Introducing Railways of Nippon
So you're looking for a train game that's a step up from Ticket to Ride, without being too hard-core or complicated. Look no further: 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. And now with the release of Railways of Nippon (2018) as an alternative base game, you can even choose between Railways of the World or the new Railways of Nippon. You can even get both!
Most gamers might already be familiar with this series, but I briefly want to target people who might not be familiar with it, and need some introduction to it. 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 hard-core 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. 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!
The strength of Railways of the World series lies in its 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. 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. This game is truly the ultimate and the quintessential train game for the typical modern gamer!
In this review, I'll introduce you to the new base game for the series, Railways of Nippon, which was released in conjunction with the 10th anniversary edition of the original base game, Railways of the World. This review will help show you why it's the ideal medium weight train game, as well as teach you how to play, and give a short overview of all the expansion maps in the series as well.
The Railways of the World series really began in 2005 with Railroad Tycoon. Already in 2002, after the involvement of developer John Bohrer, Martin Wallace had put out Age of Steam, an immensely successful train game that offers a tense and tight experience for hard-core 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 hard-core 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.”
And it worked - Railroad Tycoon proved to be a big and popular hit. 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.
With the Railroad Tycoon name no longer available due to licensing issues, and the game itself quickly going out of print, it was time for Eagle Games to give the proven and popular title a face-lift under a new name: Railways of the World. This re-implemented Railroad Tycoon, with the benefit of some tweaks and minor improvements already seen in some of the first expansions. The first edition of Railways of the World appeared in 2009, and contained the original map for the Eastern US plus a new expansion map for Mexico. A reprint of the game appeared at the very end of 2010, which featured a number of further cosmetic improvements and small additions to the components. But in 2018, a 10th anniversary edition of the game was produced, with further component upgrades and all round improvements, as well as clarifications to the cards and rules. It's easily the definitive edition of the game. But at the same time a brand new base game for the series was released: Railways of Nippon. So now you have a choice of where to start out - either the larger Railways of the World base game, or the alternative Railways of Nippon base game. Further expansion maps available separately usually only include a map and cards, so you will need the components of either one of these base games to play them.
The typical eurogamer will find much to love about Railways of Nippon, not least that the Railways of the World series is more thematic than many eurogames, and comes with gorgeous over-produced components. Don't be put off by the lavish production or the size and weight of these boxes. This is a train game for regular gamers - it's a step up from gateway games like Ticket to Ride, and yet not as intense or challenging as heavier games like Age of Steam - and really has the potential to please a wide variety of gamers. It can truly be considered the typical gamer's ultimate and definitive train game!
So let's show you what you get with this brand new edition of the base game, and explain what it's all about!
Age of Steam (2002) ---> Railroad Tycoon (2005) ---> Railways of the World (2009) ---> Railways of Nippon (2018)
The box cover of Railways of Nippon (2018) features some of the train artwork that appears in the game and its expansions. The style is immediately familiar from the other titles in the series.
On the reverse side is some information about the game:
It's worth taking a closer at some of the information here: "Railways of Nippon is a self-contained 2-4 player version of Railways of the World with a new map by award-winning Japanese designer Hisashi Hayashi. Lay track, take loans, upgrade your trains, and deliver goods while balancing your budget wisely. Well timed infusions of cash can help you pick up steam but taking too many bank bonds may hinder your ultimate goal of becoming the richest railroad baron of Japan!"
If that doesn't whet your appetite, just read the section on the box that introduces the gameplay:
And don't miss the note in red print: You do not need the "Railways of the World" (ROTW) base game to play "Railways of Nippon". That makes it clear that this is a self-contained base game, and unlike all the other expansions, this contains all the components you need to play. What's more, if you have this base game, you also have the components you'll need to play with the expansion maps.
Sounds good? Absolutely! So what do we need to play this? Well this is a massive box, and it weighs a ton - probably because there's a ton of stuff inside, including no less than 120 plastic miniatures, over 150 track tiles, and an attractive map!
Let's pull off the cover and look! Fortunately it has an outstanding box insert to help keep everything organized. The box itself has thumb tabs to make it easy to remove the lid. And inside we find a very well-produced plastic box insert with various compartments inside, to help keep some of the components separate, and even a customized plastic cover that fits on top of everything to prevent pieces flying around. Lots of quality, and lots of goodies to be found here!
So what's inside the box? Here's a complete inventory:
● Map of Japan
● Income and Score Track
● 4 Player score markers
● 10 Railroad Baron cards
● 42 Railroad Operation cards
● 100 Trains
● 20 Empty city markers
● 125 Goods cubes
● Drawstring bag
● Engine placards
● Bond certificates
● Track tiles
● New City tiles
● First player marker
● Reference cards
● Instruction book
Now if you already have the Railways of the World base game, you can also pick up Railways of Nippon as an expansion, and just get the map, cards, and score-track. Just be aware that the Nippon map does require 16 New City tiles, whereas the Railways of the World base game only comes with 12 (see discussion here and here). So if you get Nippon as an expansion rather than a base game, you'll have to contact the publisher about getting four additional New City tiles.
The beautiful map is one of the highlights of the game, picturing the industrialized Japanese landscape where we'll be building up our rail network of trains.
During gameplay tracks will be placed on adjacent hexes to connect cities, and thus allow delivering of goods between those cities.
