Introducing Railways Express

One of the most popular series of railway games enjoyed by gamers is Railways of the World. And with good reason: it's a solid medium weight game that features highly attractive over-produced components, straight-forward rules, and strategic/tactical game-play. It's tremendous fun to build a network of train tracks and deliver goods cubes over a sprawling and massive map. It's spawned numerous expansion maps, taking the experience to a variety of locations like England, Great Britain, Canada and more.

The latest addition to this series is Railways Express, which brings some dice-rolling to the game. You might be forgiven for thinking that this promises to be a similar type of game, condensed and simplified, as many "Express" games have done. But that's not quite the case, and it's important to approach this newest family member of the series with right expectations. You only need to look at the components to see its kinship with the rest of the series, because it features a magnificent map, identical track tiles, trains, and cubes, and even look-alike cards. But this is a very different game, designed to be a tile-laying race game for children.

To help us calibrate our expectations correctly, it's important to note what one of the co-designers, Rick Soued of Eagle Games, had to say in a preview at Origins 2013: "This fills a niche for the adult in the family who has a kid who's grown up seeing these railways games being played, and says "I would really like to play" and dad and mum say "I don't think you're quite ready"; well he's ready for this game." In other words, this is not your average Railways of the World expansion, but it's a game for kids.

Here's Rick Soued again, this time speaking in an interview at Essen 2013: "Send all of the geek parents out of the room, we are speaking only now to the 6 year olds, the 7 year olds, maybe we'll get the 8 year olds in on this too. This game was not written for gamers; it was written for 6 year olds, 7 year olds, and 8 year olds. So when your mom and dad and your mom and dad's friends come over and they're playing Railways of the World or one of the expansions and you're going "I wanna play, I wanna play" and they say "Wait a couple of years"; you can bring this game out and say "We're playing this game, and I can play this". "This is a race game...you're using the same tiles as your mum and dad are using for Railways of the World, using the same cards if you want to. Essentially it's rolling the dice and moving around the map and being the first person to connect four cities that are your colour. These are the same trains as the daddy game; Same trains, same track, same board, but a game for 6, 7 and 8 year olds. You can let the parents back in the room but make sure they know: this game Railways Express, is for the kids."

All this means that Railways Express is a stand-alone game that doesn't really have much in common with Railways of the World aside from the components. But that doesn't make it a bad game - it just needs to be remembered that this is targeted to kids and not to RotW-loving gamers. This new title comes in a big box, and it looks beautiful - so let's find out what you get, how it works, and let me tell you what I think about it.



COMPONENTS

Game box

Our adventure into the junior world of Railways of the World begins with another massive Eagle Games box - this certainly looks impressive from the outset!



The back of the game tells us the basic gist of the game, and lists and showcases some of the components.



Component list

Here's what we get inside the box:

● 1 map
● 231 track tiles
● 4 dice
● 64 trains (16 in each of four colours)
● 120 cubes (30 in each of four colours)
● 18 Service Bounty cards
● 24 Railroad Operations cards
● rule book


All the components

Map

The map is huge - 30" x 36" in size. It pictures North America, and it sure is big and beautiful! It's very solidly constructed out of thick cardboard, and folds up nicely for storage.



Cities: The first thing to notice about the map are the different cities. Each player colour has four cities (the one circled in black is their starting city), and the aim of the game is for players to try to connect their four cities by laying track tiles. Additionally there's a large number of neutral grey cities. The numbers on the cities don't serve any game-related function at this point, and apparently originated in the event of a potential expansion.

Terrain: The map is divided into different hexes, each representing one of three types of terrain.
● Plains: green hexes without any water on them
● Water: hexes that have any blue marked on them (including rivers, lakes, or ocean)
● Mountain: brown hexes marked with a white dot



Track tiles

A large amount of track tiles is supplied with the game, and these are identical to the ones that come with Railways of the World. Tiles have either straight or curved track, and there's also some tiles with crossovers.



Dice

The game comes with four large wooden chunky dice, and players will be rolling these to determine where they can place their track on their turn.



There are two different types of dice, which you'll pair together after rolling.

Terrain dice

These two dice represent the three different types of terrain on the map - plains, water, or mountain - and there's also a "wild" icon picturing all three, which if rolled can be used on any terrain.



Track dice

These two dice represent the types of track that can be placed, either straight or curved.



Trains

Each player gets 16 trains in their colour: red, yellow, blue or purple. Again, these are identical to the beautiful train miniatures that come with Railways of the World.



