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Continental Rails: A Review of a PBM Game

by Kyle Greenwood

Early Spring 1998/Vol. 5 No. 1

Do you enjoy playing 18XX games but do not have enough players around you to fill up a game? You can join Continental Rails by Graaf Simulations and join the universe of Play By Mail with this exciting railroad building game. If you've never heard of PBM before, then let me describe it for you. In this game you and up to 14 other players across the country are robber barons who try to extend their rail empires from the coasts to the Mississippi by bidding for Private Companies and Right Of Ways.

The object of the game is to finish first in the 6 categories. "Robber Baron" points are received for having the highest net worth at the end of each turn. The frustrating thing about this game is that usually once someone gets to the top spot it is hard to cut them down because they can borrow more and buy more and keep their place, if you are not in the top 5 quickly try for another category or try to organize other players to knock someone down (a real challenge!) by short selling their stocks so that their net worth will drop. "Rail Mogul" receives points for being a director in different railroads and when dividends are payed by the RR's while you are president. "Rail Builder" receives points for extending railroads to new regions. "Rail Magnate" gets points for controlling railroads that connect to many regions. "Rail Prodigal" is the one who gives away the most money each turn. The last category is "Rail Baron" which is a composite score of how a player is doing in all the categories.

When the game starts off there are 6 active railroads and 20 Private Companies. The six active companies are the SCL and C? in the south, N? and B? in the middle and PENN and NYC in the north. Each turn you may control two railroads if you have the most stock or if you are a director and no one else wants to control it. You may also bid for or hold two private companies. The first action you want to take is to decide which Private Companies you wish to acquire. When you own a private Company you can merge it into another railroad or incorporate it and run it. Only the B? has no Private Companies next to it, the others have two or more that they may merge with. Private companies cost $5 per track mile minimum but bids go much higher.

The first turn you start with 3% of the six active companies $1000 in cash and credit of about $1000. You should always borrow as much as you can from the bank, it allows you to bid more and is quickly made up in further borrowing power. Since there are only six railroads but fifteen players alot of Private Companies are incorporated in the second turn so thatpeople can run them. You must decide if you want to go that route or try to obtain control of the active railroads. If you want to control an active railroad then you should bid for the Private Companies next to it. Always bid even if it is the minimums because if everyone is bidding for other things, then you make out like a bandit! The next phase is stock trading.

If you do not get one or both of the Private Companies that you bid for, then your money is still available for bidding on stock. If you want to go for "Builder" and "Magnate" then the NYC or the B? are your best bets. If you want to pay out large dividends for "Mogul" then the PENN and the SCL are good choices. Since people find dividends attractive, they will bid for PENN and SCL which will push up the value of your holdings and makes it easier to obtain Baron points.

Once you control a railroad you can start running it for fun and profit! There are two theories on running railroads, rape it for all it is worth, or run it well and it will continue to reward you.

Each turn you have a series of choices on running them. First you can loan your company money, this can be good to get a railroad up and running, but it is rarely done because you do not get Mogul points for dividends (so if you do loan it money put dividends at $0); the money loaned does not count toward your net worth thus dropping you down the Baron chart and decreasing your borrowing power. The good thing is that you get 10% interest per turn on the money. Then you can pay back the outstanding loans of your railroad. This is good in the long run because interest can slow down profits and it takes up cash that you could use for everything else.

Then you can spend money on Capital Expenses which is your maintenance expenses for your railroad. Usually railroads spend $10 per track mile per turn to keep things running. For each $1 you spend over that amount, you do have a 50% chance that the railroad's efficiency rating will increase. As time goes by, new technologies are invented and new engines become available and you can decide when you want to spend the money to upgrade.

In the Construction section you can build your Right of Ways and decide how much you want to spend on them. (Many Robber Barons also ran Construction companies which would invariably receive the contracts from their railroads. They would charge more then it really cost to build track since they could spend up to 20% more then the cost of the track.) You can also choose to double track a section of track, this costs 25% of the normal cost of laying track and has to be payed for with cash so you will not want to pay out the full dividend the first few turns in order to have more cash to work with for improving your railroad. Railroad base income is equal to $65 per mile plus $300 times town value-- when you double track a section it increases income on that route by the size of the cities at either end. The size of the city is squared so that a 5 raises income by 25% and a 3 raises it by 9%. If a route connects a 5 to a 3 it raises income buy 34%.

Political Influence is an "incentive" to politicians to help
your railroad. They help your railroad by giving land grants along the railway which the company can sell as time goes by. Smaller towns want your railroad to run through them more than cities, so the larger the town involved the more you have to spend. Usually you should make your Political Influence level equal to the town size at either end, so for a route that has a 4 city and 2 town you should be spending to a level 6 to get a good land grant. This is a long term payback, but it is Definitely worth it. Political Influence is also paid for out of cash so it is good to keep some money at hand. Political Influence also helps you when bidding on Right of Ways. A Right of Way will go to whoever bids the highest in Political Influence.

Your last action is your dividend rate--if you want to run your railroad into the ground you can make the dividend $16 per turn. It will not pay out that much but it will pay out what it can, then when it builds it will keep borrowing and accumulate debt. If you pay out a reasonable rate you will allow your railroad to have money to bid higher for Right of Ways and double track lines. Economic conditions also affect your railroads income, and anytime the conditions are good or better it can be followed by a panic. If you have money left in reserve you can continue to pay a good dividend even after panic hits.

Each turn new Private Companies are available to be bid upon, railroads expand
and wealth accumulates.

If this game intrigues you, you may write to Graff Simulations. Each turn costs $5 for a 20+ turn game. You can pay for a full game at $75. Your first game you are not likely to do well but it is fun building a rail network and you can make friends across the country. If you would like to avoid doing poorly you can call some of the other people you will be playing with and get advice from them or write to me and I will tell you what I know.

Kyle Greenwood

Write to Graaf Simulations
P.O. Box 340066
Austin, TX 78734

Kyle Greenwood was our first TGA member from Hawaii before he decided to join the rest of us on the continental U.S.


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