Connecting certain pairs of cities will earn bonus points - these are marked on a special "Major Lines" chart that is printed on the board, as well as on the player reference cards. You can also download a handy reference here that shows where these are on the map.
Notice how the map is divided into hexes, which contain either a city (coloured), open terrain (green), mountains (brown with white dots), or water. Some land hexes contain water (marked with a water droplet icon), and building on these spaces will be more costly.
These hexagonal track tiles are what you will use to create sections of railroad track between cities. The track tiles cost money to build on the map, usually $2000 per tile ($3000 on spaces with water, $4000 on spaces with mountains).
There are straights, curves, and crossings, and you can take whichever ones you need depending on where you want to build your track! Here's just some of them:
164 of these tiles are included with Railways of Nippon, whereas Railways of the World comes with 217 track tiles since it requires a bigger map.
These plastic locomotives come in four player colours (gold/brown, teal/green, orange and white), and there are 25 in each colour.
Each player get 25 trains in their colour, which you'll use to mark the "links" of train tracks between cities that you have built and control. Whenever you build a new railroad link, you place a locomotive in your colour to indicate that you own and control that link.
One nice thing about Railways of Nippon is that it's obvious that the colour of the locomotives has no relation to the colour of the goods or cities - this sometimes could confuse new players with Railways of the World.
The aim of the game is to advance on the income track (earning points and income), which primarily happens by transporting goods cubes between different cities. There are 125 Goods cubes altogether.
The small wooden goods cubes come in five different colours: red, yellow, blue, purple, and black, and there are 25 of each.
You'll get points for each good you deliver to a city of the matching colour - i.e. red goods need to get delivered to a red city, yellow goods to a yellow city. The amount of points you get depends on the amount of "links" you use - if you use three of your links to transport a good, you'll get three points.
Since the goods cubes are drawn and placed randomly on the board at the start of each game, the game comes with a good quality drawstring cloth bag for storing and randomly drawing the goods, which has the name of the series printed on it in an elegant gold.
There are four score markers used to keep track of each player's current score on the income track. These correspond to the colour of the players' trains.
Income and Score track
You'll be keeping track of your income level and score on the income and score track. This is constructed out of sturdy card, and note that this is a different scoreboard than the one that comes with Railways of the World, since it is tailored specifically for the Japan map included here.
This track does more than just keep record of your score, but also records your current income level. The figure inside the red circle on the left is a player's score, while the dollar value is that player's income at the end of each round (minus the number of bonds owned).
This scoring and income mechanism is key to the game. The basic concept of the game is to deliver goods, which will increase your score and your income level. So a score of 0 earns you $0 at the end of each turn, a score of 1 earns you $3,000 at the end of each turn, and so on. Subtracted from your income is $1,000 per bond that you've accrued.
There are short term objectives (such as some of the Railroad Operations cards) and long term objectives (such as the Major Lines and Railroad Barons) that will earn you bonus points to increase your score and income, but the majority of points will be earned by delivering goods.
So the basic idea of the game is this: you'll need to take out bonds to get you the money you need to build a network of track in order to deliver goods, and then you'll use the benefits from delivering goods to increase your score and your income.
To build track and upgrade your engine, you'll need money. The paper money supplied with the game comes in three denominations, bills of $1,000 (green), $5,000 (blue), and $10,000 (yellow).
At the end of every round, you'll earn some money, dependent on your current score - usually the higher your score, the more income you will generate. Money is also used for the auction at the start of each turn, to bid for the right to be starting player that turn.
Since you start the game with no money, how do you raise capital to build your track? You can take out a bond certificate. These represent bonds issued by the railroads to raise money, and come in denominations of $5,000 (1 bond), $25,000 (5 bond) or $50,000 (10 bonds).
So if you take out 1 bond, you'll get the cash value of the bond certificate - $5,000. Need more money? Take out another bond. Be warned, however, your bonds are deducted from the income you generate each turn (i.e. you're paying dividends to the people who are helping you fund your railway), and will also be deducted from your final score, so you'll try to avoid taking these unless you have to!
Players start with a "level 1" engine, which lets you deliver goods cubes across a single link between cities. To deliver goods cubes further distances, you'll need to upgrade your engine.
There are engine placards for levels 1 through 8, each made of thick and study cardboard, and there's enough of each for four players. They represent investing money to upgrade your locomotive with a newer and better model.
New City Tiles
Some cities on the map have no colour, but are gray. These can be urbanized by placing a "New City" tile on it, representing the growth of industry in a small city, and creating a new demand for goods.
New cities can be yellow, blue, purple, or black. The city changes from gray to this new colour (chosen by the player doing the urbanizing), and now goods of that colour can be delivered to that city. This also means that the only red cities you'll ever see on the map will be the ones that are there at the start of the game!
Empty City Markers
The end of the game is triggered when a certain number of cities are 'emptied' of their goods cubes. To keep track of the empty cities, you place an empty city marker on a city that has no cubes left in it. That means that these function as an end-of-game timer, as well as a visual reminder that makes it obvious which cities no longer have gods.
These plastic empty city markers are typical of the over-the-top production quality of the game, given how small a role they actually play in the game. They represent ghost towns where resources have been depleted, so they also add a thematic touch to the game. Altogether 20 of these are supplied with the game.
Railroad Operations cards
A selection of these Railroad Operations cards will be available to players as the game progresses, and many of them reduce costs or make certain actions easier, or give short-term goals for extra points.
