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Thomas Leitner
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This is a review of the Hans im Glück edition. All photos used are from this website.

The Gist

Russian Railroads is a worker placement game for 2-4 players with a railroad building theme from designers Helmut Ohley and Lonny Orgler.

Players take on the roles of industrialists vying to build train lines and industry in pre-Soviet Russia.

Gameplay

Russian Railroads is a worker placement game played over 7 rounds in a four player game, 6 rounds in a three or two player game.



There is a central board, illustrated above, where players will take turns placing workers and/or money on action spaces and then carrying out the corresponding action. The board has actions logically grouped into those dedicated to expanding rail lines, building trains and factories, industrial advancement, engineer actions, turn-order variation, and some miscellaneous actions.

Actions taken are carried out on player boards.



Each player board consists of three different rail lines; The Trans-Siberian Railroad, the Moscow-St.Petersberg line, and the Moscow-Kiev line. The five notches at the bottom of the board are where players will place the factories they build.

At first, the player boards look very busy, but they quickly make sense. Rewards are given for reaching certain parts of each track with a certain quality of rail, some requiring that a player also have train capable of reaching that same space.

Over the course of the game, you will lengthen your track, upgrade your track, upgrade existing trains and build new ones, build and activate factories, and hire engineers. There are also ancillary actions where you can hire temporary workers, take money, and increase the points value of certain areas of track.

After each round, when the last player passes, everyone scores their player board...each of the three tracks, and your factory track.

The Actions

One of the first things you will notice looking at the main board is that actions have a cost ranging from one to three workers. Some actions also require money. Money is hard to get, but is important not only for taking actions which require it, but because money can always be used in place of workers for any action on the board.

1 The leftmost action group allows players to advance track on their player boards. Every player starts with one black rail marker on the start space of each rail line. This represents the lowest quality of rail. By advancing the black rail along the Trans-Siberian line, higher qualities of rail are obtained...gray, brown, natural color, and white respectively. During the scoring rounds, higher quality rail gives more points. It is worth noting that superior quality rail can never move onto or ahead of lower quality track. Thus, the sequence of rail quality on your tracks must always be black at the front followed by the others listed above.

Rail advancement is important for obtaining access to higher quality rail and for acquiring certain bonuses of the player's choice.

2 Next there are the three train actions. Here, players can choose between newer trains, or factories. The bonus actions referenced in the previous section also require a train able to reach the segment of rail corresponding to the bonus. Therefore, if you want to employ a strategy based on the rail lines, you will need newer and better trains.

The train tiles are all factories on their flip side. Instead of taking a train, a player may choose to take a factory instead of a train. A player may have up to five factories, replacing older ones should they obtain more. Directly next to the train/factory actions are actions which allow the player to advance their factory marker along their factory track. As the marker advances along this track, players will score points during each scoring round and take the benefits of each factory as their marker lands on it. Clever use of the factory track can lead to advancements on the three rail lines, or players can dedicate their game to industry making only sparing use of the rail lines.

3 Miscellaneous spaces. There are three useful actions...take 2 money, take two temporary workers for the current round, and take a point doubling marker for use on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

4 Engineering spaces are some of the more interesting spaces in the game. During set-up, the A engineers and the B engineers are shuffled, and then dealt out on to the board...three As and four Bs in a four player game. Engineer tiles are double sided, with an inactive side and an active side. Over the course of a four player game, there will generally be one engineer for hire, two for use by all players, and then a number for use and hire in later rounds. This last group will decrease by one each round and serve as the rounds counter.

All engineers offer an improved version of one of the spaces on the board. The rightmost will be for hire by one player at the cost of one money. That engineer then becomes the extra action space of the player who hired him/her. To the left of the for-hire engineer are two placed on their active side and offer extra actions for players to take which, obviously, change with each round.

During the set-up for a new round, each engineer is moved right one space making the right-most active engineer from the previous round the one for hire, and the rightmost inactive engineer active and ready for use.

5 There is a space on the board for each player to place a pawn of their color to mark their place in the turn order. Below the first and second place spaces there are spots for players to place a worker to claim one of those two spots for the upcoming round. After everyone has passed, the two players who placed on the turn order spots can now move these single workers to any open spot requiring a single worker. This action combines very nicely with hired engineers, since they always require only one worker, and are not useable by any player other than the one who hired the engineer.

Scoring After each player has used all of their workers and as much of their money as they care to use there is a scoring round. I'm not going to go into too much detail, but points are awarded for the length and quality of each rail line, restricted by the distance the individual trains can travel. Also, each player scores their factory track. Each subsequent round, this score will be considerably higher than the previous round. There is also some end-game scoring. Players may get points for their engineers, and they may have acquired end-game scoring cards during the game. The player with the most points is the winner.

