Can you connect your station while grabbing lucrative mine points?
# of Players
30 Rails is a print-and-play roll-and-write from designer Julian Anstey, brought to Android by Maxim Matyushenko. The game has you placing railroads of specific shapes onto your map, attempting to connect stations and mine to earn points. The game ends when your board is full, this usually takes about ten minutes.
The game starts with a rather extensive setup phase. A single die is rolled six times to tell you where to place impassable mountains on your board. You may skip one of the six, so you end up with five mountains on your 6 x 6 grid. Then you add a mine adjacent to one of your mountains and a bonus space anywhere on your board. Finally, you choose four spaces off of the edge of your board to act as your stations. You will be trying to connect your stations to each other during the game.
After all of the setup, each turn is fairly simple. Roll two dice. The red die tells you what railroad piece you can place. These can be straight, curved, double curved, intersections, and others. The white die tells you what row or column you can place the railroad piece in. Choose where you want to place the piece, then rotate it accordingly, and move onto the next turn. The only deviation from this is that you get one “wildcard” per die in each game which allows you to freely change that die to whichever side you want.
The game continues until all of the spaces on your grid are full. That is 30 turns as the five mountains and one mine each take up a space. You get points for connecting your stations, those points depend on which stations they are and how long the connection is, and points for connections which go through the bonus space. The mine works as a set collection, if you connect all four of your stations to it you earn a massive 20 points, whereas only one station gains you two points. The app isn’t as judgy, but the PnP rulebook says that 40-49 points is “okay”, 50-59 is “good”, and 60 or more is “excellent.”
That’s 30 Rails. It’s a simple game but offers a fun challenge. It’s super straightforward, with the relatively lengthy setup being the most tricky part. We have now seen a lot of digital roll-and-writes and I have to give credit to 30 Rails for sticking out in a few unique ways. Theme and graphics are frequently afterthoughts in the roll-and-writes which have been given digital conversions. This is certainly true for the print-and-play version, but the digital version got a major facelift and although the theme is loose at best, it still exists, especially compared with “filling in colorful squares” seen in many of these. There are notable exceptions, but 30 Rails still does a good job standing above most in these areas.
The game does feel slightly dated at points. It was released as a PnP in 2016 and was likely way ahead of the curve then, but in 2020 we have seen five waves of roll-and-writes so the standards have changed. Specifically, you can easily be done with your game and still have upwards of ten more rolls to make to fill in the empty spaces. There are generally a lot of wasted spaces in the game, although if you used those spaces for larger routes you could earn more points. So it’s a risk/reward situation, but it still feels a bit off in the games where the last handful of rolls don’t matter. If you make your connections you have no recourse to change them so you could find yourself with four closed paths between your stations and a bunch of empty squares to fill, so roll away! This is an area the app could potentially streamline for you by allowing you to skip those rolls, but the sheer amount of wasted rolls is something you generally don’t see in more recent roll-and-writes.
I’m not entirely sure how much I will be playing 30 Rails going forward. It is fun and I very much enjoy chasing my high score. This is a common thread among roll-and-writes I play. The other common thread is that one day, I stop and generally don’t find myself wanting to pick them up again. That’s perfectly fine, of course. A short, blazing hot fling is certainly a worthy experience.
Barrier to Entry
The game features a tutorial that uses text overlays and steps you through the controls and decision making process a bit. It is fairly brief and works well. 30 Rails is fairly straightforward once you understand it, but there are a few things I wasn’t clear on in my first play. Thankfully, games only take a few minutes so I learned and tried again. The game also comes with a PDF version of the physical game rules.
Choosing your variant
Placing your stations
Look and Feel
The physical game has a very simple look. The rails are all lines, the boards are empty white grids, you are instructed to simply write ‘V’s for mountains. It is a roll-and-write so keeping things simple makes a lot of sense. The digital version, however, adds some interesting graphics to the mix. The rails look like rails, mountains like mountains, and so on. There are even fun little cart animations that have minecarts travelling to connected stations after each turn. The playing board looks great. The dice look fine. Nothing special, they feel like a step down from the board graphics, but they are 2D digital dice, so there’s only so much you can do with that.
As far as controls, you drag-and-drop the rail pieces then use taps for everything else. Once you understand how to mirror, rotate, change the die, etc… it all works quite smoothly. The menus are very simple but clear and easy to navigate.
All in all, the upgraded graphics are very nice, and everything else looks just fine and is fully functional. No complaints here.
Like many digital roll-and-write implementations, 30 Rails is solo play only. The physical game supports essentially as many players as you want (the official number is eight).
The developer has stated a desire to make an online multiplayer mode in the app. I have no idea on timeline, but I will update this section should that happen.
As with most single player games of this ilk, 30 Rails becomes a game of high score chasing. The app tracks your scores for each of the different game modes, more on those in the next section. It is nice to track all of these separately so you can get meaningful comparisons. If you only stick to the base game, that’s fine, but if you venture out into the tougher variants, it is fun to see how well you did specifically on those modes.
Late game decisions
An "okay" score
The free base game allows you to play the basic game setup, as described in the overview. There is an in-app purchase of a premium version which removes ads and unlocks the advanced game mode and also the river variant. The advanced mode removes the “wildcard” aspect of the game where you can change the value of the die and replaces it with a “shares” mechanism that potentially allows you to score bigger points. It’s a small change that really adds to the depth of the game. The river variant is a bit more straightforward as three board spots get covered with a river that can’t be crossed except by a straight track. This is a much smaller strategic change, but does add some nice variety.
One note. If you purchase the premium version, it will take a few seconds or longer for the game to recognize you own it when you start the app. So don’t be worried if the “Buy Premium” button is there again after purchase, it will go away shortly (you may have to exit the New Game screen and re-enter).
You may notice an “XL” option on the high scores page, this is for a variant that exists on BGG but not yet in the app. The developer is planning on porting it and making it available to those who have purchased the premium version.
The Wrap Up
30 Rails has been given a rock solid digital version. The upgraded graphics work really well, and the game is fun with the same addicting point chasing aspect most of these roll-and-writes have. The app isn’t overly polished, but it is fully functional. More pressing, the game was almost certainly ahead of its time in 2016 but in 2020 it feels like another drop in a sea of roll-and-writes. Whether you have room for another is certainly up to you, but the base app is free and I enjoyed my time trying to get the dice to fall in my favor for big points. In short, it’s another solid roll-and-write on your Android device and you already know whether that interests you or not.