Pacific Rails — On The Transcontinental Railroad

Since the Industrial Age, trains have been indispensable in connecting large swathes of land. We have come a long since then — with the advent of bullet trains and Maglev (magnetic levitation) technology, we get there faster and in greater comfort. Vesuvius Media’s Pacific Rails takes us back to the American Transcontinental Railroad — a great feat during a historical time.

Pacific Rails has you taking on the role of a president of a railway company. Your task? To build the first railway to span coast to coast. The game combines good ol’ steam trains with worker placement, route building, and engine building mechanics. Much like Steam: Rails to Riches, but with a physical board and modular worker placement.

Players take turns placing workers amongst the various action spots. Each action can net you materials, specialists, opportunities to build tracks, or a chance at lobbying Congress to further the development of the railroad. I felt like I was right there when it happened, as it felt so real.

Ready to make history!

What’s more is the ability to expand your trains to carry both materials and hired specialists to the site — you will begin building from one town to the next. This will in turn allow you to place houses on towns, thereby claiming them as your stations. As I began to expand my engine, I was able to connect larger areas, and I felt pretty good about placing yet another station on my journey to the other side.

Pacific Rails also uses telegraph stations to connect — you can only place them on your opponent’s stations. Using their railroads isn’t a must — but when your goal is to reach the other side first, you can travel through them. Nothing is free though, so they will reap some victory points. Trying to plan out the shortest and quickest route sometimes came with a few hiccups — I would miss out on certain towns, and keeping an eye on my opponent added a new challenge.

I enjoyed the worker placement portion the most, as area control allowed me to reap the most resources. Should my opponent displace me by placing their own worker in the center of the resource tile, I would claim a Cowboy Hat. This would be used to claim a double bonus later on. Planning out which districts to place workers and when to remove them was a battle of attrition with my opponent. I had to decide — do free up my worker for another space and risk my opponent claiming the majority bonus for that area?

Pacific Rails
Carrying goods and people is hard work!

The components were top notch — the metal coins had a real rough edge, and the resource tokens looked lifelike. Damien Mammoliti’s (Brass and Nocturion) art is stunning — as this historical moment is brought to life with gorgeous shading and colours.

It has been quite awhile since I got the chance to write this review out. I backed their Kickstarter way back in January 2020, before the pandemic hit. It’s still ongoing, but knowing the power of connection and hope has really helped me weather many rough days. I have Pacific Rails to thank for that reminder.

Pacific Rails is available now through Vesuvius Media’s website, and you can find more information on the game there as well.

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