In 2020 Horrible Guild turned to Kickstarter to initially release 7 expansion packs for their epic roll and write title Railroad Ink Challenge. Working with all four of the base games, each pack includes 4 expansion dice. Unlike the expansions in the base games, which are always 2 sets of 2 dice, some are single die expansions and one set even uses all 4 dice to make up one single large expansion. Let’s take a brief look at all of these expansions and work out which order you should play them in!
Railroad Ink Challenge: Underground Dice Expansion Pack
All four dice in the Underground pack are utilized to play the Underground expansion, however it can also be played as somewhat of a new base game. By default the Underground expansion sees the players play across two boards, with 14 rounds flicking back and forth, above and below ground. This sees subways and waterpipes laid below the normal routes, scoring in similar ways but attempting to line up stations across the two boards.
A great twist is that players can play Underground on its own, solely using the 4 expansion dice instead of the typical white dice. With none of the dice faces seeing subways and waterpipes interact the board gets slowly split into network chunks. Planning ahead for this is rather different to the original dice, and the normal specials are gone too, replaced with the opportunity to duplicate a die face. Therefore, while it doesn’t offer multiple expansions it still offers multiple unique ways to play.
Railroad Ink Challenge: Sky Dice Expansion Pack
With clouds rolling in, one of the expansions of the Sky pack introduces weather clouds. These must be used alongside the standard route dice, and see clouds, storms and a touch of snow be sprinkled around the map. Scoring in patches these work as if the trees from the Lush Green expansion were added to routes, scoring the largest of each weather zone – as long as they aren’t adjacent. Being one of the easier expansions this is a great first step into the sea of extra dice.
Sky also introduces skylines which are a third type of route for players to manage. These still follow a lot of the basic rules, unlike the Lush Green Trails expansion. Despite adding airports this makes for a much less brain burny experience than trails, as the general linking routes up still applies. Therefore it can be considered a strong contender for a next step expansion, not varying from the base game formula but adding variety.
Railroad Ink Challenge: Cthulhu Dice Expansion Pack
From the ritual die which adds madness networks into the mix through to portals, the Cthulhu expansion pack takes Railroad Ink in an Arkham direction. Ranging from complicated to explain to easily intuitive, there are four separate expansions included. Tentacles are much like rivers from the Deep Blue base game, swirling across the board, going under routes or curving around them. Investigations sees a figure wander along the side of routes, attempting to collect clues. Clues pop up across the 6 rounds as players utilize the expansion die, with bonus points awarded for collecting clues and even more for collecting all of them!
The easiest and a close call for the most useful point scoring wise die, is the Portals expansion. As the name suggests this sees A, B and C portals link up otherwise completely disconnected routes, even allowing longest roads and rails to be counted across portals. This is a great expansion even for new players to try out, though might not be enough to warrant getting this 4 dice set.
Railroad Ink Challenge: Future Dice Expansion Pack
Super connectors! What is a superconnector you may ask. This is a brand new futuristic route type which acts as both a road and a rail simultaneously. Building routes with it is a doddle and makes for a more chilled network building experience, with it less likely that players are unable to link things up. Brand new players can easily use this die as if anything it makes making connections a touch easier than normal.
Making up the bulk of the Futuristic pack is the city builder expansion, utilizing two dice. Unlike most other expansions these trigger only at the end of the round. Firstly the income dice sees players earn coins for either what they’ve done that round or previously, such as exits linked. Tracked on the network track, players can then spend coins to build towers. These towers occupy entire spaces, so are great for scoring points in the middle 9 spaces of the player board. Almost more importantly though they gain points and any route ends going into tower spaces are not counted as errors. This means the game can be a little more forgiving on the errors front, though players do have more to think about overall.
