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Avalon Hill "Dispatcher" game

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Avalon Hill "Dispatcher" game
Posted by Lithonia Operator on Friday, November 12, 2021 8:15 AM

Not long ago I found and bought a "Dispatcher" game on eBay. I'd wanted one (I thought) since I was a kid.

My wife and I tried playing it the last couple of nights. We found the instructions to be totally inadequate. One good example is re the signaling. They don't really explain how the signaling affects how one plays this board game. It says CTC affords protection in both directions, and automatice block in one direction; what they fail to explain is what "protection" means in the context of the game. I could give many other examples.

I went online and found that many people seem to have just made up their own rules re certain aspects of play. So we tried that. We just ignored the signals.

But it's still super complicated and unclear. One thing we found impossible to manage, even with our dumbed-down rules, is this: you can only move a train once per turn. Fair enough. But there are SO MANY TRAINS! Constantly we were asking each other, "Do you think I moved this one yet?" We were simply unable to keep track. Finally we threw in the towel.

Does anyone know of the existence online perhaps of a truly complete and understandable set of rules for this game. Preferably someone's own dumbed-down version? I'd like to play, but we just can't do it, as is.

I thought about just cutting the number of trains in half. But I think the game would get unfairly skewed towards one dispatcher if one did not know precisely which trains could be axed equitably.

I thought about posting this in the BNSF dispatching thread. It sure gives you a good idea about why you don't want to hire dispatchers off the street!

 

Still in training.


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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, November 12, 2021 9:23 AM

While I had the game as a child, I don't recall ever having played it - much to involved for my intellect at the time.

The game is loosely based on the B&O's Baltimore Division as I recall.  Baltimore to Washington to Brunswick by two different routes that each have different signal systems.

CTC territories have tracks that provide signal protection in both directions.  Automatic Block signal systems only provide protection behind a train operating on a track so signalled - 'current of traffic'.  Trains moving against the current of traffic have no signal protection and are moving on either a Manual Block or Train Order authority or in some cases on some carriers both.

As information, the first siding West of Baltimore on the Old Main Line is known as Avalon.  I forget when the game was originally published.  Until about 1961 the Old Main Line was a double track railroad that had current of traffic signaling - West on #3 Track and East on #4 track (Tracks #1 & #2 were from Baltimore to Washington and on to Brunsiwck).  The Old Main Line started at HX Tower on the West end of Baltimore and continued to Point of Rocks where it ended and joined the line from Washington to Brunswick.  After 1961 or thereabouts the Old Main Line became a single track CTC railroad with five passing sidings between HX Tower and a point known as Doub, two miles East of Point of Rocks where double track started until the junction with the Washington-Brunswick line at Point of Rocks.

At the same time as the Old Main Line was made into single track CTC so was the railroad from Rossville to Philadelphia, what is now CSX's Philadelphia Sub.  Within the Baltimore Dispatching Office which was on the 2nd floor of Camden Station there ended up being two Train Dispatcher desks.  One desk handled all the CTC signalled line.  The other desk handled Baltimore Terminal as well as the Baltimore to Washington to Brunswick that also included the Alexandria Branch from JD Tower at Hyattsville down to Anacostia where the line joined the PRR/ConRail freight railroad into Potomac Yard.

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Posted by 7j43k on Friday, November 12, 2021 9:39 AM

"Dispatcher" came out in the early sixties, when I was in high school.  I bought one.  A neighbor kid liked trains, too; and we played the game a couple of times.

I cannot remember the extent of our rule following, or even the extent of our trying to figure out what those rules were.  

I recall it took "days" to play the game, and so you needed an unmolestable space to set up.

Still got it, but the box hasn't been opened since way back then.  Maybe someday,......

 

 

Ed

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Friday, November 12, 2021 10:31 AM

I think maybe one needs to use graph paper with a vertical column assigned to each train, and horizontal rows for each hour. (Each turn represents an hour.) Then every time you move a train you put an X in the box. I could do a blank one, print a bunch of copies, throw them in the box.

Still in training.


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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Friday, November 12, 2021 10:38 AM

BaltACD
CTC territories have tracks that provide signal protection in both directions.  Automatic Block signal systems only provide protection behind a train operating on a track so signalled - 'current of traffic'.  Trains moving against the current of traffic have no signal protection and are moving on either a Manual Block or Train Order authority or in some cases on some carriers both.

I understand how that works in real life. But not in this game. There is no real explanation in the instructions on how those distinctions affect the movement of the pieces. For example, if it said that in ABS territory one must always have at least one unoccupied block between trains, that would mean something; but there's nothing like that. The instructions are kind of a joke, really.

