Before even mentioning aspects of the game itself, I must mention the incredible historical aspect of Boxcars. When a stray ping pong ball stuck in a shelf in Uncle Bob’s garage, two board-game-loving, inquisitive brothers asked their long-time family friend, Uncle Bob, what the large United States map was with pencil markings all over it. It was a prototype of a Pirate & Traveler/Monopoly hybrid board game with a railroad twist.
One of the brothers drew up a map and constructed a payoff chart which he brought home from college for his family to play on Christmas day in 1970. The brother soon patented the Boxcars game under Uncle Bob’s name, received permission from every railroad still in existence to use their logos, then the first production version was created in 1977 as Rail Baron. 11 years after a company merger ceased its production, the game was reissued by Rio Grande Games with very few modifications.
Additionally, every single railroad in Boxcars was an actual railway company that existed in 1950. The instructions demonstrate how mergers, consolidations, and abandonments have impacted the original lines. Overall, I was enthralled by the story of this game’s creation as well as the historical aspect of the railroads themselves.
The gameplay itself is very fun. Match a set of three dice to the destination table to be assigned a random starting point and subsequent destinations. Reach destinations to receive your payoff and to purchase railway companies in order to be paid for their future use. Return to your home destination with at least $200,000 to win. Sounds simple? Not so fast. While you do get paid by other players every time they use one of your lines, that also means that you have to pay a pretty penny every time you need to use someone else’s railway to get to your destination. Do you go way out of your way and use up valuable turns to use your own lines or do you bite the bullet, pay the fee, and get there faster (and thus receive the payoff sooner and the ability to purchase another company).
One of my favorite aspects of Boxcars is the randomness of destination locations. I always struggle with “buyer’s remorse” when being forced to pick and choose destinations in other popular railroad games. The choice is made for you, and you are just tasked with the tactical strategy of getting there in the quickest and cheapest way possible. Another of my favorite elements is the “frenzy” once someone declares (required) that they have $200,000 and are heading home for the win. At that point, all other players converge on him to steal $50,000 and block his return home that turn.
The strategy and gameplay are a blast. The visuals are phenomenal. The history is impressive.
Disclaimer: I received this game for free in exchange for my review, but believe me, I post authentic reviews every time and will be brazenly blunt if needs be.