Master Fenrir Introduction
Rail USA is one of four rail maps by
, the other three being Rail Europe, Rail Australia, and Rail Africa. The opinion on these maps is polarized, people tending to either love them or hate them. Rail USA is one of the smaller and easier to understand maps in this series, and is a good starting point when you have decided to take a ride on the rails. With gas at $3.00 per gallon, nobody will blame you.
There are 67 total regions with 14 bonus zones, including the Chicago bonus. Though the spider web design of rail maps may seem different than a more traditional map, acquiring the bonuses is done in the same way. Bonus zones are acquired by holding every station along an entire rail line. These lines are color-coded on the map, and the bonus key at the top matches the colored name of the rail line to its bonus value.
Due to the size and linear design, I recommend 6 or more players and escalating spoils for standard, terminator, and assassin games, and triples with any spoils for team games.
Bonuses: Balanced/Medium Complexity: Difficult Features DOUBLE DIPPING: Regions show up in multiple bonus zones. There are 5 regions that double dip: PDX Portland double dips the Coastal Stalight and Pioneer rail lines, SAC Sacramento double dips the Coastal Starlight and California Zephyr rail lines, SLC Salt Lake City and OMA Omaha both double dip the California Zephyr and Pioneer rail lines, and LMR Lamar double dips the Heartland Flyer and South West Chief rail lines. NAMING CHALLENGES: The region names are written in a complex way occasionally causing deployment mistakes. Some of the region names listed in the drop down menus when moving are different than they appear on the map. For example, the yellow-colored region in the NOL junction appears as "NOL New Orleans CIT" in the drop down menu, with NOL being the city as it appears on the map, and CIT being an abbreviation of the rail line of which it is a part (City of New Orleans). Even experienced players can mis-deploy on this map. If you don't already have them, I highly recommend downloading the Firefox web browser, Greasemonkey, and the Greasemonkey user scripts Clickable Maps and BOB to make mistakes in deployment less frequent. How to play...
show: Two Player
In 1 vs. 1 games, each player starts with 22 regions, which means that the first person to move will often deploy 7 troops on top of a 3. Taking two regions from the second player will decrease their initial troop drop by 1 troop from 7 to 6. If the first player to move deploys 7 on a single region to give him or herself a 10 to assault the second player, the odds of them successfully conquering two regions is 76.4%. It is also highly likely that your opponent will acquire one of the many small bonuses in the course of this first assault.
City of New Orleans may seem like the best bonus zone to hold; however, keep in mind that while the bonus consists of a mere 3 regions, the Northern border in Chicago can be assaulted from every other Chicago Station. This bonus zone can be assaulted from 9 different entry points. A good alternative to the City of New Orleans bonus zone is the Heartland Flyer. While it has one more region to occupy, it does not run through the Chicago junction and can therefore only be assaulted from 5 entry points. The Silver Meteor rail line is larger still with 5 regions that must be occupied, and 6 entry points. It will be up to you to analyze and determine which bonus zone will be easiest for you to take and defend based on your starting positions. Escalating and flat rate spoils can generally be relied upon to compensate for a bad initial troop drop or an early opponent lead. However, 3 rounds of your opponent holding a deploy advantage over you (whether by bonus accumulation or region count) on Rail USA will mean that your spoils cash will likely be too late to swing the game in your favor. Due to the heavy favor given to the first player to take his or her turn, 1 vs. 1 on Rail USA is not recommended.
The regions with the most reach on this map are the Chicago stations, which are each adjacent to 8 regions, 7 of them being the other Chicago stations. It may even be a good idea when playing large escalating games to create two troop stacks in the Chicago junction, that way you could head in multiple directions.
Due to the theme of the map, the layout does not allow for any true bottlenecks. You can place troop stacks at junctions (three-station clusters such as NOL, SEA, LAX, etc.), which can act to block off entrance to rail lines and force other players to take a much longer route in order to gain access from the other end of the rail line. There are a few dead end regions on this map, those being BOS Boston LAK, the northeasternmost region, and MIA Miami SIL, the southeasternmost region. Should you occupy either of these regions, you may consider building a small troop stack there, to make it difficult for opponents to eliminate you. Should you occupy ALB Albany LAK and/or ORL Orlando SIL, the two regions that border the dead end regions previously mentioned, you may consider building troop stacks there, "locking" that player in so that you have the best shot at eliminating him/her should they become an easy target. These dead end regions can be two of the most difficult regions to access. The middle stations of the Empire Builder rail line can also be difficult. No other line traverses it anywhere in the middle, meaning access to them can only be had should you occupy a region there, or from owning the junctions stations at SEA and Chicago. Large, escalating, standard/terminator/assassin games work well on this map. However, I caution you against fog of war. Due to the dead ends and those stations in the middle of rail lines that are only bordered by their two neighboring stations, there are several regions that you may realistically never see in the course of a fog game, which could greatly limit your chance at completing a successful elimination and winning the game.
show: Flat Rate, No Spoils, and Nuclear Spoils
As previously stated, the easiest bonus zones to hold and most likely to be the center of a bonus grind will be the City of New Orleans rail line and the Heartland Flyer rail line. By "bonus grind," I mean battling for several rounds over possession of one small bonus. It is very tedious, but the winner does gain a great advantage once the bonus is acquired. Think of them as equivalent to South America and Oceania, respectively, bonus zones on the Classic map. Based on the initial troop drop, the first player to move will make a play for the bonus he/she has the best chance to hold, and the rest of the game will go from there.
