The Mini-Expansions for Railways of the World

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Railways of the World and its expansions, and have been for many years already. If you're not familiar with this series, check my overview of the entire series in this list [GeekList link] and see my massive pictorial article [review link] on the base game. Together with my article about the new 10th anniversary edition [review link], that should tell you all you need to know about the base game. It's a delightful mid-weight game with a wonderful theme, eye-catching visuals, high quality components, and excellent game-play in which you are building and managing your own railroad network on a massive board, delivering goods between cities in order to earn points.

Because it is such an excellent game, a number of expansion maps have been released for Railways of the World over the years, which bring this wonderful game to different parts of the world, resulting in a whole new experience. So you can now safely bring your network of trains to various places across the globe: the Eastern US, the Western US, Mexico, Canada, England, Europe, and even Antarctica.

In this review, however, I would like to focus on some of the mini-expansions that are available for the game. I've already written separate reviews for each and every major map that has been created as an expansion for the game. But there are some very fun mini-expansions that add smaller twists to the game, and can be used on virtually all of these maps. The main aim of this article is to give an overview of what these are, what they do, and briefly what each adds to the game.



Mines

The Railways of the World: Mines mini-expansion coincided with the arrival of the Railways of North America expansion in 2013, and today they are available from the publisher as an accessory. The Railways of North America expansion introduced Mines cards to the game, which worked as follows: when players took a Mine card as an action (at a cost of $10,000), it enabled additional cubes to be added to a city. Coloured versions of the brown coal-building empty city markers from the original version of Railways of the World were made available as a mini-expansion (four in each different player colour), and work in the same way as these Mine cards.

The Mines can be used at a cost of $10,000 on a grey city, and enables additional cubes to be added to that city, with the player who placed the Mine continuing to draw cubes until they draw one that matches the colour of a previously drawn cube. When this happens, the coloured Mine miniature is placed on the board as a visual reminder that that city can no longer be mined.

How many cubes you get can depend on what you draw, and for that reason some players may prefer the Urbanization option ahead of a Mine. But sometimes it pays to take a chance - just like mining in the real world!



Switch Tracks

The Railways of the World: Switch Tracks mini-expansion was produced at the same time as the coloured miniatures for the Fuel Depots, Hotels, and Mines, and allows let players to make a Y connection from a city connection at a cost of $5,000. These were also miniatures borrowed from the empty city markers, and now given a new game function as switch track markers, with four in each player colours, available separately from the publisher.

At the time they appeared in 2013 as part of the Kickstarter that produced the Railways of North America expansion, the Switch Track was a new concept that hadn't yet appeared in any Railways of the World expansion. It gave players some more flexibility in building their rail networks, and are only available to each player twice during the game, to be used at any point during a Build Track action for an extra cost of $5,000. As part of their track building, players can place a Switch Track of their colour on a track connected to a city, and effectively use it as a "Y" connection to build another track from that connection in a different direction.

They do add visual appeal to the board, although actual tiles with a three way connection might have served equally well.



Hotels

The Railways of the World: Hotels mini-expansion are accessories that accompany the Hotel cards which first appeared in the Rails of Europe expansion in 2008, and serve as visual reminders of cities for which players have acquired a Hotel card from the Railroad Operations deck; today they are available from the publisher as an accessory. Again there are four in each player colour.

Originally players simply had to keep the Hotel card in front of them, and everyone was expected to remember which city was affected by having a hotel (which earns its owner points whenever cubes are delivered to that city), and who owned it. In conjunction with the Kickstarter project for the Railways of North America expansion in 2013, coloured versions of the round-houses were introduced (originally empty city markers in brown) as accessories that could be used as visual reminders of which hotels are owned by players, as determined by the Hotel cards in the Railroad Operation deck.

These is one of the best mini-expansions, since the absence of some visual indicator for Hotels on the board is just begging to be solved with an accessory like this, although perhaps not one quite this large.



Fuel Depots

The Railways of the World: Fuel Depots first appeared in the Railways of the Western US expansion in 2010, and can be placed on a city to represent a refuelling point - you can bring a cube there and then continue delivering that cube elsewhere on your next action. There are 24 Fuel Depot markers, four in each player colour. These are flat pieces of cardboard, and are intended to match the colours of the player trains. Even though they are from the initial printing of the Railways of the Western US, the player trains haven't had a substantial change in colour in the 10th anniversary edition of the base game, so they still match okay regardless of which edition of the game you have.



Alternatively, you can also pick up more luxurious miniatures for the Fuel Depots, which are available separately from the publisher as an accessory. These were introduced in conjunction with the Kickstarter project for the Railways of North America expansion in 2013, along with several other mini-expansions. All of these were beautiful plastic miniatures that look the same as the original four different types of empty city markers (which were brown), but matching the player colours, and with a new game-related function. The Fuel Depots are styled like a water tank, and certainly look very pretty. The colours were updated and produced at the same time as the 10th anniversary edition of the base game, to ensure that their colours match the player trains exactly.

So how do they work? When building track, you can pay an extra $5,000 to place up to two Fuel Depots on any city that you have a link to, and which does not yet have any Fuel Depot markers. Fuel Depots can be used for deliveries in two different ways, both of which require you to remove one Fuel Depot marker from the city in question:
1. You can deliver a cube through a city of the matching colour without being forced to stop and deliver the cube there.
2. You can deliver a cube over a greater distance by performing it in two installments as two consecutive actions and stopping at the Fuel Depot midway the delivery. So for example if you had a level 3 train, as one action you might move a cube three links to a city with your Fuel Depot marker, and then as your next action you might move that cube a further three links, to complete a six link delivery.

