Railway Rivals

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Railway Rivals
Cover of Railway Rivals 1985.png
The Games Workshop UK edition, 1985
DesignersDavid G. Watts
PublishersVarious publishers
Setup time10 minutes
Playing time90 minutes
Age range10+
SkillsStrategic thought

Railway Rivals is a railroad-themed board game that was originally published by Rostherne Games in 1973. A German language edition was released by Bütehorn in 1979, and a mass-market edition in the UK by Games Workshop in 1985. The game involves railway building and operations.

Rulebook of the 1979 UK edition published by Fairmount Simulation Gaming


Railway Rivals is a boardgame for 2–6 players, in which each is a railway owner, and is striving to build track in order to join up cities and deliver profitable loads.


The game is in two stages; in the first part players draw tracks on the card using washable finetip pens (allowing the board to be cleaned for reuse). Players have a building allowance each turn; building through difficult terrain costs more moves. Players earn money for connecting cities to their railway network, and pay other players for connecting to or building alongside their track.

Once all cities are joined by railway tracks, the second part of the game starts. Players race their trains along the tracks between randomly chosen pairs of cities; just as in real life, players must pay other players to use elements of their track if they don't have a complete route of their own. The choice of routes raced is random; each city is used one or more times. Money is awarded to the trains that arrive first and second, and the player with the most money when all routes have been raced is the winner.


Initially, the towns on the maps were indexed by the 36 numbers 11–66, allowing a town to be randomly generated by rolling two standard dice. Some towns could have more than one index number associated with them; for example, on maps that included London, it was usual for London to have 4 or even 6 index numbers to reflect its size. As Watts' experience increased, map design got more complex. It became standard for a map to have six "special runs" to destinations at the edges of the map, or special classes of town (for example, sea ports). In redesigns of some early maps, valleys were widened, to make it easier for more than one player to have a route along them. The building cost of going into or out of a hill was also reduced, again increasing competition for previously secure groups of towns.

The first digit of a town's number was considered its "sector" and in postal games GMs would ensure that in the racing phase each sector would see one race to each other sector and one to a special run, to ensure a uniform distribution of the races. In the game's late-1980s and early-1990s heyday, Watts appeared to target a more "gamer" than "family" audience, producing maps on larger hex sheets and with 52 towns indexed by cards rather than the 42 given by the towns + special runs. This led to games taking longer to complete; this appears to have been unpopular with the market, as from 1992 on new map designs in general went back to having 36 towns + special runs and using smaller hex sheets. At this point Watts began to make more use of "small towns", towns which shared their index number with one other town and only scored 3 points rather than 6 for the first player to connect to them; this seems to have been a compromise to allow him to encourage the development of historically occurring tracks without lengthening the game.

The original maps are now out of print. Nevertheless, hundreds of after-market maps have been developed for Railway Rivals (including one for Middle-earth), and they can be developed straightforwardly by enthusiasts. The results of games of Railway Rivals can be compared with the way that real railways developed in a particular area.

German edition Dampfross published by Schmidt Spiele in 1983

Publication history[edit]

David Watts, a geography teacher, originally developed the game as a teaching aid to help students become familiar with the geography of industrialized countries and to demonstrate how geography and competition had resulted in railways being developed in some places but not others. He self-published the game through his own company, Rostherne Games, initially in kit form (hex sheets and colouring instructions) for several years before it was released in a boxed set by Fairmount Simulation Gaming. Watts also sold many individual laminated paper maps covering specific areas of England, Scotland, and India, together with brief instructions and the special dice required.

The German games company Bütehorn published a German-language edition in 1979 titled Dampfross (Steam Steed), and it became a finalist for Spiel des Jahres 1980. The game only sold 1,000 copies,[1] and Bütehorn went bankrupt. Schmidt Spiele acquired the German-language license and Knut-Michael Wolf completely revised the rules.[2] The new edition was released in 1983, and subsequently won the Spiel des Jahres in 1984,[3] resulting in some complaints, since only new game releases are considered; the jury ruled that Schmidt's rules revisions so completely altered the game that the new edition was, in effect, a new game. Dampfross proved enormously popular, selling over 300,000 copies.[1]

Following this success, Games Workshop published a UK edition of Railway Rivals, with a game board made of laminated card, and a map of Central England on one side and the Western USA on the other. Pens, dice and small plastic trains were also included.

Schmidt Spiele marketed several foreigh-language versions in other countries including a Dutch version, Tussen de Rails for Selecta Spel en Hobby, and a Swedish version, Rail, for Alga.[1]

In 1992, a revised version of Dampfross was published by Laurin-Verlag; after Laurin was taken over in 1993, Queen Games continued to publish it.

In 1998 Watts sold the rights to all Rostherne Games to Theo Clarke.


In Issue 35 of the UK magazine Games & Puzzles, John Deans commented, "It is a natural consequence of a completed game for players to compare their network with that actually in existence. Where the two coincide there is a certain satisfaction in 'being right' and where they do not discussion can arise of value in the developing of the players' grasp of this aspect of Geography. For this is the object of the Railway Rivals game and, while providing entertainment and excitement, they seem to succeed in this." Deans concluded by giving the game a rating of 4 out of 6.[4]

In 1984, Brian Cresse reviewed the postal version of Railway Rivals for Imagine magazine, and stated that "Railway Rivals is, deservedly, one of the most popular postal games around, but has failed to gain an equivalent hold on the 'mass' of the games-playing public."[5]

Writing in Issue 78 of Games (August 1986), Sid Sackson called it a "captivating railway game." Although Sackson noted the game can be played by two, "more is definitely merrier."[6]

Rick Heli, writing for Spotlight on Games, called it "a rather satisfying game" and rated it 7 out of 10.[7]


  • Spiel des Jahres 1980: Finalist for Game of the Year 1979
  • Spiel des Jahres 1984: Winner of Game of the Year 1983

Other reviews and commentary[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Railway Rivals: The History". The Game Cabinet. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  2. ^ Corts, Jochen (January 2009). "Spiel des Jahres 1984: DAMPFROSS von David G. Watts". Spiel des Jahres (archived) (in German). Archived from the original on 30 September 2013. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  3. ^ "Dampfross".
  4. ^ Deans, John (April 1975). "GamesView". Games and Puzzles. No. 35. p. 24.
  5. ^ Cresse, Brian (January 1984). "Chain Mail". Imagine (review) (10): 35.
  6. ^ "Games & Book". Games. No. 78. August 1986. pp. 48–49.
  7. ^ Heli, Rick. "Railway Rivals (Dampfross)". Spotlight on Games. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  8. ^ "Sur un plateau: Empires de métal | RPGGeek".

External links[edit]