This holds especially true for no spoils games, as the best way to gain an advantage will be to acquire a bonus zone. Games using nuclear spoils should be played much the same as a no spoils game. However, one strategy should be mentioned. Early on in the game, should you earn a spoil for one of the border regions of either the Heartland Flyer of the City of New Orleans rail lines, you may consider letting your opponents take the line. For example, say your first turn you earn the spoil for DEN Denver HEA and your opponent is trying for the Heartland Flyer bonus zone. You could build a troop stack nearby, waiting until your opponent has placed a large troop stack on DEN Denver HEA to defend the line, and then cash the spoil when able, nuking away several troops.
show: Team Games
Doubles - Playing this map in doubles (2 players vs. 2 players) can result in the same problem as 1 vs. 1 games. The first player to move starts with 16 regions, resulting in the ability to deploy 5 troops. Taking two regions from the second player will decrease their initial troop drop by 1. If the first player to move deploys 5 on a single region to give him or herself an 8 to assault the second player, the odds of them successfully conquering two regions is 56.3%. The odds of this happening obviously aren't as good as in a 1 vs. 1 game, but if successful, can start a trend that results in a loss for the team that moved second. In doubles, bonuses come into play fairly often. With each player starting with 16 regions the chances of one player starting with 2 or 3 regions along the same rail line are fair. If the first team to move does not concentrate on reducing the 2nd team's region bonus, the only other good strategy is for one teammate to try to acquire and hold a rail line while his or her partner defends their line by either dropping troops on their teammate's border stations (typical in no spoils games) or assaulting their opponents in an attempt to protect the border stations (more common in flat rate and escalating games where spoils are necessary). As with 1 vs. 1 games, the smaller bonuses such as City of New Orleans and Heartland Flyer will most likely become the focus of the action. However, if one player has a strong initial troop drop in another rail line such as the Silver Meteor, that may be where the fight is. Quadruples - In quadruples, each player on each team starts the game with 8 regions. While this doesn't qualify Rail USA as a small quads map, a good strategy combined with good luck in assaults can often lead to an elimination in Round 5 and possibly earlier. Also, the increased number of players greatly reduces the chances of any one player having a particularly strong initial troop drop along a single rail line. Most quads players are loathe to take too many regions from teammates (especially in no spoils games), so quads on Rail USA can quickly become a race to get the first elimation as opposed to grinding it out over possession of a bonus zone. Once one team is successful in eliminating an opponent, they will continue this strategy until the other team has been eliminated. *Triples* (recommended team game) - Doubles and quadruples were intentionally described first to demonstrate the two extreme team games in order to illustrate how balanced triples is in comparison. Whereas in doubles and quadruples games, each player starts with 16 and 8 regions respectively, in triples, each players starts with 11 regions. The fact that each player starts with 11 regions allows you the time to enact a strategy. You don't have to fear a quick elimination as you do in a quads, nor do you have to immediately worry about troop bonuses for high region count. Typically, there are three possible strategies one could use in a trips game on Rail USA. The first is to work to secure one teammate one of the smaller bonuses. From there, you continue to strengthen that player until he or she acts as your team's "hammer," smashing your opponents each turn with a large troop deployment. The second strategy is similar, but progresses more slowly without the acquisition of a bonus. This strategy is to strengthen one player in a similar way as in the first strategy, but with the intention just being to increase that teammate's region count. With each player starting with 11 regions, your team works first to keep one player at 12 regions or more to deploy 4 troops instead of 3, then at 15 regions in order to drop 5 troops, etc. The third and last strategy, is the player elimination strategy more commonly found in a quads game. Eleven regions is a lot to conquer without the other team taking defensive measures or countering by trying to eliminate one of your teammates, but sometimes the initial troop drop could make this the preferred strategy in a triples game.
show: Additional Notes
Smaller Multiplayer Games: Because of the amount of small bonuses available (Heartland Flyer, City of New Orleans, Texas Eagle, Silver Meteor, Lakeshore Limited, Cardinal, and Crescent), games with fewer players (3-5) can often result in each player focusing on taking a bonus, while the other players do the same in order to counter. This can sometimes lead to a 50+ round build game. This means that the game develops into a stalemate, with each player just building their borders in fear of being the first to attack and become vulnerable. Flat rate spoils and no spoils lead to the same. More players and escalating spoils pushes the pace and makes for a more interesting game.
Beware of Fog of War: As stated in the Escalating section, due to the dead ends and those stations in the middle of rail lines that are only bordered by their two neighboring stations, there are several regions that you may realistically never see in the course of a fog game, which could greatly limit your chance at completing a successful elimination and winning the game. Also, unless you can take good notes in the game chat or a similar method of tracking game progression, you can easily lose track of the opponents' locations and they could sneak a bonus without you realizing it. Only play this map with fog of war if you are experienced with that setting. Beware of Adjacent Reinforcements: This map is very linear. You may find yourself needing to reinforce troops from one end of a rail line to another, and adjacent spoils could cause a massive delay. Having to wait 3+ turns to move troops where they are more needed could lose you a game, as the troops will usually arrive too late to be useful. Other related strategy guides/topics