After reading the Tom Vasel thread and posting a list of the crayon rail games, I figured that it would be nice to have a blog post dealing with those. So here goes.
A crayon rail game is one where you have various loads that have to go to various cities. You build your track by drawing the rails on the map. The costs are dependent upon the terrain you are building your track on. The winner is the person that connects a certain amount of cities and has a certain amount of money (this varies depending on the map).
The list is not in any particular order.
1. Empire Builder - I think this is the first of the series. The original was set strictly in the United States, a few years ago they added Mexico to the map (this is the version that I own and play). It is a good introduction to the series as you don't have to spend time figuring out where things are on the map (we are American). There is a good mixture of loads and cities supplying them. There is enough variation on terrain that it forces you to make strategic decisions (i.e., should I plow straight through these mountains costing more money but giving a more direct route or should I circumvent them saving money but adding time). There are a couple loads that pay off really well (sugar from San Francisco and coffee from Vera Cruz). There aren't too many chokepoints, so there isn't the competition for building first through certain areas.
2. EuroRails - This one is also a nice map. It adds a wrinkle to the game by adding ferries and the alpine rail markers. These are considerably more expensive, so it adds a little more to the strategy. The map is wide open enough that there aren't many choke points but there are a couple places where this happens (England for one).
3. Iron Dragon - This one throws the rail games into a fantasy setting. It adds ships and foremen. Ships allow you to move goods over long distances without building the rail infrastructure to support this. Foremen allow to have discounted builds over certain territories. There is also an underground area with rules for having to pay to move over them. I would like to see these things incorporated into the other games.
4. Australian Rails - The one adds dry lake beds and dry riverbeds with different rules. This one is also a pain in that loads are pretty much to the coasts causing some congestion in the lines. It also doesn't allow for the intermediate loads that are on the way to where you get the really big payoffs. It's not a bad game, but I think the others are better.
5. China Rails - The Taiwan rules make for an interesting twist, but all of the main cities are pretty much to one side of the map, so you are taking a chance if you go for the large deliveries.
6. India Rails - This map is a pain in the ass. It has many rivers and moutains, making the threat of floods a major factor in the decision tree. The only reason I like this is because of the nuclear variant floating around.
7. Japan Rails - This map sucks giant donkey balls. It is too long and narrow. If you are aren't the first one to build in certain areas, you stand a good chance of getting locked out or spending tons of money to build.
8. Martian Rails - This is a fairly difficult map to build on. It adds the wrinkle of insurance (which seems to be a waste of money). I like how the connection points work and it gives you the feeling of building on a round rail.
I've never played Lunar Rails, so I can't comment.
One of the biggest difficulties I have with these games is when to muck my cards (throw the three deliveries for new deliveries), all too often I will try to make what I have work instead of rolling the dice and trying to get better deliveries. I know I've lost a few games because of this.
All in all, I like the crayon rail games, I just wish there were more opportunities for direct interaction.