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Introducing Railways of the World The Card Game and its expansion

When I first reviewed the base game Railways of the World: The Card Game, I billed it as "This is what Ticket To Ride The Card Game should have been!" It really is a pleasant mix of elements strongly inspired from the card play of Ticket to Ride, combined with some of the pick-up-and-deliver mechanics from one of my all time favourite board games, Railways of the World.

If you're not familiar with the card game, it is played by using cards to build a literal network of trains on the table. Points are earned during the game by building links between cities and by delivering goods, and at the end of the game from cities that you control by having the most valuable links connecting to them, as well as from sets of goods you've delivered. It's a light medium game that features an innovative use of cards, and provides a satisfying blend of luck-of-the-draw and strategic decision making. And it's certainly a lot better than the memory-intense and official card game version of Ticket to Ride!

Now Railways of the World The Card Game works quite fine on its own without any expansions. But after it was published in the middle of 2010, the designers continued coming up with other great ideas to improve it by adding new cards and concepts. Fortunately they had the blessing of the publisher, Eagle Games, and so 2011 saw the appearance of Railways of the World: The Card Game Expansion, a small shrinkwrapped expansion which largely consisted of about 50 cards. Let's show you what you get, how it works, and what impact it has on the original game!


A fast developing network of rails in a four player game

COMPONENT OVERVIEW

Packaging

The expansion comes in a no-nonsense shrinkwrapped package - which is just fine, because you'll be wanting to add these cards to the base game anyway. The original game box is fairly full to begin with, but you should be able to find a way to fit these new cards in okay, even if it means utilizing some of the room in the large compartment normally reserved for storing the train miniatures.


The expansion in shrinkwrap

Component list

So here’s a list of all the cards you get once you bust open that shrinkwrap:

● 10 Baron cards
● 10 Tunnel cards
● 5 Switch cards
● 5 Grey City cards
● 25 Fifth Player cards: extra track (20) and engines (5)
● Instructions


Everything you get with the expansion

The instructions consist of the simple double-sided sheet pictured above, with a brief explanation of all the new cards and how they work, along with an explanation of a new "draw deck" variant. It's not quite as comprehensive as it could have been (no mention is made of how the grey cities work, and how the discard pile works in connection with the the `draw deck variant' isn't fully explained), but most of the changes are easy enough to figure out.

GAME-PLAY CHANGES

Players can use any elements of the expansion that they wish, picking and choosing some or all of the potential additions. This means that there's lots of scope for altering the game in line with your preferred way of playing. Let me go through each of the six different ways that the expansion gives potential for changing the original game:
● Barons
● Switches
● Tunnels
● Grey Cities
● Fifth Player
● Draw Deck variant

1. Barons

What you get:

There are 10 different Baron cards (note that the instruction sheet incorrectly states 11), like the two pictured here.



How it works:

These work similar to the Baron cards in the board game, and effectively give players long term objectives for earning bonus points. At the start of the game, each player is dealt two random Baron cards and selects one to keep. These Baron cards are revealed at the game end, and give the players that hold them extra points for accomplishing specific goals, e.g. 6 points for controlling the most 2 value cities, 6 points for having the highest level engine, 1 point for each red cube you have delivered, 1 point for each link connected to a red city, etc. The rules also suggest a variant way of playing with the Barons, i.e. rather than giving them to players at the start of the game, five are dealt face up at the start of the game, and in place of an action and only once during the game, a player may take one Baron card.


The James J. Hill baron card gives bonus points for each link to a red city

2. Switches

What you get:

There are five Switch cards, and each player is dealt one at the start of the game.



How it works:

Just like the Baron cards, the Switch cards don't count towards your hand limit. They can be used to switch colours when building a single link, and thus enable you to connect two cities with different coloured track (or a wild) on either side of the switch. So for example, you could play a orange track card going out of one city, then the switch, then green track cards going into a new city. The switch card itself doesn't count as points toward the minimum value of track cards required for making a new link, so the other cards used along with the switch still need to meet the required value of the new city.


Using a switch to make a link with orange and purple track cards

3. Tunnels

What you get:

There are ten Tunnel cards, and each player is dealt two at the start of the game, again not counting towards your hand limit.



