This week I opted to avoid playing my own games if anything else caught my fancy. Russian Railroads is just such a game that I’ve seen a Rahdo Runs Through video for, and found myself wishing I could try it out without quite being able to fit it in my budget for games! Thankfully that’s not a barrier when I remember that other people have games too ;)
Explanation for this one took a little while, as there’s a lot to the game with a ton of spaces to go, bonuses to earn, tracks to follow, etc. Each player in the game has a personal player board with 3 train tracks and an industry track, with players being likely to focus on 2 of these 4 things (Probably a 3rd too, but unlikely to finish it). The first track is a long one, reaching from Moskow to Vladivostok, and is where the biggest focus will be if you want to score by building railway, as it has a number of spots for ‘x2’ tiles which double the values of track in those places. The second track goes from Moskow to St Petersburg, and has good options for picking up bonuses (Of which there are 7 unique ones available) as well as a x2 multiplier for the whole line (But it doesn’t support the best quality rails). The 3rd track runs Moscow to Kiev, and scores points for having black track down (Which is normally 0), or a higher-than-average score for grey by taking a bonus that could net you 20 points/turn. The last track isn’t for rails, and instead traces your industry. Moving this track forwards gives you straight bonuses for victory points, as well as triggering factories which you can place along the way (Which also let you jump over gaps in the track).
The big caveat is that you don’t automatically score for advancing this tracks! Throughout the game you need to obtain trains and factories which you’ll place by your board to be able to advance the tracks and capitalize on them. For the rails, this means putting a train to the left of the track (Or 2 for the big line), which then lets you score up to a certain number of spaces along the line. For industry it lets you get over gaps while also proving unique bonuses for when the industry marker(s) pass over them. These 2 things get better throughout the game, but are extremely tight! There are only 3 spaces on the board to get trains or factories, and 4 people to compete over them!
The next big thing about the rails, is that there are various qualities of rail to build. At the start of the game, you have only black tracks, which are worth 0 points a piece and are mainly for unlocking extra stuff (Like the other track types!) as you advance them along the line. You will then get Grey, Brown, Blank and White tracks which are worth more points respectively. The higher quality tracks are build over previous ones, and can’t go ahead, so you must advance the black track along if you want to advance the grey, and the grey along if you want to advance the brown etc, hence making the higher quality rails very difficult to advance particularly far from their starting point.
The game is played over 7 rounds (Less in a 2 player game) with each round being tracked by how many engineers are remaining. The engineers are an ‘available once-per-round’ resource that provide a unique action space for their owner, with the upcoming engineers being available to everyone for a short amount of time. Each round, one player only will get to obtain the latest available engineer, making them a scarce commodity. They cost money however, and money is extremely scarce in russian railroads with only a single space to gain it, that only provides 2 at a time. Money does have an advantage that it can be played as if it was a worker, as well as to a few unique spots which require it (So many rounds the first placement is that saught after take 2 money space). In addition, the player with the most engineers at the end of the game gets a nice bonus of 40 points, and the player with 2nd most gets 20 (Ties are broken by a number on each engineer), so sometimes it can be good to grab one even if it’s not particularly useful to you. At the end of each round is a scoring phase, which is based on your rails and industry so far. As a result the scoring has a cumulative effect so you score more each round than the last (Which has a great feel-good feeling of advancing your setup).
The last 2 things of importance are turn order and bonuses. Turn order is hugely impactful in the game as going first/second gives you good chances at getting valuable money or the rounds engineer, in fact where some games I try to not worry about being in 4th, in this I really had to think about when take the action space to shift myself into first to be able to pickup the commodities I needed most. The bonuses are shown on little tiles of which each player has 7 (Each player has an identical set). Each of these can only be used once, with a number of places on their boards giving them access to them (I believe there’s 4 chances to get one of your bonuses), all are very strong, being worth, on average, 15-20 points at the end of the game, making them worth picking up (Although points go into the 2-4 hundred range so less than you might think!)
*Breathes* So that’s roughly how the game goes, with spaces on the board being to advance rails, industry, take 2 money, take 2 temp-workers or take the engineer. Some spaces take more than 1 worker with players starting on 5 and potentially getting up to 7 later in the game. Things are tight, and only one can succeed!
At the start of our game, I made a decision to go for industry, as I presumed (Correctly it would seem) that the other players would compete over advancing and scoring through their railroads. I started in last place and stayed there a couple of rounds where I could still pick up what I wanted thanks to the reduced competition for it. Early on this worked well and I had the lead for the first half of the game thanks to industry points happening early on. Mike seemed to focus on advancing his main rail while picking up some industry on the side to gain x2 multipliers through factories he’d picked up. Gordon went very all-rounder, advancing all tracks (Partly for the extra workers) throughout the game, as well as going for industry. Scott focused completely on his rails, with the majority of his focus being on the main track and getting the maximum rail quality onto it.
A couple of years in I decided I wanted to go for an upcoming engineer as it had a space for 2 industry with one worker, which for me and me focus on industry looked like a perfect match. I took first place and grabbed the engineer, planning to pretty much ignore the rest. Subsequently however I managed to get the 2 money space and double it up using my first factory, so I had lots of money which I decided to use for another engineer, (In the end I got 3). Mike struggled to get money and I think the first time he went first he took a different action (Not sure which), which seems to be a risky plan in this game as the money is just so important. Around the middle of the game Scott managed to get his rails to blank which with his x2 multipliers up the start of the track really got worrying. Mike had a lot of x2’s down but just didn’t quite have a high enough quality of track on it to do so well, and Gordon was in a similar situation.
As we came into the last couple of years, Scott had leaped out ahead of me with his x2 increased value tracks (One of the ? bonuses is to increase the value of the better rails). It was hard to appreciate a focus on rails until that point where it got suddenly very scary ^^. I managed to catch up a little after a factory got discarded that gave points for your engineers (Of which I had 3 thanks to the money boost), I made use of activating bonuses through the st-petersburg line to get a second industry token and run it past my factories a second time, giving me some bonuses I didn’t expect and getting me the nice engineer bonus a second time. Gordon managed to finish his 2 shorter rails off getting some nice bonus points while Mike got his main rail to a point it could score well, but a little too late (The lower quality tracks were advanced very far, which I’m not sure is worth it, not for the grey rails at least). Scott got a ridiculous amount of points in these last couple of rounds, with 5 maximum quality rails doubled in value to 20 a piece, 100 points just from those 5 tracks! (Vs my 45 from industry, which would have maxed at 55 leaving me to rely on other sources for the extra points).
The game finished far from close, with Mike at 237, Gordon at 260, Myself on 345 Scott finishing on a whopping 379! I’m a bit suspicious that the game leans too heavily towards players focusing on one thing with the 2 all-rounder players being far behind, but I think with a little experience the scores will draw a lot closer (Gordon mentioned that his first game had players scores much closer in fact, with a similar array of different tactics). I know I made a couple of mistakes that could have got me a little higher up, and Gordon noted a few times that he’d done silly mistakes too. It was a learning experience though and I hope to play again sometime trying for rails perhaps instead of industry. Thanks for the play Gordon! =)
PS: Apologies for the shocking image quality..dust between the lens and case of my phone means it thinks it’s permanently night time, and I’m bad at manual settings ;)