Hans im Glück (Z-Man for English version) - Helmut Ohley & Leonhard Orbler
2-4 Players Aged 12+ Games take 90 minutes - 150 minutes to play through.
If you have a German copy of the game and you find the English rules somewhere online, be aware that should you decide to print them, there are 24 pages of A4 in full colour.
The components are of the best production quality you could wish for, hard board for the players and the main game, thick card for the game tiles and wooden pieces for the Player pawns and other markers. The parts give the game its physical weight, the rules and gameplay give it its playability weight, and in both cases it is a very heavy game. It also weighs in at around £40.00 but as I say you do get a lot of game for your money and in today's terms that is not expensive, in fact compared to some games it is much lower than I would expect. You are also looking at the game's publisher, Hans im Glück, who are renown for quality games and very rarely publish one that isn't a Game of the Year contender in at least one category.
The game's designers, Helmut Ohley & Leonhard Orbler, weren't known to me so like everyone else on the planet (almost) I Googled them and was very much surprised to see that they are also credited with 1824 a railway game (okay no surprise there) based on the 1800 series of games designed by Francis Tresham, so they have an acceptable pedigree in strategy games.
I could say that this is a clever game and go on to describe how the game is played by virtually referencing the rules and paraphrasing them - sometimes it is easier to describe a turn in full - but what I will say here in this review is that for boardgames players who enjoy an interesting, if not perhaps totally unique, challenge, and a game with longevity - not just the time it takes to complete one game but a game that you will want to play over - and your passion for games includes the well worn but very definite phrase "resource management" - then RUSSIAN RAILROADS is most certainly one you should be looking at.
The rules are some of the best written for such a good, long, complex game. They are player friendly throughout, explaining the concept of the game and the object of play plus the step-by-step play in detail and with illustrative examples. The game puts the players in the positions of mighty Railway moguls attempting to build the Tran Siberian Railway and two others - the St Petersburg and the Kiev railways - the tracks are created on the player's own personal playing boards. Players have mandatory actions and optional actions during each game turn, a four player game ends after seven turns. Action costs are generally paid in workers, the number of workers required is clearly shown for each of these actions on the main board where Players buy track pieces and Locomotives etc to place on their own boards.
The pictograms on the pieces are pretty much self-explanatory but I would have liked to see the back pages of the rules booklets reprinted onto player reference sheets as they show the full descriptions and details of the cards and tokens.
There are also Factories required by the players for their rise to fame and fortune; factories offer special abilities; factories can be found on the rear side of the Locomotive tiles. Apart from building the Railways and the Factories you also have to score victory points through Industrialisation, industrialising your railway network to the best possible advantage. The Industry track
runs along the base of your player board as a jagged edge. Industrial tiles are shaped to slot into these ridges - the top of these tiles extends the running track by filling in the gaps thus aiding the Industrial pawn to reach the Factories en route.
Engineers can be hired for their individual Special Skills. Once you hire an Engineer you do not have to use their skills right away, you can hang onto them until you need them. Using actions early to hold onto one or more Engineers is a good tactic if you can get the Engineer(s) that fit your strategy. The game twists into and out of your control as your options change with each turn which means that as the game is open and everyone can see what everyone else is most likely planning to do next, almost every decision you make has to be thought through carefully as sometimes what at first seems to be a good move for you may give an advantage and be a better move for an opponent. Keep a cautious eye on the board as it changes frequently (ie the pieces available on it) and make sure you expand your tracks when and as soon as possible. Engineers, along with End Bonus cards (these are entirely necessary for a win) are necessary for the final scoring. Trying to win without at least one End Bonus card is a mistake most players make only once. It is possible, with luck and good planning, to get more than one End Bonus card. These cards have "goals" that you can (and should) play for while building and expanding.
There are just so many options that to just continually list them here would be futile. From the design on the box to the blurb on the back this is obviously a gamer's game. It is also another of those frustrating games where you have many options and not enough opportunities to take them, so you have to make the most of every Action you take and you can never do all you want to in your go. It is best played with a full compliment of 4 players, though it can be quite challenging and interesting with 3 players; for 2 players the board is flipped over to reveal a side where the options have been reduced by design, not just by leaving out a variety of pieces.
What you really need to know:
The main Victory Points will come from building and completing the Railway tracks but this is a slow process. Industry brings points faster but you really need to balance where, when and how you expand.
Players may only make one Action per turn but play continues clockwise until they have all passed which ends the round ( game Turn ?).
Points are scored at the end of each game Turn and at the end of the seventh Turn the game goes into its endgame mode (as previously mentioned - Engineers/Bonus Cards and Victory Points).
Whatever you want to do someone has most likely preceded you to it, so don't wait when the opportunity arises, take it. Brashness won't win for you but boldness may well be to your advantage.
In a nutshell this is an excellent resource management game with more than enough options per turn to prevent the players getting bored. It is immensely likeable and playable and even though there are so many other "train" games on the market, this stands out amongst them.