Railroad Ink is a compact, easy to learn, roll and write game designed by Hjalmar Hach and Lorenzo Silva. It is published by CMON and Horrible Games. Railroad Ink is a light, network building, puzzle game for 1-6 players. One game tends to last between 15 and 20 minutes, but this is longer with the expansions.
A “Roll and Write” game is a genre of games where players roll dice and then mark down the results on paper. They often have an element of push you luck. The most famous roll and write out there is Yahtzee. Railroad Ink is an interesting twist on the genre, so let's take a closer look.
Let's Play Railroad Ink
Railroad Ink is easy to learn and the rulebook is short and clear. I found the game very easy to teach, but the rulebook is so short you could just read it out to the other players if you prefer.
Each player is provided with a dry wipe board with a grid on it and 12 exit points, along with a marker pen. One player rolls a set of four dice which have a variety of rail/road connections depicted on them. Players then use all the faces showing on the dice to start drawing routes.
Over seven rounds players use the dice rolled plus some bonus special connections to efficiently and effectively network as many of the 12 exits on the board as possible. Points are awarded for the most exits connected, the longest routes and the use of the central board area. Points are lost for incomplete routes.
Strategy and Tactics
Unlike some other roll and write games, the competitive nature of Railroad Ink is derived from the fact that all players are using the exact same set of connections that are rolled each round. This means the game is won and lost on how you choose to use the connections and when you choose to play the bonus connections.
Players must use all the dice, this means you cannot store connections for later and you will sometimes have to mark down connections that mess up your plans.
The game only lasting seven rounds (six when playing with the expansion) means push you luck is a major factor in this game. Do you play safe and head for a close exit to secure some points or do you venture further afield. The obvious risk is that if the connections you need don't get rolled you could be stuck wracking up some serious minus points.
A key part of the game is strategic use of of the station connections. As mentioned earlier, you are networking both rails and roads separately. Stations allow you to link one to the other. Not only is this the only way to make serious points, they can also be vital if you are caught short with a road when you need a rail, and vice versa.
Art and Components
The art is nothing to write home about, but in a game where you the player are drawing on the board you don't really want anything distracting. The dry-wipe boards are completely functional and clearly laid out. The artwork on the box and backs of the boards is of an attractive, line drawn style. It nicely matches the theme and suits the fact that you are indeed drawing lines on the board.
The components are of the high quality you would expect from CMON. I have no concerns that the images on the dice might wear away over time. The boards will last as long as you put in the effort to clean them after each game. The marker pens come with lids on one end and erasers on the other. But the erasers also function as lids. We found we spent too much time working out which end of the pen had the nib than is normal for, well, any situation really.
Blazing Red or Deep Blue?
You might have noticed that there are two different colour boxes for Railroad Ink. Apart from the colour of the box and components, the main difference it they both come with two unique mini-expansions inside the box, in the form of four extra themed dice. The expansions add a good dose of extra replay-ability and help ramp up the complexity level for veteran players
The Deep Blue Edition comes with the Rivers Expansion. It adds a whole new mode of transport into the game along side the roads and railways. The lake expansion allows you to link your transport network by ferry. Play the lake icons well and you will score big, place them poorly and you may find yourself in deep water.
The Blazing Red Edition comes with the Lava Expansion where you roll two lava dice. You must try to stop the lava from destroying your routes and costing you points. Dodge the lava flows or, confine them for bonus points. It also has the Meteors Expansion where you must use the craters left by meteor dice strikes to your advantage and send routes in to mine the precious point scoring ore.
Gameplay wise, I like the game equally with and without the expansions. They do add extra complexity and fun that definitely makes them a worthwhile addition. They are pretty much essential to repeated plays once you and your group are use to the base game.
Final Thoughts on Railroad Ink
The two mini expansions in each edition of the game add extra replay-ability and skill requirement. Personally, I wouldn't say either one is better than the other and it probably just comes down to personal taste. From that perspective the Deep Blue Edition is more thematic and in line with the nature of the game. The Deep Blue version does seem more popular, but I personally went for the Blazing Red Edition.
When it comes to the negatives, the fact that players take their turns simultaneously can shine a clear light on the slowest person at the table. It's no fault of the game but I have learning difficulties that mean I struggle with processing information quickly. I also struggle to spin the dice around in my minds eye to see if they fit. As a result, I need to move the actual dice which is annoying for the other players and means they are always left waiting for me. This is no design flaw with the game, just something to maybe consider.
As a result of the above I found this to be a fine solo game where I aim to beat my previous score. I like to sit on the floor with half an eye on the television and play a couple of rounds of this by myself before bed. I guess the down side is you can't really win on lose this way.
Railroad Ink is a perfect game to take on your travels. The box is small enough to not take up much room in your bag. The footprint of the game is tiny, only really needing a surface to roll the dice on to. Not to mention, it has a nice travel and adventure theme. The game is easy to teach with very few rules and expands up to six players. You can even use a second box to play up to 12.
If you want to game on the go, or solo, then Railroad Ink would be a very fine choice. It's a good choice for those who like solving puzzles. You get better the more you play and getting a big scoring network feels great. It would also be an excellent choice of gift for a non-gamer.