In readiness for getting my eager paws on the new Railroad Ink Challenge Editions (Lush Green and Shining Yellow) by Horrid Games next month, I thought it would be fun to reflect on where my love affair with the Railroad Ink series started.
And when I say love, I mean it. My heart beats faster, my palms sweat, and my eyes sparkle when I see that little red box sitting coquettishly on my shelf. It calls to me. It teases me. It whispers sweet somethings in my ear.
Indeed, over the weekend, with feelings as fired up as its Blazing Red cover, I was seriously considering sending my own copy a Valentine’s Day card. A heart shaped, hand-written token of my unadulterated adoration.
I didn’t (well, that’s my story and I am sticking to it!) but I think I will always be smitten with this little game.
I am almost too ashamed to admit this, but it was nearly the greatest love story never told.
Early into my hobby gaming obsession (was that really only less than a year ago?!), I tasked myself with buying our first game. And, as still happens to this day, I poured over Boardgamegeek forums and rankings, scoured Youtube for top ten lists, and drove myself crazy comparing, contrasting, and cogitating.
By chance, during this initial shallow-dive down the rabbit hole, I came across a video by Efka Bladukas of No Pun Included fame about a small crunchy puzzle called Railroad Ink. In his inimitable style, he mentioned that there was not just one Railroad Ink. But two Railroad Inks. Blazing Red and Deep Blue. Two colours. Two editions. Same game.
As the video played out, I laughed, I cried, and the butterflies of excitement started fluttering at the thought of owning a copy. Given than blue is my favourite colour, I tentatively steered towards the supposedly calmer lakes and rivers version, trusting Efka but not quite accepting that they were in fact the same core game. Repeated scouring of stores online proved fruitless, however, and for fear of missing out and having to start the whole nerve-wracking process again, I secured a Blazing Red copy on Zatu’s online store.
A few days later, my first (of now many) brown boxes bedecked with orange and white sticky tape appeared. It sat on the worktop for a day, nerves too jangled to unveil its contents. When Bearded Moon could no longer stand moving it every time he wanted to use the toaster, the seal was broken and the diminutive little box was released from its paper cocoon. Naked. Vulnerable. Untouched.
And, like a Jilly Cooper romp-a-lot, there was an instant spark. I stroked the lid and listened with my eyes closed as the magnetic catch released and the folded dry wipe boards rose slightly. They could finally breathe now I had freed them from their paper prison.
Removing the contents was a voyage of discovery – not bad for a small roll and write! – and I was lost in a heady sea of pens, die, and dry-wipe. I wanted to read. I wanted to play. I wanted to understand.
Bearded Moon was excited for me but knew better than to pick up a pen before I had poured over every rule and found at least two separate how-to-play videos to crosscheck and verify the game’s gospel truths. Excitement was there but anxiety was its counterpoint, poised and ready to fill me with doubt.
Announcing the first game was like presenting a new partner to your family. I was simultaneously exhilarated and terrified. The expectation had built up to a climax which would surely lead to disappointment, leaving my judgment bruised and my confidence in tatters. I therefore placed the box on the table and waited. Wanting to touch but afraid. Bearded Moon grabbed the box, spun it round and pulled out two boards, two pens, and all the die. White, orange, and red cubes of plastic pleasure.
As though merely pondering the washing instructions on his favourite hoodie, Bearded Moon glanced unceremoniously at the rules, uncapped his pen, and he was off. Just like that. No soft caress. Not even any heavy petting. Straight in. My brain swirled whilst I awaited his reaction. Would he approve or would he consider it a cardboard pariah, to be consigned to a place where it could be easily guillotined from any shelfie for fear of upsetting the smarter, prettier, richer game inevitably taking its place down the line.
I needn’t have worried. With its simple concept based entirely around making road and rail connections, this spatial puzzle was a hit. But, as this isn’t a review piece, I won’t go into the mechanics in detail. Safe to say, however, that this little game was and continues to be one of our shared passion plays.
Feisty, fiery, and frustrating, Railroad Ink has dominated me and I have no intention of begging for mercy. Its ability to trigger my analysis paralysis on the first roll but then soothe me on the next round before biting down harder again is a sensory rollercoaster. Connected highs and open ended lows.
And, whether we play vanilla games with just the four base die or a spicy six rounder with fiery meteors or hot, bubbling lava, the tension between brain, board, and pen is palpable. Interestingly, for a game which has zero player interaction affecting the end result, the top-tier level blame levied on the person responsible for rolling the die you.did.not.want. is visceral.
My love affair works on all levels too. Whether I am challenging myself on solo-mode or participating in a game with an infinite number of fellow connectors, this game satisfies me. It gives me what I need. It might be good for me. It might not. There may be better alternatives out there. I don’t care. It’s mine, all mine. My Precious.
And from the looks of it, I am not alone. My incredibly talented and kind friend, Nathan Coombs of NJC Games, is a true Railroad Ink veteran, having been bitten by the bug when it was first released back in 2018. So much so that he has created his own brilliant custom die collection and set up a global online league where I, Bearded Moon, and others sweat and flex over roads, rails, and stations in direct competition with each other as another way to combat Coronavirus confinement. Some are in it for the glory, some for national pride. I for one am just using Nathan’s initiative as another excuse to spend time with my fiery red blooded cardboard beau.
With my heart beating for Blazing Red, however, where does that leave the new beguiling Lush Green and Shining Yellow Challenge Editions? Will my monogamous infatuation slowly fade away like ageing tattooed reminders of partners past or will I get caught up in a messy but mind blowing menage-a-trois with these interactive inamoratos?
At this point in our relationship I cannot say for sure but it is going to be exhilarating to find out!