Despite an influx of new players and a considerable effort put into advertising this amazing game, we were down a few players year over year with 38 unique attendees this year. While it feels like everyone that has played the game this year loved it, we are going to need to broaden our horizons again to ensure that as many people as possible get exposed to this wonderful game.
We still got 16 tables across the 3 Heats with some really cutthroat action given the quality of play. Some of the exciting notes and stats from the heats:
- 5-time consecutive finalist Ricky Boyes managed the most dominant win in the heats with a 216-160-142-121 thrashing of some very experienced players
- Bruce Reiff pulled off the feat of the closest heat win with a mere 8 points separating first and last at his table
- Coins were relatively stingy across all the games with Kevin Wojtaszczyk’s 69 coins in his heat win proving to be the best number in the heats
- Grant LaDue pulled off 77 points in 7-cities on his way to a dominating win, but was outdone by Rob Kircher’s 78 in 6 cities in his heat win to crush the GM
There were 13 unique winners from the 16 tables going into the Semifinal. Unfortunately, only 10 of those were able to show for the Semifinal so 2 of the aspiring alternates did get to play. This left us for the second year in a row with 3 tables of 4 advancing a top second place into a 4-player Final.
Semifinal 1 had two previous winners in Kevin Wojtaszczyk and Rob Kircher. Filling out the field were Adam Hurd and Bruce Reiff. Bruce started out this game boastfully saying, “Now it’s time to make some Canadians cry.” But Rob decided that his 78 points in 6-cities from the heats wasn’t enough and scored an incredible 80 points in 5-cities in this game. Which wasn’t even the highest number in this game as Adam scored 91 in 7-point cities. However, it seemed like Adam sacrificed all his cash plays to get those 91 points while Rob led his game in cash. Overall, that helped him cruise to a comfortable 32-point win over Kevin’s more balanced play.
- Rob Kircher 160 in cities + 59 in cash for 219
- Kevin Wojtaszczyk 144 in cities and 43 in cash for 187
- Adam Hurd 151 in cities and 14 in cash for 165
- Bruce Reiff 114 in cities and 50 in cash for 164.
Semifinal 2 had perennial finalist Ricky as well as relative neophytes Ewan McNay, Ryan Feathers, and John Corrado. This was the slowest semifinal table, but still got done in the timeslot and was a very balanced game overall. Ewan racked up 70 points for 7-point cities and 42 points for 6-point cities, and interestingly nothing else. He played only 6s and 7s and nearly won. But he was barely covered by Ryan’s more balanced play including 4 trains into Minneapolis.
- Ryan Feathers 114 in cities + 37 in cash for 151
- Ewan McNay 112 in cities + 35 in cash for 147
- John Corrado 104 in cities + 35 in cash for 139
- Ricky Boyes 89 in cities + 43 in cash for 132
Semifinal 3 was another clash of titans with Curt Collins and the GM as former champions as well as recent finalist Sky Roy. Filling out the field was Keiran McNay who was playing in this tournament for the first time and made the finals as an alternate. Curt had very poor card luck and thus spent the game taking advantage of 2X cash opportunities. Keiran also got card jammed early and had to play a 2-city throwing his development back a little. Andrew and Sky played more balanced games with Andrew barely edging Sky, though the close 2nd place got Sky through to the finals regardless.
- Andrew Drummond 133 in cities + 22 in cash for 155
- Sky Roy 126 in cities + 27 in cash for 153
- Keiran McNay 111 in cities + 28 in cash for 139
- Curt Collins 80 in cities + 57 in cash for 137
After all this, we had a Final of Andrew Drummond, Sky Roy, Ryan Feathers, and Rob Kircher. All very strong players and yet all players who were not at the final table in 2022. We also got an unexpected gift from Chris Bizzell who graciously volunteered to record the Final. When that recording is edited, it will be published and made available to everyone to hopefully give the game a little more exposure.
The game started with Andrew noting publicly that his cards were all terrible, followed by a rare note of self reflection where he realized that after complaining about his cards all Semifinal and still winning that maybe his opponents wouldn’t take much stock in his whining. That being said, Minneapolis was the best he could play in round 1, while Rob started with Mexico, Sky with Denver, and Ryan with Casper.
Sky decided to drive yellow north instead of south and everyone collected a little money as yellow drove to Duluth. But in the second city plays, no one played a 2X and Andrew continued setting up a Northern strategy with Billings, Rob dropped Las Vegas looking for a Western push, Sky put down a relatively safe Albuquerque and Ryan also played a Denver.
