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RUSSIAN RAILROADS: from Hans im Glück. Helmut Ohley & Leonhard Orgler

Components:

·         1 game board (1 side 3-4 players and the other for 2 players)

·         35 workers (8 in each of 4 player colours, 2 turquoise, and 1 black)

·         8 pawns (2 in each of 4 player colours)

·         48 tracks (12 black, 12 gray, 12 brown, 8 natural, and 4 white)

·         8 industry markers

·         4 player boards

·         37 Locomotives (4 each of the 1-8 Locomotives, and 5 of the 9 Locomotive)

·         15 engineers

·         20 doubler tokens

·         18 roubles (coins)

·         28 ? tokens (4 of 7 different tokens)

·         4 revaluation markers

·         4 Kiev medals

·         1 last round marker

·         4 100/200-point tokens

·         4 300/400-point tokens

·         23 cards

·         10 end bonus cards

·         5 ? cards

·         4 turn order cards

·         4 starting bonus cards

·         1 detailed rulebook

·         4 scoring overview cards

RUSSIAN RAILROADS uses a somewhat similar worker placement mechanic to several other recent Euro-boardgames (Agricola, Caverna, Copycat, Coal Baron etc) where the players have X number of workers available to them who are placed onto the board (or boards) to occupy spaces and perform the actions or effects associated with those spaces.

In RUSSIAN RAILROADS each player has a personal board that depicts three Railroads: Moscow to Vladisvostok, Moscow to St Petersburg and Moscow to Kiev. The tracks are shown as small square spaces with each track separately numbered, 1-15, 1-9 and 1-9. The players place wooden rail tracks onto these spaces in a specific order, an order that cannot be and never is changed; Black, Grey, Brown, Beige and White. Once the black rail has begun to be moved along the track the player can, when they obtain them, follow it with a Grey piece. Only one Track oiece per colour is ever on a rail line.

Players only score points when they have a Grey (and other colour pieces except Black) on a route and when they also have a Locomotive (train engine) on the line. Each Locomotive is only available in numerical order (up to 9) which is its point value but more importantly the number of spaces along the track which can be scored. For example if your Moscow-St Petersburg line has a Locomotive valued at 3 plus a Black track up to box 6 and a Grey track piece on box 4 the player will score 1 point per box for the Grey piece from box 1 to box 3 = 3 points. (No points for box 4 as the Locomotive only reaches to the 3rd box).

If the player later placed a Brown track piece on Box 2 the score would be Grey 1pt for box 3 (because there is only one difference between 3 and 2) plus 2 points for the Brown for each box 2 and 1, totalling 2+2+1 = 5 points.

The longer line, the 15 box Moscow to Vladivostok, also has faded boxes above the track boxes into which players can place “x2 tiles” which double the value of the box beneath them, thus a Brown track piece (as an example) within the scoring remit of a x2 tile would be worth 4 points instead of 2. Each of the lines also has spaces (boxes) that give the player different colour track pieces. On the long 15 box line when reaching box 2 with a Black piece the Grey tracks become available, on reaching box 6, the Brown pieces, Beige come into play from box 10 and on reaching box 15 the players get to bring the White track pieces, valued at 7 points each, into play. The other two lines give different bonus effects when certain boxes are reached. There must always be a Locomotive (or two Locomotives with values added together) capable of reaching the necessary bonus giving boxes.

Along the base of the players personal boards are five up-facing V shapes, each gap in the board separating a scoring star. These are where Factories (flipped over Locomotive tiles) are placed and once positioned they open the trail for the Factory bonus by another star. It is possible to score 1-5 points before a factory needs to be placed – factories are always placed one after the other from left to right. Once the first factory is in place the player will have reached the 10 point star, then the 15, 20, 25 and lastly 30. It is advisable to ensure you do not ignore the Factory score trail.

The Railroads theme fits nicely with the game mechanics but it isn’t what I would call a “railway” game, not in the way Railway Rivals ™ © or British Rails ™ © is. There is no racing involved, nor passenger or goods pick-up and delivery, just the building and expanding of three commercial rail lines through some strategic and challenging game play.

The Central game board has the Action boxes where the players put their workers each turn and activate the effect or ability of the chosen box. These boxes require 1, 2 or 3 workers, as shown in them, and the majority of these boxes are available to only one player each turn, just one allows for more than one player’s workers to occupy it. This board is double-sided and is used depending on the number of players. The spaces for Engineer tiles also works as the timer mechanic as it shows the number of game turns to be played and which Engineer(s) are available to use this turn and will be available  to own next turn.

