Spotlight on Games > Ludographies
A Tour of Traveling Merchant Games ...
UPDATE! Koplopers & Dwarsliggers March 13, 2010


  1. Training for a Contract
  2. Translating Trains to Highways and Outer Space
  3. Going to Sea, Getting Medieval and Gandy Dancing
  4. To Hell and Back Again
  5. Beyond Contracts
  6. Item for Item
  7. All God's Merchants Got Guns
  8. Back to the Bazaar
  9. A Fairy Tale Ending
  10. Back to the Baltic
  11. Another Imaginary World
  12. Koplopers & Dwarsliggers
  13. Also ...
  14. Publication Information for All Games Mentioned

The problems of the traveling merchant. The challenge of finding the most efficient route alone is non-trivial, as early computer scientists discovered. But that's not all. There are questions of availability/demand, of price, of bunions. One of the earliest and most important trade routes was the Silk Road, actually a network of routes and locations connecting the Far East and Mediterranean. Its traders carried a lot more commodities than just silk and a lot more than just commodities. Along with their wares the traders brought knowledge, ideas, teachings and technologies. Even board games like Chess were disseminated along it. In human history trade has been far more important than war yet you would never know by the number of games devoted to each. How has the traveling merchant been treated in games? Have any provided a really true portrayal of the through-trading experience? Is this even a good idea?

The world of games has seen quite a few different takes on the traveling merchant experience. In modern times the first contender is Railway Rivals (1973). Played in two halves, the first is occupied with constructing railroad tracks between cities, the second with being the fastest to make a delivery between two randomly-determined city pairs. Because of the restricted nature of the trading and the emphasis on linking rather than through-trade, this linking game is excluded from further consideration. The same goes for other linking efforts such as the Lancashire Railways series (thus also New England Railways, Volldampf and Age of Steam), Silverton, James Clavell's Tai-Pan, Ostindien Company, Sindbad, TRAiNSPORT: Austria, TRAiNSPORT: Switzerland and others.

Training for a Contract

But this early linking game seems to have inspired others which are in the category including Boxcars in the very next year. This self-published venture was bought out by Avalon Hill and re-published with a few changes in 1977 as Rail Baron. Actually, it may well have had an ancestor from all the way back in 1890 as this history suggests, for the tracks are not drawn, but acquired. Rather, players make routing decisions as it is required to travel to a more or less randomly determined city, attempting to minimize time and, especially, costs. This type of system, very popular over the years, will be called the contract class of merchant games. Its popularity probably stems from its usefulness in terms of motivating player activities. It's not necessary to ponder the entire network of sites and options. The contracts make it extremely clear what must be done. This particular game is rather too long, fiddly and analytical for most to enjoy today, but it holds an important historical place inspiring what came later.

Six years later there appeared another railroader, the famous Empire Builder (1980), which seems to have found a parent in both Railway Rivals and Rail Baron. This game in turn has been spun off many times including British Rails, Eurorails, Nippon Rails, Australian Rails, Iron Dragon, India Rails, Lunar Rails and Uncle Happy's Train Game. In this series players are once again drawing tracks between cities, but this activity is now combined in with Rail Baron's with travel decisions as the player delivers goods to and from specific cities at prices fixed by randomly-drawn contract cards. One innovation is that each card offers three choices, rather than just the one, but player decisions are still relatively constrained in that only a few different trade opportunities may be contemplated at any one time. But the variety of contracts usually generates challenging dilemmas – which contract should be solved first? what is the most efficient path? – which players enjoy solving.

In all merchant games players tend to travel and trade, trade and travel, and it is hoped, earn something along the way. But to keep the experience fresh, to make the challenges new, it is important that even during the game the parameters change in some way. Otherwise it can quickly feel repetitive. There are two main ways of addressing this: (1) random events, which not being particular to merchant games will not be considered here; and (2) re-investment. In other words, can earnings be intelligently spent to either improve capability and/or enhance victory in some other sub-game? In the Empire Builder system investment of earnings is fairly limited. All that can really be done is construct more track and improve the train's speed and carrying capacity. But it's possible to get away with this because so much player attention is taken up with drawing track and because of the wide variety of contract possibilities.

