In 2018 the rise of roll and write games was marked with the release of three heavy hitters: Welcome To…, That’s Pretty Clever, and Railroad Ink. Roll and write describes a genre of board games in which all players receive the same set of random inputs (dice rolls, card flips, etc.) and apply those to their (usually) personal board or player sheet to achieve a competitive goal. Today’s review will focus on Railroad Ink. While there are two versions, I will be covering the Blazing Red edition. Most of my review will cover the basic game, which is the same in both versions. Each version also includes 4 variant dice.
Railroad Ink is a roll and write style competitive route building game that plays from 2-6 players, but can be expanded with additional copies of either version. Does this roll and write stick out amongst the other trailblazers, and does it hold up a couple of years later?
A game of Railroad Ink takes place over 7 rounds. Each round, one player rolls a set of four communal dice, which will provide four different route configurations. Players must draw each pattern that was rolled on their personal board, connecting it to the correct type of route or exit around the edge of the board.
Once per round, a player may employ the use of a special route from the top of their player board. These have four connections each and are very useful for getting out of jams and making big connections. However, only 3 of the 7 available can be used in each game, making the timing very important.
The goal of the game is to get the most points. Each set of connected exits gets you a certain number of points, depending on how many exits were connected in that set. The longest series of connected roads and railroad tracks get you points, and how many spaces you fill in the center 9 squares gets you points. Finally, you lose points for any open/incomplete routes.
This game is really quite simple to learn and teach. You can be up and running in only the time it takes to pass out the player boards and markers. Then, it’s time to get rolling.
Railroad Ink provides a tactical and tense experience play after play. There’s a unique push-your-luck element when deciding if you should continue expanding a network, finish it, or start a new one entirely. The closer you get to the last round, the more nail-biting each roll is. You can often draw yourself into a corner, and you need the dice to come up just right in the last round or two. If you get what you wanted, your gamble paid off and your points should show for it. If not, you’ll wonder why you played so recklessly and be looking forward to redemption in the next game.
There’s a lot to love in Railroad Ink. Of course, there is the challenge of the puzzle. Players need to optimize the number of exits they connect to, the length of their longest road/track, and they need to avoid leaving too many routes with dead ends. There’s also the tension you feel before each roll of the dice. You’ll rarely get exactly what you’re hoping for, so you’ll need to be flexible and leave yourself some options throughout the game.
This game doesn’t have any player interaction, but a shared groan or a cheer when the dice hit a certain way reconnects you with the rest of the players at the table. At the end of the game, you can’t help but look over the winning player’s board to see which decisions they made better than you. Like playing an arcade game, spending quarter after quarter, this game has addictive qualities that keep you coming back to try to beat your high score.
Lastly, the variant dice (lava and meteor) do add some nice variety, which I enjoy on occasion. However, the majority of my plays will be with the simplicity of the basic game. In terms of the variants, I must mention that their release model is not great. You need to buy an additional copy of the base game (in a different color) to get the other set of variant dice. That does not seem worth it to me.
In a now-crowded field of roll and write games, Railroad Ink still stands out. It’s not another polyomino or tetris-style puzzle. It’s also not writing numbers down in rows and columns. To me, this one has a little more soul. Drawing railroad tracks and highways in logical patterns on a map feels just a bit more thematic. Railroad Ink’s progression from wide open in the beginning to tight and tense near the end is a treat to experience. I will keep coming back to it for a quick and satisfying affair.
Final Score: 4 Stars – An exciting and distinct approach to a roll and write game that leaves players itching to come back for more.
• Challenging push-your-luck style route building
• Nail-biting game end as you try to tie out the last of your routes
• Scales well from 2-6 players (or more with each extra copy)
• Dry-erase game boards are high quality and convenient.
• Lacks player interaction and feels a bit solitaire
• The release model for the extra variants does not provide enough value for the cost