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Switchbacks & Sidetracks - Rules Critique - Updated May 4/2012

6 replies [Last post]
Joined: 09/02/2008

UPDATE: May 4, 2012 Attached are the new rules in a semi-formatted .DOC format.

Topic digging to the extreme, this has been updated and revised.

Any suggestions welcomed.

The original premise and rules are below. *These are no longer valid*

Switchbacks and Sidetracks - A railway game for 2-4 players
1 Game board
4 pawns (red, blue, yellow, green)
16 Loco cards (4 each Local, Through (Commuter), Express and Limited)
16 Passenger Car cards
16 Bi-Level Car cards
4 Cab Control cars
48 Switchback cards
1 Rulesheet
120 Passenger Chips (40 each blue, red, yellow)
1 Notepad and Pencil

Players begin by chosing a coloured pawn and place it on the Union Station square to start.

One player is designated to be the "Banker" and keeps track of all player points.

Players also recieve a "local" Locomotive card and one passenger car card to start. Play begins with the youngest player going first.



Players move their trains around the board, choosing where to pick up their passengers. Players may chose any of the three routes on the board. Passengers from Carville are worth 1 point each, passengers from Waterton are worth 3 points, and passengers from Northbury are worth 5 points each. When a train arrives at Union Station, the passenger chips are removed from the player's train and the player holds onto those chips until the round ends. Trains may only pass each other on one of the eight double track sections on the board. There must be a 1 space distance between all trains on singls track. A player's turn ends if they cannot passs another train on the same route.

When a player lands on a Switchback space, they must draw a Switchback card and follow the instructions on the card. Certain types of cards may be kept until needed. (ex. The Crane Card).
When a train arrives at one of the three intermediate stations to load passengers, the player's turn ends.

When a player's train arrives at Union Station to discharge passengers, the train's movement cycle ends. Players may however choose to upgrade their trains at this time.


The Switchback Cards may affect the drawing player's train or may give that player the option to play it on another player. Certain cards may be kept by the drawing player until they are needed. These "counter" cards may cost a certain amount of points to put in play. These cards may be put in play immediately provided the drawing player has the points to play it. If the player does not have the points available, they may choose to keep the card face down until they have the available points to activate the card. They may also choose to place the card on the discard pile. If the player has a counter card but it has not been activated (ie, turned face up), then the effect of that card is voided. For example, a player has a Crane Card face down because they didn't have the points to play it. The next turn they draw a Derailment card. The effects of the derailment card go through because the Crane has not been activated.


Players may spend their points to upgrade their trains to carry more passengers or go faster.

Players may only upgrade their trains when stopped at Union Station. Locomotives can be upgraded to the next level only (ie, Local to Commuter, not Local to Express). Passenger cars are added in the same manner. Players may perform a maximum of 2 actions (ie, upgrading locomotive and adding 1 car, or adding 2 cars.)

A train can have any combination of bi-level and normal passenger cars. Each locomotive has a set number of cars it can haul at maximum speed. For every car added after the set number, the train's movement points are reduced by one. For example, a Local hauling three cars will only have a maximum speed of three spaces per turn.

Cab control cars are added in the same manner as locomotives and passenger coaches. Cab Control cars allow a player to continue with their train's movement after arriving at Union Station. Trains still end their turn when they stop at the three through stations however. The "Cab Control" feature is added onto the last car of the train and is considered a replacement of that final car. The Cab Control card does not add an additional car to the train.


Once all passengers are delivered to Union Station, the round ends and scores are tallied. The player with the highest number of points wins. Red chips are worth 1 point, yellow chips are worth 3 points and blue chips are worth 5 points.

To extend the game, passengers can be delivered back to their originating points from Union Station.

Once again, players keep their chips and once all passengers are delivered, the score is tallied again.

The game can continue for as many rounds as players decide.
Dan MacKellar

truekid games
truekid games's picture
Joined: 10/29/2008
well... 1: when i ask for a

1: when i ask for a rules critique, i usually want people to be as mean and nitpicky as possible. asking people to be nice is like asking them to not give you honest and thorough feedback.
2: you've got a lot of vagueness issues- for instance, in the section about movement, it says that players move around the board and what happens on specific spaces, but doesn't actually cover HOW you move around the board. similarly, i recommend outlining the overall turn structure, and then going from there.

at this point, it really looks like more like an explanation of play that you'd say out loud while demonstrating with the physical game, rather than a written rules set.

Joined: 09/02/2008
Well, I was saying that

Well, I was saying that tongue in cheek :). Never having actually sat down and written a full rules set. Feel free to rip it apart as much as needed.

I think I need to read some basic templates and other rules.

drktron's picture
Joined: 07/18/2010

I agree with truekid games that this more of an explanation than a rules sheet. In any case i get the general idea of the game. one problem I see is that the game is going to take forever to play. By my count, there are about 80 spaces on the short circuit to carville and back. At the game's start, with the Local locomotive (speed 4) it will take TWENTY turns to complete one round trip on the shortest route to get 2 passengers! This will get boring really fast. I think you need to change the spacing on the board or the speed of all the trains or both. For such long periods of inaction your relying heavily on the switchback cards to add excitement. To me this is another problem in than the switchback cards are randomly drawn. Maybe players have a starting hand of swithcbacks and/or they can earn them. Also, I think you need something more to make this game fun. What if their were multiple paths to each station. At each point where the track diverges into two would be a "switch" represented say by a token with an arrow pointing either left or right. The switchback cards could control the "switch" to change the direction and therefore the path of the train. So you could divert your opponents from their intended paths or take shortcuts yourself. Other cards may put obstacles on the track you would have to get around and find alternate paths. Anyway i hope you get the idea. I think your game has some potential, so don't be discouraged.

Joined: 09/02/2008
Redirecting Discussion

Excellent suggestions, and I'll definitely look into seeing what works.

I've decided to redirect development discussion to where I initially started the thread :)

I definitely need to revisit the concept and the gameplay before revising the rules.

Joined: 02/22/2010
A bit vague on specifics. Can

A bit vague on specifics. Can you write this up into a full rules set and uploaded the (preferably layouted) file somewhere? We can then specifically address details. That also forces you to sit down and think it through (it always helps me to make a full draft, then tinker on the details).

Joined: 09/02/2008
Revision and Update

After much revision and invasions from Real Life, I've done some reworking to my Switchbacks and Sidetracks theme.

Taking some of the suggestions here, and on BGG, I've revamped it to, what I think, is a much more playable game. I've put together a prototype, and done a few playtests on my own, revising along the way. I've attached a revised ruleset, which I think is more of a "Rulesheet" and less of an "explaination".

I've also uploaded the revised board and the new train cards to the 'Prototype' session. Now a round trip from Carville takes only 4 turns with the slowest possible train and gameplay is much quicker.

Rules attached to the first post.

Dan MacKellar

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