The other important issue in a merchant game is a very vital one: its ending. Many types of games have a natural thematic conclusion. Chess ends when the king has been doomed. A war game ends when the enemy has been rendered powerless. A race game ends when a player crosses the finish line. But a traveling merchant setting usually does not offer such an intuitive victory condition. Sure the merchants compete, but it's far from clear whether most merchant worlds ever have any kind of consensus winner. Everyone trades, earns money and no doubt achieves some personal goals, but a game really needs an ending and a winner. How shall it be decided who wins, and when? This aspect was not really satisfactorily solved by the Empire Builder system. Play simply continues until someone connects the most of the major cities and reaches a magic number of cash earned. But why that number? It is clearly there because it provides a game of the right length, but there can be no thematic explanation. As will be seen, later merchant games came up with more enjoyable solutions to this problem.

Translating Trains to Highways and Outer Space

Continuing with the games of the contract type, seven years later Wolfgang Kramer's Auf Achse (On the Move) transported the idea to European trucking. The highways are naturally pre-drawn, but the movement rate is no longer fixed, instead being variably determined by die roll. The chief innovation however is in the contracts system. Recognizing that the modern era offers the possibility of perfect information, contracts are no longer simply assigned, but instead auctioned off. This tends to act as a corrective for the luck of the draw problems that afflict many contract games. In effect the players participate in setting the contract values. This is also the main arena for re-investment, the purchase of extra capacity in the form of trailers being the only other. Victory is once again based on having the most cash on hand when the demand cards run out.

Changing setting again, a science fiction entry arrived from Steve Jackson Games in the same year: Star Traders. The system here is thrown even more wide open than in Auf Achse as not only are all contracts accessible to all, they never have any assigned owners until delivered. Players compete constantly for all of the same contracts. Each once again has only a single vehicle which travels over pre-drawn "tracks". At first glance this seems an odd idea in a space game, but the various paths represent jumps through hyper-space of various distances, which leads to the game's most innovative feature: before a ship can move, it must roll a certain number of die pips or the move doesn't happen at all. Clearly luck plays a major role in this, but usually the player has enough movement choices that it becomes a challenging risk-management problem. In addition, the risk lessens as players invest their profits in bases which make their systems automatic jump destinations. Players can also invest in extra engines to raise the number of jump attempts per turn from three to six. But it's investing in bases that provide generate Prestige Points. Amassing enough of them gives the right to petition for an Imperial Mission, completion of which wins the game. Beyond competing over demands, players may affect one another via event cards as well as negotiate the use of others' bases. Incidental to this discussion, but a point in the game's favor is that each player has a unique power. With its more satisfying thematic ending and the ability to directly compete with opponents, this is one of the better contracts games ever devised, a fact insufficiently appreciated over the years.

Going to Sea, Getting Medieval and Gandy Dancing

In the next year Avalon Hill produced the promotional game Spices of the World. Cast in a disappointingly vague setting that includes, for example, both San Francisco and Amerigo Vespucci, it features contracts which specify spice deliveries, but placed at random. The payoff is according to the value of the spice delivered causing major balance problems since the length of the delivery route is in no way factored into the payoff. Perhaps in compensation, the ability to affect others is noticeably present. Not only are there races to complete the same demand, but landing on another by exact count permits theft of one of the two spices which can be carried. This is rendered unpredictable by the movement system – a player decides whether to roll one die or two. There is no ability to re-invest; the winner is the first to achieve a set number of points in deliveries. Probably because of its high degree of randomness and lack of historical connection, the game has not proved popular over the years, practically the only fans being those who relish the ability to maliciously pirate their fellows.

