Base price: $20.
1 – 6 players.
Play time: 20 – 30 minutes.
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?) (Will update when widely available)
Logged plays: 14
Well, eventually I have to start writing up the games from Gen Con that I bought, and this is an excellent place to start. This is a bit of an interesting case, since I’ll be covering Railroad Ink: Deep Blue and Railroad Ink: Blazing Red Editions separately, both because they’re separate BGG posts and also so that way I can compare and contrast things about the art and mini-expansions that I like in both without having to do a Railroad Ink megapost or something weird. I’m always iterating on my style for you, the readers. You’re welcome.
In Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition, you are attempting to build a great network throughout town of railroads and … regular roads so that trains and cars can move in a blissful harmonic balance in your own personal Good Place. However, your construction strategy is … erratic, I suppose, so it’s hard to say just what you’re going to want to build, next. Will you be able to build the best transit network? Or will you end up all washed up?
There’s basically no setup. Take the dice:
Set them aside, for now. If you’re playing with The Lake expansion, also take the Lake Dice:
For The River expansion, use The River Dice:
Give every player a player board:
And that’s about it. Before we go further, though, I just wanted to comment that the backs of the player boards form a six-scene panorama:
So pleasant! The game comes with whiteboard markers but I’m pretty sure BGG won’t let me upload a picture of whiteboard markers to their site, so I’m just going to forego those and use the ones that come with Let’s Make a Bus Route because they’re fun and colorful. Once you’ve done that you’re ready to start!
Alright, so, Railroad Ink is a roll-and-write of two types — rails and roads. Your goal is to make a great network of transit in and around town. You do this by connecting roads and rails to one of the 12 Exits (paths leading off the board) around your player board. Each round, you’ll roll the dice and you must add all four paths on the dice to your board. You cannot ignore any of them. There are some caveats:
- You may only add a rail or road to an existing rail or road. They don’t need to all go on the same one, but you can’t just draw things in space. Your first rail or road must be connected to an existing exit. Then go wild, but make sure you’re always connected to an existing rail or road or exit.
- You may mirror or rotate any dice face. Just in case you need to get out of a bind; one of the dice faces is a rail-to-road that makes a right turn. You may treat that as a left turn, if you’d like. For the other dice faces it doesn’t really matter.
- You cannot connect rails to roads or vice-versa except via a Station. A Station is a black box that appears on one die and converts a rail to a road. They’re considered connected to the same network for gameplay purposes, which matters for scoring.
- Any road or rail that goes off into space (does not terminate) will be considered an error at game end. Connecting them to Exits is obviously good, but even connecting them to the edge of the game board isn’t bad, as that’s still considered terminated. There’s currently no way to make a loop (unless you … aggressively abuse one or two of the possible dice faces in Railroad Ink: Blazing Red Edition, which I am now going to try), so don’t worry about it.
You may also, once per round, use one of the special routes on the top of your player board. They’re basically any combination of 4-way roads / rails. You may only use one per round, and three per game. Once you’ve used one, cross it out. It’s gone forever, now.
In general, it’s helpful to put the round number in the top-right corner of the box as you fill it in; that often helps me figure out how many pieces I still need to place (and also get a general sense of my progression through the game).
Either way, play continues until the seventh round, at which point the game ends. First, put a big “X” in front of every road and rail that does not terminate; then, you score, left-to-right, as follows:
- Exits: Check your networks; you may have more than one. A network is a connected set of exits. Note that stations can cause multiple groups of rails and roads to be connected, but there is one “road bridge over a rail” die face that does not connect the road and rail. For each network, you score points for each exit it is connected to:
- 0 points. Come on.
- 4 points.
- 8 points.
- 12 points.
- 16 points.
- 20 points.
- 24 points.
- 28 points.
- 32 points.
- 36 points.
- 40 points.
- 45 points. I’ve never seen this happen, so please show me if you ever manage to do this blessed connection.
