Game Design #41: Railroaded

Introduction: Four hapless rail riders need to beat it out of town, and fast! Compete to make it the furthest from the starting point while your time and supplies last, but watch out! Pick a lucrative route and your opponents could piggy-back onto your success and leave you in the dust.

Players: 4


  • Two identical decks of standard playing cards, shuffled together.

Setting Up: Shuffle the cards and deal nine to each player. Place the remainder in the center in a pile, face-down. This deck is called the Terminal. Draw four cards from the top of the deck and place them face-up about twelve inches away from the deck at the cardinal compass points (one card each to the north, south, east, and west of the deck). These peripheral cards are each called Stations, designated by their compass point (e.g. North Station etc).

Designate a first player. Beginning with them, each player chooses one of the suits to be his or her own. To choose a suit, the player selects a card from their hand of that suit and places it face-up beside the Terminal deck in line with one of the cardinal points (north, south, east, and west). Thus, to choose a suit a player must have at least one card of that suit in hard, and once all players have chosen the Terminal will have four cards in position around it. These four cards represent the start of the path for each player. The fourth player, due to the fact that they are left to choose whichever suit was unclaimed by the other three, gets to take the first turn. Play proceeds to the left.

Note: if any player is unable to claim a suit with a card from their dealt hand, they announce their choice and then reveal cards face-up from the Terminal deck until a card of their chosen suit is revealed. This becomes their beginning card — the other revealed cards are shuffled back into the Terminal deck.

How to Play: The purpose of the game is to build the longest path out of town by creating chains of cards in sequence. Along the way, player can Link Up at the Stations to get a boost in speed and open up chances to Jump Trains.

Players create paths by playing their cards in sequence to form chains. Starting from the Terminal, players lay one card a turn on any of the sequences extending from the side of the deck. New cards are laid overlapping the current card in that position such that the chain of cards cascades out and away from the deck. The player can play on a chain if one of the following conditions is met:

  • Their card matches the color of the current card and its number value is either one higher or one lower than the current card.
  • Their card is of a different color than the current card, and its number value is the same as the current card.
  • Example: if a chain ends with a Seven of Hearts, a player may play any red Eight or Six or any black Seven to continue the chain.

After a player makes their play, they draws one card from the Terminal deck before concluding their turn. Players must play if they can, but if a player is unable to play on any of the current chains, they draw two cards from the deck before concluding their turn.

Linking Up: As the chains approach the Station cards, players may Link Up with the Station to gain a boost in speed. Once a chain has at least ten cards in it, it may link with the Station in front of it. To do this, a player must play a card on that chain that fits both the chain itself and the Station card. For example: if a Station card is the Ten of Spades, the chain approaching it must grow until a player can legally play a black Nine or Jack or a red Ten — the three cards that can legally connect to the Ten of Spades.

Once a linking play has been made, place the Station card on the end of the chain turned lengthwise to denote it is still a Station. From now on whenever a play is made that could legally extend this chain, any player may move it to the end of that chain instead of making their own play. However, plays made to link up other stations are exempt from this rule.

Jumping Trains: If at any point a player holds the Ace of their chosen suit, they may play it to swap control of a chain for another chain. The player swaps the beginning cards of their chain with the one they wish to acquire, then they swap their beginning card in its new position with the Ace from their hand. In this way the player shifts their control to the new chain, and the player’s card they displaced is swapped to their old chain.

Winning the Game: Play continues until the Terminal deck is depleted. On the turn when the final card is drawn, after the final play is made, the player who controls the longest chain is the winner.


2 thoughts on “Game Design #41: Railroaded”

  1. What a nice surprise to see this pop up in Google Reader after the hiatus! Does this mean Simple Sundays are back, or is this just a one-time thing?

    A couple of questions:
    1. What happens if the last player doesn’t have any cards of the one suit that’s left? It probably won’t happen all that often (they have to be short a suit, and they have to be the last player, and the suit they’re short has to be the one that the other three people didn’t pick), but it will happen. And there’s also the rarer-but-still-possible chance that the 3rd player is short both suits, etc. Maybe make a player discard and draw until they get something they can play?
    2. You say that the player “may” draw one card and “may” draw two cards, but I can’t think of any situation where they wouldn’t want to draw more cards. It doesn’t seem useful/elegant to have the rules allow someone to choose not to draw cards when it would never be beneficial to do so. So maybe just get rid of the word “may” in both instances?

    I’ll chime in if I get a chance to playtest this.

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