Mini rails offers you and four friends the opportunity to buy stocks in railway companies as you compete to have the most valuable portfolio by the end of the game. Because you’re so wealthy you also get to use your influence to tell these train companies where to build new track, affecting the value of the stocks that you hold.
As it turns out this little euro game of stocks and trains is in fact a utopian fantasy. Companies that fail to pay their taxes make no profit at the end of the game and only the stocks of negative value are counted. If the company pays its taxes, however, the losses are written off at the end of the game and only the profitable stocks are counted by players.
But how do train companies pay their taxes? A question that no one asked and would very likely see your friends stop agreeing to play games with you, if you asked it too often. The thing is, the question of how train companies pay their taxes is pretty central to the game of Mini Rails.
The game is played over six rounds and each round you’ll have two opportunities to take a token from the market. One you’ll add to your stock board as a stock in that colour, the other you add to the board representing a new section of track. By the end of each round after the players have taken their actions, a single token will remain in the market representing a company that is paying their taxes.
Over the course of the game you’ll only have twelve actions – you’ll collect 6 stocks and you’ll lay 6 sections of track to try and make those stocks as valuable as possible (or devalue the stocks of your opponent). But for any of those actions to actually pay off as profit, you’ll need the people around the table to leave behind a token of the colour company you’re interested in. The more potential profit a company has then the more appealing it is to take their tokens. This usually results in the company no one is interested in paying its taxes. The more hungry players are for profit, the less likely a company pays its taxes. Imagine that…
Mini Rails dangles this puzzle before you a game of straightforward choices and completely open information made complete chaos by one simple factor, you don’t know what the other players will do. Finishing Mini Rails for the first time, I was impressed by the amount of tension it was able to wring out of simple choices. Cleary there must be a strategy to figure out. A way to crack the game and become a savvy stock trader. So far, however, I am no closer to a winning strategy but I am beginning to appreciate the chaos within which you must make your decisions. The earlier your take your turns in the round the more choice you have from the market track but then more players are going after you. Their actions can be difficult to predict and they will affect the outcome of your earlier decision. Going later in the round leaves you fewer choices of stocks to take or tracks to place but you can be more certain of how the rest of the round will affect your portfolio.
This is reflective of the game as a whole, early on the actions you take can feel a little hopeless at times while the final few actions have very clear outcomes. You can be left struggling to calculate the exact profit the final few actions of the game will make. Even when you work it all out you can realise that no matter your choice you can’t win and so you’re stuck playing kingmaker which does feel great for anyone.
For the most part though, Mini Rails is an enjoyably short game. Tension quickly builds and just as you’re building up steam you reach the end of the line and it’s time to count up your score. There’s fun to be had here whether there is a winning strategy to figure out here or not. At about 45 minutes, Mini Rails is a nice little opener to a game night for those looking for something a little more crunchy that their usual pick.
Nevi’s been Neuroshima’ing his Hex so check out his reviews of the Uranopolis and Mississippi factions from the faction expansion. Or why not read a little about our review of mech brawler, Critical Mass.
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