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C.C. Higgins Rail Pass

Reviewed by: Kevin Whitmore

(Numbskull Games, 3 to 6 players, ages 8 and up, 1-2 hours; $59.99)

Numbskull Games latest offering is C.C. Higgins Rail Pass. This is a game for railroad fans. The show piece of the game is the large and detailed railroad map of North America. ccbox

As a railroading game fan, I have seen a lot of railroad maps. But this map (pictured below) is easily the most intense map in my experience. The web of rails is intense. Further, dozens of RR insignia are featured on the game board. This is a game map that demands careful study. There are many details embedded into the map that will delight railroad fans. Patrick Stevens, the author/publisher, is clearly a fan of old “short line” railroads. This is borne out with an examination of the remaining game materials.

Along with the remarkable game map, the game also comes with matching miniature cards, one for each railroad line shown on the board. Each card shows the railway’s livery, their slogan, and a map of which cities they serviced. Each card also has a color scheme and in some cases, a code letter. Looking back at the map, sure enough, these colors and codes are to be found. The amount of detail embedded into this game about these lost and forgotten railroads is tremendous.

Clearly the author/publisher lavished a great deal of research into this game. For this alone I would recommend this game to rail fans. They will get a kick out the treatment provided in the game. But what about us game players? What is in store? Is this all just atmosphere? Or is there rewarding game play to be had? The play of the game goes like this.

All players start in Chicago. You have a small locomotive to move around on the map, a modest amount of money in front of you, and a few destination markers spread across North America. Each turn you can move up to four spaces/cities down the track. cchiggins-mapEach space will cost $1. As well, you must pay for meals, hotel, and telegraph services (to report back to the home office). These add up to $5 per turn. So you initial stake of $20 won’t last too long. When you arrive at one of your destination markers you receive a pay day, refilling your travel funds.

The object of the game is to collect as many rail passes as possible. The big decision each turn is based around which city you want to end your turn in. This is because that a player may claim a rail pass at the home city of a RR. Each RR will only issue a single pass.

Rail passes are nice, because they provide free movement along their points of service. Should you stop at a big city to get a major RR pass? Or should you dawdle and pick up “short line” RR passes? This decision comes around frequently, and you must balance your needs: On one hand, you must have money. If you run out you can keep moving, but no rail passes will be given to you. On the other hand, scoring at the end of the game is a function of having lots of rail passes. Connectivity and reduced expense in-the-game vs. better scoring at end-of-game. This is a key game element each player must decide for himself.

Scoring at the end of the game is a majorities competition. Each RR will score at least once. Each RR with one or two code letters will get additional scores. These codes refer to various special attributes, for example “E” railways are electric, “SC” are scenic, and so on. For eacCC Higgins Cardsh scoring, players compare the number of cards they hold. If a player manages to get every card in a set, they score triple the count of their card set. If a player has more cards than any other opponent, they score double the count of their card set. Otherwise, each player scores points equal to the count of their cards (rail passes).
Clearly there is some game in the box. It is not just an homage to forgotten railroads. Each player is vying to collect rail passes from 32 different possible sets. While you need to balance getting to a payday to replace your travel funds, you will likely want to pause frequently to gather rail passes. Complicating things are the other players. In this game, having a trail partner is NOT a good thing. All too often you will find they will stop and take a pass you wanted.

Players could, in theory, monitor what card sets their opponents are collecting and attempt to compete for specific majorities. However, in my opinion, this isn’t going to happen much. C.C. Higgins is a game of detail. You need to pay lots of attention to the map, carefully count spaces, and time your trips to ensure you still have travel funds. Trying to do all this, and monitor what objectives your opponents are targeting is likely too much to attempt.

I am a railroad gamer and, consequently. I know that certain railroads, such as the Union Pacific, have extensive rail networks. Unfortunately not all gamers will carry such familiarity into this game. C.C. Higgins doesn’t do much to help neophyte rail gamers. The routes of the RRs are on the back of each matching rail pass. But a player unsure of which RRs are majors will need to take time to examine all the possible stops they could make to understand how each rail may help them. This could potentially take a very long time.

Further, while playing pieces are provided so that up to 6 people can play, I would be unhappy playing while seated at the north edge of the map. In my opinion, processing the map detail while looking at it upside down would pose an additional challenge. Consequently, I have been aiming this game at groups of 3 people. That way all of us can crowd around the southern side of the map for easier reading. The rules are unexpectedly terse. In general, I think the rules are complete, and understandable. But a couple of examples of play would have been welcomed.

C.C.Higgins rests somewhat uncomfortably between a game intended for rail fans and a gamer’s game. Rail fans will intuitively know which railroads are most important, and dig seeing all the obscure “short line” railroads included in the game. But rail fans may have some trouble learning the game from the rules. Serious gamers may find C.C. Higgins lacking, as there are no new innovative game mechanisms included. The heart of the game is counting, acquiring rail passes, and managing your travel fund. The major interaction between the players is denial of rail passes, but understanding which passes to take to deny another player is not easily discerned.

I would characterize C.C. Higgins as a complicated family style game. As a rail fan, I am very happy to own a copy. But I won’t be trying to present C.C. Higgins as a serious strategy game. Instead, I would say it might appeal to players of Rail Baron/Boxcars who enjoy collecting sets as in Ticket to Ride.

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


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