Thursday, October 16, 2008

Game Central Station: Union Pacific - For Two

Editor's Note: Dave himself taught me to play this nifty variant that he & Winton cobbled together - it's really the best possible way I know of to play UP as a two player game.

This is the third post of three about Alan Moon's wonderful train game,
Union Pacific - the first two are Union Pacific - Rules & Variants and Union Pacific - Strategery.

Union Pacific For Two

created by Winton Lemoine & David Arnott

NOTE: it is assumed that you already know the basic rules to Union Pacific.

Initial Set-Up

Before the game begins, give both players 1 (one) stock in each company; a total of 10. Each player shuffles their deck of 10 and places it face down in front of them.

With the stock cards remaining, set-up the game as normal: deal each player 3 track cards, 4 random stock cards, and 1 UP stock. Place four stock cards out for drawing and shuffle the Scoring cards into the deck as per the regular rules.

NOTE: use all four Scoring cards, as in a multiplayer game.

Drawing Track Cards

If, at the beginning of your turn, you hold 3 of the same type of track card you may replace one. Show the 3 track cards, discard 1, then draw 2. It is especially amusing to show your opponent 3 wild cards; but if you ever do this and actually discard one you'd better be sure about your lead.

Drawing Stock

When drawing stock you may draw one card from either:
  • a. the 4 face-up cards
  • b. blind from the game deck
  • c. blind from your personal deck of 10

After drawing that stock, do the following:

  • a. Whenever a face-up card is drawn, slide the other stock cards 'down' so that the new face-up card is always placed on the far right; thus the 'oldest' stock is always the one on the far left.
  • b & c. Whenever a stock is drawn blind from either the game deck or your personal deck of 10, place a marker on the oldest (leftmost) unmarked stock (just use a train from a company that isn't growing much).

If all 4 face-up stock cards already have markers when a stock is drawn blind, the oldest stock is discarded and removed from the game. A replacement stock is then placed on the far right and marked so that all 4 stock cards will still have tokens on them.

Any time a face-up stock is drawn, all markers are REMOVED, and marking starts over again from the oldest stock.

NOTE: Face-up stock cards marked with tokens do not prevent them from being drawn as normal.

Trading For U.P. Stock

UP stock can only be gotten by trading, one-for-one, at the end of a turn in which a player drew stock. The single stock to be traded is placed face down on the bottom of the main stock deck.

Scoring: Rounds 1-3

Scoring rounds 1, 2, and 3 score as normal with the following exceptions:

  • a. If a player has a 'monopoly', i.e. he is the only player with stock played in a company, he scores only the first place money; he does not collect both first and second.
  • b. UP is scored for rounds 2 and 3 as if it were a three-player game (see below).

Scoring: Round 4

The final scoring round is essentially scored like a 3-player game, with the 'dummy' or 'the house' being the third player.

For purposes of this round only, 'the house' is considered to be holding the 4 face-up stock cards, all face down stock - including the players' personal stacks - and all stock traded in for UP (which will be on the bottom of the deck already). 'The house' does not hold the cards in each player's hand, nor stock discarded from play due to 'marker removal' or from when 4-of-a-kind come face up.

It is possible during this last round - even likely - that 'the house' will be first or second or tied for first or second in some companies. In other words, it is not uncommon during this last round for some of your first places to turn into seconds, and for some of your seconds to disappear!

For this round only, it is also now possible - though unlikely - to score both first and second place in a company. In order for this to happen, one player must have stock on the table while the other player does not, AND 'the house' must not have any stock of this company either.

Using Western & Wyoming (gray) as an example: If Winton has 4 of the 6 W&W stock played in his display and Dave holds the other 2 in his hand NOT PLAYED, then Winton has four shares, Dave has none, and since 'the house' has none, as well, Winton would score both first and second-place money. Cards discarded by markers and by 4-of-a-kind can also help create this situation.