At the beginning of the game, apart from the starter trains that all players receive one of, the Locomotives tiles are stacked neatly in ascending order and players can only ever obtain them from the lowest number, skipping numbers is never an option. Trains and Factories are obtained in the same way, by placing the required workers on the necessary space on the Central board and then taking the top Locomotive tile. If you are building a train then it is placed to the left of your personal board with its point aiming towards one of the journeys – one or two trains can be on each line – but if you are placing a Factory you need to flip the train tile over and place the factory in position, furthest left on the Factory track.

The First Player is randomly decided and the game commences. This player will remain First Player until someone positions a worker on the space that allows them to become First Player for the next turn, the player who is currently First Player cannot claim this space. Going First is generally unimportant unless there is something you really need to do and want to ensure that nobody can beat you to it. I have played games where the First Player hasn’t changed throughout the entirety of the game and the winner has been decided by other factors (see below for more information on one of these factors that I believe is hazardous to fun play). Play is in Rounds and is always clockwise in turn from the FP. Players do one action (which may be more than one actual thing) before the next player has a turn. Only when no player can perform an action does the round end. There are situations where players want to take a space but do not wish to perform the associated action. Yes, such situations do arise, but it is firmly clear in the rules that you must perform the chosen action and if you cannot then you cannot choose it – no blocking an action from someone else for the sake of it.

Obviously as play goes round the table the options become diminished, but there is always something that a player can, and should, do. You get all your workers back at the end of a round so there is no need to hang back and indeed you are encouraged not to do so. Everything you do is aimed towards the end game – winning by being the player with the most points. Points are totted up regularly and the markers can really zip around the 100 space score track, so much so that additional marker tiles are supplied for cases where scores head towards 500.

In principle you can plan your turns but as only one player can activate each space (bar one) it is best to mentally plan for alternative moves. In a four player game three others will be taking a turn before you so hoping that your desired move is still there when it gets round to you is not truly a good idea. Having 2 or 3 options in your mind is best, though it is painful and ironic if you plan 3 moves and your predecessing (I think I just made a word up, but it looks and sounds good so I’m going to keep it in) players take them one after the other – good job you’d already thought of a fourth move you could make.

If you haven’t realised it by now there is some luck involved in the game, but not as much as in many games. There are no dice rolls to screw you and many of the options are select and choose rather than drawn randomly blind, though this does occur just to add some spice to the proceedings.

Because of the random setting up of many of the components (by random I mean things like cards being shuffled and tiles being face down and mixed, not stuff just randomly scattered on the board) the game rarely follows exactly the same route. Naturally there are some things you must do, some other things that have to be done at some stage, and other things that if you don’t do will likely cause you pain in the final tally, but by and large this isn’t a “going through the motions” game.

Considering the theme, Railroad Barons/Companies stretching their tentacular arms further and further in search of more and more profit, there is no actual back-stabbing or skulduggery, in fact there is very little actual player interaction, just the regular table banter shared by friends during a boardgames session.

It plays in around 2 hours with four players and a little over 90 minutes with just three. I haven’t, I admit tried it more than once as a two-player and not at all as a solo game so I cannot make fair comment on its solitaire playability. I must say though that it doesn’t strike me as a boardgame I would wish to play alone, though perhaps as a PC or console game it would be encouraging as all manner of A.I. opposition could be introduced.

Definitely a game to enjoy in the cold winter evenings (or warm summer nights) with good friends.

 

GERMAN RAILROADS

GERMAN RAILROADS from Hans im Glück is an expansion designed for RUSSIAN RAILROADS  and designed by the same authors, Helmut Ohley & Leonhard Orgler.

First thing is that it must be remembered that this is an expansion and that you cannot use it in any way shape or form if you don't have access to the original RUSSIAN RAILROADS game.

GERMAN RAILROADS plays in a very similar way to RUSSIAN RAILROADS but it is not just a case of adding new player boards and a few new components. It does, of course, do both of those things, it also includes rules for a solo play variant whereby the player is up against a "dummy" player (though to be fair to the designers the Artificially Intelligent player is anything but a dummy!). The new Railroads are Dresden, München Mainline, and Nürnberg-Fürth.

The authors suggest, quite wisely, that you play the game almost exactly as you already know it with the exceptions of the "German" player boards instead of the "Russian" boards, and including the new Railroad extentions, Coal Wagons, Boilerman tiles, 5 new Engineers, an industry marker and 8 oval-shaped income markers. This will get you used to changing your personal board and thus thinking about your strategy; as the extensions are chosen, not random, the game has the chance to change every time it is played and thus player strategies may also differ each game. The income markers are randomly won by reaching the necessary spaces and satisfying the conditions required. Although the major difference between the two games is the introduction of Coal, it is best not to introduce Coal the first time of playing, even if you are proficient in the base game. 

