(The Board) Games People Play: #17, Rail Race

The Race to the North, in board game form

Monday 10 January 1983

I was up early enough to see a newspaper train passing through Mossley station. Besides the hilly terrain, my paper round is a delight for trainspotters. Especially Mill Lane. If I was that way inclined, I would have nipped to Smith’s photographic shop on Stamford Road. Then, with a few rolls of 35mm film, I would have bought a cheap and cheerful SLR (a used Zenit or Practika would do).

Instead of paying Supasnaps prices, I could ask Swotty Simpson (Marcus) if I could join his photography club. This means cheap and cheerful film processing prices (like free of charge).

As for trains, there is only one person I know who’s mad on them. He’s the only classmate to carry a copy of Rail Enthusiast and The Guardian in his school bag. Worse, he supports Stalybridge Celtic and listens to Genesis. He prefers Kate Bush and Claire Scott off Grange Hill to Kim Wilde, but each to their own.

Before the Northern Powerhouse was even thought of as a gimmick, Spear’s Games published this game in 1946.

Rail Race

1946 was quite an ominous year to launch a rail based board game in Britain. The Big Four were reeling from the spoils of the Second World War. Stations, track, and traction were whacked out. On the 01 January 1948, salvation came in the formation of British Railways; a nationalised concern formed by Clement Attlee’s Labour government. Even so, a great many schoolchildren used to hang around station platforms and go trainspotting. At around that time, The Three Railway Engines by Reverend Wilbert Awdry was published. This led to a popular series.

Spear’s Games’ Rail Race reflects the 1930s romance of train travel: fast trains from north to south. The object of the game is to go from A to B and back again in the quickest time possible. There are Incident Cards and Place Cards. Incident Cards can scupper your journey with possible delays (i.e. cows on the line or signal failures). Place Cards determine your journey’s intermediate points, as well as your starting and finishing points.

To all intents, it is a cardboard and metal version of The Race To The North. As a nod to the Mallard’s glory days, all six counters are based on Sir Nigel Gresley’s locomotive.

Perhaps Rail Race, with passenger numbers at its highest since the 1920s is due for a revival. I doubt as if plastic Class 142 Pacer units have the same allure as painted Mallards. Maybe there’s a remake in progress but, like Mossley’s electrification scheme, forever delayed.

S.V., 17 December 2017.

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