Base price: $20.
1+ players, provided you have enough player boards.
Play time: 15 – 30 minutes. May be longer if you’re using expansions.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3
Let’s “finish” strong. When I say finish, here, I mean that this marks the end of my Railroad Ink Challenge content, kind of. I’m done with the core games, and now I have 7 or so boxes with, like, 20+ mini-expansions to get through, parse, and figure out. Rainbows and teleporters and a tetromino-themed mini-expansion? It’s going to be a lot of writing, and I love it. I’ve been a huge fan of Railroad Ink since I first got my copy at Gen Con a few years back, standing in a line for CMON and being hyped for it. And now, here we are! The last station, kind of. Maybe they’ll make more. We’ll see!
In Railroad Ink Challenge: Shining Yellow, your travels have taken you to many places. You’ve seen blazing red volcanoes (and a few meteors!); you’ve seen deep blue lakes (and your fair share of rivers); you’ve even gotten a chance to explore lush green forests (and hike a few trails along the way). Now you’re taking roads and rails to see what awaits you in a place that’s bright and gold. Unfortunately, rather than getting to go prospecting, you now find yourself among deserts and canyons and the temperature is rising. You’ll need to connect brand-new networks in the Railroad Ink Challenge format, if you can, but if you want to expand your experience there are two new mini-expansions here, as well. Will you be able to make your way under the desert sun?
This also sets up pretty much identically to Railroad Ink Challenge: Lush Green, but I’ll highlight it anyways because I took the time to take photos of everything. Whoops.
First, give each player a player board of their choice:
They look like this!
The dice get set out next:
If you want to play with an expansion, you can use the Desert Dice:
Or you can pick the Canyon Dice!
Goals are the final thing. The game comes with six Standard Goals (though you can shuffle in Lush Green’s Goals, as well, if you have it):
If you’re just playing the standard game, use three standard Goal Cards. If you’re playing with an expansion, use two standard Goal Cards and one Goal Card from the expansion:
Write the three Goal Card letters on the bottom-left of your player board, and you should be good to go!
The game also plays the same as Railroad Ink Challenge: Lush Green, so I’ll just highlight the expansion differences!
The desert expansion adds everything a good desert needs: oases, cacti, and the harsh and unrelenting sun! Just be careful your cacti don’t dry out!
In the Desert Expansion, a game only lasts six rounds, and has the following changes:
- You do not have to use any Desert Dice. You do have to use the Sun, if it comes up, but it doesn’t count as a route.
- The Desert Dice can be placed anywhere. They don’t have to connect to existing routes or cacti.
- If an Arid Face appears, don’t draw anything yet. Instead, resolve the Arid Face. Any cacti not adjacent to an oasis are erased (the routes stay, if they’re present). If you’d prefer, you can instead cross out a Special Route to ignore the Arid Face (this counts as using a Special Route).
- You roll the Desert Dice once more at the end of the game. If an Arid Face appears, resolve it as though you had rolled it during the game.
- Cacti are worth bonus points. At the end of the game, every surviving cactus is worth 1 point. If a space has two cacti on it, both are worth a point (so you would gain 2 points).
The canyon expansion adds … canyons! They range from grand to … okay, depending on how you do. A long canyon is just impressive, but be careful! Just like real life, you don’t really get to choose the shapes.
In the Canyon Expansion, a game lasts seven rounds (like normal!), and has the following changes:
- You do not have to use any Canyon Dice. This is like most expansions, but always worth mentioning.
- Any Canyons added to your board must be connected to the edge of the board or the open end of a Canyon. Also, Canyons cannot branch! That would be ridiculous.
- The dice show canyons that extend one or more “segments”. Each segment represents the edge of a tile. In order to draw a Canyon, you must match that pattern or its reverse exactly.
- You may need to build bridges! If a Canyon would cross or touch a route, you must spend a “Bridge Point”. You start the game with 12, and you can cross off the boxes in the top row of your Network Values Table to indicate that you’ve spent a Bridge Point. Once you’re out, though, you’re out!
- Open Canyons do not count as Errors. That’s nice.
- Canyons are worth bonus points! At the end of the game, you score 1 point for each segment in your Longest Canyon, and any Canyons where both ends are connected to the edges of the board are worth 2 points (the Canyon is worth 2 points, not each segment).
Player Count Differences
Just like Lush Green, there aren’t many changes! I think, as I mentioned there, the addition of Goals is what makes this game have at least some player interaction; now, players can race to accomplish certain tasks before their opponents do. That’s fun! That said, the score changes if you’re not first to complete the Goal aren’t huge, so it kind of isn’t worth breaking your strategy over. In the solo mode, your Goals can expire, though! Essentially, you cross them off in the 3rd / 4th / 5th round, meaning if you’re not making progress on them, you risk only getting 1 point for each Goal. That’s a bummer.
