Forget Ticket To Ride (Days of Wonder), this is another game with trains and track laying but the similarity ends there. Railroad Revolution (Pegasus Spiele) is a medium weight ‘euro’ strategy game, where players place out their specialist and non-specialist workers to take various actions and achieve point-scoring objectives on a map representing the United States in the 19th Century.
Designed by Marco Canetta and Stefania Niccolini, Railroad Revolution is lighter and quicker to learn than the designers’ previous game ZhanGuo. It benefits from a commendably clear and easy to read rulebook and the actions available to players are all individually quite straightforward. What can be bewildering for players coming new to the game, however, is the sheer range of options available, especially as each delivers different benefits dependant on the particular specialism of any worker assigned to a task. Any worker can be sent to do any job, but specialists will give an extra benefit on top of the main action. Though any worker can be sent out to build a telegraph office, for example, if you send a foreman to do the job he will additionally allow you to upgrade one of your non-specialist workers to a specialist of your choice; an accountant sent to do the job gains $100 for each telegraph share you own.
With individual objectives plus ways of scoring through developing your railroad, extending the telegraph network and dealing in shares, this is a game that offers numerous routes to victory and there is no obvious “killer strategy” that favours one approach over another. Money does not score victory points but you will need it in the game and it can be very tight, especially early on. With that in mind, one of the standard options available is for players to trade – selling a company asset to raise cash. Again, the careful deployment of specialists to this task can generate very valuable benefits in addition to the cash.
Through the course of the game, actions and bonuses will advance players’ markers up the three performance tracks which dictate the end-of-game multipliers to apply to scoring of telegraph offices, stations and connected city networks: so yet another aspect that players have to bear in mind when making choices throughout the game. There will be occasion when progress up the track requires a player to pay cash, shed a worker or forfeit shares, so timing your advancement can be a critical choice.
There are bonuses for being the first to reach particular objectives (for example, the first to build a station in a city) but that is pretty much the full extent of player interaction. Unlike many other worker placement games, one player’s choices do not block the choices of subsequent players, so this is not a game where players are making decisions to take tactical advantage of their opponents or do them down. For some, that will be a negative factor but there will be many who favour a game which eschews cut-throat competition.
Railroad Revolution is not hard to learn but some players may be initially overwhelmed by the sheer range of strategic choices open to them. Stick with it though: this game offers lots of ways of generating victory points and it is a friendly game, in that competition between players is mainly in the race to score rather than through cut-throat interaction to beggar your opponents. The different set-up choices and the various individual objectives or “milestones” give a fresh twist to each game that add to Railroad Revolution’s replayability.