Variant Rules for Crayon Rails

Over time we've adopted (or invented) certain variant rules for the crayon rails games. A few of these rules variants are reflected in the payoffs used in our randomly generated decks, and so we think it's worth describing them here. If you choose to ignore these rules, the decks will still work; the payoffs may simply be slightly high or low in a few cases. In addition, we also play a "Public Locking" variant, but that does not affect the payoffs. (It may have some influence on what sets of demands we're willing to include on a single card.)

As long as we're at it, this page will also describe a few other rules variants we like to use, that do not affect the payoffs.


On the maps that include ferries (such as Eurorails), we use a somewhat more lenient rule for riding on them. The official rules say that you must move to one end of the ferry and end your turn there; on your next turn you cross to the other end and have half movement that turn. We allow that as well, but we also allow you to cross a ferry on the turn you arrive provided you have not used more than half your movement before arriving. You must then stop at the far end of the ferry. Thus a freight (movement 9) can move 1-5 mileposts to reach a ferry, cross, and stop at the far end; or it can move 6-9 mileposts to the ferry, stop, then cross and move up to 5 mileposts the following turn (as in the normal rules).

In effect, then, we rule that a ferry uses up half your movement at either end of your turn, whereas the original rules require that the ferry travel be at the start of your turn. We do not allow you to use the ferry in the middle of a turn; i.e., you cannot move a few mileposts to a ferry, cross, and continue moving on the other side all on the same turn, even if the total non-ferry movement is only half your normal allotment.

This rule makes the use of ferries a bit less of a problem, while still retaining some of the importance of adjusting your timing to use them efficiently. It affects the payoffs in our decks in that we pay for ferry-based routes based on the ferry costing six movement. If you use the normal ferry rules, you may find that the payoffs aren't high enough to entice players into using the ferries.

Note: Some ferries (e.g., Dublin in Eurorails) lead directly to cities. If you start a turn at the other end of such a ferry, we allow you to spend a half turn crossing, load or deliver freight in the city, and then spend the other half of your movement to cross back.


Because we do not play with any "random events" other than Taxes, we felt that deserts were a useless terrain feature. They cost the same as clear terrain to build in, and there are never any sandstorm events to destroy the track. To distinguish sand from other terrain, we've adopted the rule that it costs 1½ million to build into a sand milepost. The total is rounded up for any given turn of building. Thus, if you build into 5 sand mileposts in one turn, that costs 8 (7½ rounded up), and 6 sand mileposts cost 9.

This has a small effect on payoffs where the shortest route would normally cross sand, and must either go around it or pay slightly more for the track.

The remaining variants described below do not affect the randomly generated decks.

Switchback Builds

We always use "switchback" builds during the initial building phase. That is, the second turn of track building always starts with the last player and proceeds counterclockwise. This feels to us like a good rule to balance, at least somewhat, the first player's advantage, and we see no reason not to use it retroactively even on maps that were published before Mayfair thought of the rule.

Building 50 Million

On several maps, players start with $50 million, but are only able to spend 40 of it during the initial building rounds. This can lead to some rather strange openings. For example, in Eurorails, it is possible to deliver Marble to Madrid as an initial run, but only if you build the track from Madrid to Firenze; you cannot afford to connect to Milano. Since it costs more than 40 (though less than 50) to build to Firenze, you would be forced to spend your first turn of "movement" sitting in Firenze so you could finish building your track.

To avoid this sort of scenario, we play that in games with $50 starting cash, players may spend up to $25 on each of the two initial building turns. (This can even be spent as $5 on track and $20 for an upgraded locomotive.) On subsequent turns, players are limited to spending $20 as usual.

Crossgrading & Turning Around

We generally play using two variant rules that were included by Mayfair as suggestions in some of the games: crossgrading (during your building phase you can spend $5 to switch from a Heavy Freight to a Fast Freight, or vice versa), and turning around (spend an entire turn not moving, and not pitching cards, and you can then move in any direction on your next turn; if on another player's track, you must pay a usage fee).

As with the switchback builds, we see no reason these variants shouldn't be allowed even in games where they were not explicitly suggested in the rules.