My Thoughts

At the moment, I can't get enough of this game. It is fun and deep without being punishing. In the games I've played, I have never had the feeling that my plans were being completely thwarted, only challenged. There are several ways to go about your business, and if one door closes, you can find another if you look hard enough.

The Good

thumbsup The fact that the engineers will be different in every game, and also that two of the end game scoring cards are secretly removed each game, means that no two games are the same. the fact that you know which engineers will also, at some point, become available, will guide your strategy.

thumbsup Component quality is excellent. The cardboard is thick, and cut very well. Pieces that overlay parts of the player boards are perfectly aligned. There wasn't a single hitch punching out the pieces. All of the wood is of good quality.

thumbsup The artwork is terrific and highly functional. All of the boards are appealing to look at and are well structured. The player boards especially are designed to enhance the play experience rather than detract. Once rules are explained, it is obvious what the many spaces on the player boards represent.

thumbsup The design of the game is such that you never feel like an action you're taking is useless. Even taking a turn order space can be turned into something even more valuable, especially if you have an engineer.

thumbsup The rulebook is very well written. One read-through and you're ready to teach the game. This is an aspect of game creation that is woefully undervalued in the hobby games industry.

thumbsup There are many paths to victory. You can concentrate on certain rail lines, or your factories. You can use one to enhance the other. Even so, this game is pretty easy to learn and is pretty accessible for most people.

thumbsup The flow of the game is smooth. While the game can occasionally bog down if someone has a more complicated turn involving obtaining bonuses, in general the game moves along at a pleasant pace.

thumbsup While I have yet to play a three or two player game, Russian Railroads seems to scale well. The main board is double sided, with one side for three and four players, the other for two with many of the action spaces from the other side unavailable. The three player game offers one more worker, but also one fewer round.

thumbsup You never have to feed your workers. Apparently, they are handsomely paid for their labors and can afford their own food. Hooray!

The Neutral

With a full complement of four players, Russian Railroads takes about two hours to play. This time will decrease with experience. The time investment will either bother you or it won't.

Some people may be turned off by the bloated scores this game generates. If you don't score over three hundred points, you are not winning. This game falls somewhere between an engine building game and a points-grabbing game, trending toward the former. It rewards diversification only to a limited extent. At some point, you will have to narrow your focus and look to the long term rather than short term horizons.

The Bad

thumbsdown I really have nothing bad to say about Russian Railroads.
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Peter Brahan
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Quote:
You never have to feed your workers. Apparently, they are handsomely paid for their labors and can afford their own food. Hooray!


Now that is funny and I could not agree more!
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Jon Day
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Nice review thanks.

My concerns after a first play were lack of thematic integration (what the heck are the coloured rails?) and the scoring being strongly snowball. In our game it was clear what the final positions would be from half way through the game.
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Bruno Valerio
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jond wrote:
(what the heck are the coloured rails?)


When i explain the game i say that it is like different tech level tracks, you must first use the black ones, (low tech), and only when they are in play you are allowed to build the next tech color.

It's a lame explanation but they get the picture


Also think it is a great game...
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Mathue Faulkner
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jond wrote:
Nice review thanks.

My concerns after a first play were lack of thematic integration (what the heck are the coloured rails?) and the scoring being strongly snowball. In our game it was clear what the final positions would be from half way through the game.

That depends on why players are behind. Some strategies take some time to build momentum, and players implementing those strategies definitely have room to catch up. If a player is behind because they just didn't have a strategy early on, and they were inefficient with their actions, then I agree that it's hard to catchup.

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Garry Rice
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It's a game that you definitely need to have a strategy in mind while you play...if you go in without knowing what you want to do and try a little bit of everything, you are going to get trounced. Play needs to be focused!
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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mfaulk80 wrote:
jond wrote:
Nice review thanks.

My concerns after a first play were lack of thematic integration (what the heck are the coloured rails?) and the scoring being strongly snowball. In our game it was clear what the final positions would be from half way through the game.

That depends on why players are behind. Some strategies take some time to build momentum, and players implementing those strategies definitely have room to catch up. If a player is behind because they just didn't have a strategy early on, and they were inefficient with their actions, then I agree that it's hard to catchup.


As it should be in any good strategy game.

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Philip Thomas
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mfaulk80 wrote:
jond wrote:
Nice review thanks.

My concerns after a first play were lack of thematic integration (what the heck are the coloured rails?) and the scoring being strongly snowball. In our game it was clear what the final positions would be from half way through the game.

That depends on why players are behind. Some strategies take some time to build momentum, and players implementing those strategies definitely have room to catch up. If a player is behind because they just didn't have a strategy early on, and they were inefficient with their actions, then I agree that it's hard to catchup.



See my second session report where a player was about 70 points behind at the end of the final turn but gained over 100 points in the end game scoring to narrowly win the game (his opponent gained some too, but not enough).

