GTM #278 - Wabash Cannonball
by Rio Grande Games



 Wabash Cannonball by Rio Grande Games

It was never my intention to be a professional game designer, I have always been happy with my work as an engineer and scientist. Back in the early 90’s, a girlfriend insisted that I publish some copies of one of my games that I played with friends. I made some, sold them and figured that was it and went on with my life. Somehow, some copies made it to Germany and it received a great review in one of the German game magazines. Lots of Europeans ordered the game and I was invited to attend Spiel in Essen, Germany. That changed everything, about 30 years ago.

Now, the Board Game Geek lists me as the designer of some 100(!) published board games. I have licensed games to European publishers like Queen Games and Ravensburger, and North American publishers like Rio Grande Games, Eagle, and Capstone. How did this happen?

Well, the Germans are of the opinion that a game designer only creates one good game a year, and by the late 90’s I was creating two or three a year. I started using pseudonyms and just stopped using my own name. With eight different alter egos, I just kept on creating games without problem, no one but the licensing publisher knowing who the real designer was and sworn to secrecy. I enjoyed the anonymity, being just another gamer playing with people. Some sharp folks started to suspect the truth, and when Queen Games published Samarkand, I had them list two of my pseudonyms as the game designers. That helped keep the secret.

Wabash Cannonball by Rio Grande Games

A few years ago, I was hit with Rheumatoid Arthritis and flying to Germany constantly was getting to be a bit too much for me in my 60’s, so I decided to retire as a game designer. Having travelled to Germany over 60 times in 25 years, it was sad to stop seeing my many wonderful European gaming friends, but then they started visiting me and my local gamers here in Pittsburgh. They are fantastic people.

Speaking of fantastic people, my local Winsome gamers are probably the main reason for my successes. Anyone can create a game — some can even create a good game, but to create great games, you need a great team of playtesters and I have had that team for decades. (You can find their names in the rules examples for most of my games, like Age of Steam.)
Anyway, with retirement I decided that I would stop designing games and should reveal that I am the game designer behind all those games that my pseudonyms did. People could then ask me about any of those games directly, without the trouble of trying to find Harry Wu or David V.H. Peters, etc. That revelation shocked a lot of folks and I was again thrust into an unwanted spotlight. Now there are whole conventions where people gather to play my games.

Wabash Cannonball by Rio Grande Games

Which brings us to Wabash Cannonball.

Wabash Cannonball is the result of years of effort to design a true gamers’ game that has simple rules and lasts less than an hour to play for 3 to 6 players. Everything fits easily on four pages, so there’s no huge rulebook to refer to again and again. Players are the famous Robber Barons of that Age, 1830-1850, all competing to make the most money by investing in railroads, getting them to major cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago. They can develop their own interests in these and other cities, increasing their personal wealth through added railroad revenue, along with the greater value of the railroad stock they own.

Wabash Cannonball by Rio Grande Games

 The only randomness in Wabash Cannonball is the capricious acts of the other players. No dice, no chance event decks, no luck at all in Wabash Cannonball. It is an economic knife fight with no holds barred. Players may select any one of three available actions during their turn. The player may choose to have a railroad expand across the continent — if they are an investor in that railroad — and hold that railroad’s stock. Any track built must be paid for with money from that railroad’s treasury. The player may choose to have a railroad issue a stock for sale, and open bidding commences on that stock. All players may bid for the stock, and the money bid for the stock by the winning bidder is taken from that player’s cash and put in that railroad’s treasury, to be used for future expansion. The player may choose to develop a city or mine. That increases the revenue of the railroads that reach that location.

Wabash Cannonball by Rio Grande Games

Other true gamers’ games last for hours and hours. Wabash Cannonball takes less than an hour, regardless of the number of players. This unique aspect of the game was the hardest to create and required an innovative new mechanism to achieve. We specialize in innovative mechanisms here at Winsome, and I can say that the mechanism in Wabash Cannonball is one that we are very proud to have created.

I expect that I will be licensing more games to Rio Grande Games. The publisher made the effort to fly to Pittsburgh and play my games in my living room. He has a large dose of common sense and is very easy to work with (plus, he’s smart enough to use the original rules players are familiar with, instead of trying to re-write them). I look forward to licensing more games to Rio Grande in the future!


John Bohrer once thought retirement meant he would stop creating games - however, sometimes, he wakes up in the morning and there is a new game in his head. He doesn’t travel much nowadays, but now one of his fans is starting an annual convention for his games three miles from his home. He’s willing to travel that far, at least.