How it works:

As an action on your turn, you can join two existing cities on the board. To do this, make a new link from each of the two cities in question to a tunnel. These two links must use the same coloured track, and are each marked with one of your trains, both counting as a link when delivering between them. Note that only the adjacent link counts towards city control scoring at game end, rather than both links. (Note: the example below was played with a house rule allowing tunnels to be connected with different coloured track).


Using tunnels to connect the yellow city and black city

4. Grey Cities

What you get:

There are five neutral or grey coloured city cards.



How it works:

While the function of neutral grey cities isn't explained in the rules (see this thread for an explanation), this concept will be familiar enough to anyone who has played the board game. How they work is quite intuitive: they're simply added to the deck, and when put into play with a new link they provide new goods, but they don't demand goods and thus goods can't be delivered to them.


Some of the neutral cities in play during a game

5. Fifth Player cards

What you get:

There are 20 additional regular track cards (four in each of the five colours) and 5 additional engine/wild cards.



How it works:

The original game can be played only with 2-4 player games, and so the expansion comes with extra cards enabling games to be played with 5 players. There is a catch, however: trains aren't provided for a fifth player, but it's easy enough to borrow some from the board game or substitute by using 12 matching tokens of any type. The important thing is the extra cards. Just add them to the deck in order to play with five players. Without these extra cards, a five player game would end too quickly by exhausting the deck.

6. Draw Deck Variant

What it is:

Prior to the release of the expansion, the designers posted their proposal for a Draw Deck Variant, geared towards reducing some of the luck of the draw inherent in the original game. With a few small tweaks, this has been incorporated into the instruction set that comes with the expansion. The good news for owners of the original game is that you don't need to own the expansion in order to give this draw deck variant a shot.

How it works:

instead of a single draw deck with three face up cards and a single discard pile, you create three separate draw decks as follows:
1. Track deck (face down, with three face-up cards, and a separate discard pile)
2. City deck (face down, with two face-up cards, and a separate discard pile)
3. Engine deck (face up)


Set-up for the draw deck variant

When drawing as the last part of your turn, you can either draw:
two track cards (from the deck, the face-up cards, or discard pile); OR:
one city card (from the deck, the face-up cards, or discard pile); OR:
one engine card
The printed instructions aren't quite clear about the use of discard piles, so be aware that the above explanation has the benefit of clarifications from the designer in a BGG thread. Note also that the existing rule about using an action to discard a card in order to replenish a good or draw a card is unchanged, and you can use this to draw either one track or city card but not an engine card.

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think about the new cards?

The Barons: The Baron cards help give some long-term goals for players to aim for, and so they're a welcome addition. I especially like the cards which give bonuses for delivering cubes of a certain colour, because they help make a goods delivery strategy more viable - in the regular game this is usually inferior to a city control strategy. The only disadvantage of the Barons is that at the start of the game you don't really have much information to work with, because you don't know how the game is going to pan out and what cards will be available. I've only tried using them by assigning them at the start of the game, and the suggestion from another gamer that players keep both and then use the card which scores the highest at game end is worth considering. Even so, most of time these cards only will generate 3-6 points, which is not very significant in the larger scheme of things. But they do help by giving players some new and additional motives for their choices, and keep things interesting by adding a secret objective. In the final analysis they only have a small impact on the game, but are nice to have.

The Switches: These can especially be useful in the end game to dump a large hand and get cards of two different colours onto the table in one shot, and potentially build a very solid link that not only scores a lot of points but also can wrest control of an important city currently controlled by an opponent. They also give a bit of flexibility to rescue a player who has a dog's hand with track cards of every different colour. Again, it's a small addition that doesn't play a big role on its own, but an interesting one that helps players with a bad hand, and just gives some new options.

The Tunnels: Cube delivery isn't the heart of this game, and personally I've never felt hamstrung by being unable to link together two existing cities. But I can understand that some players want to do this, and using tunnels is a neat solution. It does require players to use two engine miniatures (one for each link), however, which means that a player with eight of his engine miniatures in play can unexpectedly use this as a way to trigger the game end when you still were counting on at least a couple of rounds! In most cases this would only happen in a two player game, and I'm not sure whether this added uncertainty about predicting the game end is a good thing or a bad thing. But overall the tunnels are another small but welcome addition that offer players a small way of improving their rail networks, and so can help in making larger deliveries and earning more points.