- Longest road: Count the number of tiles in your longest uninterrupted road (Stations do not interrupt roads, and rail-to-road / road-to-rail tiles still count as a rail tile). Score one point for each tile.
- Longest rail: Count the number of tiles in your longest uninterrupted rail (Stations do not interrupt rails, either, and rail-to-road / road-to-rail tiles still count as a rail tile). Score one point for each tile.
- Center tiles: For each center tile you’ve filled in, you score 1 point (max 9).
- Penalties: For each X, you lose one point.
- Expansion points: Ignore these for now; I’ll talk about them later.
The player with the most points wins!
The River Mini-Expansion
So this is a cute expansion you can add in along with the River dice. To do that, you’ll only have 6 rounds for the game, so play wisely!
During each roll, you’ll also roll the two River dice. Unlike normal routes, River dice are totally optional and can be placed anywhere you’d like. Some have bridges crossing over them, which may or may not be useful to you, lifestyle-wise. As you might guess, a river cannot connect to a road or a rail. If you’re sloppy with your river placement, though, you’ll be penalized — rivers that don’t connect to anything are considered Errors, and will also gain an X at the end of the game!
At the end of the game, you’ll score bonus points. For a given river, you score 1 point per tile in that river, and a bonus 3 points if both ends of the river are connected to the edge of the board. That doesn’t work if you make a moat or some weird thing with rivers, so don’t do it. You’ll put those points in the Expansion box for the game.
The Lake Mini-Expansion
The Lake is a bit more complex. Like the River dice, they can be placed anywhere, but they can help you make larger networks, as they add Piers, which are connected to all other piers on the same lake. That’s handy!
Additionally, you can make as many lakes as you want — lakes with open edges are not considered Errors; they’re just fine. However, be careful! At the end of the game, you gain one point for each lake space in your smallest lake. That might throw you off, a bit.
One last fun thing — if any space on the board has open lakes on three of its four sides, it immediately fills in as a full lake tile! Use that to expand your reach (or connect two small lakes into a massive lake. It’s sort of a flood-fill kinda thing.
Player Count Differences
There’s no player count differences, beyond the fact that it might take longer because the dice are a bit small and you may need to pass them around the table to various players. The thing that’s going to determine your round length is “how slow is the slowest person”, not “how many people are playing”.
As a result, no preference.
- I tend to focus on one exit at the start. I prefer to branch out, rather than try to condense paths to a single point. I think that’s just kinda how my brain works, as well, and it’s a bit easier for me to process it.
- Don’t forget to use your special routes. They’re essentially free spaces, so, I mean, worst case you can use them in a corner to try and get a free left or right turn, but you’d be astonished how many people, in round 6, are like “oh no I didn’t use any special routes” and it’s too late for them. Don’t be like that person; I usually try to start with one in Round 2.
- I try to use my special routes on the center spaces. Being able to hit more central spaces is really useful, even if I do end up with some errors as a result of poor placement.
- Be careful with the overpasses. A lot of players will assume that rail and road are connected, but they are specifically not. Don’t fall into that trap and then cost yourself a bunch of points.
- Focus on exits, primarily, not doing anything fancy. I once played a game where I did a bunch of cool connections and really made a pretty network, only to realize I accidentally only connected 6 exits and I lost the game with 40 points. Don’t make my mistakes.
- If you’re playing with Rivers, try to connect the river to both ends. You really want that 3-point bonus from connecting the river to the edge of the board. Just make sure you’re not wiping out any hope of connecting a big network, too, otherwise it’s definitely not worth it.
- Also, with Rivers, you might need to bet big. It’s a risk, but if you leave a few spaces open, optionally, you may end up getting the rolls you need (or being able to ignore them if not). It’s worth being ambitious with the River, since you get one point per tile.
- If you’re playing with lakes, try to only make one lake if you can. You score for your smallest lake, so a “small” lake smack in the center of the board might be helpful. Who knows, if you play your cards right you might be able to connect all the exits to a massive pier setup. That would be … incredibly useful, not to mention particularly lucrative.