Service Bounty cards give a 4 point bonus for the first player to deliver a goods cube to a certain city. In previous rules these were just added to the deck and would appear randomly as the game progressed, and although you can still play that way, under the current rules these are place faced up at the start of the game and offer bonus point incentives that are immediately available from the outset.
Other starting cards
Besides the two Service Bounty cards, there are two other starting cards that always begin the game face-up: The Railroad Era Begins and Speed Record (all marked with a gold "S") . Shinbashi Station gives a one point bonus to the first player to deliver a blue cube from Tokyo to Yokohama, and can be used as an alternative to The Railroad Era begins - this adds historical flavour, and also requires you to make sure that there's a blue cube in Tokyo at the start of the game.
Other Railroad Operation cards
Other cards offer bonuses like enabling players to urbanize a city for free, change it from grey to coloured, or add goods cubes (New Industry, Boomtown, City Growth, Foreign Trade Ports); earn points or reduce costs when building track or upgrading engines (Hot Springs, Civil Engineers, Coal-Fueled Engines); or assist in making deliveries of cubes easier or earn bonus points for doing so (Express, Diplomatic Relations, Hotel, Local Campaign)
Railroad Baron cards
At the start of the game, each player gets to choose one of two Railroad Baron cards. These are marked with a small Japanese flag icon to indicate that they are from the Railways of Nippon game.
These are secret long term objectives, and will give bonus points if a player meets the objective at the game end, for example 7 points for being the player with the fewest bond certificates, or 1 points for each blue city your railroad is connected to at the game end
These help enhance replayability, because you'll get different Railroad Barons each game, and often they will determine part of your long-term strategy.
Last but not least, there are reference cards for each player. These list the possible actions a player can perform on their turn, as well as the cost of building track, and have a visual reminder of how many empty city markers trigger the game end.
The reverse side of each reference card lists the Major Lines that apply to the Japan map, which basically represent pairs of cities that earn you bonus points if you are the first player to connect them with links of your train network.
Do be aware that there is a small glitch on the reference cards, because the alphabetic letters used don't correspond exactly to what is on the map (see discussion in this thread). This shouldn't affect game-play, because the Major Lines listed on the cards are still the same city pairs as the ones on the board, but you can download and print a corrected card here.
First player marker
Every turn of the game includes three rounds of player actions, where each player performs one action, starting with the start player. This wooden engine is given to the player who is the starting player for each of these rounds.
The first player is determined by an auction that happens at the beginning of every turn.
We get a large and comprehensive "Rule Book Compendium", which is a 24 page booklet that covers everything about the game, including all the expansions. You can download this right here:
Official Railways of the World Rule Book Compendium
Quite frankly, the instructions are fantastic. With previous versions of the game, quite a few questions came up, and there have also been some small rule changes and clarifications over time. This is a definitive rule book which has the instructions for the base game and all the expansions altogether in one place. It has the benefit of input from many experienced players and fans of the game in making it, so it covers everything. The print is fairly small, but it is very well laid out and organized, so everything is easy to find; a table of contents also helps with this. Everything you need has been included: variants, strategies, tips, recommendations about how to handle major lines and more.
It also has rules for all the expansions and accessories included, plus all the kinds of tips you need about set-up, including charts and information about which player counts require reduced cubes, and the number of empty city markers required.
Goods cubes: At the start of the game, draw goods cubes randomly from the bag, and place them on the cities, according to the number printed on each city. This randomizes the set-up for each game, creating a different challenge each time, since goods cubes can only be delivered to cities that match their colour.
Locomotives and engine placard: Each player gets all the control locomotives of their colour, and a level "1" engine placard.
Other components: The other components that will be needed for the game are placed besides the gameboard: track tiles, empty city markers (the number you use depends on the player count), bonds certificates, money, new city tiles, engine placards, etc. Use one of the empty-city markers to keep track of the rounds on the board. Each player should also get a reference card.
Railroad Barons: Each player gets one of two Railroad Baron cards, from which they choose and keep one, which they keep as their secret long-term objective.
Railroad Operations cards: In Railways of Nippon you start with the two Service Bounty cards and the two other starting Railroad Operation cards face up (the Railroad Era Begins card can be optionally switched for Shinbashi Station). In other expansions these starting cards will vary. In addition, you draw some other random Railroad Operations cards (twice the number of players). A new Railroad Operations card will be added face-up to these at the start of each turn.
There has been a rule change about the Service Bounties - and many people prefer to play with the older rule where they are just in the Railroad Operation deck with the other cards, and occur randomly as the game progresses (see a poll in this thread). Some new players have wondered about the correct way to set-up the starting Railroad Operation cards, so if you are finding that somewhat confusing, there are several threads where you'll find this explained (here, here, here and here).
All Aboard? Let's get this train rolling!
Flow of Play for a Turn
Each turn consists of three phases. A turn track on the board is a visual reminder of these steps, and is used to keep track of the rounds in a game, as well as remind players of the different phases of each turn:
1. Auction to determine starting player
2. Player actions (3 rounds)
3. Income and dividends
Turns continue until a certain number of empty city markers are placed, at which point one more full turn is played. Let's explain the different phases of each turn, especially the most important phase: player actions.
