Railways of the World is your game. It is one of the best games I've ever played, and one of my all-time favourite medium-weight games.
Don't make the mistake of thinking (as I first did after seeing photos of a massive board and incredible components) that this is just for middle-aged men who drive trains for a living and play with miniature railroads as a hobby, or that this is just for hardcore gamers who like complicated and heavy games, and that this game is not for you. Despite the glamorous and epic appearances, this is just another medium-weight game - only way better than most. The typical eurogamer will find much to love about Railways of the World, not least that it is more thematic than many eurogames, and comes with gorgeous over-produced components, and offers substance beyond typical gateway games without taking on the complexity of heavy gamer's games.
So if you're beyond gateway games, then you really owe it to yourself to consider making this one of your next steps into the world of gaming! In this article, I'll briefly introduce you to the base game and the expansions and spin-offs.
First of all, Railways of the World has an impressive pedigree, being the offspring of a Martin Wallace system that has proved most successful in Age of Steam, an ever-popular gamer's game from 2002. It was simplified for a wider audience as Railroad Tycoon in 2005, and as a result of some minor improvements was further refined as Railways of the World in 2009, receiving the benefit of further improvements in a 2010 reprint. Railroad Tycoon proved to be a big and popular hit, and still enjoys a very respectable ranking of #50 on BGG today, while Railways of the World is already firmly entrenched in the BGG Top 100, and already enjoys a significantly higher average rating than its predecessor.
The basic concept of the game is that players are railway executives, who borrow money to finance the building of their personal network of train tracks across a sprawling map, which they use to deliver goods to various cities, and thus increase their income and earn points. In the process, there are all kinds of short term and long term objectives, as well as steady interaction and competition to keep things interesting.
Most importantly, Railways of the World is more friendly and accessible than the tougher experience offered by the original Age of Steam. Its strength lies in the theme, which is closely connected with the pick-up-and-deliver mechanic, and the economic system that is at the heart of the game. When combined with lavishly produced pieces, colourful components, and a game that is playable by the average gamer and can be completed in 2-3 hours, the Railways of the World system has generated some serious staying power and appeal.
The Base Game
It all began in 2005 with Railroad Tycoon. In 2002, after the involvement of developer John Bohrer, Martin Wallace put out Age of Steam, an immensely successful train game that offers a tense and tight experience for hardcore gamers. Eagle Games' Glenn Drover simplified and streamlined the mechanics and game-play of Age of Steam, and attractive over-produced components were added. The result was a game more appealing to less hardcore gamers and more accessible to a wider audience. In Wallace’s words: “What I attempted to do is strip Age of Steam down to a more basic, faster moving version. The emphasis is firmly on track building. The auctions and special actions have gone, shares are easier - you get to take them out as you need them. It is designed for a wider audience than the original Age of Steam was.”
But even better things were yet to come! With the Railroad Tycoon name no longer available due to licensing issues, in 2009 Eagle Games reimplemented the popular title under a new name: Railways of the World, with the benefit of some tweaks and minor improvements that effectively rendered the original Railroad Tycoon obsolete. A reprint of the game appeared at the end of 2010, featuring a number of further cosmetic improvements and small additions to the components.
Railways of the World contains two expansion maps, one for the Eastern US (ideal for 4-6 players), and one for Mexico (ideal for 2-3 players) - this latter map also made available independently as Railways of Mexico for Railroad Tycoon owners. Further expansion maps available separately usually only include a map and cards, so you will need the components of the base Railways of the World game to play them.
Want to learn more? See my pictorial review:
The quintessential train game for the average modern gamer
As far as expansions go, the Europe and England maps are ideal maps that retain the overall feel of the original game, but are more suitable for playing with just 3-4 players. The Railways of Europe map provides a tougher and tenser game due to the sparse layout of cities and high track building costs that come with building through mountains. The Railways of England and Wales map (recently reimplemented as Railways of Great Britain) has more cities which also are located closer together, and is thus more forgiving. It also has the advantage of coming with optional rules for a share system which takes the game in quite a different direction, although this advanced form of the game has received mixed reviews.
Railways of the Western U.S. offers a similar experience to the Eastern US map, by providing an alternate map ideal for a similar number of players. But perhaps best of all, it opens up possibilities for transcontinental play with both maps, with the help of a future expansion. The Western US expansion also includes rotor cities (which enable cities to demand two types of goods), and fuel depots (which offer new possibilities for delivering goods over longer distances) which can optionally be used on other maps in the series. Forthcoming later this year in all likelihood is an expansion that allows the Eastern and Western maps of the US to be combined for a giant board featuring cross-continental play.
For a quite different take on the game system, try the Railways Through Time expansion, which adds the new dimension of time travel. While the basics of gameplay are unchanged, players can deliver goods to eight different eras, each of which is represented by its own map (The Stone Age, Egypt, Ancient Greece, The Medieval Era, The Napoleonic Era, The Old West, Industrial Age, and The Future). The amount of maps used varies according to the number of players, making it fully scalable, and the result is an experience that's familiar yet fun.
The most recent addition is Railways of the World: Event Deck, which adds random events (good and bad) to the game each turn, giving new short term objectives and challenges to consider.
Want to learn more? See my pictorial reviews:
My favourite train game gets a fantastic upgrade (Europe)
A 2-for-1 deal that includes a completely new train game from Martin Wallace (England)
The second coming of Railways of England & Wales (Great Britain)
First impressions as the Railways of the World series heads West (Western US)
Hopping on board the Mexican train (Mexico)
Railways of the World successfully enters the Fourth Dimension by adding time travel (Railways Through Time)
Adding spice to my favourite train game! (Event Deck)
The Card Game
Railways of the World: The Card Game takes the game into a whole other direction again, by adding some Railways of the World mechanics to a Ticket to Ride style of game, and turning it into a card game, so this is a good option if you want a lighter and more casual game. It essentially takes the set-collection mechanic familiar from Ticket to Ride, and gives it a new twist by adding pickup-and-deliver elements from Railways of the World series, resulting in a fun filler that still offers some substance. An expansion of about 50 cards, Railways of the World: The Card Game Expansion, adds some extra possibilities like barons, switches, tunnels, along with the option of playing with five players, and using a draw variant to reduce luck of the draw.
Want to learn more? See my pictorial reviews:
This is what Ticket To Ride The Card Game should have been (card game)
Travelling further on a Ticket-to-Ride-type train game (expansion)
I love the theme, the components, the game-play, the depth, the interaction, the sense of building, the length, the replayability, the expansions, and the fun - it's obvious that there's a lot going for this great game! So if you find Age of Steam too tough, or Ticket to Ride too simple, as most gamers will, then Railways of the World is for you, and can rightly be considered the ultimate and the quintessential train game for the typical modern gamer! With the benefit of multiple expansions that are now available, it's an outstanding and ideal medium-weight train game.
For a more complete overview of the entire series, with more extensive commentary on each of the expansions and titles, see my list:
The Railways of the World Series: Introducing the family members of the ideal medium-weight train game
Join the discussion: If you've played Railroad Tycoon or Railways of the World, what is it that you enjoyed about the game, and made it stand out from other games? Which of the expansions has the most appeal to you (whether you've played them or not), and why?