Title: Railroad Ink
Player count: 1 to 6 (per box)
Play Time: +/- 30 minutes
A very hyped genre is definitely roll and write. In the last couple of years they have been pretty much everywhere. Whilst it’s a very crowded type of games, some of them still manage to surprise me either with their form/genre or with their mechanics. And we are pretty hooked on them with my wife, so get ready as you will read about some of them on this blog. But is Railroad Ink part of these good surprises? Let’s find out.
What is Railroad Ink ?
This is a pocket-sized game which was release in 2018 in 2 editions: blue and red. No changes at all in terms of the base game but these offer different expansions (two in each box). In each of them you will find 6 boards, 6 dry erase markers, 4 dice for the base game and 2 set of 2 dice which would each be used to play one of the expansions available in each box.
Railroad Ink plays over 7 identical rounds where you will roll the four dice and then draw the various tracks/roads on your map. Bearing in mind of course that roads and tracks must be drawn starting from the exits (red crosses) and always be in some way connected to one (e.g. cannot drew one in the middle of the map. Just remember that you must draw all four dice whether convenient or not. Just to help you out, you also get joker tiles (cf. top of the map, six white squares). You can draw one per round but are limited to 3 over the whole game.
Okay right, simple enough but how to you earn points in this game? At the end, you will go over specific elements to count them (symbolised again on the top part of the map):
– How many exits each of your network counts – careful that stations (black squares do not interrupt tracks and roads) – for each network look on the tab to see how many points they are worth: e.g., network of 2 is 4 points; 6 is 20; etc.
– Longest road and track: imagine you are driving on these, what is the longest path (1 point per square)
– 1 point per filled square pithing the orange line at the centre of the map (max. 9)
– Lose one point for each track or road not connected or at the edge of the map without an exit
– Star symbol is used fo extensions, which we will cover right away!
After playing dozens of games and without ever looking at the expansions, this blog was the perfect excuse to try them out too. As explained before, you find two expansions in each edition of the game. For instance, the “Deep Blue” version we own contains the “Rivers” and “Lakes” expansions, which are basically an additional couple of dice for each of them. Without a lot of expectations, we tried them out with my wife this afternoon. Before detailing these a bit more, I just want to add that for each expansion, the game now plays in 6 rounds and you can choose each time whether or not to use any extra die when you roll al the dice (six in total now, i.e. 4 base game and 2 for expansion).
Lakes: these can be drawn anywhere if they do not contain any stations, otherwise have to be linked to a track itself linked to an exit. They will connect to tracks and roads if these are themselves linked to a station on the same lake. On top of this, at the end of the game you will score 1 point for each square contained in your smallest lake.
Rivers: same overall rules for placement but this time, any unfinished river will count as a -1 at the end of the game. Rivers cannot be crossed by roads or tracks, only bridges can (represented on the extra set of dice). At the end of the game, count all the minuses and in terms of points, selected one river and count 1 point per square it contains + a bonus of 3 points if the river is connected on both sides to the edge of the map (these cannot be exits, i.e. red arrows).
How does it play?
Railroad Ink is a fun roll and write which is easy to teach and has a nice small table presence. I found the art rather appealing and the games flow nicely, which is a feat in itself as filling up 30 minutes can be tough for small table games. I appreciate the push your luck element of the game whilst going down one route (/track) and hoping some dice will come out on the next round. The addition of the joker tiles which can be used in a limited fashion per game makes it even more strategic. This has become one of our casual games at home with my wife when we are sipping a cup of tea or when having lunch on our terrace. Easy to set up, not many rules and great fun altogether.
Small improvements could be to have an idea of how many times each face depicted on the map appears on the set of dice as they are not distributed evenly but I never really bothered counting them. Apart from that, I heard (and read from) a lot of people that the theme was not present enough and that it felt quite bland but this is is not the case for us and we like building up our networks in our small city.
As far as the expansions are concerned, they are a welcome addition and do tweak the game quite a bit without overhauling it completely. This means you can add them up easily without having to remember many rules and as they are included in the base game anyway, let’s say that I did not expect too much from them. One small annoyance is that they can slow down the overall game (especially if you try to make nice drawings like my wife). I found the lake expansion to be rather forgettable and lazy as it did not to bring anything special to the base game. Whilst we really enjoyed the river one which is basically adding one kind of route and intertwines nicely with the rest of the constructions.
Verdict: 7.5/10 (6.5 with the Lakes expansion; and 8/10 with the Rivers expansion)
Psssst! If you are interested, there will be a Kickstarter launching on May 12th with two new versions of Railroad Ink as well as a solo board. More info can be found here (link). Definitely looking great and on my agenda to back!