Phase 1: Starting Player Auction
Beginning with the starting player of the previous turn, each turn an auction is held for the right to be starting player for the current turn. Bidding goes clockwise around the table, and continues until everyone passes. The winning bid pays the amount of his bid to the bank (taking out Bonds to do so, if necessary), and gets the First Player Marker - he will begin all three rounds this turn.
The value of being starting player can change from turn to turn - usually players will want to be the starting player if there's a Railroad Operations card that they really want to have the first chance of getting, either by taking it or by meeting its requirements for bonus points (e.g. a Service Bounty), and thus getting ahead on the income track.
Phase 2: Player Actions (3 rounds)
The player actions are the main part of the game, and options include building track, delivering goods cubes, upgrading your engine, urbanizing, or taking a Railroad Operations card. There are three rounds of player actions, and beginning with the first player everyone performs one action (you may pass if you wish); this is repeated three times.
● Build Track: You can build up to four adjacent railroad track tiles (you can use any tiles that you wish), in an attempt to "link" two cities. Track costs $2,000 per hex ($3,000 if the hex contains water or a water droplet icon, $4,000 if it is a mountain hex with a white dot). You place one of your locomotives on the track you've built, to indicate that you control this section of track. If you can't complete a link one round because the distance is more than four tiles, you can leave it unfinished and conclude the link on the next round, as long as you complete the link before the end of the third and last round of a turn. You'll also be keeping an eye out for creating a series of your links that will join two more distant cities, in order to claim the extra points from a Major Line! In most cases, you'll be looking to create links that will let you deliver goods cubes of a certain colour to a city of a matching colour.
● Deliver Goods Cube: You can deliver a goods cube from one city to another city, and this is the main way to get points in the game. To do this, you must move the good to a city that is the same color as the cube being delivered, e.g. a black cube can only be delivered to a black city. You also must have an engine of a level at least as high as the number of links you plan to use, so for example if you wish to transport a black cube three links, you need at least a level 3 engine. Note: you can't lengthen the delivery route by making cubes pass through the same city twice or travel along the same link twice; a cube also can't pass through a city of its matching colour, but must be delivered there. You earn points on the income track for the amount of links you use to deliver a cube. Obviously the further you deliver goods and the more links you use, the more points you get - so usually you'll try to upgrade your engine and build up a network of track that will allow you to do multi-link deliveries! You can even use a link owned by another player (as long is it's not the first link used for a delivery), but then that player will get the point for that link of the delivery instead of you. If you move the last goods cube out of a city, you place an empty city marker in that city.
● Upgrade Engine: Your engine level dictates how many links you can use for delivering a cube, and since you start with a level 1 engine, you can initially only deliver a cube across one link. To upgrade your engine and make further deliveries (which will earn more points), you pay the cost of the newer model, and replace your older model with the new engine placard. You can only upgrade one level at a time. Upgrading your train becomes more and more expensive as you get to the higher level engines.
● Take Railroad Operations Card: As one of your actions you can take one of the face-up Railroad Operations cards - many of which will give you bonus points or make things cheaper to build. Cards with a Red "X" must be used immediately and then discarded. Cards with a "hand of cards" icon can be kept until needed for a one-time use later in the game. Cards with a infinity icon (Hotels) give a permanent benefit for the rest of the game. Note that the Railroad Operations cards with a green circle icon can't be selected, but give an immediate benefit when a player achieves the goal printed on those cards.
● Urbanize: This action enables you to change a gray city into a coloured one, and thus deliver cubes of that colour here. But it's expensive - $10,000! After paying the cost, you put a "New City" tile of your choice on any gray city, and also add two random goods cubes to that city. Note that there is a cheaper way to do this - the "New Industry" Railroads Operations card lets you do the same thing for free! If this card comes up and players want to Urbanize, you can be sure there will be some competition during the auction for first player - you'll still be ahead even if the auction costs you more than $5,000!
Phase 3: Income and Dividends
After three rounds (i.e. all players have had three actions), it's time to collect your income! You get the amount of income (in dollars) on the space that your locomotive is on the income track. But you must also pay "bond dividends" - a cost of $1,000 for each bond you have issued! Obviously you don't want to have too many bonds!
After income and dividends have been paid, you turn a new Railroad Operations card face-up, and start the next turn with another auction for first player.
Game End & Scoring
Triggering the end: The end of the game is triggered when a certain number of empty city markers have been placed. The number depends on the expansion map being used, and the amount of players. With the Japan map from Railways of Nippon, it is 10/12/14 empty city markers for games with 2/3/4 players respectively.
Final turn: But now here's the interesting part: the game does not end immediately when the last empty city marker is placed. Instead, that turn is completed, and one final turn is played. This makes timing the end of the game very important! You need to keep in mind that the game won't end immediately, but that everyone will get at least three more actions on their final turn, plus however actions remain on the turn when the last empty city marker is placed. This is a great tactical mechanic that keeps things interesting and tense, and requires skilful play to prepare for.
Scoring: Once the final turn is completed, you calculate final scores. Your score is the place your locomotive is on the scoreboard, with the following changes:
● your score increases: add to your score if you have completed the long term objective listed on your Railroad Baron card
● your score decreases: subtract from your score the amount of bond certificates you have
New to the game? Here are some basic strategic hints to get you started:
• Watch your debt. You'll need some bonds at the start of the game to get going, but it's usually better to progress slowly within your means rather than take out too many bonds for long deliveries early in the game.
• Strike early. Try to be the first player to get to all-important cities or win critical Railways Operations cards.