Cubes

There's 40 cubes in each of the four player colours: red, yellow, blue and purple. These are "re-roll" cubes, which will be placed on the cities on the board, and can be earned by making links to these cities. Players who have re-roll cubes can hand them in to re-roll one or two dice.



Service Bounty cards

These 18 cards are for optional use with experienced players - they can be earned by being the first to connect to the cities listed on the card, and will give players an extra re-roll cube.



Railroads Operations cards

These 24 cards are also for optional use, and one random card is earned whenever you connect to a neutral grey city. They give players abilities such as extra re-rolls, or free builds in a particular type of terrain.



Some of these cards also let you thwart your opponents.



Rules

The rulebook contains three pages of instructions, and is available from the publisher's website here:

English rules for Railways Express



GAME-PLAY

Set-up

Players all get a set of trains and cubes in their colour. They place 1 cube of their colour in each of the grey cities on the board, and 2 cubes in three of the cities matching their player colour, with a starting train in their fourth city (marked with a black border). Each player also gets two re-roll cubes in their personal supply, and the remaining four in each colour (the rulebook incorrectly says 5) go to a general supply.


Complete set-up for a basic three player game

Flow of Play

Rolling dice and placing track

In turns, players roll all four dice, and then lay track tiles according to what they've rolled, starting from their home city. You can pair up your dice however you like. So if you rolled a double straight track, double curved track, a plains terrain, and a mountain terrain, you could build two straight tracks on plains and two curved tracks on mountains, or alternatively two straight tracks on mountains and two curved tracks on plains (see another example here). You can place these track tiles in any order as you wish, as long as they are connected with your home city or existing track.



Connecting to cities

You can only connect to grey cities or cities of your own colour, and may only have one entry and exit to grey cities. A connection to another city is called a "link", is marked with one of your locomotives. When you make such a link, you may claim the coloured cube(s) of your colour from that city.



Using re-roll cubes

On your turn you can discard a re-roll cube in order to re-roll one or two of your dice, and this can be done more than once on your turn.



End of Game

The game end is triggered when a player has connected all four of his cities together (not necessarily in a loop). All players are to have an equal number of turns, so it is possible for a player later in the turn order to also successfully link his four cities, in which case the tie-breaker is awarded to the tied player with the most re-roll cubes.


Red & Purple tie at the end of a three player game!

The Service Bounty & Railroad Operation cards

When players have some experience with the game, they can optionally add in the decks of cards, and these are really quite straight-forward to understand, so this doesn't ramp up the difficulty that much.

Service Bounty cards

Four of these are placed face up at the start of the game. The first player who links to one of these four Service Bounty cities gets an extra re-roll cube, after which that card is discarded and replaced with a new random Service Bounty card. We use empty city markers from the base RotW game to mark the cities with bounties.


Service Bounty at Oklahoma City

Railroad Operation cards

Players can draw a random card from this deck whenever they successfully make a link to a neutral grey city. They can then use the ability (once only) described on the card on any future turn. The Operation cards help you out in various ways, like giving you the ability to place an extra track tile for free, or re-roll dice.


Some sample Operations cards

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Amazing components: Yes really! The beautifully produced components were one of the things that first sold me on Railways of the World. Railways Express inherits the same striking good looks from its ancestor, with a fantastic map, and highly attractive train miniatures and track. It really is eye-catching, and the eye-candy certainly helps add to its appeal!

Looks like Railways of the World: Yes it does look like Railways of the World, with a a beautiful map, track tiles, trains, cubes, and cards just like the daddy of the series. When the game is in progress, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's just another expansions or variation on the base game, because it sure looks like it.

Does not play like Railways of the World: Despite superficial appearances, this game doesn't play anything like Railways of the World, and aside from the types of terrain, the two games have little in common. Even the cubes have a totally different function - instead of delivering them, they represent re-roll tokens and are simply earned by connecting to cities. Railways Express commits no crime by being a very different game from its parent, but it is important that people considering Railways Express don't come to it expecting something like Railways of the World. I wouldn't even call it "Railways of the World Junior", because the differences are so great that it isn't even that. In the end, this isn't even a slimmed down RotW, but is a very different game that just happens to use similar components.

Dice-rolling, tile-laying, race game: Unlike Railways of the World, the pickup-and-deliver mechanic is absent here, and there's also no economic engine. Instead, this is a race game, with a very simple objective of trying to be the first player to connect your four cities. It would be unfair to to expect the deep and strategic decisions of Railways of the World, because this is trying to be a very different game.