Still in training.


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Posted by Enzoamps on Friday, November 12, 2021 11:38 AM

I bought Dispatcher when it came out.   I tried to play it, but indeed it was convoluted and inconvenient to play.   I much preferred other Avalon-Hill games, like Tactics and Bismark.  None of their games play out in an hour, they all tend to be complex and tedious.

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Posted by adkrr64 on Friday, November 12, 2021 1:57 PM

Never owned Dispatcher. I did own Rail Baron, also from Avalon Hill. Sort of like Monopoly, except with all railroads. Rules are fairly straightforward and it can be completed in a few hours. I also had a number of Avalon Hill sports games like StatisPro Baseball and Football. Had a few of their war games, too. They made good stuff.

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Friday, November 12, 2021 2:15 PM

We have Rail Baron. It's a simple and fun game, but has nothing to do with RR operations. Like you say, it's akin to Monopoly.

Still in training.


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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, November 12, 2021 2:45 PM

Lithonia Operator
 
BaltACD
CTC territories have tracks that provide signal protection in both directions.  Automatic Block signal systems only provide protection behind a train operating on a track so signalled - 'current of traffic'.  Trains moving against the current of traffic have no signal protection and are moving on either a Manual Block or Train Order authority or in some cases on some carriers both. 

I understand how that works in real life. But not in this game. There is no real explanation in the instructions on how those distinctions affect the movement of the pieces. For example, if it said that in ABS territory one must always have at least one unoccupied block between trains, that would mean something; but there's nothing like that. The instructions are kind of a joke, really.

Just like railroading in real life - the rules are stated in the Book of Rules. When I hired out - I was required to 'write' in a workbook each and every rule in the book.  That way I could never use the excuse that I had never read the rule, should I get involved in a company investigation.

With the above being said, reading and writing the rules is one thing, understanding and applying the rules to the real world situations each job type encounters is where things get difficult.

Suspect Avalon Hill in writing their 'instructions' left in some of the ambiguity that outsiders see in the rules of real railroads. 

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Posted by tree68 on Friday, November 12, 2021 2:47 PM

I've never played any of those games.

Came up with an idea some years ago for a rail-based board game that would have each player having one train (token) to move around the board.  

There would be industries, and each player would start out with a "train" of cars (ie, randomly dealt).  The idea would be to deliver all of the cars.  Might be some arrangement where "empty" cars are located at some industries (random deal?) that have to be picked up as well.

"Form 19" and "Form 31" cards would be picked up if you landed on a designated spot (towers?, stations?), a la "Chance" or "Community Chest" in Monopoly.  One would have penalties (bad order car, etc), the other would involve one's consist, ie, orders to pick up cars.  They could also be used to confer "rights" to your train.

The idea would be to deliver all the cars you were dealt at the beginning, plus any you gained from the 19's and 31's, and return to the "yard."

"Passing" sidings would exist, and in order to use one for a meet (all players could range throughout the board), you'd have to have only as many cars as the siding would hold.  A card granting superior rights might come into play as well.

If two players needed to meet, some negotiation would have to occur to figure out who took the siding,  etc.

That's about as developed as the concept ever got.

LarryWhistling
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Posted by 7j43k on Friday, November 12, 2021 3:58 PM

An article on Avalon Hill:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avalon_Hill

 

I see that Dispatcher was introduced in 1958.  And that the Big Guy worked for B&O, as did his father and grandfather.

I found a good discussion of the rules and ways to fix them here:

 

http://www.bobnewell.net/nucleus/bnewell.php?itemid=214

 

Ed

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Posted by PennsyBoomer on Friday, November 12, 2021 6:40 PM

I had this game way back when and damned if it didn't shape the context of my future career. I should have known!

It's been so long that I cannot offer any clues as to strategies other than keep out of the way of the passenger trains. They eat up distance really fast as compared to the rest of the traffic. Maybe some insight into CSX's heartburn over additional Amtrak "business".

With respect to signaling, CTC means you can use the track in either direction whereas automatic block is directional - this way or that only.

The railroad offered in the game has many junctions and lots of tracks that would be non-existent nowadays. It was always a matter of trying to stay several hours ahead of potential conflicts, avoiding bringing too many extras online at the wrong intervals; and that is as real as it gets, optimally. I should drag the game out and see if I got any better, but it could get pretty intense as I recall.

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, November 12, 2021 8:20 PM

The one thing the Train Dispatcher game has wrong is that in the real world Train Dispatching is not a competition to have one Train Dispatcher out score another - Train Dispatchers with adjoining territories have to cooperate with each other for their mutual benefit.  The only 'score' real Train Dispatchers acknowledge is keeping their territory fluid.

