The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Russian Railways — бездушный

I’ve been hearing Russian Railways described as a game I’d like. After ducking it a few times just to show everyone whose boss I finally played it last night. And the describers are partially right, this is a game that was in my wheelhouse about 4-7 years ago, when worker placement games ruled the earth like Tyrannosaurus Rex terrorizing bigger dinosaurs despite their bizarre tendency to constantly soak their hands in a small soap dish (to keep them supple).

But these days are not those of legend. Oh, we all remember the heady days the gnashing of teeth after you placed a worker was a new sound, but now we hear but the gentle smacking of gums. So now a worker placement game has to leap through hoops to prove itself by topping the legends of the genre.

And Russian Railways does no such thing. It is not a bad design, but the exact same action went first each round (Strike). Some actions are just superior to others (pet peeve). Granting people their own personal action in a worker placement game seems frought with danger, from a design perspective. Throwing a Feldian soup on top of the game may or may not be a good choice, but I don’t care for it. And frankly, the idea that the start is balanced by gifting the last player four extra victory points (winning score, ~350) demands scoffing.

(After I played it I tried another game of Impulse, which still seems like a broken down electric car in 1050 AD. Sure, it just sits there, but its mere existence commands attention. I may break down and get a copy. Both games suffer from Analysis Paralysis; but Impulse is faster, more streamlined, and full of chutzpah. Even if it borrows heavily from his other designs).

But back to Russian Railways — A dry game, with a workmanlike design that seems several years old, coupled with lots of ways to gain points.  And, as my one word review indicates, soulless. Indifferent.


Written by taogaming

August 12, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Reviews

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14 Responses

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  1. Agreed, although I liked it maybe a little more than you – but it’s soulless.

    I would be curious to know what you think are the greats in the worker placement genre. There are only a few I really like and think of as classics: Tribune, Waterdeep, Pillars of the Earth. I enjoyed Agricola and Le Havre for a while, but neither could really cut it in the long run. I’m sure there is something I’m missing, but those are the only 3 I came up with.

    Chris Farrell

    August 12, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    • The greats? Caylus (which I tried to get a game of on monday, and failed. Haven’t played in years, but that’s because I’ve played 100+ times). I think Agricola is a bit random, but counts as great. I think Le Havre doesn’t have enough replayability. Neither Pillars, Tribune or Waterdeep grabbed me.

      I think Caylus Magna Carta isn’t quite great, but I think the luck makes it a much better game for me to play than Caylus (against new players). I rather like Walnut Grove, but its just solidly good.


      August 13, 2014 at 9:15 pm

  2. This is pretty much the exact argument that would definitively convince me I can pass on this. Thanks, now I can feel justified in ducking it repeatedly myself!


    August 12, 2014 at 8:51 pm

  3. Too bad. It’s my game of the year in what was, for me, a very strong year. I expect it will do very well in the year-end award season and I’ll actually be pretty shocked if it doesn’t win the DSP (at least). A lot of the things you consider bugs I consider features (within the framework of this particular design), but I guess we just see things differently. The theme is non-existent, but that never bothers me. Guess SASE is in the eye of the beholder.

    Meanwhile, I’m kind of staggered by the thought that Lords of Waterdeep is a classic *anything*, but hey, what do I know!


    August 12, 2014 at 9:16 pm

  4. SASE? That still means “self-addressed stamped envelope” to me!

    Eric Brosius

    August 13, 2014 at 6:24 am

  5. Was very curious to see your thoughts, after swinging by on Monday night! And seeing you guys playing. Had a feeling that soulless/JASE were terms you were going to use to describe it. And i wholeheartedly agree. I played this at BGGcon last year at midnight, so I was open to the fact that maybe I was just too tired. Still, the guys at the table were enjoying it A LOT more than I was, and I just couldn’t figure out why. I couldn’t get past the idea that all I was doing was moving these track pieces like a caterpillar moves, and not building train routes. On top of that, it felt like Trajan or Bora Bora (Feldian soup) where you are constantly earning little achivements for almost every play you make, which makes it hard to assess how well you are doing or come up with a strategy that is superior to others…because again, it seems like everything scores you points.


    August 13, 2014 at 7:00 am

  6. The only worker placement game I really enjoy is Tribune (preferably with expansion). The rest of the genre feels plodding, soulless and/or painfully at odds with their theme (hi Agricola!). Having said that Russian Railways didn’t bother me to a particularly great extent.


    August 13, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    • Wow…me, too. I thought I was alone with that opinion. On the other hand, if you call Kingsburg or Last Will worker placement, I like those, too, but I don’t think of them as worker placement games.


      August 13, 2014 at 6:49 pm

      • I’d definitely call Kingsburg worker placement. Last Will is an interesting case. I’d say it isn’t since there’s only 2-3 placements per player per turn and a great deal of the action occurs outside of those placements. If it is categorized as WP then add it to the small list of ones I like.


        August 14, 2014 at 11:20 am

    • Well, the main points of botheration are the things that feel like poor design choices and fiddlyness.


      August 13, 2014 at 9:17 pm

  7. “Oh, we all remember the heady days the gnashing of teeth after you placed a worker was a new sound, but now we hear but the gentle smacking of gums.” Wonderful summary with humo(u)rous imagery, should be a header for your next geeklist of the worker placement mechanism.

    Nick Stables

    August 13, 2014 at 9:26 pm

  8. Re: frunk “[Last Will]] has only a 2-3 placements”…Kingsburg has 1-3 per player per turn. And probably the biggest decisions occur outside of that, though the feel of the game is very much about getting your workers down before someone blocks you. Last Will also has actions and card management. Kingsburg also has buying buildings/VPs, resource management, and fighting enemies. Upon reflection, they are remarkably similar games. To within sign.


    August 14, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    • In Kingsburg the biggest decisions are outside of placement because you are at the mercy of your dice as far as the decisions you can make in placement. In Last Will the first placement is sort of a meta-placement since it determines the number and precedence of your other placements (as well as card draws). In that sense it isn’t really a typical worker placement since there aren’t equivalent choices available to any following placements. I don’t think there’s a similar mechanism in any other game.


      August 14, 2014 at 3:45 pm

  9. I think the thing I like about Russian Railroads is the acceleration of point acquiring. In round 1, you score 5 points, in round 2 you score 15, in 3 you get to 40… by the end of the game you can score 140 per round or more. That triggers the “I’m doing well” response in my brain. The “engine” you’re building starts to combo efficiently where at the beginning you’re just scraping by.

    With that and the crazy over-powered Bonus actions, the game combines the “too much to do, not enough workers to do it” feel of worker placement with the dopamine rush of slot machine or pachinko BONUS rounds…


    August 19, 2014 at 11:44 am

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