Iron Horse

A game by Dirk Henn, published by db Spiele, Germany
(Not to be confused with the old card game from Icarus)
These comments copyright 1998 by Steffan O'Sullivan
[Note: This game has been released as Metro by Queen Games, Germany, in early 2000. It looks good, and here is a link to the English rules]
The rest of this page last updated November 28, 1998

Iron Horse is a tile-laying game that is not related to the 18XX series of railroad tile-laying games. It's closer to Streetcar (published originally as Linie 1), but doesn't suffer from that game's endgame problem. (Mind you, I don't think there's much of an endgame problem in Streetcar, but many people do.)

At any rate, Iron Horse isn't really that close to any other game. The game is for 2-6 players, and contains a board, 61 train markers, 60 rail tiles, and 6 set-up charts. The components are very typical of db Spiele - if you've ever seen any of their games, you'll recognize both the box and component style immediately. I've only played three db Spiele games, but this one is my favorite, with Premiere coming in second.

Depending on the number of players, a number of trains are set up around the edge of the board to start with. The tiles are placed around the board, face down, and mixed thoroughly. Each player starts with one tile, and the first player begins.

Your turn consists of either:

  • placing on the board the tile you have in your hand and then drawing a replacement, or
  • drawing a tile at the start of your turn, playing that tile to the board, and keeping the tile you started the turn with.
The board is an eight-by-eight array of squares, with the middle four squares taken up by a town. Each of the 32 board edge spaces has a place for a train to enter the board, though they're not necessarily all used, depending on the number of players. Each tile has four tracks running through it, one coming in from the right side of an edge, and leading off one of the four edges on the left side - there are arrows to remind you which are which. Since all the trains begin on a right side of an edge, they are all going to enter any tile piece correctly, and leave it so the next tile will carry it onward.

The tiles all have a mark in one corner, and every space on the board has a similar mark in one corner. You must place a tile so that the marks line up. There is an optional rule allowing free orientation of the tiles, but they warn you the game becomes much longer, as players have to consider many more options when deciding where to play. I've never felt the need to use the optional rule, myself, though I have been tempted to use the other optional rule, which allows players to hold two tiles in their hand. This would also make decision time for each turn longer, however.

The left side of every edge space has a station, as do the town spaces in the center of the board. The object of the game is rather contrary to good railroad engineering practice: to build as long a train route as possible with each of your trains. You start with anywhere from 5 to 32 trains, depending on the number of players, and your total score for the game is how well each of your trains do. A train scores one point for each tile its route passes over before connecting to a station. If you manage to get to the town, score double the number of tiles. If your track passes over the same tile twice in a single run, it counts as two points.

For example, if you'll forgive an ASCII graphic:

              |           |           |
              |        /--|-\         |
              |        |  |  |        |
              |        |  |  |        |
     Start -->|-----------|-/         |
              |        |  |    /----\ |
              -------------------------   <----Tile edge
              |        |  |    |    | |
       End <--|--------|--|----/    | |
              |        |  |         | |
              |        |  |         | |
              |        \--|--------/  |
              |           |           |
                      Tile Edge

The train above scores eight points, not four, because it passes over each tile twice in its journey. (Note that for simplicity, the tiles above do not show all tracks entering and leaving the pieces.) You don't score until the train route is completed, however.

Also note that the above train was probably sabotaged, either deliberately or accidentally, by another player. Left to himself, the owner of the train would have created either a much longer track, or at least one that ended in the town, thus doubling his route points. Which brings up the topic of sabotage: it's often easier, in this game, to sabotage your opponents' trains than it is to build your own. This is because tiles must be laid from the edge outward - you can place a tile next to an already played tile or the outer edge, but nowhere else. So if I place a tile that sends one of my trains out, it's very easy for you to place a tile like the upper right-hand one shown above, which loops my train back toward the outer edge. There is, however, a rule that the shortest route possible is two tiles, so you can't play such a tile directly on a train, looping it back to its own starting space.

The game plays very well, and is one of my favorites. It's not long and is a lot of fun. It does play better with 2-4 players than with 5-6 players, though. I like to keep score on graph paper, so you can see how each player is doing train by train - you can't really judge otherwise how someone who has had four of his trains completed is doing against someone who has only had one of his trains completed.

I recommend this game highly - very enjoyable, and has a high replay value.

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