Monday we looked at the mechanic of Worker Placement and we have thus far looked at two other worker placement games; Caverna and Lords of Waterdeep. In today’s installment of Worker Wednesday we will continue our journey into the land of meeple management as I review Russian Railroads!
Designer: Helmut Ohley & Leonhard Orgler
EPT: 120 minutes
Many of my gamer friends know I am a sucker for train games; be it the train rails system, Ticket to Ride, or the 18xx series I love locomotives. Partnered with my love for train games comes a love for Russia; this can be blamed on having lived in Russia for a year while growing up. When I thus learned to love worker placement games I knew I had to give Russian Rails a try for these two factors as well a third I will mention later.
In Russian Railroads each player is seeking to spread their locomotive influence through the motherland via three main stretches of rail; the Trans-Siberian, Moscow-St. Petersburg, and Moscow-Kiev railroads while also developing their economy in the form of factories with the end goal of having the most points at the end of the game (I mean it’s a worker placement; did you expect a different win condition).
To start the game each player has 5 workers, 1 rouble, 3 black tracks, an industry marker, and a few other various components, don’t worry it is more intuitive than it sounds.
Turn order is initially determined in the form of a random deal (though when teaching first time players we often have the most experience players go first). Once the order has been established players place their pawn in the turn order tracker then select start of game bonuses. There are 4 option bonus cards; starting with the last player all player except the first take a card and activate the ability. During the rest of the game turn order is decided in that players can place a worker on the first or second turn order position (so long as they are not currently in that position) then at the end of the round the players who claimed first and second are placed there with the rest of the players being shifted to the right; to make up for playing later, however, the player in second gets 2 points, 3rd gets 3 points and 4th gets 4 points; with player one receiving no position points.
The core of the game works much like other worker placement games; place workers to get rewards, there are some interesting alterations on the mechanic, however, that help separate Russian Railroads from the rest of the games in the genre. Namely the idea of temporary labor; the game does not call it this specifically, but you can use roubles in replace of workers on the board locations; note unlike the workers, the roubles do not return to you at the end of the round. The game also introduces engineers that can be used as a space; or hired when they reach the final space on the engineer track; hired engineers are place by the player board of the player who purchased them and becomes a location that only that player may place their workers on; the game ships with more engineers than there are spaces to place them during setup so games will have alterations between each playthrough based on which engineers are delt.
Along with the main game board each player has a player mat; this mat details the three railroads as well as their industrial development. The player begins with three black tracks set on the first location on each of their three railroads; as they improve the railroads they move the track markers down the line; they also start with a level 1 train on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. As their track progresses they will gradually unlock other colors of track and place them on the railroad as well, note no track can ever pass the color in front of it; black will always be first, followed by grey, brown, tan, and then white. Unlocks are indicated with an icon of the color of track that must reach that section to receive the reward and occasionally a picture of a train under the track icon, if there is the train icon the player must have a train on that railroad that can reach that space. Train’s reaches are equal to their level; a level one train can only reach the first space while a level 8 train can reach the 8th space. Each railroad can hold one train; with the exception of the Trans-Siberian which can hold two; one on the playmat and one on the table next to the mat; these two trains levels are added to calculate how far down the track they reach.
Along with the train section the player mat has an industry tracker; this shows how developed the player’s economy behind the trains has become. They may move their industry marker along the line from location to location but must purchase factories to fill the gaps where the line leads off the mat. Like the colored tracks on the rails a player can eventually get an additional industry tracker and double down on this development.
At the end of each round players score whatever points they have developed over the previous rounds; players will calculate how many points each train line is worth followed by how many points they get for their industry track. On the last round of the game a marker is placed on the turn order creating a new space and removing the turn order spaces; after this round ends the players do a final round of round end scoring followed by an additional end game scoring; in which they score points based upon engineer majority; with the player with the most getting an additional 40 points and the second most getting an additional 20 points. Players than tally any points they get from any bonus scoring cards they acquired during the game; after which the player with the most points is deemed the best builder of rails and titan of industry.
This was a game that even before I began to delve into the world of worker placements I was intrigued by; in part because it used the train theme I mentioned I love so much, but also because they utilize a gimmick that gets me almost every time… fancy meeples. Maybe it is the ameritrasher in me but there is something about special game components that I find hard to ignore; and when those components involve meeples with russian fur hats, the temptation is all but too great. Yes, fur hatted meeples is indeed the previously referenced third thing; or tertium quid if you will.
The more I play Russian Railroads the more I realize how many paths to victory exist; as is often the case the best means to thus win the game to identify which path the other players are taking; find ways to cause conflict among them and seek a separate path. If two players are clearly going for the most engineers; attempt to drain them of money while you focus your energy on expanding your industry. Ultimately the multiple paths to victory is one of the best parts of the game; as you play, each game you can experiment with new strategies and focuses.
The game’s art is equally stunning with a double sided game board so as to better fit a 2 player game, in which specific locations are closed, various engineer profiles, train pictures, and components. Pacing can be a minor issue if playing with players who over strategise or are overly distracted due merely to the variety of choices, picking your play group wisely, however, will avoid this issue.
As it stands Russian Rails is a great game that falls more into the category of a worker placement game than a train game as the game could function with a different theme; the theme does, however, add an additional element of enjoyment. I thus give Russian Railroads a 7.75 out of 10!
Visuals – 1.75 // 2
Skill/Luck – .75 // 1
Pacing – 1.5 // 2
Theme/Immersion – 1.25 // 2
Mechanics – .75 // 1
Fun Factor 1.75 // 2
Visit again Tomorrow as I take a look at Game of Thrones, a game that we previously played and reviewed on our channel and has become equal parts loved and hated by the masses; until then you can find us on social media!