The Grey Cities: One of the advantages of adding grey cities to the game is that it can make it easier for players to make longer deliveries. Without them, players are almost certain to come across a city matching the colour of the cube being delivered, but having these neutral cities in your network guarantees an extra link of travel, and thus can help scoring more points with the pickup-and-deliver mechanism for those players willing to upgrade their engines and pursue this strategy. However cube delivery isn't typically the main way of scoring points, so often you'll find yourself preferring to pick up a non-grey city that you can actually deliver to, and thus perhaps get end-of-game bonuses for sets of goods. It's addition change that's not tremendously game changing, but can easily be added to the game seamlessly and helps keep the game fresh.

The Five Player game: Personally I enjoy Railways of the World The Card Game the most as a three player game, and the current feedback in polls for the recommended number of players supports that quite strongly. Certainly it works quite well as a two player game, but the game end is almost always triggered by placement of all player miniatures rather than exhausting the deck, and there's only one other player to interact with; having said that, it's still thoroughly enjoyable and I'm happy to play with only two players, but with three players the interaction seems just right. In contrast, with four players the scores are lower and there's slightly less opportunities and control before the game ends, although the game still works well enough if you want to play with four. I've not played with five players, since I prefer the three player game above the four player game as it is. But the game still works well enough with four players, and having extra cards to make a five player game possible will be welcomed by some - I'd expect that the overall experience is fairly similar to the four player game. Don't forget that if you want to play with five players, you will need to get yourself a set of 12 trains for the fifth player, since they don't come with this expansion. Another nice thing about these extra cards is that you can also add to them to the deck for 3-4 player games. Usually these games end by exhausting the deck rather than placing all player trains, so they can be a nice addition to extend these games slightly.


All ten of the Railroad Baron cards

What do I think about the draw deck variant?

This variant was already suggested before the expansion came into print, and it's nice to see it get some kind of official status. The fact that it's playable with the base game means that you can try it even without the expansion.

Pros: The biggest strength of this variant is that it helps reduce some of the luck of the draw. With the original game, there were cases that you desperately needed to draw an engine card or a new city card in order to make use of the other cards in hand, and it could be most frustrating if one never turned up, sometimes handing your opponents the game as a result. This variant seeks to correct this weakness, and for the most part does so successfully. Players now have more options to choose from when drawing cards, and while there still is some luck of the draw, whether you get track cards, a city card, or an engine card is now entirely the result of your own decision rather than the luck-of-the-draw. No longer will you find yourself drawing a hand of cities without any tracks, or a hand of tracks without any cities, as could sometimes happen. This has a real advantage of helping make the game more strategic, and introducing tougher decisions, and it also prevents the three face-up cards becoming static unwanted junk which everyone ignores and takes from the face-down deck instead.

Cons: But all this does also come at a cost. Firstly, the game feels less casual, because there's much more to think about, and it's no longer just a matter of drawing from the top of the deck and making the best of what you get. Not everyone will like this, and there will be gamers who prefer the more relaxed pace of the original rule-set, even if it's more luck driven, and will miss not being able to take their chances and hope to top-deck some engine cards. This is not an objective criticism as such, but is something to be aware of, and which style of play you prefer will be a matter of personal taste.

Secondly, the rules about triggering the game end are not entirely satisfactory. The designers' suggestion is that the game end be triggered when all three decks are exhausted. In the times we've tried this variant, we found that the track deck was exhausted first, often leaving several cards in the city deck and lots of cards in the engine deck. When this happens, it can make the final part of the game an anti-climax, since players could no longer build new links, and have to kill time waiting for the game end to be triggered in some way. A simple solution to this is to use only the track deck as the game end trigger.

