by the player whose turn it is; 3) Make it that a player has to take the engine even if he has 4 cards in hand. I prefer option 2.


Thanks for this. The point of the rule was to create an incentive to pick up engine cards, so they could not clog up the draw array. I was hoping to do this in a way that introduced a little group psychology ("I don't really want that card, but if I don't take one for all of us, will the next guy take it?"). We didn't come across this in playtests, but I'm glad you did.

It does sound like a modification is necessary. When you say "Make it that if an engine appears the rule can be applied only once by the player whose turn it is," then it only applies for the player turn immediately following, right? Hmm, We'll have to play this out.

Quote:
2) Another thing happened is that nobody wanted to draw at the end of the game. When there is only 2 cards remaining, there is no reason to draw as it means that you will probably not have another chance to play that card anyway. Only the player drawing the last card may play it if he has room in this train. So the second to last has no advantage to drawing. This means that players will perform any other actions until somebody is forced to draw because it ran out of actions. It drags the game unnecessarily. May I suggest removing the rule which allows for playing the cards immediately and allowing all players one last turn instead.


I wondered if this would be an issue. My hope was that a player thinking himself in the lead would just end it. That's what happened in our games.

So the suggested replacement is that once the last card is drawn, all players get one last turn?

Quote:
3) As it is a Car of a color (let’s say yellow) is always bonified by 3 if followed by a car of the same color (yellow again). This means that it is always always better to play cars of your own color if you can (because they score their base value twice plus a bonus of 3 for you and you alone). I would like for the cars to be more diversified in the bonuses present and rarely be bonified for playing the same color. Thus forcing players to play cars of different color and making combos of cars of the same type even more joyful to play.


This is a very good idea. There should be a 0 bonus for following with a like color, and the 3 bonus should instead go to a different color. Because you're right: I still want to reward players for playing their own color (through the private stock bonus), but the scoring is unbalanced with the following bonus accruing as well to the player's color. Thanks!

Quote:
4) The station was almost not used (2 cards only) as we though the gamble was too great. Maybe it would be good if not only the player with the highest value had points it would make it more profitable. Furthermore, I don’t see any real advantage of starting a public train. You are losing a turn to let, most likely, others profit from it. Two stations seemed enough.


The idea behind the station was to have a useful place to play cards, so your hand did not get cluttered. I wanted to do this in a way that introduced some additional game tension. It did in our games, but that was with a weaker private stock bonus. So it turns out to be an issue of scoring balance. I'll rework the scoring system.

Along with adjusting the way following bonuses work, I think this will balance things much better. This is probably what I'll use for scoring public trains:

Quote:
2. Score public trains
For each public train, determine the winner. The winning player is determined not by reference to the value of car cards players have played, but by considering the order in which they played cards to the public line. The first position is worth one point, the second two, and so on.

The total value of positions is calculated, with the winner scoring the most. In case of ties, the winner is the player who first played a car to the line. The winning player receives a bonus of eight points (the value of the station, if it is present), plus one for each car card played to the line. The second place player gains (rounded up) half of the raw number of points that he placed on the train. There is no station bonus for second place players, or if a public train was started without a station.


Again, I thank you, Martin, for the giving the game a serious test, and for taking the time to make your comments. This is just what I hoped for.


Edits: typos
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Martin Ethier
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Quote:
Already noted in errata.
p. 5: Scoring example 1. The blue car is a coach, and hence is worth 5 points, not 2. That makes the total value of the card 5+3, or 8, and hence the total value of the train 28 rather than 25.


Actually the errata should read:
p. 5: Scoring example 1. The blue car is a coach, and hence is worth 5 points, not 2. Furthermore the bonus for following card is 2 and not 3. That makes the total value of the card 5+2, or 7, and hence the total value of the train 27 rather than 25.

Quote:
I'll clarify the text. Something like:
Quote:
Scoring the public stock of the yellow company:
The green player wins, and so receives 12 points. The blue player, in second place, earns 6.


When the contest is done, it would be nice to change the color of the cubes to all be yellow.

Quote:
Thanks for this. The point of the rule was to create an incentive to pick up engine cards, so they could not clog up the draw array. I was hoping to do this in a way that introduced a little group psychology ("I don't really want that card, but if I don't take one for all of us, will the next guy take it?"). We didn't come across this in playtests, but I'm glad you did.
It does sound like a modification is necessary. When you say "Make it that if an engine appears the rule can be applied only once by the player whose turn it is," then it only applies for the player turn immediately following, right? Hmm, We'll have to play this out.


Exactly, only the player playing immediately after an engine is revealed would have the option of not drawing it to make everybody lose a card.

Quote:
I wondered if this would be an issue. My hope was that a player thinking himself in the lead would just end it. That's what happened in our games.
So the suggested replacement is that once the last card is drawn, all players get one last turn?


Well as soon as one card from the array can't be replaced, everybody has one last turn of play.

Quote:
The idea behind the station was to have a useful place to play cards, so your hand did not get cluttered. I wanted to do this in a way that introduced some additional game tension. It did in our games, but that was with a weaker private stock bonus. So it turns out to be an issue of scoring balance. I'll rework the scoring system.
Along with adjusting the way following bonuses work, I think this will balance things much better. This is probably what I'll use for scoring public trains:
Quote:
2. Score public trains
For each public train, determine the winner. The winning player is determined not by reference to the value of car cards players have played, but by considering the order in which they played cards to the public line. The first position is worth one point, the second two, and so on.
The total value of positions is calculated, with the winner scoring the most. In case of ties, the winner is the player who first played a car to the line. The winning player receives a bonus of eight points (the value of the station, if it is present), plus one for each car card played to the line. The second place player gains (rounded up) half of the raw number of points that he placed on the train. There is no station bonus for second place players, or if a public train was started without a station.


So If I got that right if the second place winner played a 2 and a 5 valued car, he would get 4 points. Alternatively, everybody could get those points but only the first place winner would get the 8 + number of cards bonus.
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