Chicago Express Review
The newest board game that is slated for review is Chicago Express (Wabash Cannonball).
In Chicago Express, each of the players takes on the role of a new entrepreneur that is investing in different railroad companies. The players each start with a certain amount of money, and are not able to perform any actions until they are owner (or co-owner) of one of the starting railroads. This initial ownership is determined by auctioning off the first share of each of the starting 4 companies. After this, the players will take turns auctioning more stock from companies to raise funding (or to gain partial ownership), construct railroad tracks with one of their companies' funds, or develop land around where they have tracks laid. At the end of each round (which ends once a certain number of 2 of the 3 actions have been taken), then each of the railroad companies will pay dividends to be split among their respective owners. Once one of several end conditions occurs, then whichever player has the most money will be declared the victor.
There are several incredibly neat aspects of Chicago Express. The first thing is that each player must carefully weigh how much they are willing to pay for each share of stock. There is a lot of strategy with this because the player must factor in: how much it is worth to start collecting dividends in that company, how much it is worth to prevent another player from collecting as much in dividends, and how much operating capital they want their new company to now have to spend.
The next interesting thing about Chicago Express is what happens with the money used to purchase stock. The money that is spent from the auction goes to the company, and they must purchase their tracks using only this money. This is a game mechanic that I have not seen previously, though it more accurately represents real life than most stock based games. After the player purchases the stock, they have a say in what that company does by being able to use that company's funding to purchase track. Therefore, if a player buys stock in a company that doesn't do well, it is their own fault (or the fault of one of the other owners - potentially a minor shareholder that is wasting the company's money) for not handling the company's finances well - after all, there is no element of chance in Chicago Express.
Another awesome thing about the game is how well it plays with different numbers of players. Since the number of stock and companies available in the game stay consistent from 2-6 players, the strategy completely changes. In 2-player, each of the players will probably start with 1-2 companies that they are the sole owner in and have a lot of operating capital with, whereas with more than 4 players, there will be at least one company that will be split from the beginning. Because of this, the strategies that can be implemented successfully in 2-player may fail miserably in 6-player and vice versa.
A final thing that I cannot stress enough about Chicago Express is how well balanced the game is. Between the number of actions that occur per round, to how the money is divided to start the game, to how the interactions between players works because of the way dividends are paid, the game shows amazing balance in every aspect.
Overall, I give Chicago Express a 9.5/10. Going into this review, I was planning on giving it a 9, but the more I think about it, the more I fall in love with this game. It is easily the best stock-based game that I have ever played, and it may also be the best train game I have ever played (I need to replay Steam: Rails to Riches before saying that definitively, but it is far and away better than Ticket to Ride). I would recommend that everyone try this game at some point.
Chicago Express on Noble Knight Games (about $50)
Chicago Express on Funagain Games (about $48)
Chicago Express on Amazon (about $43)