I think the Draft Variant would probably introduce more player count differences, but I haven’t tried it, as of this review. Teaching the base game was already a lot, and I generally find that introducing drafting variants tends to advantage experienced players over new players, so I tend to only play with drafting variants once everyone’s played a few times before. Feels a bit more fair, that way. This is all to say that I enjoy Railroad Ink Challenge at pretty much any player count, though!
I covered a lot of the basic strategy for Railroad Ink Challenge in my Lush Green review, so let’s cover Shining Yellow-specific strategy here!
- A lot of these goal cards are simple to accomplish, which means you need to be quick if you want to get the top score on them. A number of these are basically straight-up dead heats. You want to be the first to six roads? Six rails? Eyes on the prize, and don’t forget that you can use a Special Route to potentially give yourself the edge over your opponents. It’s perhaps not explicitly worth it for an extra two points, but, you know, sometimes it’s fun just to trip up your opponents.
- Connecting two middle exits or two opposite sides can be more challenging, so don’t forget about it. It’s an interesting goal because it’s not a particularly common request, so it can kind of slip away from you during the game if it’s not top of mind.
- You want to make a particularly long canyon, if you can. I mean, there’s a temptation to just drive a canyon from one edge to the other as quickly as you can, but if you can curve it a bunch, you can really ramp up the point yield a lot. Just keep in mind that a big canyon alone won’t be enough to win the game, and trying to build a huge canyon may segment your board in ways you haven’t anticipated?
- Try to think about your Bridge Points in advance. This is how you lose, in the Canyon Expansion. If you’re not thinking about Bridge Points, then you’re going to end up with a bunch of routes that can’t go anywhere (or canyons that end up incomplete and worthless). That said, it’ll look good, so maybe it’s worth it? I’d like to say that’s true, but this is the Strategy section, not the Aesthetics Planning section. That section, while fun, mostly gets omitted from these reviews?
- Once you’ve got the long canyon built, just make a bunch of additional canyons that touch the board’s edges for the extra points. If you can snake additional canyons, it’s effectively two points per canyon, so small canyons that jut in and out are amazing, if you can get them to fit in there. Just remember that you’ll start burning Bridge Points pretty aggressively, with this strategy. That said, if you’ve already finished your longest canyon, well, you can kind of burn the rest of your Bridge Points on this and once you’ve run out, you can just be done. Nothing else to waste them on.
- For the Desert expansion, try to get a few oases down as quickly as you can. There’s not a ton you can do about this other than hope you roll well, but you really want some core Oasis Points on your map to start placing cacti around, otherwise no matter how many cacti you roll, they’ll just end up getting blighted by the tyrant sun. Not much you can do about that, either. Ideally, you’ll place your cacti next to the oases you add so that you can keep them around for points, though.
- Using cacti to hit Goal Cards and then letting them get erased by the sun is a pretty good strategy, if you can get it to work. I would say using them for Special Buildings would be ideal, but most Special Buildings require a route of some kind, not just the space itself to be filled in. Instead, you can use them for certain Goal Cards that want a bunch of spaces filled in, and if those placements are inconvenient you can just hope an Arid Face gets rolled and wipes out all the cacti you don’t particularly like. If that kind of planning and scheming isn’t your thing, well, you can just focus on having the extra routes, instead?
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
Most of the non-specific Railroad Ink Challenge Pros / Mehs / Cons still apply, here, so I’m not going to reiterate them; instead, I’ll link to them and try to expand on Yellow itself.
- I do appreciate that they have all the Gen 1 Pokemon game colors covered, now (Red / Blue / Green / Yellow). This mostly just makes me happy, honestly. I assume this wasn’t their goal (as red / blue / yellow are primary colors, as well), but it is nice. Can’t wait for Railroad Ink Gold and Railroad Ink Silver! Those probably aren’t actually happening and I’m not a source you should quote on that. But it’s a fun thing that happens, sometimes. I was actually pleasantly surprised by a yellow! I expected green, since, forests seems like a natural extension, but canyons and deserts are a fun additional one.
- I think some of the Goal Cards in Yellow are particularly interesting. I like the ones that are a bit more complex and complicated, like connecting the stations or the opposite ends of the board or the middle exits. Those are interesting! I think they extend beyond the simple “do X thing as quickly as possible” because haste can really mess you up, strategically. I like those, and I’m interested to see how additional Goal Cards (or even the Blueprint Cards from the expansions) shake up the core game.