Four years later the Empire Builder ideas were more faithfully preserved in another outing, even though all of the track, trains and even the land were removed. That would be the merchant marine game, Distant Seas, where there are no tracks to draw, but also features contracts. The added wrinkle is that each specifies a particular type of ship to carry the load. Profits are thus put into buying additional ships and by the end a player typically has multiple vessels traversing the seven seas. Once again victory is based on amassing the most funds.

In 1994 Doris&Frank published Fugger, Welser, Medici, a game of medieval merchants. (By the way, the later German game Medieval Merchant is not a traveling merchant, but purely a linking game.) This contract game features some unusual wrinkles. Chief among them is that trade revolves around a "casting call" system in which demands or sales are announced for a fixed future date and location. If any of the player's three traders are present at the appointed time, he may participate in its blind auction. This permits players to dramatically affect their opponents, but arrivals are hardly automatic since moving faster costs money and risks accidents, during which goods are lost. This movement system is one of the most detailed presented in any traveling merchant game. The game comes in several versions, the simplest being determined by the player having the most money when the last demand is claimed. Before this point there is no outlet for investment apart from re-hiring lost traders and countering events. But more thematically-satisfying variants are provided. These involve special demand cards associated with the nobility of the period. Each provides the chance to gamble on improving one's position on a road to the aristrocracy. While the scheduled nature of the proceedings is a good solution to the imbalances of the contract system, there is a price to be paid: extremely long games.

Pacific Northwest Rails is another railroad game in the Empire Builder tradition, albeit only coming along in 1998. In the interim it occurred to many that a lot of track-building looked the same from game to game. In fact, this is sort of the "lesson" of Railway Rivals. The topography of the situation one is supposed to dictate the most efficient track layouts, even to help explain why the real life ones were developed the way they were. Thus, many games such as Auf Achse and this one decided to pre-draw the tracks, focusing player attention on other challenges, here, the movement. Now the right to use a track no longer belongs exclusively to the person who paid to draw it, but to anyone able to buy a share in it. These shares are part of a shares market, itself becoming a major facet of play decisionmaking and opportunity for players to re-invest their earnings. But once again victory is dependent on acquisition of the most value in cash and shares.

To Hell and Back Again

From this unusual system consider the unique theme of transporting souls to the various levels of hell, by railroad. The HellRail game first published in 1999, is completely opposite Star Traders in its treatment of contracts. Not only are they not open, they aren't even known until a player is at the right location and chooses to reveal them. At this point the demand is known, but is exclusively assigned to its owner for completion. Although, a few contracts are treated in just this way in Auf Achse, this seems to be the only case where every contract is treated in this way. On the other hand, there are more chances to affects others as the tracks, represented by the same types of cards as the contracts, are placed and removed to form an ever-changing board. Movement is also conducted by these selfsame cards, contributing further unpredictability. As there are no profits – only points – there is no re-investment and the game ends too quickly to harvest the fruits of it anyway. Victory is again achieved rather undramatically, i.e. by whoever has the most points when the cards run out. But then this unusual game's exclusive, hidden contracts nearly stretch the game out of the merchant genre entirely.

A very different hidden contracts effort is the German Bohn Hansa (Bean Trader in its American edition). The topic of buying and selling beans among some of the cities of the Hanseatic League is frivolous, but does achieve the pun of the title. The historically-minded can mentally substitute cash commodities for these eight subsistence products. This contract system follows in the wake of Fugger, Welser, Medici, in the use of expiring contracts. The difference is that the contract cards are entirely private, remaining in the player's hand from announcement until just before fulfillment. These cards are kept with other hand cards in a strict order. One is played (being later recovered) for each move a player makes. When a contract appears, the player must have the requisite beans at the right place to gain the reward or the contract is lost. This restrictive situation is rescued by special negotiation rules which permit another to essentially teleport – playing a single card to move over many areas – if invited in by another player wanting to make a bean deal. Deals can be difficult to achieve since each player has room for only eight bean loads, but it is somewhat relieved by the reality that contracts give players rather different needs. In fact, direct inter-player trading, although it seems even more could have been done with it, works better here than in just about any other merchant game apart from examples like Caravansérail where it is the heart of activity.