- Try to avoid switching from roads to rails all the time. You really want to have a very long road and a very long rail, ideally, to maximize points, and if you’re constantly flipping between the two you’re not going to get that. You’ll just end up with mediocre instances of both.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Blissfully easy to set up. Basically you think about it, and it’s done. No work whatsoever.
- The art is so pleasant. I wish there were more of it, but it’s so nice and whimsical. I particularly like the art in the blue version. The backs forming a panorama is super nice; reminds me of the art on some of the attractions in Unfair.
- The dice are a nice weight. They’re heavy and fun to throw. I wish they were bigger, is all.
- Getting to draw things is always a lot of fun. It reminds me of Harvest Dice, but in a very good way.
- I appreciate the calm nature of these mini-expansions. I think I prefer them to the others, even though the others are also pretty exciting; I just like the idea of building your roads and rails around some nice rivers and lakes. It’s very tranquil, and I could use that.
- I really like the compact nature of the game. It’s easy to bring it on a plane and bust out a solo game (or play with 6 other people on a trip!) and I appreciate that portability. There are many good games coming out that are great for travel, and I’m really interested in more of those as we enter the period of time where I’m traveling more for work.
- Unpopular opinion, but I like the versioning. I like that there’s a Red and Blue version, but not just for the Pokemon callback; I think it’s a nice bit of thematic style that I’d love to see in other games, where it makes sense. Like, I’d definitely buy a Verdant Green edition (though that’s kind of redundant) where you’re building rails and roads through forests and parks; that would retain the game’s whimsical charm while adding another cool set of dice and expansions. I think some people think that it’s an aggressive cash grab, but, I mean, I don’t know; the expansions feel like they’re worth it, to me? Hard to say, I just like them.
- The dry-erase markers are kind of weird. For one, the eraser is on the bottom, meaning it usually pops off when you try to erase (unlike Kokoro, where it stays firmly on the entire time, since it’s also the cap). For another, the printing on the markers isn’t very good; it’s already almost completed faded off my markers, which is super weird. Apparently the eraser can take it off? Seems like it was missing a protective layer or something.
- I wish the solo mode were more well-defined. I think it’s just “play the game solitaire; you win no matter what” which feels kind of empty? I’d love at least challenges or achievements or a score to beat, but the rulebook doesn’t even mention those things. It feels like an oversight.
- Zero player interaction will turn some players off of this game. Some people really want games where they’re involved in everyone else’s lives. This is not that game.
- It’s definitely possible to just copy another player’s route choices. You want to avoid that because it makes the game uninteresting (like NMBR9). You could, if you want, add a few “starting conditions” by giving each player a different die face to start with from a standard die, but there’s some arguments for how that would affect balance. Either way, just don’t spend the whole game copying an opponent’s strategy. That’s weird.
- As with all path-creation / network-building games, there’s a high potential for analysis paralysis, here. Just remind players that it’s a 20-minute game; I find that should usually help.
Overall: 9.5 / 10
Overall, I really like Railroad Ink! Deep Blue is definitely my favorite, both for the nice, calming colors and for the fun (but still pleasant) expansions. I’m a big fan of network-building in games, and the ability to draw the little roads and routes is super endearing. I think the Lake and River were nice additions, as the River is easy enough to teach that you can kinda just roll it up into the base game’s explanation, if you want (similar to Carcassonne‘s River). The extra bonus bits about it that I really like are the fun little dice, the ease of setup and portability, and the solo mode (even if it basically has no rules and you kind of just have to assume it’s “play the base game again, but by yourself”). It’s got the same thing going for it that Sprawlopolis has — I can kinda just pick it up anywhere, bust it out for a bit, and then I’m good to go. If you have even a passing interest in trains, network-building games, or roll-and-writes, I’d definitely recommend checking out Railroad Ink! I’ve had so much fun with it.