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Saturday, November 13, 2021 7:55 AM

PennsyBoomer

I had this game way back when and damned if it didn't shape the context of my future career. I should have known!

It's been so long that I cannot offer any clues as to strategies other than keep out of the way of the passenger trains. They eat up distance really fast as compared to the rest of the traffic. Maybe some insight into CSX's heartburn over additional Amtrak "business".

With respect to signaling, CTC means you can use the track in either direction whereas automatic block is directional - this way or that only.

The railroad offered in the game has many junctions and lots of tracks that would be non-existent nowadays. It was always a matter of trying to stay several hours ahead of potential conflicts, avoiding bringing too many extras online at the wrong intervals; and that is as real as it gets, optimally. I should drag the game out and see if I got any better, but it could get pretty intense as I recall.

 

Thanks for responding.

- For dark territory instructions say only one opposing train can be operated at a time. Seems to me none can. ??? Those stretches have no sidings anyway.

- As for ABS vs. CTC, we apparently were playing incorrectly. I assumed that in ABS territory I could run "wrong main" if I knew I could get in the clear in time. No?

- The whole scoring is that you get demerits if a train cannot move its full allotment (eg: 1st class, 4 blocks). Okay. But how could you get involved in a collision? (50 demerits! And a track closure.) Say the other train is three spaces away. You can simply move those three blocks, stop, then take the four demerits penalty that goes with not going the full four: four demerits. I can't see how there would ever be collisions. ??

- Pennsy, did you create a special custom sheet to keep track of which trains had moved/not-yet-moved on a given turn? To us, keeping track of that was nearly impossible, and took a lot of the flow, and fun, out of the game. And we only got as far as having about half the trains moving. If they were all underway, or most of them ... it hurts the brain.

- It seems like you would need another special sheet to keep track of whether 1st and 2nd class trains were on time or not at each scheduled station.

Comments?

Still in training.


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Posted by chatanuga on Thursday, December 2, 2021 6:38 PM

After reading about Dispatcher, I found it on Ebay for $45.  While the box has some wear, the game is complete with all of the original pieces, paperwork, etc.  Not bad for a 63-year old board game.  A lot of copies of the game on Ebay were going for more and were missing pieces or (in one case) the instructions.

I also found Avalon Hill's followup game from 1969 called C&O-B&O for $30.  The box has only slight wear, and there were a few numbers written in pencil on one of the scorecards.  Half of the train markers were still on the cardboard sheet that they were all on when the game was made.  Other than that, the game was like new with all of the pieces.  Definitely another nice find for a 52-year old board game.

Last year I did some board game reviews of games that I have in my collection and am planning a review of these games when I get a chance.

Kevin

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Posted by 7j43k on Thursday, December 2, 2021 6:50 PM

Kevin,

 

I hope you will link to your reviews of these games when you write them.

 

Ed

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Thursday, December 2, 2021 7:28 PM

Kevin, is B&O-C&O about railroad operations? Or is it more like Rail Baron (which is like Monopoly)?

Still in training.


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Posted by rixflix on Thursday, December 2, 2021 8:48 PM

   The game was copyrighted in 1958 and Avalon Hill's address was in the Avalon section of (I guess) Baltimore County overlooking the Old Main in the Patapsco Valley. A friend and I bought it in '59 or '60 when I was 13 or 14. Can't recall how we found out about it but it may have just showed up at Haines (now Iron Horse) Hobby House or Hintz's bookstore, both in our hometown of Reading PA.

   In those days our perfect Saturday involved a 10-cent bus trip downtown, a visit to Haines, and a six block walk up 6th street to the fabulous original Outer Station. We'd spend the better part of the day there fueled by the best, least carbonated Coke in town. By then only Philly-Pottsville passenger trains stopped there and most freight moved on the Belt Line. The yard jobs and talking to employees kept us entertained. Of course we wanted to hire on immediately, but were told "Aw kids, when you're old enough there won't be any railroads." 

   This was the heart of the Reading Company and the dispatch office "D" was on the mainline platform. It had 4-5 foot wide double hung windows, no air conditioning and plenty of telegraph clatter. One day we took our new Dispatcher game there and laid out the four panels on the window sill. As duties permitted, the employees came over to see what this marvel was all about. One suggested that some track features resembled the enemy Pennsy's. Some things are best left to memory but I'd love to time-travel to that day.   