Novel mechanisms are also working on the supply side. Products appear in different mixes at each city via card draw. With a nice elegance, each new appearance is placed on a higher position on a rising scale, automatically elucidating the higher price. As items are bought up, the price decreases are similarly indicated. It is generous too that a player can decide from which rung of the ladder to buy as their differing quantitites mean that the decision may or may not cause prices to lower. This is probably more "game-y" than realistic, but so unobtrusive that none should complain.

Apart from buying new beans there is no opportunity for re-investment, but as the player is so consumed with the difficult problem of the expiring contracts, the lack is usually not apparent. The end of game conditions – running out of contracts – is as uninspiring as the rest is innovative. Unfortunately, that old problem of many a contract game – that one may with luck draw a contract which one can fill all too easily – also applies here, and is even exacerbated by the small number of them actually processed.

A French entry in the contracts mode is Marchands d'Empire (Merchants of the Empire). The setting seems to be medieval-fictional. Players travel from city to city under pre-programmed orders. This is elegantly handled and prefect for the era in which merchants would not know the whereabouts and activities of their competitors. Less thematic are the unlimited carrying capacities; even large ones are entirely cost-free. Also problematic are the monopoly points awarded every three turns. While it makes sense that a merchant would be able to earn extra profits by cornering a commodity, here all that's necessary is a simple majority. In effect, it's more of a game mechanism reward for those who have fallen too far behind fulfilling contracts. A third thematic problem is that a player may only collect one commodity in a city per turn and only the lowest-valued one at that.

As far as contracts are concerned, just like the commodities, they are awarded on a first come-first served basis. Their placement is random, although somewhat predictable. This works as follows. Cities are numbered 1 to 20. The location of a new contract is rolled on a twenty-sided die, but if a location is already occupied by a contract or commodity, the next higher numbered city is considered until a vacant one is found. New commodities for collection appear in the same way. Both placements can be unfair as their commercial values are fixed and only take a number of items, not distance to deliver, into account.

Deliveries lead to one of the best features of the game. While there is no re-investment per se, each fulfilled contract grants two opportunities: (1) the contract may be kept as a commercial reward; (2) if no temple is present, one may be placed to represent church influence; (3) political influence markers may be placed in the surrounding countryside. Mercantile, religious and political power having been accounted for, victory is accorded, after a set number of turns, to whoever has has accomplished the most in the combination of those areas. This whole subsystem provides one of the more thematic and challenging endings available.

Beyond Contracts

Having delivered up all of the contract games, it's time to examine those that dared to go beyond this constraint.

Avalon Hill in 1988, in addition to Spices of the World, published Merchant of Venus. They must have been obsessed with spice that year in Baltimore as this science fiction setting apparently replaced an original one of historic trading in the Spice Islands. The chance to depict fantastical alien races was no doubt a savvy marketing decision, but as will be seen, served to enhance play as well. Here inventor Richard Hamblen and publisher Avalon Hill moved beyond the usual contract system and create a true through-trading situation. Each location produces a unique commodity and demands only a few different ones. Players travel around buying and selling at whim, often seeking a profitable loop to exploit. Placed in front of this main game there is an exploration sub-game during which the locations of the various products and demands are established. This is the area in which setting can really leaven the process. Were it historical, the products would be in the same positions for every playing, but the science fiction approach permits random placement which meakes every game a fresh problem to solve. It can also cause imbalance if a player can luck into a lucrative route before others. This effect can be exacerbated for the player who turns up too many misfortunes during exploration.

As in some of the predecessors, profits can be used to improve the ship in speed and capacity. It is also possible to purchase factories – probably shops in the original – representing a local investment that generates more profit. Victory is once again achieved with the most money and unless players use the optional combat rules – rather drastic – it is difficult to do much of anything to slow down a leader.

