Reviewed by Herb Levy

RAILROAD REVOLUTION (What’s Your Game?/Pegasus Spiele, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 45-95 minutes; $60)


There is something about railroads. Somehow, they seem to capture the imagination of people all around the world. Maybe it’s because they conjure up an adventurous time in history or maybe it’s just the thrill of discovering what is just beyond the next curve of the road. But whatever it is, there is no question that railroads command interest and when you add to that fascination the expansion of 19th century America when rails linked the eastern half of the United States to its western counterpart, then you really have something. And, when it comes to games, what you really have is this design from Marco Canetta and Stefania Niccolini: Railroad Revolution.

Railroad Revolution is essentially a worker placement game with the five types of workers, denoted by different colors, making up your work force. You have Purple workers (“Foremen”),  Orange (“Accountants”), Grey (“Negotiators”), Turquoise (“Engineers”) and the all purpose, non-specialized, White workers. (Workers of any color may also be used as a “non-specialized” worker if that fits your needs. )

The board shows the United States from the east to the west coast with City Slots (marking various cities around the country) and Rail Spaces linking them. There is also a Telegraph Line (at the bottom) and three Performance Tracks (where player markers are placed at the bottom of each). Every player takes a player board, 12 buildings and 15 rails in his chosen color. These building and rails are placed in their denoted positions on top of that player’s board, filling the slots before and after that player’s train logo. One remaining rail is put on the track between Washington, DC and Charlotte with the excess building and rail placed aside. Everyone starts with four white Workers, $600 and three shares in the Telegraph line (which are useful in making “deals” and, when money is tight, be cashed in for $150 each).

There are several different Train tiles and each player gets a “Promote 2 Workers” tile with the others stacked alongside the board. (Train tiles can be gained as a bonus or reward in places with that icon and are useful in gaining more money or Telegraph shares, moving up Performance Tracks and more.) Milestone tiles (marked by numbers and letters as A1, A2, B, C and D) are separated into their own separate stacks with all players randomly receiving an A1 and A2 tile.

City tiles (numbered 2, 3, 4 and 5, number rising as you move east to west) are then randomly placed in the matching numbered slots on the board. Similarly, Telegraph tiles are randomly placed in the sections of the line in spaces that do not contain a “deal” icon. (Deal tiles are shuffled and stacked on the board with the first deal revealed.)

Four “set up” tiles are available to the players.  Workers from the common supply (one of each specialist color) are placed alongside them. In reverse turn order, players choose one of them (which gives an advantage of some sort to the player choosing them from moving up steps on the Performance Tracks, placing your excess rail onto the board for NO cost, placing your excess building onto the Telegraph line etc.) and the worker assigned to it. Thus prepared, the game begins.

Each turn, a player must take one of his workers and assign it to an action space on his player board, performing the main action. The four main actions are Station (construct a station in a city where you are connected via rail), Railroad (extend your railroad network by placing two rail lines and paying the required costs), Telegraph (build a Telegraph office) and Trade (sell a building or rail from the top of your player board to raise funds). Actions may be done multiple times by using multiple workers. But in addition to the main action, specialized workers do something more (and that something extra varies depending on the color of the worker and the main action chosen). If playing a Turquoise worker on the Railroad action, you get to build THREE rails rather than the standard two. There are bonuses for being the first player in an area (a “First Station” bonus). By placing a Grey worker in the Station spot, you will receive that bonus even if you are NOT first. And so on. In addition to managing your workers, other avenues are available to maximize what you can do.

Some spaces, on the board and on the Telegraph line, depict a “deal” icon. By placing a rail or a Station there, you can take advantage of the current deal tile on the board. Each deal tile depicts a top and bottom “deal”. Deals require turning in Telegraph shares in exchange for the bonus offered. The active player may do the top or bottom or BOTH deals. But all other players, in turn order, may choose to opt in to either one (but not both) deals. Along the way, you will be completing Milestones.

As mentioned, players start with both an A1 and A2 Milestone tile. These tiles show specific conditions that must be met to score Victory Points. In addition, these tiles require a specific type of worker (or two) to be placed on it (a “promotion” as it were to “manager”) for the conditions to be fulfilled. Workers get promoted through the action of a white, non-specialized, worker (or any other color worker acting as “non-specialized) or by flipping that Promote 2 Workers Train tile in your holdings. (All Train tiles, when used, get flipped over and may not be used again. Doing a Trade action, however, allows you to flip it back up and be reused. Using a Turquoise worker for a Trade action actually allows you to flip TWICE!) With a Milestone complete, any managers on the tile return to supply (NOT to your holdings) and another Milestone tile (of the next higher letter) is drawn as a replacement. (Actually, you draw 3 and keep the one you want.) 

Play continues until someone has completely cleared out all the rails and stations to the LEFT of the company logo. That round is then finished and then, another, final round is done so that all players have an equal number of turns. Now we score.

Points come from all directions. Each Face Up Train tile a player has is worth 8 VPs. The considerable Milestones tile VPs are added to that. Connections on the Telegraph line will generate 5 to 8 VPs each. Standings on all three Performance Tracks convert to VPs too.

The three Performance Tracks reward players for success in three categories: Network (connecting to level 5 cities), Stations (a multiplier of the number of stations you have built with the VP level you have reached on that track) and Telegraph (Telegraph offices built multiplied by the VP level on that track). VPs for connections made on the Telegraph line itself are added as well. High score wins! If a tie, then money (with Telegraph shares counting as $150 each) break the tie. Still tied? Then all tied players share the win.

Although railroads are the theme here, the player boards more closely resemble the cockpit of an aircraft with all the controls neatly laid out before you. Piloting your rail line to success is the game’s challenge. Because of the different set up tiles, all players start in roughly – but not exactly – the same position which makes for a nice variety. Like many Euros, however, this game shies away from direct confrontation so head to head competition is not as intense as you might think.

Although there is some jostling for position to occupy the first slot of a city or Telegraph space, specialized workers allow you to reap those first slot benefits so not much (if anything) is lost. But don’t neglect the Telegraph line. Be advised that this is an extremely strong source of VPs via the Performance Tracks and line connections so winning the game without making the most of them is difficult. Deals can be valuable but players are not shut out of deals. The player triggering that deal icon can do both possible deals but all other players can do one if they like. In addition, since all routes to the cities are available to all, no blocking of lines is possible so, again, the game takes on a very friendly, non-confrontational approach. This is a sharp departure to the highly competitive nature of railroad empire building in real life 19th century America, not to mention other games that deal with this topic.

The game design here is carefully crafted so that mechanisms interact with each other to create a smooth, sleek machine but interaction between players is sharply limited. Railroad Revolution shines as an exercise in making the most of the things YOU have. Basically, you are competing against yourself with little help or hindrance from your fellow (potential) rail barons. Not necessarily a bad thing. The nature of this sort of play may not suit the highly competitive players among us but it is sure to engage players who love to plan, plot and see their visions of grand strategies come to fruition. – – – – Herb Levy,

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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