   In practice we quickly came to resent the competitive/demerit aspect of the game, and devised a more prototypical cooperative model. A coin flip decided who got which division and another determined who used the ctc low-grade line to fleet his extras. The three track main over the hill saw a long period of very busy helper action. Demerits were still assessed for delays. Record keeping and a dedicated place were necessary for this long in time and space game.

Rick  

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Posted by chatanuga on Saturday, December 4, 2021 12:10 AM

Lithonia Operator

Kevin, is B&O-C&O about railroad operations? Or is it more like Rail Baron (which is like Monopoly)?

 

Never played Rail Baron.

In C&O-B&O, one player is the B&O while the other is the C&O.  The big game board is basically a simplified map of both systems with 97 trains (50 B&O, 47 C&O) trains.  Some of the passenger trains have sections that split off or combine enroute.  Points are scored based on on-time arrivals of passenger trains and freight picked up by the freight trains.  Not all trains or trackage of both roads are actually depicted as that would make the game too complicated.

I'm currently playing the Dispatcher game and will be playing C&O-B&O when I can afterwards.

Kevin

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Saturday, December 4, 2021 8:01 AM

Let me know which one is easier to play!

Still in training.


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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, December 4, 2021 8:23 AM

chatanuga
 
Lithonia Operator

Kevin, is B&O-C&O about railroad operations? Or is it more like Rail Baron (which is like Monopoly)? 

Never played Rail Baron.

In C&O-B&O, one player is the B&O while the other is the C&O.  The big game board is basically a simplified map of both systems with 97 trains (50 B&O, 47 C&O) trains.  Some of the passenger trains have sections that split off or combine enroute.  Points are scored based on on-time arrivals of passenger trains and freight picked up by the freight trains.  Not all trains or trackage of both roads are actually depicted as that would make the game too complicated.

I'm currently playing the Dispatcher game and will be playing C&O-B&O when I can afterwards.

Kevin

Suprisingly I had never heard of the C&O/B&O game.  Learn something even in old age.

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Posted by chatanuga on Saturday, December 4, 2021 5:39 PM

BaltACD

 Suprisingly I had never heard of the C&O/B&O game.  Learn something even in old age.

 
 
Kevin
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Posted by Flintlock76 on Sunday, December 5, 2021 1:03 PM

I'm glad I'm not a gamer, just reading through this made my head hurt.

(Bad enough I spasmed my back yesterday and THAT hurts!  Ick!)

I'm heading out to my Chugger Barn and play with the trains, at least everything on the layout makes sense.  Until it doesn't. 

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Posted by SealBook27 on Thursday, December 9, 2021 2:47 PM

When I first read this thread, I thought you were talking about a computer program from the late nineties called "Train Dispather 2" sold by SIGNAL Computer Consultants.  Digging through my old issues of "Trains" I found an ad in the April '99 isssue, page 81.  Dearly loved this game until my computer died and the program would no longer work on later operating systems.  

 

Is there such a game as this in this day and age?

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Posted by 7j43k on Thursday, December 9, 2021 6:34 PM

SealBook27

When I first read this thread, I thought you were talking about a computer program from the late nineties called "Train Dispather 2" sold by SIGNAL Computer Consultants.  Digging through my old issues of "Trains" I found an ad in the April '99 isssue, page 81.  Dearly loved this game until my computer died and the program would no longer work on later operating systems.  

 

Is there such a game as this in this day and age?

 

 

Apparently, as there's a website for the product.  And there look to be many more by other people.

One thing about the Avalon Hill game:  it CAN work on later operating systems, as long as the hardware is in good shape.

 

Ed

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Posted by SealBook27 on Friday, December 10, 2021 4:59 PM

Ed:  Thank you ever so much!  The original developer turned it over to a third party, so I was able to order it thru Ebay ($20).  Supposed to ship it to me in some unstated form, so let's hope I didn't get stung.

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Posted by narig01 on Sunday, December 19, 2021 3:58 PM

I saw Dispatcher many years ago. I only tried to play it once in a solitaire fashion. 

     Compared to Avalon Hill's other war games it lacked punch. This sort of game/simulation is better done on a computer. As the computer simulation Train Dispatcher shows. 

       As far as board games my favorite was Mayfair Games Empire Builder. After that was Avalon Hills Rail Barons. 

        In computer games their is a version of John Allen's Timesaver available on Apple's iPad. I also like greatly Train Dispatcher. I'm not sure who is selling it, however it is available on eBay. My personal favorite is Railroad Tycoon II Platinum Edition. Railroad Tycoon II Platinum Edition is available on line. 

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Posted by chatanuga on Sunday, December 19, 2021 7:24 PM

Just finished uploading my review of the two games.

Kevin

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