A nautically-oriented game that kept its theme intact is 1992's High Seas. The sea this time is that of the Caribbean of the seventeenth century. Players sail their ships from island to island, buying and selling at each. Availability and price of wares depend on tables which take into account a lot of factors about the port, such as its size, economic level, whether it is a source or market for the item and how much of the supply has has previously been bought up. Selling prices and quantities are determined just as realistically. In terms of logistics, players begin with just two small ships so cargo space is limited, as is movement since vagaries of the winds may work counter to a player's plans. Re-investment is available in the form of more and larger ships. It might also be a good idea to invest in some cannon and ammunition since this is a war game with plenty of score for pirating and battle. Obviously this is the primary approach to stopping a leading player. Those activities genreate infamy points as well, which combined with gold earned, become the victory points by which the win is judged after a set number of turns. Impressively getting all the history right, this game has only one problem: it does far too much of it. There is just so much table consultation, arithmetic calculation and waiting around while others do it that all the fun falls out. Thus it ultimately fails as the ideal merchant game, but to its credit, fails in a way completely different than any other to date.

Item for Item

Die Hanse was a German release just one year later. The topic is once again sea trade, this time among the port cities of the Hanseatic League, but no money ever changes hands. Instead, as players sail around the Baltic and North Seas, they merely trade items with the port on a 1-for-1 basis, each port having particular items it wishes to buy and sell. The goal is not so much to earn profits, but to be the first to bring back a specific set of items (although each does have a hidden value). This ending feels even more "game-y" than the usual "earn the most money" but it's in the implementation of movement that the game is the most singular of any discussed here, and many others besides.

The thematic idea is that player represent merchants with insufficient funds for an entire ship. Thus they pool funds with the player to the left and jointly control a single ship. And, in an another admission that it is a game, they they also control half of the ship of the player to their right. Thus not only must the most efficient route be determined, it's necessary to reach an agreement with a player who may be one's chief rival and who in fact may need to travel in the completely opposite direction. Or maybe he wants to just because his partner is about to win the game. Usually it leads to some kind of "situation" at least once per playing. In fact this unusual setup really turns this into something much different than a traveling merchant game.

A similar trading system is found in Bruno Faidutti's Caravansérail. Once again a hidden formula must be satisfied and once again items are traded directly instead of being bought and sold. But trade is directly with other players rather than ports and instead of the watery seas, the environment is Arabia's sandy wastes. A difference is that movement is pre-programmed, perhaps influencing the later Marchands d'Empire. As in Die Hanse there is also a certain amount of raiding to go along with the trading so it is possible to interfere with other players, but the hidden nature of the proceedings make it hard to tell just who the leader might be. Without financial earnings, there is no differentiation between the various commodities and not even very much idea which way to travel except by what can be gleaned from negotiation or overheard negotiation. This activity, as well as sudden raiding strikes, is more the meaning of the game than are travel and trade.

All God's Merchants Got Guns

Another French entry, Serenissima, transfers the action back to the water, this time the warmer clime of the Renaissance Mediterranean. A juicy dilemma makes capacity and movement speed trade off against one another as the more sailors there are to provide movement, the less space available for commodities. As for commodities, each port produces a different type which can then be consumed by any other port, so long as it doesn't already have one. This is a fairly nice, though severe, representation of the reality that a scarce import has great value. The other trade rule, that the price paid for a commodity decreases as more of any type come in, is less defensible, but it could apply in some situations. Re-investment is available in the form of more ships and also port fortifications. Yes, fortifications because this is also a wargame in which players may attack one another. Obviously there is plenty of opportunity to catch up with others, in fact too much. The military aspects end up so dominating that it really becomes more about this than a traveling merchant game. The proof is that if the military activities are simply omitted, the game becomes processional and uninteresting. The ending of this peculiar hybrid curiously goes back to the merchant idea, ending after a set number of turns with monetary advantage giving the victory.

