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John Henry

Page history last edited by chrisv233@yahoo.com 11 years, 4 months ago


by Chris Valk 

A game of transcontinental railroading for 2 robber barons.


Time to complete

10 minutes for initial concept; another hour for research and write-up.



Players are railroad bosses racing to be the first to reach Promontory Point and drive the golden spike – while competing for the attention of folk strongman John Henry.



This game melds two great American stories – folk hero John Henry and the creation of the First Transcontinental Railroad. One player represents the Union Pacific, the other the Central Pacific. Starting at opposite ends of a 13-space track, they race to be the first to lay track in the center space and drive the golden spike. John Henry is represented by a pawn that allows his employer to lay track more quickly – assuming he appears at all, doesn’t switch sides, or doesn’t die with his hammer in his hand.



4 die (2 per player)

Pawn (John Henry)

Mapboard: (See image)




Set the pawn aside for now. Each player places one die in their start space with the number “1” face up. Each player now rolls the other die; high-roller moves first (and uses the result for his move).    




I. Movement: Taking alternate turns, each player lays railroad track by moving his die along the game-track toward the center space using the following mechanic: In his turn, a player rolls a single die (usually) and adds the result to the remaining dots in his space, rotating his other die to reflect this number on the game-track. When a space’s six dots are completed, the player immediately advances to the next space on the track (applying any leftover dots to the new space). Note players begin the game with 1 dot already completed. 


Example: A player’s die shows “3” in Sacremento. He rolls a “5”.  As 5+3 = 8, he completes his space with 2 dots left over. He advances his die to the next space and places his die with “2” facing up.    


II. John Henry: The first player to roll a “6” takes the John Henry pawn (John Henry, taking notice of your amazing track-laying machinery, steps from the mists of legend to challenge this new-fangled technology). The player may immediately roll another die and add the result to his first roll. The player must use John Henry every turn until he loses control of him (more on that in a moment); in other words, he rolls twice instead of once.


     IIa. Losing John Henry: Any time a player holding John Henry rolls a “1” with one or more of his die, he must use “1” as his number for the turn and must pass the pawn to the other player (John Henry,      noting your machines’paltry performance, leaves you in disgust in search of a greater challenge).


     IIb. Gaining John Henry: Any time a player not holding John Henry rolls a “6”, the other player passes the pawn; the new holder keeps the pawn and may immediately roll another die and add it to the first (and      must pass it back if he rolls a “1”). He or she has tempted John Henry with the challenge of beating their incredible machines.  


     IIc. Death of John Henry: Any time a player holding the pawn rolls doubles, John Henry dies from exhaustion (with his hammer in his hand, of course) and is removed from the game permanently. The player      may still use the final, heroic roll.        



The first player to complete the 7th dot (i.e., drive the golden spike) in the center space wins the game. The count need not be exact. It is possible for both players to be in the space simultaneously. Each player’s dots are added together; they are not considered separate.   


Example: Player 1 is in the center space with “3” and Player 2 has “2” (total of 5 dots). Player 1 rolls a “3” for a total of “8” and wins the game.   




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