Hjalmar Hach and Lorenzo Silva
Artist: Marta Tranquilli
Roll and Write as a mechanism has really passed me by. My earliest exposure to Roll and Write came from Knizia’s Decathalon. I enjoyed it enough to create and laminate several copies of the play sheet even though I cannot really remember the last time I pulled it out to play. Fast forward at least a decade and a half to the start of the Roll and Write boom. I remember playing Qwixx, which I liked and then shortly after, making copies of Hisashi Hayahi’s Rolling Japan. Beyond that, I have played Roll and Writes sparingly. More recently, I enjoyed playing another Roll and Write from Japan called Roll and Write Daifugo which is actually quite a charming game that has trick-taking elements. I have written a review about it.
Railroad Ink has really gotten some rave reviews. I know it is a network building game using dice to lay down tracks. While not a fan of Roll and Write, I am a fan of train games. I also knew that the game had received some traction for its solo mode. Again, while I don’t do much solo gaming, the title did pique my curiosity.
The premise of Railroad Ink is pretty simple. Roll 4 dice, based on the die rolls, draw tracks or highways on a personal, erasable board and score points after 7 rounds. That’s the entire exercise, as you can imagine, is a very individual effort with little to no player interaction. Each round, players must draw all four of the tracks or highways that appear on the die faces. The goal is to link these tracks and highways into a gigantic network to score points. Normally, tracks and highways cannot be merged unless there is a terminal that connects the two. Some of the die faces have this hybrid configuration with a terminal that connects both tracks and highways. Tracks and highways also appear in different configurations: curves or straights. To help build connect your sprawling network, players have 6 additional, one-time use special configuration tiles that are printed on a side board. These special tiles are usually 4 way tiles to facilitate connections and each tile can only be used once, with players allowed to use only 3 of the 6 tiles per game. Once you have used the tile by drawing on the board, you can just mark it off your board. Obviously, these special tiles are really useful and must be used as efficiently as possible. I wish they would award bonus points for folks who choose not to use these special tiles.
To score points, players must connect their networks to as many exit points at the edges of the board. The more exits your connect, the more points you will gain. There are 3 exit points along every edge of your 7×7 board that alternate between tracks and highways . In addition, points are also scored for each tile in your longest track, longest highway. To encourage players to build vast networks that span the board, points are also awarded if any of your network spills into a 3×3 grid in the center of the board. Points are subtracted if track and highways have loose ends and are not connected to the network or to the edges of the board. All told, the scoring is actually simple and straightforward.
I think the game is pretty basic were it not for the expansion dice. The designers probably knew that the game would be somewhat boring without them. So, they were savvy enough to include 2 sets of expansion dice. Each expansion set uses 2 dice. The first set allows players to form a third network of rivers to score more points. The second pair of expansion dice features a lake. The lake occupies the middle part of the board and can help extend networks to score points. It is indeed creative marketing that the publishers of the game designed different editions of the game, each with a different set of expansion dice. For example, there is also a Blazing Red edition with 4 new expansion dice. I understand there will be more editions to come that features player interaction.
I haven’t played the game solo before, but I imagine it would be a pretty delightful diversion. Whether it has staying power is anybody’s guess. But I think somewhere in the box, the publishers should have included a cheat sheet to mark the solo high scores. Honestly, that may sound trivial, but I would have appreciated it. I am also curious to see how the designers incorporate player interaction in future editions of the game. I think that would significantly increase the value of the game.
The game is what it is. It is charming, cute and a decent Roll and Write as far as I am concerned. Thus far, I haven’t really played anything in this genre that has blown my mind away just yet. Railroad Ink did not break that streak. As it is, Railroad Ink will probably get enough plays in my hand to justify its ownership…. for now.
Initial impressions: Average