Back to the Bazaar

Three years later the famed American designer Sid Sackson and German publisher Abacus released Samarkand. This was a re-working of the twice-published Bazaar which being a static game of trade without travel is not considered here. But Samarkand players do travel, the oases, deserts and bazaars of Central Asia being their way stations. Actually none of the locations are named so the historico-geographical connection is rather slight. As in Die Hanse trading is item for item and conducted with neutral spaces on the board. It is also possible to purchase items at random. There is no hard limit on carrying capacity although when they run out everyone must discard to get down to twelve. Movement is one space per turn which means that players have more the feeling of reacting to the board than of traveling to definite destinations. To escape this somewhat it is possible to pay a small fee and roll the die to move, but as all pips must be used this is very unpredictable. It can be successful however for outpacing others and possibly interfering with their plans. On the other hand, a curious set of rules usually makes it preferable to travel behind others. Unlike the historical situation of the Silk Road, where profits were usually 200% or more, in the game they tend to be small. This makes it vital to be present at nomad camps when they fill up as this allows taking the entire holding for a nominal fee. As the camps charge each visitor an item fee, being a late visitor is ideal, a rather unintuitive idea for a merchant game as it runs directly counter to the usual one of first-to-market.

In terms of the actual markets, being first is a good idea as immediately after a sale they buy at reduced rate until a sale has occurred elsewhere. As each commodity type can be sold at a single location, this can be serious, especially since it is vital to sell at the highest price, so constrained are the economics. This optimal price is achieved in an unusual way: by selling a very high number of items. Typically one diminishing returns are expected as supply increases, but maybe this is supposed to reflect a near-monopoly situation.

There is no real re-investment – indeed a lot of funds are needed just to acquire trade goods. While victory again goes to the player achieving a magic amount of cash, the play process remains interesting because of the continually-changing nature of the board.

The expansion Isfahan variant adds even more board variability: after each sale the market no longer reduces its price. Instead it picks up stakes and moves to another part of the board. This doesn't seem exactly historical either, but does sever the increase the ability to affect others even more.

A Fairy Tale Ending

A similar idea is found in one of the markets of Friedemann Friese's Fische Fluppen Frikadellen (Fish, Cigarettes, Meatballs). Eschewing the easy cliches of historical setting in favor of a fictional, urban one, the game has players travel about at fixed rates, trading in any of five commodities. Eleven different markets offer various specialties, e.g. buying, selling or exchanging 2-for-1. Prices do not differ from location to location, but are constant across the board, changing after a sale or as a side effect of interactions with certain markets. These changes tend to come rather quickly and since supplies are scarce, there is a very tactical ability to interfere with the plans of others. This helps with freshness almost as much as does the fact that the markets used and their placements are random from game to game. This latter advantage it seems, will always be a problem to overcome for historical treatments.

There is a fixed carrying capacity of seven, not including the fetishes, the collection of three of which provides the victory. There is no re-investment apart from acquiring more wares, although each fetish purchased grants a special ability token. According to the storyline, three fetishes permit the winner to marry a fairytale princess, but this theme is hardly reflected by the modern hard edge of the rest of the game. A fetish is gained by turning in a specific combination of commodities at the twelfth market, that of the fetish dealer. Faithfully reflecting a through-trading system very elegantly, as well as providing a more satisfying ending, Fische Fluppen Frikadellen succeeds as one of the more satisfying, albeit non-historical, merchant games to date.

Back to the Baltic

The former Hanseatic trade of the Baltic Sea makes for a useful topic and in its second outing (after Die Hanse) Andreas Steding has taken appropriate advantage in his new game Kogge. The first difference one detects from the usual merchant game is that adjacencies change all the time. While we saw a bit of this in Fische Fluppen Frikadellen, here it is ubiquitous and profound; in fact it's often possible that from a given point A it's impossible to get to B. Moreover, these changing trade routes are controlled by the players who change out the directional chits that only they know. The rationale for this in an historical game is questionable, but as the instructions point out, factors like thieves, disagreements, tolls, silted harbors storms, pirates, war and malevolent officials often prevented traders from traveling exactly where they intended.

