Review: Roller Coaster Tycoon
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Year: 2002
Tagline: Own the rides and build the thrill!

Roller Coaster Tycoon cover showing a roller coaster and image of the board

how we met

I picked up Roller Coaster Tycoon board game for a mere $1.99 at a thrift shop recently. It was a great stop for my collection because I found Roller Coaster Tycoon, California Dreams and Murder, She Wrote!

Like many people about my age, I played a lot of simulation computer games over the years like Sim City and Roller Coaster Tycoon. That alone is probably enough reason for me to pick up the game at thrift and see how it translated. I assumed it would be missing parts, but I was lucky enough to get a complete copy for this crazy price.

how it plays

The object of Roller Coaster Tycoon is to have the most number of points when the game ends, which happens when the MONTH counter makes it all the way to GAME OVER on its track.

The month marker just before game over space on the time track


Setup for the game takes a little bit of time, but it’s not too bad. Each attraction has a tile that goes in its space on the board, text side up. These tiles become difficult to see if placed properly because they are designed to camouflage into the background perfectly. The GUEST markers all start at the Park Entrance. The CLOSED markers start on specific attractions on the board. And there are three 3-dimensional rides that you precariously put together.

The GUEST markers of different colors waiting to enter the park

Our heroes, the GUESTs

To start the game, players each get dealt two random attractions and $3million. Players reveal their attractions and pay the starting fee associated with them, flip the attraction tile on the board so that the illustration is showing and not the text, and then place the marker of your color next to the attraction to indicate who owns it.

Two photos on top of each other with one showing camouflaged attractions and the other showing attractions face up

The top photo shows the attractions face down and the bottom photo shows them face up

Players have an interesting decision to make at the beginning of the game that can’t be changed later. Each player has the option to purchase a handyman token, a mechanic token or both for $200,000 each (this amount is for 4 players and adjusts for less players). If you happen to draw a card during the game that requires your attractions to be maintained or inspected and do not have the correct worker to take care of it then you must pay $200,000. So it’s like insurance.

The dice and tokens for handyman and mechanic

The mechanic, the handyman and the dice

On a player’s turn they first draw an EVENT card, read it aloud and resolve it by doing as it says. EVENT cards may move the MONTH marker forward, award money, move GUESTs, allow bidding for one or two attractions either face up or face down, or require inspections or maintenance on your attractions, things like that. A complete EVENT deck will never need to be reshuffled; it will always have enough Advance One Month cards to end the game.

Example event cards including Advance one month, Auction, move Closed signs

These are some example EVENT cards

After the EVENT card is resolved the player rolls both dice. The color indicates which GUEST the player can move and the number will indicate how many spaces they move. If GUEST markers land on an attraction that is not purchased then nothing happens and the turn ends. If GUEST markers land on an attraction owned by the player moving them then that player collects double the points listed on the attraction. If GUEST markers land on an attraction owned by a different player then both the player whose turn it is and the attraction owner each get the number of points indicated. The board has several winding roadways so count carefully to see all the options. After collecting any points the turn moves to the next player.

Rectangular tokens in red, yellow, purple and blue

The ownership is represented by these small rectangular markers

You will want to get more attractions and this is really only done via auction which is prompted by certain EVENT cards. There are four different types of auctions: auction one attraction face up, auction two attractions face up, auction one attraction face down and auction two attractions face down.

A globe attraction called the 3-d Cinema with a yellow marker next to it

This is a nice close up showing the camouflage of the tiles and the marker showing Yellow owns this attraction

The auction rules are pretty standard by starting with that player and moving around the table, and when you’re out you’re out. If no one wants to bid on the auction then the player whose turn it is gets the attractions for free. That can happen near the end of the game so it’s worth mentioning.

The game ends as soon as the MONTH marker hits the GAME OVER spot on the board – although these Advance One Month EVENT cards tell you to draw another EVENT card after them, and if another card is in the deck then you do draw and play it out. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins!

how it went

Roller Coaster Tycoon is simple but it’s actually pretty fun. It is simple enough, in fact, that the M-word (that’s Monopoly) gets thrown around in describing its play. It is similar to Monopoly in that you purchase properties and hope that they pay off for you. But the similarities get a lot more distant from there.

The closed sign marker

This dumb CLOSED sign became very familiar to me during play

There are a few parts of the gameplay that really contributed to the fun. For example, the auctions were an exciting way to obtain more attractions. The blind auctions were particularly enjoyable to my gambling self. The EVENT cards are a bit chancy and can go really well or be negative. At times they impact all players and not just the player whose turn it is. The diversity of the cards was enough that they didn’t feel shocking, but they didn’t feel tired either. I looked forward to drawing my EVENT card every turn.

The money showing denominations of 100k, 500k and 1 million

#protip: spend it all on blind auctions

Choosing which direction to move the GUEST markers is very important. At times you will need to choose between getting nothing for yourself or getting some points that also award another player points. Tread carefully when splitting points and avoid giving any to players in the lead. Players with the larger attractions can end up gaining 8 or 10 points in a single turn, so you don’t want to help them out if you can avoid it.

Cardboard steel roller coaster

The steel roller coaster is one of the large, 3d attractions

At the beginning of play Bill, Keri and I all chose to pay for both a mechanic and handyman for our play while John said fuck it. It paid off for all of us. I personally had at least four occasions where I would have been required to pay in. Bill had two or three. Keri had at least three. John had none.

We got lucky in our play in that our EVENT deck had the final Advance One Month card at the bottom of the deck. So we were able to auction every property and see every card.

An overhead shot of game play

A shot of our play, including the gross Satellite Wafer Candies Keri brought

We had some fun with the theme. I started play with a Cotton Candy kiosk and a Merry-Go-Round – not great, but I had a fun nickname for the small area of the board I was growing. We noticed that there was no restroom near the hedge maze so it got a little bit of action. And at one time we had almost every GUEST in the restrooms due to back to back EVENT cards asking we do so. Small victories and dumb jokes abounded.

Attraction cards including hedge maze and ferris wheel

Example attractions

In the end Keri won our game by a huge margin. I think she had 70-some points and the rest of us had more like 40. She had some monster attractions and got some great cards during play, but I was still surprised by her final points. They add up. I’m not sure how that happened, except that I’m pretty sure I shared at least 10 of those points. The lesson being: don’t share.

Points tokens with denominations of 1, 5, 10 and 20

The points tokens

And the inevitable question, does the game capture the play of the computer game? Absolutely not. Other than look and feel, I’m not sure it even tried to. So you will be disappointed if looking for many parallels there.

play or pass

Play. This game is not deeply strategic, but I think that the EVENT deck is exciting enough to keep all players engaged. The gameplay is directed towards kids and is simple, but the game is also finite and it doesn’t take too long to play. The gambler in me likes the insurance and the blind auctions. I also like the setup part because I’m dorky like that. A place for everything, and everything in its place.