Nippon Rails – Tabletop Game Review

Nippon Rails designed by Joe and Larry Roznai is part of the Empire Builder series. Each game in the Empire Builder series focuses on the theme of building railways and making money through transport. What this equates to in game play is a mix of track laying with a pick up deliver mechanic. To lay track players must uses crayons and draw the track on the specially designed board. This led to the fans dubbing the Empire Builder games as the “Crayon Rail Games”. Each game in the series has a base set of rules that explains how all versions operate, and a set of special rules for play in the specific geographical location you version is themed around. Nippon is a formal use of Kanji that refers to Japan, the geographical location for this game. To win Nippon Rails you will need to earn $250 million or connect one continuous track to all major cities.

Nippon Rails board game review by Gameapalooza Australian tabletop game reviewsNippon Rails board game, crayons as standard.

Nippon Rails Setup and Gameplay:
Once you piece the board together you will need to separate the 96 tokens into their colour piles and shuffle together the 144 demand cards with the 24 event cards. Take the coloured pawn of your choice with its matching crayon. Set a freight train card form the locomotive set of cards in front of you and begin play. Each player will start with $60 million in cash and three demand cards indicating what cities need goods and how much they will pay for successful delivery.

The game begins with a building phase similar to Catan. Starting from any major city players may link to any mileposts paying the relevant cost depending on the type of milepost you are seeking to connect with. Players can build as many tracks as they are able so long as the cost does not exceed $20 million. Moving clockwise round the circle each player takes a turn building. The last player to build takes two turns before play moves anticlockwise back around the table. After every player has made two builds the phase ends and normal play begins.

Nippon Rails tabletop board game review by Gameapalooza AustraliaNippon Rails, nothing fancy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good.

Each turn begins with an operations phase where you can move your train, collect goods, and deliver goods to cities receiving payment. This is followed by a build phase in which you may either build track or upgrade your train making sure to keep to your $20 million limit. Play continues until either of the win conditions are met.

Learning what to do on your turn is simple, but learning to play the game is a much bigger challenge. Nippon Rails reads like a simple pick up and deliver game, but takes managing resources seriously. If you run out of money then you are severely limited and may even get stuck to the point of being unable to progress in the game. The rules contain options in the event that this happens. The track laying in this game requires a lot of thought and planning.

Each milepost is represented by a variety of symbols that denotes differing terrain and destinations with increasing costs to build through. This design results in a type of sandbox board game that players will have freedom to build a rail across the board in any way they desire, the benefit being no two games will look the same. The freedom this game offers the player will require of gamers to build strategy from round one that will set up future turns to make deliveries, manage resources, provide you a regular income, and even interfere with your opponent.

Nippon Rails tabletop boardgame by Mayfair Games review by Gameapalooza AustraliaNippon Rails.. paper money….

With two players the dominant strategy is to focus on the Western side of Japan and wait until you can make a dash to connect all four cities. This might change with more plays, but so far there is enough room for ‘people’ track laying to be significant. With more players the need to use other people’s track stifles that and the focus shifts to building money. But neither strategy is excluded from any game as being achievable. There is no novice entry level for this game. This game should only be approached by serious gamers who are happy investing time to really think through how to play a game. With an hour per person for gameplay it will also be a game that can take a good chunk of time to finish. This game needs 3 or 4 players to shine, but this means a good 3-4 hours of gaming. The pace of the game is quite slow to begin with but builds as more track is laid and trade routes are established.

The use of crayons to make this the tracks seemed odd and even a bit silly at first, however, over time it occurred to me how much freedom this mechanic offered me. I was able to find creative solution around my opponents. I had to make decisions about saving money to go the longer routes or to spend the extra cash and carving a path through the more expensive mileposts. In the end I found the crayons to be a fun way to interact with the board and create a unique game experience.

Nippon Rails tabletop board game review by Gameapalooza AustraliaNippon Rails might not be the prettiest thing.. but it has depth.

Nippon Rails Game Build Quality
Nippon Rails components are lacking in quality. It is clearly a game that focused on one key design feature and sacrificed cosmetics for game play and mechanics. The game itself is solid but playing means dealing with cumbersome paper money, cheap plastic tokens, and somewhat thin cards. During the game this bothered me less and less as I immersed myself in what I was doing. The biggest drawback was that it made pictures less interesting to post on Instagram. Not a big sacrifice. I have friends who value aesthetics highly and would not touch this game. It is not a high value for me so I was able to put the issue aside to play.

2-4 Players
120-240 minutes
Ages 10+ (This is laughable if you want that 10 year old to play the game, but they may have fun colouring the map in with crayons)
Set up time: 5 minutes (10-15 minutes for first play through)

Nippon Rails Gameapalooza House Rules
Not so much a house rule as a warning. Spend time on your first play looking at your production cards and planning out your first few moves. We played open hand for the first two rounds and helped each other out. Do not play on the Eastern side of the map until you have built track and ensured trade on the more dense and popular Westerly side. From our games there was not enough business on the West to warrant starting there.

Nippon Rails tabletop board game review by Gameapalooza AustraliaNippon Rails, a lot of fun.

I enjoyed this game. It is mathematical without being burdensome, but that is not to say it should be offered to neophytes. The game will not wow you with components, but strong gameplay will keep you engaged. The pace builds well and the crayons offer a unique game experience. I will be playing this game again with my gamer friends and hope it finds a way onto your table in the future.

[author] [authorimage timthumb=’off’]/content/images/2016/02/gameapalooza-micro-review-icon-sm.gif[/authorimage] [authorinfo]Micro Review – Nippon Rails is a challenging track laying game with a pick up and deliver mechanic. A game for more experienced players requiring careful planning and good resource management. It lacks visual appeal but worthy of a game for those with the time to play.
info] [/author]