Turn 3 saw Andrew add Albuquerque while Rob played the game’s first 2X, Sky added Los Angeles and Ryan put down a nearly guaranteed 12 in Duluth. Train plays were interesting with white snaking its way to Dallas via St. Louis, Wichita, and Little Rock while every other line was pointed at Andrew’s Minneapolis.
In turn 4 Andrew doubled up on Billings while playing his second branch of the game, Rob got his 12-point Duluth out, Sky threw down Dallas that he’d just connected White to, and Ryan played a Bismark. Ryan made an interesting play where he forced Andrew into a position of giving Sky 6 points for White into El Paso or take no action and give Ryan 12. Andrew chose to give it to Sky, but it was the first of many interesting inflection points as the game moved on.
So, the game state after 4 rounds was (# of points for cities in brackets):
- Rob (21 points) with 15 cash, Duluth (6), Las Vegas (0), Mexico (0)
- Sky (16 points) with 12 cash, Dallas (4), Denver (0), Albuquerque (0), and Los Angeles (0)
- Ryan (12 points) with 6 cash, Duluth (6), Casper (0), Denver (0), Bismark (0)
- Andrew (5 points) with 2 cash, Minneapolis (3), Billings*2 (0), Albuquerque (0)
In round 5, Andrew put down a San Francisco, while Rob took his first branch (White) as well as El Paso. Sky added a Mexico and Ryan played a 2X. Rob used his branch to keep White going west after it got sent to Mexico, Andrew pushed red out towards Billings after Ryan pushed it north.
For round 6, Rob got in on the crying about his cards but took a red branch to try and improve his standing and Sky announced the round as the “round where we find ways to jam Andrew”. It was set to be a fun round. Because he was obviously terrified of Sky’s bluster, Andrew dropped a 2X, Rob played San Diego further promoting a Western swing, Sky put down Amarillo, and Ryan did Sacramento. Andrew got his third colour heading towards Billings (green) but otherwise scored little with his 2X and red setup a ton of branches in all directions.
Round 7 Andrew saw more northern potential and played Canada, Rob dropped a Casper, Sky played Tucson with a White branch and Ryan took the last red branch and played it with Seattle. White got to Phoenix setting up Rob’s 12 cash next round for LA.
Round 8 was the start of the short lines coming out. Rock Island came along with Rio Grande and that convinced Sky to play a 4-in-1. Rob and Ryan played 2X leaving Andrew’s Salt Lake City as the only city played that round. Rob scored 20 in cash for LA, as well as red to Casper and Rapid City though it was another inflection point to consider other options than the Western push.
Game state after 8 rounds was (# of points for cities in brackets):
- Sky (81 points) with 30 cash, Dallas (4), Denver (8), Albuquerque (10), Los Angeles (7), Tucson (6), Amarillo (4), Mexico (12)
- Rob (66 points) with 33 cash, Duluth (6), Las Vegas (0), Mexico (12), El Paso (10), Casper (5), San Diego (0)
- Ryan (54 points) with 23 cash, Duluth (6), Casper (5), Denver (8), Bismark (5), Seattle (0), Sacramento (7)
- Andrew (54 points) with 8 cash, Minneapolis (12), Billings*2 (10), Albuquerque (10), Salt Lake City (0), San Francisco (7), Canada (7)
Sky celebrated his first ever 2X in round 9 which ironically was a round where a 2X was still left on the table for the first time as well. We also launched the remaining 2 short lines. Andrew played a 2X (as did Sky) while Rob added Salt Lake City and Ryan doubled up his Sacramento. Sky and Ryan burned out red, so Andrew lost the Billings connection. Western Pacific made it to San Fran and mostly to Salt Lake as well.
In round 10, Andrew played another 2X while Rob and Sky partnered on Sioux Falls. Ryan added Phoenix to his haul. Rob had also played a yellow branch and tanked on where to put it after Andrew dropped yellow down to 4 trains left. He punted on it and then Sky misread the turn order and left open plays for Andrew and Ryan to score points with yellow trough Portland and Seattle. Though Andrew quickly realized that he’d accidentally discarded his Seattle card with his 2X failing to capitalize on that fortune.
