All aboard! Chicago Express is a game of investment and riches centered around the early days of railroads in the United States. In the game, players can invest in any of the four railroads companies in the game by purchasing stock. Holding stock in a company allows a student to make decisions for that company on their turn as well as receive dividend payments over the course of the game. Players can hold stock in more than one company, diversifying their portfolio and giving them a controlling interest in multiple companies. As the companies grow and expand, their value increases and so do the dividends they pay. This is important as the winner of the game is the player with the most money, cash on hand and stock value.
While this may sound complex, the mechanisms for play are rather simple. On a player's turn, they may take one of three actions. First, they may put a new share from any of the railroad companies up for auction. The auction goes around the table to the highest bidder and the money paid goes into the company. Second, they may add new trains onto the game board for a company in which they own stock. The board is a hex map of the northeast section of the United States from the coast to Chicago. Each of the three companies start in a hex on the east coast and they slowly spread out, connecting to the other cities on the board. There are costs that come from growing the railroad and those costs come from the coffers of the company. But of course, as a company spreads and links to more cities its value increases making the expenses worthwhile. The last action a player may take is to improve an area on the map. This too increases the value of any railroads that have expanded their railroad into that space.
Each of these actions may only be taken a certain number of times before the students are locked out from taking that action. When two of the three actions have been exhausted, the companies pay out dividends on their stock. Each company's current value is divided by the number of stocks currently issued to determine the value of each share, which is then paid out to all the players who own stocks in the companies. The actions are reset and play continues with students being able to chose from any of the three actions once again. This cycle of play continues until one of several end game triggers, when players count up their personal assets and determine the winner.
Chicago Express is a wonderful introduction for students to investment, stocks and dividends. Not only is the game ripe with the financial application of math, it rewards careful planning and calculated risks. Coming in about sixty minutes the game will be spread over over two days, but it is worth that investment of time as there is so much math concentrated into that one hour. While a player's action choices are simple, there are a few game rules that can be omitted which won't affect the game's play or curricular value and make the barrier to entry that much lower. There is a fifth company that is introduced when one of the railroads reach Chicago that can be omitted as well as the rules for increasing the costs when more than one railroad has a train in the same space. Those two rules aside, just a few copies of the game can easily accommodate a classroom of students and provide students with a fun and challenging game of economic investment.