Build the perfect route? No chance, the dice won't let you!
Android & iOS
# of Players
Railroad Ink is a new classic roll-and-write game which pits players against an evil set of dice which try to provide them with the worst possible choices on each turn. The digital version is now on our devices thanks to Horrible Guild, it is notably titled “Railroad Ink Challenge” which introduces some small tweaks to the original formula with an aim towards higher scores. The app plays solo as players attempt to achieve those high scores or through online challenges which pit players against each other using the same setup and dice rolls to see who can do the best. A game can breeze by in about five minutes once you’ve got your track-laying feet wet.
The basic premise of Railroad Ink is that you have to lay tracks, both of the train and street variety, across a 7x7 grid with the goal being to connect as many of the 12 exits on the board to each other to earn the most points. Each turn four dice are rolled with various different track layouts on them and you have to draw them in a grid on your board to extend your existing tracks. There are some fine print details involved, but that’s the basic premise.
Railroad Ink Challenge takes that base formula and adds a few wrinkles to spice things up. First, the tracks on the dice are more varied than in the original game, leaving room for more different route setups. The game also introduces two important point scoring avenues: goals and buildings. There are three special buildings on the board and when you activate them (each with slightly different rules for doing do) you get closer to earning points or the chance to lay additional tracks on your board. Goals provide specific requirements to achieve before a certain round to obtain maximum points. “Complete a full row or column by the end of the 3rd turn,” for example.
Finally, in traditional Railroad Ink fashion, Challenge adds two new expansions: Forest and Desert. Forest has you attempting to complete large forest areas while Desert has you trying to plant and water cacti to earn more points. These are fun additions to the game that add a lot of longevity and variety to the proceedings. Note that these have not released at the time of the writing of this review, but there are placeholders all over the app so rest assured they will be coming soon.
Digital roll-and-writes have been a thing for a few years now. Up until last year’s On Tour these affairs were all purely solo. On Tour added the ability to send a game code to friends so they could play the same game as you and you could compare scores offline. I really loved this feature so naturally I’m incredibly excited to see that concept extended here. Having a friend list and getting to see, in the app, the results is an instant improvement. Adding in the public challenges (more on that later) is another big step. I never had any issue getting sucked into trying to beat my own high scores, but giving me the entire world to play against, that’s a recipe for keeping me hooked.
I’m honestly kind of lukewarm on the game itself. I briefly owned it and have played on Board Game Arena a few times, but it never did a whole lot for me. Thankfully, I have found myself enjoying the game more in app form than I did in any other. Being able to play in just a few minutes, along with the added goals and buildings, is just enough to keep me coming back.
Barrier to Entry
The game is taught through a tutorial with a set of text rules available as well. The tutorial does its job, setting up the players well by holding their hand through a full game, showing off all of the available options. The text rules are nice to use as a reference as you are learning and forget what each building type does. All in all, this is a fairly simple game that is taught well in the app, no complaints here.
Look and Feel
The entire app carries the bluish tint throughout for a nice, cohesive feel across the entire experience. I am curious to see how the green and yellow variants the expansions bring will look. I suspect it will all look great as Horrible Guild games tend to do, but I’m curious nonetheless.
Controls work how you would hope. Select a die, then tap on a spot on your board to play it. The game uses light shading to let you know valid placement locations and attempts to smartly orient the dice to a logical rotation when possible, which is a small but handy feature which will save you a few rotations when there is one clear optimal positioning. You can select die you already placed in the current turn (they remain in a somewhat “highlighted” state) and rotate them or bring them back down to the off-board area if you need to rethink things. This essentially acts as the ‘undo’ button. Overall, no complaints here, the app looks and controls really well.
The game allows you to asynchronously challenge friends to play the same game as you, that is the same goals and dice rolls. Once complete, you can see scores and realize how awful you are at this game. It works really well, the friend system is username based so it’s easy to find and friend people and sending them a challenge can be done before you play or, if you want to only send them games you CRUSH, after you have completed a game. This system is super simple but does a really great job and ongoing battles with friends has the potential to add a lot of legs to this app. The only current downside is you can’t actually see the boards your opponent ended up with, which would be a fun addition to see the differing strategies.
Global challenges (dubbed “Score Attack”) are functionally the same, except instead of playing against select friends, you are playing against everybody. The biggest takeaway from this mode for me was how incredibly good some people are at this game, some of the high scores are outrageous. Something to strive for, I suppose.
If you strip away all of the multiplayer aspects, Railroad Ink Challenge starts to look a lot like most other digital roll-and-write titles. It’s a fun, quick way to see if you can use the randomness of the dice well enough to get a new high score. The wrinkles added with the goals provide a game-to-game dose of randomness to go along with the dice. (I’ll note that you can choose your own goals should you choose.) The only minor wrinkle in this setup is that the game, at the time of this writing, doesn’t actually track your individual high scores anywhere. There are a slew of badges to be earned by doing various things in the game (including breaking 50/60/70/80/90 point barriers), and 45 achievements to chase, but you can’t see your previous scores anywhere in the app other than in the global challenge section.
Desert and Forest look like they will be added as in-app purchases at some point, but they are not currently available. As Railroad Ink does, they add a bit of goofiness to the affair but open up more point scoring opportunities.
The Wrap Up
Railroad Ink isn’t a game I loved on the table. It wasn’t my first roll-and-write and I found others hit the mark for me personally more than this train and road simulator. It has been an unexpected treat that I have found myself enjoying my time with the app version. Like others in the digital form, the solo aspect allows you to play in just a few minutes and see what kind of score you can put together. That this implementation adds in the ability to challenge friends (or the world!) only adds to the longevity.
The only real nitpick here is that all of the expansion content is explained and clearly on its way, but hasn’t yet landed so we are “stuck” with just the base challenge game for the time being. Impatient much? This still isn’t my favorite roll-and-write and while the slick app makes me enjoy the game more, it still isn’t quite the same as playing some of my favorites in the genre.