Well, I was walking through a local game store's 25% off sale, testing my weight lifting skills in picking up games, when I saw a copy of Dampfross. I've been collecting European games long enough to realize that this was the German version of Railway Rivals (or, perhaps, RR is an English version of Dampfross). Dampfross (German for Steam Horse or, if you mispronounce it, Steam Frog) won the Game of the Year award in 1984. It has been reprinted and imported by Mayfair. I picked up a copy and am very grateful.


A game has two stages, the build stage and the race stage. During the build stage, players take turns building tracks. During one build round, the first player rolls a die, and each player gets that many credits to spend on track (Excess credits are lost). To build from plain to plain costs 1, plain to mountain (or vice versa) costs 3 and mountain to mountain costs 5. Also, crossing a river adds two to the cost.

In addition, if you want to cross someones track, you have to build a junction, which costs one. And if you want to run parallel track, you have to pay 2 per half-hex of parallel track and you have to buy a juncture, too. During the build phase, the first person to connect to a city gets a 6 credit bonus.

After a round of building, the first player shifts over one space, and the new first player rolls a die to determine how much can be built in the next round. The building stage ends when a building round ends with nearly all of the cities built to, and then the race round begins.

In the race round, there are a series of races. Two of the cities are randomly determined to be the race. Players then decide (in order from most money to least) if they want to run the race. Then they decide what route they want to use. If you run on your own track, you run for free, but for every hex of someone else's track you use, you have to pay them one credit, up to a maximum of 10. Then the race is held, each player rolls 2 dice and moves along his or her route. The first to the destination wins, but each player gets the same number of die rolls, so if more than one person gets in during the same turn, the person that had the most leftover moves wins the race, otherwise it is a tie. First place pays 20, second pays 10. If you can't run a race by yourself, you can team up with another player. You get to ride either player's track for free, and split costs and winnings.

After the race, both the cities used are crossed off from the list of available cities, players can build track (with basically the same rules, except that you spend your own money and if you cross or run parallel to someone's track, you pay them) and the next race is run. Some races are special in that they don't end up in cities, but in special locations on the border of the map (such as across the mississippi in the US Map). The player with the most credits after the last race wins.


Dampfross comes with 6 wooden train tokens, two dice (one red and one black, with the red one used as a tens place), 6 crayons and two mapboards. Each of the mapboards is double sided, so you get 4 maps in one game. No paper money is supplied, so you'll have to keep track of your money on paper (or raid the monopoly set!) The art on the maps is very good quality, and the crayon markings come off quite easily (except in the crease of the map, so don't draw down a crease). I think that the 4 maps justify the price of $50, because you are really getting four games in one, as each map has it's own unique feel. Ireland is compact, and players almost instantly come into contact with each other. On the Russia map, everyone has to start in Moscow, so you'll connect with every other player at one central point. The Kentucky/Tenn map has a mixture of wide open spaces and mountain ranges and rivers, and the expansive German map seems to allow the players to spread out.

The only problem I have with the layout of the game is the way you pick racing cites. Each city has a number (sometimes two or three for major cities) like 11, 35, 61 or some such. You roll the dice and read the red die as the tens place. This is simple and elegant, but since you can only use each number once, it gets annoying re-rolling the dice to determine the next race. Our group used a variety of dice to eliminate the re-rolls, but it would probably have been better if they had included a pack of cards numbered 11-36. You could simply have drawn two cards and set them aside. As it is, I am probably going to use a set of playing cards and mark them from 11-36 and special 1-6.


Dampfross is a game that almost any group will like. It has quite a bit of luck, but the skill definitely shows up. A cut-throat gaming group can easily discover the art of vindictive track placement, railway diplomacy and the economics are simple but lead to very tough decisions at times.

On the other hand, the game plays in about 90 minutes to two hours, and makes for a fairly tense game even if you play with 'gentle' building, because of the fun of racing the trains.

If the game has any problem, it is that one player could easily get locked out of any good builing area in the first few turns, and then have almost no chance of winning for the rest of the game. The optional rule presented (The 'Passover' rule), which allows players to consider other players track as part of their own (for building purposes) and thereby allows them to 'pass-over' blocked areas, should solve that problem.

All in All, Dampfross is an incredible rail game. It is the promise that EuroRails didn't fulfill.


This was written by Brian Bankler.

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