Railroad Ink vs. 30 Rails: "Rail and Write" Showdown

Posted on 2022-03-30

Tonight I played Railroad Ink and 30 Rails back-to-back. Both are track-drawing roll and write games. Railroad Ink is a commercial game with custom d6'es, and 30 Rails is a free print and play that uses two standard d6'es. Since it was my first time playing each, I played Railroad Ink without any expansions, and played the basic mode of 30 Rails.

Railroad Ink BGG Page

30 Rails BGG Page

Railroad Ink has nice enough components, minimal as they are. The 16mm dice feel good, and their markings are easy to read. Honestly, that's about it. It comes in a nice small box with 6 sets of dry-erase boards and markers, or you can print your own board. (That's what I did, since I prefer wet-erase markers.) 30 Rails, being a print and play game, doesn't have its own components. Both boards are equally easy to read, being essentially just a large grid.

Both games are relatively short, but Railroad Ink probably took about 3/4 of the time that 30 Rails did. They were both well-paced, although 30 Rails has you fill in the entire board, while Railroad Ink leaves much of it empty at the end of the game.

In terms of gameplay, I strongly preferred 30 Rails. There was nothing wrong with Railroad Ink mechanically, but it felt very boring. The decisions were easy, and I felt I didn't need to plan my routes out very far in advance. I think the game gave me too many options for dice mitigation, such that "bad rolls" were difficult to produce. Meaning I didn't have to deal with disruptions to my plans very often.

Not so with 30 Rails, which is an agonizing optimization puzzle with a push-your-luck twist. Every single decision felt important, and the strategic depth of the game was palpable. (While I was playing, my partner remarked that I looked extremely deep in thought, and she was right. Every turn.)

30 Rails' rules deceptively make it seem simple, which couldn't be farther from the truth. Easy to understand, difficult to master. Beautiful design.

Perhaps I'm not giving Railroad Ink a fair chance. I haven't tried it multiplayer, and haven't tried the expansions. But I believe there's a fundamental difference in design philosophy that is always going to make Railroad Ink light and dull in my eyes, while 30 Rails is going to continue to impress me with its depth and complex decision-making.

If I want to play a track-laying roll and write in the future, I know which train I'm taking. 🎊