Ever since seeing photos of people playing it on social media Railroad Ink has absolutely fascinated me. Regular readers will know that I love games relating to trains and maps, so something that combines both of them is right up my street.
Aim of Railroad Ink
The basic premise of Railroad Ink is incredibly simple. Each player has a wipe clean grid and a dry erase marker. There are four dice each with sides showing either road segments or train tracks. These could be straight pieces, corners, T-junctions or stations where road and rail connect. These stations can be either in a straight line or forming a 90 degree angle.
On each round – of which there are seven in a standard game – all four dice are rolled and players must use the road and track elements shown on them to draw a map. There are rules about how each piece that you join has to connect to either an existing bit of road or rail, or to one of the red marked exits on the board.
At the end of the seven rounds players score points based on how many of the exits they have connected to, the longest road and railroad and how many of the middle squares on the board they have managed to use. Points are deducted for any routes that are left hanging on your map at the end of the game.
The only added extra is that players are allowed to use as extras up to three special die sides which contain four way junctions. These can be really handy to help fill gaps and prevent some of those incomplete routes.
Perfect Travel Game
The basic Railroad Ink game is so perfect to work as a travel game. All you need to carry with you is the four main dice and the wipe clean boards. Really easy to play on a table at a cafe or restaurant, or even on a train itself if you’re lucky enough to get table seats.
Deep Blue Edition
When originally setting out to buy Railroad Ink I was a bit puzzled by all the different versions of the game that are available and it took me a while to try to understand what the differences were between them.
I ended up buying the Deep Blue Edition which seems to be the most comprehensive to start with. As well as containing the basic game it also comes with two different expansions – rivers and lakes.
The two dice in the Rivers Expansion give you a third kind of route in the game – rivers. You can’t connect a river to an exit on the board, and roads and rail can only cross them if you get a bridge on a die face, but players can score extra points for their longest river, with bonus points if both ends of the river touch the edges of the board. You need to be careful though as an incomplete rivers deduce points in the same way that incomplete roads and railways do. The game is played over just six rounds, not the usual seven, and players don’t have to use any or all of the river dice that they roll.
With lakes players actually score points for the size of the smallest lake on their board at the end of the game. That really makes you focus on where you are putting those bits of lake. Routes can be connected to the lake by the pier face stations and this time open lake faces don’t count as errors at the end of the game. When playing if a space has three sides adjacent to the open sides of a lake it must be completely filled with water immediately.
Like with the river expansion, the game is played over just six rounds, not the usual seven, and players don’t have to use any or all of the lake dice that they roll.
Other Railroad Ink versions
The second most popular basic version of Railroad Ink on the market is the Blazing Red edition which contains Lava and Meteor expansions.
There are also two Challenge versions of Railroad Ink which bring expansions of their own, along with challenges for players to complete, and some interesting changes to the original dice too. These are known as Lush Green (containing Forest and Trail Expansions) and Shining Yellow (containing Desert and Canyon Expansions).
It is possible to combine versions so that you can have more people playing Railroad Ink and each having their own expansions means that if you’re serious about the game you basically need to buy all the versions!
In addition to the four game versions outlined above there are also multiple different expansions available too. These simply contain 4 dice and rules, but each one can change the base game in really quite different ways. Horrible Guild’s own (excellent) website contains details of all the different expansions that are on the market and they even have a handy little tool to help you understand how different expansions interact.
Free Print and Play version
In addition to Railroad Ink being a perfect travel game, the company behind it Horrible Guild have also released printable game boards which you can then play by just have a pencil and eraser each. They’ve even developed a virtual dice roller so you if space is really tight you don’t even need to take the dice with you!
Our thoughts on Railroad Ink
The only gripes we have about Railroad Ink is that we’ve all realised how poor our drawing skills are we wonder why we didn’t get round to buying it sooner!
It’s a fantastic fun little game that really gets you thinking. Each play is so different and the expansions we’ve tried so far (Lakes and Rivers) really get the grey matter working to work things out for optimal scoring. Physically it’s a brilliant game to travel with as it takes up so much space and Horrible Guild’s excellent printable game boards (including some giant and epic ones that we also haven’t tried yet) make it feel like something that is made for people who love the game, rather than just being produced for profit alone. The online dice and things like the tool for figuring out expansion combinations are also brilliant touches.
I can see us playing a lot of Railroad Ink and we’re already saving up to add a couple of expansions to our game. The fact that you can play solo is also a nice touch as solo board gaming fascinates me as a growing part of the board game market.
This was also the first roll and write game that we’ve really got our teeth into and I know it won’t be the last.
We’re definitely all aboard for the Railroad journey!