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Railroad Ink: Archipelago Game Review

Watch out for that bridge!

Join Justin as he dives into an expansion of one of his favorite games, Railroad Ink, for this review of the Archipelago boards.

Disclosure: Meeple Mountain received a free copy of this product in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This review is not intended to be an endorsement.

At SPIEL 2023, I had the chance to meet with one of my favorite publishers, Horrible Guild. They have never done me wrong, with games like Quicksand, Dungeon Fighter, Evergreen, and The Great Split getting rave reviews from our team as well as my personal network.

During that meeting, our marketing contact was kind enough to provide a copy of the newest expansion to the Railroad Ink franchise, Archipelago. These new player boards represent four islands, drawn as 4×4 grids that are separated by bridges in a format that is four times the size of the map in the original game, in terms of physical footprint.

The rules of the base game haven’t changed. Anyone at the table can roll the Route dice, and the result must be drawn by all players on one of the four islands on spaces that connect previously drawn track/highway or start from one of the arrows around the spaces of the Archipelago map. However, a couple new additions add spice to the proceedings by triggering scores for drawing through certain spaces (like Houses, which score end game points) and the use of a Warehouse, which lets players save Routes for use later in the game.

Archipelago is compatible with “most” Railroad Ink expansions, according to the rulesheet. I only have the Deep Blue edition (one of the two base game formats originally released in 2018), so Archipelago integrates with my set just fine. The only negative: there are four Archipelago boards in this expansion, but the base game is playable with six players.

Do You Need It?

I enjoy the new map, and if anything, this extends the life for a game that is showing some wear. My copy, Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition, is so banged around that the pens are starting to become a problem and I have to use a wet wipe to completely clear the board nowadays, since so many stains from the past still live on my boards.

Archipelago’s main advantage is for players who are used to the Railroad Ink system, but it is accessible even for new players. In fact, my first play of Archipelago was a three-player game with two people who had never played the base game, and I came in last. The new maps create a bit more analysis paralysis because there is so much real estate to cover across the four islands, and there are ten rounds instead of seven like the base game. That meant games usually lasted 30-40 minutes, whereas you can do the base game in 15-20 minutes regardless of player count.

The challenges posed by the new map are interesting, but in a much wider space. Because all four Route results have to be drawn on just one of the four islands, I usually find myself trying to fill up complete islands (so, a full 16 squares could be filled across four separate turns) if I can manage to connect routes correctly and try to build over a bridge into another quadrant. You’re still trying to connect as many exits as possible to maximize your score, but I enjoy the tight nature of the base game map a little more than the sprawl offered by Archipelago.

The Warehouse addition is great for those times when you want to save a Route for later, particularly when exchanges get rolled and you want flexibility late in the game. Scoring is and always has been the Achilles heel for Railroad Ink and Archipelago is no different. Walking players through their longest railway network or figuring out how many exits they hit is still a minor bump for an otherwise fantastic experience.

Do you need Archipelago? I think “need” is a strong word. While I recommend this for the Railroad Ink collector / superfan, I don’t think this is a great starting point for new players, particularly because of the playtime. Also—and this may be minor for some—the Archipelago boards come in plastic sleeve packaging, not a full-blown box, and the boards don’t fit in the base game box. It’s not a hassle, but I don’t imagine a scenario where I will tout both the base and expansion boards around to parties any time soon.

Archipelago’s map provides a nice change of pace. While not a must, Archipelago is still a fun way to spend an afternoon with almost any style of gamer.

About the author

Justin Bell

Love my family, love games, love food, love naps. If you're in Chicago, let's meet up and roll some dice!

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