Despite exclusively using classic cardboard and wood, Russian Railroads still manages to create tactile satisfaction.
Russian Railroads is a rare game that has held on to its relevancy through the golden age of board games, without much outward reason that it should. Its description is not gripping: a midweight, tracks-on-tracks-on-tracks euro with theme-distant mechanics. That was certainly my impression until I was introduced to the game in 2020, when I experienced how its puzzle creates an experience compelling enough to overcome its inability to excite.
While you have to look harder for great component decisions in Russian Railroads than in many more recent releases, they are there. In fact, I can still draw lessons from its components that are relevant and not commonly practiced today.
1. Double-sided Tiles to Force Strategic Choices
With 4 literal paths to victory on a player board, you can't do them all. You need these locomotive/factory tiles, and making them double-sided forces you to choose a strategy at the time you take a tile: locomotive or factory?
2. Filling Gaps in a Path
The industry track on each player board has holes in it that intuitively block you from advancing. Designed to fill these gaps, the factory tiles make it obvious and satisfying how to advance further.
3. Thematic Wood Shapes
When the entire game is about railroad tracks that also function as tracks in the sense of game mechanics, it helps thematically that your markers are shaped like literal tracks. Combined with the custom worker meeple shapes, these pieces add some thematic flavor to mechanisms that are heavily abstracted from their theme.
What could have been better?
For a game with only cardboard and wood, I would have loved to see dual-layered player boards. Russian Railroads is a game where bumping a player board can be very detrimental, and while not as vulnerable as a game like Terraforming Mars, this would add both functionality and tactile satisfaction.
What do you think about the production of Russian Railroads?