The introduction of Coal to the game does indeed bring with it a new energy, and the game now has even more options and opportunities for strategy play. The central railway now no longer comes to an early end buffer (at St Petersburg on the Russian maps) and instead halts, but briefly, at a Points interchange where it diverts north to Hamburg or south to Berlin, players may only build one way. Going North allows for 7 extra tracks to be laid, including a "?" and two additional track colours, one of these being the White tracks. Going south  is only 5 extra tracks but also includes the "?" and the two track colours. The track colour system, Black (0) Grey (1) Brown (2) Beige (4) and White (7)  (point value in parenthesis) are the same for both Russia and Germany.

As before you can get new trains to increase the length of track to be scored and which flip and change perspective to be added to the baseline to affect the scoring for Factories.If you haven't played Russian Railroads then a quick explanation is needed here. The Trains are printed on wide, arrow-shaped card tiles and are printed on both sides - one showing a train with a value and the other a Factory and its abilities. When used as a train, the tile is aimed so that it points along the track, when used as a Factory the point is aimed upwards into the indents along the bottom of the player boards, thus joining the factories together, making a trail between the ascending points values towards the top score of 30. The German variant allows for players to run two markers along the Factory Trail, this is one of the two major point scoring options you must take if you want to win.

The second option is available in both the Russian and the German variants,and is, in our opinion, horrific (and actually possibly unfair) Engineer Bonus. When scoring at the end of the game the player with the most Engineers gains 40 points and the player with the second most Engineers gains 20 points; this win bonus is above any other bonus you can get through any of the mechanics in the game and you can get it through sheer luck. You can ensure you are the one to get this bonus by going for the Engineer option regularly, which isn't actually a bad option as all Engineers offer something of importance to most strategies, and ensuring that you buy the Engineer with the highest "set" number. Almost every game we have played has been tightly close on the score track until the addition of the Engineer Bonus - it really is way too high to be fair to all players - and the last game we played ended with Player A one point ahead of Player B (in a three player game) and Player C just a few points behind before the Engineer's bonus was applied. Players A and B had an equal (highest) number of Engineers but Player B had an Engineer with the highest set value, thus gaining the 40 points and winning the game by a healthy 19 points. To our way of thinking, we had played nearly two hours of a most enjoyable game only to have it won and lost by accident - Player B hadn't realised that he had the highest set valued Engineer, it was just pure dumb luck.

Okay, as I said previously, you can look to buy Engineers with high set values but if you aren't the first player when said Engineer becomes available you aren't going to get it once you realise its significance. As buying Engineers is a legitimate action, especially towards the end of the game when there aren't as many options open, and it isn't even a case of you sacrificing a move, action or turn to get this ridiculous bonus. In all honesty it seems like the authors and play-testers kept having games that were too close or often tied and so a bonus to ensure a winner was introduced; that happens in many well balanced games but in this case the bonus is so high it can even mean that a player who hasn't been as cautious or strategic throughout the game can come from  the back of the line and win by having the most engineers. Okay you might say that is good play and is an acceptable tactic or strategy, but to be honest we all felt somehow cheated, even the winner felt like they had won by default.

 

The introduction of Coal and new factories hasn't imbalanced the game in any way, but it also hasn't addressed this, what we regard as a problem. The second Factory score-track token may have been added to give an extra bonus as a balance towards the Engineer bonus, but as everyone has the opportunity to get the second token it really doesn't. In our humble, but experienced, opinion, dropping the engineer bonus altogether is the best way to play, particularly when you consider how positively helpful throughout the play, and within the game's parametres, the Engineers can be.

Including the Coal module in your game reduces the number of game rounds by one but offers several interesting new actions and options. The Foundry tiles have two uses; they can be flipped to show the +1 side, making them Boilermen that can be added to a Locomotive to increase the travel (scoring) distance or to a Factory to upgrade the effects. Using these tiles for the Factory effect has a cost in Coal (2 per use) which must come from your personal supply. The twelve different Foundry tiles are explained fully in the German Railroads rules booklet as are descriptions of effects and uses of all the new components.

 

Does the GERMAN Railroads expansion change the game considerably, not much or not at all ?

I don't think there is anything I would consider to be a considerable change, that is one that makes it a different game, but there are enough additions so that we have added the two sets together and now only play with the Coal option accepted as part of the complete game - we don't separate the components any more and we play only using the German boards as it makes little difference which country the game is set in, plus it means we can use the extension boards.

Apart from not liking the Engineer's Bonus, I would be happy to recommend the Russian (and German) Railroads games to any boardgames players who enjoy light strategic well produced, thoughtful games.

 

Components:  1 detailed rulebook

Germany module

Coal module

Solo variant

New components

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015