Fuel Depots do offer new possibilities to deliver cubes over longer distances without needing to upgrade your train, but do come at the cost of using extra actions and their purchase price. Still, it's nice to have a new option that you can explore, and given their versatility as `refueling' points, they can be especially useful to assist making long deliveries on larger maps such as in Transcontinental Games.



Instructions

The previous version had a small sheet of paper that covered the rules for the mini expansions. Now the rules for all the expansion are included in the rule-book that comes with the base game. This is a large and comprehensive "Rule Book Compendium", a 24 page booklet that covers everything about the game, and can be downloaded right here:
Official Railways of the World Rule Book Compendium



Nippon miniatures

It should also be noted that the four mini-expansions that do use miniatures (Fuel Depots, Hotels, Mines, Switch Tracks), are also available in the four player colours that come with the Railways of Nippon base game, and not just the six player colours that come with the Railways of the World base game. The images above show the mini-expansions available for Railways of the World, but when Railways of Nippon was recently released as an alternative base game, it used different colours for the player trains, and thus different coloured miniatures that match these trains were also made available. Those are also available from the publisher, with the rules for these being identical to what has already been covered above.



Ice miniatures

There are also some Ice miniatures that are transparent, and match the Ice trains that were a stretch goal for the Railways of Nippon Kickstarter. These especially suit the Railways of Antarctica map.



City Rotors

The Railways of the World: City Rotors mini-expansion first appeared in the Railways of the Western US expansion in 2010, and currently the only way to get them is as part of this expansion. However they can be used on any map, and they certainly don't have to be used when using the Western US map - in fact many players play the Western US map without using them (see discussion).

There are 18 City Rotors altogether, three in each colour, including the un-urbanized grey. Six of these are to be placed on cities of matching colour. In the case of the Western US map, recommended rotor cities are San Francisco, Tacoma, Denver, Butte, Salt Lake city, and Oklahoma City. Altogether 18 of these are included, because you can place them on other starting cities if you wish, and also use them on other expansion maps. Because these can be used on all the maps, they offer a lot of possibilities for varied play.

The city rotors have a colour wheel which can be rotated to show a second colour for that city in addition to the base colour. This means that this city has a demand for cubes of two different colours. Each time a delivery is made, however, the rotor must be rotated clockwise to the next colour, to reflect a demand for another colour. So the city rotors give more flexibility for deliveries, by reflecting changing demands - although if located in the middle of a lengthy series of links they also come with a risk that cubes of a particular colour must be delivered there rather than passing through for a more distant and lucrative delivery! To assist in planning, the colour wheel is printed on the new player reference cards from the 10th anniversary edition of the game.

Since the 10th Anniversary Expansion Maps only printed the new maps and new cards from the Western US expansion, the rotors are from the previous printing, and have not been printed with the new colours, and so these more or less have the old city colours, and they are the only component that didn't get a colour upgrade to match everything else from the new printing. Personally I think that even though there are slight colour differences when comparing the rotor colours with the city colours from the 10th anniversary maps, there's no significant issue with colour matching that is seriously problematic with these, and for me they work quite fine with the 10th anniversary edition colours. Previously the issue here has always been about the purple and blue cities and the purple and blue goods. When I put these rotors on the 10th anniversary edition maps with their adjusted colours, I have no real difficulty identifying what colours the rotors correspond to.



Event Deck

First published in 2011, the Railways of the World: Event Deck is a small expansion that can be used with the base game or with any of the other expansion maps, and is also available from the publisher as as separate item.

The Event Deck consists of a deck of 50 cards, which introduce different random events to the game, with a face-up card corresponding to a "Current Event" and another face-up card to a "Future Event", with a new card being turned up each turn. Some of these are short-term objectives which will help you, but occasionally there are disasters which will hurt you - just like in real life. Fortunately in most cases you get one turn warning about the next event, so you can plan accordingly.

There's nothing game-changing here, but it certainly does offer extra spice for fans looking to add something new to the game - if you don't mind your game being more dynamic. These add both new elements of interest, but also new elements of chaos, so your thoughts on this mini-expansion will depend on your fondness for injecting those kinds of random elements to your game. Unsurprisingly, the Event Deck can be polarizing - some love it, while others hate it! For more details about this expansion, including an overview of some of the events included, see my detailed review.



Recommendation

None of these expansions are essential upgrades, and some will even find that they add unnecessary complexity, or undesired randomness. Certainly they do add some visual bling to the developing map as the game progresses. Although having miniatures that are the same shape as the brown empty city markers from older versions of the base come might be confusing to some, and they do take up additional space on the board. As mentioned already, the colours of these match the colours of the player trains from the 10th anniversary base games exactly. Although they were first produced in 2013, another lot was produced at the same time as the 10th anniversary edition, to ensure an exact colour match with the slightly adjusted player colours.

Your level of enjoying all these mini-expansions will depend on the reasons why you enjoy Railways of the World in the first place. If you're more of a serious gamer, you might just not care for having to deal with the occasional unplanned speed-bump interfering with your strategy, and you might find any extra bling or complexity unnecessary. On the other hand if you are more of a casual gamer, you might enjoy the extra variability and choices that these mini-expansions offer, plus the tactical opportunities and trials that come along with them, and the additional visuals they add to the game.

Certainly the flexibility for use with any of the maps is a real strength, because if you do decide that any of these mini-expansions are for you, you can always use them wherever and whenever you please. But as I've said before, as far as I'm concerned having more Railways of the World goodies is nearly always good, and so even though they are not often used, it's nice to have these mini-expansions as an option in the event I want to use them, and so they are a welcome addition to my base game and expansion maps!



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

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