That was however a surprise to all of us...more often you do have a good sense of who is winning.
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Eric Brosius
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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jond wrote:
what the heck are the coloured rails?

If you think of the black rails as being yellow, the gray rails as being green, the brown rails as being russet and the natural wood-colored rails as being gray, that should clarify everything.

(At least if you have tried 18xx.)

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Mathue Faulkner
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Philip Thomas wrote:
mfaulk80 wrote:
jond wrote:
Nice review thanks.

My concerns after a first play were lack of thematic integration (what the heck are the coloured rails?) and the scoring being strongly snowball. In our game it was clear what the final positions would be from half way through the game.

That depends on why players are behind. Some strategies take some time to build momentum, and players implementing those strategies definitely have room to catch up. If a player is behind because they just didn't have a strategy early on, and they were inefficient with their actions, then I agree that it's hard to catchup.



See my second session report where a player was about 70 points behind at the end of the final turn but gained over 100 points in the end game scoring to narrowly win the game (his opponent gained some too, but not enough).

That was however a surprise to all of us...more often you do have a good sense of who is winning.

In our game, the winning player score over 140 in the last round. It's really the Vladivostok line that takes awhile to gather steam. Those white tracks are huge point gainers..
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Philip Thomas
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mfaulk80 wrote:
Philip Thomas wrote:
mfaulk80 wrote:
jond wrote:
Nice review thanks.

My concerns after a first play were lack of thematic integration (what the heck are the coloured rails?) and the scoring being strongly snowball. In our game it was clear what the final positions would be from half way through the game.

That depends on why players are behind. Some strategies take some time to build momentum, and players implementing those strategies definitely have room to catch up. If a player is behind because they just didn't have a strategy early on, and they were inefficient with their actions, then I agree that it's hard to catchup.



See my second session report where a player was about 70 points behind at the end of the final turn but gained over 100 points in the end game scoring to narrowly win the game (his opponent gained some too, but not enough).

That was however a surprise to all of us...more often you do have a good sense of who is winning.

In our game, the winning player score over 140 in the last round. It's really the Vladivostok line that takes awhile to gather steam. Those white tracks are huge point gainers..


I may not have been quite clear. The wining player was 70 points behind after last round scoring (i.e, tracks and factories). He gained over 100 points in scoring that only happens at game end (engineers and bonus cards).

I was the guy who was 70 points ahead, and yes I think I scored something like 148 in the last round with 5 white tracks, revaluation, doublers, and a few other things.
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BibKamp318
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Some people find the first actions too predictable:
- take money
- buy engineer
- get 2 workers

Personally I am not concerned at all: there are other fine worker placement games where certain spots are typically taken by the first player [Agricola's Family Growth action ... - anyone?].
It simply means that:
- all other actions are wide open to the other players
- including picking "I want to be the frist player next round" whistle
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Erik Vos
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Oblivion wrote:
jond wrote:
(what the heck are the coloured rails?)

When i explain the game i say that it is like different tech level tracks, you must first use the black ones, (low tech), and only when they are in play you are allowed to build the next tech color.


It's easy to mentally link the successive rail types to ways in which real railways can be upgraded. The way I think about it is:

- (gray) lay heavier track, so trains can go faster,
- (brown) double track
- (yellow) electrification, so running cost goes down,
- (white) modernize signalling system, so more trains can run at lower personnel cost.
(edited)
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George Nikou
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Or another explanation to help you with the theme is this:
Black = the soil that is flattened in order to be able to install the lines
Silver = the rails that form the railroad
Brown = the wooden shafts that connect the rails
Cream = Concrete or more solid materials to connect the rails other than wood, used for higher velocity
White = Anti-ice coating used for travels across SIberia
Might sound a vague concept but decided to use my Civil Engineering knowledge into board gaming to help with the theme
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dave bcs
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I have not seen a problem with "snowball" scoring; the things that most allow early high scoring are primarily level 4 train on the bottom route to get the 10 bonus points a turn and industrialization, and obtaining these are often at the expense of things that provide reward later in the game, such as extra workers, higher level and longer track development on the Trans-Siberian, and ? chits.
I also do not have a problem with theme. I like thematic intregation and the upgraded levels of track make sense to me. The trains themselves provided the highest theme integration in my opinion. The least thematic aspect is the fact of all the players building the same three redundant routes.
I do like this game, though wonder if it will not play as much once the cult of the new wears off. In the end it is JAWPE - Just Another Worker Placement Euro - not so different than many others. The theme and quality components may give it some longevity, though.
 
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Guilherme Zardo
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"thumbsup You never have to feed your workers. Apparently, they are handsomely paid for their labors and can afford their own food. Hooray!"

That was very funny. Thumbs up!
 
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