The second difference one notices is how tightly everything is integrated. These same chits are also used in a Poker-like auction system that determines turn order and the chits have the side effect of producing goods for trade in each of their corresponding cities. But we're not yet done with all the uses of chits as they may also be spent to get extra moves, to buy a raid opportunity from the guild master or to get a good. Goods on the other hand, besides being traded for other goods, can be used to buy chits, trade offices and even better special advantages.

Notice that no mention has yet been made of money and, perhaps surprisingly in a merchant game, it does not feature. The need for it is obviated by some innovative victory conditions, two sets of them in fact. One involves purchase of five trade offices in which case the game ends immediately, but in a four-player playing this is a difficult road which often involves weakening one's position as the offices are both expensive and lower one's chances for the timed ending. The second is based on victory points granted mostly for purchased special advantages and goods holdings.

These special abilities permit the players to break the usual rules and represent a useful re-investment of trading success. The possible advantages, all of which are available to at most two players, are (1) trading efficiency: the ability to get three goods for one rather than the usual two; (2) chit flexibility: one free chit per turn, randomly drawn; (3) cheaper movement: two free moves per turn rather than the usual one; (4) better access to the guild master who sells special advantages: ability to travel to him from anywhere by paying one item. Which of these advantages is best is far from clear and players will probably enjoy experimenting.

Finally, catching up to a leader is possible in multiple ways. A main one is that a player has up to two chances to raid, either a city or another player. When a player is raided, the victim divides his goods holdings in two and the raider chooses the set he likes. But in addition, players can outbid one another to reach a destination first and grab the goods before another as well as grab and or hoard markers. Bidding to be the one to decide how far the guild master moves can also be decisive. Finally, for players who really want it there are optional rules for conflict.

Another Imaginary World

Logistico is a second game from Essen 2003 to put through what by now has become the traveling merchant game evaluation checklist:

  1. Type? contract
  2. If there are contracts, are they open or private? open, first come, first served
  3. Are goods open or private? open, first come, first served
  4. Are there random events or opportunity for re-investment to change the picture? No and no, but the game does not last so long as most, so the problem of repetition is avoided anyhow.
  5. How is the theme? Does the ending fit with it? The map is imaginary. Each player may only possess the same three vehicles. After the initial setup, no new contracts or goods ever appear. The game ends when the number of remaining goods to deliver falls below a certain number. All spell a fairly low thematic quality.
  6. Can others be interfered with? Is it possible to catch a leader? Yes, in the sense that the pickups are wide open and anyone having the ability to identify a good that someone else intends to load and grab it before he does can foil his plans.
  7. What's novel? (1) Players must use their vehicles or lose them, sort of a maintenance payment system. (2) Goods and contracts are limited to those available at the start of play. (3) Payoffs are based not on speed or distance of delivery, but on which game turn it is -- they strictly increase with each new turn. (4) Each player has a plane, a truck and a ship. The plane travels a long way instantly, but only to one of the five airports. The truck travels slowly and only on land, but is the only one which can reach certain landlocked spaces. The ship travels only at sea, but is often hampered by having to go entirely around an island. (5) There are secret delivery cards which provide quite a few extra points if the player accomplishes them. (6) Vehicles can move at a variable rate, spending more as speed increases.

Koplopers & Dwarsliggers

Koplopers & Dwarsliggers is a 2009 game from The Netherlands:

  1. Type? contract
  2. If there are contracts, are they open or private? open, first come, first served
  3. Are goods open or private? open, first come, first served
  4. Are there random events or opportunity for re-investment to change the picture? There are blockage events which are player-triggered within a random framework. There isn't really an opportunity to re-invest, unless the ability to add or subtract a train or two is counted as such.
  5. How is the theme? Does the ending fit with it? The map represents real Dutch rail lines and trains are all of the passenger variety. What's a bit strange is that passengers may be taken for a long and wild ride before they reach their destinations. The ending, coming at the end of a set number of turns, is not particularly satisfying.
  6. Can others be interfered with? Is it possible to catch a leader? Yes in both cases, see above.
  7. What's novel? (1) All activities are governed by a flat number of action points, including moving, linking, buying and de-commissioning trains. (2) Contracts and the items themselves are combined in a single item. (3) A train is required to pick up passengers anytime it stops at a station with waiting passengers and it has room.