Somewhat solitaire: In the latter half of the game, cities can become somewhat crowded and you may find yourself edging each other for space. The cards do also give some small opportunities to interfere with your opponents. On the whole, however, on your turn you're simply building your own track, and racing to be first to complete the overall objective, so you don't have to worry too much about your opponents. This level of interaction makes it appropriate as a family game.

Tense and even: As a race game, it proves quite tense, and you'll often find that games are very close. We've seen ties happen more than once! This helps keep the game interesting and exciting, especially if children are playing.

Does have decisions: Although this is a dice-rolling game, it would be a mistake to think that it's pure luck. This is not like a roll-and-move Candyland, where you roll your dice and move your pawn that amount of spaces. There is thinking involved and there are decisions to be made. You'll have to decide where you want to build your route, and which cities to connect to. While some of these decisions may seem obvious at times, this will also depend somewhat on what you roll, so you'll have to be somewhat flexible in your plans and in how you execute them. Also, after rolling your dice, you'll have to look at what combination of track and terrain you need, and decide how to match the dice and whether or not to use re-roll cubes; even figuring out how best to use what you rolled can require careful thought. The cards also help by giving added interest and possibilities. The level of decision-making is such that I think that children under 6 would be struggling to play (one younger child did join us for a while, but lost interest halfway, so the gameplay is maybe a bit beyond that age); but it also means that gaming parents will be glad to know that even they can't just play on auto-pilot, and will have to think about what they're doing.

Light: Despite the level of thought that goes into playing, it's debatable how much these decisions really matter in the end or determine the winner, and they will often be somewhat obvious if you're trying to optimize your turn. You can usually find some way to build 3 or 4 tracks on your turn, with the help of re-roll cubes and cards. So you will often have enough options at your disposal to accomplish your aims, and it's just a matter of figuring out the best way to do this. As a result, players will often find themselves completing the game winning objective around the same time, keeping games very close and tense. This isn't a bad thing as such, because it means that even children can be competitive. It's definitely not a game decided by luck, because making poor decisions will result in you losing. But the level of skill required is such that older children should be able to grasp optimal play, which means that parents and children will usually find themselves on a level playing field.

Improved by the optional cards: The Service Bounty and Railroad Operation cards are a nice addition to the game, and we really enjoyed playing with these, because they give you more options. In one sense they make the game easier, because you have more ways of getting re-roll cubes or other things that help you, but they also make the game feel more flexible, by giving you more choices. It would have been nice if the game had come with four markers to make the current cities with Service Bounties more visible - we pulled four Empty City Markers from Railways of the World and use them for this purpose, which also adds some extra visual appeal. Definitely play with the cards after your first game!

Somewhat long: I did find that games tended to go on a bit long, at least with the full complement of players. As a two player game it's quite reasonable, but with a 4 player game it's almost worth considering changing the win condition to connecting three instead of four cities. Fortunately it's easy enough to make house-rules to shorten things up if you wish.

Child-friendly and age appropriate: This is a simple game that's very easy to learn, and is ideal for children. I've played it with several children ranging in ages 5 through 11, and they all loved it, were very impressed by the components, and said they had a great time. A 9 year old won the first game, but as a gamer I still enjoyed myself, because I still had to think about my turns, and wasn't just playing roll-and-move. But the level of decisions I was making were ones that my children could match, and so it resulted in a level playing field that kept things tense, and didn't ever feel like a pointless exercise of luck, despite lacking the deeper strategic decisions that gamers like me enjoy.

Begging to be modified for Railways of the World: As a RotW fan, I love playing with new maps, and this beautiful board is just crying to be modified so that it can be used as an expansion map for the base game. The only necessary change that I can see is that the map has no black cities, so you'd need to designate two cities to be black at the beginning of the game. You could use the components and Railroad Operation cards from the base game, and although you wouldn't have service bounties or major lines, it should be feasible. Some suggestions have been made about this in this thread, and hopefully someone will find a good way to pull this off!



Recommendation

Despite being an offspring of Railways of the World, and even sharing some of the physical attributes of its father, Railways Express is a child with a very different character than its ancestor. It's probably not really fair to compare this with Railways of the World, since it isn't really attempting to be the same kind of game, and using the same measuring stick to evaluate it would only do it an injustice. Gamers who buy Railways Express in the hope that it offers a Railways of the World experience in a smaller package are only going to be setting themselves up to be disappointed. Instead, Railways Express should be evaluated for what it's trying to be: a tile-laying race game for children using RotW style components. When considered in light of its target audience, it's an attractive game that will impress youngsters, offers enough to keep parents interested, and might just make those same youngsters eager to try Railways of the World in years to come.


