While roll and write mania is upon us, it can be tough to know what might suit your interests, what might provide a quick and light play or what might prod your brain a little more. With its eye-catching packaging, Railroad Ink certainly gets one’s attention – especially with two different editions to choose from! So what makes this a roll & write train worth hopping?
The basic game of Railroad Ink plays up to 6 people, over 7 quick rounds. Four 6-sided dice are rolled, providing segments of road or rail routes that players must use to build up networks on their player board over the course of the game. It’s got a similar route-building feel to Avenue/Kokoro with a dash more complexity and flexibility. Ideally, you’d like a nice large network that connects to multiple entry/exit points – while you’re restricted mostly to what’s rolled on the dice each round, you can place the segments wherever you’d like. Not to mention your choice of using three special routes (with four exits) over the course of the game, so you’ll hopefully extend things even further. The route segments and special routes rolled can be rotated or mirrored wherever you’d like, giving it somewhat of an edge on similar roll & writes.
I enjoy the base game quite a bit, and it’s nice and accessible to teach to a group new to the game (or even new to roll & writes), and even though scoring can be a little fiddly (multiple ways to gain points and a lot of picking out routes, incomplete routes etc) it really works and is a perfect filler. What is fabulous is that, on top of this there are 4 variants that you can use to spice things up a bit – in the Deep Blue edition, and in the Blazing Red edition, there are 2 variants, so if you’re interested in having options you might like to buy both – plus, that means you can double your group for playing the game! I understand this isn’t an option for a lot of folks, so I’ll chat a little about them each now to give you the flavour of what they add.
In the Deep Blue edition, you’re offered a choice of rivers or lakes to add into your map each round (and every game using expansion dice is shortened to 6 rounds). The big difference with rivers and lakes is that they’re not mandatory – choose one or both dice to include in your map that round. Rivers add another type of route, in a way – you’re aiming to have these connected to the edges of the map without roads or railways, and to try and have them flow as far as possible for more points. There’s bridge faces of the die that have roads and railways heading over river routes, which helps you integrate this with the rest of your map. Lakes are a little more contained – ideally you’d like to create one lake for your map – as the smallest is the one that scores at the end of the game, so it’s ideal to get it as big as you can, for a small lake! One thing I really like about the lakes dice is the sides that have a route connected to water – so you can really take advantage of the body of water to stretch your network across the map nicely! Nothing like a ferry ride to more-points-ville.
Blazing Red’s expansions are a little more… confrontational: Meteors and Volcanoes. Yep! Unlike Deep Blue, these expansions, if used, are mandatory to mark on your map (lava’s a little more flexible as you can choose just one of two dice faces). The meteor will really keep you on your toes, as every round it moves on your map and will wreck everything marked in that final space – hopefully you can work around it! As the meteor moves on, you can reclaim ruined spaces for route segments, so it’s not all bad. And you can use your special routes to avoid being hit by the meteor in a round to lessen the impact, so to speak. Volcanoes are a little tougher to mitigate, but it is nice that you can choose just one of the dice to mark on your map. If you position things well and are in luck, you might just avoid the lava flow wrecking any routes. Completed lakes score a bonus 5 points – and even though you’ll lose points for open edges of the lava map, you do score a point for every space the lake occupies, which makes the slow flowing disaster at least worthwhile!
While there’s not much art on the game components/boards themselves, the covers of each edition are beautifully and thematically illustrated – with a washed watercolour style that looks like it might belong on the cover of a storybook. They’re gorgeous! And yes, there’s little art inside, but every piece of the game is really lovely quality to be honest – the boards are sturdy and the dice are chunky and satisfying to roll. My only quibble is the dry erase markers with 2 caps (one has an eraser) – every dang time I go to pop the cap and draw I get the wrong end. A small quibble, however, in the overall scheme of this well-produced game.
If you like a bit of slightly lucky roll & write, you’re in for a treat with this route-builder. If you’re picking between versions, I think you can go with Deep Blue for a more chill experience, or Blazing Red for the slightly unpredictable. And if you’d like a big ol’ route-building party then why not both? Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong. Now, roll out those routes, we’ve got a network to make!
Railroad Ink: Deep Blue and Railroad Ink: Blazing Red are roll & write route-building games for 1 – 6 people (up to 12 when combined), and play in approximately 20-30 minutes). Designed by Hjalmar Hach, Lorenzo Silva, with art by Marta Tranquilli, they’re produced by Horrible Games/CMON. Thank you to CMON for providing review copies of these games for us to roll & write through!