Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Helmut Ohley,
Leonhard Orgler

999 GAMES,

No. of Players:
2 - 4



Gamebox author Doug Adams writes about the game:

Russian Railroads is a worker placement game for two to four players, taking around 30 minutes per player. The theme of the game is the development of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, in which players represent railroad moguls who are trying to win the game by accumulating the most victory points.

HANS IM GLUECK are one of the best game developers in the business, and they have done a terrific job with Russian Railroads. The presentation of the game just oozes quality - the box art is terrific, the components are very well done, and the rules are excellent. This is a complex game, but the excellent rules and graphic design make learning this game much easier.

The game box contains a lot of components. There is a main game board, which functions as a scoreboard, an area for placing workers, and also recording the amount of time remaining in the game. Each player will play on their individual player board, on which three railroads are represented, but also contains space around the perimeter for engine, factory and engineer pieces.


As expected, there are several pieces of wood in the game. I really like the 35 meeples, each wearing a Russian ushanka cap. There are also several rail track pieces in five different colours - black, grey, brown, beige and white.

Finally, there is a ton of cardboard to punch out - train engines, factories, engineers, medals, doubler tokens, and so on. A small deck of cards completes the package.

At its heart, Russian Railroads is a worker placement game. This is 2013, and worker placement games have become incredibly popular, so you're probably expecting this is another game where you place workers, get stuff, use that stuff to get more stuff, and so on. Well, you are half correct. Russian Railroads is all about victory points, and it cuts out a lot of the fiddly bits. Sure, you still place workers and take an action, denying that action to your opponents. But you are not picking up resources to spend later - instead here you are purely advancing your victory point machine.... let's explore what that means.


Each player board is identical, and has each player working on their own three railroads - Trans-Siberian, Moscow-St. Petersburg and Moscow-Kiev. These railroads are represented by a linear track of spaces that you advance track pieces up, achieving victory points and bonuses when you reach certain points. Essentially, the tracks are technology trees. Advancing up these tracks represents constructing and developing your railroads, and each railroad is attacked in two ways.

First off, you have to construct the track, and this is represented by taking actions that nudge your black rail marker out from Moscow towards the destination. If you reach space 2 on the Trans-Siberian track, you unlock the grey track pieces, which may now begin being advanced up the railroads tracks. I guess this represents track upgrades, standard rail gauges, and so on. However, an upgraded track piece may never be advanced onto, or beyond, a track piece in front of it - so black leads the way, followed by grey, then brown, beige and white track (when these are unlocked by earlier black track advances).


The second way the railroads are developed are by acquiring engines to run on them. Engines are represented by cardboard tokens, each with a numerical value ranging from 1 (a handcar) up to 9 (a powerful steam engine). Engines are acquired in ascending order - all the 1's have to be claimed, then 2's, etc. Engines are assigned to a railroad, and combine with the track advanced on that railroad, to determine how far down the track you can physically reach. This is vitally important for two reasons - some technology upgrades can only be achieved if you have both the track advanced, AND you can reach it with you engine. The second reason is at the end of each turn, you score victory points based on how far your engine/track combination can reach, with the better quality track (grey through to white) scoring you increasingly more victory points.

In addition to developing track and acquiring engines, players have additional options for placing workers and taking actions. You can industrialize your player board by acquiring factories, which are on the reverse side of the engine tokens. These slot onto the bottom of the player board and represent the growing industrial power associated with the rail expansion. Each player board has a path of spaces along the bottom representing this growth of industry, which earns the players substantial victory points as a marker advances along it. However, there are gaps in this path that the factories fill in - so factories have to be acquired so the industrial advance can continue, and players try to close in on the final 30 point space! In addition, each factory has a bonus associated with it - as the industrialization marker advances over it, this bonus triggers. This is very clever.


There a few other actions you can take, such as adjusting the turn order, and so on. However, probably the most important being to hire an engineer. These are tokens that are randomly assigned to the game board at the beginning of the game and function as a game clock, sliding across at the end of each turn. Each turn, one will slide into the "hiring" slot, meaning they can be recruited for exclusive use by that player for the remainder of the game. A generous end game bonus is awarded for owning a majority of engineers.

At the end of each turn, each player scores their player board. You score for each of your three railroads, and for your industrialization track. Railroads only score points if they can be reached by an engine, and the better the track, the more points they will score. The industrialization track scores a single value, based on how far up the track you've advanced. These score every turn, so you want to advance all of these tracks as far as you can, as early as you can, to maximise the victory point output.


The game also has a ton of bonus triggers that can occur during the game - for example, each railroad has a 10 point "terminus" bonus for reaching the end with a black track. Something that must be attempted, I feel, is to try and reach the insanely powerful "?" advantage spaces - there are three of these on the railroads, and one on the industrialization track. These allow you to select an advantage counter, of which you have seven to choose from, and they are akin to having super powers! Engineers and factories can trigger victory point payouts. Finally, there are end game bonus cards that hand out hidden condition victory points when the game has completed.

Russian Railroads offers each player 30 minutes of good thinky, worker placement fun. It appears scores of around 350 points will be close to a winning score, although this may increase as strategies are refined. It can be quite alarming as you see the points awarded each turn rapidly escalate, and it important to stay focused on maintining your victory point output. There appears to be several strategies to follow. Although initially complex in appearance, the excellent rules and presentation make learning and playing the game straightforward.


So, are there any concerns? Possibly a couple. The game certainly gives the impression it may be solvable - that a perfect strategy my present itself. However, the game randomly selects seven from the available 15 engineers for any one game, so there is some variety. Also, a common complaint of these "snowball engine" games, is an early leader is impossibly to catch. This may certainly be the case here, as there is no way to reduce a leader's score - all you can do is try to outscore, and catch them, in the future rounds.

I really enjoyed my five games of Russian Railroads. It is refreshing to play a worker placement game that does not have any pretentious complexity for the sake of complexity - yes, this is a meaty game, but it's all about the victory points - build rails, acquire engines, industrialize, score points.

Russian Railroads is an excellent example of a worker placement game. It is challenging, but not overwhelming, and a welcome additon to my game collection.

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