Tracks to Telluride

Designed by John Bohrer.
Pubished by Winsome Games.
Reviewed by Stuart Dagger.

2-6 players
Playing Time: 2 hours

This game was reviewed by Alfonzo Smith in Sumo 20. We decided to look at it again partly because it and its companion games are now available in the UK and partly because John has brought out both an economy version and an expansion kit, which between them attempt to deal with the reservations that Alfonzo and others had about the game when it first appeared.

Tracks is a game with a pre-history and so a good way to start the description is with John's words from the designer notes in the rule book.

"Way back in the early eighties my friends and I were playing a lot of wargames. One guy brought by a game he had gotten as a gift from his girlfriend called Rails through the Rockies. As engineers we wondered if the building of mountain passes (in essence the large scale application of state-of-the-art technology) could be considered algorithmic? How could you [reuse? - K] dual gauge passes that had been laid out with tight curves that only a narrow gauge locomotive could negotiate? Once we figured out that the game was always won by the first railroad through Rollins Pass, we put the game away permanently."

Worth quoting both as a revelation about the game's origins and as a reminder of the sort of names that Sixties parents used to give to their children. Rails through the Rockies was designed by John Luecke and published in 1981. It applied the "draw track on a map" principle to the fascinating scenario of the mines and mountain passes of Colorado. It was a good try, but the rules were a bit too complicated for the game's own good and John's criticisms of it are valid. The designer had failed to come up with a victory criterion that gave you a proper game and it is unreasonable that someone building railways through the mountains of 19th century Colorado should be able to calculate beforehand exactly how much it would cost them to get through a particular pass. Tracks to Telluride is the result of John's attempts to take what was good in the earlier game and produce something more playable.

His first attempt used the map from Rails through the Rockies. He simplified the track building rules and introduced what he rather grandly calls a "probabilistic pass system" (Put your money down and chuck two dice. If you get a number greater than or equal to the difficulty rating of the pass, you succeed; if not you have lost your money but can try again by putting up more money.) If you succeed in building to a mine, you make money from it provided it is open. The opening and closing of mines is handled by means of a set of cards bearing the names of the mines. Each turn you draw a certain number of them. If the mines named are open, they close and if closed, they open. The rest of the game system is made up of a set of chance cards and rules for injunctions and rate wars. Alfonzo wasn't too keen on the chance cards and I tend to agree with him. The idea is that they are skewed to hit hardest those players who are doing well, but they smack of too much midnight oil and not enough inspiration and I feel that there is enough of a chance element in the game without them. However, that is a matter of taste and others will feel differently. This first game of John's is now available as Rocky Mountain Rails. If you wish to play the Tracks to Telluride system on your old Rails through the Rockies map, it will be of interest, but not otherwise.

Tracks to Telluride is the same game system that I have just described, but on a map of John's own devising. What he has done is get rid of the flat eastern section of the earlier map and made adjustments to the mine placements and the pass ratings on the more interesting western part. The game is available in its standard form, with good quality components, as Tracks to Telluride at a cost of about £40 or in an economy version (tubed, some assembly required) at about half that. The economy version is called Colorado Rails.

Advanced Tracks to Telluride is an expansion kit and costs about £20. It does away with the chance cards and gives you an extended set of rules covering such things as snow ploughs, dual gauge track, track maintenance and seasonal weather variations. It also introduces a more varied set of victory conditions as well as "personality cards" in the form of special engineers, lawyers and promoters to help you with your track building, court injunctions and financing. More flavour amd more interest, but at the almost inevitable cost of a longer playing time. Reckon on about 4 hours if you are using the expansion set.

Overall verdict? This is an interesting and enjoyable game. The chance element is quite high, but that is appropriate for the story line. Building and operating railroads at what was then the limit of technology was a risky business and looking to make your money out of gold and silver mines that may or may not prove profitable and may or may not turn up in your area was equally so. Bear that in mind before playing the game: if you prefer games where everything can be calculated, this one isn't for you. The other thing you need to consider is the cost of the game. As Alfonzo observed, it is on the high side. You get more bits with 1856 for thirty quid than you do with Tracks to Telluride for forty and if you want to play the more interesting Advanced Game, the price shifts up to sixty. However, price economies come from large print runs and games like Tracks to Telluride don't have large print runs. It is also the case that in the final analysis real value is measured in hours of enjoyment rather than bits of wood and cardboard.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell