[Every once in a while, a game arrives on the scene that seems to take on a life of its own. Such a game is Santa Fe, an Alan Moon design that originally appeared on his own label, White Wind Games. The game was a critical success but a limited edition. With the passage of years, the stature of the game has grown as its availability has diminished. To rectify that situation, TWO revised editions of Santa Fe have appeared this year – Santa Fe Rails from GMT Games and Clippers from Eurogames.

We liked Santa Fe right from the start and we’ve reprinted our review, originally published in the Summer 1993 Gamers Alliance Report, below. To find out how Santa Fe Rails and Clippers stack up with its illustrious ancestor, you’re invited to visit this issue’s K-Ban’s Korner.]

Reviewed by Herb Levy

Santa Fe (White Wind Games)


Railroads and the American West have long held a fascination for both American and European gamers. The wide open spaces and the free wheeling spirit of the late 1800s are factors lending themselves well to game play. And there has not been a better use of these elements than in Santa Fe, the new railroading game from White Wind.

Santa Fe is an Alan Moon design and comes bookshelf boxed with a stylized mapboard of the western United States, a deck of high quality cards (consisting of City Cards, Double Turn Cards, Branch Line Cards and Engineer Cards), 128 pieces of track, plastic chips for use as money (copper chips = $1, silver = $5, gold = $10), a First Player Train and a German-English rulebook. This is a low complexity game for 2 to 5 players. (Interestingly, the rules suggest that the game plays best with three or four; we found five player games to work exceedingly well too.) Playing time runs about an hour.santafe2

All five rail lines in the game are marked by name and color and, in preparation for play, all of the track pieces are sorted by the corresponding rail color. (A minor gripe here. The track is colored on only one side. Sorting would have been a lot easier if the track had been printed and colored on both sides.) The number of track pieces available for each railroad differs, ranging from 32 blue rails for the Santa Fe line down to only 17 yellow Kansas-Pacific track sections.

Game play involves a series of rounds. A round begins with all players playing one card from their hands and placing it face down on the table. Then, all cards are exposed simultaneously.

There are 66 City Cards and each carry a name of a city along with a number value (ranging from 2 to 7). Since the trains begin their expansion from the easternmost part of the board, the farther west the city, the higher its number value. Players score points only for City Cards that are played and placed face up. Cards that remain unplayed in hands have no value. The interesting twist here is that City Card values are changeable! The numerical value of a City Card is multiplied by the number of railroads connected to it! For example, Billings is valued a “5” and Seattle at “7”. But if Billings is connected by three rail lines and Seattle by only one, then a played Billings card is worth “15” as opposed to a played Seattle card worth “only 7”.

After exposing a card, the round continues with two turns of laying track. Players do not control any specific rail line. Each player can place track on any color provided that the played track connects to an existing corresponding rail network on the board. Once all track is placed, all players replenish their hands (up to five cards). The First Player passes the First Player Train to the player on the left (who becomes the First Player for the subsequent round) and the next round begins.

During the card playing segment, players have several options besides playing a City Card. They may also play a Double turn Card, a combination of a City Card with a Branch Line card or a combination of a Double Turn Card and a Branch Line Card.

A Double Turn Card allows a player to place two pieces of track in both track phases of a turn (although only one piece of track may be placed if desired). Furthermore, all bonuses are doubled during the round that card is played. Also, a player dissatisfied with the City Cards he is holding may discard and replace any number of City Cards in his hand. (Discarded City Cards are permanently removed from play.)

Each Railroad has two Branch Line Cards and a player may pay $1 and draw one of them. (Players may only hold one Branch Line Card in their hands at any one time.) If held, the Branch Line Card must be played immediately on the next round in conjunction with either a City or Double Turn Card. They cannot be played alone.

Play of a Branch Line Card allows a player to start a new route of track for the named railroad from any city that railroad connects, thereby extending the railroad. Because of this, it would have been helpful and beneficial for the track pieces to have had arrows on them denoting directions. That would have helped in tracking the path of the various rail lines since rail lines often swerve, curve and “swing around”.

Bonuses mean money and money is earned in different ways. The first player to connect the first railroad to any city earns $2. Certain cities are marked with colored squares (matching the colors of certain railroads). Should a corresponding color railroad enter that city, the player making that connection gets a bonus of $4. As mentioned previously, Double Turn Cards double all bonuses in a round.

When all track pieces of all the railroads have been played or if a player is unable to play any piece of track because all playable railroads are “dead-ended”, the game ends and points are tallied.

Points are received in two ways. First, players receive 1 point for each $1 they have. Second, each City Card is worth its value times the number of different rail lines connected to it. The player with the highest total wins! (In case of a tie, the player with the most City Cards valued at “7” is declared the victor.)

Rounding out the clear and concise rules are advanced rules giving the players a bigger bankroll to start but doubling the cost of the Branch Line Cards. Also provided are rules for terrain. Under those provisions, laying track across rivers and mountains would cost players money.

The biggest disappointment concerning Santa Fe is its limited edition status. Production of the game has been limited to only 1200 copies (part of White Wind’s 1200 Club). Because Santa Fe is a wonderfully designed game full of strategical choices and challenge, it is a game full of replay value and worthy of a much larger audience and more substantial print run. Highly recommended. – Herb Levy

(Copyright © 1993, all rights reserved)


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