Thirdly, the draw deck variant seems to discourage building up engines and delivering goods, by having an impact that typically reduces the number of engines taken and used, and as well as the amount of cubes delivered. When using a single draw deck players will be more likely to get engines as a result of taking a punt and having the good fortune of top-decking one from time to time. In contrast, when using the multiple decks of the Draw Deck variant, you lose a whole turn taking a single engine card, and so players will often find it more profitable to focus on gathering track cards for city-building. As a result, in our experience with this variant we saw players not worry about developing their engines or delivering goods cubes, and still win quite comfortably; and this strategy seems to get able assistance from the Draw Deck variant, thus in essence taking away part of the pick-up-and-deliver aspects of the game which make it fun. As a result, the game has become even more about controlling cities and less about delivering goods. Some earlier discussions about the original game have raised questions about the viability of a goods delivery strategy, and these concerns become even more pressing with this variant.

Alternatives: While I like the idea of having separate decks to mitigate some of the luck factor, this system does need more polish, and fortunately the merits of this draw deck variant make it worthwhile finding a form of it that suits your style of play. Personally I'm favourably inclined to the alternative suggestion to incorporate the engines into the track deck, with the second deck being the city cards, as suggested by BGG user loofish (here). One of the designers has also stated that he prefers playing this way: "This is more within the feel of the original design and I think after continued play this really is my favorite." (here and here) We've also incorporated the TTR-inspired rule to replenish the three face-up cards of the track deck if ever they are all engines. With this modified form of the draw deck variant, exhausting the track/engine deck triggers the game end independent of the status of the city deck. Since the draw deck variant as printed in the expansion rules does have some issues (the reduced role of engines and some confusion about how the end game triggers among them), mixing in the engines into the track deck seems to be a better way of doing things. I've tried it numerous times now, and am much happier with the result.

In short, the Draw Deck variant adds elements to the decision-making process that improve the game by reducing luck, and for many gamers this will remove some of the criticisms that they may have had about the original form of Railways of the World The Card Game. But it also seems to create new problems, as a result of a murky game ending trigger, and by weakening a core aspect of the game, namely goods delivery. But while I have some mixed feelings about the draw deck variant in its current form, I'm not yet ready to give up on it, and my experience with a modified form of it by combining the engines into the track deck (and using this deck as a game end trigger) has proven much more satisfactory. Fortunately players can choose for themselves which way they prefer to play. Overall one can only be grateful for how the designers have found a good way to improve what was already a good game, and to make it even more strategic.

Recommendation


So, is Railways of the World: The Card Game Expansion something for you? The base game continues to perform strongly in my family, and I highly recommend it. It has got heavy play again recently with the help of the expansion, and my older children in particular have enjoyed coming back to it, and requested it numerous times in short succession. It's a good game as it stands, and if you want to reduce some of the randomness you can experiment with some form of the Draw Deck variant.

The new cards offered by the expansion offer some nice small touches such as the Barons, Tunnels, Switches, and Grey Cities. None of these have a huge impact on the game individually, but they will be welcome to fans of the game who are looking for some twists to the original, and provide some additional choices and new things to think about while playing, if you don't mind the little extra complexity that's required to accomplish this. The appeal of the extra cards needed for playing with five players is likely only to be appreciated by those looking to play with a larger crowd (and need to be supplemented with an extra set of trains anyway), but they aren't really the real core of this package to begin with.

Overall this is a solid expansion that strengthens what is already a good game in its own right, and will be appreciated and well received by fans of the original.


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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Steve Ellis
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Another interesting way to utilize the Baron cards that wasn't included in the brief rules sheet is...
"Randomly select a number of Baron cards equal to the number of players plus two. Place these face up on the table at the start of the game. Once during the game, a player may select a single Baron card as their action on one of their turns."
I love playing this way :)
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Steve Ellis
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Oh, and THANKS to Ender for his comprehensive review!!!
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Chris Parker
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Great review as always.

I've a few people (including Vasel) say that this is what the Ticket to Ride Card Game should have been and that's never made sense to me. Ticket to Ride is a set collection game and Railways of the World is a pick-up and deliver. This game seems to be a great implementation of the board game in card form.

I could never imagine this having a "Ticket to Ride" label on it as the gameplay is completely divorced from that game.

 
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Ender Wiggins
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boardkiwi wrote:
I've a few people (including Vasel) say that this is what the Ticket to Ride Card Game should have been and that's never made sense to me. Ticket to Ride is a set collection game and Railways of the World is a pick-up and deliver. This game seems to be a great implementation of the board game in card form.