Railroad Ink Challenge: Electricity Dice Expansion Pack
Electricity’s first expansion gives everyone the excuse to quote Anchorman, repeatedly saying “I love lamp”. Two street light dice are rolled and optionally used. Unlike other expansions players will not find a mixture of roads and rails, street lights only feature roads, naturally coming with a streetlight. Whenever a special is used it turns on all street lights in it’s row and column, to make a simple road heavy experience. This is by far one of the easiest expansions, and barely takes the experience above that of strictly the base game, so could potentially be used with new players.
The other half of the expansion sees two power grid dice rolled alongside the route dice. With an accumulator at the center of everyone’s player board the power dice effectively add pylons alongside routes, based on the directions rolled. Getting these pylon paths back to exits from the accumulator charge it up for bonus points. It’s not the hardest, most thinky expansion. Still, like the Sky pack’s Airlines expansion, it is a new type of route to effectively manage.
Railroad Ink Challenge: Arcade Dice Expansion Pack
This is a bit of an odd mixture of 4 expansions. The Rainbow expansion sees players passing their boards to opponents when rainy clouds come up, adding a level of player interaction which hasn’t been seen before in Railroad Ink. One of two expansions that features a UFO, the Galactic Invaders, is in this pack. It sees aliens added to, again, opponent’s boards – with then scoring negative points at the end of the game. Not everyone will get along with this new level of interaction though. However, as it’s based on the roll of the dice so a rain cloud for example might not come up in the 6 rounds.
The game is always about somewhat planning ahead but the Tetromino (Tetris) die doubles down on this. While players don’t have to use it they will want to as it grants a bonus point per space if used right. Before using the normal route dice in a round the player can use the tetromino die to enhance empty spaces of a given pattern. Those enhanced spaces score bonus points if full at the end of the game or lose them if left empty – so there’s more to plan and even more push your luck possibilities. Being an arcade the final expansion adds… Pac-Man under the trademark friendly pluck-man name. Pluck-Man will want to be added to networks which have fruit and ghosts at their exits, which isn’t always a guarantee. These final two are what gives the Arcade pack its name and pay some homage to the games they represent.
Railroad Ink Challenge: Engineer Dice Expansion Pack
For players who want to double down on difference the Special die allows this. This expansion can be used with any other, replacing one of the standard white route dice. It must be used like any route dice and cannot be spent for effects such as saving Cacti from the Shining Yellow base game. At the end of a game with the special die a total of 10 specials may have been used, so a lot of connectivity but a lot of routes to close off from errors.
The other brilliant die in the set is the renovation dice. This sees players able to occasionally add to spaces they’ve previously drawn on. There’s something very satisfying about almost breaking the rules in this way, and expanding your routes from, or even underneath, where you’d drawn before. Whilst on the easier end of the expansion spectrum, it’s not great for first time players as it would throw off their perception of linking things up for future plays where renovations aren’t possible.
All of these expansion packs bring their own twist to the experience. Packaged into small boxes the dice fit perfectly with those in the base game boxes, with rulesheets even featuring examples of scoring or to show the restrictions a new feature must obey. These expansions will result in players having to draw a lot of new symbols onto their player boards, but none stand out as significantly harder to doodle than cacti or trails from the Railroad Ink Challenge base games.
From weather storms to Pac-Man these expansions add to the experience in weird and wonderful ways. Some have overlapping or similar vibes; Rainbows sound like they should work like the clouds from the Sky pack but they don’t, while Airlines are like a less brain burny version of Lush Green’s Trails. Others are vastly different, with Undergrounds or City Builder changing the feel of the game far more than the originally released expansions included in the base games. While the Cthulhu and Arcade packs are more quirky, the stand out packs for us have been the Engineer, Sky and Future packs. They don’t disrupt the feel of the game, whilst introducing new unique twists. Only true fans will need to own them all though, and picking up just a box or two allows gamers to pick what grabs them most and expand the variety massively of their base game.
(Editor’s Note: The Railroad Ink Challenge Expansion Packs were provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The base games and expansions are currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)