Also ...

Publication Information for All Games Mentioned
Across the Continent1890unknownunknowncontract
Bazaar1967Sid Sackson3Mstatic
Railway Rivals1973David WattsRosthernelinking
Boxcars (Rail Baron)1974R.S. & Thomas F. Erickson, Jr.selfcontract
Empire Builder1980Darwin BromleyMayfaircontract
Samarcanda198?(unknown)International Team(unplayed)
Star Trader1982Nick Karp, Redmond SimonsenSPI(unplayed)
British Rails1984E. Henninger, J. Griffin, J.&B. RoznaiMayfaircontract
Bus Boss1985David WattsRostherne(unplayed)
Auf Achse1987Wolfgang KramerFX Schmidcontract
Star Traders1987David LadymanSteve Jacksoncontract
James Clavell's Tai-Pan1987I. Bailey, Albie FioreFASAlinking
Merchant of Venus1988Richard HamblenAvalon Hillmerchant
Spices of the World1988Rex A. MartinAvalon Hillcontract
Eurorails1990Darwin BromleyMayfaircontract
Sindbad1990Jean VanaiseFlying Turtlelinking
Agent of Change1991Darwin BromleyHuntington Museum of Artcontract
Silverton1991Philip J. SmithTwo Wolflinking
High Seas1992Douglas Setser, Nathan WagnerDSRGmerchant
Nippon Rails1992Larry & Joe RoznaiMayfaircontract
Distant Seas1992Vernon Paul Rood(self)contract
Die Hanse1993Tom SchoepsLaurinnegotiation
Uncle Happy's Train Game1993Darwin BromleyMayfaircontract
Fugger, Welser, Medici1994Doris & FrankFrank Nestel, Doris Matthäuscontract
Australian Rails1994Larry RoznaiMayfaircontract
Caravansérail1996Bruno Faidutti(WWW)negotiation
Serenissima1996Dominique Erhard, Duccio VitaleDescartes Editeurwargame
Iron Dragon1996Tom Wham, Darwin BromleyMayfaircontract
Ostindien Company1996Jean VanaisePiatniklinking
Trainsport: Austria1996Franz Bayer, Thomas HüttnerWinsomelinking
Trainsport: Switzerland1997Franz Bayer, Thomas HüttnerWinsomelinking
Pacific Northwest Rails1998Robert CarlsenGandy Dancercontract
Lancashire Railways1998Martin WallaceWinsomelinking
Medieval Merchant1998Christwart ConradGoldsieberlinking
Samarkand1999Sid SacksonAbacusmerchant
Isfahan1999Sid SacksonAbacusmerchant
India Rails1999Bill FawcettMayfaircontract
Prairie Railroads1999Martin WallaceWinsome(unplayed)
New England Railways2000Martin WallaceWinsomelinking
Train Raider2000Megumi TsugeYanoman(unplayed)
Volldampf2001Martin WallaceTM-Spielelinking
Pampas Railroads2001Martin WallaceWinsome(unplayed)
Fische Fluppen Frikadellen2002Friedemann Friese2Fmerchant
Bean Trader2002Uwe RosenbergRio Grandecontract
Marchands d'Empire2002Régis Bonnessée(WWW)contract
Age of Steam2002Martin WallaceWarfrog/Winsomelinking
Lunar Rails2003M. Robert StribulaMayfaircontract
Kogge2003Andreas StedingMOD/JKLMmerchant
Logistico2003Corné van MoorselCwalicontract
Koplopers & Dwarsliggers2009Chislaine van den BulkGiucocontract