I just finished playing Boxcars for the first time. The game was enjoyable, but involved too much luck for my group (dice rolls determine start, movement, and destination) given the long play time.

To win, one player must return to their starting location before being caught by another player. Depending on the random locations, this can be either trivial or impossible. The rules [PDF] suggest optionally removing this catch-the-winner mechanic, but I think this might cause more harm than good. It also falls short of addressing the core problem. Some luck is okay, but there's just too much here. I feel like something could be tweaked to make this into a much more strategic and enjoyable game. How can I reduce the luck factor so this 4-hour game doesn't feel like a waste of time determined by the final few dice rolls?

3 Answers 3


We have looked at this game critically and found that we agree with your assessment that there is too much luck. Furthermore, the penalties and rewards for that luck are too extreme the way the rules were written.

DISCLAIMER: If you love Monopoly please stop reading this, you will love Boxcars. If you like games of strategy and planning, please continue reading.

This game is far too random, and doesn't offer as much as a viable means of strategy. Before I suggest to you possible alterations to the rules, we have to examine what's wrong with the game.

Too Much Luck

Random starting location, random destination, moving a random number of spaces each turn.

Double Jeopardy

If you happen to be traveling on someone else's rail lines, and you roll low, you are getting penalized AT LEAST double. Moving slower means increased number of turns, which means other players are gaining an advantage on movement alone. Since you are not on your lines, you are paying the bank or other players more for your crappy roll. It's not only possible but extremely likely that on a trip covering more than 10 spaces you will spend more than you make for the trip.

Feels like Monopoly

Monopoly is a good board game when you were 8. The same reason why people wouldn't want to play Monopoly is why you don't want to play this game. You will randomly get muscled out and there will be nothing you can do about it. No strategy, no plan, nothing. Just hope you get stuck in jail so you don't have to pay some stupid high rent because you went 3 laps around the board before you ended on a property you could buy.

There are more things we find to be a bit off but here are some rules we've tried that make the game less brutal. Consider using any or all of these, we have yet to find the perfect combination of these rules that allows for maximum strategy in such a random game:

  1. You pay for using someone else's lines once. Once you decide to use a line that's not yours, you pay that person a 1 time fee. As long as you remain on that same line, you do not pay again, whether that's 1 turn or 10 turns. If you junction off onto another line, even another of the same person's lines, you pay again. You pay at each junction (think of it as a connection fee). What this does is it allows you to plan a route, at least initially, taking advantage of longer lines or lines that you may own. It just adds a lot more strategy. Optional: You may wish to keep the $1k per roll on un-owned lines as a tax to the bank.

  2. You get to see your next destination before purchasing a line. Normally you go to your destination, cash in, purchase route, then see where you are going. This way you can see where you are going and decide if you want to purchase any route in between where you are and where you are going.

  3. Roll a random sector of the map, choose the city. Perhaps you are headed to the southeast, but are blocked out of Miami entirely. It might be more cost effective to go to Atlanta cause you have a way in there. You won't get paid as much, but it will cost you less. Maybe you own lines into Miami, and it would be worth your time to go farther. This helps getting totally screwed.

  4. Roll 2 destinations, pick one. Still random but a little more forgiving.

  5. "Contracts". At the start of the game you get your start location, then roll 3 random destinations. Write them down and you get to pick which one you go to. When reaching that destination cross it off and you MAY roll another. The catch is you have to complete all the contracts you take, so eventually you will have to decide to stop adding to your list. At soon as you have the required money, and all destinations complete, you can then return to your home city and attempt to win.

We find these rules to help, why let a $x game sit on the shelf and never get played because of bad rules.


We roll both our starting location and our first destination at the same time, then choose one of those to be our home city, and start there. This reduces the odds of being stuck with a horrible starting point for the whole game.

Alternatively, you may try rolling only a region, and then picking a city within that region to be your home city. Again, this reduces the likelihood of being stuck with a terrible starting point.

  • Oh, the current version of the game already instructs you to do just this (roll for region and choose any home city).
    – quietmint
    Jan 8, 2015 at 19:12

After throughly reading the rules there are some simple house rules I have come up with that would limit luck and increase overall game strategy.

  1. Starting Train has a movement of six spaces each turn.
  2. Express moves eight each turn.
  3. Super Chief moves at twelve each turn.
  4. (Optional) Maintenance fees for trains; role two dice. Starting Train: if double 1s are rolled pay $1000. Express; if total equals six, five, four, or three pay $2000; if total is 2 pay $1000. Super Chief: if eleven, ten, nine, eight, or seven is rolled pay $4000. Follow above rules for lower numbers.

  5. Cost of $1000 per use of each bank owned track; if player uses two separate bank owned tracks per turn then total cost to bank is $1000. (This is used to simulate that although all companies are under one entity they are still somewhat independent and have their own corporate management to pay.

  6. Cost of $5000 per use of each separate play owned company. If player uses track from two separate companies owned by the same player in one given turn then they owe that player $10,000.

  7. There rent fee does not increase to $10,000 per turn when all tracks are sold.

These extra rules will help to add strategy and tactical thinking to a players game. By having to carefully lay out their route to avoid mistakes and long usage of an opponent track a player will have to be careful to make smart decisions.

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