Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Designed by Hjalmar Hach and Lorenzo Silva, Railroad Ink is one of the many popular roll & write games that burst onto the scene during the genre boom at the end of 2018. It is published by Horrible Games and CMON.
In Railroad Ink, 2–6 players take turns to roll a pool of custom six-sided dice which show a mix of roads and rails. The players all simultaneously draw on their individual 7x7 grids with the aim of trying to connect the 12 exits evenly spaced around the edge using a combination of road and rails. Each player will need to draw what is displayed on all the dice, which means that in order to win the game you will have to ensure that you have the most efficient layout.
The dice are made up of rails, roads and stations (which connect the rails and roads together). Points are scored for your longest road and railroad, for filling any of the centre 3x3 tiles and by joining the exits connected together in a single contiguous track. Players then lose points for tracks that end in the middle of nowhere. For your roads and rails to join contiguously and score the most points, you will need to find the optimal positions to place your stations, which only one of the dice can provide. You only get a limited number of rounds and never a guarantee that a station will be rolled. Each turn you may find yourself having to forget some of the exits, or even forfeit your bold plan to try to join two large routes together.
Despite using the same dice rolls, you will typically find after the first roll that everyone has taken a different route to victory. Then to separate the little puffers from the bullets, players will have to decide when to use one of their six special tiles to add to their layout. These almost always provide an extra station and connections in every direction to help you branch out to more exits. You can only use one per turn with a total of three being used throughout the game. Typically, it will be the use of these special junctions that will win you the game.
The joy, like most good roll & writes, comes from hearing the pain your friends go through as they either struggle to draw each of the dice presented or realise that something they placed several turns ago has ruined one of their long running routes. The puzzle is also very visually pleasing and simple to draw; no need to be an artist here. However, like most roll & writes, this is still a multiplayer solitaire game; there's no direct player interaction.
More experienced players with finely honed visualisation skills may find the puzzle too easy 'to solve'. To help steer around this, the game comes with some extra expansion dice to throw into the mix... The expansion dice add an extra option for players to draw something else to their routes. A Lake die, which will only score you your smallest lake (so you’d better make sure you only make a giant single lake without it getting in the way). Rivers act like another road but will just end up messing with your networks as you make spaghetti junctions everywhere. These are the two options in the Blue box edition of Railroad Ink.
In the Red box edition, you'll find the crazier options of Volcanos spreading larva while you convince your workers it’s still a good idea to build a train track next to their impending peril. Finally, the Meteor die subjects players to a constant shower of destruction that dots your landscape with craters set to wreck all your hard work.
Without the expansions the base game will be suitable for anyone but, after learning the game, experienced gamers will probably want to move on to incorporating one of the four expansions to get the best out of Railroad Ink. The slight drawback which slams the brakes on this review is that each of the editions comes with only two of the four expansions mentioned. Unless you want to take the maximum number of players from 6 to 12, it's difficult to justify buying both editions (given that most of their content is essentially duplicated) so if you want to be able to play with all four sets of expansion dice (not at the same time!) you need to buy one edition and convince a friend to pick up the other one.
Finally as we park up, credit too to the artist Marta Tranquilli. It has to be said too that the size and design of the box is perfect. Reusable boards in a tidy box allow you to take this game anywhere with ease. As you travel around getting inspiration from the roads and rails you pass, just make sure that if you see a meteor smashing down ahead of you, turn around and drive away as fast as you can!
(Review by Nicholas Dunlop)