Steam: Rails to Riches is a three to five player game, possibly best with four, that can be expanded to six or even reduced to two players through some expansions. Steam: Rail to Riches is about building a network of railroads and delivering goods from one place to another.
Players get to build and upgrade in various different ways along with issuing shares, delivering goods and making money and collecting victory points. Ultimately, there is a lot going on in a game of Steam and players will have to balance conflicting possible decisions and perhaps try to second guess what opponents might do.
A typical game takes around 90 minutes or, put another way, around 20 to 30 minutes per player, so is in what many think is the sweet spot for game length.
There are actually two games in the box, and two boards, both of which can either be used with the base game or the standard game. The base game is a little simpler and more forgiving, the standard game is more challenging.
It is probably worth noting that Steam: Rails to Riches is a reimplementation of Age of Steam which in turn grew from a previous game. In this sense, it is a refinement of what was already a good game and has gone through revision and changes to become the game it is now.
It is also worth noting that many of the third party expansions for Age of Steam are also perfectly usable with Steam: Rails to riches, giving a wide variety of game boards and different scenarios which obviously adds to replay-ability and variety.
The two-sided board has cities, towns and terrain on it. At its simplest, each turn cities produce a variety of different goods and players earn income/victory points for delivering these goods to another city which desires specific goods. In order to do this track needs to be laid to connect the cities and then the goods need to be moved along that track to the destination city. Sounds simple enough, but the elegant design forces players to make a decision as to how, when and where to move those goods.
In terms of gameplay, I’m going to concentrate on the base game since this is the game a player will likely start with and I will reference the differences in the Standard game afterward.
Depending on the number of players the game will have between seven and 10 rounds. Each round consists of six phases:
- Select Action Tiles – I’ll come back to these later (below).
- Build track – Place three track tiles on the board according to various rules and costs.
- Move Goods or Improve Locomotive – Better locomotives can travel further increasing potential income and victory points.
- Collect Income and pay expenses.
- Determine turn order – See Action Tiles (below) other than for turn one for which there is an auction.
- Set-up new round – Seeding cities with new goods. Return previously selected Action Tiles.
Action Tiles. These are the heart of the game, each round players can select one action tile, and that tile has a specific effect. Choose with care.
- Turn Order – Play first next round.
- First Move – Move goods first in the move goods phase.
- First Build – Build tracks first in the build tracks phase.
- Engineer – Play four track tiles rather than three.
- City Growth – Add extra goods to a city.
- Locomotive – Upgrade Locomotive.
- Urbanization – Upgrade a town to a city during the build track action.
As I said, the Action Tiles are the heart and soul of the game. Choose with care, plan, and maybe even consider what your opponents might want or chose. Consider manipulating turn order. All of these tiles have powerful effects, and some will result in greater wealth and/or victory points than others, and bear in mind that just because someone else took the Engineer does not mean only that player then gets to reap the benefits when it comes to moving goods.
The game concludes after the collect income and pay expenses phase of the last round, the winner being the player with the most victory points.
The standard game adds a few refinements and makes the game more challenging and less forgiving. The differences are:
- Turn order is determined by auction with the Turn Order Action being a free pass.
- Capital (issuing shares) can only be raised at the beginning of the round. In the base game, it can be done at any time.
- Locomotives cost money to maintain.
In either version, there is plenty of strategy involved. Not just in the Action Tiles, but in laying track, especially since the track is owned by a specific player. Track can be used to block another player from a specific city.
Goods can be “stolen” - making them unavailable for opponents. Whilst maximising victory points is the objective, there is sometimes benefit in taking a few less especially if it reduces those available to others.
Upgrades and Expansions
There are plenty of expansions available, including many of those for Age of Steam which are fully compatible with Steam: Rails to Riches.
The board is full of colour, is on good stock and is durable. The tiles are solid enough. The wooden components are more than acceptable. It’s nothing immensely special, but it’s thematic, pretty and clear. The rulebook is clear and illustrated, as would be expected in any game by Martin Wallace, it is well designed and constructed.
Final Thoughts on Steam: Rails to Riches
Steam: Rails to Riches is an excellent game. The reversible board gives two options for play, and the combination of base game and standard game, plus with all the expansions available there will always be something new.
The only random factor is the seeding of goods onto the game board, this is sufficient to keep things interesting and is just about the right amount of random. It’s not the simplest of games, but not particularly difficult to learn or get the hang of either, and it does not have a steep learning curve, especially so with the base game which I do recommend.
The play is reasonably quick, without a lot of downtime between things for each player to do. There is a lot of strategy and decisions to make, in selecting Action Tiles, in laying track, in moving goods. It’s challenging, reasonably deep, thematic, competitive and most important it’s fun.