Wednesday 18 March 2015

Review - Rail/Road


Designed by Frank Dyksterhuis and Mark Wood
Published by Dr Wood Challenge Centre
For 2 players, aged... Hell, I dunno. Doesn't even say on the box.

I don't find toilets particularly interesting...


Man. That's a weird way to start a review, even by my standards.

Ah well, here goes...

I don't find toilets particularly interesting. I appreciate how all the little bits and bobs inside them work together to make a functional device. I just don't find that device particularly exciting.

I mean, there are many ingenious ways in which a toilet could function, but in most cases, the designers of toilets go for a simple solution.

A bog-standard solution, if you will.

And if I'm being honest, that's for the best. Most functional items should be simple. They should have a defined purpose that they achieve with the minimum of fuss. Sure, it might be nice at first if your toilet summoned a magical unicorn-riding elf, but honestly, there are only so many times you can clean hoof prints out of the carpet before it gets tiresome.

However, there are many products in the world that could be likened to toilets, but which should really be aiming for something better. Things that, from a mechanical point of view, work as intended, but which ultimately are a bit boring. Fast food, for example... Food that is indeed fast, and which looks a bit like food, but which is almost always bland, uninspiring slop that no sane person would put in his or her mouth.

And then there is Rail/Road, a game that could be the poster child for board game toilets.

Rail/Road box
Witness the arrival of Metatron...

Frankly, I don't even know where to start trying to review this game, which seems to have done everything in its power to take the fun out of functional.

Actually, yes I do... I'll start with the box art.


It is the most unusual mishmash of clipart I've ever seen. It actually looks like a prototype mock-up. There is a man in a hat, and he is staring at a woman in a hat, and behind them a derailed train is crashing into a car, and... And I just made the art sound a lot more exciting than it really is.

It's just awful.

The back of the box says Rail/Road takes place in a land "far, far away," and I suspect that could be where the artist spends a good deal of his time.

When you pick up the box, the first thing you will notice (after the hideous artwork) is how heavy it is despite the small size. That is because the game is entirely made of wood. You get 50 wooden tiles (25 railways and 25 roads) and a wooden board with a raised lip that holds the tiles in place.

Rail/Road components
Some motorists are about to have a very bad day...

Unfortunately, it is one of those rare products that is made with high-quality components yet still manages to look and feel cheap.

I have to assume the amount of wood in the game is the reason the publisher is called Dr Wood (which sounds like someone who should team up with Dr Hook to make a nice line in hat racks).

Anyway, the game itself is pretty simple, and yes... functional. The box claims it is a battle to connect civilisation, but really it's just a two-player abstract tile-laying game.

The aim is straight-forward enough. One player has the rail tiles, and the other has the road tiles, and they alternate turns placing one of their tiles on the board. Each tile shows a section of road or rail, with up to six connections, and when placing a tile, the only rule is that it must connect with a tile already in play. The weird bit? It doesn't matter if it connects to a road or a rail, and it doesn't matter if other connections lead to dead ends. As long as at least one connection joins up with a connection on any other tile, it's all good.

And that's pretty much it. Players take turns placing tiles, matching connections, and trying to close off sections of the board, which stops the other player from placing tiles there. When no further tiles can be placed, each player adds up all the connections on his or her unplayed tiles, and the person with the lowest total is the winner.

Rail/Road rules
Would you be surprised to find the rules are badly written?

Really, it couldn't be more bog-standard if it tried.

Everything works. It is a game.

It is functional.

But I honestly can't recommend this to anyone. There is nothing there that lifts it above the competition. There is nothing to breathe excitement into the game.

You just put down tiles until you can't put down tiles.

Rail/Road tiles
Dr Wood, with these tiles you are really spoiling us...

If you like artwork that is functional without being attractive, tiles that are serviceable without being high-quality, and mechanisms that allow you to do stuff on your turn without generating any kind of entertainment, well then... You might like Rail/Road.

You probably like fast food too.

And I bet you don't have a magic unicorn in your toilet.

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