In Round 11, Andrew and Ryan both took a blue branch and for cities, Andrew dropped El Paso, Rob joined Andrew in San Francisco, Sky did 2X and Ryan played a Spokane that was now worth at least 12. Nothing too interesting happened with train play that round.
Round 12 saw only 2 cards left in the deck. Rob in first spot took one and Sky took the other. Ryan was forced to draw a 2X but took the last blue branch with it. Andrew took a 2X and green branch. Rob played Portland, Sky picked up Canada, Ryan played a 5 point Rapid City and Andrew played Spokane. Branches moved trains to Canada and Duluth.
With no cards left in deck but lots of trains left the board state after round 12 was:
- Sky (120 points) with 41 cash, Canada (7), Los Angeles (7), Mexico (12), Tucson (6), Albuquerque (15), Denver (8), Dallas (8), Amarillo (8), Sioux Falls (8)
- Ryan (110 points) with 23 cash, Sacramento*2 (28), Seattle (7), Duluth (12), Phoenix (6), Spokane (6), Casper (5), Rapid City (5), Bismark (10), Denver (8)
- Andrew (107 points) with 18 cash, San Francisco (14), Canada (7). Spokane (6), El Paso (10), Salt Lake City (5), Albuquerque (15), Billings*2 (20), Minneapolis (12)
- Rob (106 points) with 33 cash, Portland (7), San Francisco (14), San Diego (0), Las Vegas (0), Duluth (12), Mexico (12), Salt Lake City (5), El Paso (10), Casper (5), Sioux Falls (8)
For round 13 draws, Andrew took a 3X to try and control tracks and everyone else took 2X or Boomtown. Rob showed up with a 10-point Bismark, Sky with an 8-point Amarillo to double that up for him and Ryan played Portland which would be worth at least 14. Andrew used his 3X to push Blue West through Denver instead of dead ending it.
Round 14 saw Ryan pull the 3X (he was out of cities at this point) Andrew dropped the 4 in 1, Rob added to his cities with a 4-point San Antonio, Sky dropped an 8-point Dallas. Andrew whined incessantly at this board and then blocked up some routes, Ryan used his 3X to get Green to his double Portland.
Round 15 saw Andrew take the last green branch and play a Los Angeles while Rob played Boise and Sky St. Louis. Andrew branched green to give LA a chance, while Ryan used his 4 in 1 to destroy that chance and pick up the green square in Portland as a bonus. Rob also snuck green into Las Vegas for the 2 cash and 6 cities.
With one green train left, there was a round 16 to let Andrew get Boomtown out, but no appreciable other action happened.
Final scores were:
- Rob (167 points) with 33 cash, Portland (21), San Francisco (14), San Diego (0), Las Vegas (6), Duluth (12), Boise (12), Mexico (12), Salt Lake City (15), El Paso (10), Casper (10), Bismark (10), Sioux Falls (8), San Antonio (4)
- Ryan (157 points) with 27 cash, Sacramento*2 (28), Seattle (14), Portland (21), Duluth (12), Phoenix (6), Spokane (12), Casper (10), Rapid City (5), Bismark (10), Denver (12)
- Sky (154 points) with 41 cash, Canada (14), Los Angeles (7), Mexico (12), Tucson (6), Albuquerque (15), Denver (12), Dallas*2 (16), Amarillo*2 (16), Sioux Falls (8), St. Louis (6)
- Andrew (144 points) with 17 cash, San Francisco (14), Canada (14), Los Angeles (7), Spokane (12), El Paso (10), Salt Lake City (15), Albuquerque (15), Billings*2 (20), Minneapolis (20)
Thanks to everyone for playing and I look forward to seeing you all next year!
Santa Fe Rails is still notorious for a perceived first player disadvantage. I tracked games this year and last and will continue to for games over the next few years. Last year in 8 of 22 games (36%) the start player won. This year fortunes shifted and the start player only one 3 of 20 (15%). 11/42 feels pretty even off the admittedly small sample size, and certainly will dissuade any rules changes to benefit first player moving forward.
In one of the Heats games, Ricky Boyes came up with a brilliant mechanism for protecting players against forgetting to discard cards on their 2X play. We allowed (and will in future) players to place potential discards under the 2X when played. Players may change their mind on what to discard at the appropriate time, but if they don’t take another decision, they are allowed to cycle the previously placed cards at the end of that round even if forgotten during their turn. This is a great innovation to correct one of the little finicky things about the game and is much appreciated.