- Designers: Hjalmar Hach and Lorenzo Silva
- Publisher: CMON/Horrible Games
- Players: 1-6
- Ages: 8+
- Time: about 20-30 minutes
- Times played: >10 with review copies provided by Horrible Games (Blazing Red edition and Deep Blue edition)
Railroad Ink is another Roll and Write (RAW) game – a genre which has been growing in leaps and bounds in the past few years. In this game, each player gets a sheet with a 7×7 grid on it. There are three exit points found on each side of the grid; alternating roads and railroads. Over the course of the game, players will draw in transit lines of two types (roads and railroads) – trying to score the most points while doing so.
The base game uses 4 dice; 3 of which are identical to each other showing mainly roads and railroad tracks and the fourth die having a unique set of sides that has crossings and Stations on it. More on the expansions in a bit.
The base game is played over 7 rounds. To start a round, any player picks up the four dice and rolls them. All players then must use all four die results. The symbols on the dice are drawn onto the scoring boards. You can rotate AND/OR reverse the pattern seen on the die. Each die result must be directly connected to one of the twelve exits OR connected to an existing route which does connect to an exit. You also cannot connect a Railroad to a Road unless you are at a Station. You must write down all 4 die results down on your board. As you write them down, write the round number in the little white square found in the upper right corner of each grid space. This helps make sure that you always known when you wrote in a particular result AND makes sure you don’t erase it by accident if you change your mind in the middle of a future round.
If you look at the top of your player board, you will see six special routes printed there. During the game, you may use up to three of these routes (never more than once for any special route). You can only use one special route per round. Once you use one, cross it off to ensure you do not duplicate this special route later in the game.
After the 7th round, the game moves into the scoring. There is a nice area just above your grid to record your scores. There are a number of different categories that are considered
Connected Networks – look at your network(s) of routes and calculate how many total exits are combined by a network. Using the scoring chart on the board, score points for EACH of your networks.
Longest Road – Score one point per grid space used on your longest unbroken Road on your board – stations do not interrupt a Road
Longest Railroad – Score one point per grid space used on your longest unbroken Raiload on your board – stations do not interrupt a Raiload
Central Spaces – note that the middle 3×3 area of your board has a red line around it – score one point per space within this area which has something written on it
Incomplete Routes – take a minus one point penalty for each Road or Railroad which does not terminate in a Station or an outer edge of the playing area (NOTE – this does not have to be an Exit, it can be any external side of your board).
The player with the most points wins the game. If there is a tie, the player with the fewest Error penalties breaks the tie.
The game also comes with a few expansions in each box. As of now, there are two different boxes – a Blue box and a Red box. Each of those boxes comes with two different pairs of expansion dice which can be added to the game. (They both have the same 6 player boards, markers and 4 base dice).
In general, if you want to use an expansion, you choose one of the pairs of dice – add them to the dice pool, and roll them with the 4 base dice. Thus, you’ll roll 6 dice each turn now. The game length may change based on which expansion you play with. Also, there are generally new scoring rules that are specific to each expansion.
Examples of the different possible expansions
Blue: River – 6 rounds in the game – the two dice have rivers on them, and these rivers form a THIRD network you can create. Roads and Railroads cannot go thru a river, though there are some bridge faces on the expansion dice to allow them to go over/under each other. In scoring, choose any one river on your board – score 1 point per grid space that your river touches PLUS 3 points if both edges of the river connect to the outer edge of the playing area.
Red: Meteor – 6 rounds in the game – one of the red dice shows the direction of the meteor, and the other shows the distance. Roll all the dice each round. At the start of the game, mark the central space with a dot in the upper right corner. Using the direction and distance, count from the most recent meteor space and draw in an explosion. If the direction would push you to the edge of the board, the path of the meteor reflects back into the playing area. If the target already has an explosion in it, keep going in the same direction until you find an empty space. If you had something already written in the meteor space, you must erase what was previously there as it explodes from the meteor. You still must write down all the 4 base dice faces. At the end of the game, you score 2 points for each route which has an open end into a meteor explosion crater (and they do not count as negative 1 point).
My thoughts on the game
Railroad Ink is a very good roll-and-write (RAW) game. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of the genre, both for their simplicity as well as their portability. This game hits my sweet spot on a number of levels. First, it’s a great game for groups. Each of the boxes has enough supplies for six players, but multiple boxes can be combined to play for as many as you have boards for.
Railroad Ink, in its base game, is already among the more complex RAW games. There feels to be a bit more to the strategy that most. And, yes, I know that I said that I like RAW games because they are simple – but despite the relatively higher complexity, Railroad Ink is still easily taught and grokked.
Where the game shines for me is the added complexity and variety provided by the expansion dice. In the two small boxes that I have so far, I have five different games to play. Sure, they all use the same base game framework – but you really do have to approach each expansion differently. I personally prefer the two Blue expansions over the Red ones – I find the Meteor one a bit too chaotic for my sandbox planner tastes; but each is a nice change from the base game. The fairly short game length also makes me a bit more willing to play with an expansion that doesn’t necessarily suit my tastes.
I first played the game at GenCon with the designers, and it has been a reliable game night filler since. I have played it with both gamers and casual players, and I must admit that it might be a bit too complex for non-gamers… but my enthusiasm for it MADE me try it just to see how it would go over. The designers did say that they had more expansion ideas up their sleeve if this first set of boxes sells well, and I must say that I’m looking forward to seeing any future expansions as I think this game could only be made better with added variety.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Matt C.: I thoroughly enjoyed the game I played at GenCon, despite Dale kicking my butt. Since then I’ve been able to play it with a wide range of gamers. My gamer friends enjoyed it for its interesting decisions packed into a short length, and I even played with a complete non-gamer (my student aides at school who have only ever played one or two modern boardgames I had already shown them.) It’s been a hit for all of them, and is my current favorite go-to game for playing with new (or previously non) gamers. I particularly like how the cards are set up so that players don’t even have to see the dice on the table (since the sides are on the card you can just tell people what they are while everyone lounges around on the couch.) With both versions, I’m able to play a game with 12 people with almost no downtime.
Chris Wray: I’ve been loving this in recent weeks. I own both the Red & Blue editions, but I’m still intrigued enough by the base game that I haven’t moved on to the expansions.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Matt C., Chris Wray
- I like it.
- Neutral. John P
- Not for me…