Russian Railroads pits two to four players against one another in a race to build the most powerful rail industry and construct the trans-Siberian, Kiev and St Petersburg railways. However, buyer beware, this is most emphatically not a railway game in the track-laying, empire-expanding sense of Railways of the World, or even Ticket to Ride.
Instead of laying track to construct routes on a map, each player has several tracks on a player board in front of them, representing the rail lines and industrial power mentioned above. The communal board is a collection of available actions, and players take turns placing workers to take the actions, in order to push markers up their tracks. The further up the tracks you get the markers, the higher the points you will score at the end of each round; but you’ll have to decide which tracks you’re interested in forwarding, as you won’t have the workers or resources to do them all.
If that description sounds dry and dull . . . well dry it undeniably is, but it does manage to be fun and satisfying despite the unpromising premise. Over the course of six rounds, the points you score escalate exponentially, so whilst at the end of round one you might score 3 points, by the round six you could be scoring well over 100. This gives the game an sense of building an unstoppable engine, which does fit neatly with the theme, and makes for a satisfying experience. However, on an equally thematic but less positive note, it’s not a game in which you can change direction mid-game; you really have to decide which tracks you’re going to pursue and be single-minded about doing so, which some may feel gives the game too narrow a focus.
Whichever way you look at it, Russian Railroads is a very well put-together package of attractive components and smooth number-crunching gameplay.
I agree with Joe (below) that while it doesn’t have the fun of track-building and seeing a board change and grow before your eyes, Russian Railroads is an enjoyable game. I like the sense of progress as your tracks develop in both quality and length, and there’s a great sense of satisfaction when things work out the way you planned.
Despite the relatively fixed strategies, I enjoy Russian Railroads – an uncharitable view might be that you’re just pushing cubes up tracks, but there’s an undeniable thrill in the way the points build exponentially each round. And don’t be put off by the seemingly long rule book – it’s an object lesson in how to make a relatively complicated game easy to understand.
Player interaction is mainly in the form of taking actions that others might want; but there are usually other options available, so it's not too dispiriting.
Everybody takes an action and round you go again - as the options diminish so will the time taken to choose. At certain points various bonuses become available, and making the optimal choice might stretch the patience of your opponents, but they can usually be getting on with their game in the meanwhile.
The scoring is unusual for a board game and difficult to grasp at first, but there's a handy player aid, and after a sample turn it should start to make sense. More than most games this game is all about the score; you execute your plan during the turn and then everyone finds out if they've done surprisingly well, or depressingly badly.
There's only a little randomness in the game, but repeated plays will be fun for trying out a number of different strategies.