End of a three player game (using Service Bounty & Operations cards)

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Ron
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Fair review, Ender!

I played it once, and we had a few issues with the game. You already wrote, it is too long for what it offers - absolutely right! Roll, put track down if possible. Repeat this n times until game end. The only real decision to make is when to use your re-roll cubes ...

We also ran out of track tiles ... hello, did anyone beta-test this game? Ok, no big deal, I own a few games from the Railways of the World series and in there are enough track tiles.

I agree with you that it is great for playing with kids & family; but rail gamers, stay away!
And if you want a much shorter variant, get TransAmerica or Trans Europa. It offers more or less the same, but without the dice rolling. meeple
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Chris Halaska
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Thanks for the excellent overview!

I'm glad you pointed out the designer's target audience (kids/families), since I hadn't heard that anywhere before. It puts all the early underwhelmed reviews in perspective. Kids' games don't get much love around here, so that explains some things.

One thing you didn't comment on was the replayability of the game. Looking at the couple of completed game pictures you posted, it appears that there's some similarity in routes over games, and I wonder if it seems like there are "optimal" routes that will be discovered quickly?

Lastly, I certainly hope someone develops a way to use the lovely-looking map for a RotW expansion!

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x2fer wrote:
One thing you didn't comment on was the replayability of the game. Looking at the couple of completed game pictures you posted, it appears that there's some similarity in routes over games, and I wonder if it seems like there are "optimal" routes that will be discovered quickly?

Good question Chris. It looks like I've only got two clear photos of completed games (although I've played many more), but if you compare them closely, the purple player (who won both times) built his route in a very different way each time. The same was true for the blue player, even though the location of each colour's four cities are constant from game to game.





There may be an optimal route for each colour to aim for that would theoretically be the shortest, but it's not quite as obvious as I first thought. I think there are different approaches you can take in how you try to link your four cities; while some approaches will be worse than others, I don't know that there's necessarily a single one that is obviously and automatically the best. Also, you'll have to be somewhat flexible with your plans depending on your dice rolling and on where other players are building track, so that will ensure each game plays out somewhat differently.

Having said that, the point you raise is good reason not to play the same colour each game. Playing with a different colour will make the game a whole new experience. We've also toyed with the idea of making players start the game at a different starting city; that would also really mix things up.
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Excellent review. I liked the idea that you separated it from Railways of the World right from the start to remove expectation comparisons. This review was as comprehensive as one could get in conveying the essence of the game....and it's intended target.

Good job.
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Your reviews are always so well made! Thanks again for another great review!

I love Railways of the World, but stayed away from this because I'd heard a few negative comments. I was looking forward to your "What Others Think" section, but notice you left it out this time.
 
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Great review, O Great Green Guy!
 
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uigrad wrote:
Your reviews are always so well made! Thanks again for another great review!

I love Railways of the World, but stayed away from this because I'd heard a few negative comments. I was looking forward to your "What Others Think" section, but notice you left it out this time.

Thanks for the feedback Aron. I usually do like to include a section that covers what others think, but sometimes with new releases like this one, there just aren't enough comments or reviews yet to paint a fair or complete picture of what other people think about a game.

But it can be mentioned that of the few who have commented on Railways Express until now, the negative comments primarily seem to come from those who were expecting a lighter Railways of the World experience, and were disappointed that the game was so different, and they bemoan the simplicity of gameplay, the randomness of the dice, and the lack of interaction. There's some truth to these things, but I think they're somewhat overstated as a result of coming in with wrong expectations and not realizing that this is intended to be a children's game. In my opinion it's not quite the luck-fest that some people seem to think, and so you will also find comments from others who acknowledge that there's more than first meets the eye here, and that it can be enjoyed by children and families.

That's why I quoted at length the designer's comments in the introduction to the review. Remembering the game's intended audience and evaluating accordingly leads to a more positive assessment. I wouldn't recommend buying this to play with adults, but parents might want to consider it as a game to play with their children.
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Somewhat long: I did find that games tended to go on a bit long, at least with the full complement of players. As a two player game it's quite reasonable, but with a 4 player game it's almost worth considering changing the win condition to connecting three instead of four cities. Fortunately it's easy enough to make house-rules to shorten things up if you wish.

playing by the rules (vs house rule) what has been the average length of your 4 player games?

fwiw today it's on CSI's deal of the day page for $15

http://www.coolstuffinc.com/p/189006
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