• Win important auctions. Early in the game it can be worthwhile paying considerable amounts to be the first player, especially if it means you'll get bonus points from a key route, delivery, or card. If the player on your right goes first, sometimes there's an almost equal reward in going second.
• Plan your first routes carefully. Try to build your first links in an area where there are goods that match nearby cities, ideally in places that will allow you to do one-link and two-link deliveries with the first few links that you build.
• Have long-term strategies. Try to combine your short term goals with long term strategies that earn you bonus points from your Railroad Baron, and especially from Major Lines.
• Prioritize which goods to deliver. Goods that only you are in a position to deliver can wait, whereas it's important to deliver first any `at risk' goods that your opponents could also deliver.
One wonderful thing about this game is that if you play on a different map, it becomes a whole different experience. Take the same gameplay but just add a different map, and you have a whole new range of challenges and fun! Since the game has been going strongly for more than a decade, there are some wonderful expansion maps that are available separately.
The only downside of the Railways of Nippon base game is that it only comes with components for 2-4 player games. Some of these maps are significantly larger, and work best with 5-6 players, so that will mean picking up extra trains or track (both available separately from the publisher), or picking up the Railways of the World base game, which also comes with the scoreboard needed for these other maps. But let's just give you a quick overview of all the extra goodies currently available for this series right now.
Railways of the Eastern US
The alternative form of the base game, Railways of the World, comes with two maps: a massive Eastern US map, and a smaller Mexico map that is similar in size to the Japan map. This is the game that was originally produced under the name Railroad Tycoon in 2005, which was re-implemented as Railways of the World in 2009 and had a reprint with some cosmetic improvements in 2010. A 10th anniversary edition was produced in 2018 at the same time as Railways of Nippon and is the definitive edition of this game.
The Eastern US map is a popular favourite for many, and features some fascinating asymmetrical dynamics that produces fierce competition in the north-east corridor of the map.
Want to learn more? See my pictorial reviews:
• The re-implementation of Railroad Tycoon and how it compares with the original
• The quintessential train game for the average modern gamer
• The 2010 reprint of Railways of the World
• The 10th anniversary edition of my favourite train game
Railways of Mexico
The original Railroad Tycoon only included a map of the Eastern US, but when this was implemented as Railways of the World in 2009, the publishers included a map of Mexico in the base game, with the name Railways of Mexico. A further reprint of the game in 2010 added Railroad Operations cards for this map, to make it even better still. The 10th anniversary edition produced in 2017 made component upgrades to the entire game, including new artwork for the Mexico map, and much improved graphic design for all the cards.
The Mexico map is a great addition to the series, and especially makes the game ideal for lower player counts. The amount of mountainous territory to build tracks through can make for a challenging and financially tense game with tough decisions about the amount of bonds to take out.
Want to learn more? See my pictorial reviews:
• Hopping aboard Railroad Tycoon's Mexican train
• The separately available Railways of Mexico expansion (now including cards)
Railways of Europe
A Europe map was already published in 2008, and underwent several tweaks over time. Several new rules appeared in this expansion for the first time, such as permanent major lines, more choice for Railroad Baron cards, new Railroad Operation cards, clearer hex classification and costs, and improved component quality. Most of these changes and improvements were taken over when Railroad Tycoon was re-implemented as Railways of the World in 2009, and became the new base game for the series. When the 10th anniversary edition of the Railways of the World base game was produced in 2017, the entire series received a complete overhaul and upgrade, and this included the Europe expansion, which was reprinted with a new and improved artwork and graphic design.
The Europe map is particularly ideal for 3-4 players, although it can be played just fine with only 2 players as well. It is an excellent alternative to the Eastern U.S. map, and if you are looking for a change of pace, adding this expansion to the base game will give more variety, balance, scalability, and challenge. The layout of the cities and terrain is more symmetrical, and because the cities are more sparse and building track is more costly, it offers a tighter and tougher game that proves very rewarding and fun to play.
Want to learn more? See my pictorial review:
• My favourite train game gets a fantastic upgrade!
• The 10th anniversary Railways of the World reprint of the Europe expansion
Railways of Great Britain
Railways of Great Britain was released by Eagle Games in 2013 and is an expansion map that re-implements and effectively replaces the Railways of England and Wales expansion that was produced earlier and which is now out of print. It removes the advanced stock-market version of the game, which was largely panned by critics anyway, and just gives us the England map, with a couple of cosmetic tweaks to the first printing. The Great Britain expansion received a further makeover in 2017, when the entire series was upgraded for the 10th anniversary edition of the base game. The map and cards were reprinted with new artwork, new graphic design, and additional clarifications and improvements.
The Great Britain map continues to be a map of choice that is well suited when playing with less experienced players, due to the fact that it has a lot of shorter links, and thus it's possible to build up a profitable network without the same level of tight finances as some of the other maps. Like the other maps, it's a fine addition to a wonderful series!
Want to learn more? See my pictorial reviews:
• The second coming of Railways of England & Wales
• The 10th anniversary Railways of the World reprint of the Great Britain expansion
Railways of Western US
Designed by Rick Holzgrafe and first released in 2010, the Railways of the Western U.S. expansion offers a great alternative to the Eastern US map from the base game when playing with a full complement of 5-6 players. When the entire series was upgraded in 2018 for the 10th anniversary edition of the base game, both the Western US map and all the cards were reprinted with improvements and clarifications.
