“Railroad Tycoons” is the new name of the class I have taught to gifted students entering 4th-6th grades over the summer in Worlds of Wisdom & Wonder and Summer Wonders, two programs through The Center for Gifted in Illinois. The same class is currently being taught by me in Portland, OR through Saturday Academy. Although the class originated as a splinter from a broader board game-centric class created by Christopher Freeman, mathematics teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, I created the specific materials (except the games themselves) for this class.

Students from my class plan their next moves in Empire Builder

Students from my class plan their next moves in Empire Builder---and no, their engagement wasn't staged!


The class meets for 50 minutes a day for two weeks, during which students play one of two railroad board games, Empire Builder or EuroRails, both of which are published by Mayfair Games. Both games are played by drawing track on the board, which is divided like a grid, and delivering loads of goods from cities in which they are available to cities which have a demand for them. The only significant difference between the two games is the geographical area they cover: North America and Europe, respectively. My students work in teams of two, optimally with four teams playing each game.

Empire Builder         EuroRails


Learning through activity, in this case play, can be greatly meaningful. When I was in 6th-11th grade, I attended a similar program (also through The Center for Gifted) that has had a profound effect on my life. It further kindled my desire for intellectual exploration and to learn and discover ideas, as well as forming the basis for my still-developing theoretical perspectives on learning and semiotics. By actively encountering the cities of North America and Europe, my students learn more permanently not only where these cities are, but what goods they export and how they might interact economically with other cities. They also learn how the availability of goods and geographic considerations like mountains have affected the growth of railroad systems. More generally applicable, they work together with their teammate, effectively communicate their ideas, and cultivate an ability to plan for the long term.

EuroRails Map Board Detail

Class Materials

Beside the board game itself, which includes reference sheets listing all the cities and where each good is available, each team records all of their plans on a handout that I have adapted from Christopher Freeman’s original after observing how my students interact with it. This not only facilitates my students’ planning and day-to-day continuity, but helps me write their evaluations at the end of the session. You can view this record sheet here. All of the materials I’ve created for this class are available in the downloads section, and the games are available from Mayfair (educational discounts apply).

In addition to this record keeping sheet, my students fill out a self-evaluation form before I write my evaluations. They are asked to describe at least one of each of the following: a correct decision they made, a mistake and what they learned from it, a good decision on the part of another team, and a general piece of advice to share with a new player. This self-evaluation helps me know what they actually learned from their experience playing the game, and helps them wrap up their two-week experience.

Other Responsibilities

Other than classroom management and helping to create an exciting, safe environment in which to explore the games, I am responsible for writing three letters primarily targeted at my students’ parents. On the first day, each student receives a handout describing the class to give to their parents. On the last, they receive a handout recapping the class and detailing ways to extend their classroom experience, in this case where they can buy the games they played and other recommended board game publishers (all of which are listed in the sidebar under ‘Board Games’). Finally, my evaluations of the students, which includes 4+ sentences detailing each of their specific personal achievements, are mailed home after the final day of class.


One Response to “Railroad Tycoons – Railroad Board Gaming Class for Talented and Gifted Students”

  1. Brandy on July 24th, 2008 1:23 pm

    You make me feel like such a slacker :)

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