Railroad Ink Challenge

Developer: Horrible Guild
Publisher: Horrible Guild
Steam / Google Play / iOS

Reviewed on Android (Google Play)

The Bottom Line: Whether you’re looking for a daily challenge or an occasional match with friends, this digital board game adaption delivers the goods.

I enjoy board games – competitive and cooperative, physical and digital. While not all board games make a clean transition to the digital realm, those that do can be just as much fun as their real-world counterparts, while also offering a chance to hang out with distant friends and family who live far away. The best part? After you’re done playing a digital board game, there’s no mess to clean up!

Fortunately for us, Railroad Ink Challenge makes the move from board to screen largely intact. A game about connections, Railroad Ink Challenge assigns players the task of building a transit network. At the beginning of the game, each player gets a 7×7 board with origin points for roads and rail around its edges. Players then roll dice, the sides of which show highways and tracks in various shapes, such as straightaways and T-junctions. Drawing these shapes on their boards, players try to complete as many entry-to-exit routes on their boards as they can before hitting the turn limit.

Roll ’em and weep

The fun in Railroad Ink Challenge comes in no small part from the joy of creating. Although all players start with the same board and use the same pool of shapes, by the end of the game no two players’ boards will look the same. Every turn, you have to balance the opportunity of opening up new potential routes with the immediate benefit of completing existing partial routes. Because there are many variables involved and dice are fickle creatures, all you can do is start laying the most sensible route available and hope for the best.

Asynchronous Anonymous

One big difference between the original board game and its digital edition is the handling of multiplayer. In the original, everyone looks at the dice and draws their maps simultaneously. The digital version, in contrast, employs asynchronous multiplayer. The app makes all the dice rolls before the game starts, and every player is allowed to play through the turns at his or her own pace.

While this change eliminates the thrill of drawing each new set of dice rolls concurrently, it does allow players with mismatched time zones or schedules to compete against each other. Personally, I enjoy playing asynchronous games as a means of keeping in touch with old friends. Why reach out and ask “How’ve you been?” when instead you can crush your buddy’s spirit with a decisive 52-point victory?

There are also daily challenges that let you test your mettle against players all around the world. Every day the game presents a new board with custom rules – a kind of brain teaser, similar to a crossword puzzle or Sudoku. After you finish it, you can see how your score stacks up against everyone else’s.

My avatar is from your favorite Star Trek knockoff

My biggest issue with the daily challenge mode is that, unlike regular multiplayer, it doesn’t use predetermined dice rolls. While all players do roll the same digital dice, the outcomes of those rolls are different for every player. That means to maximize your score you may need to play multiple times just to get the right rolls. I don’t feel this is a deal breaker, as the challenges are still fun even when lady luck isn’t on your side, but if you’re serious about reaching the top of the leaderboard you may find the random element frustrating.

Just Deserts (and Forests)

On the other hand, I appreciate that the daily challenges occasionally implement rules from the game’s expansion packs, and even let you participate even if you haven’t purchased the relevant expansion. This is a rather ingenious move by the developers – the DLC will seem more alluring after you’ve had a little sip.

As of this writing, Railroad Ink Challenge has two expansions: Forest and Desert. The Forest expansion gives you points for creating large, unbroken forests, while the Desert expansion requires you to strategically place oases and cacti to beat the heat. Will there be more expansions? The physical board game has many dice sets that haven’t been ported yet, so it’s possible more will come. Whether they do or not remains to be seen, but I for one would love to see the Blazing Red edition that features lava and meteors. (Confession: my real dream is to see an expansion that includes Bowser attacks, as in SimCity for SNES.)

Doing my best John Henry impression

The game does feature a short tutorial that can get you up to speed on how to play. As is the case with many board game tutorials, this one overloads the player with information. You may find you have better luck just diving into one of the other modes and figuring out the rules as you go. The in-game manual contains everything you need to know, and after a few rounds you’ll develop a basic understanding of the different ways points are scored.

Railroad Ink Challenge captures the essence of the original, while making the game more convenient for folks with busy lives. Although I don’t foresee myself participating in the challenges every day, they are an enjoyable way to pass a spare moment here and there. If you enjoy board games or want a daily hit of brain munchies, Railroad Ink Challenge may be just what the conductor ordered.

Reviewed on Android (Google Play)

Rating: 84 of 100 Pixels

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