Fans of the game will appreciate having a second map to play on, including the fact that it seems to be somewhat more balanced and less asymmetrical than the Eastern US map with its decisive north-east corridor. New Major Lines along with some new Railroad Operation and new Baron cards all add up to a new and fresh experience! Perhaps of greatest interest to long-time players of the game are the possibilities this expansion opened up for being played alongside the Eastern US map in a transcontinental game. Some additional components are needed to make this work, and the subsequent Railways of North America expansion included the new Operations and Baron cards necessary for this epic coast-to-coast game.
The Western US expansion also introduced two new optional aspects to the gameplay of Railways of the World, which can also be used in other expansions: rotor cities (which enable cities to demand two types of goods), and fuel depots (which offer new possibilities for delivering goods over longer distances).
Want to learn more? See my pictorial review:
• First Impressions as the Railways of the World series heads West!
• The 10th anniversary Railways of the World reprint of the Western US expansion
Railways of North America
One of the newest expansions is Railways of North America, which adds two new and separate options for the game, firstly a map of Canada, and secondly rules and components for transcontinental games.
The Canada map is a smaller map that is especially good for 2-4 players, and introduces a few new elements to the game. The first is a snow line, which runs horizontally across the map, and comes with higher building costs when building track above it. Also new are Mines and Ferries, Mines being an additional way to get goods at a city, and Ferries being required to build on a few special "Ferry" spaces that are on the map. The 10th anniversary reprint of this expansion included some snowy track tiles as a nice thematic touch, and also upgraded the graphic design of the map, along with clarifications and improvements to the cards.
The transcontinental game requires the Eastern US and Western US maps, but this expansion does come with some additional components you'll need for this (e.g. Railroad Operation cards, Railroad Baron cards), and a new income and score track.
Want to learn more? See my pictorial review:
• Railways of the World goes to Canada and goes Transcontinental
• The 10th anniversary Railways of the World reprint of the North America expansion
Railways Through Time
Designed by a long time fan and experienced player of the game, Charlie Bink, Railways Through Time adds an entirely new dimension to the game: time travel. While the basic gameplay and pick-up and deliver mechanism of the Railways of the World series is retained, players are now able to deliver goods across different eight eras in time, 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 depends on the number of players, so it's very scalable.
The concept doesn't drastically alter the original form or feel of the game, but it does create a very different and fun experience by offering new possibilities for deliveries, while retaining most of the things we love about the base game. It's a good choice for fans wanting a twist on the original.
Want to learn more? See my pictorial review:
• Railways of the World successfully enters the Fourth Dimension by adding time travel
Railways of Antarctica
As a stretch goal when making the 10th anniversary edition of Railways of the World, the publisher produced a special bonus map, Railways of Antarctica. Two separate scenarios exist for the Antarctica board, both of which were created by winners of a contest sponsored by the publisher.
There's not a lot to see here, besides a whole lot of snow and ice - but that will change once you start adding track and trains. It's a novel idea that makes it worth exploring at least once. But just like real life, Antarctica isn't likely a continent most players will visit often, but it is a nice option for something totally different.
Want to learn more? See my pictorial review:
• The Railways of the World franchise heads to Antarctica
Railways of Portugal (Forthcoming)
Railways of Portugal is a planned expansion that is scheduled to go up on Kickstarter around January 2019. This expansion map has been created by popular designer Vital Lacerda. Does that mean that the Railways of the World series will be going in a new direction somehow? Only time will tell, and we'll have to wait until next year to find out!
In conjunction with the Kickstarter project for the Railways of North America expansion, several mini-expansions were also made available. With the 10th anniversary reprint these were produced in improved colours matching the trains for both Railways of the World and Railways of Nippon. These mini-expansions are beautiful plastic miniatures that look the same as the empty city markers, but match the player colours, and have a new game-related function as follows:
Fuel Depots represent a refuelling point at a city, and you can temporarily leave a cube there and deliver it elsewhere on your next action.
Mines work in the same way as the Mine cards from the Railways of North America expansion; they cost $10,000 and give cubes.
Switch Tracks let players make a Y connection from a city connection at a cost of $5,000.
Hotels serve as visual reminders of cities for which players have acquired a Hotel card from the Railroad Operations deck.
Want to learn more? See my pictorial review:
• The Mini-Expansions for Railways of the World
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. It consists of a deck of 50 cards, which introduce different random events to the game. 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 a turn warning about the next event, so you can plan accordingly. There's nothing game-changing here, but consider it to be extra spice for fans looking to add something new to the game.
Want to learn more? See my pictorial review:
• Adding spice to my favourite train game!
What do I think?
I admit that I'm biased about this game. Why? Well I love it! But that's what you want isn't it - a subjective review? You want to hear me gush, enthuse, and wax poetic about games I enjoy and why I enjoy them! So let me gush, and I'll let you drool! What is it about Railways of Nippon and Railways of the World that makes them so successful and likeable? Here are some things to love about this game and this series:
● I love the theme. You're building track. You're delivering goods. You're using trains. This game has injected thematic elements that surpass what we see in many euros, because unlike many other euros, the theme is not pasted on, but the game is built around the theme. And it's a good one!
