Railroads are a common theme in Eurogames. The most popular Eurogame is likely Ticket to Ride. The two most often used mechanics in railroad games are Network Building and Pickup and Deliver. Russian Railroads has neither of these and is instead a pure worker placement game. 2-4 players can participate, it has a play time clocking in around 2 hours, and, in my opinion, it is a solid and complex game.
Russian Railroads is published by Z-man games and it has the solid component quality that Z-man Games is known for. The game board is double-sided, one side for 3-4 players, and the other side for 2 players. Oddly the board is a trifold, which I do not like as it never seems content sitting completely flat on the table which annoys me. The board itself is laid out very nicely: it is well-designed, easy to read, and follows a natural order. Each player has a player board, which lays out 3 tracks to go up and an industry track, and it is made well and is as thick as the game board itself.
There are a number of other small bits of the game to note as well. There are 5 different color tracks, and they are all I-beam shaped and well-crafted. The workers are also wood pieces as are the scoring markers. The locomotives that are added to the game board are composed of a thick cardstock. There are other upgrades consisting of small cardboard bits added to the board as well. Lastly there are a number of cards that are used for keeping track of playing order, bonus points, and special abilities.
Overall, Russian Railroads is a high quality production easily worth the $59.99 MSRP.
Russian Railroads is a very complex game which I will not explain in full here. Instead, I will give overarching themes of gameplay. Russian Railroads last 7 turns. Each player starts with 5 workers and can obtain up to two more (or in a special case 3) as the game progresses. Players in turn order play down workers on one space, some spaces require one worker, while others take 2 or 3. There is a secondary way to play workers and that is done with coins. Coins can be used as workers, but workers can’t be used as coins. This really matters only for one space, the Engineer space as the person who buys the Engineer each round has a special action that only he can take with a single worker each round.
Getting back to a broader perspective, at the end of the each of the 7 terms, scoring occurs. Scoring in Russian Railroads is amplified. The 1st round players will score about 10 points, but by the end of round 7 it is not uncommon to score over 100 points. Winning scores often end up being over 400 points. The game board goes up to a 100 and players are given a 100/200 token and a 300/400 token to help keep score as the game progresses.
So, how are points obtained? Well really it happens in two main ways, first by advancing one of the 3 rail lines or by advancing the industrialization track. Rail lines come in 5 colors, and the further you move them, the more points they are worth. In order to get any points though, a locomotive must reach the spaces where the rails are. The 1st rail line is the Moskow-Vladivostok line. This line is that one that has the potential to score the most points, but takes the longest time to get going. It is the only track that has the ability to move the white rails which are worth 7 points (10 points with an upgrade). In order to get access to any of the better colors for any of the rail lines, this line must be moved.
The second line is the Moskow-St. Petersburg Line which is mostly used to get access to 2 of the 4 special benefit tiles, which gives players a choice of 7 special benefits. They are all good, but the one taken most often is that one which allows access to a special privilege and a card which provides endgame bonus points. The third line is the Moskow-Kiev line and is really great for scoring quickly as it is the only line that can score direct points through the black rail line that everyone starts with at the beginning of the game.
The second way to score points is through the industrialization track. The marker is moved through the track and at the end of each round, points are scored directly. In order to completely get through the track, wedges must be filled in through actions and, when going through those spots, one time benefits occur.
I have not even come close to describing all of the actions, possibilities, and ramifications of those actions. The key though is to use workers to advance rail lines, upgrade locomotives, and advance along the industrialization track in order to score points. Other actions give benefits to go along with those. There are also Engineers which can be acquired to have a private action space.
My Thoughts on the Game
Russian Railroads is a great game and will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys worker placement games. The one thing Russian Railroads is not is elegant. Explaining this game to a new player is a major task. There are just so many choices and to play the game well, those choices must be understood. I suggest to anyone playing this game with experienced players to not expect to win on the first playthrough. The other major problem with this game, or something that can at least be annoying to the new player, is the runaway leader problem. If you make a bad first two turns, don’t expect to come back into the running for victory. Every scoring round is amplified from the previous ones, and you can lose by a lot.
With those negatives out of the way, please try this one. I suggest when you do pick two of the tracks and sticking with them almost exclusively. Russian Railroads is not a game that allows you to dip your toe in each pool and do well. You need to optimize a couple of the scoring methods perfectly and just keep hitting on them. Why? Because you need to be hitting 80+ points on the final turn and that won’t happen if you dabble a little everywhere.
Does all that make you feel like you are constructing the Russian Railroad? No, but it does feel like you are making an engine through a methodical process. As a Russian in part myself, the methodical nature of the game does have a Russian feel to it. There are plenty of train games out there, and there are many worker placement games out there, but no game has meat like this game in the package it comes in, and for that it is well worth playing.