'The house' is also considered to be holding all remaining shares of UP, not just for this final round, but for rounds 2 and 3, as well. It is therefore possible during rounds 2-4 for one player to be first in UP stock and for the other to be third place or tied for second with 'the house.' As usual, most money wins!

Thoughts from the designers:

The biggest problem we found with UP for 2 was that the final scores were often lopsided. We tried and rejected several solutions including expanding the initial deck of 24 that contains the first scoring card, as well as 'deal out 8, but keep only 4' for your starting hand of stock. We tried changing the scoring for monopolies, and also including the 'dummy' player in more scoring rounds.

The other big problem we discovered was that the 4 face-up stock cards usually became stagnant. Neither player wanted to give the other the advantage of seeing a new card, and on top of that, if was often a better play - especially in a two-player game - to draw blind anyway. With only one opponent, those four face-up stocks weren't as critical.

The two fixes that accomplished the most were the Personal Deck of 10 (one of each stock) and using markers to eliminate stagnant stock.

The personal deck was a way to deal with one player being unable to get even a single share in a company that the other player had locked up (even in a company as large as Miami Southern (yellow), from experience). The locked-up player will keep growing aggressively and can outscore the other by as much as $30 in a company as small as Marquette (light blue). Not fun. With the personal deck you are not guaranteed to find a stock right away, but you will eventually find it, even if it takes 10 draws! The other player will still hold first place in that company but will probably need other first places as well to win the game.

An interesting side effect of drawing from the personal deck is that unless all 4 face-up stocks have markers, it can't trigger a scoring card. So sometimes drawing from your personal deck is a good way to slow the game down so you can catch up.

"3 of the same" track cards can also be crippling. Being able to draw 2 can increase the chances of getting a helpful card. Consequently, you may find yourself playing track cards that will intentionally leave you with 3 of a kind, just so you can take advantage of this.

Not allowing monopolies to collect both first and second place money in rounds 1-3, but including 'the house' in the final scoring, made it possible for the behind player to catch up considerably, potentially for the win. If Dave has 9 shares of El Paso & Rio Grande (green) on the table and Winton's played only two, then Dave will score only half the length of that company (rounded in his favor) for rounds 1, 2, and 3. But unless Winton picks up a few more shares (or some are removed from the game), 'the house' will be in second place and Dave will score the ENTIRE length of El Paso relative to Winton's third place score of nothing. This can be big money.

Note: for simplicity's sake, if both players are in a company, we prefer to pay only the relative amount to the first-place shareholder, i.e. we deduct the second-place money from the first-place money. But you can certainly give both players their total payouts if you'd like.

This final scoring round has also made trading for UP more strategic. This is a good thing, since in a two-player game, there really are no 'worthless' companies to trade away anymore. So now you are trying to trade strategically, attempting to give 'the house' a second place in a company so you can collect all of first.

Also note, you don't need to play all shares to the table to snatch a first or second place. Say Winton has 4 of the 10 shares available of Denver Midland (black) on the table and Dave has only 2 in front of him. If Winton also has another share in his hand, he does NOT have to play it to guarantee first for the final scoring round, as 'the house' can only have, at most, three shares. In fact, Winton hopes that 'the house' does indeed have all three shares, since he is then scoring first to Dave's third.

Now let's say Dave finds another share of Denver Midland and plays it to the table. If Winton then trades his share from his hand for UP, 'the house' has three shares again, tying Dave for second and giving Winton more money than if Dave had second all to himself. Plus, Winton got a share of UP.

The risk here, of course, is that Winton only has 4 shares now and that Dave may be able to find one to tie and negate the company - or worse, the last two to steal first place!

We hope you enjoy this variant as much as we do. We have tinkered with it for a long time - probably 35 to 40 games - before arriving at what we feel is a tense, fun two-player game that still resembles the original. It's become a two-player staple for us.

In fact, Winton even prefers it to the original.

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