● I love the components. The visual appeal of the over-the-top components shouldn't be under-estimated. How can you not like the colourful trains, expansive maps and track tiles, and empty city markers? Seeing the board come to life as track is built and claimed with locomotives, and as cities are urbanized and empty city markers placed, is both captivating, thematic, and extremely satisfying to look at! By the end of the game, your table will look like a miniature railroad - even though you've been playing a game! This is immensely rewarding, and even if you lose the game, you'll still feel a sense of accomplishment at having built up your own functioning miniature model railroad!
● I love the game-play. It's a really good game! It's fundamentally economic driven, but there's room for players to develop different strategies, given that there are both long-term and short-term goals that give incentives for earning points. The value of these incentives changes, but the auction for starting player helps the players decide how much they are worth at any point of the game.
● I love the rules. It's really not a complicated game. Looks can be deceiving - but despite appearances and size, this game is not intimidating to learn. I've played it with 12 year olds, who were able to play without difficulty and really enjoy the game. The rules really aren't too difficult, and it's quite easy to get into the game after a few rounds, even for a new player, since the mechanics are quite straight forward, while still offering different strategies to explore each game.
● I love the depth. It's not too deep and unforgiving like Age of Steam, which is more of a brain-burner. Some people prefer this more demanding style of play - I don't. But the Railways of the World series gets the mix just right - it's not as casual or light as Ticket to Right, but not as tough or brutal as big brother Age of Steam. The ultimate winner is more often than not determined by strategic play, but it's still somewhat forgiving, and there are just enough random elements to make it interesting and give some margin for error or catching up, since it's not a system that enables calculation of infallible and optimal efficiency. For the typical gamer, it's a perfect cocktail of strategy and fun! I can even seeing some non-gamers being drawn in by it!
● I love the interaction. There's constant interaction (e.g. bidding for starting player, competition for routes and goals), but for the most part it's not fiercely confrontational, but more a matter of indirectly competing for certain cubes or links. There can be frustrating moments when another player beats you to delivering a cube or accomplishing a goal before you, but there's no nastiness of the sort where you can destroy railroads of other players, although there are some limited opportunities to play mean and try to cut off another player's railroad. The kind of interaction that this game offers is just what most gamers are looking for.
● I love the building. As you play the game, you get a definite feeling that you're building something. Even if you lose by the game end, you've got the satisfaction of admiring a network of tracks and links you've built up. It's like a civilization building game, except that you're just building your own little empire of railroad track, and win or lose, you can sit back after a game with a certain measure of accomplishment.
● I love the length. Most times you can finish a game in 2-3 hours. That makes it perfect for a relaxing evening! And yet within that time-frame, there's a real feeling of playing something epic and expansive.
● I love the fun. I know I'm not alone when I say that playing this game is pure, unadulterated fun. For the typical gamer, there's so much here that just makes it gaming nirvana. It's immersive, challenging, and although train games like Age of Steam are technically more tense and more pure, they are also more work (which some people will like), whereas the Railways of the World series is less cut-throat and just more plain old-fashioned fun.
● I love the expansions. The whole system is so expandable and flexible, and there's lots of different maps you can play with. Most gamers will love this variety, because it gives the opportunity to enjoy the same game in a different setting.
● I love the improvements. Since it originally came out as Railroad Tycoon in 2005, there have been several small improvements to the game-play which have fine-tuned a very good game and turned it into something excellent. This is also true of the components - since the 10th anniversary printing has resulted in a game that is outstanding on the level of components as well as game-play.
● I love the replayability. The random cube distribution at the start of each game makes every game different. Plus you get different long term goals, depending on which Railroad Baron cards you get, and which Railroad Operations appear and when. There's a small element of luck, but the primary role of randomness helps increase the replay value, and makes every game you play a different challenge. I'm not sick of playing this game by a long shot yet!
Why should you consider this series?
Is Railways of Nippon or Railways of the World for you, and why should you consider these titles and this series?
First of all, this series 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, and an even more polished edition with the 10th anniversary edition.
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.
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.
Where should you start?
Not only is the original Railroad Tycoon out of print, but it's also obsolete, given that it has been re-implemented and improved as Railways of the World. The 2010 reprint of Railways of the World comes with corrected and improved components, but the best version to get is easily the 10th anniversary edition produced in 2018, which has upgraded components, clarified cards, and a revised rulebook. This base game has a Mexico map and cards for 2-3 player games, and an Eastern US map and cards for 4-6 player games.
Another starting point is Railways of Nippon, which is an alternative base game that comes with all the components needed to play, including a smaller Japan map and cards for 2-4 player games. However if you want to branch out later to expansions on larger maps for 5-6 players, you will need to buy some extra components, e.g. more trains, track tiles, and scoreboard (for details, see this thread). All of these are available separately from the publisher, but it does make Railways of the World a better starting point if you think you'll be getting expansions later.
As far as expansions go, Railways of the Western U.S. offers a similar experience to the Eastern US map, by providing an alternate map for a similar number of players. For the same feel of game but for 3-4 players, the Europe and England maps are ideal, with the Railways of Europe map providing a tougher and tenser game, and the Railways of Great Britain an easier game since cities are close together. For another smaller map, try Railways of North America, which comes with a map of Canada and has some special rules about a snow belt.
For an entirely different take on the game system, try the Railways Through Time expansion, which adds the idea of time travel. This is fully customizable and scalable by enabling players to select a combination of smaller maps and transporting goods between them, and gives the same game-play a whole new flavour. 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. Railways Express is more for younger children, and not recommended for strategy gamers.