I could never imagine this having a "Ticket to Ride" label on it as the gameplay is completely divorced from that game.

Thanks for your feedback Chris. Out of curiosity, have you had the opportunity to play Railways of the World The Card Game? If not, I think you'll find that while the pick-up-and-deliver elements from Railways of the World are present, they really do play second fiddle to the set-collection elements from Ticket to Ride. The heart of the game is about collecting and playing sets of track cards in the same colour to make links between cities. While there's opportunity for delivering goods, it's not the primary way of earning points.

Here are some more detailed comparative comments that I made in my review of the original game:
EndersGame wrote:
Comparison with Railways of the World board game: The game definitely shares some mechanics with Railways of the World - which is not at all surprising given its title. But it would be a mistake to expect a Railways of the World experience bundled into a card game. First of all, you do not have the same sense of building track on a map as you do in the board game, because this is more of a free-form style of track building. The game is quite tactical, and you can't do the kind of planning that you can do in the Railways of the World board game. Incorporating some TTR-like set-collection elements does increase the amount of randomness, because the kinds of cities you can connect to are largely going to depend on which cities your draw, unlike the board game where you develop more long-term planning because the cities are printed on the map. Moreover, in the board game the goods are placed at the start of the game, so you can craft long-term strategies, whereas in the card game the goods cubes are drawn whenever you connect to a new city, and whether the colours drawn are to your advantage or disadvantage is outside of your control. As a result, it is much lighter and quicker than the Railways of the World board game, more tactical and less strategic. On the positive side, however, it's also much faster and more accessible. The simplified variant for Families which eliminates cube delivery and limits point scoring to laying track and points for cities that have the most of your tracks connected is even lighter still, and this will give the card game an appeal to some groups that will never play the board game.

Comparison with Ticket to Ride: The main mechanic of drawing and collecting cards is clearly derived from Ticket to Ride. Every turn you'll be drawing cards, and then occasionally using them to make a link to a new city. That gives the game a social and relaxed feel. What I like about this particular game is that it allows for more planning, because not only do you get to decide where you want to build your links; furthermore, but there's also the additional element of delivering goods cubes. It would be a mistake to market this as a must-buy for Railways of the World board game fans, because some will be disappointed; on the other hand, Ticket to Ride fans might just be the ideal target audience for this. It has a familiar set-collection mechanic, but adds new and interesting elements without becoming overly complex. It doesn't have the long-term objectives like the Ticket to Ride routes, so in that regard it feels like a different and much more open game, but it might appeal to a similar audience.

In his review, Todd Warnken suggests that RotW The Card Game is "70% Ticket to Ride and 30% Railways of the World." Although that is perhaps overstating matters, I don't think he's too far off the mark. Designers James Eastham and Steve Ellis would probably be first to concede the strong influence of both games in their design, and yet they've reworked and combined some familiar mechanics into a package that feels fresh and original, and offers a game experience that's both social and satisfying packed into a 45 minute time frame.
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David
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Thanks for the shout out, Ender! Funnily enough it is mostly your fault that I picked up this game in the first place.
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Chris Parker
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Quote:
Thanks for your feedback Chris. Out of curiosity, have you had the opportunity to play Railways of the World The Card Game? If not, I think you'll find that while the pick-up-and-deliver elements from Railways of the World are present, they really do play second fiddle to the set-collection elements from Ticket to Ride. The heart of the game is about collecting and playing sets of track cards in the same colour to make links between cities. While there's opportunity for delivering goods, it's not the primary way of earning points.


No I haven't played it and possibly I would change my mind if I did. I just see a lot of Railways of the World in this card game more than I do Ticket to Ride.
 
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Noel P
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Thanks for great review and thoughts on the draw deck variant. We played with the two deck variant (although think played a rule wrong...that you could pick up two cities, not one).

Would like to increase the cube delivering aspect as you say to make it more of a natural progression to Railways. In a 3 player game, one playeer had delivered 4 and the others only 3 by the end. Have you ever tried just using emptying of the cube bag as the end game trigger?

Regards
Noel
 
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