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Russian Railroads: American Railroads» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A brilliant expansion rss

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Ben Wickens
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I love Russian Railroads. I have loved each of the expansions thus far too. The mini expansion added some very fun engineers and combined with the extra ?? rewards they added a lot of fresh life in the game. German Railroads added a very enjoyable solo mode, a superb new German Board full of fresh elements that added exponentially to the depth, variety and fun offered by the original. It even added a few fun engineers. Then it did something unexpected, created an extra currency that added the comborific potential up to an 11. So when a new expansion was announced I was cautiously optimistic.

American Railroads is a much smaller expansion than German Railroads. It only adds the new map boards and a few chits and things to use on these boards. There are four main new elements that come with this map a stock market, a second industry track, a new track that you can develop from both "ends" at the same time and dynamite.

The stock market does not play the way you would expect a stock market to play. Instead it offers bonuses to people with the person who hits a level first choosing the bonus for that level. At set points in the game everyone gets a bonus based where they are on the track. At the end of the game there are also bonus points for being on the track. As it is one of the newer aspects of the expansion I have kind of focused on it quite a bit in my games and it is powerful but not so powerful that a player might not be able to do well if their priorities were elsewhere.

The extra industry track also makes a great difference to the game. Now you can work on the industry tracks with out 100% percent needing to build factories (although then you are missing out on an activation of the factory bonus), they also represent a lot of potential points as well as making it easier to get factory bonuses twice. All this makes the industry tracks more powerful and the industry/train spaces more sought after.

The Dynamite works very simply. Get a dynamite bonus and you can remove a boulder. This creates interesting choices because you want, badly to remove all the boulders at once so it can create difficult choices.

The new railway route that you can build from either direction is a nice little twist. Whilst for me it does not seem revolutionary it is still quite a big change from the two small and one big track defaults of the base and german maps. If both stages reach a certain point then there is a good bonus that can be had (worth up to 50 points a round) and this can be a good way of getting a pretty big score.

Aside from these innovations the game also changes which train numbers will make the biggest impact. In the base game and also with the German maps getting the first 4 train can give you first choice out of amazing bonuses so you can get the one that works best for your strategy. With the American map you can get some bonuses just from pushing the industry track but it is really the 5th train that unlocks much of the interesting bonuses. Also it is the progress of the train stock that triggers the stock market rewards so that can also make the train progress all the more interesting and tense.

What this expansion does though is turn the base game on its head. In the base game you really need to plan a strategy and stick to it. In the expansion there are much more options for both taking sideways steps and changing your strategy. Also there are a few worker placement spots that are consistently fought over every round (Gold, Engineer and turn order). Now there are many times when getting industry spots, trains or other spaces can be more important and this gives the competition for spaces a very different and more dynamic feel. Some commentators have felt that all this makes American Railways feel like a different game. I can certainly see where they are coming from.

For me this is an excellent expansion. It is more complex than the base game and you have more to think about on each turn in terms of how you can optimise your points and bonuses in a turn and also how you need to adapt based on what your opponents do. You can introduce this to people who have never played the base game but they might be a little overwhelmed with all the combination potential there is. It is quite possible to score 150 more points than your opponents if they are fairly new to the game and this could be a potential problem both for them and also for yourself as you might not have the most competitive of games.

If you already have German Railways you do not probably need another expansion for the game. In modern gaming climates games rarely get dozens of plays and there are hundreds of plays of German Railroads before it gets the least bit stale. If you are a fan of German Railroads you may appreciate the fresh challenges and combinations this map offers though and will likely enjoy it. If you do not have German Railroads then this represents a very compelling alternative. Overall I perhaps like German Railways more but that is an expansion that adds 4 elements where this only adds new maps and as the price point of this is lower it is a good alternative if you are at all price sensitive. For many people American Railroads will be a better choice than German Railroads and that is high praise when you realise that German Railroads is one of my all time favorite expansions.

There is really only 3 weaknesses I can see with this expansion. First I would like more engineers, new engineers are fun and could work on the other maps too adding further variety. This is just being greedy but we are allowed to want more. The second is that some of the elements of the German Railroads expansion dont really work here (Coal and solo mode). The third is that the expansion is slightly redundant, if you have German Railroads you may feel you do not need any more variety to the game. I would counter that third one though by saying the map plays so differently than the Russian Map of the base game and the German map of the first big expansion that for many it will be worth checking out.

Russian Railroads is a top 20 game for me and I am not 100% sure it would be rated quite as high without this expansion. This expansion manages to offer a very different experience than the German expansion and manages to pack a huge amount of variety and interaction that was often missing in the base game. The inclusion of elements like dynamite even make the game feel a touch more thematic although this is far from the most thematic worker placement game on the market. In short it is an excellent expansion for anyone who likes deep, puzzly worker placement games and who appreciates a touch more interaction than was offered by other versions/maps of the game.
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Ken Bush
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Nice write up. I too think this expansion just might be better than German Railroads. It’s close, but the decision points in this version keep on coming whereas in German they seem to lesson as the game progresses. All three versions are great. Of all the expansions I feel the mini expansion is the lest exciting, but even it has a few gems. The one thing about American that i’m Not sure about is whether or not the golden spike is overpowered. If you get the bonus 9 train it gives you a significant advantage that takes other players several turns to get.
Thanks for the extensive write up.
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Ben Wickens
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The golden spike is certainly powerful but there are so many powerful options in the game. You need to have a 7 train on the other part of the track to get the full 50 points and I think need to use 1 dynamite which will either leave you unable to fully develop your industry or need to put a lot of effort into the top track. Putting that effort elsewhere can give you industry points (up to 55 a round) as well as getting other bonuses.

With more plays I may well feel that it is actually overpowered but I need a lot more plays to really know and each of those I will love.

If it did turn out to be too powerful it would be possible to house tweak it so it only gave + 20 points per line instead of 25 or not play with the 9 train bonus possibly. Now I am really itching to play it again... Be a while before I get it to game night though.
 
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