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I’ve been collecting boardgames for a couple years, a lot of it with the assistance of BGG. I consider myself a casual gamer, though I do enjoy solid mechanics - a game that does something different, something new. I find myself introducing these games to my friends and family and will usually wind up playing a game after a dinner, as we enjoy each others company along with a drink or two.
Although fairly satisfied with my modest collection, a few months back I started to think there may be one more area that I would like to explore: a train game with an economic component, something of medium weight that had some depth but wasn’t too complicated. I had enjoyed Ticket to Ride: Marklin Edition, but found it somewhat simplistic. As I began exploring the world of train games, I discovered just how great a variety of games there were to choose from that all met my initial criteria: a plethora of 18xx’s, the venerable Age of Steam, it’s toned-down successor Steam, Railroad Tycoon and it’s current equivalent Railways of the World, plus many, many more...
In the end, I decided on Railways of the World along with it’s expansions: Railways of Europe, and Railways of England and Wales. After reading a number of reviews I had what I thought was a pretty good idea of what the game had to offer, but would it really live up to all that? Would I be satisfied with my purchase many months down the line, or would it rapidly become stale, turning out to be something other than what I had expected? In this review I’ll discuss what my criteria were in choosing a train game, and whether Railways of the World met them successfully.
Note: I have not played any of the other train games I’ve mentioned above, so my statements here are not to imply that I dislike or wouldn’t enjoy any of these other games, per say. But based on reviews that I had read, there were certain elements that eliminated them in my selection process which should become clear as I explain why I decided on Railways of the World.
Length of Play:
I usually have one or two evenings a week to play boardgames, and the target time limit would be in the 1.5 to 2 hour range. Anything more and I just wouldn’t have many opportunities to play the game. This was a huge factor eliminating many of the games I was looking at. RotW has an estimated playing time of 2 hours, but I’ve found that it usually takes a little longer. With four players, the England and Europe maps each take around 2.5 hours, which is close enough for me. We can finish the game in one evening without paying for it the next day. The one time I played with 6 players on the Eastern U.S. map was a marathon 3.5 hours, but other than my wife and I, everyone was new to it.
Incorporation of Theme:
I like my theme. I like games that, to some degree, make you feel like you are actually taking part in the theme, rather than using the mechanics of the game to "solve" the "puzzle" as it were. For example, I enjoy watching my farm grow in Agricola, but I don’t feel like my tribe is really benefitting from my actions in Stone Age; I enjoy "discovering" temples in Tikal, but I can’t shake the feeling of trading various coloured cubes for points rather than having a part in building a cathedral in "Pillars of the Earth". I still like Stone Age and Pillars of the Earth, they simply are not as immersive - the theme feels pasted on. As for RotW, I do find the theme to be immersive. That’s not to say I see myself as 19th century railroad baron, but I don’t see the theme as a function of the mechanics, but the mechanics bringing the theme to life.
Ease of Learning:
This is an important point for me - I’m always the one teaching the game to others, and there’s usually someone who hasn’t played it before. I didn’t want a game where first-time players would lose interest during a long explanation of the rules, and subsequently become frustrated because they couldn’t understand the mechanics during game play. While a part of me really liked the complexity of the mechanics behind many of the other games I looked at, I knew I would have trouble introducing these games to others. RotW seemed to have streamlined many of these mechanics, funneling them down to relatively few, easy to understand rules that work well with the theme.
This has proved true - the game is fairly easy to teach, and while newcomers may be a little overwhelmed initially, within a turn or two, it clicks and they are able to play competitively. The most recent example of this, just last night my wife and I played RotW using the England map with my parents, and my non-gamer, retiree father quickly grasped the game and ended up tied for first place competing against the rest of us who had played several times before. I should also mention that the England map is excellent for teaching the game - it’s very forgiving, there are many short connections so players can start earning points without a large capital investment, the cities are fairly evenly spaced and symmetrical, etc. Once everyone has a feel for the game, the Europe map offers a more of a challenge.
Quality Bits and Pieces:
I’ll admit it, I appreciate a game that looks pretty. I like a colourful, detailed board and pieces. I also like it when a finished game actually draws your eye to it. I pretty much knew what to expect from Enders’ pictorial review (if you haven’t read it yet, do so now here, it’s worth it). And as I expected, RotW delivers in this regard. Some people have actually been drawn in just out of curiosity after looking at a finished game that hadn’t been put away yet. Again, I play with some who are very casual players, so the easier it is for me to interest them in a game, the more often I’ll be able to get it on the table.
Depth of Gameplay:
This one surprised me a little. After reading the rulebook, I thought to myself that this is a pretty light game, maybe medium-light at best, but definitely not the medium-weight game others had claimed it was. I mean, it’s so basic, you build track, move goods, earn some income, and there are some cards. Not a big deal right?
Wrong! After a few plays I started to see that there was a lot more going on here. How many bonds do you take? Should you take a bond now to take advantage of an operation card that just came up? Maybe two bonds? Three? Can I avoid falling too far behind with just a couple bonds initially & make my comeback later with less debt to hold me back? Is it worth completing my Baron Card, or is it too late? Or maybe there’s something still better I can do? Every action is an opportunity to make points, whether you are scoring them, or setting them up to be scored later, and games can be won or lost by the first player auctions. Easy to learn? Yes. Easy to master? I think not.