What do others think?
Railways of the World has over several straight pages of "10" ratings, and you only need to read the 200+ comments that go along with these to see some of the enthusiasm this game has generated. But what about the new Nippon map and base game? It's still early days, since it's still a relatively new release, but here are some of the comments about it so far:
"A fantastic new entry-point into the Railways of the World series: all of the incredible production value and world-class gameplay in a slightly more accessible package ... a tremendous addition to the series." - gameshowman
"Great game & well designed map." - Scofield_Uberjam
"Very, very nicely done Eagle-Gryphon. Nice to play on a much smaller map." - jimdauphinais
"Great version of RotW! One of the best games out there, in my opinion. I'm excited to be able to play 2-4 players ... a lot of fun." - criedmightier
"This is an excellent version of the Railways of the World System." - randywilburn
"Very nice production ... it scratches the route building and pick up and deliver itch." - svalladolid
"Great iteration of the Railroad Tycoon family." - Eryops
"A train game that looks more difficult than it is. I was surprised how easy the rules are and how smooth it is to play and pick-up. The production is great, thick cardboard nice plastic trains and empty city markers." - Fausticus1
And how does the Japan map specifically compare with other maps? Here's what some experienced players have to say so far:
"Quick, but tight map for 2-4p." - bkunes
"Terrain matters on this one, as there's virtually no open terrain hexes ... makes this map a challenging nightmare!" - Boss Trojan
"Tough terrain but short distances between cities." - donlyn
"Easier to get started with this version than the original Railroad Tycoon as the cities are closer together. The map is also smaller and fits on my table." - Kenfeldman
"Cities are quite close together on this map, so it's quite easy to create affordable, short links between 2 cities. This map will give you a longer game, as you need quite a lot of empty city markers before the game ends." - ozman
"The money is not nearly as tight as other maps unless you get in a race to complete something before another player." - grovermerc
"Love the new map colors and layout. Money seems a little too easy to get. Cannot wait till we play again." - isearch
"The map still felt tight enough even with 2 relatively non-confrontational players." - nyfilmfest
"Wow, this is a nasty, small and vicious map if you play it with four." - PzVIE
"Great tight map. Lots of fun with 3 players." - mystemo
In most cases games are a matter of taste, but the delectable taste offered by Is Railways of Nippon and the rest of the Railways of the World series is so delightful that few can resist it, and it's really something that hits my sweet spot. This is a game that will please a wide variety of gamers, and there's good reason that this has been in the BGG Top 100 games ever since it first came out more than 10 years ago. Components, theme, game-play, replayability - this series has it all.
So where should you start? Ideally pick up the 10th anniversary printing of the game, and either get Railways of Nippon or Railways of the World, given that these come with the most polished rules and upgraded components. From there you can always branch out into expansions. Railways of Nippon only comes with components for 2-4 player games, so if you think that you'll eventually be picking up expansions for 5-6 player games, Railways of the World might be the best place to start. But the extra components needed for games with more players are available separately, so starting with Railways of Nippon to see if you like the game isn't a bad decision as such - plus you get some trains in cool colours different from those that come with the other base game.
If you've moved past the gateways into the world of boardgames, then don't be put off by the lavish production or the size and weight of these boxes. This is a game for your typical gamer - more so than Age of Steam, and more so than gateway games like Ticket to Ride. It really is the typical gamer's ultimate train game, so if you can find a way to get your hands on this quintessential train game, definitely consider picking up Railways of Nippon or Railways of the World. It's still as good a game as when it first came out, and now with the 10th anniversary edition and reprint of the entire series, plus a new Japan map, it's even better!
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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- Last edited Fri Sep 7, 2018 3:17 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Sep 6, 2018 7:37 am
Have games, Will travel
Gosh Ender, you out did yourself again! What a comprehensive review!
(stands up... starts clapping)
You’ve made a die-hard FFG Ameritrash nerd want this game, and that’s an achievement.
I’m also so glad to see more of your normal reviews. Recently you seem to have delved into playing cards etc, and I have missed reading your wonderfully comprehensive and beautifully pictorial reviews.
I absolutely HATE you!
You've made me waste (invest?) so much dough in this series over the years.
You've reviewed all of them!
I also Hate that your user name is Ender. I Hate that book and everything that author has written, as much as I hate Railways of the World.
Seriously, thanks for being a Railways/OSC fan! This game has so many memories in my family for time well spent together. I'm in India and we love train games.
Funfact: After one play, we've never gone back to Ticket to Ride again. Even to newbies whom I'd show maps of both this (and the East/West US) , they were willing to sit through rules explanation because 100% of them were enamored by the big map and top notch components.
I love RotW, and have the middle version. Now I need Nippon!
Any clue as to whether the Portugal expansion KS is going to provide a platform to go 'all-in'? I don't have any of the games yet but have played Railways of GB once and loved it. The Escape Plan KS has RotW 10th + RoN + Railways of GB maps but not everything so far like the all-in pledge for RotW.
Any clue as to whether the Portugal expansion KS is going to provide a platform to go 'all-in'?
$300.00 with free US shipping.
Any clue as to whether the Portugal expansion KS is going to provide a platform to go 'all-in'?
$300.00 with free US shipping.
Yes, that equates to $430 AUD plus international shipping. Ouch! There's a lot of stuff there but I'm not sure I'll get everything.