- Canyons is a lot of fun, as an expansion! I really like having to think about how to wind the canyons around my existing routes (and, of course, how to make sure I don’t inadvertently wall myself into a corner). I think that what I like most about this is that the canyons are essentially a non-scoring third route. You’re not just planning a route, you’re also planning around your existing stuff. It’s the layering that I like. I think Bridge Points is also a smart, challenging addition.
- I also think I got better at drawing cacti as a result of the Desert expansion. I wouldn’t say that they look good, but they’re passable! It’s a useful skill probably. And I learned it as a result of playing the Desert expansion! It’s probably a Pro of some kind.
- I appreciate the subtle differences on card colors / board icon colors between this and Green, as well. It speaks to a thoughtfulness of design that I’ve always respected about this series. It helps make the cards distinguishable between sets, even if you mix them, and they have a nice outline and aesthetic to them. I like that the Goal Cards, despite being new to this set, seem like they’ve always been part of the collection. I just … really like the Railroad Ink design ethos. They’re great-looking games.
- The other Goal Cards in Yellow are not my favorite, as they only add what is essentially a racing component. I’m particularly uninterested in the 6 Roads and 6 Rails Goal Cards, but what can you do? They just kind of incentivize making a big long chain to start, which can mess with player strategy. Don’t love it. I super don’t like it if both come out at the same time, so I’ve been trying to avoid that. The connecting exits or connecting station Goal Cards are fine, though.
- It was a bit difficult to figure out how long a canyon section was supposed to run, at first. Identifying the “segments” on the dice took a bit of doing, even with examples. Maybe I’m just a bit slow on the uptake on this sort of thing. Anyways, I figured it out, but you may want to take a look at the Canyon dice before you start playing, just to make sure you understand the difference between a 1 segment, 2 segment, and a 3 segment die face.
- Like I said for Green, I wish there was a “safe spot” on the board that I could rest my hand when I’m drawing, so I don’t smudge my own board. This can be a bit worse since I do erase cacti from time to time, so I do try to avoid drawing cacti in the bottom-right corner. With the canyons, I can just try and be strategic about my placement, so I at least don’t completely clown myself if I smudge something.
- Also, while I really like the Desert expansion thematically, I find that the push-your-luck element can be kind of swingy, given that your odds of rolling at least one sun in any given round are ~30%. Pretty sure that’s how the Arid Face probabilities work, but it makes things feel a bit annoying if you either rolling the Arid Face every round or if you end up not successfully rolling an oasis. That said, your odds of getting at least one oasis are at least the same, so, you should be able to at least lock down one or two. It can just be frustrating if that doesn’t happen, hence, it feels kind of swingy. I would probably be a bit more bullish on the Desert expansion if you at least started out with an oasis or two, to prevent the outcome where you never get one or you get one and then never get cacti again, but that’s … dice, for you. I do think at least one starting oasis would be nice. Plus, you have that nice dead-center space! I’m just saying, it could work.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I think Railroad Ink Challenge: Shining Yellow might be my least favorite of the Railroad Ink series games, for … whatever that’s worth. I mean, it’s an 8.75 / 10; I’m not saying anything short of “I still love it”, but I think that’s largely because I like the base Railroad Ink Challenge so much. Canyons, as an expansion, is pretty great, but I’m lukewarm on Desert. It’s close, because I don’t particularly like the Meteor Expansion in Blazing Red, but I think Volcanoes is so much goofy fun that Blazing Red edges out Shining Yellow in my overall favor matchup. This is going to be interesting, because (as of writing) I’m probably taking all of them with me for the weekend to play a bunch of the expansions with a friend, so I’ll hopefully have a bunch of new write-ups. I’ll try a new review style for the … 7 or so mini-expansions, maybe? Something to look forward to whenever I get around to publishing those, since, you know, totally starved for content here or something. I just really like Railroad Ink. And I think Shining Yellow is proof of that. Yellow’s not my favorite color, but I can’t deny the aesthetic quality of this game in the slightest. Horrible Guild has done a lot of work making sure that the Goal Cards look great on the table, the dice pop, and the player boards have that beautiful watercolor aesthetic that echoes every other part of the series while still being unique in its own right. Design consistency is tough, but they nailed it. If I were grading on aesthetics alone, the Railroad Ink series would be pretty high up there, but I gotta say, I love how they’ve iterated on one of my favorite roll-and-write games, here. I know I mentioned that already in Lush Green, but I just … think it’s a well-designed series. Hence the high score. I probably would still personally grab Lush Green before I grabbed Blazing Yellow, but hey, it still plays Railroad Ink Challenge’s base game (and the Goal Cards are pretty solid, for the most part!). If you’re a completionist like me, a fan of the color yellow, or you just really like deserts and canyons, though, you may like Railroad Ink Challenge: Shining Yellow! I do think it pops on the table, so I’m partial to it (and I’m a fan of completing sets).
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