I didn’t expect there would be a problem here, and I wasn’t let down. Even when playing on one particular board, there are dramatic changes one game to the next due to the dispersion of the cubes, the order of the Operation Cards and, to a lesser degree, the Baron Cards you have to choose from. There is no dominant strategy from what I can tell. I’ve seen people win by going after Major Lines and then making long deliveries. I’ve seen people win with a series of short connections, but they earned a few service bounties. I’ve seen people win with only two or three bonds and I’ve seen people win with over ten bonds. I’ve seen a winning strategy in one game lose in the next and a losing strategy win - it all depends on what cubes are drawn and what Operation Cards come up. But most of all, winning depends on making the most of your current turn and taking advantage of any opportunities you are able to.
But if you want to inject a little life into the game, there are currently four boards you can choose from (depending on the number of players) that each change the character of the game and offer their own challenges. The Mexico map which comes along with the base game is perfect for two or three players as long as you get the operation card deck from Artscow - I wouldn’t bother playing without them, but with them, it’s an excellent and challenging little map that will play in a slightly shorter timeframe (more information on the Artscow deck in this thread). As I mentioned earlier, the England map is great for teaching people the game. The Europe map is less forgiving and can require a few more bonds to get started early on, but once you have a good feel for the game, the added challenges give the game a little more flavour.
And that’s not all! It appears that Eagle Games will continue cashing in on this game with more maps as long as we are willing to buy them - Railways of the Western U.S. (a larger map supporting up to six players with the possibility of linking up with the Eastern US map for a potential coast to coast mega game, should that be your bent) should be coming out in a few more months (early 2011) and there are plans for a Railways through Time expansion some time in 2012.
And if you want to get creative, there are a number of fan-made maps that will work as well. Sure, you may have to do a little footwork in terms of getting the components printed, but if you enjoy the game this much, it’s just one more way to keep the interest high.
While on the whole, my feelings towards this game are very positive, there are a couple things I didn’t like (some of this has been said before so I’ll try to keep it brief). First off, the Eastern U.S. map doesn’t work well with fewer than four players, and even at its best, it doesn’t play as well as the other boards. It is very asymmetrical with the tight spacing in the northeast and is relatively unforgiving. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the Mexico map doesn’t come with any cards (currently - I hear the odd rumor that there may be some cards in the works for future editions), making it (in my opinion) more difficult and less enjoyable to play. So for my initial purchase of the base game, I received two maps that I felt didn’t work as well. The England map is great, as is the Europe map and the Mexico map once you purchase the cards, but these all represent an additional outlay of cash after you’ve already bought the base game. Definitely worth it to me, but your mileage may vary, as they say.
Overall, I greatly enjoy this game as has almost everyone I’ve played it with. I have actually gotten requests to being this game with me when going to visit friends whom I’ve played with before. I don’t regret my purchase one bit - in fact, even though I haven’t had this game for that long, I’m already looking forward to the next expansion, Railways of the Western U.S. I have an easy time fitting the game into my schedule, it’s easy to teach to others, but there’s definitely a lot of depth. And did I mention how good it looks? Seriously, go look at Enders’ pictorial review! Here's the link again.
If you are interested in this game, I would strongly recommend considering at least the base game, Railways of the World, along with the expansion Railways of England and Wales as one initial purchase. The England map is just that much more forgiving, and if you are teaching the game to others, it makes your job easier, and those who are learning the game for the first time will enjoy it that much more. And if you are looking for still more variety (and a slightly greater challenge), you can’t go wrong with Railways of Europe.
Agreed! This game is just so excellent.
I had my second 6 players play yesterday. We really enjoyed it.
The one time I played with 6 players on the Eastern U.S. map was a marathon 3.5 hours, but other than my wife and I, everyone was new to it.
As a note to those considering this game, I've played the Eastern U.S. map with 4-6 players, about 5 times, and it takes us on average about 2 hours.
I love this game as well, and am glad that I bought it. Other favorites in my collection are Agricola, Ticket to Ride Europe, Dominion, Tigris and Euphrates, Power Grid, Modern Art, Ra, and Acquire. I find that this game fills a gap in my collection as an excellent 2 hour, 4-6 player game that is simple to learn, flows very smoothly, and that changes drastically with each play. It is different enough from the games I listed, to be a very worthwhile addition to my collection.
I had enjoyed Ticket to Ride: Marklin Edition, but found it somewhat simplistic.
I will note that my 5 player game group has played the Marklin Edition together a few times and we didn't like it much compared to T to R Europe, and yet my group really likes Railways. Railways is a step up in complexity (and variableness) from Ticket to Ride Europe, but plays more smoothly with 5 than Steam.
Railways of the World is 2nd only to Agricola in my book. Looking at my favorite games, Railways with the Eastern U.S. map is a medium complexity game that plays best with 5 and 6 and has less economics than Acquire and Power Grid (my other favorite 5/6 player games).